Pass It Up

This is the fifth activity write-up for Wooly Week 2019, go read that post to find out what other amazing activities we tried in our class over the past two weeks.

This was such a fun way to review! At this point my students had predicted the story, read the story, learned the lyrics, and viewed the video. They had done an exhausting amount of work, and I really wanted them to feel like I was rewarding them with a day off. Haha, silly children, we will never just take a break from good quality input!! (But, please, never ever tell my kids that we don’t take breaks. They honestly think that sometimes we do.)

Here is the biggest issue with this activity: it REQUIRES students in multiples of four. This was an issue for me in both my classes. This game needs both teams to have two equal rows of students, so to adapt rotate students out of the game in the back of the room. They have to just sit there for one turn, then they will rotate back in as the students move. (There is a very strong musical chairs vibe to this activity.)

Before class you will need three types of materials:

  1. A set of pictures from the story for each team, we were given 8 images, about 4×6 size. They need to be small enough to be easy to spread out and see them all at once.
  2. A set of speech bubbles with text for each team. While not every sentence in the speech bubble directly related to the story, the vocabulary was focused on the targets from the story. We were given 10, and they will also need to be spread out to all be seen at once.
  3. A call sheet for you, which combines descriptions of pictures in Spanish combined with a line of text from the Speech bubble. NOTE: however you want to do it, read the text from the call sheet in the opposite language as the printed speech bubbles that the teams have. I read Spanish and they found English in my first year class, but read English and they found Spanish in my second year class. I’m not sure which one I prefer or if one is significantly harder than another.

With the students, before the game:

  1. Set up the room to have four equal lines of chairs facing the board, four magnets on the board, and desks behind the last chair in each row. (Perhaps these are actually columns…)
  2. Divide the students into two teams, and have them sit. Any extra students on each team will stay behind the desks in the back until they can rotate in.
  3. Place the images on the desk behind the left row of each team, and the speech bubbles on the desk behind the right row.
  4. Discuss movement: when the first round is over students will rotate clockwise. The right row will move forward one seat, the left row will move backward one seat. If you have the right amount of students then front right slides left and back left slides right. If you do not have the right number of students then the student in front of the pictures will rotate out, and the student sitting out already will rotate to speech bubbles.

Now you are ready to begin play:

  1. Establish the rules: while you read, the teams must be still and silent. If anyone talks or begins to touch the papers behind them then take points from their team.
  2. Read a description from your call sheet, and the translated text from a speech bubble.
  3. The last person in each line has to find the paper that matches what you have read, then pass it forward. The first person will use the magnet to put it up on the board. If both teams are right then the winning point goes to the team who was seated and silent first.
  4. If a team has put up something which is incorrect they can take it down and fix it, but the person in the back cannot send another paper forward until the original paper is returned. (Students who are currently rotated out can serve here as judges and honestly enforcers.)
  5. When a team has earned a point, review both answers quickly. If they are the same then congratulate them both and reread the prompt confirming the proper answer. If a team gave an incorrect answer, take a second to review what the prompt called for and what was provided by the team.
  6. Have the first seats take down their papers and pass them back down the line as students rotate chairs. Wait for absolute calm before reading the next prompt. (If you want to add a level of difficulty then take a point from the second team to get settled.)

We really loved this. I love how it had teamwork incorporated, but not at a level where the kids really had a chance to get upset with each other. It worked very well with my kiddos. I can’t even think of how I would modify it at all. I just hope that the Wooly team will make this for all of their videos, because it will be absolutely my go-to whenever we need an “off” day. Because, you know, we didn’t “do” any Spanish during this game… (shhhhh).

Embedded Readings

This is the fourth activity write-up for Wooly Week 2019, go read that post to find out what other amazing activities we tried in our class over the past two weeks.

Let me just start with telling you how much I love embedded reading. I adore it. I love starting off with something so easy the kids almost write it off, but making sure they understand every part. I love how confident they are when we go into the second reading, and they are just ready to barrel through it. I absolutely love how they are always stunned by the last version, being so much longer than the others, but then they read it and master it so simply. In my opinion no other activity makes success as transparent as embedded readings. I also have come to appreciate the straight up translation aspect of this, which I shied away from initially. Although I like the way I do my embedded readings, I went all in and followed the instructions provided with the readings for Wooly Week. While five readings were provided at each level, the instructions (and my standard practices) only use three.

