What is Cinco de Mayo?

One of the my favorite parts of teaching language is not only when our students start to independently form words and sentences, but also when they stand as proponents of multicultural understanding.  I like to give my students a challenge every Cinco de Mayo: for every person they run into that calls it “Mexican Independence Day,” be the person to educate them on the true history of the holiday!

To make a long story short, Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla against the French in 1862.  The French both wanted to collect monetary debt owed to them by Mexico and establish a monarchy in Mexico.  In the infamous battle in Puebla, few ill-equipped Mexican soldiers defeated many well-armed French soldiers.  Mexico eventually lost the war, but Cinco de Mayo was declared a national holiday.

Our curriculum considers cultural education an important part of what we teach. Below is a piece of a Cinco de Mayo activity written into one of our intermediate levels:

El 5 de mayo

Narrador: Hace muchos años en el estado de Puebla en México, empezó una batalla. Durante la batalla, los mexicanos lucharon con mucho valor y honor. Recordamos su valentía con la celebración del “5 de mayo”. Aquí está la historia…

Benito Juárez: Soy el líder de México y dedico mi vida a este país. Tenemos un problema en México. No tenemos dinero. ¿Dónde podemos encontrar más dinero?

Napoleón: Soy Napoleón. Soy el líder de Francia. Yo quiero lo mejor para mi país.

(For the full dialogue, contact us for a lesson plan trial!)

Narrador: Así que, Francia le presta mucho dinero a México. México usa el dinero para la agricultura, la industria, y para ayudar a la gente del país. Después de varios años, Napoleón le dice a Benito Juárez…

(For the full dialogue, contact us for a lesson plan trial!)

Benito Juárez: Este día es un día muy especial. ¡Tenemos que celebrar!

General Zaragoza: ¡Tienes razón! Tenemos que celebrar la valentía de la gente mexicana.

If you click here, you can see how a group of our students took the historical information they learned and created their own dialogue!


Regardless of how (or if) you choose to recognize Cinco de Mayo in your own classroom this year, challenge your students to use their new knowledge outside of the classroom!

Who WE follow!

Creating a supportive and connected classroom is imperative for student success.  The same idea applies for teacher success!  Supported and connected teachers are more successful!  

That being said, for my professional growth, I try to stay connected!  In fact, some of my most useful professional development experiences have been found through blogs just like ours!  Tying that idea to our last post, I want to take a moment to share some of OUR favorite blogs and social media sites.  The following sites all offer excellent discussions, tips and ideas to suit your individualized professional development needs…


All things educational can be found here.  Edutopia is current, practical and extremely helpful for any teacher in any setting!


Fluentu tackles every question and topic of discussion relevant to Spanish teachers.  Fluentu offers teachers the opportunity to be guest bloggers, so the information shared comes straight from teachers in the field now!


Like Edutopia, Edtechteacher highlights a plethora of educational topics but then connects everything to technology.  To stay current with technology in the classroom, edtech an extremely useful site!

Creative Language Class

My most recent find is Creative Language Class! I love this site for super-creative Spanish class ideas shared with a friendly, easy to follow flair!

Here are a couple Twitter feeds that are essential to every Spanish teacher that wants to current with language learning news and ideas!

#langchat #edchat

Thank you to all of the aforementioned blogs and feeds from all of us at www.spanishcurriculum.com and Sombrero Time.  Supporting each other and working together, we make a great team!

Great Professional Development Opportunities for 2016

Have you already started your “Days til Summer” countdown? Spring fever hits some of us hard this time of year and the idea of planning anything besides a relaxing summer vacation seems impossible!  Well, it may sound funny but now is a great time to look at professional development opportunities available to you this summer!  Really, there are many fantastic summer-time workshops, classes, trips and even online trainings offered to Spanish teachers!  Check out these websites for a few popular choices!   

National Teacher Associations, like ACTFL and AATSP develop amazing summer development opportunities that are specifically targeted to teachers of Spanish.  Topics are always relevant and the networking opportunities make these options even more appealing!  Follow these links to see this summer’s offerings!





International Opportunities combine the best of both worlds, learning and traveling! What better way to bring fresh ideas back to your Spanish classroom then to share your travel experiences with your students!  These links look intriguing…




For teachers looking for a personalized professional development experience Sombrero Time offers live webinar trainings!  Trainings are broken down into 5 modules specifically targeted to Spanish teachers using total immersion!  Participants will “review curriculum, troubleshoot, collaborate and review classroom strategies that will make your immersion program a success!”  If you follow this blog, you may know that I have a personal and professional connection to Sombrero Time.  We would LOVE to have you join us this summer!  Read more about Sombrero Time here!

