AAPPL Interpersonal Prep

FlipGrid has been a wonderful tool to expand the boundaries of our little classroom here in Iowa. Sometimes I appreciate giving my students the opportunity to talk and connect with other language learning students (and teachers) so they can hear different vocabulary and patterns of talking.

This year I am prepping my students to take the AAPPL test for the first time now that Iowa has adopted the Seal of Biliteracy. Interpersonal communication and conversation is the skill they seem most concerned about and one that I’m trying to make a focal point in our classes this semester. We’ve been doing lots of fishbowl discussions, self-assessments, four-corner speaking activities etc.

I’ve looked at the interpersonal conversation topics for this years AAPPL test and created some basic FlipGrid grids where students can post comments and prompt discussions with others by asking questions and responding to each other. We will continue to dive into this through the semester but would love the opportunity for other students to jump into the conversation with us.

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Right now I’m using it as an “all-in” class activity once a week. As we progress through the Spring it will probably become a voluntary activity. If you are Spanish teacher and have any students prepping for the AAPPL or any students willing to practice their Novice and Intermediate conversational skills, please join the convo with us on FlipGrid!


Anchor Statement Activity

One of my favorite one-day activities is called Anchor Statements. It’s pretty low prep and can be stretched in many different directions to fit the needs of any classroom any group or learners.

One handout that I think is helpful in keeping this activity organized is my Anchor Statement Handout (available for free here). You could do the this activity on plain paper as well but I find students sometimes struggle with spacing when left to their own interpretations.

Before Class

I create a slide with a variety of different sentences. I try to have them related to each other but also have a variety. I incorporate as many repetitions of target structures as I can. If you want to make this lower prep you could do the same thing any text and not create your own slide…just use the text as your source.

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A sample of the slide I make with a set of phrases using related targets

In Class

Students briefly see the phrases and then see how many they understand. Then students get their handout. They choose one anchor statement and write that done on the anchor line. Then I set the timer for three minutes and in the large box above, students draw and illustration of their phrase.


Students fold back the anchor statement so that no one can see it. We then swap papers so everyone has a new paper. Most of the time I play music and just like musical chairs when the music stops, you sit down at a new desk. At the new desk students must interpret the picture and write down which phrase from the collection of phrases they think the anchor statement is.

They fold back their guess revealing only #2 and #3. We continue rotating until all 3 guesses have been made. Then students return to see their original paper.


Extension and Variations

  • Instead of writing your guesses make this an interpersonal activity where students speak to each other and say their guess (maybe even asking questions and describing their images)
  • There are a lot of things that can be done with the anchor statements when the rotating and guessing are over. My favorite way to use these statements is in short writing activities. I typically have the students pair up–making sure that students that chose the same anchor statement are NOT together. They then have to write a short paragraph that attempts to combine their two phrases.
  • Instead of copying/guessing a phrase from the original bank of phrases, rotating students could add an original sentence related to the image to stretch out the writing practice.
  • I will usually keep the papers, cut off the sentences so I’m left with just the drawings and use them in later activities or assessments. Sometimes we use the images and interpersonal and describing practice and sometimes they use them as writing prompts. Since the images are based on familiar targets, it’s an easy way to generate possibilities without having to do the prep work myself.

This activity always yields strong comprehension results and really strengthens my student’s abilities to use familiar targets in sentences.  I hope that, if you try it, your students will enjoy it too!

Download the free handout at my TPT Store

Muyamables: Campaign of Positivity

As a psychology teacher, I’m well aware of the educational impact of social and emotional problems facing young people. A foreign language classroom (and any classroom dependent on communication with others) thrives when a sense of community is built and where students have the opportunity to feel good about themselves. I wanted to find a way to continue to build community and connections while also opening up a positive dialogue between the students.

Last year I was inspired by this post from Viviana Tracy. Her post echoes many of my desires for a positive classroom climate and I loved the way she set-up her system. I committed to doing something similar this year with my Spanish 3 classes and I have been very pleased with the outcomes.

Student Introduction

I preloaded a lot of vocabulary and sentence starters with my kids. I used some of the materials from TPT and made my own Quizlet links too.

