Friday, October 4, 2013

Slow Down

So now that the first six weeks of school are over and grades have been verified, I finally have time to post on this blog.

This week I started new out loud stories with my level ones and twos. Since my level twos have been struggling I decided I needed to do more scaffolding with them. I am currently using Blaine Ray's Look I Can Talk More and I am finding that the readings associated with the out loud stories are too difficult for my students. So, when planning for this six weeks I went ahead and pulled additional structures from the reading to add to our out loud story. I am hoping that hearing these structures combined with using the strategy of embedded reading will help make the whole reading in Spanish process more fluid for my students. I want them to feel comfortable reading in Spanish, not completely stressed out!

My level ones are doing great with their Spanish so far this year. I am really pleased with their willingness to learn and how quickly they are transitioning from understanding our out loud stories (which are primarily in the imperfect past tense in Spanish) to reading (all in the present tense). They are making the connections between the tenses without me having to go into a long-winded grammar lesson (thank goodness!). However, I realized that I was getting too confident with their abilities this week. I made the mistake of going way too fast. I forgot the golden rule of TPRS: Slow down! I realized this when the students slowly stopped contributing to the story and the story got really boring. The students were not participating and were not able to answer my circling questions. In order to "save" what was left of the momentum of the story I had the students illustrate the story in their spirals while I collected my thoughts. Once, I had a minute to clear my head I went back to the beginning of the story. I realized that I had not verified the details enough with my actors and the students were confused about what was happening in the story. That was why they were not participating and that was the main reason why my story was dying right before my eyes. The power of saying the words slowly in the target language, pointing to EVERY word on the board, and repeating the key strucutres multiple times during the story is not to be underestimated.

Reflecting on these experiences of this past week my goals for the upcoming week are to: (1) Slow down when telling my out loud stories. (2) Get at least 30 reps on each structure in both levels one and two and (3) Grow my level twos confidence in their reading abilities.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Out of Sync?

For the past couple of days I have been challenged with my level 2 Spanish students.

Here are the challenges I have been having:
  1. Students have a negative perception of Spanish based on their experience in level one.
  2. Students are resistant to CI methods because they have never experienced them before.
My goal is to get students to respond to TPRS and other CI methods. I also want them to internalize the new vocabulary and store it in their long-term memory. However, I think I went about achieving these goals the wrong way last week:
  1. I gave them a vocabulary quiz that they were not ready for. The quiz consisted of what I thought were 10 high-frequency vocabulary words from the past two and a half weeks of school. The students' task was to translate the words to English. Most of them bombed the quiz.
  2. Instead of doing more circling and story telling I went into panic mode. I thought to myself: Why aren't my students learning? Why aren't they getting it. I should have been asking myself: What do I need to change? What do my students need from me?
    1. I let them do quiz corrections by correcting the translations and making a visual map of the vocabulary by creating a vocabulary tree.
    2. I did not participate in more circling or reading using the key words. 
Now that I have calmed down, regrouped, and reflected here is what I have learned from this experience:
  1. I need to always remember to meet my students where they are currently at, not where I want them to be.
  2. I need to always fall back on the tried and true method of TPRS for more reinforcement.
  3. I need to be aware that many of these students have never been exposed to TPRS and it may take them longer to absorb the structures into their long-term memory.  Therefore, my Spanish 1 students may progress at a faster rate (initially) and I need to be OK with that.
  4. I need to make sure that I am going slowly, limiting vocabulary, and circling constantly.
  5. I need my students to feel the success that they clearly did not feel in Spanish 1 by giving them assessments that they are wholeheartedly prepared for.
Hopefully this week I will be back in sync with my TPRS methods and exercise a lot of patience with my level 2 students. I know that they are capable of success, I need to slow down and show them that they can achieve in Spanish class!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Embedded Readings and Music

So it is week two of school and I decided to jump right into implementing embedded readings and music bellringers. Working on both of these topics is a major goal of mine this year.

Embedded Readings
I was exposed to the wonders and effectiveness of embedded readings during the NTPRS conference this past summer. I attended an amazing session led by Laurie Clarq and Michele Whaley. This week I was working on an embedded reading for my Spanish 1 that would help my students succeed in reading the mini story "El cuento del gato" from Blaine Ray's Look I Can Talk! Student Edition. You can find the PowerPoint I used here. I also created an embedded reading for my level two students that was built to scaffold "Que Casualidad Lectura 2" from Blaine Ray's Look I Can Talk More! Student EditionYou can see my PowerPoint here.

