7 Guessing Games for Spanish Class

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Guessing games! They are engaging, can be competitive, and an awesome source of interpretive communication. There are so many ways to use guessing games in a proficiency-based / CI focused Spanish class. Here's a run down of how I've used them with my high schoolers, levels 1-4.
  

How to Use Guessing Games?

To start, you need clues that use target language (TL) description. There are two ways to go about this. I can be the sage on the stage, presenting clues on the fly while individual students guess. This is pretty fun, and easy to do when you have little time to prepare or a short bit of class time to work with. But it may end up leaving distracted or less engaged students behind.

My other option is to put my students in charge of giving the clues. The challenge here is that more novice students likely don't quite have the language skills to produce great clues. Also, I want to give them as much input as possible without requiring too much output quite yet. My solution is to help them along with clues that are already set up for them. 

I do this by making a set of written out clues in the TL. Yes, this takes a little time investment, but it is worth it, as there are so many ways you can use them once you have them. Here are some pics of what I use, but you could easily just make a list of clues in a word doc, print, cut up strips to give out to students, and call it a day. These clues are for sale in my TpT store.

Clues I wrote for novices learning food vocabulary

Another idea for saving time: I've had my more advanced students make their own clue cards (or have them make cards you can use with lower levels!). I have advanced students each write a clue card as a class warm up, then check their clue with a partner for accuracy, and boom, you have a game set of 20 - 35 cards ready in a few minutes. Another option is to download my guessing game card sets in my TpT store. 

Having students work with pre-written clues can enable them to work at their own pace if they have individual or group sets of clues. It is a way to hold all students accountable for active learning, rather than the sage on the stage option where some kids might zone out as you give verbal clues. Finally, pre-written clues make students engage with the language description in writing as well as speaking. 

Set Up

Once you have the clues written, prepping the cards is a great task for a TA / student worker if you're lucky enough to have one! Or there is no shame in having 1st hour students (or fast finishers) help be the setter uppers - cutting and organizing the cards.

  • I print the cards out on brightly colored card stock.
  • I print multiple decks, each in a different color. This will helps me keep the decks organized. How many sets you print depends on your classroom set up. I print a set for each of my groups of 4, so for a class of 36 students, I print 9 sets, each on a different color paper.
  • I laminate the cards to use year after year.
  • I store each deck in a little envelope. But you could also use ziplock bags or punch a hole in the cards and us a ring to store the set.




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The Place for Grammar Instruction in Proficiency Based Spanish Class

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The Shifting Culture of Language Learning



I love seeing the shift in foreign language learning moving more and more towards comprehensible input (CI) and proficiency-based methods, as opposed focusing on to the explicit teaching of grammar. 

Why? Because learning a language in context is more relevant and applied for students. Proficiency approaches also make the language more accessible to the average student, not just the over achiever who is great at memorizing grammar rules.

That said, how can we ignore the fact that old fashioned methods of learning language through explicit grammar instruction and memorization work for many. I learned Spanish this way. Admittedly, it left many language students behind, too.

So, as everyone jumps on the CI / proficiency bandwagon, I want to share my two cents: let's not completely throw out all grammar based approaches quite so fast.







Yes, I said it! Grammar and memorization are not all bad. I know lots of people might debate me to the death on this. I'm not looking for a fight, just wanting to share a different perspective and what's worked in my own classroom. Here's my reasoning...

Our teenage language learners don't learn language like infants do, hearing it 24/7, learning language in tandem with natural cognitive brain development. Rather, we have just a few hours a week with our students, they are eager to speak and communicate from day 1, and have complex ideas to express and understand! 

Decades of cognitive science research indicates that explicit instruction and repeated exposure can be an effective way to encode new content in teen and adult brains. This is especially true when it comes to simple language, like new vocabulary words and verb structures.

How do we reconcile this, as many of us are aiming to reach ACTFL's recommendation of minimum 90% target language use, while promoting students' language proficiency in our Spanish classrooms? Well, we have 10% (or less) of class time for direct grammar instruction, memorization, and practice. This should be highly engaging, interactive, and motivating though. Remember, the bottom line is still proficiency. Your grammar based instruction should directly connect to students' proficiency goals. For first year classes, maybe you wait 'til December to introduce grammar, and that's ok! 

I am NOT advocating strict verb drills like, "What is the present perfect conjugation for the third person singular of the verb prestar?" 