My major kickoff to the kids was the creation of a poster. Each student had their computer open to a Google Drawing where they put their name in the middle of the Google Drawing. The computers were spread out across the room and angled so the screens could not be seen. Then students quietly rotated around the room and added a muyamable phrase or compliment to each poster. We talked about depth of thought and making the comments meaningful (I’m inspired by you vs. I like your hair). I challenged them to not be superficial but to rather take the opportunity to anonymously tell these people something good about themselves.

I knew I was on the right track with this project when one of my students commented that they would never be able to say some of these kind words to the student’s face. We had some interesting side conversations about why that is: Why can’t we say kind things to our peers? Why do we need it to be veiled and anonymous? (A philosophical post for another time)

hayden arians - cumplidos de companerosThe finished products were these little posters with sayings on them. I enjoyed reading their comments. Grammatically they were a little rough but my goal here was interpersonal communication—-can you communicate your thoughts to someone well enough that they can understand what you are saying?

Mail Time

After that initial kickoff I had a better idea of the common errors we were making in expression of thoughts and did some pop-up grammar lessons. Meanwhile I also had them decorate a library pocket. This pocket would serve as their classroom mailbox.

Each student was assigned a number for their mailbox. Then each student received a slip of paper with three numbers on it. Their tasks was to write a positive comment or muyamables to these three individuals. I would review them for appropriateness (and possibly for assessment) and then cut them out to deliver them to the appropriate mailbox.

Slips of paper with assigned students. Each number corresponds to a student.

Making of the Slips

I’m decently skilled at making Google Sheets formulas do what I want so I built these slips using Google Sheets.  Here is a video of my Sheet but essentially I listed my roster of students with their mailbox number. Each student receives three random mailbox numbers next to their name and then on another sheet I formatted the boxes to pull in the data in a printable arrangement.

You’ve Got Mail

I have a large envelope that serves as the major mailbox for our muyamables. Students can’t directly deliver mail without it passing through my eyes/mailbox. One way to control that is that our mailboxes aren’t easily accessible without me noticing. Each student’s library pocket is posted on paper hanging inside my closet doors in the back of the room. They are in numerical order. On days when I review the muyamable papers, I cut out the slips so there is no identifying info of the author. Each numerical slip is put into the corresponding mailbox.

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Mail day is always a fun day. The slips mean more to certain kids than others but you never know the impact a positive compliment or statement will have on someone. I have been behind the scenes so I know who is writing what and just in the few weeks we’ve been doing this, I’ve been touched by the realness and honesty some students are showing. Plus—-they are doing this in the target language! I’ve started to notice that students are learning and retaining the vocabulary that others are using to describe them. The comments are meaningful  on a few different levels.

Unit Overview

The muyamables project was one piece of a Unit I did about exploring and celebrating our individual differences. We used it as a part of this Unit but it’s something that will now continue for the rest of the school year. Sometimes I will grade these comments and sometimes I won’t. I mostly just want to keep the momentum of building a community.

You can join our community on Instagram at @espanoldhs.


Advice from Dr. Ross

I’ve often marveled at the life lessons and information I’ve learned from television. Some people read literary classics. I absorb television. Sometime in 1997 I heard a line from a TV show and it meant nothing to me. But this resurfaced one day and it’s something I constantly remind myself as a teacher trying to find balance.

Dr. Douglas Ross is a fictional pediatrician from the show “ER” played by George Clooney. He’s a sentimental yet conflicted character that quietly inspires others through his words and kind smirk. In the Season 4 premier episode (the live action one, for any ER aficionados), Clooney’s character tells a story about visiting his mom at work when he was a child. He noticed that she did not have any photos of him or her family in her office and asked her why. She replied:

Never confuse where you work with where you live

There are a lot of professions that take a toll on a person, like doctors in the ER. It is necessary to detach and remove yourself from your professional work.

Teaching is not exactly the same as an emergency room doctor. Not to say that teachers don’t deal with significant and impactful events of similar severity at times. But lucky is the teacher that walks out of the professional setting without lugging work home.

Instead of a picture of my family, I’m just putting this in a frame on my desk as a reminder. Or is that too weird?

I try to remind myself of this regularly. In attempting to find a balance as a teacher and as a human person/mom/wife, it’s important to set and obey boundaries. My classroom is not where I live. It’s a huge part of me and who I am, but I am something separate too. I need a reminder to watch my lanes and ask myself where I am.

