Materials and Classroom Organization

Let’s take a moment to review this week’s blog theme… First, we have cleaned out the closets, carts and walls of our teaching domain to create an organized physical space. Second, we have used visualization to create an organized mental space for best teaching practices. Only one thing left to do to start off the New Year right! Organize the actual classroom materials of the upcoming week or unit!

The organization of classroom materials must be a priority with each new week or theme that you teach.

Having your materials on hand, ready to be used exactly when you need them will help you move seamlessly throughout the day. If over the past months, you found yourself saying “Where in the world did I put that?” in the middle of your lesson, read on…

Three Steps for Better Materials Organization

  1. Before: Before the students enter the classroom, prepare your class for the day. This might seem obvious but many times in my teaching career, I thought that I was ready to go only to be thrown for a loop when I couldn’t find the song, picture or page number that I planned to use. Now, I write my agenda on the board with useful details (page or slide number, for example). I also number my realia and record the number down in my lesson. If I am showing a picture of a sunset, sunrise and cloudy sky, I number the pictures (Post-its are your friend!) and lay them out (in order) before class begins. In fact, I lay out all of the class materials for the day in order of use on a small table in front of the room before class starts.  I queue any song or video that I will be using before class begins and I open my lesson books and workbooks to the proper page so that I truly am prepared. This specific preparation and attention to detail also helps me visualize the lesson running smoothly!
  1. During: I have found that keeping my agenda in a spot in the room that my students and I can easily view helps all of us stay on task. You may find that reviewing the agenda with your students as an opening activity will help a particularly distracted class stay more focused. Students like to accomplish goals and each agenda item completed should be celebrated as a goal met! Reviewing the agenda items as a closing activity is great way to check for understanding, too!
  1. After: While time spent in preparation before a lesson probably seems obvious to even the newest teachers, time spent after a lesson is completed can be valuable as well. After the students have left, take a moment to jot down notes on your lesson. What worked, what didn’t? Record or write down adjustments for better delivery next time. Pack up your supplies and materials and reorganize the, so they are ready to be used again. Used labeled shoeboxes or ziplock bags to keep regalia for each unit together. If you are a traveling teacher, egg carton crates stack wonderfully and hanging folders fit well inside for material organization. Clean up your teaching space so that whoever uses it next (you or a colleague) finds it suitable. These few minutes spent after a lesson will pay dividends throughout the year!

You know the saying…”The best laid plans…” We can visualize the most amazing lesson and be as prepared as ever, yet when reality strikes something goes awry. No matter how prepared and organized you are, the best teachers I know always have a full bag a tricks! We will help you develop your own bag of tricks for the New Year in the next few weeks. But for now, we hope the holiday season has been restful and joyous!

We wish you best of luck in the New Year!

Create Mental Space

As we start the New Year off purging our professional space it is imperative that we also take a moment to focus on our mental space! Hopefully, you have taken advantage of the winter break to rest, relax, read and you now feel rejuvenated (see The Perfect 4 Ingredient Recipe for Rejuvenation) to start teaching again! Before you head to school and the year gets rolling, visualize how you want this year to go!

Visualization is such a powerful tool for great teachers!

Each day, before your students arrive, visualize your delivery! Actually, run through your lesson. Imagine how you will begin class. Recite your opening. See your students responding. Practice what you are going to say and do throughout the class. Think about possible pitfalls in your lesson and what you might do to resolve them.

Envision both you and your students being successful and exceeding the goals for the day! This technique will help you feel more prepared, calm your nerves and create mental space in your mind to tackle the challenges that you face.

Additionally, before you pack up and head home, review your plans for the next day. Visualize again your delivery, practice your transition strategies and see yourself and your students as you all move through each task.

If possible, write down the next day’s agenda on the board so that you are clear on your goals and objectives before your leave your room. If you share a room or are a traveling teacher, purchase a small white board that you can use post your agenda as well. Visualizing your next lesson will help you leave thoughts of work at school and enjoy your mental space at home.

