I am the curriculum specialist in charge of developing Stories Online here at Calico Spanish, but I am also a mom to three young kids. For the last few years, we participated in a homeschool co-op that met once a week.  At the co-op, I taught Spanish.  For my younger age group (K-4th grade), I used the Calico Spanish Stories Online program.   As I’ve taught the program, I’ve identified two strategies that have helped set us up for success with Stories Online in a homeschool co-op.

Two keys to successful co-op Spanish

Streamline the lesson plans.

Time for a few background details.  Stories Online currently features three levels, with a fourth just about to release:

  1. Level A: “I Am Special”
  2. Level B: “I Love My Family”
  3. Level C: “I Live Here”
  4. Level D: “Welcome to the Farm”

Within each level, we have developed eight units.  Each unit is based on one animated video story and learners explore the story’s language through ten regular lesson plans.  Additional review days and Culture Capsules mean that there are close to 100 lesson plans, more or less, in each level.

Hold on. I see my little co-op learners once a week for around 45 minutes, for total of 32 weeks a year.  How are we supposed to get through a hundred lesson plans?

The answer is to collapse the lesson plans into a streamlined version that fits my homeschool co-op schedule.  We move through a level at about 3 weeks per Unit.  That means we do between 3 and 4 lesson plans per meeting.  With an occasional review week and an occasional Culture Capsule week, that puts us on a good pace to finish one level per year.

What does it mean to teach “3 lesson plans per meeting.”  If you look at the lesson plans, you’ll see that children are asked to watch the Video Story in each lesson, sometimes twice, or once plus one viewing of the Dialogue Video.  So when I say we move through 3 lesson plans, I don’t mean that we follow the plans exactly and end up watching the Video Story five times.  Rather, I look at the content for three days and streamline it into the one time that I have.  For example, we may:

1) Start with a song.

2) Ask each other our name and/or how we’re doing and/or what our ages are.

3) Watch the Video Story.

4) Sing a song or try another dialogue.

5) Watch the Video Story or a segment of the Video Story looking for a specific term (e.g. children wave every time they hear “hola” or “adiós,” hold up something blue every time they hear “azul”).

6) Play a quick round of I Spy.

7) Do the first activity sheet for the Unit (which I may need to adapt for preliterate learners).

With my young learners, we finished Levels A and B in about a school year each.  With your learners, though, depending on what they are able to accomplish at home, you may well move faster than that.  This also depends on what they already know, and may change in Levels B, C, and D, where the lesson plans require a little more time.

Use home time strategically.

With only one meeting per week, especially if that meeting is for less than 90 minutes, you actually won’t see language gains among your learners at all unless you leverage home time.  That’s according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).  Plus, good scaffolding (supporting complex tasks with baby-step practice) will set them up for more success and more communication in those class times you do have.

Here are some examples of what your learners could do at home:

  • Watch the song video every day. (These are all on our YouTube channel.)
  • Use the Activity Sheet to tell parents/siblings what they did in class.
  • Ask each family to purchase the Storybook set for the level and read them together at home.
  • Watch a related video. I recommend Peppa Pig and Pocoyó, with Spanish-language episodes freely available on YouTube.

Of course, families who want their children to have access to the full program for more review at home (e.g. with the digital flash cards) are welcome to purchase a login for their home use as well (contact us support at CalicoSpanish dot com for information about our hefty homeschool family discount).

One more thing: I ask my elementary-level learners to complete an at-home “Take Your Pick” activity.  You can see the choices I give them here  and use them as you like.  My learners complete at least one point per week and can “bank” points to buy themselves a free week.

Remember most of all: 1) Expose children to as much comprehensible Spanish as possible in your class time and at home, and 2) have fun on the journey!

Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is a homeschool mom of three bilingual children. She’s also a Spanish teacher and the COO and chief storyteller for Calico Spanish.

How do you teach children clothing words in Spanish? Well, you approach it like any other set of vocabulary – in context.

There’s some spirited questioning in the early language (and secondary!) field about how best to present some concepts.  Daily activities, particularly reflexive verbs, is one.  You’ll hear teachers be quick to question how often one describes one’s daily routine to someone else, especially using phrases like

When I get out of the shower, I dry off.

Yes, those are in the textbooks.

Weather is one, too.  The classic example is the weather report assignment.  Sometimes learners are assigned a task to do an elaborate video of a weather report.  It’s fine, it’s fun, but it takes a whole lot of time on a little bit of language.

