Newsletter 20-21, Sept. (4)

Week #2: This week, students in fourth grade had another dance party–see video below–making sure to sing, “Es viernes (‘bee-AIR-nace’)/It’s Fri-day” as they settled into their seats. The former is our “class song” and was the official anthem for the 2016 European Championship (soccer/fútbol). By Friday, fourth graders began to take a look at the lyrics and delve a bit deeper, learning that while rojo means red in Spanish, in the song, “La Roja” refers to the soccer team because Spain’s flag is red (and yellow).

Before jumping into the lesson, however, I wanted to take a moment to explain why I’ve repeated, “¡Camino!” four million times throughout the past few classes. The Camino is a long hike, yes–but it is also a metaphor. Simply put, language-learning is a journey. The Weekly Spanish Challenges (paralleling the 500-mile Camino de Santiago hike in Spain) are meant to reinforce that fact.

You see, some days feel like we’re walking straight up a mountain. Life is one problem after another–interjection: no! There are no problems, only solutions!–and all of our studying feels for naught. How come I’m not fluent yet? Other days, we are coasting. Spanish makes sense; there is growth: I remember that word! It is crucial to understand here that fluency does not occur overnight. It is a process where, after many successes, failures, and moments of uncertainty, coupled with much determination, grit, and hard work, progress is made. Plateau-ing is normal at a certain point. But don’t give up, ever!

The important thing is to keep going–just keep walking. You are making progress, even if you can’t articulate it quite yet, even when you don’t feel like it. If the class is going too slowly for you, then hike faster!: ask the teacher questions, explore Duolingo (a language-learning app already on your iPads), look up words in a Spanish dictionary, listen to music in the target language. There are myriad opportunities!

After this pep-talk of sorts (and encouragement to complete the Weekly Challenges)–along with a brief reenactment of La Tomatina, the tomato-throwing festival in Spain–students continued with their storytelling/ theater unit. Here, the teacher provides the bare-bones outline of a scripted story, and asks questions to personalize and cater the story to each particular class. My goal is to ingrain certain vocabulary structures in their minds each day through memorable experiences, comprehensible input–students understanding/ intuiting what is being said, even if they don’t know the words yet– and repetition (the average learner requires 70-150 repetitions of a word and/or phrase before it is stored in long-term memory).

NOTE: As I touched upon last week, the stories are grounded in actual cultural facts and places, but the idea is to layer imagination and creativity over them to create a personalized play with student actors and actresses. The stories tend to grow from class to class, but on occasion they will reach a “No Outlet” sign and we will begin anew (the phoenix re-birthed!). New vocabulary is constantly presented and old vocabulary is constantly spiraled and recycled. A full report on each class plot will be forthcoming: we are in the midst of the creative process!

One final note–students are gradually being exposed to the written word, but the focus right now is on listening and aural comprehension. This will be our next step (on the Camino… ha!).

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are encouraged to print and cut out their own euros in color from the template below. Next, if you have any change in your piggy-bank, count all of it, and then type that number into this online currency converter to see how much it would be in a Spanish-speaking country**. For example, $100 US dollars today is about 84€ euros in Spain, but 365,645 pesos in Colombia. WOW! (Students did this in class last week.)

**Spanish-Speaking Countries: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (technically a territory), Spain/España, Equatorial Guinea.

If there are any vocabulary words I would like you to focus on this week, they would probably be dinero/money (‘dee-N(AIR)-row’), la casa de _____/so-and-so’s house (‘lah KAH-sah day ________”), and tengo mucha hambre/I’m really hungry (‘tango MOO-chah AHM-bray’). HERE is a great song (though admittedly a bit silly…) to get tengo hambre stuck in your head forever and ever. Make sure to say these words aloud with a lot of EXPRESSION! and in context at mealtimes, too. Hope you’re having a great week!

Newsletter 20-21, Aug. (4)

Week #1: This week, fourth graders embarked on a whirlwind adventure of language and culture. The first class was spent almost entirely in the target language: here, students traveled to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile hike that will directly correspond with the Weekly Spanish Challenges). Fourth graders began ‘hiking’ around the room as they watched THIS VIDEO I made (“Spain, Part 1”), but quickly realized they needed their backpacks and water bottles–the Spanish summer sun is very similar to Florida’s, with 110*F temps!

As they walked over mountains and through valleys, their guide would periodically get lost. Students learned that the trail is marked by [scallop] shells and arrows. When you see one, you know that you are on the right path. Phew!

Whether students realized it or not, there were constant comprehension checks along the way: “What is this in English? How do you say this ___?”. I am throwing A LOT of Spanish at them in the first few classes, to gauge exactly where they are linguistically (including how many minutes they can actively listen to the language before their brains tune out!) and move forward from there. If your child is newer to Spanish and feels lost, please reassure them that I am only testing where the class is right now and to try their best to watch and follow along. It is okay if they don’t understand every word! Part of the language-learning journey is to RELAX when hearing another language. The brain actually does a lot of work subconsciously when students are actively listening. We will talk about all of this next week.

Anyway, students began creating a “Camino” around campus by drawing shells and arrows with chalk. We hiked up and down a few mountains (read: staircases) with our bags and water bottles, and then decided to retire to the hotel/hostel (their classroom!) for the evening. One section was able to do more of this than the other, due to time constraints.

The following day, students learned that Spanish classes will bounce back and forth between 1) learning about real places/monuments/ history/ traditions/realia–that is, culture–in the Spanish-speaking world; and 2) imagination, where we take pieces of this real culture and combine it with other fantastical ideas, in order to create personalized plays and tell stories in the target language. They also began class with a Friday dance party (Merengue!) to THIS SONG. Note that the English translation here is not a professional translation, but you get the general idea. It was the official anthem to the 2016 European Championship, and a great song!