How I used to teach with embedded reading:

  1. Project the shortest version of the story. Add pictures to express the meaning, and use motions (TPR) to introduce any words that might be new. (As the readings from Sr. Wooly generally have five versions for each level, I sometimes start my second years on the second version.)
  2. Move to the middle version of the story. For my first year students this is the second version, for my second year students this is usually the third of five versions. Highlight the new text, add pictures, read with TPR actions and enthusiasm.
  3. Move to the longest version. For first years, this is generally the third version, second year will be fourth or fifth. Basically repeat step 2.

My new favorite way:

  1. Project the simplest version being read. Read it out loud, sentence by sentence, stopping after every period to have the students tell you in English what the sentence meant. If they stumble on anything then draw pictures, TPR, whatever to get the idea right. Then, do it again to make sure everyone is tracking properly.
  2. Move to the middle version, but this time pass out printed versions. (I gave each pair of students a copy with all three versions on it.) Have students read in pairs twice: the first read student A reads in Spanish while student B repeats in English, then student B reads in Spanish while student A repeats in English. Travel around to ensure that translations are accurate and students are on task.
  3. Have pairs pair up to form teams of four. Student A reads the first sentence of the hardest version in Spanish then chooses student B. Student B reads the first sentence in English, the second sentence in Spanish and chooses student C. Student C reads the second sentence in English, the third sentence in Spanish and chooses student D. This continues until the story is read and translated in it’s entirety. You travel around making sure that every team is using every member in its rotations and that they are tracking correctly.

If I had additional time, I would ask the students to illustrate a 4-square retell in their groups. This would reinforce their general language requirement of learning how to summarize, while also adding in pictures for students who are less engaged by text. But, as we had never done it this way before, we did not have that kind of time. Having done it both ways, and needing them to recall the information the next day, I can say confidently that they retained more of the story this way than my way. Plus, they were so engaged at every stage. I also like how the individual cognitive demand increased by level as well. It wasn’t just what they had to read that got harder, it was how they had to complete the task. The illustrated wrap-up seems logical to me, and we will probably try to do it in the future because now they know how the activity works.

Chunky Monkey

This is the third activity write-up for Wooly Week 2019, go read that post to find out what other amazing activities we tried in our class over the past two weeks.

I did not follow the plans at all for this activity, but here is the intention: type up lyrics of a song, cut them up into small chunks, and have the kids put them back in order. It’s just like a sentence scramble and super simple to prep: type, print, cut. This can be done as a predictive activity (sorting before they hear the words or know the song), as a listening comprehension activity (sorting while they listen), or as a memory activity (after listening). You can do this with poems and stories, too. As long as you have kids who can read and sort things, you can do this activity. I’ve been aware of this activity for a while, but this is the first time I have actually used it… and even still, I didn’t use it properly. It is quality exposure, and I’m sure I will do it “right” eventually.

Here’s how (and why) I did what I did: At the same time that chunky monkey was released, so was matamoscas. I loved the images included there too (pictures from the final version, not just sketches!). I wanted to do both, but I didn’t have time for both. So, I used the materials from each to basically re-do Bunches of Hunches. I printed off the page of 15 pictures and the 8 lyric chunks, and cut them out. Then I broke the kids into small groups and gave them the pictures. They had to work together to sequence the pictures in a way that told a story. Once they could tell me a story I gave them the lyrics. I did warn them that (1) some words would match only one picture while others took sets of 2 or three, and (2) they might have to rearrange their pictures to include the new information. Again, they weren’t done until they could tell the story using the pictures and the words.

Once all of the teams had formed their story I finally acquiesced and showed them the real video. I didn’t tell them to, but while they watched they also checked in with the progress of the stories they had created, and within their groups they modified and shuffled as the video went along. This was really cool, because they were so invested in evaluating their thought processes that they wanted to get everything right before the end was revealed. They couldn’t do that if they stopped watching the video though, so it was a big challenge for them. Of all of the activities we did, I think this one was my favorite because it was such a cognitive task for them in every sense of the word.

Bunches of Hunches

This is the second activity write-up for Wooly Week 2019, go read that post to find out what other amazing activities we tried in our class over the past two weeks.

