Elementary-aged students can be brutally honest: they simply tell it like it is. “Why didn’t you do your hair, maestra?” (I actually did, but the humidity wrecked it.) “Your room smells funny today.” (Not my fault that the air-dry clay I bought has a weird after-smell.) Or… the one that cut through to my soul: “Pato isn’t real. I can see your lips moving when he talks.”

Umm. That is my curriculum you’re talking about! I can use hairspray to mat down my hair. I can find an air freshener to eliminate foul odors. But Pato? Now you’ve touched a nerve, kid!

Pato, for those of you who don’t know, is my stuffed animal duck with a squeaky voice and mostly innocent though mischievous mind and past. He didn’t mean to dip his beak into that red paint; he thought it was a bowl full of strawberries and was ravenous. Yeah, sure, Pato, uh-huh. Or how about when he accidentally plastered all of the Spanish stickers from my desk drawer onto his bedroom walls (a shoebox)??

Then there was the day he heard food-ball when I said fútbol, and ended up inventing a sport where you roll raw eggs across the floor, kind of like soccer, but the goal is to get them in the goal without any cracks on the shells. Yes, he had to clean up the egg yolk mess afterwards and apologize. After a while, the sport came to be called comida-bol among my students, since comida means food…

His best friend–(Oso/the stuffed animal bear; kind of like how your child calls his teddy bear “Teddy”)–is less impulsive and much more level-headed, but he still gets involved, somehow. Like two weeks ago, when a second grader… wait, let me start from the beginning.

Initially, the objective was to string up two ziplines, from the second floor hallway of the school down to the flagpole, on which my two stuffed animal friends would race. Students would ultimately learn what country each stuffy was from, but they would need to do some sleuthing first: each time their team (Team Pato or Team Oso–terrible Spanglish, I know) won a race, students would earn a letter of the Spanish-speaking country, if they answered a Spanish trivia question correctly.

For example, when Pato won the first race, Team Pato was asked, “How do you say, “I love cheese” in Spanish?” When Oso won the next race, Team Oso was asked, “Name one country that borders Paraguay.” etcetera, etcetera. Some questions were linguistic, some were cultural, and some were song-lyric related. If they got the question right, they would earn a random letter in the answer (e.g., a “t” in Argentina). Here, they could eliminate España/Spain (no “t”), but “Costa Rica” was still a possible answer.

More to the point, during this activity Oso the Bear was inadvertantly tossed up not to the second floor hallway balcony, but rather high up onto the second floor roof, at least 25 or 30 feet in the air. He was a good sport about it and commented later that while he liked star-gazing that night and the general peace and quiet, the heavy rainstorm was a definite dealbreaker, in terms of Long-Term Roof Living Arrangements.

I panicked momentarily, as now not only was Pato the Duck not real, Oso the Bear was stranded indefinitely on the roof. So much for my Spanish curriculum. #EpicFail

However, with many thanks to the maintenance department, Oso the Bear was rescued, though not until the following day during lunch–at which point practically the entire school cheered!

If Oso could be saved, then maybe there was hope for Pato and my ventriloquism skills, too.

I was first introduced to ventriloquism in the 90s, by the beloved Shari Lewis and Lambchop. In reading articles about her as an adult, I learned that Lambchop became a part of the family at a certain point, which definitely resonated with me. Pato has become a part of the culture at my school, to the point where fourth graders perform an original play about him and his crazy adventures every year for the entire school and community. During the quarantine, I made videos about the silly duck for students.

That said, I am 100% self-taught, which means that 1) I have had laryngitis more times than I can count (because ventriloquism requires a lot of air, and clearly I am doing something wrong); and 2) students are brutally honest and also tell me when I’m doing it wrong (i.e., “Pato is not real!”). If you are interested in making the stuffed animals in your classroom fully legitimate, the consonant chart above helped me a lot. Just replace all of your “b’s” with “d’s”, “f’s” with “th’s” and so on and so forth.

If you visited this page because you think ventriloquism is awesome and were looking for inspiration, I included some of my favorite videos below.


It’s Raining Tacos

Many thanks to first graders, who serenaded me with the classic hit, “It’s Raining Tacos” last week in Spanish class, as we were going over the weather report. Little did I know, the English version of this song has over 63 million views. I am clearly late to the fiesta!

Regardless, this is a hilarious song whenever you find it. I synced the Spanish audio with the original graphics by ParryGripp to make it more relatable to students. If you are a Spanish teacher and want to extend this, your class could brainstorm all of the things they would love it to rain, and then listen to the more authentic classic, Juan Luis Guerra’s “Ojalá que llueva café” (I hope it rains coffee).

It’s Raining Tacos

Credit to ParryGripp & Audio

Ojalá que llueva café

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

An Ode to Carbs

Okay, so I’m not actually going to compose an Ode to Carbs, although if I had the time in some futuristic parallel universe, I might enjoy the challenge. Instead, I want to reflect on a moment today when one of the second grade teachers told her students to study their lunches, and see if they had brought a balanced mix of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and whatnot (to apply what they had been studying).

Simple carbohydrates break down quickly and spike energy levels, while complex carbs take longer to digest and provide more long-lasting energy. Hmm. As a runner, I was always told to turbo-carb-charge with spaghetti the night before a race, and still remember this when I have an extra long workday ahead of me. Maybe we should narrow our focus: An Ode to Pasta? Just kidding.

But it’s funny, you know? In my classroom, I’m loading my students with language every day. In a way, I’m trying to turbo-carb-charge them with language. What does that mean? Are there “carbohydrate words”? What would they be? Which words–not general categories–actual words, can help you to go the distance in another language? Which words do you find yourself repeating more than twice a day? Five times a day? Ten times a day? I’m referring here to words you use in conversation, with both yourself and other people.

Which words are most important? I mean, they’re all great–and you might argue that some are more precise than others–but which ones are the most useful? Which ones get you from Point A to B fastest? Which ones can you reuse? How does the answer differ if they are written or spoken?

I don’t know about you, but I want the language I teach to stick. So let’s do our students a favor, and focus on long-lasting energy:

High-frequency words. Versatile words. Expressions that can be applied in multiple contexts. Linguistic carbs.

Can you think of
A time when someone
Ran to you and said,
Bring me more energy, please, I am
So absurdly tired”?

It is the fourth quarter: we’ve got to give our students that extra burst of long-lasting energy to finish strong. And carbs, my friends, are the way to go!

A silly post, but perhaps some food for thought…

Definitely a Kiwi.

There is something about working with children that allows you to see beyond the Realm of the Ordinary on a daily basis. That ruler is a lightsaber. That mango and those markers are perfect for an indoor game of bowling. That table is a house (below), train (above), or bunkbeds (top and bottom).

That cardbox box is not merely a cardboard box, it is a–well, see The Adventures of a Cardboard Box for ideas (have a tissue on hand for the end). I can’t compete with this one!

More to the point, educators search for creative ideas to increase student engagement in the subject matter, to get out of a rut, to stay motivated and passionate about teaching, and even to diffuse heated arguments amongst first graders. For example, this week two students were discussing shouting back and forth about one of the plastic fruits in my room. “It’s a cantaloupe!” “No! It’s a kiwi!” “No, it’s a cantaloupe!” and so on.

They bustled over to me as six-year-old boys sometimes do, both clearly agitated. “What is this, maestra?” I was being consulted as the deciding factor, the Omniscient Adult. Oh, boy. Someone was not going to be happy with my answer. “It’s a cantaloupe. Kiwis are much smaller.” One of the boys bolted across the room in response, collapsed to the ground, and began sobbing hysterically. I looked at the other boy: “But what else could it be?” He thought for a moment. “I know!! HEY [so-and-so]!! It’s THE LARGEST KIWI IN THE WORLD!The other boy liftted his head and started to giggle. I even started to giggle. “That’s brilliant!” Imagination had saved the day, once again.

You might be wondering now where this blog post is headed, and question my use of English in the Spanish classroom. The thing is, everything is a teachable moment–but not everything we teach is our subject matter. Character, kindness, grit–all of these things matter. Maybe our students won’t be fluent Spanish speakers as adults (*sad face*), but the skills they learned along the way in our classrooms will stick with them in different ways.

That said, I also try to use these moments as fruit for storytelling. If The Largest Kiwi in the World becomes A Thing in general conversation–if it is trending among six-year-olds–then let’s create a class story around it.

Accordingly, and as this kiwi incident just occurred, I am thinking that we might need to include it in our current story. Do I remember how the following story began? No. Honestly, not at all. Do students love it and does it have potential? A big YES! So let’s get down to the more interesting part of this post, The Plot.

NOTE: While I love TPRS, my first graders are not literate enough for this to be practical quite yet. Instead, I sort of combine PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers) with repetition and the AIM methodology of gesture-storytelling.

What does that mean? It simply means that each day, we add a new sentence to our class story, but we always tell it (with gestures for each word and phrase) from the very beginning. If there are interruptions, we have to start all over again. Some days, I tell a short anecdote from my travels to ingrain new vocabulary, such as the time when I was on a train in Spain, and overheard a man’s conversation that [I kid you not] lasted twenty full minutes and consisted of only one word, “Vale/ okay” [“BAH-lay”] inflected in myriad ways. Okay? Okay. Okay! OKAY!!!

La cebolla malvada, Cap. 1

Luces, cámara, acción [alguien apaga las luces].

Una noche, en un castillo en el bosque de España, una princesa está durmiendo–CUANDO (todos saltan) entra LA CEBOLLA MALVADA. 

La cebolla malvada TOMA sus pantuflas y se escapa… a La ARGENTINA!!!!!!! (1-1) and al polo norte (1-2).

La princesa está enojada, muy enojada. Habla con su amiga. “¿Qué hago?” What do I do??? MIENTRAS…

La cebolla malvada recibe una llamada. “¡Rin rin!” 

“Esta es tu madre. Devuelve las pantuflas.”

La cebolla malvada dice, “¡Pero no quiero!”

“¡¡¡AHORA MISMO!!!” dice su mamá.

“Vale,” dice la cebolla malvada.

Pero, ¡oh no! ¡Qué problema!

Las pantuflas empiezan a bailar.

Bailan mucho, mucho, mucho. “Para bailar la bamba” song.

La cebolla malvada llora.

The Evil Onion, Chapter 1

Lights, camera, action [someone has a job of turning off the lights].

One night [duh-duh-duuuuh!], in a castle in the forest of Spain, a princess is sleeping–WHEN (everyone jumps) THE EVIL ONION enters.

The evil onion TAKES her slippers and runs away… to ARGENTINA!!!!!!! (1-1) and to the North Pole (1-2).

The princess is angry, very angry. She talks to her friend. “What I do?” What do I do??? MEANWHILE…

The evil onion gets a call. “Ring ring!”

“This is your mother. Return the slippers.”

The evil onion says, “But I don’t want to!”

“RIGHT NOW!!!” says her mom.

“Okay,” says the evil onion.

But oh no! What a problem!

The slippers begin to dance.

They dance a lot, a lot, a lot. “Para bailar la bamba” song.

The evil onion cries [because the irony here is too delicious, ha!].


I know, I know. This is a photo of La Torre del Oro in Spain, while in the story, the Evil Onion escapes to Argentina/ the North Pole. Maybe this is where the LARGEST KIWI IN THE WORLD comes in. ???

On second thought, perhaps the slippers dance all the way to Spain!

Masculine/ Feminine Words

In case you hear blips of this at home, today in Spanish class we talked about how some words are “boy” [or “el” words], and other words are “girl” [or “la” words]–in grammatical terms, we call these masculine and feminine articles, but students won’t know them as this. Third graders kept asking how to know whether it was an “el” or “la” word because they had to type it in on Duolingo; so we pushed pause on everything else and did a quick activity to help explain.

First, I scattered my flashcards around the room on the floor, and girls were allowed to pick up any of the “la” flashcards (la manzana/ apple; la casa/ house; etc.) and boys were allowed to pick up any of the “el” flashcards (el pan/ bread; el perro/ dog; etc.). We studied the words, and students discovered that most (but not all) “girl” words end in -a, and most (but not all) “boy” words end in -o.

At this point, I emphasized that the el or la has nothing to do with the noun in question (tables are not ‘girls’ because it’s la mesa/ table); but it is a fun trick to help you remember, especially if you pretend that girls “get” such and such (la pizza/ pizza) and boys “get” such and such (el helado/ ice cream, ‘el-LAH-doe’). We proceeded to divide up the universe (i.e., el universo/boy word) into its respective categories. “Who gets the planet?” El planeta (boys). “What about the earth?” La tierra (girls).

Third graders bombarded me with questions, and anyway, if any of this makes its way home, now you know! I don’t usually teach grammar explicitly in Spanish class, but this lesson is a classic and always gets them thinking! 

Going to Spain.

Before PK4 enters my classroom each day, we sit in the hallway and say together in a sing-songy voice, “¡Yo hablo español!” (I speak Spanish), like the other grade levels do. We might chit-chat about this or that, but eventually put our hands in the middle (similar to a sports huddle), and shout, “¡Vamos!” (let’s go!).

Today was a special day and the culmination of several lessons: we went to Spain! Now, before I explain why we went there, let me point out that this process involved several steps. First, PK4 students chose where they were living on my carpet–in a red house? or a blue house? or maybe a green one? It’s a nice neighborhood, don’t you think? Could use some trees, though.

We started this a few weeks ago, but yesterday I was in a rather silly mood, so we said that the yellow lines represented the “roof” of the house. Who is sitting on el techo/ the roof of their house today?! You never really know what will become “a thing” with four-year-olds, but this did, and we ended up spending way too much time drawing on the board (stick-figure style), deciding who was inside the house and who was sitting on the rooftop.

The teacher part of me did this for two reasons: one, to have defined spaces on the carpet where students sit, and two, to begin teaching colors in context (don’t get too comfy with rojo/red! Sometimes it’s roja or rojas or rojos! E.g., una casa roja/ a red house). The rooftop piece was about directionals and spatial relationships. Or it might have been about the silliness that ensues when Pato turns on the “rain and thunderstorm” sound effects on the board, and everyone “rushes inside their houses” to avoid the fake agua/water. Teeheehee. I digress.

So after we talked about the casas/ houses, students built cozy 3D versions of them with chairs and blankets. They rested up, listening to a favorite from last year on loop– Los solecitos. But daylight came much too early: before we knew it, the tren/train was about to leave the station, which meant that we had to hustle, quickly packing a snack (comida/ food), their backpacks (that they had brought to class today for the special occasion), a stuffed animal from my toy bin, and dinero/ money. Plus scissors and more faux currency to cut out on the way. It’s a long trip, after all.

Now I must admit, there has been some Spanglish this week. Here and there, when I need students to fully grasp a concept (foreign currencies, geography, culture projects, etc.), I will incorporate some English/ Spanglish into the lesson. Students knew that we were going to a place called Spain because we had talked about it the other day. I showed PK4 students a map and pointed out how much ocean water is between us and Spain. Once they had that background knowledge, I started slipping back into Spanish– We’re going to Spain! We’re going to España! ¡Vamos a España! Yipee!

We took the train to the coast (teachers pushing tables on wheels across the room, with students and all of their stuff on top), to meet up with Pato on his [Popsicle stick] barco/ boat.

While yesterday I wasn’t certain how to differentiate the train from the boat, today I had a plan. The students stayed on the train as we pushed the two tables-on-wheels together, and voilà: we had a boat. Next, I put a loud ship horn sound effect on loop, along with a video of dolphins jumping. Look!! Dolphins, guys! So cool!! Did you get a picture? We took as many photos as we could on our pretend phones.

A minute after they all started getting antsy about being on the barco/ boat for so long, I said, “LOOK! ¡MIRA! I see land! It’s España!” In the dolphin video, you can see land at certain parts, so I waited until a good moment.

We got off the boat, left my room, walked down the hallway looking for the hotel in Spain, and then walked back to my room and pretended that their newly constructed casas were now, in fact, the hotel.

Phew! It’s amazing what you can do some days in thirty minutes. And what, now? Why did we go to Spain [other than to ascertain that the Popsicle stick boat floats]? Only Pato knows… 🙂

The Dancing Pineapple

The “Pato” Play (2022-23)

Plot Summary

Pato is growing up, and now has his own personal secretary! The Spanish play musical begins with our stuffed animal duck hero dancing to traditional Spanish music from the 1500’s: a calm, mature tone is established. When the phone rings and his secretary answers, we learn that Oso is calling, but Pato is clearly busy–prancing around, ballet-style (how do pointe shoes work on webbed feet?)–and can’t take a call right now, thank you very much; so Oso decides to try again later.

He waits about five seconds and calls again, but in the meantime, Pato has changed the radio station (or Alexa, or whatever!) and found a catchier tune–conveniently for us, about the phone ringing. Poor Oso listens to the phone ringing as everyone else jumps up for a dance number onstage. The landline is modeled after Salvador Dalí’s famous surrealist sculpture (#culture).

When the secretary finally regains order and answers the phone, Oso claims to be The King of the World, so that he can talk with Pato. There is no way that Pato wouldn’t pick up for The King of the World!