If our teacher minds are cluttered, tired and not mentally prepared to teach, how can we expect our students to learn from us? Help your students be the best learners they can be by visualizing yourself being the best teacher you can be!

5 Things to Throw Away Right Now!

Look around your classroom or teaching space (for you traveling teachers), what do you see? Do you see stacks of papers, old texts, cluttered walls and piles of former student work? If you do, it’s time to purge! A cluttered and disorganized classroom makes for a disorganized and distracted class! Help you students focus on the lesson at hand by creating a simplified learning environment! Here are 5 things to throw away right now!

1. Former student work

As much as you love those travel pamphlets or menus created by your beloved students from years past, it’s time to say adios! Sort through your collection and choose one, YES JUST ONE, to save as an example and toss the others out now! Do this for each project or unit that you have been holding on to for all of these years. Trust me, one will suffice and showing less examples to your current class allows them more space to be creative!

2. Textbook Samples

Textbook publishers love to captivate us with their shiny new samples and partial packages but in reality, are you really using these materials or are they taking up space on your bookshelf or cart? With so much online these days, you can get a pretty good feel for a textbook without all of the clutter. My advice…be honest, if you have been holding on to samples with the idea of one day having time to peruse…save yourself the trouble and let them go!

3. Conferences handouts

I love a great conference and usually when I attend, I come home exhilarated but totally overwhelmed. The piles of handouts, samples and meticulously taken notes often drown out the great ideas that I learned. My new strategy is to take time after a conference to consolidate my notes into ONE document that I save for reference. As I retype my notes, I weed out what is unrealistic or not a priority right now. Anything that I collected during the day that does not pertain to my consolidated notes is promptly recycled!

4. 2 year Rule

That is so last season! Your teaching strategies and activities should be as current as your wardrobe! Look closely at your repertoire, do you see activities, games and assessments that you haven’t used since your newbie years? Every two years, reevaluate what you are holding on to and if you haven’t been utilizing those resources, donate them to another newbie!

5. Old Posters and pictures

Are you hoarding posters and pictures to one day hang on your wall? It is safe to say, if they are not important enough to be on your wall right now, they are probably not worth hanging on to. It may be hard to do but usually after I purge big ticket items like these, I forget about them within a half an hour! Put a box together and offer them to a colleague or better yet, share them with your students!

Happy purging and Happy New Year!!

How to Break your Students’ Bad Habits

We have looked at teacher Resolutions for the New Year to help us recommit to being the best that we can be.  Now let’s look at our students.  What bad habits do they share that negatively impact their success as language learners?  My guess is that they too have taken a turn down the slippery slope to English. How can we help them break their bad habits of last year and recommit to Spanish only in the New Year.

Predictable structure to the day

Make the day predictable,  Establish clear routines for entering, transitioning to activities and to exiting your classroom or space.  When students are confused and have questions, they are more likely to rely on the safety net of English.  Minimize their confusion by creating clear patterns throughout the class.  Make these patterns visual, easy to explain and easy to follow.

Teach phrases for confusion

Frustration and confusion are inevitable from time to time no matter how predictably you have tried to structure your class.  When the inevitable happens, give your students Spanish tools to help them navigate their feelings.  Teach and post catchphrases in the target language so that even the most language challenged child can cry, “¡No entiendo ni una sola palabra!” with success.

Simplify group activities

How many times have you used Total Immersion to set up an amazingly creative group activity only to have your students revert right back to English the minute they sit with their group.  Many times the reliance on English happens because the activity created is too complex.  Students being able to use whatever limited Spanish they have successfully should be the top priority.  Simplify group activities so that even your lowest students can play an integral role…using Spanish!

“Plato Caliente” or other incentive games

We all know that class competitions can help increase use of Spanish.  Any number of games can work.  Here is one from a Sombrero Time teacher that students in her class love.  The teacher has a plate on her desk at the beginning of each class.  If a student speaks English, the plate is placed on that student’s desk.  If another student speaks English, the plate is passed to their desk and so on.  When the class is over, the student that has the plate on their desk has to sing a Spanish song in front of the class.  Be careful not to embarrass students and find a fun game that works for your class!