Yeah, drills like that are stupid. This is why we language teachers must get creative with grammar-based approaches. If we make good use of contextualization, competition, and fun, grammar is not so bad, and can help our students become more proficient in the target language.

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Spanish Superlatives: End of the Year Student Awards

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As we approach the end of another school year, I wanted to share with you all one of my favorite ways to wrap up: awarding Spanish language superlative certificates to each of my students.

What are Spanish Superlatives?

I'm not talking grammar here! The superlatives I'm referring to are silly awards for The Best Hair, The Most Artistic, The Class Clown, etc. My high school would award these to seniors every year, so it was a fun idea to adapt it for my individual classes, translating the idea to Spanish.

On one of the last days of class, I spend about 20 minutes calling out all the awards and distributing an accompanying certificate to each student. I often tell a little story, building up who the award winner may be and why. Then I call their name, they come up to accept their award, and the class applauds. Best part is this is done in 100% target language!



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Ideas for Studying Semana Santa & las Pascuas

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As a public school teacher, semana santa and las pascuas are topics I typically tended to steer away from in Spanish class. I did this because I didn't want to worry about bringing religion into my classroom. This was so narrow minded.

When exploring the culture of the Spanish speaking world, to ignore Catholicism, its holidays, and cultural practices would just be ridiculous. 

We Spanish teachers know this, but how do we justify teaching these topics? 

Here are three simple rationales:


  • The VAST majority of Latin Americans are Catholic (see this Pew study for statistics). Catholic traditions and practices are central to Latin American and Spanish culture. Teaching culture is central to the World Readiness Standards for Learning Language.
  • Furthermore, learning about other cultures and religions is a great way to foster students' acceptance of diversity.
  • Learning about the culture behind the language makes Spanish class relevant for students. Understanding Spanish speakers makes the language come alive.


Here are a few ways to bring semana santa and pascuas to your middle or high school Spanish classroom. I hope you'll share your own experiences and ideas in the comments as well.

Make Cascarones

Cascarones are hollowed out egg shells that are filled with confetti. When they break open, the confetti flies. I love the idea of making cascarones with students because it is an authentic craft activity, kind of like why I love paper mache projects too!

This blog post details step by step how to make them. It is a cheap, relatively easy activity, once you are able to save up enough hollowed out eggs. In my experience, taking time for crafts like this is always particularly memorable to students, especially if prefaced with a short discussion of how cascarones are used in Latin American culture. Plus what middle / high schooler won't love to break 'em over each others heads for good luck!

Engage Students in Inquiry with Media Resources


I adore using video and podcast resources as a meaningful technology integration. I searched and searched, and there isn't much quality free media out there on semana santa / pascuas that would work well for very beginning students. However, I did find two resources that I love for upper level Spanish students, probably level 3 and up:


I let students view / listen independently on their own devices or in the computer lab, and then create a mind map to demonstrate their learning.

Take an Hour for a Purely Cultural Lesson

Semana santa and pascuas consistently fall right right around spring break or when you and your students are wishing for a second spring break (we can dream). If your students are like mine, everyone's desperate to change it up a bit. So around Easter time, I love take a class period as a "culture break". Pause the unit, ditch the typical routines, and do something different for the day that focuses on cultural celebrations for Easter and Holy Week. I have two ideas:

Idea 1: Estudia Feliz offers a TPRS Story Lesson on Semana Santa in Guatemala. They provide a lovely powerpoint and supplementary materials, completely free to download. I rarely do TPRS in class, and if I do, it would be called TPRS light, at best. I know some of you rock the TPRS. But others might be like me, a little scared, and in need of a little push to try something new. Well, give it a go with this lesson. It's completely free and nicely put together.



Idea 2: With my Spanish 1 high schoolers, I do a one hour Semana Santa & Pascuas lesson where we calendar out relevant events leading up to and during semana santa and semana de pascua. Students create their own calendars of fill in a xerox copied calendar, with key information regarding each of these events:

  • Martes de carnaval
  • Miércoles de ceniza
  • La cuaresma
  • Domingo de ramas
  • Jueves santo
  • Viernes santo
  • Sábado de gloria
  • Domingo de pascua

This could be set up as a teacher lecture or as an inquiry activity. Give students the list and their calendars, and they search for information online or in resources you've selected for them.