After a little chitchat, Pato is invited to Spain with his friends, Oso (Bear), Caballo (Horse), and Pollito (Baby Chick), among others. As they are all stuffed animals IRL (haha), their mode of transportation is a paper airplane, which they get from someone backstage named Javier–this task interrupts the entire play, and Javier is mortified but reluctantly agrees to oblige the characters after he observes Pato trying to [unsuccessfully] fly to Spain in the background. Ay yie yie!

They finally get on the plane, but end up landing in Canada, not Spain. Whoops! It is really cold there, and when a Talking Book starts chatting with them, there is no denying that we have been transported to Stuffed Animal Land. The friends are amazed at the Bilingual Talking Book, but quickly move on to another more pressing matter, when a group of wolves appears in the distance. Oh no!

We break to a Special News Report, commentating on the sad state of affairs, namely, that Pato and friends are surely to meet their end in the face of the ravenous wild creatures. HOWEVER!, Los Lobos (the wolves) are actually a band who perform Para bailar la bamba in a live outdoor concert. (The band name really is Los Lobos, but obviously, it’s a joke, since the band was people and we have “wolves” singing.) The Dancing Pineapple makes his debut as the lead singer at this point–which, no, is not a historical fact.

Following the concert, the friends continue on their way to Spain, but wind up in Cuba. Oh my goodness! Who is driving this plane?! Naturally, Pato confuses bananas with La Habana (the capital of Cuba), and everyone ends up Salsa dancing in the streets. Will they ever get to Spain? Come watch the show to find out!


Car Rides to the Jungle

The day begins sitting outside my classroom in the hallway. “This is English,” I say. “I am speaking in English right now, but when I–*clap, clap*–yo cambio de un idioma a otro [I change from one language to another]. *Clap, clap.* Strange, isn’t it?!

This game progresses a bit farther each day. We look at our shoes, the colors of our shirts, the spider crawling up the wall. “You say, ‘blue’–clap, clap–yo digo, ‘azul’ [I say azul]”. All classes are learning to say, “Yo hablo español” (I speak Spanish), so that we can compare/contrast it with “Yo hablo inglés” (I speak English). After a minute or two of chitchat, we stand up, put our hands in the middle and say, “¡Vamos!” (let’s go!) like we mean it, and then travel into my room. Inside, everything is narrated and taught in Spanish.

Students sit in their assigned seats, and I ask the three-year-olds how they are: ¿Cómo estás? There are funny emoji faces on the board, and they come up one at a time and point to how they are feeling. I acted out the faces very dramatically the first few days for PK3 (feliz/happy, triste/sad, enojado(a)/mad, tengo frío/I’m cold), and we were very silly! So now it is a joke, and they will respond, “enojado(a)” (angry/mad) when I ask them, just to be silly, and with a huge grin on their face.

We move on to a song break at this point, usually one in particular from Encanto, or their newest favorite, Los solecitos (put it on loop!). They can move and dance around here, but some just watch–a bit fixatedly, trying to figure out how it is that the screen speaks the same language their Spanish teacher does. Hmm…

The first few classes, we did a science/ group activity on the carpet following the song. These lessons were sensory-happy, meaning that I brought in a hairdryer to levitate a ping-pong ball and teach the word, “caliente” (hot), and students got to feel the hot-hot-hot air; we melted a few crayons with the heat to “paint” a picture; I brought in ice cubes the next class to contrast and connect with, “frío” from above; and we put white plastic [temperature- activated] spoons in the cold water/ice cubes, which then ‘magically’ turned blue.

After the mini-lesson, students take turns ‘riding’ in my teacher chair (which is on wheels), and I sing a calming song, “Va-mos a España, va-mos; va-mos a Nicaragua, va-mos,” etc. as I push them across the room in the chair. I ring a windchime, we admire the beautiful sound, and then I push them back; but this time I ask if they want to go rápido/fast or not. The answer is, invariably, YES!

As we have settled into this routine, the ideas have started to expand. For example, in lieu of a science lesson et al, someone might say that they are “tired” (cansado/a) during the how-are-you Q&A, so we all take a 10-second nap with the lights off. Then I turn the lights back on, and announce that wow am I hungry. Hey! We should have a picnic! So we go to the carpet with a few blankets on the floor as a table, and pretend to eat the plastic food. I announce that there is a storm coming (I put rain sound effects on the board)–oh no!–so we have to go somewhere else. Then we take the “car rides” to the beach/ la playa or the jungle (la selva/la jungla), and students get to decide which video I put on the screen to enhance the general ambiance–tranquil waves, or howler monkeys in the rainforests of Costa Rica!

When our thirty minutes together is over, we say that the “train” is leaving, and students line up. I’m writing this now a bit out of guilt, because I never know how to put this in a nice, neat lesson plan on Veracross. We do a lot of fun things in Spanish every day, and the lessons are always evolving; but I wanted to give you a quick update before any more time passed. Otherwise, I would have started with the howler monkeys and chair cars two months from now, and you wouldn’t have known what I was talking about!

ASIDE: Your children may or may not bring home Spanish words; do not worry either way. The focus at this point is comprehension and following along in class. If you want to support/ encourage your child’s linguistic journey, feel free to watch cartoons or listen to music in Spanish with them at home. Don’t worry if you don’t understand; just watch/listen and have fun, and their brains will do the rest!

Spanish Constitution

I did not grow up in the city, and accordingly, sometimes I think my lessons sprawl out everywhere, like the rolling countryside. When does one lesson end and another begin? No one really knows. Let me provide an example (for detailed examples, see HERE).

The school year is about to commence, and for perhaps the fifteenth year in a row, I am excited but also a bit panicky and nervous. How do I teach, again? Do I remember? And, most importantly, where to begin? The age-old questions haunt me at night: do I start in English on day one to provide structure and a curricular overview, and allay students’ fears that Spanish class is not impossible but rather exciting and project-based–but thereby risking that I will slide into English when the going gets tough? Or do I begin in Spanish and set the tone for an immersive classroom, but struggle later on in the year when expectations and rules have not been clearly stated understood and the curricular flow is not obvious to students?

Now, don’t get me wrong: I aim for a 90-100% immersive classroom experience. This is and has always been the goal. Some classes are closer to 99%, others less so. While I love the idea of 100% immersion, we only meet two to three times a week, which means that our learning targets must be adjusted accordingly; I do not teach at an immersion school. True fluency is idealistic but not likely, given the time constraints. However, this year I have a solution, at least for this seemingly annual query.

Enter THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION. Wait, what? How in the world are you teaching La Constitución Española to elementary-aged students? Don’t worry, I created an abridged version! Here was my step-by-step process:

  1. Get a piece of normal computer paper. Crumple it up and then flatten it back out.
  2. Fill a pan with strong tea or coffee, and soak the paper in it for several hours.
  3. Dry the paper with a hairdryer.
  4. Decide on your top 3-5 most important qualities you want students to strive for in your classroom, all year long. You can do this with your students, too, of course, but I chose not to this year to save time.
    • Soy amable. (I am kind.)
    • Soy inteligente. (I am smart.)
    • Soy fuerte. (I am strong.)
    • Soy valiente. (I am courageous/ brave.)
  5. Write them in your best print or cursive with a black Sharpie on the now tea-stained paper.
  6. Discuss as a class (in English) what being kind/ smart/ strong/ brave looks like in your room. I like to use questions here. How can you be brave in Spanish class? Ask questions! How can you be strong? Never give up, ever!
  7. Have students sign an attached page with their fanciest signatures, as though it were the Declaration of Independence. Post in your classroom.
  8. Repeat the Spanish words like a mantra at the beginning of each class period, as a quick reminder. You will, of course, still need to remind and discipline, but this provides a nice structure where you can focus on the Spanish.
    • If you teach more advanced levels, the “Soy...” sentences could be written up with more complex sentence structures and vocabulary; and when classes have mastered these phrases, you can likewise ‘level up’ however you see fit.
    • That could mean asking, “¿Cómo eres?” at the beginning of class, and students’ job is to provide those four answers (and/or more), or prompting them with, “Primero/ Antes que nada, …. [soy amable]”, “Segundo, [soy inteligente]”, etc.

Image #1, Image #2

Working Vocabulary

My thoughts on Vocabulary Lists.

Simple Phrases To Get You Started

  • Hola (hi; hello)
  • Buenos días (good morning)
  • Buenas noches (good night)
  • Sí / no (yes/no)
  • Por favor (please)
  • Gracias (thank you)
  • De nada (you’re welcome)
  • ¡Mira! (Look!)
  • ¡Vamos! (let’s go!)
  • ¡Espera! (wait)
  • ¡Espérame! (wait for me)
  • ¡Ayúdame! (help me!)
  • ¿Qué? (What?)
  • ¿Por qué? (Why?)
  • ¿Cuándo? (when?)
  • ¡Ahora! (now!)
  • ¡Corre! (run!)
  • ¡Más rápido! (faster!)
  • Otra vez (again)
  • Te amo/ te quiero (I love you)
  • Mamá, Papá/ Mom, Dad
  • ¿Dónde está? (Where is it?)
  • ¡Oye! (Hey!)
  • Necesito eso (I need that)
  • No comprendo (I don’t understand)
  • ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)
    • Tengo hambre (I’m hungry)
    • Tengo frío (I’m cold)
    • Estoy bien (I’m good/well)
    • Estoy mal (I’m bad)
  • ¿Puedo ir al baño? (Can I go to the bathroom?)
  • Quiero… (I want)
    • colorear (to color)
    • jugar (to play)
    • construir (to build)
  • ¡Pero no quiero! (But I don’t want to!)
  • No sé. (I don’t know)
  • Adiós (goodbye)
  • Hasta luego (see you later)
  • Hasta mañana (see you tomorrow)

Sight Words

Working Vocabulary

  • Hola (hi; hello)
  • Buenos días (good morning)
  • Buenas noches (good night)
  • Adiós (goodbye)
  • Hasta luego (see you later)
  • Hasta mañana (see you tomorrow)
  • Sí / no (yes/no)
  • Por favor (please)
  • Gracias (thank you)
  • De nada (you’re welcome)
  • Me encanta (I love it)
  • Me gusta (I like it)
  • No me gusta (I don’t like it)
  • ¿Cómo te llamas? (What’s your name?)
  • Yo me llamo (my name is)
  • Yo soy (I am)
  • ¿Qué? (what?)
  • No comprendo (I don’t understand)
  • Yo dije que… (I said that…)
  • Quiero eso (I want that)
  • ¿Dónde está? (Where is it?)
  • Necesito eso (I need that)
  • ¡Oye! (Hey!)
  • ¡Eso es mío! (that’s mine!)
  • ¿Sabes qué? (you know what?)
  • Dime (tell me)
  • ¡Mira! (Look!)
  • Pues… (well…)
  • Vale (okay/ Spain)
  • ¿Puedo? (Can I?)
  • Otra vez (again)
  • ¡Corre! (run!)
  • ¡Más rápido! (faster!)
  • ¡Vamos! (let’s go!)
  • ¡Espera! (wait)
  • ¡Espérame! (wait for me)
  • ¡Ayúdame! (help me!)
  • Necesito ayuda (I need help)
  • ¡Ten cuidado! (be careful!)
  • Tengo una pregunta (I have a question)
  • Tengo un comentario (I have a comment)
  • ¿Puedo ir al baño? (Can I go to the bathroom?)
  • ¿Cómo se dice, “___” en español? (How do you say, “___” in Spanish?
  • ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)
    • Tengo hambre (I’m hungry)
    • Tengo frío (I’m cold)
    • Tengo sed (I’m thirsty)
    • Tengo calor (I’m warm)
    • Tengo miedo (I’m scared)
    • Estoy feliz (I’m happy)
    • Estoy bien (I’m good/well)
    • Estoy mal (I’m bad)
    • Estoy cansado/a (I’m tired)
    • Estoy triste (I’m sad)
    • Estoy enojado/a (I’m angry)
    • Estoy confundido/a (I’m confused)
    • Estoy emocionado/a (I’m excited)
    • Estoy enfermo/a (I’m sick)
  • con (with)
  • y (and; pronounced: “e”)
  • porque (because)
  • mi amigo/a (my friend)
  • maestro/a (teacher)
  • El papel (paper)
  • Las pizarras (boards)
  • Los marcadores (markers)
  • La cinta (tape)
  • Los boletos (tickets)
  • Los zapatos (shoes)
  • La comida (food)
  • Los peluches (stuffed animals)
  • El dinero (money)
  • Pesos (vs. dollars)
  • El agua (water)
  • El tren (train)
  • El coche (car)
  • Mi casa (my house)
  • Todo (everything)
  • ¿Qué quieres hacer? (What do you want to do?)
  • Quiero… (I want)
    • colorear (to color)
    • jugar (to play)
    • construir (to build)
    • pintar (to paint)
    • volar (to fly)
    • trabajar (to work)
    • conducir (to drive)
    • hablar (to talk)
    • hacer (to do; to make)
    • ir (to go)
    • limpiar (to clean)
    • patinar (to skate)
    • dibujar (to draw)
    • cantar (to sing)
    • bailar (to dance)
    • ver la tele (to watch tv)
    • tomar (to take)
    • navegar (to sail)
  • ¿Adónde vas? (where are you going?)
  • Voy a México (I’m going to Mexico)
  • Voy a Chile para jugar con mis amigos (I’m going to Chile to play with my friends)
  • El supermercado (supermarket)
  • El banco (bank)
  • La fábrica (factory)
  • El teatro (theater)
  • El gimnasio (gym)
  • El museo (museum)
  • La iglesia (church)
  • El cine (movie theater)
  • El café (café)
  • ¿Cuándo? (when?)
  • ¡Ahora! (now!)
  • ¿Por qué? (why?)
  • No sé. (I don’t know)
  • Porque sí. (just because)

Vocabulary Lists

Yes, I was that Spanish student who went home and memorized any and every list of vocabulary my teacher gave me. Believe it or not, my nickname in ninth grade was, “Diccionario” (dictionary)! While this system worked for me, I have a slightly photographic memory and enjoy mathematical formulas, so conjugations and the like came more easily than not. This is not to say that I didn’t work hard–because I definitely did–but I would come to class the following day and not understand why my classmates did not even recognize the new words. Or maybe they knew them for the test, but forgot immediately thereafter.

When I became an educator, I remembered those students that had difficulty mastering vocabulary lists and, after learning more about the brain and observing how children process information, decided to eliminate said lists from my classroom.

Families will request from time to time a list of words their child is learning in Spanish class. While I appreciate their interest in the language program, vocabulary lists are just not my style. Students in an immersive environment pick up new words and phrases at different rates and paces. Some speak from day one, while others won’t say anything for months–and then, when you least expect it and have given up all hope, they blurt out a sentence or paragraph. Go figure!

Point being, I want my classroom to be a place where students feel comfortable to take academic risks; the technical term for this is a ‘low-affective filter’. If a [well-intentioned] parent is constantly quizzing their child on vocabulary, many students will start to freeze and clam up, mentally. We are not going for perfection at this point in time–our goal is to communicate basic ideas as efficiently as possible; and I want this process to be as natural as possible. We observe, we quietly assess, we listen, we encourage; but just as with a baby, we don’t pressure students when it comes to linguistic production. They will talk when they are good and ready!

That said, I like lists. I like being organized. And I am extremely interested in what I call linguistic chronology. Generally speaking, we know that babies and toddlers typically say things like, “Mama, Dada, up, down, water, apple” as some of their first words (when learning English, at least). As we are trying to mimic and parallel this natural language acquisition process in my classroom–based on immediate and practical needs and wants–the vocabulary lists I create are constantly evolving.

While I said that I do not send home vocabulary lists, I will give you a glimpse HERE into the type of words and phrases your child is working on. Perhaps the biggest difference here is that they rarely, if ever, see these words in list form; they acquire the vocabulary in meaningful contexts and when working on projects. Moreover, I listen constantly to what students say–to the words they use–and then we take the most practical and versatile phrases and learn the Spanish equivalent.

I know that people–especially language teachers!–can have very strong feelings on this topic, which is fine; but please take a moment to recall your own language learning journey, and whether or not the ‘vocabulary list’ method worked for you and/or your classmates. Are you fluent in another language (from this method)? Are they?

Bullfighting and A Bug.

Yesterday, I subbed for Library class, but got the times mixed up–and consequently, first graders were only able to hear the beginning of a story after checking out books. As I am a huge proponent of reading, I felt it my duty to take some class time today to finish the story, especially as it is pertinent to the Spanish curriculum.

We read The Story of Ferdinand, which takes place in Spain. It is about a very sweet bull/toro named Ferdinand who loves to smell the flowers in the field and has no interest in bullfights. However, the ONE day a group of men come to choose the fiercest bull among the group, Ferdinand sits on a bee, which stings him and, naturally, because of the pain, he goes into a rage.

If you do not know the story, here is a link to a read aloud. I read the book to one class, but there was a boy in the other class who had practically memorized the book (at home), so he read it to us, which was lovely!

Because children are only in first grade and it is a controversial topic, they were only exposed to the following information:

  • bulls are very large animals;
  • they run in the streets to the bullfighting arena;
  • the police set up two layers of VERY heavy duty, wooden fences to keep observers safe;
  • this takes place in Spain.**

**NOTE: I explained that there is a festival for this each July in Spain (Sanfermines) and there are a lot of people around; but that real people–and bulls–can be badly injured or killed was not mentioned. Students were more invested in pretending to be toros/bulls, anyway.