Of course there are challenges. I’m in a small community and teach at the same small district as my husband. My students have been and are caretakers of my child outside of school. I talk about my life a lot during psychology class when applicable. There are a lot of blurred lines. BUT I can still do what I can to maintain some balance and not end up confused.

This blog is primarily my professional workspace. Yet this entry (as are others) skew to be just personal reflections and musings. Probably valuable to no one.

Today’s Instagram challenge (#janteacherchallenge19) from Mis Clases Locas was All About Me and I started to wonder: under which profile do I post?

I created my separate classroom profile years ago for many reasons. It’s disorienting have separate identities, separate networks of connections, separate threads of discussions, etc. There is a lot of blending that goes on behind these two accounts. Sometimes I double post. Sometimes I choose between them carefully. Sometimes I just go with whichever was open last on the app. I try not to confuse where I live with where I work but sometimes that process is confusing.

#MyFive Blog Inspirations of 2018

Like many teachers looking to improve teaching a foreign language, I owe a lot to Martina Bex and the Comprehensible Classroom. To close out 2018 she called upon us to reflect on #myfive recommended blogs or bloggers and it was a great reminder to me how powerful this #langchat community can be.

I’m trying not to do a lot of work over this break so I can truly enjoy some time with my family but receiving notifications and being reminded of those who have improved my life in 2018 makes me feel grateful. Here are #myfive blog posts (and educators) that have lifted my professional soul this year:

Any Kara Jacobs CI post using a song

My most used bookmark takes me to Kara Jacobs. I love seeing all the ways she breaks down a song, creates a story and drives assessments from one core piece of material. They are great hooks and the results always….ALWAYS work for my kids.


My deep admiration and fangirling of Laura Sexton aside, this website has inspired two major shifts for this year. The introduction on PUEDOS has spiced up interpersonal communication and flooded my room with target language. Love it. And after hearing Laura at IWLA18, I’ve made a hard commitment to align with AAPPL rubrics and started using her AAPPL bites. The students like the realness of this rubric and it’s really helped me clarify my expectations.

Maris Hawkins

All things on her blog are brillante and I especially love her dedication to technologies. Her posts on improving using novels is a great guide for me because it’s so reflective and prompts me to feel comfortable making some changes after I can identify what it is that is not working.

Puentes to CI Compliments Campaign

I struggle with wanting to be all cultural and target language all the time and trying to address social emotional needs of my students. I came across this post last year and committed to trying something similar this year. The end result is my Muyamables envelopes (that I will be blogging about sometime soon!) and I owe so much of my experience to this post. This product on TPT was a great source of inspiration.

The Movement Game with Sarah Breckley

One of the reasons I seek out ideas on the internet is because I recognize my internal limitations. The high energy, cheerleader type magnetism that I lack, Sarah Breckley has in abundance and I go to her blog when I need a shot of adrenaline. Her Movement activity works great as a quick brain break but I’ve loved it as the beginning of a movie or story talk or discussion activity in general. It’s lots of laughs and fun and has a lot of CI possibilities.

This also might be cheating but a Happy 2018 shout out to Allison Weinhold of Misclaseslocas. She is also an awesome blog to follow and I say it’s cheating because we’re in neighboring districts and get to powwow once a month face to face. Is face to face blog talk called “flogging”?

Using Google Classroom for Interpersonal Tasks

Inspired by a recent #IWLA18 encounter with the fabulous Laura Sexton, I’ve tried to focus on more AAPPL aligned assessments. Or more generally…creating better tasks that ask my students to use their skills to communicate and complete a task.

I decided to try something. It’s always important just to try and fail than to always wonder how things could be better. I define the performance task: communicate with someone to make plans to visit the Dominican Republic. I wanted to be that someone so my creative question became: how can I simulate ongoing, informal communication in an organized way somewhat authentically?

I thought about modern communication and thought about replicating email or text. Neither sounds super easy but I wondered about Google Classroom….

In Google Classroom you can create a Question. Each student can answer that question BUT they can also just do Private Comments. These are just comments that go back and forth between me and the students. I posed the task to them in Google Classroom.