Stuffed animals

I am amazed at the power of stuffed animals!  Students young and old find it not only easier but really fun to speak to their furry friends in Spanish!  Have a “class set” of animals for your students to use to help review vocabulary, to practice new concepts and to allow them to “teach” what they have learned.  Watch your students’ fear and nerves be calmed as they partner with a Spanish only teddy bear named Teodoro!

We hope that your are enjoying the holiday break and we wish a Happy New Year to you and your students!

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Spanish Immersion Teacher

Out with the old and in with the new! I love this time of year! I love the idea of a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to break the bad habits of the previous year and to recommit to being the best teacher I can be!

Speaking of bad habits…one of the nasty tendencies that plagues so many of my friends and colleagues in the language teaching world is an over dependence on English in the classroom. So, this year let’s recommit to total immersion with these 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Spanish Immersion Teachers!

Aim for 100%

Speaking English in class is a slippery slope. I contend that teachers that try for a 80/20 or even 90/10 ratio, find that as the year progresses the ratio starts to lean heavily on the English percentage. Why? It’s easier. Be aware of the slope though! It is really hard to raise the bar high after it has been lowered. If you have already found yourself in an English slide, start the New Year with a Spanish Only Resolution!

Do not translate

The fastest way to start the slippery slope mentioned above is to translate. Once you start translating, your students have no reason to work hard to acquire new vocabulary. The cognitive gift of struggling with a new language is lost. Quit translating cold turkey! Make yourself a “No Soy Dicionario” sign over the holiday break and stick to it!

Get moving

Total immersion is really hard! Using all forms of communication, not just words, can help ease the burden. Assign gestures to your vocabulary, sing and dance to grammar songs, act out stories, move your body and use visuals for everything!. The students will have fun and learn while you work off those extra holiday pounds!

Use and teach cognates

Cognates are our friends! Make an effort to TEACH your students to hear, seek and USE them! Make a “Cognate Wall” and have students write down words that they know or even better, that they SEE in the community! Allow students to try to make their own cognates! Even if their word doesn’t exist, you are fostering their ability to be langauge risk-takers!

Model and teach circumlocution

Many students simply won’t communicate if they don’t know the exact word that they need. Advanced language learners use circumlocution to speak around a particular word and find an alternative. Circumlocution is critical in language learning and needs to be developed early on. Make a point to model and practice with your students! Play “Veo, Veo”, “Adivina Quién” or “¿Qué Tengo en la Bolsa?” and focus on this critical skill in the New Year!

Use comprehensible input

The key to communication with language learners is comprehensible input! Know your audience! If you are teaching 5 year old Spanish learners, speak to them on their level. Use cognates, slow down, and simplify your language to meet them where they can be successful.

Be kind

This resolution applies to life in general but is particularly relevant for language teachers. The stress of not being able to understand and communicate effectively is a real fear for most people. Our people are children. They can not learn if they are scared. Children need to know that they are loved, they are safe and that you understand their fear.

Encourage risk takers

Like circumlocution, risk taking is a necessary skill in order to learn a new language. Make your classroom a safe environment for all to students to make mistakes, to try new things and to struggle. Celebrate the crazy words that they invent and challenge them to push beyond the limiting safety of perfection.

Praise, praise, praise

Success breeds success. If your students feel successful, they will work hard for you and rise to your expectations. Find the good in who they are, what they do and make even minor accomplishments a big deal. Go over board! Tell parents, share with other teachers, get the word out that you are proud of them and they will blossom with your praise.


This final resolution is one that I have to recommit to every year! Patience is our greatest asset as teachers. It goes without saying that we practice patience every day. However, patience is not just for teachers! Teach your students to be patient as well. Teach them to be patient with themselves and with their classmates. Make Practicing Patience a whole class Resolution and have a Happy New Year!