That said, if you would like to continue this discussion at home, please feel free to watch Ferdinand the movie, or check out THIS PAGE for more information. Tomorrow we will watch this one-minute video (below) about the Paso Doble dance together.

With the aforementioned information, students transformed the Spanish Cave into the streets of Pamplona and a bullfighting ring arena. I also showed the class a picture of the fancy outfit the matador wears, and they took turns pretending to be bulls and shouting, “¡Olé!” (“oh-LAY”), which has a neat history if you like learning about words like me. And yes, I’m going to share the etymology with you. Just because!

“[…] There existed an ancient tradition among many Moors to have great celebrations that included dancing. When a dancer performed at the highest levels of grace and intensity, for that moment, they were believed to be vessels through which Allah was acting, and the moment allowed the witnesses to see a glimpse of Allah’s power through the artist.

So, it was customary for the Moors of Northern Africa centuries ago to exclaim Allah! when a dancer was performing in such an inspired and moving way.”


Spanish and Arabic have a rich linguistic history, so “Allah!” naturally morphed to ¡Olé!” but…

“Somewhere along the course of its long history in Spain, the word Olé lost its connection to Allah, and became a common Spanish exclamation for any situation where human physicality inspires people to cheer, whether it’s a fútbol match, a bullfight, or a Flamenco performance.

In Flamenco, which shares perhaps the most intimate connection to the word’s origin, Olé is not reserved for marking transcendent moments (though it can), it’s really meant to give the dancer energy and encouragement.

No three letter word could capture as much Spanish history as Olé.”


I didn’t go into the history of ¡Olé! with first graders, but thought you might find it interesting nevertheless. Anyway, it was an exciting day!

The Bug.

PART II: Students also heard a quick anedcote about one of our new vocabulary words, confundido(a)/ confused, which is #AbsolutelyTrue and happened yesterday.

In second grade, I was talking with students when all of a sudden, my Google slides started switching and changing, even though I was a good distance away from the touch screen board. Tabs started popping up, as if someone was controlling it remotely.

This was obviously frightening to an educator with young students in the room–what is happening?! what is going to pop up on the screen?–but suddenly someone said, “Look! There’s a bug!” The bug had landed on the board and by ‘hopping around’, was activating the touch screen. The bug even opened up a new tab and played a song from YouTube. Oh my goodness! It was hilarious!

I was very confundida/confused initially, but thankfully, it all worked out and had a good ending.

So anyway, bullfighting and bugs. That’s what you get today!

The Bread Castle

There are moments in your life when you have to make serious decisions. And then there are moments in your life when the PSA (Professional Stuffed Animals) in your classroom have to make serious decisions.

One of the latter waddled along and had to choose this morning.

Let me explain. You see, students in kindergarten have been working hard to learn all of the names of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries. We start in Chile and work our way north, travel a little west to Mexico, sail through the Caribbean, and then fly over to Spain and Equatorial Guinea.

They jump on a “floor map” and say the countries aloud, and we add a new country or two each day. After a while, they get pretty good at it–at which point, I introduce The Timer and we go for both speed and accuracy. Most have mastered South America at this point in the year–Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela–and so recently, we have moved onto the second map, starting with Panama.

This activity is especially challenging for younger children because the majority–understandably–have very minimal background knowledge here; many kindergarteners have never heard the word Mexico before, so they are grappling with a lot all at once (word in English; different pronunciation in Spanish; location on the map; concept of another country; etc.). It is my job to make this information not only accessible, but also memorable to students. Enter Pato, my Professional Stuffed Animal Duck.

Point being, students reached “Panama” on the floor map last class. I love geography and travel, and how we can layer on culture so much more easily when students already have a place in their brains for the names of these Spanish-speaking countries.

Ahem, maestra! F-o-c-u-s! Right. So anyway, Pato started explaining that he LOVES Panama, and when asked why, he proceeded to describe his diet: pan (bread), pan (bread), pan (bread), and more pan (bread). What about special occasions, Pato? ¡Pan y papas fritas! (Bread and french fries.) Oh my.

After a long tangent about how it is pronounced, “pahhhhn” and not “tahhhhn”–ventriloquism requires that certain consonants be slightly mispronounced, so as not to move the lips. P’s become t’s, m’s become n’s, you get the idea.Pato continued.

“Why do I love it? It’s ‘cuz THERE’S A BREAD CASTLE IN PANAMA!” He was practically shrieking, he was so excited.

Pato, that’s not true at all.”

“Of course it is. Listen: TAN-ana [read: PAN-ama].” ASIDE: When I split apart the word and read it backwards now, the linguist in me sees, “loves (ama) bread (pan)”, which is quite funny in itself; however, the actual origin of the word Panama is derived from a Guaraní word that means, “the place of many fish”. But we’re not there yet.

Fast-forward to the following day. To the tune of Frère Jacques, I sang: Where is Pa-to, where is Pa-to? / ¿Dónde está? ¿Dónde está? ¡Dime, por favor! / ¡Dime, por favor! / Tell me, please! Tell me, please!

Young ducks require an enormous amount of rest, so it was not unexpected to find him sound asleep in his casa/house [read: a drawer in my desk]. What was unexpected was the stubborn, whiny response at 11:30am: an emphatic, “NO!”

Pato, everyone is here to see you. You need to get up now. It’s practically noon!” [this was all in the target language] This was the defining moment: a tough decision.

“Mmmfff.” He mumbled something unintelligible and rolled over. Uh-oh.

I motioned to the class to be very quiet, and proceeded to grab a flashcard with the word, “pan” on it. Attempt number two, in a quiet, sing-songy voice.

“Oh Pato, cariño, it’s time to get up now. I made your favorite: pan.”

He rocket-shipped out of bed at the last word. “PAN-PAN-PAN, ¡¡¡¡¿DÓNDE ESTÁ?!!!! I LOOOOOVE PAN! ¡¡¡ME ENCANTA!!!

Well, that was, umm, #Effective.

Thoroughly convinced that there was more pan hidden somewhere, he followed his nose beak and did, indeed, find a massive stack of high resolution images of pan. Loaves of bread, empanadas, medialunas [croissants], sliced bread, baguettes, Challah, bread rolls, the works.

And so, long story short, we built a BREAD CASTLE for Pato. Ours looked like this:

If you wanted to make your own Bread Castle (castillo de pan) at home, the tiny door route is pretty cool. DuPont Nutrition and Health has proven that any food is game here- you are not limited to pan!

Ultimately, the lesson here is that if Pato hadn’t made the decision to get out of bed, he would not have made an #AwesomeBreadCastle. He also would not have had another important decision on his plate (bad pun, since we’re talking about food, plates…): that is, what exactly do you do with a Bread Castle after you make one?

As I don’t have an answer to the latter yet, we may now conclude with the moral of the story:

So make sure to rocket-ship out of bed in the mornings. You never know what might happen.

NOTE: This post is sponsored by The Non-Existent Bread Castle Company of PAN-ama. Thank you for reading.


LINKS: Why The Rooster Crows in the MorningSimple Stories in Spanish (legends)A World of StoriesCuentos Infantiles (podcasts)Los loros disfrazados (leyenda)LORO coloring pageMitos y leyendas para niñosLas manchas del sapo- videocuento y leyenda, La Mariposa- Storytelling

Listen to the Cuban folktale The Barking Mouse below (ends at 4:21). It is in English and Spanish, and a great story!

Traditional children’s song from Cuba. Listen for “gatico (cat), ratón (mouse), & queso/cheese (“K-so”)” in the song. 

Leyenda: La ratona que sabía ladrar (Cuba)

Hay una familia de ratones: Papá ratón, Mamá ratona y dos ratoncitos. La familia vive en el campo. Un día, los dos ratoncitos juegan (“WAY-gahn”) fútbol afuera.

RATONCITOS: ¡Pásala! ¡Por acá! ¡Vamos, eh?! ¡Apúrate! ¡La tengo!

RATÓN #1: ¿Sabes qué? Quiero jugar por allí.

RATÓN #2: ¡¡¡Mamá!!!

RATONCITOS: ¿Podemos ir?

MAMÁ: Pues sí, pero tengan cuidado: hay un gato.

RATONCITOS: ¿Un gato? ¿Qué es eso?

MAMÁ: Es un animal grande con bigotes.

Los dos ratoncitos son curiosos y quieren ver al gato. Andan y andan y finalmente, ven al gato detrás de una cerca. El gato se acerca y los mira fijamente.

RATÓN #1: Jajaja, ¡mira sus bigotes! ¡Qué ridículo!

RATÓN #2: ¡Sí! ¡Qué ridículo!

El gato está enojado y trata de saltar la cerca. Pero se cae y los ratoncitos se ríen mucho. 

RATONCITOS: Mira cómo temblamos, mira cómo temblamos. ¡Ooooo!

El gato trata de saltar la cerca otra vez. Cuando salta la cerca, los ratoncitos corren a toda velocidad.

RATONCITOS: ¡Papá, mamá, corren, porque el gato nos va a comer! 

Los ratoncitos corren, pero la Mamá ratona tiene un plan. Espera. Luego, el gato levanta la pata para atraparla, pero–


El gato no la toca y corre de allí muy rápido.

RATONCITOS: Sí, sí, sí, ¡fuera de aquí!

MAMÁ: Chicos, no pueden reírse de las diferencias.  Son importantes. Si yo no hubiera sabido ladrar, habríamos estado en el estómago del gato ahora.

El moraleja: Recuerdan que aprender el lenguaje de los demás y respetarlos puede salvarnos la vida.

Legend: The Mouse Who Knew How to Bark

There is a family of mice: Papa Mouse, Mama Mouse, and two little mice. The family lives in the country. One day, the two mice are playing soccer outside.

MICE: Pass it! Over here! Let’s go, eh?! Hurry up! I got it!

MOUSE #1: You know what? I want to play over there.

MOUSE #2: MOM!!!!

MICE: Can we go?

MOM: Well yes, but be careful: there’s a cat.

MICE (together): A cat? What’s that?

MOM: It’s a big animal with whiskers.

The two mice are curious and want to see the cat. They walk and they walk and finally, they see the cat behind a fence. The cat gets closer and stares at them.

MOUSE #1: Hahaha, look at his whiskers! How ridiculous!

MOUSE #2: Yes! How ridiculous!

The cat is angry and tries to jump the fence. But he falls and the mice laugh a lot.

MICE: Look at how we’re shaking, look at how we’re shaking. Ooooh!

The cat tries to jump the fence again. When he jumps the fence, the mice run at top speed.

MICE (together, as they are running): Dad, Mom, run!!!, because the cat is going to eat us!

The mice run, but Mama Mouse has a plan. She waits. Then, the cat lifts his paw to catch her, but–


The cat doesn’t touch her and runs away very quickly.

MICE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, get outta here!

MOM: Kids, you can’t laugh at differences. They are important. If I hadn’t known how to bark, we would be in the cat’s stomach right now.

Remember that learning another’s language and respecting them can save your life.

Traditional Children’s Song from Cuba

Listen for “gatico (cat), ratón (mouse), & queso/cheese (“K-so”)” in the song.


Read-Alouds for Spanish Class

Sub plans for language teachers are always a bit tricky. I remember once when I was told that my sub would be Spanish-speaking. Thoroughly delighted, I typed up three pages of plans, all in the target language. Naturally, that particular individual ending up canceling at the last minute, and my new sub wrote, “I don’t understand what this says” at the top of my carefully curated plans. Oh no!

I am not out often, but when I am, I’ve always dreamt of having plans in place, instead of writing them frantically the night before (read: @4am the morning of). How can we, as language teachers, prepare meaningful sub plans well in advance of any absences, planned or not? Keep reading for a few ideas.


Read-alouds in English are simple plans for Spanish class substitutes who don’t speak Spanish and/or don’t have Internet access in a classroom. Many folktales offer a glimpse into another country and culture, and a carefully curated list can blend seamlessly into and supplement any curriculum, with a little creative thought. NOTE: My books are in the white magazine holder on my desk.

  • For a playlist of Scholastic read-alouds in Spanish, click HERE;
  • For fairy tales in Spanish, click HERE;
  • For online read-alouds, grades K-2, click HERE;
  • And HERE are 14 Latin American Folktales for Kids.
  • Books in English – more info below.
    • Zorro and Quwi, by Rebecca Hickox
    • The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
    • La Mariposa, by Francisco Jimenez
    • Ashes for Gold: A Tale from Mexico, by Katherine Maitland
    • Conejito: A Folktale from Panama, by Margaret Read MacDonald
    • The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, by Carmen Agra Deedy
    • Cuckoo, by Lois Ehlert
    • The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola
    • Latin Americans Thought of It: Amazing Innovations, by Eva Salinas
    • Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems

PERU: Zorro and Quwibook

  • First, tell students that the book they are going to hear today is a folktale from the [Andes] mountains of Peru. In Peru, most people speak Spanish, but many people also speak another language there called Quechua. (I mention this because in the title of the book, ‘Quwi’ is the Quechua word for ‘guinea pig’; Quechua is spoken by 9-14 million people in South America; zorro means fox in Spanish.)
  • Next, read the book ZORRO and QUWI. Feel free to take a stretch or brain break part way through if they are getting antsy. I tend to stop and ask comprehension questions throughout a story, as well.
  • After you read it, see if they can retell the tale going around the circle—everyone gets to say one sentence–or just discuss the tale and ask more questions. What would they change if they had written the story? If you/they don’t want to retell it, students can draw out the story (regular white paper is on the black shelf in the corner of the room).

SPAIN: The Story of Ferdinandbook; read aloud; trailer; bullfighting

  • First, ask [younger] students if they know any words in Spanish. They may offer a lot or nothing at all. You can say that one example is hola. We say hello in English, and in Spanish, we say hola!
  • Next, explain that Spanish is spoken in many different places around the world. One faraway place is called Spain. The story they are going to hear takes place in Spain. You can use the black outlined map with golden stars on it on the wall (with the fairy lights) to point to our state and then Spain–far across the ocean.
  • Read The Story of Ferdinand. Read more slowly than not. I tend to speak too quickly and always need to remind myself to slowwwww down!

MEXICO/USA: La Mariposabook; read aloud

  • Read La Mariposa to class (‘mariposa’ means butterfly). Take a stretch break part way through if they are getting antsy. Discuss—how would you feel if you were the main character? I tend to ask comprehension questions throughout a story, as well. The last page has a list of Spanish words and pronunciations.

MEXICO: Ashes for Goldbook; read aloud

PANAMA: Conejito: A Folktale from Panamabook; read aloud; another read aloud @1:12

BOLIVIA: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!book; read aloud

MEXICO: Cuckoo, Mexico – book; read aloud

MEXICO: The Legend of the Poinsettiabook; read aloud

USA: Knuffle Bunnybook; read aloud

  • Knuffle Bunny does not seem to fit in this list of folklore, but the book could launch an interesting discussion about language itself from a more philosophical viewpoint, and how much we rely on verbal communication in our day to day lives. How are Trixie’s attempts to communicate any different than someone dropped in a country whose language s/he does not speak? Does language give us power? What kind(s)? What makes some words “real” and other words not?

PK3, PK4, KINDERGARTEN: popular cartoons

GRADES 1 & 2: Fun Spanish app.

GRADES 3 & 4: Duolingo app.

In Theaters Now!

The “Pato” Play (2021-22)

On Thursday, fourth graders performed a play in Spanish about our beloved stuffed animal hero, Pato (Duck). This was a play within a play about two best friends, “Pato” and “Oso”, who travel to Peru; meet Ariana Grande and her dog Fluffy, along with an alpaca named Mr. Hashbrown; and turn many “problems” into solutions along the way.

Plot Summary

Act 1

The Fourth Grade “Pato” Play begins with a director who needs to cast the part of “Pato” (my stuffed animal duck) in a movie, but there is a lot of confusion. The first actor that shows up auditions as a gato/catnot a pato; the second actor auditions as a plato/plate, not a pato/duck; and then there is a delivery of zapatos/shoes, all of which infuriates the director, since he is in search of someone to play the part of a pato/duck and nothing else. Finally, the REAL “Pato” makes an unexpected appearance–he is a super famous, very cool actor–and everyone is aghast! The director offers him the part and he accepts.

However, the actors that do NOT get the part of “Pato” are disgruntled and will continuously interrupt the show with cultural commentaries and the like, to try and steal the limelight. The play (within a play) begins with Pato/duck and his friend, Oso/bear, galloping on horseback in Peru to [a real place called] Rainbow Mountain. There are 14 minerals in the soil there that create a very colorful, layered rainbow look. This tourist attraction is not too far from Machu Picchu, but Pato and Oso are actually in Peru because they want to visit their friend Mr. Hashbrown (an alpaca). Obviously.

The first interruption of the play deals with a parallel comparison of Pato/duck and his friend, Oso/bear, to the world-renowned, 900-page Spanish novel, Don Quijote by Cervantes–and a quick blip of the song, listen HERE. Classes had fun acting out the famous windmill chapter, where Don Quijote “fights” windmills, thinking they are an army of giants.