In this activity, we were provided with 20 images from the early storyboard, and 18 reflective or predictive statements. One example: This person is important to the story. All of the statements were written in Spanish using lots of cognates. The instructions were simple: post the pictures around the room, and provide students a way of matching the sentences with them. I did this in two different was with my two classes:

Method 1: post-its and group work

I have 40 minutes with my second year (not to be confused with Spanish 2 – technically we are still considered 1a in the second year) students. I had them break into as many groups as I had different colors of small post-it notes. They had to copy each statement off the board and then stick it to the picture they felt best matched it. This worked well enough. Their Spanish is good enough that among each group they were able to discern the meaning of every statement and choose a picture to go along with it. They had a lot of fun with it, and the images and predictions stuck in their head and reappeared in all of the other predictive activities we did. As I had no idea about the video I couldn’t modify this activity in any way because I couldn’t discern importance. When I do this activity with a known video I will aim for 10-12 pictures and 8-10 sentences. I don’t feel it was necessary to have a sentence for every picture, but 18 was way too many for my elementary kiddos to keep track of.

Method 2: posting-it alone

I had no desire to overwhelm my first year students with 18 sentences. But, I did want them to do this as close to the above method as possible. So, instead of breaking them into groups and telling them to do them all, I gave them each one post-it, and told them to write one sentence and put it on a picture. I figured this way I’d be able to see who was figuring out the more complicated sentences, which is useful to me. I had hoped to have them repeat this with new sentences at least once, BUT two things got in the way. 1: they showed up five minutes late, which is just part of teaching elementary sometimes, and is completely out of my control. 2: I did not fully consider how slowly some of them would work. There was so much movement (which I am not accustomed to) that I just didn’t notice that one kid was literally walking circles around the room instead of working. So, before I choose this method again I will have to devise a better way. Ultimately, every kid who wrote a post-it recalled some of the predictions they made while looking at the pictures, so that’s a win in my book.


This activity was a great way to get their minds going. I did intend to have a follow-up activity where (after seeing the real video) they reviewed everything they had said about the stills and identify if they were correct or incorrect. However, we had a delay that day, and I don’t go to their school at all on delay days so we skipped that. I will include a review of predictions in my plans for videos because I do think we missed a valuable opportunity to review all of the high quality language. I wasn’t worried about skipping it this time because I really felt like the quantity of pictures and sentences were totally overwhelming but I won’t have that problem when I make the activity myself. I will be using sentences straight from the file provided, because they were awesome, and in such generic terms that they would be effective for just about any video at all. It also prepped them well for the sequencing activities that we did which used the same pictures. Finally, I loved how being familiar with the music and the pictures opened up the student’s brains to focusing solely on the words from the song. I had not experienced students singing along to the chorus during the first viewing of a video before, but that happened this time in both classes. My only guess is that it was this prior exposure which freed them up to enjoy and participate freely when the time finally arrived.

Subtle Manipulations

This is the first activity write-up for Wooly Week 2019, go read that post to find out what other amazing activities we tried in our class over the past two weeks.

At the beginning of Wooly Week no regular user (like myself) had any idea what the rest of the week would be like. All we knew was that we should play a particular instrumental track at the beginning of class for the first two days. I played it during all of the times that the students should be working quietly as well. Basically, I played it during any moment I wanted silent voices for the first two days. As you may suspect, this was the wordless version of a new song which would be released as a part of Wooly Week. Every future activity would revolve around this song in some way. Initially, I didn’t love it mainly because I don’t generally favor music without words. However, I will start doing this whenever I’m introducing a new Wooly song unit! Here are the things I loved:

  • If I kept the volume low, then the kids would work more quietly on whatever I wanted them to focus on. I didn’t notice that the music distracted them in any real way.
  • The kids eventually picked up on the fact that the music I played was being replayed, it wasn’t just random music. This piqued their curiosity, that was increased by the fact that I couldn’t answer any of their questions about it. (Of course, that novelty is only for this song, since I know all the others, and they have heard most of them too…)
  • They began predicting that our activities were leading us to a new song. Once they did that, it gave the other activities more meaning. I’m not sure they would have made that leap without the music.
  • The melody really set the tone of the classroom. Because it was jaunty, classes were more cheerful and productive (in an out-put sense) than normal… or at least it seemed that way.
  • Most of all: I loved that when we finally got to the lyrical version the students weren’t distracted in any way by the music. Once they finally got to the lyrics they were 100% attentive to the words of the song. It really provided a deeper, immediate grasp of the story line that I have seen from them in past units.

My take-away here: this activity is basically zero prep (assuming that you have sound technology in your classroom), and could work for any song that you (1) can find an instrumental version of and (2) plan on using in an instructional manner in your class. I have done two song-of-the-month activities during the year so far, and I bet that (as they are popular songs) there is a karaoke version around. I will definitely start looking for them more often, and hopefully, remember what a nice change it was to work with quiet music filling our learning space.