I’ve always preferred to do weather and seasons in the context of clothing and activities, and since I’m the primary author on Stories Online Level D, I got to write it that way.  There’s a big emphasis on both in this level, and when clothing comes up, it’s often in the context of the weather.

  • Example 1: Pepe shows up in Michoacán in the fall wearing fall clothing, but it’s a hot day to trek to the cemetery to decorate Ofelia’s grandfather’s altar for Día de Muertos. He’s got to change his ropa.
  • Example 2: When there’s a historic snow on a day when Ofelia and César are headed to town, César has to put on his abrigo and botas.
  • Example 3: When summer’s come and it’s time for a swim in the lake, of course César needs his traje de baño.

But we’re Calico Spanish and we don’t do this kind of thing without kids’ favorite way to learn: music.  We hadn’t done a clothing song before, and it was high time we did.

I found this old tune called “La canción de las manzanas” in a 1904 book of school songs and the lyric popped into my head.  I wrote the song and once again teamed up with the highly talented Obed Gaytán for the music.

Without further ado, please enjoy and share our newest song: La ropa.” (And it pairs nicely with our recent “Las estaciones” that goes through the seasons and weather.)


Llevo mi gorra

y camiseta

con mis zapatos

y un short azul.

Voy de paseo con mi amigo

porque es verano y hace calor.


Llevo sombrero

e impermeable

con buenas botas

en mis pies.

Salto en charcos con mi amigo

Tengo paraguas, que llueve hoy.


Llevo un gorro

bufanda y suéter

con mis vaqueros

y abrigo hoy.

Juego en la nieve con mi amigo

Aunque hace frío, quiero jugar.

Kids learn Spanish every day.  They learn it in elementary classrooms, in play groups, and in day cares.  They learn it with Pepe the brown dog in Stories Online.  But kids learn Spanish in specific ways, under specific conditions, and if those conditions aren’t met, language acquisition simply won’t happen.  That’s the science.

Still, myths swirling around the internet range from misleading information to outright lies. There they are, waiting to lure you.  What’s the bait?  The bait is a promise: we’d all love to see our kids speaking Spanish with little time or effort, right?  But let’s be careful to evaluate marketing messages against what linguists know about how children learn language.

Let us deconstruct of few of these myths for you.

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1. Kids learn Spanish by understanding grammar.

As you look for tools to support the young Spanish learners in your life, you might come across claims like

it’s really important to give students a basic understanding of Spanish grammar concepts

Or a company offering classes might assure you,

Children will learn articles, nouns, and verbs and have the opportunity to use their new knowledge.

The learning system might assure you that color-coding grammatical gender and verb endings is going to be the key to kids learning and using proper grammar in Spanish.  Now, using colors to get learners to notice grammatical changes in words is something I do in the classroom – when those learners are in the ninth grade.  Young children simply are not ready to analyze the grammar of a language. They internalize it naturally, and that’s the beauty of natural language acquisition.  Children can use the grammar correctly; they just can’t explain why.  And if they can’t explain why, that means it doesn’t do any good to explain it to them.  Honestly, they’ll just think you’re trying to make the content pretty.

Our tip: Look for programs that offer language children will understand and want to pay attention to, like fun stories. Then, trust that when correct grammar goes in, correct grammar (eventually) comes out.

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2. Kids learn Spanish in “just minutes.”

This might be the most common propaganda you’ll see on the internet.  Your kids will speak Spanish the first day.  X program is lightning-fast.

You don’t need to read a lot of research to know this is a lie.  You just need to remember how long it took your children to do this the first time around: how long for the individual words.  (“Ball.”)  How long to put two words together. (“Ball up!”)  How long they gave you chunked phrases because they’d heard the words together and understood them as one word. (“Hold you!”)  My son is five years old and today he said “I want she to put it on.”  He’s never heard that construction.  His brain is working out the grammar. And it’s taking this long to do it.  No one thinks this is unusually slow.  It’ll take years for your child to show measurable proficiency in their new language.  But that’s okay, and it’s worth it.

When companies say this what they usually mean is that you’ll hear something in Spanish from the beginning.  That could be true.  But that’s not what they say – and it doesn’t mean the kids will be able to order their food in Spanish at that amazing taco truck.

All that to say, find a curriculum with the right process, trust the process, and accept the stages that come as they come.

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3. Kids learn Spanish from curriculum that’s won “awards.”