Act 2

ACT #2: The saga continues! After the show is interrupted for the first time [re: Don Quijote], we learn that Mr. Hashbrown’s house is near the Amazon River- cue second interruption! The actors trying to interrupt the play this time add a fun fact, namely, that a man (from England) actually walked the entire length of the Amazon River back in 2012, setting a world record. It took him three years! After they are shushed off stage, Oso becomes visibly agitated and nervous, stating that there is a problem. Pato replies that “there are no problems, only solutions“, which ends up becoming his catchphrase throughout the play. 

Anyway, while Oso is getting increasingly anxious as he sees an Army of Bacon Monsters slowly approaching on the horizon, Pato starts blabbering about how hungry he is and that he would really like a sandwich. Cue interruption number three: bocadillo [‘bow-kah-DEE-yoh’] is how you say “sandwich” in Spain! Pato always knows what’s going on, even when it seems like he doesn’t, so when he describes the sandwich he is craving, he lists the ingredients- lettuce, tomato and… BACON! The Army of Bacon Monsters (who have been inching closer the entire time) recognize their fate–a BLT sandwich! NOOOOOO! And a chase scene with all parties involved ensues, to music from the Nutcracker. **INTERMISSION**

Act 3

The two [stuffed animal] friends excitedly arrive at Mr. Hashbrown’s house, but quickly learn that their alpaca friend is quite livid. When prompted, Mr. Hashbrown provides visual and auditory evidence that his neighbor, Ariana Grande, is not the quietest person in the world and, in fact, quite the opposite–which means that he can’t sleep. Ever. Our hero Pato continues believing that, “there are no problems, only solutions“, but as the friends peer out of the window to observe, even he perhaps begins to doubt himself. A modicum of Madness with a capital M follows.

Through the window, they watch as Ariana Grande warms up her vocal chords with the scales–but is horribly tone deaf. Then, she starts yelling for her dog, Fluffy, who runs away every Monday. He doesn’t like Mondays, so he tries to run away from them. (Incidentally, Monday is also the name of a neighborhood cat, which causes the next chase scene to be that much more confusing.) Oso tries to help out and catch Fluffy, but he doesn’t run very fast and stops every two inches to eat honey; and Fluffy keeps running and barking whenever he hears the word, “Monday”, or lunes (“lou-nace”) in Spanish.

Meanwhile, Ariana Grande is talking on the phone with her #BFF, Jennifer, and loses it completely–collapsing to the floor, sobbing hysterically–when she learns that Fluffy may be lost forever. Everyone sings the first eight seconds of this song, Ay yie yie yie, canta y no llores (sing and don’t cry!). The Bacon Monsters reappear not long afterwards, this time as flash mob backup dancers for a music video rehearsal at Ariana Grande’s house to THIS SONG. Pato watches all of this, and finally takes control of the situation, telling Fluffy that it is Friday (viernes/“bee-AIR-nace”), not Monday.

Pato talks with Fluffy and says that they need to find a solution to his problem. Everyone pitches in to build him a new fence so that he doesn’t run away. Ariana stops talking on the phone about her lost dog and stops yelling at Fluffy, so Fluffy the Dog is happy. Mr. Hashbrown is happy because his neighbor only sings now and he can sleep. Oso is happy because he found more honey and doesn’t have to run after Fluffy anymore. And Pato is happy because he has proven to everyone that there are no problems, only solutions. THE END.



A Condo Inside the Alhambra?

During the month of December, students in first grade have focused their attention on Spain, or España. While this is part of the first grade curriculum, I decided to introduce the unit before Christmas because Party the Partridge rehearsals resulted in a few double [combined] first grade Spanish classes, and a focused project seemed the best route to take.

Anyway, as with most of my lessons, I give students a little information the first day, and then just keep adding more details each subsequent lesson. Initially, students learned that La Alhambra is a fort/palace in Spain that was built a LONG time ago. It is a beautiful fortress, with hand-painted tiles inside and stunning architecture on the outside.

First graders had the option of building the Alhambra (out of cardboard and blankets, based on a model); or coloring in different outlines and perspectives of the fort and surrounding gardens, or the tiles inside. Several builders found printouts of the Spanish flag and pasted them on the cardboard walls–which was great, considering that 1) I didn’t know I had the printouts (they were mixed in with other coloring sheets); and 2) they [correctly] deduced it as relevant iconography!

The next layer was to talk a bit about the Arabic language, and compare and contrast it with Spanish and English. Spanish and Arabic have a rich linguistic history, primarily due to the fact that Arabs ruled the Iberian peninsula for around 700-800 years. Even today, Moorish culture is strongly present in Southern Spain.

Students were introduced to the Arabic script, learning that Spanish and Arabic share some 8,000 words. Wow! Some even practiced copying the foreign symbols [alphabet] as part of the “writing” center (escribir/to write), while others handed out tickets to visit La Alhambra and/or drive tourists there on the class trains.

Image taken from La Alhambra article on Wikipedia (you can change the language on the sidebar).

Today, I received confirmation that the cultural piece had settled into students’ vernacular, when I overheard two boys arguing. The subject of their argument? “No, you can’t live in a condo INSIDE the Alhambra! That’s not allowed!” #TrueStory

During our last class before break this afternoon, several first graders also took turns with a plastic fishing pole, trying to “fish” in the gardens surrounding the Alhambra. If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t recall anyone actually fishing there when I visited (haha!), but we combine play and reality in Spanish class; and, honestly, who wouldn’t want to go fishing with a plastic fishing pole, loads of tape, and plastic food in a fake pool? I mean, seriously. Unless, of course, you just want to watch from your condo in–that is, across the street from–La Alhambra. Ahem.

In other news, most students can also name and identify on a map at least five Spanish-speaking countries in South America at this point (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia).

And last but not least, if you would like to get a better feel for Southern Spain, you are welcome to check out my narrative prose piece/essay on the topic HERE. Thank you so much for reading and have a MERRY CHRISTMAS and Happy Holidays!! See you in 2022!!!

A Shoe Sandwich & The Train

By far, my favorite lessons are the ones that begin with a plan, veer off course completely, and then somehow end up at the final destination, relatively unscathed. Today had a plan, but unfurled so beautifully that I had to share.

First, we finished–FINALLY!!–our class story. If you recall, we do storytelling most Fridays, but as we missed multiple Fridays due to half days and holidays, our story stretched into a saga of over a month and a half. Here, “evil Pato” keeps taking a wolf’s lunch and eating it. As a result, the wolf cries. And cries. And cries. (cue THIS SONG, first eight seconds only/”sing and don’t cry”/canta y no llores). Finally, the wolf puts a shoe in the sandwich, “evil Pato” eats it, and the wolf laughs. The end. #YesIKnowItIsARidiculousPlot!

Someone wanted to know if there was a “hamburger song“, not to be confused with the “pizza song“, since it would be more relevant- and wouldn’t you know, their wish came true (see below).

There are gestures for every single word in the story, so it requires a lot of movement and energy. But second graders ROCKED IT this morning and we told and acted out the entire narrative in 12 minutes. Bravo!

Next, second graders shifted to centers. This week, I have been trying to “trick” students by asking them different and unexpected questions in the target language, to make sure they are listening and comprehending, as opposed to repeating memorized phrases. They have made good progress with this.

Other grade levels have gotten excited about “train rides” in Spanish class, and recently we decided to extend this to second grade. Here, students climb on top of my long tables [after paying]–and we push the tables and students verrrrry slowly across the room. The tables are on wheels, and make a very soft “hum” sound when moving, much akin to the soft hum of trams at airports.

I play realistic train sound effects on loop in the background; there is an old-school bell they ring to get off the train; the train drivers have licenses (which can be revoked); and students “travel” in circles around my room on the trains [moving tables] to different places in the town, while studying a [real] map of the metro system in Madrid. “Do we switch to the red line now? Is that train #5?” etc. Some students even tie yarn around my stuffed animal dogs as leashes, and “wait” at the train stations, walking their dogs and “talking” on rectangular pieces of plastic, err, I mean, cell phones; and take the train to the “office”, where they work furiously on cardboard laptops until it is time for the commute home in the evening.

Other students use huge cardboard boxes to “build” up the neighborhood, or work at the supermarket, waiting for customers to get off the train and spend their hard-earned cash. Some days, students’ Spanish is lacking, but today was not one of those days!! Spanish just kind of fell of their tongues so naturally that I was absurdly delighted and smiling head to toe! 

Thank you for your general support of the language program and for raising such great kiddos! Have a blessed and relaxing Thanksgiving and break.

The Post Office Pulley System

Post Office Drop Box (Spain/España). Post Office Drop Box (USA).

In class, we cover a lot of territory. I am constantly throwing culture, geography, grammar–first graders don’t know it’s grammar, but it is–songs, new vocabulary, and more at them, with confidence that they will catch at least one new thing each day.

In the last update, you learned that students simulated walking the Camino de Santiago (a 500-mile hike across Spain), and then traveled to Peru to see Rainbow Mountain and also make and pan for oro/gold (aka tesoro/treasure). ASIDE: six weeks later, I am still discovering specks of gold fairy dust glitter everywhere!

Rainbow Mountain; La Rinconada (highest city in the world); rock covered in glue and glitter to make “gold”.

As the weeks progressed, these culture projects morphed into optional centers: those that wanted to continue walking the Camino or sluicing sediment for gold could; and those that wanted to do something different also had that choice. My theory is that if students are interested and personally invested in an idea, they will be more likely 1) to retain the information; and 2) to apply that information to their daily lives, so that Spanish becomes a part of them, as opposed to ‘merely a class’.

First graders ‘sign up’ for these centers in one of two ways each class, via either speaking or writing. To build their confidence, we begin with written work: they will write, “Hi! This is So-and-So*. [Today] I want to build/play/work/walk [the Camino]/ sing/dance/draw/ fly/clean/paint/etc.” (¡Hola! Soy ___. Quiero construir/jugar/trabajar/ caminar/cantar/bailar/dibujar/volar/limpiar/pintar.) The focus as of late has been on “Quiero” (I want) and “y“. Note that the latter means “and” in Spanish, but is pronounced like the English letter “e”. *Students also chose Spanish names a while back, so sometimes they write their real name, and other times they will write their Spanish name. First graders are also now required to sign up for talking (hablar/to talk, speak). This has been extended recently to include specifying in which language–español/Spanish or inglés/English.

To make written work more enticing to six-year-olds, there were a few requirements: one, they had to glue or tape on a colorful stamp from a Spanish-speaking country (Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina) to their notecard; and two, they had to drop it in a basket pulley-system (that went up to the ceiling and down again) in order to “send” it to me at the Post Office. When this got old, we switched to writing on pizarras/ whiteboards, which was conveniently also a vocabulary word in the “Bathroom Song” (¿Puedo ir al baño?/Can I go to the bathroom?), a classic for first grade.

For each center, there are recommendations and suggestions, but they are also open-ended to allow for student agency and creativity. For example, “construir” (build) began quite literally, with first graders building towers out of blocks; this progressed to building houses and forts out of cardboard and blankets.

One day, however, someone wanted to “build” a computer out of cardboard. Another day, the “building” center became more of factory, in which students “built” paper fans (abanicos) and then tried to sell them to others (fake pesos). Yet another day, someone found a “sewing” center card (coser/to sew), and asked how to do that: we used a hole-puncher to make a ton of holes on a piece of folded paper, and students wove yarn through the holes, making their own wallets to stash dinero/money. We have even had mini ice-hockey tournaments in one class, and dance choreography lessons in the other! I will hide the puck and force linguistic interactions here: ¿Dónde está el disco?/Where is the puck?! You must understand, EVERYTHING is about language in my class!

The center work builds from kindergarten to spiral vocabulary and, gradually, first graders begin to see that the sky is the limit when it comes to creativity. Vocabulary is scaffolded to be as versatile as possible here; learning “hold-puncher” is not as useful as learning, “I want/I need that” (Quiero/Necesito eso), especially as students switch centers frequently, based on their interests.

More recently, students have practiced leading the class as the “teacher” (maestro/a) by asking and reading, “¿Cómo estás?” with several possible answers:

  • feliz/happy; 
  • triste/sad; 
  • enojado(a)/angry; 
  • cansado(a)/tired; 
  • casado(a)/married (class joke); 
  • tengo hambre/I’m hungry;
  • tengo frío/I’m cold; 
  • muy bien/very good; or
  • mal/bad.

Students will watch 2-minute Bluey shows in Spanish at the beginning of class as a listening activity as well; here, they raise their hand when they hear a word or phrase they know. First graders really enjoy this! A newer song is called Botas Perdidas/Lost Boots; here, first graders sit under the tables to watch the song, as the singer looks for things under the table (debajo de la mesa), on top of the chair, etc.

Students also spent a day sorting flashcards (masculine/feminine nouns). This lesson usually comes about when I notice some getting sloppy with spelling; my goal is simply for first graders to pay more attention to words but also to expose them to grammar.

In class, it is a silly game, where there are “boy” words and “girl” words, and boys “get” ice-cream (el helado) but girls “get” pizza (la pizza), and then they try to figure out–detective work!–what the pattern is (“el” words are considered “boy” words; “la” words are “girl” words–but it is completely nonsensical in terms of the noun itself–merely a grammatical construction).

Last but not least, first graders were introduced to a language-learning app called Fun Spanish. This is also now a center option. Whew! Thank you for reading all of this. I did not intend for it to be so verbose. I hope you are having a great weekend!

Cardboard Cars & Table Trains

This morning, students in PK3 voted on which two songs to watch and dance to (from four options: Chumbala CachumbalaCorre, Pocoyó¿Te Gusta El Helado De Brócoli?; and Rompe Ralph/Wreck-It Ralph). While we normally proceed with a “How are you?” question and answer session following our songs, today there was a lot on the agenda, so we skipped over that part of the daily routine.

You see, in Spanish class, we start simple–building a foundation of basic words and phrases–but then continuously spiral and recycle the words in all different ways. For instance, the “luz roja, luz verde” (red light, green light) lessons led to naming and reviewing colors with games and word associations (there are four ways to say “red” in Spanish, depending on what you’re talking about- so this is ongoing and not mastered in a day).

The traffic lights, in turn, led to various modes of transportation. Our ‘cars’ are cardboard boxes and go both rápido/fast and lento/slow. When our ‘cars break down’, I attach masking tape to one end, and the student takes the roll part of the masking tape and ‘pulls’ the cardboard car to the garage/mechanic to be fixed. Obviously.

When we ran out of cardboard cars, I offered train rides (sometimes public transport is faster, anyway). Now just so you fully understand, ‘train rides’ have become ‘A THING’ in PK3 Spanish as of late. Students got free rides the first day, but since then, they have had to pay for their pretend tickets with dinero/money. Students climb on top of my long tables after paying–and we push the tables and students verrrrry slowly across the room. I say, “¡última parada!” (last stop!), and then they have to get off. The tables are on wheels, and make a very soft “hum” sound when moving, much akin to the soft hum of trams at airports.

This week, students were also able to purchase peluches/stuffed animals and comida/food with their dinero/money, along with the train tickets. As the number of passengers has increased, so have the number of stops on the route… meaning, one stop was at la playa/the beach!! Students got colorful blankets and sarapes, pretended to sun themselves, and played with their stuffed animals. Whenever they are on the train–zooming along at five feet per hour–they wave to their friends/amigos in the room, shouting, “¡Adiós!” and sometimes blowing kisses (besos), the latter of which is perhaps the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen!

Today, I started using sound effects and images on the Smartboard to enhance the linguistic experience. When they went to la playa/the beach, I projected a picture of white sands and the ocean–and played a sound effect of waves lapping at the shore. When they went to the jungle, I hung plastic green vines around the board, and showed and played THIS video. Our third destination was las montañas/the mountains. I’m still working on a sound effect for this one!

At this point, I quietly asked the assistant to lower the lights, and I explained that we had taken so many train rides, that it was already nightfall! So they took their formerly-beach-towels, now turned blankets, and chose either the “top” or “bottom” bunk of the bunkbeds in my room (aka train aka tables). Then I put on this 37-second SONG, with which they are very familiar and love, and cuddled up with their stuffed animals. They like to say, “¡Otra vez!” (again) and watch the song repeatedly some days. With the overcast sky and the lights off today, it felt so cozy in the Spanish room! I put on fairy lights sometimes as ‘night lights’ so they don’t get scared by the darkness. 🙂

Anyway, when it was finally time to wake up the ‘next morning’, I stretched–yawning–and said, “¡Buenos días!”. We were all pretty ravenous, so we took the train–which has now become more of a subway/metro–to a restaurant for breakfast (Tengo hambre/I’m hungry!). Then our 30 minute class was over and it was time to clean up and for them to be on their way.

If you have a student in PK4, you will note that there is definitely crossover in terms of content between the two grades, but PK3 has a different and much softer tone, in the sense that every experience is brand new and innocent. They are full of joy, in a way that’s hard to describe; and I truly cherish my time with them. Not every day is perfect by any means, but today the pieces all fell together and joy was had by all. Have a wonderful long weekend. I hope this gives you a peek into my/our little Spanish world.

Center Work & Chickens

We left off last time with Pato (my stuffed animal duck) going on a treasure map adventure with pirates, rough ocean seas, and baking soda & vinegar volcanoes (fuerza/force). The initial idea was that he was traveling from one Spanish-speaking country to another, but the conceptual piece of this took a bit of time to sink in.

