Student Jobs To The Rescue

Student jobs save my sanity especially during the end of the semester where, even in elementary school, schedules are affected by testing and holiday related activities. Let me tell you one reason why:

              My classes all start exactly the same way. I’m lucky that all of my classes are technically beginner level, so it even looks almost exactly the same in every room too. (Although, it would be similar in many ways for an advanced class.) First, my calendar kid stands up and reviews the day, date, and weather. They have tons of manipulatives to help scaffold the process for them. I closely monitory (or model, depending on the class) the proceedings for the first four or five weeks, after that I hand over the reins entirely to this part of class. Now, in December, they are all running smoothly without my need to do much more than direct the class to pay attention to the calendar kid. It does feel, many times, as if I don’t even need to be in the room for this portion of class. And today, I wasn’t!

              Due to testing, my 45-minute class had to trade with a 30-minute class. I had worried all day how I was going to shrink down my class but came to no real conclusions. I need not ever have worried, I should have known these kids would have my back. I walked in and couldn’t even put down my things before the calendar kid was by my side. He informed me that they had also been concerned about the time, so all of the students who had any of our opening routine jobs had already done everything they needed. Moreover, they had done all of this at the original time! They really like to be the first thing that happens in their class every morning, I guess.

In this case, I have four students who open this class. My calendar kid is a strong leader, so he rotates through assistants by training them in his job then firing them and hiring someone new. I never know who will be standing with him, or how he manages this. I don’t ask because I trust (with good reason) that he is fulfilling his role as a teacher in the class to his best ability. He, and his trusty assistant makes sure that we review the day, date, and weather. Next, we have P.O.W and W.O.W. kids. Their job is more about Spanish being fun than anything else, but fun is important! These kids have a phrase (p.o.w. such as ‘that’s gross!’) or a word (w.o.w. – generally an action like dances, eats, runs, etc.) that they present to the class in the most appropriate theatrical manner they can manage, which is then repeated by the rest of the class. It’s a nice, low-stress way to transition into my goal of a Spanish-only class. Plus, the kids who really need some spotlight time get it, while setting the class up for success!

I got this approach from Tina Hargaden (who has a book on this subject at and Brett Chonko (find him at I have a bunch of other jobs that I use, but I keep them very flexible and based 100% around what I need at the moment. My HR manager and trainer are my most important, because they keep track of who is doing what job and how the jobs are done. They are really the heart and brains behind my classroom management, and I function much better with them, than I ever did without them.

I didn’t mean to leave, but I’m back!

I’m back from my unplanned hiatus! I fell victim to the busy school season, then couldn’t motivate myself to write, because it had been so long since I had written. But, after attending ACTFL I realized how important it is to keep record of everything I’m doing. More than that, it’s important to spread the message that all language teachers can follow me down this road. It might not be easy, but it’s worth it. Today I am going to recount as many personal interactions as I can remember from the conference. In future posts (which will be forthcoming!) I will continue describing what we do in class, and why we do it.

First: I met Carrie Toth (from and she is amazing! Not only is she a published author and curriculum specialist at Señor Wooly (, she is also an incredible Spanish teacher. I bought two of her books, and got them autographed(!), to add to my personal reading library. My largest take-aways from interacting with her include:

  • Bring joy to your teaching, whatever you are doing (a constant and repetitive theme among the ACTFL elites that I got to meet).
  • Always look to drive understanding just a little bit deeper. Look for ways to make the content richer.
  • Don’t do the same thing every time, sneak in small differences, change up activities, create something different for different units. (For me this is a struggle. My kids crave routine and predictability, but they could probably tolerate me having just a few more tricks in my toolbelt.)
  • Base your class on student success, specifically build in pathways to acquisition for every student and make them clear.

Second is Allison Litten (from who is such a pleasure to be around. Her enthusiasm and energy are so contagious! She teaches a lot of the same types of classes that I do, but I feel like she does it with so much more finesse! She bases a lot of her teaching around stories (another common theme for teaching our littlest learners), which inspires me to focus on teaching with more stories. She is also a master of making short films teaching gold! We also talked about proper assessment, and how to communicate growth to parents. Now I really fully believe, beyond the inconvenience of averaging weeks of numbers to come up with a letter, that the standard report card is simply not the right way to show parents that their student is learning. Language acquisition just doesn’t work like that.

Third is Annabelle Williamson (from who embodies positivity and happiness. She had a long, rough day before I met her, and she was still the most positive person at the table. I can only imagine how nice it must be to be the student of a teacher who is so determined to be the happiest, kindest person she can be. I definitely felt better about my hectic schedule after hearing about hers. She has such a great outlook and is so nice to be around. No doubt my biggest take-away from her was that students want to learn from someone who they want to be around. I need to work harder to be the kind of teacher my students would want to be around. Even when I’m tired, even when I’ve had a rough day, even when things just aren’t going my way. I don’t know how she learned to be so resilient, but I will be actively looking for ways to be more like her in my daily life.

