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.

– Follow the blog on Bloglovin

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.

– Like Calico Spanish on Facebook

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.

– Follow Calico Spanish on Twitter

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.


So, how are you today? ¿Cómo estás?

It’s one of the first things we teach our learners to understand and answer, and for good reason.  Particularly young children will hear “How old are you?” quite a bit, and of course “What’s your name?” but right up there in the most common questions anyone hears in any context is

¿Cómo estás?

We were inspired by a video we saw in another language recently to create one for your early Spanish learners.  In our video, our Stories Online characters ask “¿Cómo estás?” and introduce children to six ways to answer this common question.  After the introduction, we invite children to use one of the suggested answers to let you know how they’re doing today.  This lesson video is perfect for classes from preschool to kindergarten to upper elementary school.

The characters and suggested answers in the video come from the Video Stories that are the foundation of our Stories Online program.  In Stories Online, children interact with real language as our animal characters talk and play in fun, engaging video stories.  Each unit in a Stories Online level is based on a single story with 10-12 lesson plans of ways to interact with and supplement the stories to keep kids engaged in acquiring real language to use with real people.  Exploring 100% of our content for free (with no credit card required) is as easy as visiting our homepage and looking for the red button.

To accompany the video, we created a free activity sheet (see below) for children to use to help them answer this very common question.  So, what are the suggested answers in the video and sheet?

  • Estoy bien
  • Estoy mal
  • Estoy cansada*
  • Estoy feliz
  • Estoy muy bien
  • Estoy aburrido*

Here’s the video!

To download the activity sheet with both versions included, click here.

*The gender of the adjectives cansada and aburrido on the activity sheet matches the gender of the character illustrating those answers.

How can learners given less than 90 minutes per week for language class develop real proficiency?

They can’t, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Maximize Pt 3 homeUnless, that is, they have additional time outside of class to receive comprehensible input and interact in the language.  But how will they get this extra time?  In this short blog series, we’ve offered a few tips on how you can maximize your district or school time limits for better student outcomes.

First, we suggested you leverage the learners’ computer time.  Second, we recommended you team up with the library using resources like audiobooks including our own original Storybooks with their accompanying audio.  In this last post in the series, let’s talk about how you…

Send it home!

The answer is simple: if they don’t get enough time with you, they have to get enough time with you plus someone else, and why not partner with the folks at home?  Every teacher can be more successful by partnering with the learner’s family, and world language is no exception.

Here are some ways I’ve connected my students with the language outside of class.

Find a partner.

When I reflected on my own language journey, I remembered that having real people to talk to was my primary motivation to keep going, even when it got hard.  My proficiency path has names: Edith. Margarita. Gerardo.  Realizing this made me wonder: was I helping my learners find this world of people to talk to?  I wasn’t.  So I made an amigo a required school supply.  Some kids end up following through and some don’t, but all of my students know that finding a real person to speak real Spanish to is important.

Some learners will know someone in their circle of family or friends that they can practice conversation with, and for others, you can tell parents about tools like The Mixxer (a questionable title to be sure, but I’ve had great success with it) or post a message to a quarter of a million language teachers on the Edmodo world languages community- someone probably has some young learners willing to partner with yours!  Mine are starting their communication this week with a group of 12-year-olds on the island of Mallorca.


Got a local international festival? Tell your learners and their families about it!

Go to a community event.

What community events could your learners get involved in?  We have a great local festival called WorldFest that shows off the best of world cultures in our area, including a lot of food, fun, music, and language from the Spanish-speaking cultures.  Also, our state language organization puts on a statewide language showcase competition that welcomes upper elementary students.

Play TicTacTó.

Then, there’s the internet.  There is so much variety available in ways kids can interact with Spanish online in safe and fun ways.  But how to show them where to go, and how will you know what they did?  Try assigning TicTacTó, a 3×3 grid of activities you can simply send home every week.  Ask children to complete three activities in a row to complete TicTacTó and return it to you.  They’ll love taking some ownership over their learning, and you’ll have a quick way to see and assess whether your students are spending some time on Spanish outside of class!  We’ve made a TicTacTó board for you here, in a Google Doc you can print as-is or easily copy and fill in with your own activities.