Since then, we have moved on to center work, where students “sign up for” centers/activities in the target language. Because literacy levels vary significantly in kindergarten, their written work is very simple–one word, plus their name; but they can always write more if they so desire.

At this point, kindergarteners can sign up for one of five centers. They write one (or more) of the following– “jugar/ play (“who-gar”); colorear/ color; pintar/ paint; construir/ build; volar/ fly” –depending on what they want to do that day; and if they want to switch centers, they just have to ask in Spanish (we only write for the first center they choose). Each activity has materials, and students are expected to use and ask for those materials in Spanish, or ask me how to say the word of the thing they need if/when they forget.

For example, if students sign up for “jugar/play”, they play with stuffed animals and food or little puzzle games. For “construir/build”, kindergarteners use large boxes and pieces of cardboard to “build” houses, and then decorate the inside with colorful blankets and sarapes. If they want to bring comida/food or peluches/stuffed animals into their casa/house, they have to pay for it with fake dinero/money (by buying it at our Argentina-style outdoor markets).

This week, we added “volar/fly” to the list. Here, kindergarteners bring me papel/paper and while I am folding them a paper airplane, they pick a flag on the wall (from the Spanish-speaking world) of where they want to travel. I have emphasized a few countries this week–Costa Rica (jungle pic); Colombia (pink dolphins); Argentina (waterfalls of Iguazu); and Perú (tesoro/treasure)–but they can choose any of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries. Next, students have to draw a flag (e.g., una franja azul/a blue stripe) on their paper airplane of where they are going, and… well, fly there! This morning, to emphasize the countries, I was asking where they were going to build a house (construir una casa) or paint (pintar) or play (jugar): in Peru? Argentina? Colombia?

There are also whole group routines at the beginning of class (with student-teacher helpers) who lead the lesson (por favor/please; gracias/thank you; pizarras/whiteboards; marcadores/markers; borra/erase). One class this week has also become wholly obsessed with pollos/chickens, so much so that I have to ask if the chicken is going to build or play or paint or fly or color! We did add a tortuga/turtle to the mix this morning, so there is hope on the horizon to move on from this phase, ha!!

Point being, their creativity never ceases to amaze me… I hope you are having a great day!

Train Rides

This morning, students in PK4 danced to our newest class song called Chumbala Cachumbala, and then went through the “How are you?” daily routine. Next, I asked in Spanish, “What is this?”, pointing to images of different currencies from various Spanish-speaking countries (but also including the US dollar as a reference point). After several responded “money”, I then asked, “And what is money for?” One brilliantly intuitive soul shouted out, “To buy stuff!”, and following a half second of complete shock–[they just understood what I said in Spanish! Holy Moses, that’s awesome!]–I proceeded to give a few examples. 

This is where the fun actually began. I called a student over, and gesture-narrated that they were allowed to choose a stuffed animal from a bin. Just when they were about to walk away, I said, “No-no-no!” and gesture-explained [this all happened in the target language] that s/he needed to go to the ‘bank’ and pay me dinero/money to purchase said stuffed animal. (I had a ton of faux bills that we had seen the previous week.)

After everyone had had a turn and began playing with the little animals and finger puppets, I slyly asked a student if he would like to buy a car (our ‘cars’ are cardboard boxes and go both rápido/fast and lento/slow). When our ‘cars break down’, I attach masking tape to one end, and the student takes the roll part of the masking tape and ‘pulls’ the cardboard car to the garage/mechanic to be fixed. Obviously.

Anyway… said student bought the car (after going back to the bank to take out more faux money), and the others quickly began to understand what was happening: EVERYTHING IS FOR SALE TODAY!!! 

When we ran out of cardboard cars, I offered train rides (sometimes public transport is faster, anyway. All of those red lights and traffic, you know; you can start to see, perhaps, why we started with red and green lights back in August).

Now just so you fully understand, ‘train rides’ have become ‘A THING’ in PK4 Spanish as of late. Students got free rides the first day, but since then, they have had to pay for their pretend tickets. Students climb on top of my long tables after paying–and we push the tables and students verrrrry slowly across the room. I say, “¡última parada!” (last stop!), and then they have to get off.

Today, this idea was extended: as the train had a maximum of four passengers (plus the stuffed animals), we ended up making multiple runs… meaning, one stop was at la playa/the beach!! Students got little colorful blankets, pretended to sun themselves, and played with their stuffed animals. Whenever they are on the train–zooming along at five feet per hour–they wave to their friends/amigos in the room, shouting, “¡Adiós!” and sometimes blowing kisses (besos).

One student was not interested in la playa/the beach, and I whispered in English, “Do you want to go back to the toy store?” He said yes, so the train–which is now becoming more of a subway/metro–traveled back to the toy store (with the stuffies). At some point, our 30 minutes was up, and I began wondering how to make a bell sound to ring for next week so that students could indicate where on the tram line they want to get off with pull-cords. Hmmm. They might need to be Pull-Cords of the Imaginary Variety.

Point being, I hope this gives you a glimpse into The Microcosm/ World Known As Spanish Class. Not every day runs quite so smoothly, but today the pieces fell together quite nicely, experiential learning was had by all, and your children spoke gobs of Spanish to me. Kudos! Have a lovely evening!

P.S. Yesterday, we watched a very silly Pocoyo cartoon about monsters. Your child is welcome to watch it again at home HERE.

Racing Along

Some days in Spanish class, we lollygag and I allow time for vocabulary and Culture Projects to sift through students’ minds. It doesn’t feel–at least on paper–like we accomplish all that much, but I know that they are processing.  I am intentional about making time for these “lazy Sunday” lessons because on other days, we go 180 miles per hour, and I jampack their brains with so much information that everyone is overloaded!

Today was one of those 180mps (Freudian slip “miles per second” in lieu of mph, but I think I’ll leave it since we accomplished a ton in 30 minutes today!). Let me explain.

Class began with our Friday dance (“¡Es viernes!/It’s Friday!) and a quick recap of the previous lesson on dinero/money; several students had been absent but I also just wanted to review everything from Tuesday. Second graders had learned that other countries use money that may have numbers we recognize, but those digits do not usually represent the same value or have the same worth as our US dollars. This feels convoluted as I write it, but we took time on Tuesday to give a million examples so that students were able to grasp the concept. They handed me fake bills from Spanish-speaking countries (pesos, euros, bolivianos, etc.), and I used an online currency converter to tell them how much money they were holding (since the value changes continuously). Conversation as follows:

STUDENT: Ha! 5,000 guaraníes (Paraguay).
ME: 73 cents.

NEXT STUDENT: 500 euros (Spain).
ME: $585.52 USD

And so on and so forth. Students were both fascinated and perplexed by the idea. I shared a chart with the same number of pesos/euros on one column, with the corresponding value in USD on the other to drive home the point.

This only took a few minutes to review since most students were already familiar with the concept. Next, I asked a pregunta/question– Where is our ‘class town’ located?”–while slyly stroking and holding a shoulder bag that had, “MADRID MADRID MADRID MADRID MADRID” written all over it (which I had purchased in Spain a number of years ago). Students looked at a few photos of Madrid, Spain (the capital city), and made connections with the movie Vivo (they recognized an iconic image of Madrid that apparently is one scene).

We shifted gears at this point, and I said that while we will still continue building and working in our town on Mondays and Tuesdays, Fridays will be our “Story Days”. These stories are highly interactive and told in Spanish, but we had to do some prep work today beforehand.

PREP WORK & BACKSTORY: Second graders had seen a very silly 3-second video of a squirrel the other day (put on loop!!), so I decided to build this into our first story of the year. Students watched a cartoon of a “flying” squirrel and then lined up and took turns pretending to fly and then “epic-ly failing” by falling down on the carpet. I sang, “Puedo volar” (I can fly) to the tune of R. Kelly’s song in English, and then we watched a 34-second cartoon and they listened for key words (sí-sí-sí-sí/yes-yes-yes-yes; más/more; sé que puedo volar/I believe I can fly).

In the actual story, we haven’t gotten anywhere near the flying squirrel, but I like to pre-teach language for future use and have students wondering how this will all fit into the plot. 

Anyway, for Day #1 of interactive storytelling, students spread out around the room and repeat and mimic what I am doing. We attach a gesture to EVERY SINGLE word in the story, so there is a lot of movement and energy, but it is controlled and intentional.

We began by turning off the lights and setting the stage: “Una noche… duh-duh-DUUUUH!” (one night + overly dramatic air piano sound effects), and then learn that it is Monday in our story (we do a lunes/Monday cheer, and spell it out, YMCA-style), and that there is a lobo/wolf (main character) who runs to McDonald’s. I told students that they can absolutely love or hate McDonald’s–your opinion is your opinion!–but that we mention it in class because jingles stick in your head, and restaurant chains all have jingles that have been, yes, TRANSLATED! (Me encanta/I’m lovin’ it/I love it), which makes language easier to remember [if they already have a reference point in English]. Class was about over by this time, so they lined up for the habitual, “¡SORPRESA!” (surprise) for their teacher, and said our goodbyes!

Well, this was not the most concise update (“Oh me, oh my, pumpkin pie! That was not concise at all, maestra!!), but seeing as we have started to layer on a new unit, I wanted to share and provide a glimpse into the Spanish classroom/empire/world/planet/universe/something, HA! 🙂

I hope you have a truly wonderful Fri-YAY! and thank you so much for reading!

Quechua & MJ

This morning, third graders tapped into their “One Voice Can Make a Difference” theme in Spanish class. First, they learned some basic linguistic facts: there are about 7,000 languages in the world; that Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in real life (but English is most used online); and that some languages in the world are considered endangered. Many students were very interested in this concept (how would it feel to be the only person in the world who spoke your language?), and so I shared a few other anecdotes with them on the topic.

They heard the story of one 14-year-old girl from Peru who wanted to make her native language, Quechua**, more popular and accepted in her country. Younger people were wanting to speak “only” Spanish and not Quechua, and she wanted to change that. This is her cover of a Michael Jackson song (see below), which has received over 2 million views: her one voice is literally making a difference! Thanks to the internet, many now want to learn Quechua.

**NOTE: Quechua is an indigenous language spoken in the Andes Mountains and highlands of South America (and NOT Spain).

Third graders also made pretend gold (covering tiny rocks with glue and glitter—oh my! so much glitter! Glitter, glitter, everywhere! Even in my hair! But what fun!)like a few other classes this week, learning about La Rinconada, or the highest city in the world (also in Peru). What they don’t know is that the legend they are learning has a surprise ending with GOLD as well! So this all ties together nicely in the end.

Weather permitting (no tormentas!/no storms!), tomorrow will be a soccer game day. While we began the year with a soccer unit, at this point in time we are starting to add many other layers, which is one of my favorite aspects of the third grade curriculum. We will take a few days this year to talk about endangered languages, untranslatable phrases, and just language in general–I like for students to think about language(s), too–and then layer on Culture Projects, legends from the Spanish-speaking world (current unit), storytelling, soccer games, tongue twisters, jokes, dance, food(!), and more, to create a tiered Spanish cake of knowledge, reading, writing, listening, and speaking, culture, etcetera. It is a big metaphorical cake. I might need to go eat some real cake now. Or tapas.

Anyway (ha!), thank you for reading. I hope you have a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious type of awesome day! (When she says it backwards in the video clip, it is just hilarious!)

Gold Fairy Dust

In class this afternoon, first graders came to Spanish and happened to notice that my classroom was–almost literally–coated in glitter: from the carpet to the tables, to even the teacher’s chin [I learned that after class], specks of gold fairy dust were everywhere.

BACKGROUND: If you have a child in kindergarten, you already know why–but a quick recap is that Pato had to escape from an erupting volcano, and used a boat, treasure map, and telescope to make his way to an island, which had a treasure chest full of gold there (convenient how these things work out in Stuffed Animal World, right?!).

Anyway, first graders collected tiny rocks, squished them around in glue, and coated them with gold glitter (the same activity as kindergarten), but LEVELED UP!! and alongside a much more culturally-based lesson.

Here, students learned that while the Camino (500-mile hike) is located in Spain, today we would be traveling to Peru, another Spanish-speaking country. We used Google Maps to locate Peru with respect to Spain, Mexico, our state, and more. In Peru, there is a place called Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca, that has a unique composition–14 different, colorful minerals–which make the mountain range appear like the inside of a jawbreaker.

A day or so away from Rainbow Mountain in Peru is [arguably] the highest city in the world, or La Rinconada, at a whopping 3 miles high! We did a little math, and that would be a student who measures 4 feet, standing on top of 4,183 of his/her own clones, going straight up. REALLY HIGH! This location is of interest because the town was built on top of a–you guessed it–GOLD MINE! First graders watched a 43-second video of how gold is mined, and then (as described above) created their own little pieces of gold to bring home. It was an exciting start to the week!

Fly Away With Me

Waves of cerulean lapped onto the shore, back and forth, back and forth—carelessly, yet with purpose and intention. My toes reveled in delight at the mixture of wet sand and water, so distinct from their claustrophobic shoe shell. Change could be wonderfully refreshing.

Traveling has always been in my blood. I love exploring and want to share this excitement with my students.

So in class, students don’t just talk about going places- we actually travel! Well, via simulation, at least. Let me invite you into our world. One of my favorite lessons of the year is The Day We Do All The Things. This day is planned about 24 hours in advance (I’m one of those 11:59.57 types), and particularly after a student makes an offhanded comment about wanting to travel. Okay, well let’s go!

I prepare plane tickets, complete with realistic times, dates, and airports (thank you, Snipping Tool!), and hand these out along with faux currency of our final destination. One year, we spent a week creating crazy-realistic looking passports beforehand, with student photos pasted in and a world map as the background. Needless to say, travel involves some paperwork!

At the airport, students go through ‘customs’, taking off their shoes, handing over their passport, walking through the creepy scanner, etc. (quítense los zapatos, pasaporte, por favor)

Lesson plan- plane tickets, customs; stewardess/plane simulation with snacks & iPad movies available in Spanish only; QR codes around campus, “taxi ride”, riding the metro (hey, look! there’s the Prado!), etc.

QR Code Search- Spain & Mexico!

  1. Mercado in Spain
  2. The Men Risking Their Lives for Barnacles
  3. Human Towers of Catalunya
  4. Covered Streets of Granada
  5. Regions of Spain Map
  6. La Alhambra (photo)
  7. Museo Soumaya Art Museum (photo)
  8. Chichen Itza at Night (photos)
  9. Amate Paintings (photos)
  10. Molinillo tradicional (video)
  11. Danza de los Voladores (photo)
  12. Cave of the Crystals
  13. MUSA- Mexico Car (photo)
  14. Frito Bandito (commercial)
  15. Coco- Official Trailer
  16. Radish Festival
  17. El Prado- Museum

Breaking News!

Every year, our Spanish News Show gets a little wackier. We just keep adding and spiraling, and suddenly, a student is shouting, “¡Seguridad!” (security!) because another is dancing Salsa on set and a third is pretending to order chips and guac on her phone when they are supposed to be reporting–so naturally, we write this all into the script.

Last year, one class pretended that it was, “Bring your child to work day”, and the hija/ daughter kept interrupting the news show with, “¡Quiero ir al parque!” (I want to go to the park!). I used to end the semester with this unit to review several lessons at once, but this year, I decided to start in August with it and see where it leads us. Time will tell!

Some days, we spend the entire time rehearsing if students are really focused and into it. Other days, we run through it once and that’s that! “Son las seis” (it’s six o’clock) seems a perfectly innocent line with which to begin the script, but it involves one student sitting in my teacher chair on wheels, and another pushing, err that is, “driving” the coche/ car across my room to the former’s house, so that he can run and sit on the couch to watch his favorite show ever, THE NEWS. At this point, “reporters” are sitting at a table “in front of” the couch, while others rush on set and pretend to apply last minute maquillaje/ makeup and hair gel before the show is live on the air. And so we begin…

Noticias… en español.

El tiempo

Siempre hace sol / cuando hablas español. (It’s always sunny when you speak Spanish!)

Los anuncios

Me Encanta

Credit. Fun exercise: count how many times they say, “Me encanta” in the song.

La entrevista

(the interview: absurdly over-dramatized!)

PRESIDENTE: Hola, yo soy el presidente de México.

REPORTERO 1: Mucho gusto (nice to meet you). Gracias por visitarnos.

PRESIDENTE: Claro (of course).

REPORTERO 1: Y ahora, las preguntas.

REPORTERO 2 (muy en serio): ¿Te gustan los plátanos? 

PRESIDENTE (nervioso): Sí… no… bueno, a veces (sometimes).

REPORTERO 3 (como si hubiera discutiendo la gravedad de una guerra): ¿Estás seguro? (Are you sure?)

PRESIDENTE (vacilante): No, depende del día.

REPORTERO 4 (para relajar/suavizar el ambiente/humor estresante): ¿Cuál es la fruta que mas se ríe?

PRESIDENTE (honradamente): No sé.

REPORTERO 5 : ¡¡¡La naranja jajajaja!!!

Food Jokes Image Credit; Tomato/ketchup joke credit

La obra teatral: un espectáculo

Signing Off

I don’t know that we’ve ever actually finished this project in class; however, our goal this year is to make an iMovie of the whole thing. But for now, we’ll sign off with a simple, ¡Hasta mañana! See you tomorrow!