Wooly Week 2019

First, before you go on at all: if you do not know Sr. Wooly then PLEASE GO DIRECTLY TO and poke around a bit. I have a pro account that my division gives me, but if they wouldn’t pay then I would buy it myself. It was difficult to say that one resource is significantly better than anything else on the site, but my vote is for Wooly Week which occurs the first week of February. Once you have gotten some idea of this site, you will be ready for what lies ahead.

This was my first Wooly Week, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but it all seemed very suspect. We, the Woologists, were told we’d be receiving lesson plans to enact for Wooly Week this year instead of whatever they did before. I waited on pins and needles for these plans and when they finally came they were completely redacted! The only thing I was certain about was what music to play at the beginning of class the first day. I’m a really diligent planner (and you can tell by the break in posts) so I was thrown for a loop these past two weeks. This was insane. How could I plan when I couldn’t access anything! I almost bailed. But, I seriously love the stuff this team comes out with, so I bit my nails all the way down and braided my hair so I wouldn’t pull it out and waited.

This stuff was PURE GOLD! I can’t even put into one post all of the amazing things we have done in the past two weeks, so here is the general summary of what was made available and an index of the things we did in my room. I’ll write and link posts to each individual activity. Also important to know, proving that we’ve done these activities earns me raffle tickets to win super cool things (like a visit from Sr. Wooly himself), so I made a raffle for my students too! I will write up all of this too, because the kids were all in on earning just as many tickets for me as they earned for themselves.

Here are the names of the most memorable activities:

We also got to play two games, which I will write up here: Karaoke Champion and Ojo Sabio. Both of these were raffle challenges presented by Sr. Wooly. While the kids may have believed that I just didn’t want to teach, or cared more about raffle tickets than their learning, or that I was super lazy, the truth is even better. These songs are so highly comprehensible, and the language worms its way into everything the kids do, so what better food for the language worms than a million repetitions? They played the same songs over and over with so much joy. If I said the same sentences to them over and over they would throw such fits. What is comprehensibly enriched instruction if not joyful repetitions of understandable material?

Karaoke is exactly what it sounds like, and in our championship students could perform alone or in groups OR be a judge. Either way everyone was paying attention to everything. Each team chose their own song and if they wanted Sr. Wooly to sing with them. It was fantastic. We laughed until we cried. I am certain that I could have made this activity more rigorous, but it was Friday and I teach elementary school. I was willing to argue that listening to exclusively Spanish for 30 straight minutes was rigorous enough.

Ojo Sabio was a new feature presented specifically for Wooly Week 19, and was a virtual Eye-Spy. Each of they 27 music videos had a new version with four graphics hidden somewhere in the video. I wrote out index cards with the names of each video and a list of the hidden objects for the kids to find. As soon as two students were in the room I pulled up a video on the projector and had them start watching. After they saw what to do they grabbed laptops and cards and got to work. All they did was stare at these music videos over and over and over searching for these objects. Meanwhile, their little subconscious overflowed with input. No one talked, no one moved, all they did was soak up the language while searching for objects. It was so much fun. They even logged on at home to continue the search, just in case the other class didn’t get all of their objects. I have never seen them so invested in a lesson. It was totally worth it. Of course, if we did things like this more often then it would probably lose all of it’s positive impact, but once a year I’ll go all in.

We also spent a day decorating cookies (donated by a wonderful parent) in the styles of our favorite characters, because we are elementary, and it was Valentine’s day after all.

all the lovely Gorros, in sugar cookie and in an amazing lemon cake 🙂

Break Out of a boring class

This week took so much prep work, and it was amazing! First of all, if you have never heard of Breakout Edu then go now to their website! If you don’t have time for that, then simply it is a box locked with a series of different padlocks. The goal is to unlock the box. What really inspires me about this concept is that it can be applied to absolutely any subject so long as the students have the dexterity to open the lock once they have solved it. Honestly, I’m now thinking that maybe my first graders would like to do this in their class. Second, I need to mention that alignment with the other teacher of my program in my division is important to me even though we teach in different ways, in different buildings to a population that is generally stable. So, when I arrived at the end of my Capibara Con Botas unit a week before she did, I went scouring for something else we could do to extend the book out a little further. Breakout boxes were discussed in Matt Miller’s Ditch Summit, so I began the search for a box and began formulating my clues. I uncovered one and the rest is history!