This type of activity isn’t only good for extending time during the school year – send it home during summer vacation and other extended breaks and encourage parents to help kids keep the learning going year-round!

Don’t keep those activities to yourself, though!  Share in the comments below: what activities can kids do at home that keeps them successfully interacting with the target language?  (Check out more of my ideas in my homework choice document for early learners.)

Ever heard someone say, “I took two years in high school and I can say hola and taco“?
That story doesn’t have to be your learners’ story.
Their stories can be Calico Spanish Stories Online.


What’s the top complaint of elementary world language teachers?  TIME.

MAXIMIZE YOUR DISTRICT%2FSCHOOL TIME LIMITSI cannot tell you how often I hear teachers and world language district specialists alike lament the prevailing mood in schools and districts that we really ought to be producing better results in language proficiency in our younger learners, and we really ought to be doing it in 1/5 of the time high school teachers have.

Seriously, I meet a lot of teachers, and I rarely meet a teacher who has more than 90 minutes per week with her students, and even those are rare.  Thirty to 40 minutes is more typical, and as for me, I see my elementary kids once a week for 60 minutes, and when I was in a formal school situation I saw my early learners for 20 minutes per week.

What are you going to do in 20 minutes per week?

Not much, unless you get creative.

Welcome to our short series on ways you can maximize your limited time with your early learners.  Here’s tip #1 – and stay tuned til the bottom, where I share a great new free platform we discovered for creating interactive, kid-friendly games.

Team up with the computer teacher.

Sure, my students only saw me 20 minutes per week, but I’m not the only source of input, and they also saw their computer teacher for at least that amount of time per week.  Take a walk down the hall and chat over a coffee with your techy colleague and try to come up with a plan where the students’ computer time can sometimes kill two birds with one stone: give more Spanish exposure and interaction, AND create technology learning opportunities.

But what will they do?

Explore authentic children’s content

Many sites created for Spanish-speaking children contain safe, accessible language for your learners, too.  What about watching a pictocuento or singing Disney karaoke or doing a geography quiz?

Go shopping

Children can get some interesting exposure to intercultural differences and similarities.  What about exploring the toys section of Amazon Spain?  Kids can even create a wish list and email it to you!

Schedule some fun

Schedules for kid-friendly festivals are easy to find and often have their schedules (dates! days! activity words! times!) online.  Can your learners plan, for example, what they want to check out at the Festival Internacional del Globo?

Play a game

Try our animal identification games on Sugarcane!

Try our animal identification games on Sugarcane!

New interactive game sites are making it easier and easier for you to develop games directly related to your content that kids can play on their own time and in computer class.  Quizlets on your class vocabulary immediately come to mind.

Even better, we’ve recently discovered Sugarcane, a new platform we really like, and we used the fun animal characters from the Calico Spanish Stories & Homeschool programs to create five different games related to animal words, identification, and description.  In all we’ve created 38 Spanish learning games on the Sugarcane platform.  Check them out and share the games with your learners’ computer teacher.  Then, try creating your own Sugarcane game!

 “Collaboration is THE 21st-century skill. Real collaboration is NOT cheating.”

This wonderful quote from @SECottrell at last Thursday’s #langchat summed up the value that most world language teachers feel is inherent in collaboration activities. While some teachers believe that collaboration can put undue pressure on the few who may do a majority of work, #langchat teachers overwhelmingly believe what @KrisClimer said: “Collaboration is sharing. Communication is sharing. Period.”

Even though world language teachers agree that collaboration is a vital part of their teaching process, they also agree that it is important to continually find new ways to engage students with activities that are level-appropriate and supportive of growth in the target language.