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Teaching Día de los Reyes Magos in Beginning Spanish

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The first few days back to school after winter break are always a struggle. Luckily for us Spanish teachers, Three Kings Day falls on January 6th, right around when many of us are returning to school. I love to teach this one hour lesson during our first week back, as a way to ease students back into “learning mode” while exploring the cultural practices associated with the celebration of Three Kings Day in the Spanish-speaking world. The lesson is designed for beginning Spanish students (I teach mostly 9th graders at the beginning level), who have minimal prior knowledge of this holiday.

First, a Few Notes

I teach the lesson primarily in English, while highlighting key terms in Spanish, although you could easily teach it 100% in the target language. I decided to teach it in English because it allows me to discuss more complex cultural topics and nuances with students in their native language, rather than relying on more simple target-language structures. It also is a soft way for students to get back into the learning mindset, without bombarding them with 100% target language content on their first day back to class after the winter break. Culture is a great way to get students to buy into studying a language, so I want them to really understand and appreciate this holiday! That’s just my reasoning, as I said, the lesson could easily be done in 100% simple Spanish!

This lesson includes religious content. While I taught at a public school and do not value teaching religious content per se, I do value teaching students about other cutlures. Religion and culture are somewhat inseparable. I teach this content in a direct way, encouraging students to view the practice of Reyes Magos as sociologists, who aim to expertly understand the nuances of another culture, not to judge. I encourage students to embrace their own unique cultural and religious backgrounds and opinions, to be cognizant of how these beliefs and practices influence their unique interpretation of the lesson itself!

Objectives:

1. Students will be able to describe why and how Three Kings Day is celebrated in Spain and Latin America.
2. Students will be able to compare and contrast Three Kings Day as celebrated in Spain and Latin America with Christmas as celebrated in the U.S.


Part 1: Access Prior Knowledge


As a way to prime students learning with prior knowledge on the topic, I like to begin the lesson by asking students to write down as much as they can about what they know regarding the Three Kings and their connection to the Christmas story.
  • Students work individually or in pairs/small groups to brainstorm what they know about 3 kings, the holiday, etc. 
  • Encourage students to write in bullet form or draw their responses.
  • Invite students to share what they know about 3 kings, the holiday, etc. (call on students to share verbally to the whole class OR to come up and write an idea on the board OR to share verbally in small groups).
  • You might give them each a sticky note to write on, and post on the board.

Part 2: Presentation of Content

I start presenting new content relating to reyes mags by showing this video of día de reyes magos at Disneyland. This clip is 1 min, 25 seconds. It’s pretty fascinating that Disney has taken this on, starting in 2012. It is absolutely a sign of the Hispanic influence in US culture today.

Next, I deconstruct the term “los reyes magos” by defining the two terms:
  • Reyes = Kings
    • Technically the 3 wise men were not kings, but magi, or scientists from the East (think Asia) who came to Jerusalem to welcome the baby Jesus.
  • Magos = “Magi” = Magicians = Apothicarians (scientists or astronomers)
    • In ancient times, scientistis, astronomers, and magicians would have been somewhat synonymous. These were “wise men” who studied the stars.


Then we go through and discuss reyes magos in terms of when, where, why, and what. I have students take notes on a graphic organizer like this. You could also have students create mind maps or knowledge webs, keep their own notes in their own preferred format, or treat it as an open discussion with no note taking needed.


When: Celebrations start the night of Jan 5th and proceed on Jan 6th, which is Epiphany.

Where: Where is it celebrated?
Really, el día de los reyes magos is celebrated all over the world, anywhere that people chose to celebrate it. Predominantly it is celebrated in the dark blue regions as well as the US (where it is becoming increasingly popular due to Hispanic culture in the US).

Why? Here we focus on the history and philosophy behind the holiday. It is rooted in the Catholic tradition of the Christmas story. The kings were astronomers, who studied the stars. They followed the star of Bethlehem to the site where baby Jesus was born. They believed Jesus was the son of God. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