On Friday, fourth graders launched into a storytelling/theater unit. I did not tell them any of the rules of Spanish storytelling because I wanted to see how they would respond; we will go over these next time. The gist of it was that a famous actress–walking the red carpet–starred in a movie about THE CAMINO (the 500-mile long hike in Spain). Luces, cámara, acción, redoble, toma uno /lights, camera, action, drumroll, take one!

In 4-1, the actress walked and walked and walked, was famished (tengo hambre/I’m hungry), and wanted to go to a restaurant to eat (she had three choices). This part of the story was put on hold or pause as students were given dinero/[fake] money and talked for a minute about euros vs. dollars and different conversion rates.

In 4-2, three famous actress auditioned for the main part. However, it was soon discovered that they were mortal enemies/enemigas. The class voted on this and then paused at a crucial moment when the girls were walking THE CAMINO and realized that their arch-nemesis was behind them. FIGHT?! Oh no! What a problem!

The goal for both classes was to jump into storytelling. We will hone in on specific vocabulary next week and ‘how to play the game’; the goal for this week was simply to listen to a lot of Spanish and gauge what students did and did not understand.

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are encouraged to check out the video and photos at THIS LINK, and to create their own “Camino” at home. The arrows and shells are oftentimes made out of things in nature as well. You might outline an arrow using some rocks or palms, or simply draw arrow and shell signs and hang them up around your house. Make sure they are all pointed in the same direction, so that you don’t get lost. Feel free to send pictures, if you like!

For language input, virtual learners may also 1) participate in the Weekly Spanish Challenges; 2) sign up for a Duolingo account and do a lesson or two; and/or 3) watch a movie or cartoon in the target language (Spanish voiceover and English subtitles). Just get used to hearing a lot of Spanish!

Remote 19-20, T3 (4)

Continued Learning Assignments below.


  1. Watch the VIDEO!!!
  2. Do one of the optional activities on the Summer Packet.
  3. Come to the Specialist Zoom party on Thursday, from 10-10:30am. Look for the invitation in your email and on Seesaw.



  1. Watch the video on Seesaw.
  2. Watch THE PATO SHOW, #9 and leave a comment on Seesaw about your favorite part.
  3. Keep working on Duolingo.


  1. HERE is a sneak peek to optional summer activities.
  2. Click on the Random Number Generator Link, input your range (1-46), and then click on the button. It will randomly choose a number for you; and you can do the corresponding activity. If you don’t like the activity, repeat the process to get a different number!!


OBJECTIVE: This is a CULTURE week! Today we are visiting Mexico.

  1. Learn about Cinco de Mayo from my videos: PART 1 and PART 2.
  2. Put on some traditional Mariachi music, and then–
  3. Post a relevant video/photo/craft on Seesaw.


If you want to listen to more Spanish–since there is not a new episode of THE PATO SHOW this week–here is a fun video.

Hear/read more stories at THIS LINK.


  1. Watch the video on Seesaw.
  2. This week, your assignment is to do something Spanish-related for FIVE (5) days in a row. You can do the same activity each day for five days, or you can mix it up, and choose a different activity each day from the list below.
  3. Have your own ideas? Let me know! You can post EACH DAY on Seesaw what you did (on the journal feed), or wait until the end of the week to respond to this activity and share a slideshow of all of your activities. Good luck! ¡Buena suerte! YOU CAN DO IT!!

Here are A FEW IDEAS:

  1. Write out 10 sentences in Spanish each day. They can be silly or serious!
  2. Cook/bake/make/eat a Spanish recipe.
  3. Work on Duolingo (or Memrise) for 10 minutes each day.
  4. Watch another movie with Spanish voiceover and English subtitles.
  5. Listen to the entire Spanish Summit playlist of songs HERE. You can’t leave the room–actually listen!!
  6. Video yourself shouting, “¡El chico come manzanas!” (the boy is eating apples!) or another sentence you know, and post it to Seesaw.
  7. Change the language of your iPad, phone, computer, and all of your devices to Spanish for 24 hours. Can you survive??!
  8. Count to 20 in Spanish (in your head!) when you’re brushing your teeth every morning. Look up the numbers if you don’t know them.** (See note below)
  9. Watch this inspirational Salsa VIDEO (and the dog dancing Salsa). Next, put on some fancy clothes, blast your favorite Spanish music, and make a short video of you dancing/jamming out to the song! The kids in the video are only 6 and 8 years old. Wow!
  10. Play the Language Game, and try to get a score higher than 50. Too easy? The best score for Summit so far this year has been 325. Try to beat it! Spend 20-30 minutes working on this. It will really improve your ear for language.
  11. Watch all of the Pato videos, and email me a paragraph describing which episode was your favorite and why.
  12. Learn about Worry Dolls from Guatemala in this short but cute VIDEO, and then try to make your own.
  13. Watch this video of the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile hike through northern Spain) to see what it is like, and then go on a 20-minute hike outside. Think about how you learn Spanish best. What works for you? What doesn’t work? Do you learn best by listening, writing, or doing? Or something else?

**Too easy? Count backwards. Still too easy? Skip count forwards and backwards. Do mental math. Don’t just memorize numbers in order; make them meaningful. How do we use numbers in the real world? Count change in Spanish, say the total of the restaurant bill in Spanish, jump rope or play hopscotch in Spanish.  Numbers are everywhere…!


  1. Watch the video on Seesaw.
  2. Keep working on Duolingo! You guys are rockin’ it!
  3. Watch a movie in Spanish (Spanish sound/voiceover and English subtitles) this week.
  4. Post the name of the movie to Seesaw AFTER you watched it, and add a comment about what you thought.
  5. Be sure to check out “The Pato Show” if you haven’t yet, and SEND ME a short video of you doing something in the distance (doing a cartwheel, kicking a soccer goal in your backyard, etc.) if you want to be featured in future videos!!


Click on video below for The Pato Show playlist. Enjoy!