What are your plans for this summer?  Margaritas, poolside?  Or will you be developing your professional talents with other like minded Spanish teachers?  Please share your summer PD plans below!

Do you want to see the world? It’s as easy as 1-2-3

Are you ready to take advantage of your free summer?  Travel opportunities?  Showing the world to your students?  Let’s go!  Besides the reward of developing Spanish speakers, treat yourself to the gift of seeing them in action. Take them somewhere to use their language, see the culture and converse with the native Spanish speakers.  You will be blessed and inspired in the process.  Real world experience is what develops global citizens, diminishes fear of travel, people and places, and solidifies why we study language.  

It truly is as easy as 1 – 2 – 3!

First, just jump onto a website of a student travel company.  We like EFtours.com.  They took care of us from picking and customizing a tour just right for our group to providing all the logistics we needed to have a fantastic adventure!  We chose to have a private tour so that we could conduct the whole thing in Spanish (more on that later).

Second, get excited and share your enthusiasm with others regarding the trip.  When you are excited others will be too!

Third, prep, pack and go!  Have a meeting, get to know one another and talk about packing light using their lists of essentials and then board that plane ready for an adventure.

It is not complicated; it just takes courage!  Having gone to Costa Rica with EF and seeing what a HUGE impact the trip had on our students, I am confident that these adventures instill a desire to use the language, a curiosity for the world, and a motivation to find more ways to continue the adventure.  

I cannot encourage you enough to make the most of your trip by asking your guide and travel company to keep the tour in Spanish.  I was astonished to hear from our guide that not one group from the States had asked him to conduct the tour in Spanish.  Between myself and another Spanish instructor on the trip, we used our white boards, drama, and simplified more advanced concepts and content into vocabulary that our students knew.  We kept the tour in Spanish and it made all the difference! They learned so much using their Spanish throughout the whole tour and engaging Costa Ricans everywhere.  It was beautiful!  Our tour guide said he had never been on a tour like it before where the bus driver, boat guides, and hotel staff connected with the students, the abuelita who was cooking came out and sang to us, and we received compliments like, “Su grupo es bien educado”.   I cannot emphasis enough the difference it will make to keep the adventure in Spanish.  Don’t miss the language opportunity of a lifetime for your students!  

Ways to Alleviate Stress in a Spanish Classroom

With this week’s blogs, we have been discussing mental health and assessments. We have children in our classrooms for whom we care and support yet we have a duty to produce data driven results of student outcomes. These two ideologies sometimes seem to contradict one another. In every class that I have ever taught or observed, one result of end of the year assessments is a given…STRESS.

Practice these 5 Stress Reducing Activities in your classroom to help balance the mental wellbeing of your students with the mandatory assessments of their learning!

Many adults have learned that taking long deep breaths before a stressful activity can help calm anxious thoughts. Our students are young and may not have learned this trick yet. Teach them! Model deep breathing with them! Take 5-6 deep breaths at the beginning of class, before exams and performances, or any other time when you feel the nerves rising.

Exercise is great for healthy bodies and minds! Teach your students the body parts in Spanish by doing simple calisthenics each day. This activity is fun, teaches vocabulary and helps children burn away the nerves that will distract from the rest of the lesson.

Step Outside
Sometimes a change of scenery is the best cure for classroom stress. Take a short walk around the campus or even within your classroom. Getting out of chairs and desks, will help keep the blood flowing and wake up tired minds. As an extra vocabulary bonus, be sure to point out the sights you see in Spanish…¡Una ardilla!”

Youtube has changed the dynamic of my classes. If my students have performed well all class, I reward them with funny videos for the last 2 minutes of the day. I search for silly Spanish videos (age appropriate, of course!) and we watch them on the overhead. This only works for classrooms with permission to access Youtube and the technology to transmit videos. But, laughter is universal. If technology is limited in your area, what other ways can you find to bring down the house?

Even my most introverted, insecure students enjoy music during class. I play music as a destresser as much as I can. We sing silly songs, traditional songs and even some pop songs in Spanish. We learn to salsa and merengue. Sometimes we dance and sing around the room and other times tunes are playing softly in the background. They say “music soothes the savage beast”, well, they can add that it also alleviates anxiety in my classroom!

Let’s review…

Breath, exercise, outdoors, laughter and music.
The 5 key ingredients to a HIGH performing, LOW stress classroom!

What to KNOW about Assessments

Clearly we need to assess our students. Evaluating their work is crucial, both for their benefit and for ours. We need to know that the methods we are using are producing the desired results. Assessing our students regularly and efficiently is key. But how much is too much? What is the most efficient way? Do we even really understand what our assessments are telling us? If you are like me, you ask these questions before, during and after every quiz or test. Here are 3 tips for successful assessments!