Beginning the work was so intimidating, but it was worth the effort, and a lot of what I made can be used again! Here’s what you have to have:

  • Either a Breakout box for every team, or a plan to share the box:
    • I had one box and used a 2 minute timer to limit the time each team had to open the box.
    • In retrospect I’d consider lowering the time – a team who has all the combinations can unlock it in about a minute. I may also institute a rule that you cannot access the box for the first 5-10 minutes. My teams wasted a lot of time seeing if they could just guess the codes.
  • A place for each team to keep their supplies:
    • I used an 11×17 sheet of construction paper folded and taped into an envelope shape for each team, and used the color names to identify my teams.
    • I am now considering something like this poly folder set from Amazon, it is easy to pull the folders out of the system for each team, and can be quickly collected and maintained outside of class. (I’ve been using three of these for ten years and they seem indestructible.)
  • Hint Cards
    • I found memes in Spanish that I thought expressed “help” clearly. Each team got two, glued to their color construction paper.
    • In retrospect, maybe I should have told them in English what these were – they struggled to figure out their usefulness. Also, while the company provides 2 hint cards, I think I’d rather have three.
    • Also in retrospect, maybe I should have considered what hint I would give for each clue – but it was more exciting for me to tell them to ask a question and they would only “pay” if I agreed to answer the question.
  • A Clue Log
    • I made a two column document that had the picture of each type of lock in the small left column, and a large area to record notes or combinations on the right. I like it, the company also has one.
    • Mine were not pictured in order, which the kids knew. I did not tell them (unless they asked with a hint card) which lock they were unlocking. I will not do that again, at least not for novice lock-breakers. That was a bit too much challenge for my ~10 year old students.
  • Clues
    • You need to provide a clue (or series of clues) that lead to the combinations for each lock.
    • I colored envelopes and labeled them with ordinal numbers and team colors, since I had five teams and five locks I had 25 envelopes.
    • In retrospect, my easiest clue (so easy they guessed it without anything to go off of) turned out to be 3rd. It worked well because it really energized the teams when they moved so quickly from two locks done to two locks to go.
  • Some prize/reward to put in the box. Mine were admission tickets to the next two weeks of class. (You have to know your audience to choose a good reward. I do.)

Now, I frequently go way overboard on things, and in this activity it favored me well! That being said, my poor students spent the first three days (of 30 minute classes) being wildly off track. They spent their entire period trying to guess the combinations randomly (and 4 teams succeeded in guessing the third lock). I will not give them access to the box from the start again. On the second day I told them what the hint cards were for, they did successfully find where I had hidden the first clue – but again, that was luck so they spent the entire class certain that they were not finished with “clue zero” which was not a lock code. On the third day I removed “clue zero” from their envelopes so they wouldn’t be distracted by it. We stopped class to discuss the fact that I had taken them and they were not lost, merely useless. We then discussed what it was and how it helped so they could start to get the thought process necessary to decipher the clues. On the fourth day it was cold, and our class was lost in a 2 hour delay. On the fifth day I had a conversation with everyone who was in the room before class started and allowed each of them time to share what they knew to be true about the first clue. This, finally, led the first team to success. First lock down, that team finished with little to no interference from me in less than 15 minutes. Spurred on by their success, another team stayed close in their wake and finished about three minutes later. I allowed the first team to serve as guides to the remaining teams. Once those teams were ready to listen to their new interloper, they actually provided great clues without just giving answers. Apparently, it had been difficult for them and they wanted to see the other teams struggle too. I’m fine with that. Three teams would finish during class, and two other teams came to visit me later to breakout for themselves.

There are three different ways to hide clues, two I tried:

  1. Riddles: mine led to places around the room, pages in the book, and used verbs to convey the direction arrows should point
  2. Red lens viewers: This technique is the most time consuming, and took me an entire day to create, an artist could probably have been faster. You must write the message in blue crayon on white paper. Then, build a distracting image above it using red pen and yellow or orange highlighter. I drew llamas, it was especially helpful to add different colors to the parts of the animal which were not covering the clue to make it more visually distracting. Then provide teams with a red lens. This can be made out of red glass or plastic. I found a multi-color set of plastic notebook dividers at the dollar store and cut up the red one. Certainly more expensive and attractive options are available, but unnecessary. I even cut and glued foam frames around them (to color code for teams) and it cost $3 (with the tacky glue) and took about an hour with the aid of a pocket knife and a paper cutter. I could even make a second set in six colors with the supplies I have left over.
  3. UV light: This is the one I didn’t do. I worried that not having black light flashlights for each team would cause a bottle neck, so I decided I would get a dozen of keychain sized lights if this event went well. (I’ve been eyeing these) I will probably also get my own set of uv markers (probably these). My one reservation is how distracted the students were by my llamas, so I’m not sure that leaving the flashlights in the envelopes would be a great idea. But, that’s an issue for another day.