Respond to the activity on Seesaw. The Spanish Activity below will be posted on Seesaw at 8am Tuesday morning. Please log in to Seesaw to view and click on the “Activities” tab. NOTE: When I say, “Duolingo”, I am using that interchangeably with “Memrise”. I mean, whichever language-learning app you are using!

  1. Complete at least 9 lessons on Duolingo this week.
  2. Respond to this activity with a screenshot of your progress at the end of the week.
  3. Watch the Pato video below.


  1. Play the language-identification game 2 or 3 times. See if your ear has improved since we played last year in class.
  2. If you haven’t played this game before, choose the “easy” level and just have fun!
  3. Post a screenshot of your highest score to your journal feed.


Thank you to those of you who did your assignments last week! Instead of emailing, from now on I would like you to submit your work by responding to the activity on Seesaw. The TWO Spanish Activities below will be posted on Seesaw at 8am tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. Please log in to Seesaw to view and click on the “Activities” tab.

Do your best work. Not your fastest work. Not your laziest work. YOUR BEST WORK!!! ***And keep working on Duolingo (or Memrise) 3-4 times a week!


Activity #1- Videos

Activity #2- Songs

**Spanish Activity, 4/7/20- VIDEOS (Part 1)

  1. You have two assignments to complete this week. This is only ONE of them.
  2. Record another video (no letters this week).
  3. Be sure to introduce yourself (examples: Hola, yo soy ____ / Yo me llamo _______ / Mi nombre es______).
  4. Include TWO sentences with “Me gusta” and “No me gusta”.
  5. Include TWO more sentences with “Me gustan” and “No me gustan”.
  6. Add something extra that you just learned from Duolingo this week (not Google Translate).
  7. Post your video under this activity on Seesaw.

Remember, you can always do MORE than this!! “Connecting words” like because (porque), with (con), and more can be found on Veracross for Continued Learning. Above is just a guide to help those of you who do not know what to say, or who are tempted to use online translators to do your work for you (please do not–this is dishonest and against our Core Values of integrity and independence).

If you have questions about the assignment, please email me. If you have questions about Seesaw or technology not working, please email the Technology Department. ¡Gracias!

**Spanish Activity, 4/7/20- SONGS (Part 2)

  1. Listen to at least 3 FULL SONGS in Spanish on the ‘Songs Page‘ of my website.
  2. Choose your favorite.
  3. Respond to this activity with the link.
  4. Listen to this song at least 3-4 times a week, to get the lyrics stuck in your head!

**The goal here is to create a personalized class playlist of everyone’s favorite songs in Spanish. If you choose a song that was not on my website, you need to be very MINDFUL of the lyrics and images in the video. If the lyrics are not happy/good/ positive or the images are inappropriate, the video will be deleted. So choose a good song that has a fun beat!


1. Describe likes and dislikes.
2. Introduce negative sentences.


  1. Work on Duolingo (or Memrise) at least 3 times per week.
  2. Watch the video.
  3. HOMEWORKDo one of the following activities.
    • HANDWRITE me a letter in Spanish of 50 words or more and take a photo of it, OR
    • Video yourself speaking in Spanish to me for 20-30 seconds (like a letter, but spoken).
  4. For the letter or video:
    1. Include vocabulary from Duolingo (or Memrise).
    2. Include a “Me gusta” (I like) or “Me encanta” (I love) sentence.
    3. Include a negative sentence. For example:
      • No quiero = I don’t want
      • No necesito = I don’t need
      • No me gusta = I don’t like
      • No puedo = I can’t
    4. Connecting words:
      • pero = but
      • y = and
      • con = with
      • porque = because
      • también = also
  5. For the video, 10 seconds of talking and 20 seconds of “ummm” or silence does not count!! Try to make it flow. You can write it out and then video yourself reading it if that is easier.
    1. Send it from your school email address.
    2. Include your grade level in the subject line of your email.
    3. Attach photo or video.
    4. Click “Send”.

And HAVE FUN! If you love drawing, decorate your letter with doodles and make it colorful. Or be creative with the video. Zoom has an option to video like a green screen, so you could ‘video’ from outer space, if you wanted! For tech questions, email Mr. Santos. Remember, learning should be a combination of hard work and fun. If it’s not fun, you are doing it wrong. 🙂


  • Your letter OR video is due within 48 hours, meaning by THURSDAY, APRIL 2nd @11am
  • If you are not happy with your work, you can always re-do your letter or video and re-send it, but I will not accept any more work after Friday, April 3rd. Please explain in your email that it is a ‘re-do’ or ‘video #2″ if you choose to do this.


  • Still want more Spanish??! YAY! Check out the link to my website and–
    • email me your favorite song in Spanish;
    • cook something from the “Recipes” page
    • create your own country project based on something from this page HERE–also look on the sidebar or at the very bottom of the page (depends on what device you’re on) where it is organized by country
    • Catch Esteban or myself on Duolingo. I have almost 12,000 XP. He has 14,657 XP.
    • Check out BrainPop in Spanish below. Be sure to add subtitles in English for any videos.
  • For anyone interested who has read this far, here are two BrainPop links:

OTHER NOTES, 3/19/20

**Grades 3-5 should continue working on Duolingo at least three times per week, for 10 minutes a day. Students– there will be prizes for anyone who has earned more than 10,000 XP when we return back to school!

Advanced students who want a challenge may do any of the “Native Speaker” work HERE as well. Be sure to add English subtitles on BrainPop and “Pollito Tito” (CC/closed captioning in bottom right hand corner).

Newsletter 19-20, T2 (4)

This trimester, Summit students began with a “News Show” in Spanish–“En vivo, desde México” (Live, from Mexico)–where they took turns being reporters, working tech, and dramatically presenting the weather (¡El tiempo!/the weather). Each week, they added a new commercial, which was usually a translated slogan of a well-known brand (WalMart: save more, live better/ahorra más, vive mejor; Nike: Just do it/Sólo hazlo; McDonald’s: I’m lovin’ it/Me encanta; etc.). Once fourth graders felt comfortable with their script, each class transitioned to a more in-depth project, that was going to make national news. Well, that was the plan, anyway! Let me explain.