– Follow the blog on Bloglovin

Different Ways to Collaborate

When @CoLeeSensei started the discussion about collaborative activities, it became clear right away that everyone is dealing with different skill sets, backgrounds and aptitudes in their classes. @katchiringa said, “Differences: multiple grade levels, backgrounds (WL and other), interest, proficiency… the list goes on.”

Despite this vast list of differences that teachers see in their world language classrooms, the major schisms break down into grade level and proficiency level. Many #langchat teachers have multiple grades that they teach during one period, so they have to account for differences in learning styles and cognitive ability (especially at the lower grade levels). Teachers with older students may find that cognitive abilities are more closely related, but that proficiency levels vary dramatically. @trescolumnae said, “Even when students are ‘theoretically’ on the same level, proficiency differences can be vast!”

– Like Calico Spanish on Facebook –

Encouraging Inter-Proficiency Interaction

@CoLeeSensei asked #langchat teachers, “Does anyone find that they have to ‘teach’ kids how to work with those less proficient? And if so – how?”

There were a number of responses, but most teachers felt that students generally tended toward collaboration, even with less proficient students. @katchiringa said, “Luckily, most of my students are conscientious of lower levels, with some notable exceptions.”

@KrisClimer shared a keen insight: “Lots of strong [students] just don’t like to collaborate at first.” In order to get students collaborating, it is vital to overcome prior collaborative experiences that may have been negative. @trescolumnae said, “True, especially if ‘collaboration’ in the past meant ‘you do all the work but somebody else gets the credit.’ So much depends on the students’ prior experiences! It’s harder for students who got ‘made to help’ without enough support.”

In order to overcome these obstacles, a number of suggestions were made, with @lclarcq giving a great list in order of importance. @lclarcq encouraged teachers to do “…lots of modeling first, reduce the competitive atmosphere second, and create opportunities to highlight other strengths third.”

– Follow Calico Spanish on Twitter

Keeping Collaboration in the Target Language

The other key question was about keeping student interaction in the target language. Teachers mentioned ideas like collaboration grades, motivational points given or participation points taken away for English use. @KrisClimer made an important point: “Large classes require target language use buy-in because you’re WAY outnumbered.”

Specific Ideas to Keep Them in the Target Language:

1. Rubrics. @CoLeeSensei said, “One of the items on my rubrics is always “didn’t use any English” – kids really key on that as a positive!
2. Use a Timer. @katchiringa said, “sometimes timing target language-only use helps reduce stress for students. Then, add more time as days go on…”
3. Establish Target Language Use Early. @SrtaTeresa said, “It’s important from the start to emphasize the importance of only using TL so that students buy into it.”
4. Provide Consequences. @alenord said, “Keeping groups in target language is easy with conversation strips. Strips of paper with points from 0-100 in tens. Hear English? Clip pts off!”
5. Provide Rewards. @alenord said, “Also, I have a Powerpoint with points on it. Take points off the whole group or add back. Very motivating!”

15 Great Collaborative Activities for World Language Classes

1. Mentoring

Having advanced students prepare lessons for less proficient students is a great way to get them collaborating across proficiency levels. @trescolumnae said, “One thing that works well is for more-proficient [students] to create ‘stuff’ (stories/videos/whatever) for less-proficient classmates.” @jas347 said, “Intermediates ask questions and novices answer them. It allows novices to feel like they’re really communicating!”

2. Centers

Creating “centers” or “stations” for students to rotate through allows them to interact more fully with each other and learn the content in different ways. By setting up stations that teach a concept using differentiated instruction (audible, physical and visual), students learn the material multiple times, and it provides lots of opportunities for collaboration and discussion.

3. Skits/Videos

@katchiringa said, “It’s old-school, but skits/videos allow for all diff types to work together well (if it goes right).” @SECottrell said, “I also love it when students do videos, assigning each other roles, etc.” @KrisClimer said, “My Level 1’s performed their RAP for video cam and in front of class today. Collaboration was effusive applause for one and all.”

4. Embedded Readings

In embedded reading, more advanced readers can progress farther and then create appropriate reading selections for lower levels. Not only do these types of readings allow for each reader to understand at their own proficiency level, it provides interaction between the levels. @CoLeeSensei said, “It’s a great way for uppers to learn how to communicate with those not so proficient – good communication skills needed!”