Have you used a breakout box before? How do you make your clues? How much do you worry about English use to deal with the Spanish (or other language) clues?

Graphing in Spanish?!

Our first week of second semester is over! I’m pleased to report that everyone survived, but it was a close call for a few. Of course, I was prepared for a few back to school crazies, but it was doubly concerning as we had those snow days before break too. It’s been a while since these kids have had a truly normal week. I spent two days reviewing what the kids had done during their vacations. (To do this I used ¿Qué hiciste este fin de semana? by The Storyteller’s Corner which I read as a book since I don’t have my own room. My predecessor left behind several of her materials in a file, I pulled out the school’s binding machine and have been putting them to great use! If you need printable, easy, engaging readers then check out her TpT store!) That was fun, but by Wednesday we really needed to get back on schedule. So, with Capibara Con Botas books in hand, (Read more about this book here.) we began our math lesson. This idea came from Matt Miller during DitchSummit18. Maybe he’s not the first to come up with it, but he had the idea during one of the sessions and I thought it seemed great, so I rewrote my lessons to include it. Good golly people, they enjoyed the novelty of this! Here’s how it went:

I drew a graph for them. I used emojis as the y-axis: at the top was the wide grin, then the one with no mouth (used for unknown or unclear) then sad, scared, and angry at the very bottom. I used the chapter numbers for the x-axis, we were on chapter ten, so I had ten columns. This was already prepared before class, all I had to do was open the file and review the emotion words. With a higher level or after having done this a few times, maybe I would let the kids choose which emojis and what order to place them in. Honestly, creating a logically ordered spectrum of emotions was harder than I expected it to be, I went by the order I would rather experience.

Then we created a list of all the characters we could remember (book use was highly encouraged) and we chose a different color for each character. I was very impressed by their recollection of characters. They did remember everyone! That was a nice confidence builder for me. As they listed characters, I would ask the kids which color they preferred for the character then write the name underneath the graph. (Sidenote: Thank you, Mira Canion, for having only a limited number of characters, it exactly matched my number of colors. I had not thought to count that before.) When I do this again, I will write the names into a box which will be the key, so it more accurately reflects a mathematical/scientific graph.

Finally, I instructed the students to open their books to chapter one. I asked them how Carlos, the main character, was feeling and plotted it on the graph. Then we moved to chapter two with Carlos. After Carlos’ emotions had been plotted and the connecting lines drawn, I moved on to the next character we had listed and we flipped back to chapter 1. I had considered going by chapter instead of by character, but I’m glad I focused them on characters instead of chapters because it got them thinking more deeply about a single character’s experience. This deeper thought was necessary for times when the character didn’t appear in the following chapter. When we didn’t know, we thought back on what the character had last experienced or what we knew of their personality and guessed. For the most part, we did not need to rely on the unclear emoji once a character had been introduced to the book. (Sidenote: I had no intention of plotting characters in the chapters preceding their introduction, but the kids insisted on plotting every line fully and I was more interested in celebrating their engagement.)

After plotting out the two easiest characters, I allowed them to choose who we plotted next for the remainder of the activity. After they started getting the hang of what we were doing I began asking them for evidence and encouraging them to read from the book to explain why they thought a character felt a certain way. High schoolers might not need prompting for evidence and could be expected to do it at the onset of the activity, but as I teach elementary I always try to build confidence with an activity before stepping up the rigor. (Plenty of people say that elementary teachers coddle too much, if this is true then I am fine with being in the wrong until someone can convince me that it is bad for my students.) For example, in the prior chapter one character had been happy, so they told me that the character was happy in the next chapter too. I asked them to prove it and they realized that the character suffered an injury during the next chapter and had to reevaluate their decision. That was cool to watch. After that they had to prove every answer, whether or not it was obvious. This went well because it was a logical transition in expectation.