What? What happens during this celebration?  We highlight 6 key terms in this lesson:
  • Desfiles: Parades happen on the night of Jan 5.
  • Zapatos en la ventana: Children leave out their shoes to be filled by the wise men when they visit on the night of the 5 (like stockings for Christmas). Nowadays, like Christmas, the Kings place their gifts under the Christmas tree like Santa does. 
  • El heno para las camellos: Children leave hay for the camels in their shoes, kind of like leaving milk and cookies for Santa.
  • La Rosca de Reyes: This is the Kings Cake. It is often more oval shaped than round, so it can feed the whole party. Candies symbolize the crowns of the kings. The tradition started in 1300s in France, then transitioned to Spain, who transitioned it to Latin America. It is still used in France as part of mardi gras (Fat Tuesday – happens 40 days before Lent, in the spring each year).
  • El muñequito: The rosca has a muñequito hidden somewhere inside (also known as el monito). This refers to baby Jesus – hidden in the cake like Jesus had to be hidden from King Herod in the biblical story. In Spain, whoever finds the baby is “king for the day” and has to pay for next year’s Epiphany party (or roscón). In Mexico, whoever finds it has to bring the tamales for the next party… see next slide.
  • Tamales: According to tradition in Mexico, whoever finds the muñequito is responsible for throwing the party for el día de la candelaría on Feb 2. That person has to bring the tamales. With my smaller and upper level classes, I always bring a rosca and when students agree to take a slice, they agree that whoever gets the muñequito will bring tamales for the class on Feb 2. Excellent tamales are easy to get here in AZ, so it has worked out beautifully in the past.

Part 3: Show What You Learned

With any leftover time, students work individually, in pairs, or small groups to complete a Venn Diagram, comparing Kings Day and Christmas. This is a way for them to summarize what they’ve learned over the lesson. It can also easily be assigned as homework if the other portions of the lesson take longer than expected.

I organize my lesson using a PowerPoint and set of student graphic organizers, to keep me organized, they're for sale in my TpT store, but you can easily make your own. Would love to hear your thoughts on how you might modify this lesson to fit your students' needs and teaching style.


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Glyphs in High School Spanish Class

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What’s a Glyph?

Glyphs have become popular in elementary classrooms as a way for students to practice reading and data visualization skills in a fun way. The idea is that students create their own unique "glyph" or visualization, based on their individual responses to given prompts. Here are some examples of all sorts of glyphs made by elementary students, from Kids Count 1234. 

Haunted House Glyphs by Elementary Students from KidsCount1234.com

Students’ glyphs make an adorable bulletin board and many elementary teachers then use the glyphs to help students practice interpreting data and graphing - as students count student responses for given prompts and then display the results in a graph. I’ve found that glyphs actually have a place middle and high school foreign language classes too.

This turkey glyph slide share is an excellent outline of how students could be guided through the process of making a glyph. It would be super easy to translate this to Spanish, too.

Glyphs in the Foreign Language Classroom

I love using glyphs for foreign language students as a fun but meaningful reading activity, which also can also be used to prompt target language conversation after the glyphs are made. Plus, just like in elementary classrooms, these make a beautiful bulletin board. I’ve enjoyed using them for Día de Muertos, Día de Acción de Gracias, La Navidad, y San Valentín. I sell these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but the activity will be relatively easy to put together on your own.

My Spanish Thanksgiving Glyphs

Glyphs are a great way to give students lots of comprehensible input. They are also fun for holidays as a break for students from our typical instruction patterns. On those crazy school days like Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, etc. this is an easy activity that will keep students engaged in the target language but doing something a little more low key and fun. They’d also be a fun extra credit activity, fast finisher activity, or even a substitute teacher activity. To make mine feel less "elementary", I created a full page "legend" which students read through to identify what colors to use on a simple coloring sheet. For the coloring sheet, I found cute black lined clipart that was holiday themed and just added numbers to different sections for students to color.

My Spanish Thanksgiving Glyph Handouts
Glyph "legend"

Objective: 

Interpret Spanish questions and identify appropriate responses that are true for you individually.

Overview: 

Students are given a Spanish language “legend” and a glyph coloring sheet. They read the prompts in the legend and identify which answer(s) are most accurate for them. They then find the corresponding part of the glyph for each prompt #. They use the color that matches their answer to color that section of the glyph. At the end, each student has a unique glyph that visually represents their answers to the prompts.

Materials:

  • Markers, crayons, and/or colored pencils in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black
  • Dictionaries or dictionary apps
  • Copies of handouts for each student

* I avoid copying double sided, so students don’t have to flip back and forth between the legend and the glyph coloring sheet.

Process:

I take a full class period for this activity, so about 55 minutes. That way students aren't rushed and its a relaxing, fun experience, as I intend it!

STEP 1. I display the vocabulary list, objectives, and directions on my projector throughout the whole activity (but you could also print one for each student). 

STEP 2. Distribute copies of the glyph coloring sheet and legend for each student.

STEP 3. Before letting them start independently, we go over any vocabulary (e.g., “pavo”, “día de acción de gracias”), color words, and instructions.