5. Interpersonal Games

Games are a fun way to easily get students to collaborate. @KrisClimer said, “Play helps with collaboration. I like games where info has to be shared, etc.” @ldpricha said, “Most of my activities don’t have a product. We use games and I teach them phrases and let them “mix it up” with their own vocabulary.”

Some Fun Games to Try Are:
Verb Relay Race
White Board Pictionary
Row Races
Scavenger Hunts
More Ideas…

6. Interviews

@SrtaTeresa said, “I think that short interviews can be useful, especially when the students have to find common ground despite differing abilities.” Not only that, but interviews can connect students to their family and larger communities.

7. Blogging

Blogging can be very collaborative, as long as you maintain interaction on your blog. @KrisClimer suggests having a requirement for posting in order for collaboration to be counted: “For me to assign grade, have to see one, then two, then three comments on someone else’s comment.”

8. Small Group Sharing

Small group and pair sharing seems to be the #langchat teachers’ favorite collaboration tool of all. Teachers love having students discuss weekend plans, global questions and internalize classroom activities with their small groups. @CoLeeSensei said, “I use partners a lot too! They seem to risk/help more when they work with another! @SECottrell said, “Whenever we do stations activities, students always work in partners. It’s more fun and more scaffolding.”

9. Jigsaw

In a Jigsaw activity, students are put into main groups (home groups) of no more than 4. Then, each member goes to a secondary group (specialty group). After they work with their specialty group, they come back to their home group and teach their information. Finally, the whole group presents their findings in a project, live presentation or report.

10. Peer Feedback

@alenord said, “Peer assessment and feedback is always good for collaboration!” @trescolumnae said, “Yes, definitely. Peer feedback really changes the feeling in the class – not just ‘for the teacher’ anymore.”

11. Witness a News Event

@SECottrell said, “This is an activity I love to do with the news: ‘witness’ a news event.” In this activity, students in small groups become familiar with a news story in the target language, including past events and key details. Then, they switch group in Jigsaw style and become interviewers/interviewees for a videotaped ‘News Report.’”

12. Philosophical Chairs

@LauraJaneBarber shared one of her favorite activities that encourage discussion in the target language. She explained, “Basically, you pose a statement. Students outline arguments for and against the statement and then pick a side–brainstorm w/ partner. Then they sit on different sides of the room and each side takes turns posing arguments. If they hear a good argument, they can change to other side. At the end, they process the whole activity including the number of times people changed sides, the final position, what good arguments were heard, etc. Doing it in the target language is a plus, but it’s also great for debating cultural topics like Columbus Day/DDLR.”

13. 6 Thinking Hats

@jennifer_spain suggested using the “6 thinking hats” concept as a way of approaching group collaboration. In this collaboration form, there are 6 main ways of thinking about a problem: Information, Emotions, Discernment, Optimistic Response, Creativity, and Process Management. Each student would then choose one of these ways to think about a problem (maybe in small groups of 2-4), then the class would come together to work out the best solution incorporating each different element.

14. Group Storytelling

Reflecting and retelling as a class can be much less stressful than doing individual summaries of target language reading. @jackimorris23 said, “With big #s I also do group retells of stories to teacher – they practice together and I can give a little feedback to each person.”

15. Collaborate on Collaboration

Let your students be involved in the process of defining what good collaboration is and how it should be graded. @LauraJaneBarber said, “The first week of school we collaborated about what collaboration is and created norms.” This hands-on approach to the concept of collaboration is much more likely to encourage buy-in from the students and participation in collaboration activities throughout the year.

– Follow us on Instagram too! –

Thank You

We’d like to thank @CoLeeSensei for keeping our conversation collaborative and informative. #Langchat relies on a committed group of volunteer moderators. Read more about the #langchat team and weekly chat on the official #langchat wiki. There you will also find links to complete archives of all our chats.