4A voted that they wanted to travel to and focus on Spain, while 4B chose Mexico. Both classes brought their backpacks to Spanish class; removed their shoes when passing through security; boarded the airplane; graciously accepted Cheez-Its and water from their stewardesses; took advantage of the in-flight entertainment (iPads); and after a long flight, finally landed.

Next, wearing backpacks, they followed a QR code hunt around campus, learning about famous monuments and cultural tidbits. Right when they thought things were winding down, their teacher hailed a taxi and they drove around the neighborhood, seeing the sights of [either] Madrid, Spain or Mexico City, Mexico from a cab. [Note that your children were safe at all times here–Ms. Berry was the “cab driver” of the school van!]

Students in 4A drove past the Prado MuseumEl Prado in Madrid, Spain is one of the most famous museums in the world, housing over 27,000 objects and artworks. In fact, it was the Google Doodle [the week students learned about it], which celebrated the museum’s 200th anniversary! For this project, students took an 8.5×11 copy of a well-known painting and transferred it by eye to a large trifold, trying to imagine how artists filled such massive canvases. For images of their work, please visit THIS LINK.

During the painting process, one student learned that the Prado was actually robbed in 2014— of a shocking 885 artworks. As a result, more than several classes were spent trying to merge their Spanish news show with an iMovie green screen breaking news “robbery” of their paintings in the style of Oceans 12. Ultimately, the project lost steam, but it was fun while it lasted! Here is the soundtrack we used.

Students in 4B drove past the Museo Soumaya, a Mexican museum with completely different exhibits. Here, fourth graders learned that in 1715, a fleet of Spanish ships sank off the coast of Florida, en route to Spain and loaded with treasure from the new world. Modern treasure hunters have discovered some of this lost treasure–one family made $4.5 million dollars in 2017!–but much still remains on the ocean floor. Students acted out this story as a class (with Spanish dialogue, of course), and then created artifacts for a faux museum display. After painting the Spanish crest and flag on them, students broke a few of the plates intentionally to make it seem more realistic!

Both classes tried to make a green screen iMovie for their News Show, but meeting only once or twice a week caused the process to lose steam. That said, they ALL did an amazing job with this! I wish we could have had a final product, but… c’est la vie!

Throughout these projects, students worked on Duolingo (or Memrise) every day. At some point, they became über-motivated and completely addicted to the app. This was and is great to see. The top scores right now are as follows:

4.A CHAMPIONS: Ilaria, 4879 XP; Audrey, 2800 XP; and Gabby, 2077 XP. 4.B CHAMPIONS: Adam, 13902 XP; Jai, 5717 XP: Lyla, 5635 XP.

Additionally, fourth graders had several conversations about language on a more philosophical level this trimester. They learned about hyperpolyglots, or people who speak an extreme number of languages; explored books from my personal collection that are in multiple languages; and discussed several statistics, such as 1) that there are 7,000 languages in the world, but that it is hard to define what exactly a language is, especially when compared to something like Spanglish; and 2) it is funny that we think of the internet as so ‘global’, when 52% of its content is in English (1 out of 7,000 languages). In that light, the web seems pretty limited, in terms of perspective taking.

As the trimester came to a close, students requested center work again. Here, they sign up via letters for what they want to do each day. While this is remarkably similar to last year and what other grades do from time to time, I have to emphasize here that their written work has grown tremendously as a group. Last year, their letters were all the same, very uniform. Now, I am reading all different types of letters–some are serious, others silly, and others a combination of the two. They are a delight to read each day. Keep up the excellent work, fourth grade!

February: Hoy les felicité a los de 4.A por ser mi clase más ‘global’ o mundial de Lower School, en términos de querer aprender tantos idiomas… y en actuar sobre esta pasión. Muchos están tomando más de un curso en Duolingo, en adición al español: mandarín, francés, ruso, polaco, japonés, etc. Hay unos 7.000 idiomas en el mundo ahora, y con solo nueve o diez años, los niños ya saben mucho del ámbito lingüístico.

Por ejemplo, me dijeron esta mañana (correctamente), que en orden de millones o billones de gente, el mandarín es primero, el español segundo y el inglés, tercero. Pero en línea, el inglés domina, con 52 por ciento de la Red.

Les expliqué que hay “unos” 7.000 idiomas y no resulta una ciencia exacta por falta de una definición nítida o precisa: es el “spanglish” un idioma? Qué tal Chinglish (chino/inglés) o Greeklish (griego/inglés)? Hablamos de las capas y el desarrollo de los idiomas en sí. Por ejemplo, el “japoñol” es la mezcla de japonés y español, cuando unos inmigrantes se fueron de Japón a Perú y la segunda generación aprendió español y empezó a mezclarlo con el japonés en casa. A qué punto se convierte en otro idioma, además de la jerga/lunfardo*? ¡Avísenme en los comentarios abajo si tienen una opinión! [*jerga/lunfardo significa “slang” aquí]

Como que la clase ya tenía interés en el asunto, llevé desde mi casa unos libros míos, escritos en otros idiomas. Los niños trataban de descifrar cuál era cuál. Al notar un idioma que no podían identificar, era “aymará”, una lengua indígena de Sudamérica. Un hecho interesante aquí es que, en nuestra cultura, para hacer referencia al pasado, uno señala hacia atrás (“Ayer yo fui…”) y un gesto adelante para significar el futuro. En aymará, resulta el opuesto: uno señala hacia adelante para referir al PASADO porque es lo que se ve y por tanto, lo que uno conoce; uno señala hacia atrás para referir al PORVENIR, ya que no se ve y uno todavía no lo conoce.

Al final de la clase, hablamos de frases (y palabras) intraducibles (“untranslatable”), como deja-vu, tortillas, tacos, etc. y “word loans” (préstamos). Era un día muy académico y lingüístico, pero aprecié tanto el interés y la madurez de la clase. ¡Cuarto grado es genial!