You know those badges and ribbons you see plastered on so many educational product sites?  Heads up: business awards are a scam.  The curriculum has an award from “Dr. Toy”?  You may not even be able to investigate those awards (I can’t) because the site security is out of date.  The program has been named “Mom’s Best”?  That’s because the program paid to be named “Mom’s Best.”  That’s the way most of these awards work: the company pays a fee, and then the award group (maybe) evaluates the program and sends a digital badge to the curriculum company.

We’ve received various emails offering these awards to us.  We’re told “submissions will not be evaluated without payment” and also that they “require four non-returnable samples” of the product.  They say that “normally the price is $495 to be included” on the list, and we’ll get a “snazzy award seal” for our website, but since we’re a small business, the price can go down to $395.  We’re told to nominate ourselves via email, pay the entry fee, and if we’re chosen we’ll get that award seal (these groups like the word “snazzy”).  One of the awards “won” by a major language learning software producer requires companies to pay £195-£225 and their website currently looks like this:

Our advice? Totally ignore the “awards” a site/product/program has “won.” Look for reviews by real people, and evaluate that way.  The opinion from someone who used the program because they needed it and wanted to talk about it is far more trustworthy than that “snazzy badge.”

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4. Kids learn Spanish by clicking and tapping.

The world is changing.  The employment prospects are changing.  And ostensibly, education is changing.  Do kids need to engage in problem-solving and independent learning.  Yes, they do!  But their world language program is not the best place to do it.

When a curriculum company promises independent learning, be skeptical.  As tempting as it is for families to believe you can set a child in front of a screen, go prepare dinner, and when you get back they’ll be speaking in Spanish, this is a myth!  Language has always required personal connections to develop.  That’s why we have language- to connect with people!

Though we developed our Stories Online program to include as much support as a teacher or parent would need if they spoke zero Spanish themselves, we still want to push kids off the screen.  We say it in the introduction of our teacher’s guides and we believe it: lifelong language skills come from taking a personal interest in the target language community and becoming a part of it.  Make friends, and you’ll see the skills grow and grow- and, of course, your kids will have more friends.  Who doesn’t need that?

A few more tips:

Beware of a program emphasizing homework (doing what?) or correct pronunciation.  Especially young children distinguish and reproduce language sounds much better than adults of similar aptitude; it’s simply a non-issue.  Look for activities and tasks that get children engaging with comprehensible, accurate language and interacting with it over, and over, and over, in varied contexts.  Then you’ll see how kids learn Spanish.  As we like to say, you’ll see more smiles, and hear more Spanish.

Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is the chief storyteller for Calico Spanish.  She’s been working with language learners for 24 years and has three bilingual children.  She’s never seen language acquisition happen “lightning-fast,” but she’s seen it be worth the time it takes every single time.

Seeing students once a week or twice every six days or whatever it is. Take ten lesson plans and make them three.

If you follow us on Instagram or use our Accelerate program, it’s no surprise to you that here at Calico we’re huge fans of multilingual and multicultural children’s literature.  We love bilingual children’s books, and we love them even more when they’re all in Spanish, and we love them even more when they’re culturally authentic.

Drum roll, please: we’re giving away a title that fits the bill all three ways.

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Meet Alma

For our giveaway, Candlewick Press has graciously provided copies of both the Spanish version and the English version of a new children’s book, Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre (Alma and How She Got Her Name) by Juana Martinez-Neal.  Here’s how Candlewick describes it:

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

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Teaching Ideas

This book is available on Amazon in English and in Spanish.  It really is a sweet, sweet story, and it has the stamp of approval from my children.  Let’s look at some ways you could use these books in children’s Spanish journey:
  • Read the English version with children in conjunction with our Stories Online Level B Culture Capsule “Families: Two Surnames?”
  • Adapt the Spanish version to comprehensible, repetitive language for your early language class.  The story lends itself to this very well.  For example, in the section about her great-grandmother:
    Papá dijo –Esperanza era tu bisabuela, Alma. Quería viajar por el mundo.
    Alma dijo –¡El mundo es muy grande! Yo quiero viajar por el mundo. Yo soy Esperanza.
    Then, in the next section,
    Papá dijo –José era tu abuelo, Alma. Era un artista. Quería pintar a nuestra gente.
    Alma dijo –¡Yo soy artista! ¡Quiero pintarlo todo! Yo soy José.
    I think you can see how this would lend itself to a beautiful reflection project on personal identity.  Even if they could only do this for one person in their family – wow!
  • Use the information about Alma’s familia to draw a family tree and identify who each person is to her.
  • Make a list of the actions Alma wants/likes to do (viajar, pintar, leer, buscar flores).  Then, compare and contrast which of your learners also like to do these things.
  • Explore the concept of what talismán a family might choose if they believed like Pura that nuestros ancestros estaban siempre a nuestro lado.
  • Explore the signs defending las causas justas like Candela did, and ask learners what they would write on a sign, and for what causa justa.
  • Read the Spanish version with an AP Spanish class and ask them to do interpersonal speaking and presentational tasks on the question “¿Cómo obtuviste tu nombre?” in the AP theme of Personal and Public Identities.