The Fruit Gang

The “Pato” Play (2020-21)

On Wednesday, fourth graders performed a play in Spanish about our beloved stuffed animal hero, Pato (Duck), who was (gasp!) framed for robbing the bank. Students not only excelled academically–impressing the audience with native-like accents and natural intonation in the target language–but also delighted everyone with their theatrical stage presence, humor, and tech work. A huge thank you to all involved- it takes a village! A shout out to upcoming fourth grader Henry, who created this iMovie trailer for the show. ¡Muchas gracias!

Background Info

“Pato” (duck) is a stuffed animal duck of mine that has a ridiculously squeaky voice and innocent but silly personality. He is always getting into mischief, and students in all of the grade levels know him.

This year, he has ziplined down to the flagpole from the second floor of the new building (with grades 1&2). He has his own [faux] Instagram page and TV series. He has crazy ideas, and always wants to have fun, and would come out and play every day, if it weren’t for the stress his squeaky voice causes on my vocal chords (self-taught ventriloquism has a downside).

Plot Summary

In the play, our friend and hero Pato is framed for a crime he didn’t did commit: robbing the bank. While he sits in a jail cell with his BFF (#BestAmigoForever), a turkey, they recount what happened the day prior… and thanks to a “ghost”–what else do I do with a silver graduation gown?!–the two friends realize that Pato was POISONED! With “Meantonium”, a new element on the periodic table that makes you “mean”. In fact, a “Bad Apple” (~Manzana/Apple) poisoned the Mate tea Pato was drinking when Pato wasn’t looking, which made Pato “mean” and caused him to follow Bad Apple’s orders to rob the bank.

So… the two friends escape with the ghost’s help (#JailBreak), and go to Cuba to visit the witches, who are good and will help clear their name. In Cuba, Pato is severely distracted by all of the Salsa dancing, and wants to join the fiesta (party), even though they have work to do. The police show up suddenly, and this changes his mind rather quickly. A chase scene ensues. 

Conclusions- It turns out that Manzana/Apple stole the Meantonium from the witches, who only had it on hand for emergencies. There is also a surprise ending with a Banana, which is a theme of sorts, as “La Habana”, the capital of Cuba, sounds like “Banana” to Pato. Obviously. This film is rated G.




Resumen, 20-21 (All Grades)

This year, I changed schools and began writing blog posts about lessons, as opposed to quarter summaries. Our school also did a mix of hybrid learning, with some students 100% on campus and others learning virtually from home.

As a result, I struggled with finding the best way to organize my curriculum on paper, as well as trying to blog regularly and post for virtual students: much like the fireworks image above, my thoughts were everywhere. It was a year of intense professional growth. Below, you can read blips about what we did. My two favorite posts are starred below: Yes to Pizza and Pato Who?.

Yes to Pizza.

Once upon a time, there was a Spanish teacher who awakened very early one Friday morning and knew–without a doubt–that it was going to be an amazing day: no ifs, ands, or buts. As if cyberspace wanted to confirm this fact, by 5:30am the algorithms had led her to perhaps the #BestSongEverWritten.

She left the room and nearly missed the surprise ending, but ran back just in time to see it (watch to the end!). She felt an immediate and strong urge to share it with everyone who crossed her path that day; fortunately, she would meet with eight classes, so that wouldn’t be too difficult. It didn’t exactly align with the curriculum, but… yes to pizza. Always yes to pizza.

Then again, did it align? Could it? She wracked her brain. Classes were studying the Nazca Lines–massive geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert that appeared to be roads or trenches in every direction at ground level, but from the air… holy guacamole! They were designs of plants and animals, the longest a whopping 12 miles (20km) long!

The crazy thing was that they had been around for 2,000+ years, but weren’t really discovered or documented until aircrafts were invented. She imagined what it would have been like: “Flying over Peru, Roger that. Wait! A giant hummingbird, there is a giant hummingbird! And a spider! Mayday?!” [pause] “No, I don’t believe they intend to eat me.” “Should we send backup?” “No, I repeat–they do not appear to be an immediate threat. Over.”

In fact, drones and AI are helping to uncover new lines, previously gone unnoticed. In October of 2020, as explained by this article, a faint outline of a huge cat was discovered on the side of a mountain. 143 new geoglyphs have been discovered in the past two years, including one of a humanoid.

Students had been having difficulties imagining just how large these images were, so she planned to have them find the vehicles in the following photo. That would surely impress upon classes the immensity of their size. Wow!

Image Credit

So, pizza. Hmm. There had to be a way in; the song was just too good to hide away in a metaphorically dusty folder in the cloud. Another algorithm led to an animated gif, with a monkey, hummingbird, spider, and a… pizza?! Bingo!

The results of this Spanish lesson about pizza, ahem, Peru, speak for themselves, but she, for one, was very impressed.

Third graders tried making their own miniature deserts and geoglyphs with real sand and red paint (to mimic the reddish desert sand), but it was messier than anticipated: she wound up with red paint IN her hair, students all had red hands from dyeing the sand red, and thus the class switched from The Pizza Song on loop to Elmo’s Para bailar la bamba (because Elmo is red, in case you didn’t follow that non sequitur train of thought).

And since they were all in Peru, it felt like spending a moment at the sand dunes would be an inspired end to the week (best footage starts @3:09 below). After all of that virtual sand dune skiing, who’s hungry for pizza? Happy Friday! ¡Feliz viernes!

Teachers: Here is a more authentic/ traditional soundtrack for background music as students work if *gasp* you don’t like the pizza song.

Quantum Leaps

LANGUAGE IS weird. Bizarre. Quirky. Odd. Let me clarify: yes, language encompasses all of those things–each and every language has its own particular quirks and oddities (in the grammatical sense)–but I am referring here more to language acquisition, or the process of how a child learns another language.

You see, much of my job as a language teacher involves talking. I talk and talk and talk, filling young minds with Spanish babbling: the different rhythms and cadence, the syntax, the intonation, the words that sound the same as English and mean the same thing in Spanish, the words that sound the same as English but don’t mean the same thing in Spanish, and the words in Spanish that don’t sound like anything in English. There is a tremendous amount of input that must occur before you can expect any output.

Students listen and absorb, absorb and listen, don’t listen and don’t absorb, don’t listen and do absorb, and then just when I’m about to lose all hope–because sometimes I feel like I’m having a conversation with the wall or an inanimate object–they don’t say anything. But on the day after that, THEY DO! It is a bit magical.

Initially, it is a word here or there. “¡Hola!” “Could I go to the baño, I mean, bathroom?” “Wow, that is really grande (big)!” These phrases gradually–and ever so casually–are elongated over time: “¡Hasta luego, maestra!” and “Tengo hambre” (I’m hungry). “Quiero pintar” (I want to paint).

And then on some days, the conversation lulls: silence returns, deafening in every sense of the word, a lonely desert stretching as far as the eye can see. Wind whips across the dunes: English abounds. My conversation with the Inanimate Objects resumes. What happened?, I wonder. Is language like the tides? Did Spanish just go back out to sea? I don’t understand.

This is the fabulously irrational cycle, the pattern-less pattern, the inconsistent chain or sequence of events of language acquisition which lead to circles and spirals that appear at first to be a child’s scribbles. Nonsensical and incoherent, we not only allow but in fact encourage and invite the scribbles–the practice–because we know it’s leading somewhere. This Somewhere arrived for students in first grade today. Note that while “Somewhere” does not equate to fluency, it is a definite mile marker on the yellow brick road of their journey to proficiency, and should be congratulated.

In other words, the amount of Spanish in meaningful contexts–and complete sentences, at that!–that I heard this afternoon was astounding. Stars and planets aligned, the tide came in, the “English desert” disappeared, and WOW! “Quiero eso (I want that)”, “Ayúdame, por favor, maestra” (help me please, teacher) “¿Dónde está?” (where is it?) “Yo me llamo ____ (My name is ___).” Quiero ir a Guatemala con ___” (I want to go to Guatemala with so-and-so), “¡No quiero escribir!” (I don’t want to write!) “¡¡MIRA!!” (LOOK!) “Necesito rojo y azul, por favor” (I need red and blue [food coloring], please), “Vamos, amigos” (let’s go, friends!), “¿Puedo ir al baño?” (Can I go to the bathroom?).

It could just be the stifling heat–perhaps they are delirious and don’t realize they’re speaking in Spanish–but progress is being made, however intangible and unquantifiable. They are doing a wonderful job, and I just wanted to let you know that the class’ Spanish output today was truly incredible!

Tango, Sharks, & Ziplines

WEEKS 3-4: Just so you are aware, any lesson involving Pato tends to grow and evolve and become an all-out saga that goes on and on because–as the PSA (Professional Stuffed Animal) of a linguist (yours truly)–he has inherited a love of words and language. In other words, these Spanish updates will not be strictly aligned with society’s definition of “every week”, but rather, whenever a lesson circles back around and all of the dots are connected. At times, even Pato is unsure of where all of this is going–metaphorically stumbling through the fog–but in the end, the sun brings a clear sky, everything makes sense, and it all works out (“In the end, it all works out. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end!”). Fortunately, this happened today. But let me rewind a few classes and start from the beginning.

After discussing how many Spanish-speaking countries there are in the world (21), second graders adjusted to starting class with “El mapa” (the map). Here, all of the countries of South America are outlined with masking tape on a 6’x9’ canvas painter’s drop cloth, so that students can simultaneously jump on and name the places (one at a time). The first week, we started with España/Spain, then added Chile and Argentina, and this morning we added Uruguay. We are moving from south to north, but since we had already talked about Spain in conjunction with the Camino (the long hike), students ‘swim’ or ‘fly’ across the room to a corner designated as España.

Today began with students spreading out the tape floor map silently–no words or sounds allowed! I explained in English afterwards that while it always shows good character to be quiet and considerate of other classes, the reason for this activity was primarily linguistic: if you are dropped in a foreign land and do not speak the language, you will rely heavily on gestures and body language. These are all clues and should not be disregarded! I socially distanced myself from them, slid down my mask, and made an angry face, crossing my arms. How am I feeling right now, class? Mad! Did you need to know the word, “enojada” (angry) to understand that? I want to give students tools to navigate another language, and being observant can be enormously helpful when it comes to comprehension.

Anyway, while second graders jumped on the map, I showed those waiting in line a slideshow of photos highlighting said countries, and answered their questions, adding personal travel anecdotes when relevant or necessary. What are those animals? A capybara and a coati! Is that Easter Island (Chile)? Yes! Can you play that video? The video was actually a song of classic Argentine and Uruguayan Tango music, to which students listened and then did the basic T-A-N-G-O step. (For any ballroom dancers out there, Argentine Tango is beautiful but too complex for our purposes, so I teach the American Tango step to students.) 

We connected this to our previous conversation about the “angry face” because the character of the Tango dance is angry and hostile, with sharp movements and defined steps. It is a great dance to do when you are mad!

Switching to Spanish, we continued recounting The Adventures of Pato. Here, I was nervous that the story was losing a bit of steam, so I knew we had to spice it up and connect all of the dots. You see, each lesson, second graders are excited to see and ‘talk’ with Pato. He visited second grade last week and was sopping wet (it literally took three days to dry him out) and they all wanted to know why. As a result, he began to explain the–as one student so eloquently phrased it–“grossly exaggerated” tale. Embellishment might as well be his middle name.

In 2-1, it was a scorchingly hot summer day (hace calor/ “AH-say kah-LORE”), and Pato could not tolerate the heat: he jumped into the ocean (agua/water), feeling the cool waves beneath his wings, and smiled–until a huge shark zoomed into the picture (literally: I created a slideshow after we came up with the story), with a voice booming four malevolent syllables, “TENGO HAMBRE” (I’m hungry). Thought-bubbles of a scrumptious “duck sandwich” came to mind as he swam closer and closer. Clearly, we had a situation.

In 2-2, a similar plot ensued, except that Pato was peacefully sleeping in his bed, dreaming of an ice cream cone with not one, but TWO scoops of chocolate (helado de chocolate), when all of a sudden, a group of shark-ghosts/tiburónfantasmas (and shark-foxes and shark-black cats/tiburones-gatos negros (what?!), etc.) snuck into his dream, ravenous as all get out and ready to chow down on a duck sandwich. (We won’t get into the logistics of what happens when the dreamer who initiated the dream gets eaten. Does everyone disappear? And if so, was the dreamer really eaten, when none of it is reality to begin with? I digress.)

Point being, both classes ended up on the same page re: a duck sandwich, so it seemed an appropriate time to insert a smidgen of cultural knowledge about food: “bocadillo” (sandwich/ “bow-kah-DEE-yo”) and “tapas” (snacks or appetizers in Spain/ “TAH-pahs”). Students pretended to physically become “bocadillos” or “tapas” around the room here (stretched out or curled up). We also played a “tiburón” (shark) vs. everyone game several lessons ago, where the “everyones” had to say, “¡No me comas!” (don’t eat me) as a response to, “Tengo hambre” (I’m hungry).

Students also listened to their class songs, namely, Rompe Ralph/ Wreck-It Ralph and La Roja Baila, and 2-1 made sure to voice their–mostly fabricated–complaints (once they realized that I was over exaggerating absolutely everything to elicit a “Me duele/it hurts” response from them). They also practiced writing a few sight words in the target language.

BUT BACK TO the story! Pato decided that the only way he was going to be able to escape was by flying. However, flying is an art–even for a young duck–and he needed some assistance here. Second graders helped rig up a string zipline in the classroom for the stuffed animal and away he flew, out of danger’s grasp.

When you hear about each day individually from your child, it might be difficult to follow all of this; but when the lessons invariably come together and the pixelated view becomes a panoramic view one magical, cloudy Tuesday morning, my hope is that you see where we are going. To sum up, in Spanish class our goal is to incorporate both language and culture.

The end beginning. Have a great week and thanks so much for reading!

Newsletter 20-21, Oct. (2)

Did the Gato eat Pato?

UPDATE: Students in PK-4 have been experiencing a 100% immersive classroom environment in Spanish class. We begin each day with a song, followed by knocking on the “door” (read: ground) to see if Pato is ready to visit them. I ask them where he is (¿Dónde está?) and they point to my small backpack (mochila). When they have a lot of physical energy, we do action commands (corre/run, salta/jump, marcha/march, baila/dance, etc.).

The reminder of class tends to be presentational-conversational, meaning that I am presenting a lesson and constantly asking questions in Spanish, but students are also responding in English or with body language (e.g., thumbs up or down). This is called the “silent period” in language acquisition; learners are absorbing, absorbing, absorbing. They are absorbing the cadence and rhythm of the language, and they are intuiting, comprehending, and internalizing contextualized language and new vocabulary. I gesture, I change the intonation of my voice, I use props, I turn on and off the lights (we have a ‘class game’ where I ask a student to turn off the lights, they respond and everyone else pretends to fall asleep–buenas noches/good night!); I do pretty much everything I can think of, but I do not pressure students to produce language at this stage in the game. If they want to, fantastic; but if not, that is perfectly natural (think of a baby learning his/her native tongue–you don’t force them to speak day #2 out of the womb!).

Anyway, PK-4 students were exceptionally in the zone this morning, and so our general conversation with Pato turned into a gripping story about a gato/cat who wanted to eat Pato (a duck). The cat did not want pizza, strawberry or chocolate ice cream, or a banana; however, it considered cat food and four fish. Ultimately, the cat chased after Pato (who put a tissue over his head, pretending to be a fantasma/ghost), but a student suggested that I use the three stuffed animal dogs I bring to class to bark and scare away the cat. Thankfully, this scared away the cat. Phew!

The suggestion was–ironically–very similar to a Cuban tale about the importance of learning another language (in the story, a mouse barks to scare away a cat; video ends at 4:21). Gracias and have a great day!

VIRTUAL STUDENTS are strongly encouraged to get as much linguistic input as possible– watch cartoons in the target language, listen to the radio in Spanish (even if you don’t understand!), just listen-listen-listen! Your child’s brain is doing a ton of work, even if they can’t verbalize or articulate it quite yet.

Newsletter 20-21, Oct.

Pato & The 2D House

September of 2020

My Dearest Pato:

You are very sweet to write. Your penmanship, however, seems to have regressed. Then again, I am not as fluent in Duck as in years past; it is likely this was a factor in my overall comprehension. But yes, I am doing well and greatly enjoying my new adventures. Thank you for asking. The candy heart drawing was beautifully done.

I was pleased to hear that you eventually made it to Stain Spain. But what a trip! The colorful Popsicle stick boats first graders made sank; the paper airplane was not quite robust enough to support a stuffed animal of your generous proportions; and the miniature zip-line inside the classroom lacked, well, length. Thankfully, you had the foresight to bring the latter outside and (whoosh!), landed north of Madrid. I won’t harp on the time you wasted jumping into a pool (agua/water) before your trip–we both know that you know better–but I understand the temptation, given the recent high heat index and humidity.

And, yes! Imagine your surprise upon learning that first graders had painted you a house. You must have been delighted when [one class] shouted, “¡Sorpresa!” (surprise!). I knew that they had consulted the world renowned Duck Designs, Inc. to match your particular tastes and preferred color schemes. Naturally, then, the house was covered in beautiful splashes of color, but it was also a PHOTO you saw, which would explain the bump on your head as a result of trying to enter the 2D image. For future reference, you must venture outside to move into the actual house (casa).