Do you have questions or suggestions for our next #langchat topic? We want to hear what you think about our professional learning network and what you’d like to learn from it. Give us your suggestions for future #langchat discussions and help us all become better teachers!

Additional Resources

3 Quick and Easy Google Doc Collaborative Activities
Embedded Reading Resources
Online Collaborative Activities in French
Assessment Rubric for Blogs, Conversations
Conversation Circles – 45 Minutes in Target Language (@CoLeeSensei)
Collaborative Kinesthetic Matching
The Power of the Pair (@CoLeeSensei)
Collaborative Jigsaw Reading

Thanks to everyone who joined us Thursday evening for a wonderful #langchat, and especially to our moderator, @DiegoOjeda66! Our topic was on three to five minute motivators, or warm ups, to get students ready for class — and participants blew us away with all the fantastic suggestions! We shared so many great ideas and resources for use in the world language classroom that it was difficult to include them all, but the summary is below or you can view the full archive in Google Docs. Grab a cup of coffee and be prepared to come back a few times, the amount of ideas that teachers shared is staggering!

Easiest way for busy teachers to catch every update: follow the blog on Bloglovin’

Quick Motivatorsand Warm-upsfor World LanguageClassesWhat Are Motivators and Why Do We Use Them?

Motivators, warm ups and bell ringers are all activities that are great ways to get the ball rolling in class (@dr_dmd). These activities get students interested, engaged and ready to study. In our chat, we used the three terms interchangeably, though “bell ringer” often refers to a warm up or activity used at the beginning of class.

As a mini poll within #langchat, @tmsaue1 asked participants why they do these activities — what purpose are teachers trying to achieve? Everyone shared their reasons, with some of the answers highlighted below.

  • @SECottrell thinks the first requirement of motivators is to have a communicative purpose to get students thinking in the target language — it can’t just be a “well, let’s transition to language class” moment.
  • @klafrench uses bell ringers to activate prior knowledge and get students comfortable using, seeing and listening to the language again.
  • @ZJonesSpanish also uses bell ringers to engage students upon arrival in class and as a class management and scheduling tool.
  • @katchiringa likes how bell ringers keep kids focused while she takes attendance and checks homework. She also uses them to recall information, transition to the day’s lesson and spot-check problem areas.
  • @lisamonthie uses motivators to check and fix problem areas and common misconceptions.
  • @dr_dmd thinks motivators are great to use not only because they’re fun, but also for spontaneity and adding energy to the classroom. They’re also quick assessments of comprehension and communication.
  • @mmebrady put it simply: “brain activation.” @lisamonthie stated the same a little more directly:

If the bum is numb, so is the brain.

– Follow Calico Spanish on Twitter

When Should Language Teachers Use Motivators in Class?

What do your students do when the bell rings?

What do your students do when the bell rings?

Bell ringers are motivators primarily used at the beginning of class, before or just after the bell rings. Motivators and warm ups are great to use at other times, as well, though. @DiegoOjeda66 thinks that we should use motivators throughout class to keep students engaged. He likes to use several short activities as transitions. In planning transitions and activities, @SECottrell thinks it’s important to remember that students’ low point of interest is 20 or more minutes. So, in a 50-minute class, students need two warm-up or motivator activities.

Most participants use short motivators, usually no more than five minutes long. Many teachers let students work in bell ringers upon arrival, but they don’t have to finish until five minutes after the bell rings. @SECottrell likes to use motivators about halfway through the class to regain momentum and focus kids on the second half. @lisamonthie’s uses one activity about 25 minutes into class and another to close and recap the lesson.

Motivator and Warm Up Ideas for the Foreign Language Classroom

Participants shared an enormous amount of activities and ideas for motivator activities, and we’ve included a list of them below. Motivators often combine more than one area of application, from speaking, listening, reading or writing. Some activities focus on student-created content, others on recall of the last lesson. All are brief, interactive assignments that can get kids engaged in class and applying the target language.