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How to Win Alma (x2!)

We’ll give away these books on Friday, May 18.  How can you win?  Just comment (and then watch for your notifications!) – tell us here on the blog, on our Instagram, on Twitter, or on Facebook:
How did you get your name?
SinceI have to answer this question all the time, I’ll start.
Sara significa <<princesa>>.  Yo tengo cuatro hermanos.  Soy la menor y la única chica.  Yo soy la princesa.  Soy Sara.
My parents had four boys before they “finally” got a girl- me! Consequently, they couldn’t pin down just two girl names so I have three.  My mom “won” with Sara first, my father with Elizabeth after, and then I have a middle name too.  Little-known fact: Sara-Elizabeth is actually my first name.  It’s a pain with computer systems that restrict names to 12 characters, that’s for sure!
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is the mom of 3 bilingual children, a Spanish teacher, and the chief storyteller at Calico Spanish.


mentoringMentoring New World Language Teachers

Teaching isn’t an easy profession.  It’s no wonder so many teachers leave in their first few years of teaching.  What if they had a solid support system, experienced teachers ready with strategies, ideas, and a sympathetic ear?  In a recent langchat, world language teachers discussed how they might be that person that comes alongside a new teacher in what can be the toughest years.  They shared practical fears, steps, and benefits of mentoring new and emerging world language teacher.

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What is your Current Experience with Mentorship?

#Langchat Spanish teacher @SraDentlinger opened the discussion by asking participants to describe their current experience with mentorship?’ to langchat participants. Many language teachers shared their experience with mentorship and its impact in their career. @Edburns1984 shared, “I did a year long mentoring program while in grad school myself. Nine years later, I am mentoring a new teacher as she gets her certification.”

Mentorship is clearly significant to both the mentor and the mentee. @Madamednmichael said, “I have been in multiple positions as a more experienced instructor. [The experiences were] informal but meaningful.” @RobuPrice also shared her current goals: “We are hoping to connect newer teachers with more experienced teachers, to create support networks early in teacher careers, and to encourage PD for both pedagogy and the target language.”

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What New World Language Teachers Need to Know

Language teachers shared some professional advice for new and emerging language teachers and what they wished they had known when they had started their teaching careers. @srtafrenkil shared, “looking back on my experience, I wish I had known that teaching language is not about filling in the blank. I wish I had known the importance of good authentic resources.”  Many new teachers may agree with @profeashley when she said that she wishes she had more support, encouragement, and time in classrooms.” Valerie wishes she had known “how to be a professional—what does professional growth and community look like post college?” @SraSpanglish remarked, “What does anyone need? Assurance that they’re not awful and a safe space to question and grow.”

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Fears and Concerns for Mentoring a New Teacher

World Language teachers admitted their fears when it comes to mentoring a new teacher. Teachers may wonder, “Am I being overbearing with my help? Am I being condescending? Am I sharing something outdated, but I didn’t realize it? Am I supporting in the way s/he needs?” (@Erinrae0399). “Am I being open-minded in listening to their ideas and not shutting them down if they don’t do it “my” way?” (@jaybeekay518). “My fears and concerns are that I might overwhelm the teacher. My goal is to be a support and also to learn,” shared @RobuPrice. It is important to remember, “If we have fears/concerns then we are on the right track. Fears/concerns usually indicate reflection. It’s evidence that we are cognizant of our strengths and weaknesses. We have to put the mentee first, do what’s right for them- even be willing to grow in the process” (@GJuradoMoran).

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How Can You Help a New Teacher Today?

Langchat participants made the discussion on mentorship practical by answering the question, “what can you do right now to help a new teacher?”