But look, I get it. You want to go away for the weekend and catch a quick flight south to that famous palace/fort. The house can wait. The paint is barely dry, anyway, and you deserve a vacation. The life of a stuffed animal can be trying at times. There are so many things to deal with: getting dizzy going ’round and ’round in the machines at the laundromat (surely a traumatic ordeal); receiving numerous air-hugs (abrazos/hugs) from students simultaneously (does that hurt?); and dealing with transportation mishaps (boat sank; airplane crashed; zipline wasn’t initially long enough).

I still think you’re loco (crazy) for not wanting to rest up, but you are permitted to go at your own pace. That is what the Camino teaches us: one step at a time. Be well, stay out of trouble, and keep me posted on your adventures.

Much love,


Newsletter 20-21, Sept.

Lava Lamps & Pirates

WEEKS 3-4: After spending one lesson last week identifying objects that float and sink–and adding food coloring to plain water/agua (not vinegar/vinagre) to observe the ‘lava lamp’ effect–Pato decided that the day had come to learn to fly. He felt ready. Prepared. Brave. Courageous! A pulley system was therefore erected in class (arriba, abajo, de lado a lado/up, down, side to side), and kindergarteners helped him get over his fear of heights (¿Listos?/Ready?). At a certain point, he would shriek that he didn’t like it, and we would let him down; but he soon became accustomed to the idea (Sí me gusta/no me gusta/ para nada; yes, I like it, no I don’t, not at all). A series of P.E. lessons in Spanish class then ensued (combining action words from our beginning-of-class routine with other exercises to help increase the duck’s upper body strength). He was able to lift a marker by the end of the lesson, bench-press style. ¡Muy bien!

Today in class–and building on a genius idea from second graders–students helped hold up a zipline for Pato, so that he could practice flying while harnessed in. After a few runs, he had had enough; and so we returned to the class’s first mini-story of the year. The goal here is to combine vocabulary from all of the lessons, in a comprehensible and interactive way. The story included Pato floating on a boat in the water (read: a box big enough to fit one student) with caimanes/alligators all around. Students shouted, “¡Mira!/Look!” when they saw one (other students acting), as the teacher dragged the box-boat across the ocean, err, room. Rain, thunder, and wind sound effects were added in the background via and a portable Bluetooth speaker, to complete the scene.

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are encouraged to rig up their own string zipline at home, and harness in their favorite stuffed animal to practice directions/action commands (arriba/up, abajo/down/“ah-BAH-hoe”, and ¡vuela!/fly!) in the target language. Materials needed: string (a taut line) and a cylindrical piece of pliable cardboard, such as a paper towel or toilet paper roll. They are also welcome to build their own cardboard box boat/barco with a sign that says, “BARCO/BOAT”, and continue practicing colors and numbers (0-10, forwards and backwards) in Spanish.

WEEK 5: On Monday, students used paper telescopes to look for tesoro/treasure, practicing the phrase, “¡MIRA!” (“MEER-rah”/Look!). Later, they watched Pocoyo: Piratas to understand these words in context. This was also the first time this year they’ve heard someone else speaking Spanish, other than their maestra.

To extend our class story, kindergarteners traveled outside this morning to help Pato search for ‘real’ tesoro/treasure. (It is assumed that he got past the alligators safely.) Students practiced saying, “¡Mira!” (Look!) again while picking up shells and small rocks and pretending that they had discovered TESORO (“tay-SORE-oh”)/treasure.

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are welcome to make paper telescopes (roll up a sheet of colored paper) and then create their own treasure hunt (real or imagined) at home! Painting rocks gold and then hiding them might be a fun activity. Drawing a treasure map on the inside of the telescope is another idea.

Newsletter 20-21, Oct.

Just Keep Walking

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, Sept.

Storytime! Hungry Hikers

Week #2: This week, students in third grade entered the wonderful world of storytelling. Here, the teacher provides a 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: 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. If, for example, we learn that student “Fred” hates tomatoes in real life, then we would fit this into the story somehow. The stories tend to continue and grow from class to class.

The story today began in Spain/España, but started with a few questions and answers, game-show style (tú ganas/ you win), and–after voting–the class had a brief dance party. The song is our “class song” and was the official anthem for the 2016 European Championship (soccer/fútbol). Students in the second class delved 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).

Both classes had to use “La fuerza” (‘fwear-sah’), or “the force” to get my Bluetooth speakers to work for the song. It only works it everyone says the word in Spanish and outstretches their hands toward the device, sending energy to the technology. Obviously.

With respect to storytelling, 3-1 focused on the logistics of the trip: Where are we going? Spain! How do we get there? Plane! What do we need? Backpacks/mochilas, water/agua, money/dinero (I handed out color copies of euros). Later, students proceeded to grab their stuff, boarded a socially-distanced airplane (chairs rearranged in the room), took an eight-hour flight, passed through customs (passports/ pasaportes), and hiked for about two minutes on the Camino before someone started complaining that they were hungry (maestra, tengo mucha hambre) and we had to stop at a restaurant (i.e., class was over).

3-2 went on a bit of a linguistic/travel tangent when someone asked if we could study Brazil. (I love when these conversations invariably pop up in third grade; there is something about this age that makes them so curious about the world on a global scale.) Anyway, we talked about how Portuguese and Spanish are closely related (I can understand a good deal of the former even though I don’t speak it), but that while there are 21 Spanish-speaking countries–and while they do speak Spanish there–Brazil is not officially a Spanish-speaking country. However, we will focus on the other 21 countries this year.

The story in 3-2 went as follows: Lights/luces, camera/cámara, action/acción, drum-roll/redoble… a famous actress is hiking the Camino de Santiago but gets really hungry (tengo mucha hambre). She wants a pizza and so calls Domino’s. The delivery guy drives his super fast red car to Spain to deliver the pizza. BUT, his car tips over, he gets hurt (¡AY!) and he has to call an ambulance. The doctor comes and stitches him up. PHEW! (Students were tickled pink that ambulances say, “Ni-no-ni-no” in Spanish, not “Wooo wooo wooo”. Gotta love onomatopoeia.)

ASIDE: these stories take place in the target language, but students should not be expected to produce all of this language independently at this point. The goal right now is comprehension and following along in class. Acquisition takes time: patience, my little grasshoppers!

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!

**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’), agua/water (‘AH-gwah’– but you may already know this!), 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.

Water or Vinegar?

Week #2: This week, students in kindergarten experienced 95% immersion in the target language. They usually begin class with some sort of movement warm-up, either dancing as a group to the Wreck-It Ralph/Rompe Ralph song, or copying action words as the teacher does them (e.g., run, jump on one foot, raise your hand, etc.).

Next, they chat for a few minutes with Pato, my stuffed animal duck who–yes–wore his mask this week and–no–was not wearing his sock pajamas (like on the first day of school). He was still not wearing a school uniform, but at least he had on a yellow knit sweater as more appropriate attire. Several students complimented him today in Spanglish–“¡Pato is so GUAPO today! [handsome]”. One class also practiced counting to ten in Spanish (which most of them seem to already know how to do). The other class wants to teach Pato how to fly… [COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU!].

Then, we launched into the project of the day with a song to review colors: “Azul, blanco, rojo, violeta, amarillo, anaranjado, verde y rosa [rosado]“. I pointed to crayons as I sang, so as to associate the proper color with each word, and then referenced the food coloring bottles that we had used last class with the coffee filters.

After smelling seemingly identical cups of clear liquid–water/agua and vinegar/vinagre [‘bee-NAH-gray’]–students responded in Spanish with either, “Sí me gusta” or “No me gusta” (I like it/I don’t like it/’no may GOOSE-tah’) and proceeded to ooooh and aaahhh when Pato added baking soda, droplets of food coloring, and vinegar to a bowl–resulting in a colorful volcanic eruption!

We repeated this experiment several times. Each time, I narrated what was happening and asked questions continuously; the class voted on which color should be added next, how many droplets, etc.

They ended class by writing their first Spanish sight word of the year on their whiteboards: Hola. Thanks for a fabulous week!

VIRTUAL LEARNERS, HERE is a video narrated in Spanish to help you follow along. Be sure to gather the materials for the coffee filter project (see below) and perhaps a bit of baking soda, vinegar, and a bowl so that you can do the experiment along with me!

Week 1: This week, students in kindergarten learned that “Señorita” speaks Spanish, which sounds a little different than English. They were not sure at first that they could follow the strange mix of sounds, but after a few “tests”, (toca la cabeza/touch your head, salta/jump, etc.), students realized it was not so difficult–even if it still sounded funny!

In terms of content, the class dove right in to reviewing colors and numbers in new contexts. Most knew that “uno-dos-tres” (etc.) and “rojo, azul, verde, amarillo” were Spanish words, even if they couldn’t all produce them. (NOTE: This is perfectly normal and a great place to start the year. The average person requires 70-150 repetitions to acquire a word or phrase before it goes into their long-term memory.)

All students followed along–frequently repeating words and phrases they heard in the target language–as we began a brief class activity. Here, students were individually asked a series of questions in Spanish about which food coloring “Señorita” should open first (azul/blue; rojo/red; amarillo/yellow; verde/green); how many drops she should add to the coffee filter (uno/one; dos/two; tres/three); and where the drops ought to fall (“over here or over there”/¿Por acá o por ahí?). They also met a Professional Stuffed Animal (PSA) named Pato, who is a silly duck with a very big personality; and listened to a song from Wreck-It Ralph in Spanish (see embedded video below).

To continue reinforcing colors and numbers in a meaningful context, kindergarteners will begin their own coffee filter project next class.

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are encouraged to do the following:
1) listen to the Wreck-It Ralph/Rompe Ralph (‘rom-pay Ralph’) song in Spanish;
2) get a head-start on next week by checking out THIS POCOYO episode exploring the opposites big/small (grande/pequeño); and 
3) gather materials for the individual project next week. You will need: one white coffee filter and a box of food coloring (red, yellow, blue, green), and something to protect the table (from food coloring stains). I will be creating a step-by-step video for virtual learners this weekend to guide them through the process in Spanish.

*The Weekly Spanish Challenges are also an option for anyone feeling extra motivated!

Newsletter 20-21, Aug.

A Whirlwind Adventure

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 (scroll down to video on link; “Spain, Part 1”), but quickly realized they needed their backpacks and water bottles–the Spanish summer sun is very similar to our state, 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!

Newsletter 20-21, Aug.

Pato Who?

This week, following introductions, students in first grade named as many words that they could think of in the target language (e.g., red/rojo, blue/azul, green/verde, uno-dos-tres, dog/perro, etc.), and then listened to their get-up-and-dance CLASS SONG. Not long after, they transitioned into an immersive Spanish classroom environment, and realized that they could understand and intuit a lot simply by watching. You see, when their teacher snaps, she magically begins speaking Spanish. If she snaps again, she turns back into an English-speaker. Very strange. Magic is everywhere.

“AH-HEM!” [A loud, shrill voice from the corner pipes up.]

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry, Pato. I know I should have introduced you first, but–“

NO EXCUSES!” The voice is coming from a stuffed animal duck. His name is Pato (which conveniently means duck in Spanish). He was grumpy, but there was no need for disrespect. “I do not like your tone, young man duck!”

As you may have already heard, Pato is quite the character. He has a big heart but frequently interrupts (we’re working on that) and is always getting into some sort of harmless mischief. He claims to know how to speak Spanish, but bops back and forth between English and Spanish so quickly that there might as well be a ping-pong game going on in his head. He also forgets where he is; arrives late to first grade on a regular basis (after Señorita–and sometimes on a red-eye flight from Brazil); wears sock pajamas to school; and takes a nap/siesta in the middle of class (which is what happened today).

Either Pato has no idea what’s going on, or he lives in his own world, or maybe he knows what’s going on and is intentionally doing the opposite of what he ought to, most of the time. I’m guessing the latter is probably closest to the truth, but with him you never know.

GRIFFFSNSHFKDJSFIBDSTH“. The normally shrill voice was muffled behind his mask.” “¿Qué? (“K”)/ WHAT?” He took off the mask.

“I SAID, I’m taking a nap/siesta because we’re in Spain. Don’t you know? The restaurants are all closed, so I’m going to sleep.” [proceeds to snore obnoxiously to make his point]

Aha, now I was beginning to understand. First graders did make a banner of colorful, glittery shells, as scallop shells are used to mark the 500-mile hike across northern Spain that Lower School has been talking about this week. (This trek will correspond with the Weekly Spanish Challenges.) And Señorita did use an abanico/ fan from Spain to cool him down when he was wearing his iconic yellow knit sweater and Christmas scarf (Come on, Pato! It’s summer in the south! TOO HOT! This led to a conversation about ice-cream/helado, which was ironic, considering that I ate A LOT of ice cream while actually hiking the Camino de Santiago.) And she was speaking in Spanish. Maybe we were in Spain. Or maybe we should go?

We decided that his reasoning was valid. There was just one problem. “Where did you say that you think we are, Pato?”

“Stain.” [Ventriloquism requires that certain consonants be slightly mispronounced, so as not to move the lips. P’s become t’s, m’s become n’s–you get the idea.]

“You mean Spain.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you said ‘Stain’.”

I DID NOT!” The high pitched, going-to-throw-a-temper-tantrum pronto voice had returned. This was not something I wanted first graders to witness on the third day of class. Why couldn’t he just behave?

“Let’s try it in Spanish: España.”


“Never mind. Let’s just go there instead.” And so we did.

After a quick flight–arms outstretched in airplane mode (there’s a pun in there somewhere)–first graders spent the remaining 5-10 minutes of class outside, placing tiny [real] shells in the mulch patches of the courtyard, marking the Camino de Santiago trail and creating our own little Spanish paradise.

And as for Pato, well, he found a large piece of bark and has decided that his mission in life is to build a boat and actually sail to Stain Spain.

To be continued…

PATO: “Senorita, why can’t you just write normal newsletters?”

ME: “I honestly have no idea…”

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. Students may color or paint the shell template below; outline an arrow using some rocks or palms; collect shells at the beach; or simply draw your own 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 and/or watch a movie or cartoon in the target language (Spanish voiceover and English subtitles). Just get used to hearing a lot of Spanish!

*ONE FINAL NOTE: To clarify, the bulk of classes have been in the target language, but I wasn’t sure how many of you would keep reading if I sent the original transcript. I do switch to English periodically, but mostly to communicate more abstract, cultural points where visual cues don’t do the trick.

Newsletter 20-21:

Pato Vs. Gravity

Week #1: This week, students in PK-4 were officially introduced to Pato, a stuffed animal duck who has a big heart but always seems to be getting into mischief. The first day of school, he overslept. When students tried to wake him up around 12:30pm– AHEM, THE AFTERNOON?! (toca a la puerta/ knock on the door)–he was wearing his sock pajamas and had little to no interest in changing into his uniform. This argument conversation in the target language continued for some time. He finally settled on a yellow knit sweater and, after much persuasive talk, removed his nightcap. When Pato began complaining–almost immediately–that he was too hot in the sweater, the teacher pulled out an abanico (special fan from Spain) to cool him down (hace calor- ‘AH-say kah-LORE’/it’s warm/hot).

PHOTOS & STAGES OF NEGOTIATION: First choice (pajamas). Second choice (nightcap and sweater uniform). Third choice (sweater uniform and mask). #notfair

The following class, he was more prepared–and wearing a mask, as per another class’s insistence that he follow the rules. However, he was still complaining pretty incessantly about the heat. This probably had something to do with him trying to wear his sock pajamas underneath his real clothes. (Aside: are they real clothes, when he is a stuffed animal? Hmmm.) Anyway, following an ice-cream (helado) break, he wanted to learn how to fly. This led to a variety of trial-and-error type attempts to lift the stuffed animal high-high-high up into the sky.

Flapping his wings was to no avail. The poor stuffed animal became so exhausted from the huge effort that he had to take a mini-siesta (nap) during class time to recover. The second attempt seemed more realistic: build up your speed, run as fast as you can towards a small ramp runway (aka a tilted book), and let the wind take you: lift-off! ¡Vamos, vamos! #FAIL.

Round three of PATO versus GRAVITY had something to do with a paper airplane and a one pound stuffed animal. Let me repeat: a PAPER airplane and a ONE-POUND stuffed animal. Newton and all of his silly laws. Attaching paper wings likewise proved ineffective.

The fourth attempt dealt with tying a harness around his belly and hoisting him up, pulley-style, to get him used to being so high up in the air. (Could he be afraid of heights, I wonder?) PK-4 students provided much-needed assistance in this last endeavor in particular (arriba, abajo/up, down).

Methinks we are getting closer.

Along the way, students responded to action commands in the target language (e.g., stand up, sit down, run, march, spin around twice, walk on your tiptoes, [pretend to] drive a car, etc.); giggled when Pato did something silly; and demonstrated comprehension through both words and expressions.

Kudos to your children for listening to nonstop Spanish babble and dealing with all of my stuffed animal’s crazy antics. They are sweethearts and their listening skills are top-notch!

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are strongly encouraged to watch a few short cartoon episodes in the target language this week. THIS and THIS are excellent choices, but more options can also be found HERE. The goal for the first few classes is not necessarily vocabulary-oriented; it is more adjusting to the idea of staying focused while hearing a stream of [currently] unintelligible babble. Meaning will come in time. We must be patient, above all else!