This segment ends with Jason Fritze (who seems to not have a website), in all rights a true guru of elementary language acquisition. He so generously spoke with me and my counterpart in my division (the only person who teaches all the same classes/levels/schedule as I do) for nearly an hour. We discussed a plethora of topics during that time. The most outstanding of which was proper assessment of students, as guided by the ACTFL Can-Do Statements. We agreed that these statements are not always ideal for younger learners, as they need to be broad enough to include more cognitively demanding tasks. (An example of that is describing events in the past, recent past, near future and future. This simply isn’t developmentally appropriate for many students under ten years of age.) He suggested that we need to investigate the European model to guide our creation of a Spanish specific report card for parents. This was highly reflective of the recommendations that Allison Litten had during my time with her as well. We also discussed the times and frequencies of class meetings that best enable our students to acquire new language. He reiterated that we are incredibly lucky to work for a division which works hard to allow us to meet those basic requirements of time and frequency in all our programs. It is the core difference that can be seen when comparing a division which wants an elementary program in name only, and a division (like mine!) which really truly attempts to give all students the most valuable opportunities it can.

All in all, ACTFL was even more amazing than I had thought it would be. And, once I figure out how to manage it, I will update this with my selfies with so many super cool people. Additionally, I made and strengthened so many connections with others in Virginia, including fellow elementary teachers in Arlington, who extended an open invitation to go see them do what they do whenever I can. It is so amazing to feel so supported, even by complete strangers. I never imagined that I would be brave enough to ask someone if I could go into their classroom (which is a couple hundred miles from mine), that they would say yes, or that I would consider it. I amazed myself with how much stronger I have become since transitioning to teaching with Comprehensible Input as my main teaching goal, it’s working out in ways I could have never predicted. Now, stay tuned, pictures will be forthcoming and so will more posts!

Raffle & Genius Hour

This is the final 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.

Okay, so as far as techniques or activities ideas, this isn’t exactly in line with my normal posts. However, it’s value in engagement is (in my opinion) worth it’s place here. Neither of these things should be used frequently, and honestly I doubt I could be convinced to do them more than once per year. I am really glad I did them, so here’s how you can do it too:

Wooly Week Raffle

One part of Wooly Week is the teacher raffle. All of the prizes are a super, geeky kind of cool that students can’t win and probably wouldn’t want anyway. Things like PD conferences, kids just don’t get how this prize is amazing. So, I built a raffle out of things they would want, and posted in their rooms how to earn tickets and what the prizes would be if they won. To earn tickets students had to participate happily in class to earn up to 9 tickets (one per day), or they could participate in genius hour activities which I will describe after the prizes. Now, I went ahead and asked my principal if she would give me money to buy one shirt for a grand prize, and one sheet of stickers for each of my classes as a class level prize. She agreed, which was amazing, but I would not have spent my own money on this. I try to do as much as I can without spending money. I also came up with some other prizes of my own, and alternate ideas if the stickers and shirt hadn’t panned out:

  • Teacher for the day: This prize allows the recipient to take over class for one day (any day) and has the ability to redirect class to any Spanish related task they want. I do expect that we will be doing something on laptops on the Sr. Wooly site, but that’s fine. When I give them complete control of the class (I’m not, just to be clear, they have to still be working in Spanish) they are immediately invested in what we are doing for the day. Somehow they have stumbled upon all of the power in the room (they haven’t, but they think they have) and 99% of the time they will use their power for good (in my experience). This only costs me my desire to micromanage, which is a proclivity that I’ve been trying to let go of anyway. I have not required advance notice, but you certainly could add fine print. I’m fine reworking my lesson plans after the fact.
  • One Free A: In my room this prize works for any written graded task. I do so many graded activities that no single task will skew their grade if they have real problems, so I’ll totally let that go. Test, quiz, classwork, they get one, whichever one they want.
  • Other ideas I had: Opt out pass, which would allow a student to not to what we are doing as a class one day, but instead can just sit out and read anything from my library. Gimme a game pass, which would leave me in charge of the class, but I’d have to scrap everything and do a game instead whatever I’d had planned. And, of course, I had considered just giving multiple copies of these awards.

Genius Hour

Wooly also came out with six genius hour projects as a way to earn raffle tickets for teachers. Many of them were not good options for me, like making videos, it’s doable but not in any way I could come up with in my elementary groups. What we did do was the baking challenge, where students decorated sugar cookies during class. The cookies came from one student who got tickets for them, but everyone was invited to bring icing in exchange for tickets as well. This was just fun, that’s all.

The other activity we took part in was Flat Billy. I provided students with a copy of Billy and they got a ticket for every picture they took of him out and around our town. The specific prompt was “take me anywhere that makes the Noke a special place.” Then they needed to email me the picture. This was my favorite thing, because I then compiled the pictures into a powerpoint and wrote a story about all the people and places Billy saw during his visit.

When it was time to pull winners, I pulled all of my students into the same room, to pull all the prizes together. Before we did that, I read to them their story of Billy. It was magical, even the classroom teachers sat in the back of the room completely captivated by the story! This was my sign that it was comprehensibly written too. And the kids loved seeing who had taken Billy to what places, and seeing their own pictures included in the story. I’ll be printing this to add to our classroom library for sure!! Next year, when Wooly Week returns, if there is not a flat challenge then I will make my own. It won’t be Billy, because we’ve done him now, but someone else will invade the Noke and we’ll have another story about our awesome city and my fabulous kiddos.

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?