Newsletter 19-20, T1 (4)

January: We went on a bit of a tangent today in Spanish class. Fourth graders have begun studying other languages in addition to Spanish in Duolingo. Students learned that a person who speaks an extreme number of languages is called a hyperpolyglot. Students learned about the hyper-polyglot Timothy Doner this morning. For homework, please watch the video above or read this article. Enjoy!

Also- scroll down on this page to see the graphs and charts we saw in class: Chinese is the number one language spoken in the world in real life (Spanish is #2 and English #3), but in the online realm, English dominates, with 52.9% of the Internet in English. Interesting!

September: Hoy hicimos gazpacho en clase para La Tomatina el miércoles pasado. Gazpacho y pan, ¡qué rico!

August: En cuarto grado, empezamos con un proyecto para enfatizar la comunidad, o sea, que somos una familia en la clase de español. Los alumnos van a trabajar juntos para construir puentes de armadura (“truss bridges”). Aquí, ves sus planes y diseños. Aprendieron que un puente es mucho más fuerte cuando hay triángulos como la base—puede soportar mucha más fuerza. En otras palabras, somos más fuertes cuando trabajamos juntos.

August Update: Students in this class also adjusted well to the new rule of, “Un-dos-tres, ¡no inglés!” (One-two-three, no English!). As with other grade levels, they began with a project in order to emphasize family, community, and working together as a team. Their project was to build a truss bridge, or puente de armadura. Here, students learned through immersion that triangles increase the strength of a bridge significantly, and allow it to hold much more weight and undergo more force than a simple design. Fourth graders used balsa wood to build the bridges, after working on a blueprint of the bridge first. Always have a plan! Before they could finish, however, it became incumbent upon me to take a day to celebrate La Tomatina and make gazpacho (a delicious soup from Spain) with classes. Yum! We will return to the bridge-building next week. Students also have been working on Duolingo at the beginning of every class.

Newsletter 18-19, T2 (4)

December/January: This month, students in fourth grade moved on from naming all of the twenty-one Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map, to identifying major landforms in South America: montañas/mountains (Andes Mountains); desierto/desert (Atacama Desert); and río/river (Amazon River). They made storyboard comic strips in the target language to wrap up their storytelling unit; chose Spanish first and last names; and practiced reciting the Pledge of Allegiance/Juro fidelidad a la bandera—at students’ request. Fourth graders also listened to both more traditional music (Mama Tingo, Johnny VenturaOjalá, Silvio Rodriguez/esp. 4.A) as well as pop songs (Tal vez me llames/Call Me Maybe Spanish cover; No tengo dinero, MAFFiO).

Later on, they began a centers unit. Here, students write form letters in the target language, filling in the blanks where necessary—or sometimes reconstructing it from memory—and receive immediate feedback re: accents, spelling, punctuation, etc. They choose their preferred activity of the day: tocar el piano/play the piano; jugar baloncesto/play basketball; pintar/paint; jugar a los naipes/play cards; jugar en la fortaleza/play in the fort; construir un videojuego/build a videogame; and/or work on a guided culture project—e.g., painting tiles for La Alhambra, a Moorish palace in southern Spain. The goal is to incorporate more Spanish words, phrases, and expressions at each center. For example, when they play cards, students exclaim, “¡Tú ganas!/you win!” or “¡Yo gano!/I win”; in basketball, they might say, “Pásala/pass it”, or in the fort, “¡No zapatos!/No shoes!”. Any time they want to switch centers during a class period or leave the room to get extra materials or go to the bathroom, they have to ask in the target language. Naturally, certain items will intentionally go ‘missing’ from time to time, leading to forced linguistic interactions; if I hide the basketballs in the closet, fourth graders must ask for the keys in Spanish to open the closet (Necesito las llaves/I need the keys). Teehehee. If you are intrigued or questioning the importance of play in the classroom, please visit the Language Blog and read my post entitled, “Just Play”.

On one particularly exciting day, a student colored all over his hands with florescent marker (wait for the explanation before you say, “WHAT??!”), and put them under the class black light to demonstrate bioluminescence—a natural phenomenon where your skin glows underwater when it comes in contact with algae in certain parts of the world, including Puerto Rico. This kind of experiential creativity, combined with language and culture, is what learning is all about to me. As always, feel free to visit my website below for links and more information.*

November: This month, students in fourth grade worked on starting their sentences with, “Pregunta” (question) whenever they wanted to ask something, and learned how to dance the Salsa after they started naming Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean on the tape floor map; the dance is particularly popular there. Fourth graders also played the “offline dinosaur game” and designed their own live video game course in the Spanish classroom, complete with jumping obstacles, gold as the prize for completing all of the levels, and Super Mario music playing in the background for 4.B—whereas talented 4.A musicians opted to play video game type songs on the class keyboard (jugar/play; nivel uno/level one; salta/jump; el oro/gold).

Students also helped create more mini-stories in the target language. For example, in 4.A, an orca named Flippers has a boat/barco and is saved by a student in an airplane during a highly unusual storm, where it rains lemons. Fourth graders listened to the famous Ojalá llueva café en el campo by Juan Luis Guerra (Dominican Republic); in the song, it rains coffee. In another story, a Minecraft lamb named Lime/Limón Verde lives in a haunted house. Students have begun bringing in their favorite stuffed animals and toys around which the stories are then created. In 4.B, students chose a spooky genre, and things got a little weird: a lizard named Burrito lives in a haunted house with ghosts and zombies. One night, his dog is sleeping, and one of the zombies, Pocoyo—fourth graders decided on this cartoon character because the stuffed toy version’s head spins—is hungry and eats the dog’s brain/cerebro. The puppy calls a doctor, but the doctor is actually a mad scientist/cientítifico loco and gives him a super brain, with all of the information in the entire world. Yikes!