What Teachers Really Need To KNOW about assessments!

1. Know your students
Know not everyone tests well. Regardless of what they really have learned, some students just do not perform well on exams. Students suffering from anxiety, lack of sleep or food, are otherwise distracted may not shine on assessments. Consequently, their results will not reflect their true ability. Know your students and their strengths and weaknesses and keep this in mind as you prepare to evaluate them.

2. Know your assessments
If you are assessing reading comprehension with short written answers, then don’t have a field day correcting grammar with your red pen. Instead, look past mistakes in verb conjugation or noun-adjective agreement and focus on the content and meaning in the student’s response. Conversely, if you are evaluating verb conjugation then stick to the verbs. JUST the VERBS!

3. Know when they are ready
Use your formative assessments efficiently and regularly. Check for understanding within each class every 10-15 minutes or with each transition. This way you will catch students that are falling behind before the summative exam. Or you may find that the class is not ready for a summative assessment and that you need to make adjustments in your lesson plan or testing schedule.

Be flexible when it comes to assessing students.

Be willing to give students more time, differentiated instruction or an alternative means of demonstrating mastery. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to learning Spanish and if we want our students to develop a lifelong love of learning, we must assess accordingly! Evaluate their strengths and weaknesses yet leave them feeling strong and not weak. All in a day’s work, ¿no?

The Assessment that Matters Most

As testing looms and students are filled with formative, summative, and standardized exams it is important to remember that they are not simply vessels for learning but also children. Real children. They come to us with good days and bad days, hunger, exhaustion, insecurities, weaknesses and every other emotion under the sun.

Surprisingly, as their teachers, our first priority must not be their test scores but rather to look after their mental well-being. Unless children are in healthy mental space, the lessons we create are insignificant, irrelevant and impossible to gauge. I say this not to negate the importance of assessments, as we do need a way to evaluate the learning taking place in our classrooms, but we need to keep in mind that test scores and data are not everything.

This premise is hard to accept this time of year because everyone wants to see the results of our labor. Parents, administrators, and our students want to see growth and success. We may have eager families coming to “Open House Night” or other end of the year events, to celebrate all of the wonderful learning that their children do in our care and we want to put our best work forth.

Yet, sometimes that need to show results and prove our worth can get in the way of what really matters. The ultimate objective of any year must be that our students not only are learning but that they love learning. Assessments aside.

I saw a quote in a parent magazine many years ago and it has always stuck with me…in times of end of the year testing, projects and stress, I try to recall the words of Carol Buchner,

“They may forget what you said but they will never forget
how you made them feel.” — Carol Buchner

Make them feel safe and confident, make them feel successful and proud, but most of all make them feel loved. The results will follow.

What Your Doubt is Doing to Your Students

My “What to do With ‘I Don’t Get it’” blog series walked us through the Sombrero Time Stages of Teaching and Learning: to comprehend, to recognize, to recall, and to generate.  As I was explaining each of the stages, I included “how you know students are ready to go to the next stage.”  One of the biggest factors in allowing your students to grow in their language is: YOU!

One of my favorite metaphors to use is that of holding hands across a bridge:

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 12.35.11 PM

When we are at the first stage, we are showing our students what to say, how to say it, and we leave them no room for error. As they are ready to progress, we have to be willing to let them fall!  

We must let go of the negative perception of failure. If we don’t let our students work independently, we will never really know what they know.

As we cross the bridge, we hold tightly to the hands of our students. Eventually, however, we must let go of their hands so that they can get across.  Some students have an effortless journey! Others have to come back to the beginning of the bridge with you. Still others may stumble here and there as they cross the bridge, but they make it across with your support.

I recently challenged my students with an independent oral presentation. I told them that they were going to speak on 9 topics for 3 straight minutes.  They were not allowed to use posters, Power Point, or any props of any kind.  The only prompts they had were from me; I held up a flashcard with a picture that showed a theme and switched the flashcard when I wanted them to move on to the next topic.  Their goal would be fluid sustained speech.

At first, they couldn’t believe it.  “We can’t use notes?! We can’t look at any pictures?! What can we use?!”

I let them react, and then told them my expectation again. Over the next two weeks we brainstormed, took notes, practiced, and gave each other feedback.  When the first day came to present, I had 7 volunteers to go first!  

As in any endeavor, there were students that failed.  Some froze up, some used the wrong vocabulary, and others simply chose to sit down.  What about those students? I gave them honest feedback about what to improve and they did it again the next day.  Students that did well came to the aid of their classmates that needed more time and  everyone passed at their own pace. They exceeded my expectations and felt both relief and pride!