  • @Madamednmichael said, “share materials. And encourage participation in #langchat!”
  • @Erinrae0399 suggested offering “Usable materials–proven activities that work well.”
  • @SraWilliams3 said, “I think just be available is what I can do. And, network. I love collaborating and learning from [teachers] with a fresh perspective.”
  • @Welangley recommended “helping curate resources/activities. Share knowledge/professional resources, invite them to conferences/workshops; help them become a reflective practitioner
  • @Oraib_Mango said,make sure they know about ACTFL and the available resources for language teaching.”

Involving New Teachers in the Language Community

Chat participants saw the importance of identifying new teachers and inviting them to join a personal learning community. “Invite him or her to participate in a workshop, conference, or chat,” said @NathanLutz.  Teacher @Erinrae0399 also shared, “bring them with you to meetings and/or conferences! Be a co-presenter with them. Introduce them to people you know in low-key situations. If you’re an officer/on the board, have them shadow you in your role to learn what it’s like before committing.” Grow your world language community by becoming a mentor to a new teacher!

Thank You

Thanks to all who participated in this chat. We hope you were encouraged and learned something new! A special thank you goes to Elizabeth (@SraDentlinger) who led the discussion.

DifferentiationAlmost every world language class has learners that span a spectrum of proficiencies and needs. Strategies teachers use to meet that variety of needs are collectively called differentiation.  In a recent #langchat, world language teachers discussed how to use differentiation in the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes.

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Defining Differentiation

What is differentiation? Many #langchat teachers shared their perspectives on this helpful classroom practice.  A key concept in the discussion was the individual student. Teacher @PRHSspanish shared, “For me, differentiation means using proficiency and authentic tasks to custom-fit certain things. We don’t all have to do numbers 1-10; or perhaps this student wants 11-20. [Differentiation] offers up different options, modifications, accommodations!” Similarly, @Mmeshep shared, “differentiation means I’m doing my best to provide what each student needs to develop his/her proficiency.” Differentiation meets students where they are at, despite their proficiency level.  It “realizes that students are all individuals with individual needs and individual speeds” (@Welangley). @SrtaWalpole explained, “Differentiation to me means providing opportunities for students to grow in the target language with a variety of learning styles… Also providing specific feedback to help students work on individualized and specific areas of growth.”

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Differentiated Tasks in the Interpretive Mode

After the critical task of defining differentiation, teachers shared how they reach individual learners when designing tasks in the interpretive mode.  The interpretive mode involves listening and reading skills when no response is expected or required (think: reading a news article or listening to a podcast).

For this mode, @SraDentlinger offers different levels of completion on the same task: “There’s a level 2, 3, 4 and they’re all different.” For stories, @Sspielb asks students to demonstrate comprehension in different ways: “[Afterwards], some draw it on a storyboard, some students write it in the past tense, some students are given visuals (with specific words) for each section and order the events, some are given the story cut up to put in order.” @Marishawkins also shared that for interpretive listening, “@edpuzzle allows students to listen to a specific section as many times at they need. Or they can annotate their own video to explain what they know via project.” @TheGriceisRight encouraged teachers to use infographics, “I live for infographics. I use a basic rubric to score students in identifying, explaining, and inferring. Students can really show their abilities when it comes to inferring!” There are many creative ways to differentiate in the interpretive mode.

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Differentiated Tasks in the Interpersonal Mode

Differentiation in the interpersonal mode can help students with varied skills and learning approaches improve their interaction with other language speakers. Language teachers shared their ideas and examples.

  • @Mmeshep said, “I partner up students based on their proficiency level so that higher proficiency students are challenged and lower proficiency students aren’t overwhelmed.”
    • @MlleSulewski bounced off that idea: “Just read an activity idea recently that said to do this and put higher proficiency student in a passive role, so as not to “dwarf” or intimidate lower prof student. Genius!”
  • @RhulsHuls said, “I love chat stations-hang pictures around room-rotate around and talk!”
  • @PRHSspanish differentiates by “giving a ‘question bank’ instead of a word bank, of an ‘answer bank,’ and they come up with the questions for 5 of the 10 given, etc., to ask their partner. [It is] so fun watching them choose and figure out!”
  • @sspielb enjoys the “story chain game which uses TPR. [Students] tell a short story that they draw. Then [students] circle up and retell. Give options to keep as is, add character descriptions, make it past tense. Every student participated & kept themselves accountable.”