Last but not least, students in 4.A learned a clapping rhyme that children recite to pass the time when they are waiting (~in line, on the bus, etc.): Jorge robó pan en la casa de San Juan, quién yo, sí tú, yo no fui, entonces quién/lit., George stole bread from Saint John’s house/who me/yes, you/it wasn’t me/then who). To inspire them for their cookie cutter design project, 4.B learned about Las Fallas, a unique celebration in Valencia (Spain) where people build massive parade floats, and then burn them all at the end of the week.

*NOTE: Parents with children in multiple grades may notice that there has been some overlap in terms of content between the grades this past month and half. The purpose here is twofold. First, when children realize that they know the same Spanish vocabulary, a conversation begins—a door opens between grade levels where everyone is invited to the Party called Learning. If everyone in the world only knew segregated vocabularies, no one could talk to anyone!

Second, in the cultural realm, and now that students have more or less mastered the map, projects have begun popping up all around the Spanish room. When a class enters and there are suddenly masking tape designs all over the floor and a cardboard box tower in the corner, they naturally want to learn why and who and where and how and what. Of course, lessons are differentiated and age-appropriate, but it is absurdly exciting to hear first and fifth graders reference La Alhambra (Spain) or ‘jugar’/play in conversation. I feel that it builds a more inclusive, Spanish language-learning community when there are a few common building blocks.

Newsletter 18-19, T1 (4)

October/Trimester 1: This trimester, students in fourth grade began by celebrating La Tomatina, a famous tomato-throwing festival in Spain. To celebrate and reenact the day sans actual tomatoes, fourth graders made catapults out of Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and hot glue, and launched decorative, lightweight balls at G.I. Joe firemen and LEGO men figurines. Other cultural projects included ‘building’ the Andes Mountains out of blocks on the tape floor map (South America); tracing an inverted painting that is meant to change one’s perspective and question tradition (Uruguay); and decorating sugar skull cookies for El Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead (Mexico).

Fourth graders also created and acted out several class stories. In one, a dramatic, slow motion, galactic force fight inside Taylor Swift’s jail cell ensued—with Kung Fu Fighting playing in the background—because Taylor would not hand over all of the tomatoes in the galaxy to the planetary kings and queens (la fuerza/the force). In another (4.B), a rocket ship with alien sisters on board crash-lands in the Atacama Desert (Chile); two groups of spies witness the crash and begin throwing lemons at the intruders; unexpectedly, the aliens love the sour flavor and graciously thank their attackers. Students built spy forts in the classroom to act this out and participated in official Spy Training. Fourth graders also practiced reading and writing sentences and mini-stories in the target language; jumped on and named the Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map; played a highly addictive, “Guess the Language” online game (LingLang); and made connections between their project time topics (Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans) and Spanish class. Gracias for a great first trimester.

*Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras.

September: This month, students in fourth grade made copies of their animal password cards for the Summit hallway bulletin board; sang along to a silly video called, “¿Puedo ir al baño?” (Can I go to the bathroom?); and took a trip down memory lane by watching Pocoyo: Invisible in the target language. They also jumped on and named certain Spanish-speaking countries on the tape floor map before they sat down each day: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. For their Summit mini culture project for Chile and Argentina, students “built” the Andes Mountains in three minutes with building blocks, and then watched as a “terrible mudslide” destroyed the mountain range—so that the next group could have a turn to build. For Uruguay, they traced a painting of a famous Uruguayan artist who wanted to define and identify Latin American art on his own terms, instead of in relation to North America and Europe; ultimately, the painting of an inverted map is about taking new perspectives and questioning tradition.

Fourth graders also continued their tomato saga, adding kings and queens of various planets (and even the galaxy!) to round out the story, and ended with a dramatic, slow motion, galactic force fight inside Taylor Swift’s jail cell—with Kung Fu Fighting playing in the background, of course. Taylor refused to hand over all of the tomatoes (todos los tomates), so really, there was no other option: “¡La fuerza!” (the force!). Since then, fourth graders have been working on a humorous script of their class story in Spanish—trying to memorize lines, coordinating words and movements onstage and, most importantly, making sure they know what they are saying!

August: This month, students in fourth grade learned about Spain’s famous tomato-throwing festival, La Tomatina, held the last Wednesday of August every year. To celebrate and reenact the day sans actual tomatoes, fourth graders made catapults out of Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and hot glue, and launched decorative, lightweight balls at G.I. Joe firemen and LEGO men figurines. Students also chose individualized password cards, and then practiced thinking up ways to physically act out each one as part of their beginning-of-class routine; responded to action commands; and worked on their class stories, which are interactive, teacher-asked but student-led creations in the target language.

Here, the main character is absolutely ravenous, and desires a plateful of juicy, red tomatoes; however, his foe (in one class, Taylor Swift) has eaten all of the tomatoes in the entire world. Thus, our hero must travel to Mars, the red planet, to get what he wants—and, presumably, battle Taylor for it, in a struggle not unlike La Tomatina, thereby spreading Spanish culture beyond this world (4.B). Last but not least, students learned that there are 21 Spanish-speaking countries and 400+ million Spanish speakers, but that Chinese is actually the most-spoken language in the world right now (English is number three behind Spanish). Gracias for a great month.

Newsletter 16-17, Sept. (4)

September: This month, students in fourth grade learned that they will be participating in a yearlong town simulation.  Their first stop was Argentina, where fourth graders explored the history of Yerba Mate, or ‘the friendship drink’ of South America via photos and physical cultural artifacts, and later were able to taste the strong, somewhat bitter (but delicious!) tea.  Then, it was time to travel again: after grabbing their passports, boarding passes, and luggage from the Locker Bay; removing their zapatos/shoes for the infamous TSA security screening process; watching a bilingual ‘safety instructions’ video; enjoying snacks—goldfish and water—from the stewardess during the flight; and experiencing a tiny bit of turbulence, students finally arrived in Madrid, the capital of Spain.