Four questions to the Best Teaching Year Ever

Today, I’m asking you to take the time to glean what we can from last year and design what we want to happen in the year to come.  Here’s to closing out 2015 well and bringing in the best year ever!  If I was sitting with you, I would grab a glass of _____ (well you fill in the blank) and toast to doing the best we could in 2015 and making 2016 the best year ever.  –Salud–  

Now take a look at these questions:

  1. What worked this past year?

  2. What didn’t work this past year?

  3. What will I start doing this year?

  4. What will I stop doing this year?

Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself these questions?  Am I asking too many questions.  No seriously. . . grab a journal, find your favorite pen to write with (or if you are like me – multicolored pens – yes I’m obsessed with color coding!), your favorite warm bevie (beverage) and get ready to write.  Personally, I love a strong latte with a bit of nutmeg shavings dusting the top of the foam.  Give yourself at  least 40 minutes.  I can’t imagine that it will take less than 10 minutes to go through each of the questions above.  If you are not accustomed to sitting still, thinking, and reflecting, 40 minutes can feel like a lifetime.  Just try it, you won’t regret it!  Oh, and try as best you can to engage the process in a place and time where you will not be interrupted.  Maybe head to your favorite coffee shop alone.

I love to do this for my personal life and my professional life.  It works for both.  Today though let’s apply them to our pursuit of becoming the best Spanish teacher ever.  It is my belief that you can not give away something that you do not possess.  So that’s why I believe you must start with reflecting on your own about your classroom, your teaching and your growth.  Let’s get started!

What worked this past year?

  • Celebrate – you did some great stuff this past year!
  • Acknowledge what you are proud of, what growth you experienced, and what you were able to accomplish in the last 12 months.
  • Identify the good stuff and remember the praise worthy successes that continue to motivate you to do our best.

What didn’t work this past year?

  • Name what frustrated you or what you couldn’t fix, figure out.
  • Write down the feelings you had around these events.  We can’t move past them if we don’t acknowledge them.
  • Discern what was in your control and what was not in your control.

What will I stop doing this year?

  • Clear out some space in your mind, your environment (we will talk more about that next week), and in your schedule.
  • Ascertain what needs to stop.  What you could control that did not go well last year?  What do you need to stop doing to change the situation?
  • Remember that simplifying is liberating and can bring new freedom, new options and a new year. . . the best year ever!

What will I start doing this year?

  • Look for places that you can build more free space to relax, reflect and refocus.  This is how we invest in ourselves so we have more to invest in our students.
  • Decide to take care of yourself as you consciously and constantly think about taking care of  your students.
  • Plan what it is that you would like to start doing.  Is it personal, professional or both?  Limit it to one or two specific things you want to start to better yourself and your Spanish instruction.

Make this the best teaching year ever for yourself and your students!

A Gift for Yourself- Boundaries!

The bell rings, class is over and school’s out for the day!  The teacher turns off the computer, packs up her or his supplies, punches a time-card, and heads home at 3 o’clock!  She now has the afternoon free from lesson planning, grading, parent phone calls, preparing materials and everything else school related!  Ok…just kidding!!

We all know that although we live our day by a bell, a teacher’s job really never ends.  We are a reflective bunch by nature and even when we have created the most amazing lesson plan, if we just give it a little more time, we believe we can make it even better!  This ideal belief is what makes us excel at what we do but it also can create an imbalance.  We often work late nights, on weekends, over breaks and thus, sacrifice our mental wellbeing for our profession.

So, how do we regain our balance?  This answer is with BOUNDARIES!

How to set boundaries?

Be realistic with your time.  We all want to help our students and schools and we all wish we could give even more of ourselves. However, we have to be realistic with what we actually can accomplish while still maintaining a work-life balance.  Most teacher  tasks seem to take a little more time than expected.  We like to tweek lessons and constantly strive for improvement.  With this in mind, plan accordingly.  If you have a lot of grading give yourself a buffer of time before committing to anything else.  If you have ten parent phone calls to make, plan a whole week to complete them, rather than just one afternoon.  If you finish a task early, wonderful…take that extra time and relax, you earned it!