Differentiated Tasks in Presentational Mode

The presentational mode may be the easiest mode for differentiation, though perhaps the least needed, at least at earlier levels.  Teachers emphasized encouraging creativity and student choice. @SECottrell said, “This might be the easiest one. Tell a story. Use the tool you like. Etc. And let them choose a display board if they want!” @EspanolTeacher agreed: “[Let] students choose how they decide to present the info. Lots of free-choice and T saying ‘as long as you include everything required’. Let students shine by teaching them to create.”  @Welangley supported that idea as well. He championed choice and said, “differentiate the rubric, the medium, the topic.” He added, “I don’t do a lot of presentational mode, but I do allow students to share what they’ve done/read”

@Marishawkins added an important suggestion on making the prompts able to be broadly applied: “I believe if a prompt is open-ended enough it is differentiated! None of walking through a forest and you meet a genie and have wishes so use the subjunctive!”

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Efficiently Differentiating the Same Activity for Small and Large Groups

Langchat participants concluded the discussion by sharing how to use differentiation between both small and large groups.

  • @TheGriceisRight shared, “I think my easiest go-to is for larger groups to break them up and assign each group a role. In small groups, I assign each student a role. Then report back to the class/group.”
  • @senorita_wilson included, “I think this may be where targeted small group instruction comes in. You can pull a small group that you know may struggle or even some students who may be ‘experts’ and work with the separately while the rest work on a different variation.”
  • @sspielb uses “jigsaw so each small group contributes to the whole! This is the most fun for BREAKOUT activities where they are all finding clues to solve that will help them solve the case together.”

Thank You

Thank you to all of the teachers and participants who collaborated to make the discussion on Differentiation in the World Language Classroom possible. A special thank you to Elizabeth (@SraDentlinger) for her leadership in moderating this langchat.

In honor of the approach of Mother’s Day, the moms of Calico Spanish would like to remind you about our free printable.  It’s a fun and easy way to give kids the opportunities to sing their mom’s praise in Spanish.  Enjoy!


Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother's Day printable in Spanish

¡Feliz Día de la Madre!

We recently saw an adorable Mother’s Day “My mom and I” printable activity in English.  We love these activities and thought it was such a great idea we’d do something similar in Spanish. In ours, we’ve featured some of our Stories Online characters with their moms and grandmothers.  Here at Calico Spanish, we are moms and love to honor mothers and all they do, in everything from our content to our support for homeschool families to the way we package and distribute our materials.

What mothers are in our Stories?

In the Stories Online program, here are some of the mamás and abuelas children will meet:

  • At the beginning of Level B, “I Love My Family,” we meet Alicia, la mamá de Pepe, el perro café.  It’s Pepe’s birthday and she has a gift for him, a new collar in his favorite color, negro.  He tells her, “¡Te amo, Mami!
  • Later in Level B, we meet Camilo el conejo blanco in the park and he’s with his abuelo and abuela.  His abuela helps him understand that he’s especial because even though he isn’t athletic and doesn’t like to play soccer like Pepe and Goyo el gato negro, he’s who he was meant to be: he’s good at jumping, he loves to read, and he likes to play hide-and-seek.
  • At the end of Level B, in the lesson on pets, María la mona amarilla wants to tell her friends all about her abuela‘s new pet, a pájaro azul named Perico.
  • In Level C, “I Live Here,” we’re invited into the home of Rita la rana verde and her family.  In their multigenerational home, Rita’s abuela lives with them.  Rita ends her busy day with her abuela helping her find her favorite storybook and reading it with her until she falls asleep.  “Buenas noches, nena.  Sueña con los angelitos,” her abuela tells her.

Kids can meet all of these characters and their friends and family right now, because your first seven days of learning are absolutely free, with no restrictions.  It’s ideal for children ages 5-9 in any learning context, including preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and homeschool situations.

Where’s the activity?

Here we offer you a PDF download of the printable in a version for mamás and a version for abuelas. It asks children to tell us about their mamás and abuelas:

  • My mom/grandma is named _________.
  • My mom/grandma is ___________ and ___________. (Example: tall and smart)
  • With my mom/grandma, I like to ______________.
  • I love my mom/grandma because _________________.

Ready for your free download?  Just click one of the images for your PDF.

Mother's Day printable: Mi mamá y yo

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Abuela version of Mother's Day printable in Spanish

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And happy Mother’s Day from the moms of Calico Spanish!

Happy Mother’s Day from Calico Spanish!