In planning activities, several teachers like letting students pick the area or content to increase engagement and target-language practice. For example, when speaking, @msfrenchteach likes to let students choose their own scenarios; when writing, @klafrench likes to let students choose a topic that they can relate to.

Several teachers use videos, readings and songs to introduce a topic or set the mood for class. @katchiringa and @ZJonesSpanish like to use songs, sometimes with dancing! For reading, try comics. @spanishplans suggests GoComics.com for Spanish-language comics.

For discussion with songs, @karacjacobs watches a music video in the target language and then discusses the video with students. @dr_dmd often uses short videos on YouTube — there are many available — followed by a review to get students interested and engaged in class.

In addition to introducing the topic, songs are great ways to practice listening, comprehension and even writing. @spanishplans cuts up the lyrics to songs and puts them in envelopes. Students listen to the songs and put the lyrics in the correct order.

To practice speaking, writing, listening and imagination, @DiegoOjeda66 makes class stories where each kid adds one word to the narrative. A variation is for the teacher to begin telling the story of what he did the day before and students must finish the tale.

Quite a few participants like to start each day with some small conversation and greeting practice between students to get them comfortable using the target language. Simply greeting and responding to greetings is effective, but higher-level students can also have quick, paired speaking activities.

  • For example, @katchiringa likes to use a Turn and Talk activity. In these, students get a simple question for conversation starters and must speak with their neighbors.
  • Another example by @lisamonthie is a Take Three Steps activity where students must find a partner or small group. Once paired up, students use the target language to share something they learned yesterday.
  • Many participants use quick circumlocution activities that involve students walking around and speaking with their peers, like @ZJonesSpanish’s P-P-P (Pregunta-Pregunta-Pasa). In his activity, students are given prewritten questions as they walk in. They then walk around and find a partner, ask a question, answer their partners’ question and then switch questions and find new partners. Questions get passed around very quickly and students get a good amount of repetition as well. A variation on this is to give students cards with words on them. Students have to make a sentence, listen to a sentence and then exchange cards.
Seriously, keep this post in your bookmarks & Pins to reference every time you lesson plan!

Seriously, keep this post in your bookmarks & Pins to reference every time you lesson plan!

Many suggestions focused on using prompts (best if authentic!) or other conversation topics to hold class discussions rather than pair work.

  • A few participants suggested an easy speaking exercise that lowers kids’ barriers: put on funny hats or wigs and discuss a topic.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 projects the front page of a target-language newspaper and discusses the news with students.
  • If you use Edmodo in your class, @lesliedavison suggests pulling up the comments from the night before and discussing in Spanish. Students usually are interested to read what their classmates have written. Similarly, @msfrenchteach has students who like to listen to the previous day’s Google Voice messages.
  • @tiesamgraf uses the site Awkward Family Photos as a writing or speaking prompt — be sure to preview and select some pictures before class!
  • @SECottrell made a short authentic discussion activity from trending topics on #4palabrasqueduelen for students; check it out at her blog.
  • The M&M Game is great for warm ups, according to @klafrench. In this game, students can take as many M&Ms as they like from a jar — but they owe you one sentence for each. Students can write sentences or produce oral statements. This can be really fun if you explain the rules after students take their candy! For variations, try different candies, culturally appropriate candy, toilet paper (don’t eat!) or healthy foods such as baby carrots.
  • @mmebrady suggests using a beach ball as a quick speaking activity for students. Each color represents a different topic; students toss the ball around and use the color that is touching their left thumb.
  • Some teachers use polls to get students talking and discussing ideas. @mmebrady suggests using a quick text message poll from a poll service such as Poll Everywhere. @lisamonthie uses Corkboard.me.

Several teachers use short bell ringers to review with students. Some like to use this for lower-level students only, while at higher levels students can do more free writing. These questions are often written, and students begin working on them when they enter the classroom. Oral review questions are also great, but make sure that all students are involved rather than a few volunteers.