We only have 30-minute classes, so we didn’t have time to map every character, but they loved doing this so much that I wished I had continued it a second day. I didn’t because I felt it had served its purpose of reminding the kids about the story, and I wanted to redirect their energy to the book instead of keeping it on the graph. I feel this kind of shift helps them maintain excitement more than continuing something they’ve become completely comfortable with, especially in a week where I was expecting issues with remembering our rules and routines. This was the right choice for me and this group but could certainly be handled in several other ways. For example, after plotting the two easiest characters (with all of the others being mostly equal in difficulty) this could have become an individual or small group activity where they need to plot the remaining characters themselves and write out the sentence that supports each point, or choose one to present to the class with supports, and that’s just ideas off the top of my head.

Now, a couple of notes that should be kept in mind: first, as mentioned before, if you plan on color-coding your plot lines then be sure to count your characters and available colors. Second, as this book has around eight paragraphs in each chapter it is unusual that a character seriously changes from beginning to end, so for me it was easy enough to choose a single emotion. Consider the amount of action that takes place in each chapter and be sure your students will be able to choose one feeling. Certainly we could have had a very long discussion about the previously-mentioned, injured character. He did begin the chapter quite optimistically and ended it in agony, we could have plotted him with more detail but didn’t. Think about the level of analysis that your students would apply. My crew is more than 75% boys, they just don’t nit-pic emotional status the way a group of 75% girls might. Or maybe it is that they are 90% competitive so when they all agree then they obviously all won, and a less competitive class might respond differently? I don’t know, all I can say is this went well for us but consider how your class handles emotion before over-simplifying as I did. Certainly, you could identify key actions in the book instead of chapters which would require more language but be easier when putting emotion into single points on a plot line.

Either way, this activity was a great success for me, and if you try it in your class I’d love to hear all about it! What book are you reading? How did you arrange your x and y axis? Was it a fun break from your “normal” language lessons?

Ditch Summit 2018

Ditch Summit 2018 is a wrap now! Did you participate? I love the Ditch Summit because I can never quite guess what the topics will be. I even avoid checking people out ahead of time because I love being surprised by the topics. The one that blew my mind was the final session with James Clear on habits. I am also re-writing my lesson plans for next week to include an activity that Matt thought up during the session on visual learning. Ultimately, I don’t think I’m the target audience for the Ditch Summit, because it focuses so heavily on technology integration in classes which just isn’t something I’m doing yet. That being said, I never know what amazing ideas or techniques I’m going to pick up. There is so much material presented in the sessions that I have found something invaluable every year. If you missed it this year, then you need to plan on it for next year! I know I will!

First, let me tell you about the new lesson I’m creating. Here is the context you need: I planned to read all of Capibara con Botas by Mira Canion with my 5th graders during the month of December. I laid it out so nicely, had two extra days in case we got off schedule (but the lesson schedule was beautiful, and would not have been a problem). Then we had THREE SNOW DAYS. You know how often it snows in December in Roanoke? Infrequently. You know how often snow accumulates in December? Almost never. For the first time ever I got seriously upset about snow days because they ruined my beautiful plan. I digress… Point is, instead of coming back having read an entire novel and having our slates totally clean for second semester, we have five more chapters to read. My bet? They remember very little about what is going on in the story. Worst of all, we aren’t going straight back into it, because we are going to talk about break first. Meanwhile, it will be three full weeks between reading chapter 9 and reading chapter 10. So, on Wednesday, after two days of discussing their winter breaks, we will work together to create an emotion chart. Like I said, this comes from the session on visual learning. On the Y-axis of a graph I will have a range of emotions, probably horrible, scared, sad, meh, content, and fantastic. On the X-axis I’ll list out chapters 1-9. Then we will go through the book talking about how a single character is feeling during each chapter and the students can watch the progression of emotions through time. We’ll chart each character in a different color, so they can all be on the same chart and we can see how they correlate (or seem to correlate) to each other. I think this is great! I can’t wait to see what they do with it, and I imagine it will provide tons of repetition for the events given that we must review each chapter from the perspective of five or six different characters (depending on how many we have time for). After this, I expect they will be totally ready for the last few chapters.