Newsletter 20-21, Aug.

Hiking the Camino

Week #1: Today in third grade, students first told me about their favorite places, and then I shared about one of my favorite trips, during which I hiked a famous 500-mile (877 kilometer) trek across northern Spain. The hike is called the Camino de Santiago, and takes about a month to complete (hiking about 10 hours a day). 

Students began ‘hiking’ around the room as they watched THIS VIDEO I made (“Spain, Part 1”). Naturally, they had to get their backpacks and water bottles–the Spanish summer sun is very similar to our state’s, with 110*F temps!

Next, third graders learned that the trail is marked by [scallop] shells and arrows. When you see one, you know that you are on the right path! 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.

Just for fun, their word of the day was, “La fuerza” (‘fwear-sah’), or the force, which third graders say to magically make the Promethean boards turn on again after they have fallen asleep (they time out periodically).

NOTE: Just so you know, we will be easing into an immersive Spanish classroom very soon, but I wanted to start the first day in English to get to know the students and for them to feel comfortable with me. Learning a language can be overwhelming, and experience has taught me that in a low-stress [but engaging] environment, students are more likely to want to learn and produce language. Learning should be a healthy combination of hard work and great fun!

VIRTUAL LEARNERS are encouraged to check out the video and photos at this link, and to create their own “Camino” (‘kah-ME-know’) 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 grass, 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!

Virtual learners are also welcome to share with me via email their favorite place in the world (the beach, a city or country they’ve traveled to, a tree fort, their room, etc.). We will include this information in a project later on.

Newsletter 20-21, Aug.

Camino Shells & Pato

Weeks 1-2: This week, students in second grade–along with several other classes–met a stuffed animal duck named Pato (which conveniently means duck in Spanish). Pato has a big personality, and immediately made his presence known by wearing sock pajamas to school the first day of class. He also likes to sing the classic song “Feliz Navidad” while wearing his Christmas sweater and scarf, regardless of the fact that it is August (and not December) and a million degrees outside.

By the third day, Pato was dressing more appropriately for school but insisted on wearing his mask on his head/cabeza because, in his words, “No me gusta” (‘no may goose-tah’/I don’t like it). After looking around and seeing that everyone else was wearing one–and being told sternly that he would have to go home (read: get stuffed in my backpack and not hang out with the cool second graders) if he did not wear it–he decided to follow directions. He was much too excited about the class project to bother arguing, anyway (thank goodness!).

PHOTOS: Pato not wearing his mask. Pato wearing his mask.

The class’ project began with students learning about a 500-mile hike through northern Spain called El Camino de Santiago (see link for video and photos). Grades 1-4 are starting with this because students will be able to earn miles on the hike all year long by completing Weekly Spanish Challenges. The trail is marked by arrows and shells, so second graders grabbed their backpacks (mochilas) and water bottles (agua/water!), walked up and down mountains (read: stairways) all over campus, and helped the older grades draw chalk shells and arrows on the ground. To ascertain that they would not get lost in the dark, students also colored in shells (on paper), painted them with glow-in-the-dark paint, and added glitter. We will obviously add more glitter next time. (…because Pato likes glitter. A lot.)

While listening to THIS SONG and THIS SONG in Spanish as background music, they noticed that their markers had Spanish translations on them in tiny print (red/rojo, blue/azul, etc.). The official colors of the Camino are blue and yellow in real life, which are also the school colors– perfecto!

Silliness with Pato and launching straight into a hands-on (and masks-on) cultural project have allowed for a [mostly] Spanish-immersion type of classroom environment–which is the goal. I want students to begin the year by listening to a lot of the target language, recalling any passive vocabulary from previous years, and getting excited about learning Spanish. We will be focusing in on specific words and phrases soon.

Whether they realize it or not, I am also constantly testing students in class simply by asking questions in the target language: Which color paint do you want to use next? Can you shake off the glitter over the trash can, please?! What do we do now? Cut out the shells and paste them on this strip of paper. Pato is thirsty– could you bring him a water bottle? (Students pretend to give him water.)

Many second graders are answering all of these questions and more. When a question is too abstract or the class gets lost, I return to English to clarify. This does not mean that students are already fluent or can translate all of these questions; it merely indicates that the language is comprehensible and that they are intuiting what I am saying in the moment by the context and visual cues. Language acquisition is a fascinating combination of science and art, with a slice of magic on the side! I don’t know exactly how or why this happens; I just know that it does. By the end of the year, students will be able to follow the same conversation but this time, it will be because they have acquired the vocabulary.

Long story short–short story long!–I am looking forward to an amazing year!

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. Students may color or paint the shell template above; outline an arrow using some rocks or palms; collect shells at the beach; or simply draw your own 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!

Newsletter 20-21, Aug. (2)

Just Play

As a child, I played “school” a lot. My mother says that in kindergarten, I would coerce others to be my students and scribble lessons on a Raggedy-Ann chalkboard. Even as a teenager, I lived in a world of ideas. I remember wanting to figure out how to convert the human body into pure electrons so that I could travel over the phone wires (circuit) to visit my friend in a town twenty miles away. For the record, I never figured that one out, but school was rarely boring; there was always more to learn and do. If anything, I felt overwhelmed at times with the quantity of information available and a serious surplus of interests. Suffice to say, teaching has always been in my blood.

That said, I did not get a degree in education. Instead, I opted for philosophy—the love of wisdom—and languages. The end result was that I entered the classroom as an educator from a different perspective. My philosophy? Learning should be a mix of terrific fun, adventure, and hard work—the kind where you want to work hard to accomplish something. Forget checking off learning standards and textbooks; let’s get to the meat of it all–playing with ideas, exploring, investigating, researching, building, thinking, doing.

Fast-forward twelve years: I am (hopefully) beyond the stage of a ‘beginner’ teacher, have expectations in my class, and a daily routine sprinkled with creative units that spiral, spiral, spiral. The administrative assistant listens patiently as I share about my newest ideas: “What if… we tried to build the Alhambra out of cardboard? Where in the school could students create a life-sized model of the eleven-foot wingspan of an Andean Condor, without the fire inspector getting mad? At 2:30am, I woke up and wondered if first through fifth grade students could collectively name 100 of the 7,000 languages in the world.” I put a lot of thought into my lessons, and yet, sometimes ideas get the best of me and I rush into a project fueled by excitement instead of plans or logic. It generally works out in the end, but because I (along with many educators) spend so much time on work, I felt slightly offended when someone commented the other day–offhandedly–“so students write a little bit in your class and then just play?” Naturally, this got me thinking. Hmm. Well, not exactly. How to explain?

For starters, the phrase ‘just play’ is frustrating. Why do we want kids to grow up so fast? At what age does play no longer become an acceptable form of learning? How can play be viewed in a more positive light? I do not know any savants or polymaths personally, but my understanding is that a true genius plays with ideas, even *gasp* as an adult. Anyone who develops technological gadgets, works with AR or AI, or creates new algorithms is, ultimately, playing with an idea. Anyone who drives a motor vehicle plays with ideas on the highway. It is like a massive, ever-evolving chess game: if I speed up, I can pass him, but then she looks impatient, and he’s on his phone, so what if I went that way? Or I could stay here and slow down, and create a stalemate for that guy who keeps switching lanes. Safety is first, but how do I get out of this traffic jam? We play with ideas all the time, but for whatever reason, the label ‘play’ is relegated to only the youngest of the young.

Image Credit HERE.

I was blown away the other week when, after a quiz (and a few tears), my fifth graders asked to play in a cardboard fort generally reserved for younger grades. They took out the plastic food, started role-playing some sort of spy game, and had a great time… playing. I reflected on that day, along with a quote from Pat Bassett, former NAIS president, for a while.

“Wait a minute! That’s a novel thought: getting to do what you want to do with your friends in class, not just between and after class”.

Bassett Blog 2011/10

…and came to a conclusion: I think he is right. As per my general lack of patience when it comes to ideas, I redesigned my curriculum overnight: students would sign up for centers in the target language that they wanted to do.

Now, fourth graders write short letters in Spanish each day, explaining their plans, and read them aloud to me. They travel to said center, but wait! ¡Señorita! Where did you put the basketball? Where is the paper? Well, I may have hidden it. On purpose. For the—drumroll, please—intention of forced linguistic interactions. Students do get to do what they want in my class, that is, “play”, but it is very intentionally guided. Yes, I did hide the miniature soccer ball in the closet. You will probably need the keys to get it. “Señorita, I need the keys.” Sorry, I don’t speak English. “Necesito las llaves.” Ahh, sí. Now I understand! “Where is the paper?” Umm, I think you mean, “¿Dónde está el papel?”, right? Moreover, I am constantly bombarding them with cultural project ideas: could you help me outline the Nazca Lines with masking tape on my floor? Do you want to build a clay model of Machu Picchu? How could we make a functional water fountain to resemble the ones in the Alhambra gardens in Spain? Is this, “just play”?

After a few weeks passed, I began to get a little worried. The adult in me was concerned that certain ideas and grade levels were overlapping. First graders were not the only ones who wanted to play the class keyboard or paint or build the Alhambra. Third and fourth and fifth and kindergarten did as well. But then a beautiful thing happened: suddenly, ideas themselves began circulating in the hallways. Grade levels were tapping into the same activities, but from different developmental perspectives, and this began to create a conversation. Isn’t this what education is all about?

2020 is around the corner, with creativity chomping at the bit to lead us into the future. Let’s make sure that playing with ideas—at any age—is welcome in that world. Just do it. Just play.

Imports & Exports

The current political/media state has brought to the world’s attention how incredibly dependent and interdependent we–along with millions of people–are on other country’s products and services. An Apple iPhone does not just magically make its way into our hands: the physical hardware comes from somewhere, along with the intelligence, coding, encryption, and software inside the device. And what about the box it is shipped in? Or the paper label on the box? Where was that paper made? What forest did it come from? Which tree? How long ago did this process begin?

Continue reading “Imports & Exports”

Memoir Excerpt

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I used to take ballroom dance lessons. This “phase” lasted for close to seven years. While my dance journey began gracias a mi padre“You really need to know how to Salsa if you speak Spanish!”–my takeaways were much more than just proficiency in rhythm and smooth dances. What I remember most, perhaps more than gliding around the floor in a Viennese Waltz or sweating profusely from an impossibly long eight-minute “Proud Mary” Jive, was the poise and class of it all. I appreciate and admire everything classy, from the wisdom of our elders and ages gone by, to black and white Audrey Hepburn/George Peppard films and Jane Austen novels. As much time as I have dedicated to this site, I also long for those pre-Internet days where life had a much slower and enjoyable pace.

Continue reading “Memoir Excerpt”

Heritage Survey Results

**Interactive Map**

For the 100th Day this year, we wanted to see if students in Lower School represented 100 or more countries, by heritage. By “heritage”, we mean any country in your bloodline: where are you from? Where are/were your parents or grandparents from? What about your great-grandparents?

While we did not reach the 100th country, the results were staggering: as a Lower School, we represent 58 countries. Wow! Thank you so much for responding. Please check out the interactive map (link above) and pie chart (below) for a more visual representation of the survey results.

Data in List Form

  • Albania
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Bavaria
  • Belarus
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Croatia
  • Cuba
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Denmark
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • England
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Kenya
  • Laos
  • Lebanon
  • Lithuania
  • Macedonia
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Nigeria
  • Norway
  • Peru
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Puerto Rico (territory)
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Scotland
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • Ukraine
  • USA**
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam
  • Wales

*Native American: Black Foot Indian, Cherokee, Mohawk

**NOTE: I forgot to keep tally marks for the USA, ergo, data was not included on pie chart (mea culpa). Native American data was also not included because it is an ethnicity but not a country in itself.

Museum Gallery 2019-20

This is a digital collection of our Spanish art/science/history museum. To see the “Museum Exhibits” page and a description of the project, click HERE. Update: I have added the pages [where these projects come from] directly below. For the original post, just keep scrolling…

Original Post

This is a digital collection of our Spanish art/science/history museum. The photos on the left-hand side are from real life and represent a cultural aspect of one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries, while the right-hand side photos are what students did in class. Click on any of the images to enlarge them. Enjoy!


GUATEMALA: Thousands of Catholics in Antigua, Guatemala join together during Lent each year to make colored sawdust carpets in preparation for Semana Santa, or Holy Week. In 2014, they broke the Guinness Book of World Records and made the longest sawdust carpet ever, at an astounding 6,600 feet. Last year, the art teacher drew stencils in pencil on colored bulletin board paper, and then students filled in the designs with colored sand and glue. For more images of the real thing, see HERE. Student work from home (Continued Learning) is below.


PUERTO RICO: Students were so fascinated by the tiny size and loud voice of the Coquí frog (native to Puerto Rico), that they wanted to create a whole unit out of it. Diving into history, they learned that a long time ago, the Taíno people carved petroglyphs into rocks and caves, including a special symbol for the Coquí frog. To apply what they had learned, some students gathered natural materials outside and then drew the coquí symbol on the leaves and bark; others created a diorama with real dirt, sticks, and leaves (but fake frogs!); and others opted for the tree frog coloring page. Many were enchanted by The Legend of the Golden Coquí, and listened to the story repeatedly.


Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit, by Juan Sánchez Cotán; The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí; La vista de Toledo, by El Greco; Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez

SPAIN: El 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 just this week, which celebrated the museum’s 200th anniversary! For this exhibit, students took an 8.5×11 copy of Still Life with Game, Vegetables, and Fruit (the first Spanish still life, by Juan Sánchez Cotán) and transferred it by eye to a large trifold, trying to imagine how artists filled such massive canvases. Fourth graders did an amazing job here!

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 (including translated advertising slogans and commercial breaks) 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.


CUBA/SPAIN: 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, and then made 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! More info HERE.


PERU: Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca in Quechua, has a unique composition–14 different, colorful minerals–that makes the mountain range appear like the inside of a jawbreaker. For more information, visit this link and scroll to “Top Facts”. While the class used THIS amazing, paint-pouring video to make a model of the mountain–crazy fun but really messy!–one student painted the middle image on a canvas (above). Wow!


BOLIVIA: Yungas Road in Bolivia is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. It is only 12 feet wide, and the elevation varies from 4,000 to 15,000 feet high. Yikes! Third graders made a miniature diorama of this road, and presented their research at the weekly assembly. Would you dare to ride on it? For videos, see THIS LINK.


SPAIN: Artwork by Joan Miró and a watercolor copy by a student. Look at THIS VIDEO PAINTING and THIS VIDEO PAINTING to understand what he sees.

Quote: “For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings./Para mí, un objeto es algo vivo. Este cigarrilo o esta caja de cerillos contiene una vida secreta mucho más intensa y apasionada que la de muchos seres humanos.” -Joan Miró


MEXICOAlebrijes are mythical-type creatures and spirit animals. You may remember the alebrije Dante if you have seen the movie Coco. The origin of this art had an interesting beginning (read below). Fifth graders created their own alebrije out of papier-mâché.

“In 1936, when he was 30 years old, [Pedro] Linares fell ill with a high fever, which caused him to hallucinate. In his fever dreams, he was in a forest with rocks and clouds, many of which turned into wild, unnaturally colored creatures, frequently featuring wings, horns, tails, fierce teeth and bulging eyes. He heard a crowd of voices repeating the nonsense word “alebrije.” After he recovered, he began to re-create the creatures he’d seen, using papier-mâché and cardboard” (Source).


SPAIN: Pamplona, Spain is perhaps most famous for its celebration of San Fermín and the annual Running of the Bulls. This tradition, although a huge part of Spanish culture, is highly controversial. Do you see the nobility of the beast and the elegance of the bullfight, or do you see animal cruelty? Whatever your stance, start a conversation and try to understand both perspectives. Here, a fifth grader researched bullfighting, and then built his own bullring- complete with real sand!


GUATEMALA: These are tiny Worry Dolls from Guatemala. Children make them and put them under their pillows at night to take away their worries (e.g., monsters, nightmares). Students were fascinated by these. They took a day to glue small pieces of fabric to balsa wood sticks, added a face, and soon afterwards, had their very own Worry Dolls. This Silly Billy video story is a great introduction.


SPAIN: The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile hike across northern Spain. It takes about 30 days to complete on foot. You carry everything you need in a backpack, and follow the arrows and shells so you don’t get lost. Second graders made a very cool green screen video (click HERE) showing us their journey, while fifth graders opted to make a topographical representation of the walk.


CHILE: Easter Island is an island located in the South Pacific. There are hundreds of massive statues and wooden tablets scattered over this landmass, but no one knows how they got there–it is a mystery! The tablets have a mysterious language written on them (called Rongorongo) that no one can read. Third graders carved 3-D models of the statues and wooden tablets with clay and toothpicks.


ARGENTINA: This terrifyingly high “Tren a las nubes” (Train to the Clouds) in Argentina is, well, terrifyingly high! Students are in the middle of creating a model of it out of Popsicle sticks.


SPAIN: Gazpacho is a delicious soup from Spain, and the perfect cold tomato dish to enjoy on a hot summer day. Third, fourth, and fifth graders took a day to celebrate La Tomatina, or tomato-throwing fight in Spain, by making Gazpacho in class. This is the recipe we used.