  • @lisamonthie does a variant called Find the Fib. Students create several sentences reviewing the previous lesson’s content, one of which is false. @SECottrell likes Two Truths and a Lie.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 uses past projects to create Trivial Pursuit questions with students; they then play at the beginning of class as a fun review activity.

Written bell ringers don’t have to be only for review, though. Many participants use writing to get students comfortable thinking and using the target language rather than to test what they remember from the previous lesson.

  • @dr_dmd and @msfrenchteach like to show a picture and ask students to write quickly about the image. Students can describe what they see or what they think happened before and after the picture was taken.
  • @tiesamgraf plays instrumental music and asks the kids to write a narrative while imagining the story of the song.
  • @mmebrady will play short videos with no sound, and students have to write the soundtrack.
  • @lisamonthie uses a quick activity where students write everything they know about a concept within one minute, then meet in pairs and discuss and share their information.

Cloze activities are great listening exercises for warm up and review. Check out @ZJonesSpanish’s site for some Spanish ideas. Cloze activities work well with commercials, too; check out @SECottrell’s list of Spanish commercials on Google Docs. Add your own, if you’d like.

Bell ringers are commonly used to review vocabulary. @DiegoOjeda66 suggests that these are best suited for before class to review content, rather than as a motivator in the middle of class or to transition to new activities.

  • To practice as a class, @lisamonthie lines students up and asks them to spell words together. One student, one letter.
  • Another vocabulary activity is to give students a number and they must come up with words in the target language that have that many letters — this activity, suggested by @DiegoOjeda66, has many variations, such as requiring words to start with a particular letter.
  • To keep students excited, @lisamonthie writes vocabulary on sticky notes and attaches them to a Frisbee. Students toss the Frisbee around class and pick words to define. If they define a word correctly, they keep the note; the student with the most at the end of class wins.
  • For a speaking vocabulary activity, @alenord likes to use Taboo as a model and have kids define words without using the word.
  • Another interactive idea is to have students roll a die to determine the action they use to define a target word to the rest of class. Actions can be explaining, drawing or acting.

Icebreakers are also great to start or transition class. These activities put kids at ease and allow them to practice simple sentences. An example suggested by @alenord is the classic no-smile, no-laugh response. Students ask one of their classmates questions in the target language and their classmate — who can’t smile — can only answer with a humorous word, such as “queso” in Spanish. @dr_dmd likes to pin a picture of a well-known individual on the back of a student, who then has to ask the class yes/no questions to guess who he is.

@louvre2012 likes to involve kids in bell ringers by letting students play as the teacher. A student comes to the front and asks the others questions.

For other ideas, @alenord says that sometimes a great warm up is just a rapid-fire version of a previous activity. If students make skits, for example, have them repeat the skit to the best of their memory the next day.

– Follow us on Instagram too! –

Activity Resources

Several teachers provided links to lists of additional ideas, tools or resources, or blog posts describing bell ringer and motivator techniques.

  • @spanishplans posted about using bell ringers in level 1 classes on this Web site.
  • Check out the @Musicuentos Brain Break Pinterest board.
  • Several teachers recommend the Fruit Machine tool from ClassTools.net to assist with short motivators in the classroom. This tool allows you to input a list of names, words or sentences and then it will randomly choose an item from the list for your use.
  • @ZJonesSpanish just released a collection of 15 bell ringers for Spanish-language classes.
  • @mmebrady suggests using Paper.li for students to create a newspaper using RSS feeds or Twitter.
  • @LevansHHS recommends Quia for lots of different activities and tools, from Jeopardy to flashcards, battleship to Web quests.


Thank You!

Wow. Thanks again to all the participants of Thursday’s #langchat, which was one of the most furious and engaging chats we’ve had. There were some terrific resources and games shared, and this summary or the archives is most certainly worth bookmarking to come back and review over and over again. I’m sure everyone can take something away from all the fantastic ideas.

Be sure to check out our wiki at http://www.langchat.pbworks.com/, and monitor the #langchat hashtag for news about next Thursday’s topic — don’t forget to vote and choose the subject you’d most like to discuss!