Now, my favorite session: Atomic Habits with James Clear. Atomic Habits is a book he has written about how to use mental habits to make life easier. He discusses the habits we have such as tying shoes, once it was very difficult, but after a bit of practice we can tie our shoes while simultaneously doing other mental tasks. This ability to “auto-pilot” through rote tasks allows us to be more productive, as long as we use this ability wisely. In the classroom, this can include tasks such as supply storage. Why waste time asking for and distributing, or even sharpening pencils? Keep a stash of sharpened pencils where you and the students can access it and let them grab pencils as needed or trade in dull pencils for sharpened ones. If they know the procedure, then they can even continue to be engaged in class while retrieving what they need. Passing out papers, opening class routines, and ending class routines can all be improved. Moreover, the way things are taught can be made into a habit as well. If students know the flow of class, they will be free to focus on the content. Focusing on the habits you want to form and the actions you want to discourage will help you evaluate how you set up your room and present information. The example James Clear gives is the television: if you want to watch less television then rearrange your living room to have a focal point other than the television or place your television in an armoire, like some hotels do, and put the remote away when the television is off. He justifies this by saying we do what we see, if you come home and sit on the couch then you will reach for the relaxation device that is most convenient. Put a book on the coffee table and you will probably read more, put a pad of paper on the coffee table and you will probably write more, but leave the remote on the table and you will probably keep watching too much television. Our classrooms are the same way, think about that if you are lucky enough to have walls of your own.

This was the third year of Ditch Summit, and I have to say, I think it was the best yet. Sure, I don’t have the access to technology to enrich my lessons with cool applications like Flipgrid, but at least I know what I could do when I do have the devices. There are plenty of reasons that I keep my classes low-tech, but I like to stay informed on what I could be doing. Maybe one day there will be a presentation that inspires me to incorporate laptops into my 30-minute classes, as I did when I taught 90 minute blocks, but until then Ditch Summit continues to provide me with low-tech brilliance while keeping me up to date with the latest in educational technology. If you want to know more about using technology to increase rigor and relevance in your classes, then definitely go check out Matt Miller at Ditch The Textbook. If you participated, what was your favorite session? What were your take-aways?

SSR: El Jersey

Published in 2017 by Puentes Language

El Jersey is a 39-page story that tells a story about 7-year-old Matías (who is a real person, and whose actions inspired this book). I bought my copy from Amazon (technically Blue Eagle Credit Union bought it, as this is one of my grant titles!). This story revolves around two boys and one Messi jersey. The story is written in the third person present, with some chapters written about Matías and his experiences, while the others revolve around Brayan. It is written by Jennifer Degenhardt, a long-time Spanish teacher. It is clearly written and has a good glossary.

Now, excuse me for being super nerdy, but I like the word and line spacing in the publishing. At first glance, I worried that this book would appear too intense to attract my students to read it, especially since it has no illustrations. However, I really like how the words seem to have twice the normal amount of space between them, and the lines are double spaced. I feel like that blank space will help students focus on where they are instead of being overwhelmed by the number of words on the page.

I’ll stop talking about the book and return to the story now. As this story is told from the perspective of a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old, it is very logical to be written using such simple (and comprehensible!) language. Whereas we might expect an older character to speak more in depth, these kids’ thoughts are displayed using very concise language, without feeing forced in any way because it is the natural level of language used by 6 and 7-year-olds.

In addition to simple language, the age of the characters also made it easy to specifically highlight some differences in culture as the American Matías travels through Guatemala. I particularly adore that each boy’s story begins at their homes. The difference between their routines at home provided a nice base for comparison, which could be a nice spring-board for class conversations if this were used as a group reading. Another topic of conversation could easily be soccer, too! Many popular players are mentioned by name, as well as a few different teams which could be described and/or compared.

One of the parts I like best, especially if looking for a group-read (instead of FVR/SSR), is how each chapter has one overarching theme that may or may not appear in any other chapter. This could be great for pre-teaching and for providing pictures or other input. While one chapter describes different soccer teams, another describes how kids without proper soccer balls play still find a way to play. (That made me think of providing my students with my recycling scraps to see if any of them could create a useable ball, as was described in the story.)

Also, I just discovered the audio version of El Jersey in the Free Resources on! I don’t know how long they will be there, but it’s an awesome feature while it lasts. Degenhardt also talks about this book specifically in her interview on Ashley Uyaguari’s Inspired Proficiency podcast, so be sure to listen to that if you plan on using this book in groups. If you like this book, she also has several other titles, but I don’t have any of them (yet).

And, as always, here are the stats I always want to know:

  • 39 pages
  • No illustrations
  • 12 chapters that range from 2 to 5 pages
  • 8-page glossary
  • Fictional story based on the real life actions of a 7-year-old American boy that takes place primarily in Guatemala.
  • This could be great for a group read, but it will stay in my SSR library for now because I already have several class sets of books that I need to use at least once before I ask for another class set of anything.