Notes:

When I wrote the "legend", I intentionally created some items to say, “use all colors that apply”. This makes the activity a little more fun and complicated. Sometimes there isn't one true answer for the questions you pose, so its nice for students to have more than one option.

I also encourage students to do decorations (polka dots, stars, stripes, etc.) with the colors, rather than just coloring in solid shades, if they want. Look at my pavo example above to see what I mean.

When students finish coloring:

  • Consider sharing students’ glyphs with the class on your document cam.
  • Ask the questions verbally about a given glyph, and have students infer responses about the “artist” based on the colors drawn. Can they guess who’s glyph it is?
  • Consider a subsequent activity in which each student is assigned a classmate’s glyph. Using the legend, they decode the color choices to write sentences describing the “artist”.  They could also present a verbal description of the “artist” in small groups / pairs, or even record a spoken narration describing their assigned “artist”.
  • These make a beautiful bulletin board!



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Day of the Dead 5 Mini Activities for High School Spanish

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Day of the Dead 5 Mini Activities for High School Spanish 


Día de los muertos seems like it is everywhere in pop culture in recent years - skull figurines at Target, in the movies - think James Bond's Spectre scene, and on the fall cookies they sell at Starbucks too. I love teaching a formal cultural lesson on Day of the Dead with my high school Spanish classes, but this holiday is so fun, it also warrants some fun mini activities that would be great for extra credit, homework choice options, etc. Here are 5 of my favorite short Day of the Dead activities for high schoolers:

1. Day of the Dead Me App

Students download the fun, FREE Day of the Dead Me app on their iPhones or iPads and can decorate their own selfies to look like a  Día de Muertos calavera. If you use a class Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook account, you might ask students to share their photos and tag your teacher account, or use an original class hashtag, like #CraneCalaveras to see them all together. Here's mine:


2. Explore the Controversy Regarding Disney’s Effort to Trademark “Day of the Dead”

I love pushing students to explore the 2013 controversy, when Disney set forth to trademark the term “Day of the Dead”. With beginning level students, I use authentic English texts like those from CNNThe Flama, LA Times, etc. (lots more via Google search!). I am ok with using English texts because it is a cultural activity and students can get through the material more quickly in English, this is a "mini" activity after all. I've had students work in small groups to read the articles collectively, or each individually, and then summarize together with a jigsaw structure. This activity is especially fun, as the Disney movie Coco is slated to come out next year.

3. Watch “The Book of Life”

This 2014 animated feature is so beautifully done and a great way to informally learn about the holiday in a fun way. Consider offering an extra credit opportunity outside of class for students to watch the movie and submit a 1 paragraph written review of the film. Or offer an after school movie showing in your classroom - make pop corn, move the desks out and lay down blankets, so students can watch the film together. Or if you have time to show the film in class, or even to show the trailer, it could prompt a meaningful discussion about the nature of this holiday, important practices, symbols, and the history.

4. Make a Day of the Dead Glyph

Glyphs are a fun way for students to read in the target language, while creating their own unique “glyph” or symbol that conveys unique information about a given student in a purely visual form. I have students create their own glyph using a simple Day of the Dead image that one of my (artistically gifted!) old students drew for me (see my pic below). They read through the Spanish-language prompts to select the colors that best describe them and then color in their glyph accordingly. These make for a really lovely bulletin board! I’ve also extended the activity on a second and even third day with another "mini" activity - having students work in pairs to interpret their peers’ glyphs. What does your glyph say about you? They then describe their peer in the target language verbally or in writing. I sell these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but you can easily make your own versions using simple language prompts!



5. Day of the Dead Word of the Day

For the 10 days leading up to November 1st and 2nd, I highlight a “word of the day” relating to Día de Muertos. For example:
Calaca
Calavera
Vela
Día alegre
Los angelitos
Pan de muerto
Calaveritas de azúcar
Dulces
Cementerio
Students are responsible for writing their own definition and/or creating a visual to accompany each term. They can submit these at the end of the 10 days for extra credit or as a graded assignment. This is an easy bell work prompt, fast finisher activity, or way to fill in if you find you have extra time in a given class period. I’ve had students get quite creative with these, taking funny photos to depict the words, using creative handwriting to draw out the term, etc. Consider offering even more points or an extra incentive like an award for the most creative submissions, in order to inspire unique work. Have students submit work in a notebook, digitally, through your class' social media page or by using your hashtag, or even have them make larger visuals and use them to create a bulletin board. Lots of possibilities!

How might you modify these activities to work for your students and classrooms? I always love to hear your ideas!


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