At the beginning of this process, we all had our doubts.  We worked hard, problem solved, and eventually prevailed.  

We all want our students to do well and we all want to see them succeed, but we need to start letting go of their hands across the bridge! Don’t let your doubt continue to hinder them.  If they fail, look back at the stages of learning and decide what you need to do to support their growth. Let’s end the school year strong!

What to do With “I Don’t Get It”: Stage 4

In this blog series, I’ll be breaking down each stage in the Spanish Curriculum Stages of Teaching and Learning by introducing what it is, outlining teaching strategies for each stage, describing what the students are doing at each stage, and telling you how to determine when students need to review or are ready to move  on.  Our last blog discussed Stage 3: to Recall.  Today, we move on to the 4th and final stage: to Generate.


Stage 4: To Generate

  • At this stage of learning, students need little to no visual anchors and can produce answers independently.  They understand the vocabulary in your questions and can access their own vocabulary to give an answer in a complete sentence.

What the teacher is doing:

  • Most of the speech of the class is student-driven.
    • This is a challenge for most of us! Remember: the less you speak, the more your students will have an opportunity to speak!
  • The teacher uses advanced questions that require an even wider range of vocabulary.  Students still have access to visual anchors but understand how to navigate them independently.
    • Ex: ¿Qué comes después de la escuela?
      • This question at stage 3 would be “¿Qué prefieres comer después de la escuela? ¿fruta, galletas, un sándwich, cereal, helado, o dulces?
      • This question at stage 2 would be “¿Te gusta comer fruta después de la escuela? ¿sí o no?

What the students are doing:

  • Students are now using a wider range of words and phrases independently without pictures or prompts
  • Students can create their own questions and engage in conversation independently with their classmates.

How you know students are ready to generate:

  • They are participating confidently.
  • They are consistently answering questions correctly.
  • They are able to independently ask and answer questions both with the teacher and their peers.
  • They are extending answers to include details like “¿dónde? ¿con quién? ¿por qué? ¿cuándo?”

How you know students need to go back down to the recall level:

  • They sound unsure when they are answering questions or consistently answer questions wrong.
  • They need a list of choices or a category in order to answer.
  • They don’t answer at all or simply answer with “I don’t know.”

Use the stages to recognize when some of your students may just need some support with prompts and more time to recall, recognize, and comprehend!

I always say that teaching is a dance; we learn to move forward and backward, side to side, and move gracefully to the tempo of the music.  Not all of our students will be ready for every stage at the same time!  The beauty of recognizing the stages of teaching and learning is that you can know more accurately what your students know and work with them to keep growing.  There’s no longer a “they know it” vs. “they don’t”!  Our questions now should be “what do they know?” and “what do I want them to know?”

Remember that all of my blog posts are at “Ruth’s Blog” on spanishcurriculum.com and you can find the entire What to do With “I Don’t Get It” series!

What to do With “I Don’t Get It”: Stage 3

In this blog series, I’ll be breaking down each stage in the Spanish Curriculum Stages of Teaching and Learning by introducing what it is, outlining teaching strategies for each stage, describing what the students are doing at each stage, and telling you how to determine when students need to review or are ready to move  on.  Our last blog discussed Stage 2: to Recognize.  Today, we move on to Stage 3: to Recall.


Stage 3: To Recall

  • At this stage of learning, students can determine an answer when given a wide range of choices or a clue.  They have moved away from needing a “yes or no” question or a 50/50 question and can now choose the correct answer from range of answers or a category.

What the teacher is doing:

  • Half of the speech is driven by the teacher and the other half is student driven.
  • The teacher is introducing more advanced questions that require a wider range of vocabulary.  Students still have access to visual anchors but have to understand how to navigate them independently.
    • Ex: ¿Cuál es tu día favorito?

*Optional: include the list of the days of the week (¿Lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, o domingo?)  The implied category here is “días”; they know that you are asking about the days of the week.

  • The teacher can write conversation questions on the board and walk around the room and support student-driven conversation.

What the students are doing:

  • Students are now understanding a wider range of words and phrases independently with assistance from pictures and prompts.
  • Students are able to read teacher-provided questions and engage a fellow classmate in conversation.

How you know students are ready to move on:

  • They are participating confidently.
  • They are consistently answering questions correctly.
  • They are able to independently answer questions without pictures or a list of choices.

How you know students need to go back down to the recognition level:

  • They sound unsure when they are answering questions.
  • They need the list of choices narrowed down until you are only presenting them with two or three.
  • They consistently answer questions wrong.

Use the stages to recognize when some of your students may just need less choices and more time to recognize and comprehend! Keep your eyes out for our next blog, where we discuss how to move on to stage 4: to generate.