It’s a widely accepted truth at this point: children need less screen time.  This is a challenge, though, because not all screen time is created equal.  For example, I feel fairly safe saying there’s not a square inch of social media that a child needs to occupy.  In fact, as children get older, more screen time is linked with depression and anxiety.  Does our society need more of that?  Surely not.  And then we read quotes like this one from a former VP at Facebook:

I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.

It’s high time we take a hard look at what these screens are doing to everything from play to relationships to self-control.

Screen time limits with online content?

From parents homeschooling kindergarteners to elementary teachers to preschool teachers, many leaders want to help children learn Spanish, but don’t have enough Spanish skills.  For them, it’s incredibly hard to find effective tools without getting some help from the world wide web.

Here at Calico Spanish, we get it.  We’re moms of some pretty great kids, and we want to see them balance their time with Toca Life with some real-life bike riding.  So when we set out to create a digital tool that provides the comprehensible input children need to acquire Spanish, we had another goal.  We wanted to help you successfully incorporate a variety of activities off the screen.  This isn’t just about screen time, either – regardless of what you might hear from a curriculum company, children cannot acquire language independently. Plopping kids down in front of a screen to learn to read may actually work, but doing it for language learning most certainly does not.

Calico Spanish Stories Online is a curriculum you can use entirely online.  To break it down briefly,

  • The curriculum consists of three levels (and Level D will appear later this year),
  • and each level contains 8 units,
  • and each unit contains 10 core lesson plans (with extras for review and culture days), focused on the language used by animated animal characters in the comprehensible all-Spanish video story.

Remember: The red button gets you 100% access for 7 days.

Five off-screen elements

Without a subscription to the curriculum you can’t see the Video Story.  However, though we offer everything in a digital format, including storybook videos and song videos, every other piece of the curriculum is achievable off the screen.  How?  Read on to see samples of the strategies we’ve used to help you all use real Spanish when it’s time to turn off the story video.

1. Storybooks

In each level, we’ve taken the Video Story scripts and turned them into a set of Storybooks.  Instead of the characters talking to each other in an animated video, you can read the stories together like any other book.  For example, in Level B, in Units 3 and 4, Pepe and his amigos are at a soccer game.  We combined the stories from the two units set in the soccer game into one Storybook, El partido de fútbol.  You can buy the Storybooks separately, or see all of them in our bundle.  If you aren’t confident in your Spanish, simply turn on the video in your subscription. However, instead of watching the video (screen time!), follow along in the physical book.  After a while, you and your learners will all be ready to try taking the narrator’s place!

Take a look at the first Storybook of Level B, which we’ve made available on YouTube:

2. “I Spy”

“I spy” is a fun game that anyone can play from nearly the very beginning of their language learning journey.  In Stories Online, in the very first unit of our very first level, the teacher plays “I spy” with children looking for objects that are azul, blue.  Farther along in Level B, we encourage you to add phrases like “under” or adjectives to describe the object you see. Check out the instructions that you can download whenever the game is mentioned in the subscription.

3. Dialogues

The point of language is to communicate with people, and the root of that, at the earliest stages, is asking and answering questions.  Every Video Story that underlies every unit has a story-based dialogue that contains the language focus of the unit.  At the beginning, the dialogues are the basic things children first hear from Spanish speakers: What is your name? How old are you?

As the curriculum progresses, children are exposed to more complicated dialogues.  Here’s one from Level B on receiving a gift, taken from the student Activities Book that shows children every dialogue:

But the exposure is, you guessed it, screen time. And as important as exposure is – and they won’t acquire Spanish without it – children will benefit from interaction as well.  They become more confident.  They develop motor memory for comprehensible pronunciation.  They internalize the words on an even deeper level.  In each unit, we incorporate suggestions several times in the lesson plans to move children from hearing the dialogue to actually using it.  To keep it low-risk near the beginning, we often suggest using finger puppets and stuffed animals.  (In fact, we’ve made you finger puppets of the characters.)  At the end of a unit, we love to see children confidently trying out the dialogue. They will  even start creating with it, such as switching out the gift noun in the dialogue above.

4. Calendar time (and other posters)

You can accomplish the lesson plans in Stories Online without any print resources.  Even when we recommend you use the posters, we offer you the PDF download.  However, I strongly recommend Stories Online subscribers purchase at least the poster set. Why? For one, the durable, full-color resource puts the language in an attractive format wherever you want learners to see it.

Also, the posters are laminated, which makes it so you can write on them with dry-erase markers.  In my own class of kindergarteners working through Level B, they love it when we fill in the calendar poster, write names on the family poster, or circle activities we all like to do on the “¿Qué hace?” poster.