Permission to say “No”

Be prepared to say, “No.”  This is something I have actually had to practice at home in front of the mirror.  I think our idealistic educator hearts are not well-equipped to “Just Say No!”  We feel like we are letting our students, colleagues, parents, or administrators down if we don’t join one…more….committee!  Truth be told, if we are over-extended and exhausted, we are not being the best that we can be.  If we are not well rested and living a balanced life beyond the school setting, we are more likely to burn out and turn into the dreaded teachers of childhood lore.  Saying “No” does not make you a bad teacher and setting BOUNDARIES for yourself helps to ensure that you will never become one.

Must Do vs. Choose To Do

Every now and then, I find myself exhausted and cranky.  The Sunday night stress piles up and the countdown to summer break pervades my daily thoughts.  When I feel this way, I know I have disrupted the work-life balance that all teachers need.  I take this time to reevaluate my boundaries with a simple activity.  I make a T-Chart, with one column reading “Must Do” and the other column, “Choose to do”.  I find that if I honestly evaluate the teacher tasks that I currently assume, many time consuming tasks land in the “Choose to do” category.  I then, analyze these tasks and after deeming some of them not so important after all, happily cross them out!  Trust me, regaining a healthy balance is more important than color-coding my gradebook anyways!

Digital Boundaries

We can’t look at our boundaries and how we spend our time without taking a look at how heavily connected we are to the digital world.  The Internet, social media, and blogs just like this can be a blessing and a curse!  We can find the most amazing ideas and teacher tips with a single click.  By the same token, we can become lost in the endless plethora of such ideas and tips.  Stop searching, clicking, retweeting and pinning endlessly!  Set a digital boundary for yourself.  Make it one hour a week or two perhaps…There will always be great ideas and if you keep clicking, even better ones yet…Avoid this endless search, set your timer and SET YOUR BOUNDARIES!

Boundaries = Balance


Balance = A Better Version of You!

How to Truly Bring it Home for the Holidays

At the beginning of every year, many teachers, myself included, scour the Internet looking for just the right ice breaker or community building game that will help create a “sense of belonging” in our classroom.  We know our students need to feel welcome, loved, and supported just as if they were in a warm and loving home.

We greet their nervous faces with bright smiles and kind words.  We support their insecurities and struggles with patience and praise.  We know they will make mistakes and although we set the bar high, we catch them as they fall and gently guide them to improve their skills.  We do this every day, in every class, for all of our students.

And then the bell rings…and we head home…

Do we greet our family members, friends or neighbors with that same bright smile?  Do we support our own loved ones’ insecurities with praise and encouragement?  Do we guide our own children with the same patience that we have gifted to our students?  To be perfectly honest, I can not say “Yes” to all of these questions!  Sometimes, I feel as if I have been given a daily allowance of patience and it is usually tapped by 10:00 am on a school day.

So, the plan this holiday season is to give my family a different kind of a gift.  This gift will be my commitment to create the same sense of belonging in my home that I strive to create in my classroom!  Here’s how I will do it:

  • Speak with kindness and respect (please, thank you, greeting, salutations)

  • Play “getting to know you” activities at dinnertime

  • Practice patience when encountering mistakes

  • Focus on the big picture and not nitpicking the minor goofs

  • Have fun!

What a gift!  To treat our loved ones, family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues with the same unconditional positive regard that we treat our students!  To focus our efforts this holiday season into creating a sense of belonging for those that we love outside of our classroom!  We know that our students thrive when a classroom feels like a loving home.  Let’s give this gift to our families and friends and truly bring it HOME for the holidays!

The Perfect 4 Ingredient Recipe for Rejuvenation

The holiday season is amongst us and all the hustle and bustle creates a stressful time in every teacher’s life.  Family obligations, holiday shopping and school festivities make a busy teacher’s life busier than ever!  Not to mention, grades are due, projects need to be collected, final assessments are taking place and if you are like me, you haven’t even thought of wrapping Christmas presents yet!

So, what do you do?  How do you stop the stress from overpowering your life and taking over in your classroom?  Follow this Recipe for Rejuvenation and you will allow yourself balance, peace and a true holiday break!