Then, it was only a matter of deciphering the puzzling (but authentic) city map, a quick trip on the Metro (Subway) and a three-hour train ride (Renfe) through the Andalusian countryside (see all the olive trees?!), before students settled in what is to be their new home: Granada, España/Spain.  The intense summer heat of southern Spain was reflected (bad pun) in the covered streets—colorful sheet canopies high above protect the city from the urban heat effect.  Students left their baggage at the hotel, noticed the famous Moorish palace (La Alhambra) across the street (beautiful!), and set about their first set of business: deciding where to live and drawing up floorplans of the inside of their new homes.  Yay!  Fourth graders also practiced acting out their passwords, in order to associate a specific motion with each word.

Newsletter 15-16, Year (4)

Quarter 1: This term, students in fourth grade excitedly delved into the task of creating their own pueblo/town. A typical day consists of students striving to use the language in a variety of meaningful contexts and situations. As a result, the learning environment tends to be more boisterous than not, but in a lively, jovial sort of way, where fourth graders spend their time traveling to the bank, taking out money, working at the local shops, buying, selling, bargaining, trading, and occasionally employing ‘frantic gesturing’ when they find themselves unable to recall vocabulary or simplify an idea. Gracias for a great quarter.

Quarter 2: This term, students in fourth grade began opening new businesses in the pueblo/town. For example, there are a few street musicians who play on the classroom keyboard and earn their living from passers-by; students who buy tickets to watch Sr. Wooly videos at the town movie theater; and customers who frequent the Italian Restaurant on a regular basis. Fourth graders also spent some time away from the town to learn about street markets/mercados in South America as well as the importance and multi-faceted roles of street art in Argentina (e.g., graffiti, murals, political statements, etc.). Later, they worked on written translations as mental warm-up exercises for the beginning of class routine, and then created their own authentic mercado.

Quarters 3 & 4: This semester, students in fourth grade divided their time between working in the town and getting a healthy dose of grammar. In the latter, fourth graders ‘leveled up’ from one written translation to another, deepening their understanding of and making connections between Spanish etymologies and general syntax. After grasping the overarching idea (of both verb conjugations and nonliteral translations), students created their own quizzes to test one another, and then worked to apply this newfound knowledge in meaningful contexts. For example—in addition to the town simulation—they also rehearsed and presented (partner) stories with puppets, and invented their own class story about a bear named Jellybean who lives on Mars. Additionally, fourth graders talked about exchange rates and other currencies; learned about Cinco de Mayo; and wrapped up the year with a focus on how to ask questions in the target language. Gracias for a fabulous year.

Mapa de Crazyville

Newsletter 14-15, Year (4)

Quarter 1: This term, students in fourth grade excitedly delved into the task of creating their own pueblo/town. After hailing a taxi to the airport, showing their boarding passes and boarding the plane, fourth graders sat back and relaxed, enjoyed beverages, and chatted until landing. As they officially stepped into their town for the first time—Ijusthaditville, España—the actual simulation commenced, and students signed a Language Pledge, promising to use solely the target language in the Spanish Cave. After establishing bank accounts, buying their own mansions and designing the interior of their homes, fourth graders began looking for work and creating their own businesses. A typical day consists of students striving to use the language in a variety of meaningful contexts and situations. As a result, the learning environment tends to be more boisterous than not, but in a lively, jovial sort of way, where fourth graders spend their time traveling to the bank, taking out money, working at the local shops, buying, selling, bargaining, trading, and occasionally employing ‘frantic gesturing’ when they find themselves unable to recall vocabulary or simplify an idea. In addition to the town, fourth graders also took an ‘English day’ in order to integrate with their regular classroom curriculum, and talked about words in other languages that are untranslatable…

Quarter 2: This term, students in fourth grade chose new [fruit and vegetable] identities as part of the pueblo/town simulation, with the understanding that their English name and person ‘no longer exist’ in the Spanish Cave. In addition, fourth graders have also begun opening new businesses. Now, for example, there are a few street musicians who play on the classroom keyboard and earn their living from passers-by (propinas/tips); students who buy tickets to watch Sr. Wooly videos at the town cine/movie theater; and generous customers who allow the party shop to thrive financially. However, a few strange developments have made life anything but normal: increasing tension relating to the overtly amorous conversations between a girl and her novio/boyfriend, Diego (¡Mi amor!/My love!), led several town residents to the brink of insanity. It was therefore incumbent upon those affected to visit the town doctor(a)/doctor for some much-needed terapia/therapy. The rabid raccoon (mapache rabioso) that escaped from the zoo also spent some time in a group treatment center. The most effective cure? Un abrazo/a hug. Students—rather, citizens—refocused their attention amidst the unanticipated chaos with a call-response echo: ¿Qué queremos?/¡Queremos trabajar! (What do we want? We want to work!). Gracias for another memorable quarter.

Quarter 3: This term, students in fourth grade were required to think creatively when their beloved town was moved, well, across town (to the St. John building). Instead of relying on the same old, same old, fourth graders delved into the challenges of a relocated classroom, err, pueblo most audaciously—redesigning, revamping, and redecorating—for the purpose of improving upon their original ideas. Where should the panadería/bakery be located now? What about the Azkaban prison? How could vendors re-imagine the concept of a mercado from South and Central American countries to fit their own town? While this progression and conversation occurred quite naturally, it was also beautifully reflective of the creative thinking process: are students generating new ideas (divergent thinking)? Are they taking risks? Can they overcome and push past the mental obstacles of an idea that results in complete and utter failure? Did they synthesize their experience into a cogent, cohesive product (convergent thinking)? The creative thinking process manifested itself not only within the confines of the town expansion, but also in students’ linguistic development. Do students put language together in unusual and novel ways, beyond what the teacher has taught? Does the product work (was the message communicated effectively)? Welcome to a new era, the age of creative thinking! Fourth graders have hit the ground running; gracias for another magical quarter.