I tried to use the strategies from the workshop to create the readings by zeroing in on the key structures from both stories. I found that using different colored highlighters to highlight the most basic structures helped me to focus in on what is important (I am a very visual person). I then created about four slides that built the story from three sentences to about 7-10.

I felt like the embedded reading was more successful with my level ones. I think I was missing a few steps and need a few more embedded reading examples before moving onto the final reading with my level twos. I needed to add in the structure "had forgotten". However, overall I saw a huge improvement with my students in their confidence when reading. They all complained that the readings were too easy. I love when they say that!

As far as the activities I used with the readings, I stuck to what I learned in the workshop. I had students translate in pairs and act out the readings. It was hilarious to see my high school students cut loose with the acting, I was really impressed by some of them! Not to mention it made some of those difficult words really stick!

I am looking forward to improving on my technique and building their confidence as the year progresses!

Music Bellringers

I have always wanted to incorporate more music into my curriculum, but I never really knew how. After hearing Lisa Reyes speak and several other of my coworkers tell about their success of using music in the classroom I knew I just had to try it this year.

I am keeping it simple by using music only in bellringers. I give the students a lyrics handout and we fill it out throughout the week (block classes every other week). At the end of the week we go over the lyrics, watch the music video (if appropriate), and talk about what the song means. I have to say, it was a huge success. It's a great, calm way to begin the class and the students are really interested in finding out what the message of the song is all about.This week I used Eres tu by Justo Lamas in Spanish 1 and Fotografia by Juanes ft. Nelly Furtado. I found the songs for free on YouTube and printed the lyrics off of

Hopefully I will continue to improve on my creation of embedded readings as the year progresses and use music as a powerful motivational tool!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Staying in TL The First Days of School

This week marks the first week of school for many Texas schools!

For my first week back I try to stay in target language (TL) as much as possible; however, my main focus in the first two weeks of school is establishing classroom climate through expectations and procedures. To me, creating the ideal classroom environment requires speaking in your students' first language (L1), especially if you are teaching beginning levels like I am.

A typical block period for me will look like this during the first two weeks of school:
  • (1) Bellringer/Warm-up (review procedures every day and use lots of positive affirmations and feedback to encourage students!)
  • (2) Practice expectations and procedures
    • This can take several forms. Sometimes I have my high school students act out examples and non-examples of a specific expectation or procedure. I have the directions pre-printed on laminated cards and put a lot of emphasis on having a positive attitude. They always get into it and we have a lot of fun. 
    • Another activity I do is have students draw examples and non-examples of expectations and procedures. I normally have them pick the six that they feel are the most important and then I hang their artwork on the wall. 
    • I always use lots of positive and constructive praise during these activities since this is so important in establishing a classroom that functions smoothly.
    • Also, throughout the week my bellringers/warm-up activities incorporate scenarios that relate to the expectations/procedures. 
  • (3) TL Activities
    • I pick very simple structures for the first two weeks for level one. I focus on "fui", "me gusta", "estoy", and "me llamo" so that students can immediately start talking about their summers and themselves. I know others prefer a TPR approach; however, I find that this helps to instantly build rapport with my students. 
    • I focus on pointing and going slowly so that students are not overwhelmed and use lots of positive praise in the TL (bien, excelente, perfecto, etc.)
    • If a student exhibits an undesired behavior and/or is not following the procedure for staying in Spanish I immediately correct in L1--no exceptions. This makes the student clearly aware of what they did wrong so that there is no confusion. Likewise, when the activity is coming to a close I take the time to PRAISE all of the great behaviors. I have a personal goal of praising at least 5 different students each class period. For example, "I noticed your pronunciation really improved", "You had really fast response time", "You were doing a great job staying on task and keeping eye contact". All of these things help create that classroom climate that we are trying to achieve!
What are your ideas for staying in TL for the first weeks of school? How do you keep students engaged? Finding the balance between L1 and TL is critical, especially when setting the framework for a new year!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

NTPRS Dallas

Last week I attended some amazing workshops at NTPRS in Dallas. This was my second national conference and it was just as amazing and inspiring as last year. Below are some of my personal notes as well as handouts from the sessions that I attended.

I am really looking forward to applying some of the strategies I learned in the embedded reading session in order to reach my goal of reading two novels in each of my classes this year. I am very fortunate in that my department chair has already ordered several books from TPRS Publishing ( for my level one and two classes.

Other handouts and information from NTPRS are available online at

July 28, 2013

My name is Sarah and I am a high school Spanish teacher. I created this blog to share my successes with TPRS, to connect with other TPRS teachers, and to share ideas. This is my first time in the "blog world" and I am excited to have somewhere to share!