Ingredient #1:  Rest

Most teachers I know, go to bed late and get up early!  It never seems like the day is long enough for all the responsibilities of our personal and professional lives.  However, rest is critical!  Getting sufficient sleep is an absolute must to stay healthy, happy and productive!  We are beginning a two week break, so now is  the perfect time to get caught up on lost hours of sleep!  Enjoy this break and sleep in!  Turn the alarm clock off and let your body REST!  If you have little ones at home that rise early, rest on the couch while holiday cartoons play!  Even if you are not asleep, your body will appreciate the hiatus from constantly being on the go!

Ingredient #2: Relax

How do we define the difference between resting and relaxing?  Resting is the art of turning off and doing nothing.  The best kind of rest is sleep, but when sleep is not possible, simply lying on the couch or in a comfy chair can suffice.  Relaxation, however, can take many forms and mean something different for all of us.  While some people rely on exercise to relax and clear their mind, others plan a night out with friends, some need nature, others choose a long drive.  Whatever form appeals to you, make time during this holiday break to RELAX!  Head out on a trail, take a yoga class or schedule a coffee date with a friend but whatever you choose, make a promise not to think or talk shop!

Ingredient #3: Read

We are educators and by and large we love to read!  Unfortunately, most of us save all of our good books for summer break!  I have found that picking up a great book to read over winter break is my most delightful holiday treat!  Make sure that whatever book you choose is for pleasure and not for work!  Leave the research alone, save the teacher memoirs for another time and put down that copy of the latest ACTFL journal!  Choose something fun, light, surprising and purely entertaining!  Make it a new holiday tradition to actually do what you have always loved and READ over the break!  Oh, and post your favorite titles in the comment section below!

Ingredient #4: Repeat

Rest, Relax, Read…..Repeat!  The perfect 4 ingredient recipe for a rejuvenating holiday break!  Don’t just get one night of fitful sleep.  Don’t just veg out on the couch one day with a reality TV show or great book!   Repeat these ingredients!!  You have two weeks off, make that time slow down by carving out time for you!  Teachers give of themselves all year long.  This holiday break, give yourself the gift of a true break!  Repeat this recipe and you will start the new year rested and your students will reap the rewards!

Let’s review:


Class dismissed! We wish you a wonderful winter BREAK!

Who’s playing and Who’s winning?

Have you ever analyzed your games? Do you see them as a language learning opportunity? Below are a few questions to ask yourself. Let’s make sure we are making the most use of our time and our students’ time.

  1. How many of my students are engaged at one time?

  2. Who gets out first?

  3. Is there a way to keep everyone involved the whole time?

  4. Do my students speak Spanish during the game?

Is your game only requiring students to listen (like bingo)? Do they only need to respond with one word? Nix those games… when you add a FUN factor of getting everyone involved and motivated to participate, you just multiplied the FUN and the learning. Don’t give your students the option to answer with one word. Teach them sentences to answer. Make sure to challenge them to speak in full sentences. This is building functional language. Create games and activities for students and teams using the most Spanish possible!

Remember to always keep a game or activity engaging everyone. I get so frustrated when I observe games where the students getting out are the exact students who need to stay in the game practicing the language. Don’t let that happen! Structure your games so that it involves all of your students the whole time — and then reward them for their participation!

How do you reward them you ask?  Well let’s brainstorm… of course you can do points. Table points, team points, individual points or even class points motivate students. That’s an easy way to get started.

You can compete for progress. Build a graph of how students are progressing. They are motivated to see their progression. Just like earning a badge to move from one level to the next.

What about marbles in a jar? Might be an old strategy, tried and true, but think of all the creative rewards from there. Students earn 10 minute freeze dance with salsa music, class outside, take off your shoes days in class, or truth or dare to the teacher. Come on, play with your students. This can be fun! Creative rewards don’t have to cost money. They can be memorable and get everyone juices flowing to think outside of the box.

In the big picture, there are individual rewards, team rewards and class rewards. It is good to switch it up. At times you want to reward the whole class, other times you have teams competing, and third, you always have the option of acknowledging an individual student. Brainstorm with your students what would be rewarding for them and share with us below.

Let us know how you keep everyone involved, paced and rewarded in your class.