There’s more to come: we can’t wait for you to see our new level D posters, including a supplement that gets kids exploring the monarch butterfly migration!


calendar poster

Our write-on calendar poster is a favorite feature of Level B.


5. Games

“I spy” is the easiest and first game we ask learners to play, but it’s certainly not the only one.  In Level B, you can print or purchase with the flash card set our Pesca (“Go fish”) game (pictured in action at right).  Check out Level C’s fun ways to playmMatamoscas(“Flyswatter”) or Dígalo con mímica. We’ve incorporated culturally authentic games, too. See our blog posts about the games introduced in Level B, Pañuelito and Doña Ana.

All of these games mean less screen time and more language-rich together time, even for groups without a proficient Spanish speaker.

We could go on and on about the ways Stories Online connects you and your learners off-screen, because after all, the Video Stories and song videos are the only material that “must” be done online. These five ways are a great start to give you a peek into our approach.
What about you – do you have any suggestions on how we can incorporate more real-world time into an “online” curriculum?


P.S. We love homeschoolers.



How can a teacher learn from last semester and it’s failures and successes in the world language classroom? Guest #langchat moderator Heidi Trude (@htrude07) invited teachers to reflect on that question in a recent chat.

After all, the #langchat community exists to be a place where world language teachers can collaborate and encourage each other through sharing their experiences. Reflection is a key to that growth.

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Learning from mistakes

Without considering last semester’s mistakes, teachers cannot begin to plan for next semester’s successes. @omahafrenchie shared, “speed dating with the subjunctive was a massive failure. #liveandlearn.” @MmeMORLEY shared that she went awry with “the guided essays for level II class. I didn’t scaffold the way I should before giving the essay. Many didn’t understand some of the questions from the year before.” Also, Langchat teachers learn from each other’s mistakes. @MmeCarbonneau said, “jumping into TALK interpersonals without unpacking the principles first” did not go well.  By sharing what went wrong, #langchat teachers helped each other prevent future problems in the classroom.

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Success through new strategies

The semester’s successful techniques lifted the discussion and revealed that taking a new risk with input, seating, technology, assessment and empathy can sometimes pay off. @SraWilliams3 found that “using stories to give context to vocab has shown me some amazing results in my level 1.”

As for seating, the deskless trend is gaining traction in the field, for good reason.  @MmeMORLEY shared, “having no desks in the classroom has worked really well. I’m able to work one-on-one with some and others collaborate easier.”  The new deskless format worked especially well for tall students because they could move more freely in flexible seating. They even seemed to be inspired to speak in the target language more.  But what about tasks that require a platform? She has addressed that issue by establishing procedures for writing tasks and Chromebook use.

What about technology success? @MmeCarbonneau and @htrude07 both found “huge success” using @Flipgrid.  @htrude07 commended, “Wish I would have been using this awesome tool earlier.” She also loved “using Google cardboard! My next idea is to have the students do 360 pics/video and narrate them to share with our partner school.”

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For assessment, @MmeCarbonneau also gave a positive report about “doing random, unannounced speaking and writing checks across topics for proficiency check- NOT a grade.” Fresh perspectives were beneficial for teacher @CatherineOusselin. “Acknowledging that many of our students are going through stressful moments reminds me to create experiences that promote a calm and inviting atmosphere.”

What brought joy and success in your language classroom last semester?

Overcoming Challenges and Accomplishing Goals

Next, participants turned to discussing achievements students had accomplished, especially in producing output even at the lowest levels. @MadameCarbonneau exulted in that her students could write “an entire letter in French [without] being afraid to do so despite being novices!” @hrude07 had first-year French learners that “were very quiet” and reluctant to participate before she introduced @Flipgrid and @AdobeSpark.  With these tools as part of the lessons, learners “let their walls down. Never had a class that was like this bunch! They have come a long way!”

With her more advanced class, @MmeMORLEY was proud that her “level four students could debate about the concept of beauty without help.”

Indeed, teachers have so much to be proud of when their students show improvement in what they can do in the target language!

For you:

What have you learned or changed based on past “mistakes”?  What has brought joy and success in your language classroom in recent months?  What achievements are your students showing because of your commitment and support?

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Thank You

Thank you to all of the #langchat teachers who shared their experiences and participated in this langchat. Many thanks also to Heidi Trude (@htrude07) for her sincere and honest guest leadership for this special edition of #langchat.