Quarter 4: This term, students in fourth grade extended their understanding of the word ‘pueblo’: the town does not only exist within the four walls of the Spanish Cave, but also beyond it… and thus a parque/park was borne. This outing begins with a class conversation: “¿Qué queremos? Queremos ir a jugar al fútbol en el parque” (What do we want? We want to go play soccer at the park). Later, fourth graders request relevant vocabulary; the doctoras/doctors and enfermera/nurse pack up their medical bags in case of an emergency; and students head out to play with a Guatemalan saying on their minds, “Ganamos, perdimos, igual nos divertimos” (we win or we lose, either way we have fun). Partway through the game, there is a ‘half-time show’, where a talented gymnast performs complicated flips, round-offs, and cartwheels for the class; and when it is time to go, they form two lines/filas and say, “Buen partido/good game”. Later on, students saw photos from my trip to Iguazú Falls (Cataratas de Iguazú) in Argentina; discussed what Spanglish is; and had a game week in the target language (Spanish Monopoly, rompecabezas/puzzles, La Guerra/War [card game], Spot It, and Bingo). Prior to catching a flight back to their hometown, fourth graders took a day to learn about and taste the traditional friendship drink and famous tea of Argentina, called Yerba Mate. Hasta la próxima (until next time), citizens of Ijusthaditville, España. Gracias for a beautiful year.

Newsletter 13-14, Year (4)

Quarter 1: This term, students in fourth grade excitedly delved into the task of creating their own pueblo/town. After establishing bank accounts and buying their own mansions, the actual simulation commenced. A typical day in either Epicville (Papageorge) or Marlow Mayhem (Marlow) begins with workers being dismissed to their jobs. Businesses open at this point include the banco/bank, juguetería/toy store, tienda de arte/art store, and teatro/theater. Later, students travel around town, taking out money from the bank, buying what they need and want with realistic-looking euros, communicating solely in the target language, and occasionally employing ‘frantic gesturing’ when they find themselves unable to recall vocabulary or simplify an idea. It is amazing how innovative fourth graders become when they are desperate to express a thought. In addition to working and living in the pueblo, students also translated key words in their constellation poems from English to Spanish; signed a Language Pledge promising not to speak English within the walls of the Spanish Cave; tweeted their favorite movies; learned how to use the internet dictionary; wrote letters to their pen-pals in Oaxaca, Mexico; and worked on a “Class Wordle” of all the words they know in the target language. Gracias for a great start to the year!

Quarter 2: This term, students in fourth grade received letters and photos from their pen-pals in Oaxaca, Mexico; chose new Spanish identities, with the understanding that their English name and person ‘no longer exist’ in the Spanish Cave; tried their hand at several translation exercises; sang along with the overly dramatic Sr. Wooly video, ¿Adónde vas? (Where are you going?); and, of course, continued with their pueblo simulation. In addition to the usual browsing, buying, selling and even trading, several instances of corruption were also witnessed; members of the police department were allowing prisoners—i.e., thieves sent to la cárcel/jail for petty crimes—to escape in exchange for [plastic green] money. Such blatant injustices and brazen disrespect of the law led to a ban on all criminal activities. Later, students refocused their attention with a call-response echo in the target language: ¿Qué queremos?/¡Queremos trabajar! (What do we want? We want to work!). Other town updates as follows. Epicville: Students have created an Apple Store, where they sell technological gadgets and devices to their peers, such as handmade laptops and teléfonos inteligentes/SMART phones. Marlow Mayhem: Students have added a cine/movie theater, where they sell tickets to anyone and everyone who would like to watch a show. Gracias for another exciting quarter.

Quarter 3: This term, students in fourth grade focused their energies on two specific goals each class (¿Cuál es la meta?/What is the goal?). Generally speaking, the goals tend to be to repeat a certain linguistic structure as many times and in as many relevant contexts as possible in the town simulation. For instance, “¡No puedes hacer eso!” (You can’t do that!), “Quiero comprar eso” (I want to buy that), and “¿Por que?” (Why?), can easily be incorporated into almost any conversation. Moreover, students who take piano lessons were permitted to play songs from memory for the citizens of Epicville or Marlow Mayhem on the classroom teclado/keyboard. Excellent performances resulted in several very affluent musicians (propina/tip). In addition, fourth graders learned that Wikipedia has a wonderful translation feature on the sidebar; deduced what names of BrainPop videos were using common sense and logic (e.g., La gran explosión/The Big Bang); participated in a Virtual Word Search; rehearsed and then presented dialogues in the target language in front of their peers; generated their own linguistic discussions as they helped each other translate their pen-pal letters from Mexico, and worked on rough and final drafts of their letters, attaching tiny gifts of appreciation for their new friends (e.g., origami, beaded bracelets, stickers, etc.). Gracias for another outstanding quarter.

Quarter 4: This term, students in fourth grade played Spanish Monopoly; bought mansions and created a handmade map of the town; discovered that the map is authentic and of downtown Buenos Aires, and that the main street, or Avenida 9 de Julio, happens to be one of the widest in the world (with a whopping sixteen lanes of traffic); opened up a café, and then sipped and learned about the traditional friendship drink and famous tea of Argentina, called Mate; and extended their understanding of the word ‘pueblo’: The town does not only exist within the four walls of the Spanish Cave, but also beyond it… and thus a parque/park (in which to play fútbol/soccer) was borne. Not long after, fourth graders learned of a dramatic new development. The town had suffered a desastre natural/natural disaster, and as a result, no longer exists. Following the initial shock, fourth graders began to wonder—what if your friend has a sweater and you don’t? Rationally minded individuals suddenly become desperate, even when la fuerza/the force—illustrated by a ping-pong ball levitating above a hair dryer—is on their side. Thankfully, the Red Cross/La Cruz Roja was able to collect and donate $50,000 to all citizens affected before things got too out of hand. Students read the generous letter and began planning how to spend the cash (needs vs. wants). Gracias for an incredible year.