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Because I was the ongoing monitor and responder to this task, I could gauge proficiency throughout the entire task. To help guide them to when they demonstrated our defined levels of proficiency, I gave code words that would signify when they hit their benchmark.

The students had one week to complete this task. They began sending me messages and what I loved is that I would get an email notification everytime someone added a private comment. So at 8:30 at night I knew that someone was trying to communicate with me and it kept me alerted to who I needed to respond to.

I would respond and we continued carrying out our conversation. Just as if it was an authentic communication—sometimes they had to wait a little while for a response. Honestly though I kept up with the flow pretty well. Only one day (when I forced them all to go in and check their progress) did I get flooded with info and get a little bit behind.

I stressed this was a communication exercise and I was pleased with the grammar errors I saw 🙂 There is a lot of thought behind how they tried to communicate and even if it is not perfect–it was (for the most part) comprehensible. #goals

It was fun for me too! Within my 23 students I planned romantic getaways for 2, a bro-cation, family vacation and helped one individual escape a dangerous situation in Detroit. There was a lot of creative and personal expression and I loved making them do that themselves. Some students stuck to a budget and others said money was no object because they had a high paying job.

And I didn’t mention this but it was culturally based. They had to do their own research on the Dominican Republic (and/or use my guides) to find out what they want to do.

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Post-reflection thoughts:

I had only 23 students so it was relatively manageable. I will never attempt this with my 40+ Spanish 3 students.

More structure is needed next time for those kids that don’t really take the initiative to do something unless specifically told. They would only respond if I said “Would you go in and respond to me now?” so this whole project was kind of a disaster for them.

I spent too much time arranging flight plans in the US so I think next time I will have them start by telling me when they are arriving in the DR and take it from there. About 50% of our convo was just about getting them there and I think it would have been more culturally relevant to talk more about what we’re doing when they arrive.

I think doing this orally FlipGrid style would be fun and that’s where I’m headed next.

Presentations from IWLA 2018

The community of foreign language educators in Iowa is inspiring and active in supporting each other. I hadn’t attended a IWLA conference in a few years but was a proud recipient of their grant in 2017. I decided I would pay it forward by presenting at this year’s conference.

(The fact that I was able to meet Sra. Spanglish was just an added bonus).

I overshot the mark and submitted three proposals and ended up presenting….three times.

Here are the breakdown slides of my three presentations. The slides probably require me as a guide but I’m sharing them in case anyone wants any of the information I referenced in my sessions and needs to glimpse it again.

Hashtag Learning: Using Social Media in Today’s Classroom

We cannot deny the role that social media plays in our world and the lives of our students. Rather than competing with social media, this presentation examines how teachers can responsibly use social media to connect with students and a global audience, all while promoting engagement in the target language. #learning

Google Apps Hidden Potential

Using Google in the classroom is a common practice for most 1:1 schools in Iowa. This presentation will dive deep into some creative applications of Google Slides, Drawings, Forms and Keep, including how world language teachers can use #Booksnaps and Hyperdocs as dynamic assessments and practice activities. Emily will also share some Google extensions that have made teaching so much easier. Isn’t that what technology is all about?!

Keeping Balance in a Dynamic Classroom

CI! TPRS! FVR! ACTFL! SBG! IWLA! ISTE! Everywhere you turn there are alphabetic suggestions for best practices in the language learning classroom. The pressure to keep up (or the FOMO) can be overwhelming. This presentation reflects on the importance of individual best practices & focusing on your learners—including instructional strategies, practices and technologies that help Emily keep a balance between all the compelling options available in the 21st century classroom.

If you have more specific questions to follow up with me, please contact me.

Quick Class Account Set-Up

Taking time to set-up class online accounts is necessary and eats up a lot of valuable instructional time—time that is valuable at the beginning of the year in order to build relationships and establish a class focused on language learning.

No matter how well you plan these days, there is always a kid that changes schedules, is absent or random computer issues that result in me having to backtrack throughout the year with a few stragglers no matter what. Embracing that, this year I’m taking a new approach on this set-up time.

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I will share a grid of different online options that are suggested “linkages” for the students to connect to. I set a timer. They have 15 minutes to do as much as they can. After that, we move on with class BUT they will always have access to this document and these links.

Hopefully this helps expedite the process and makes it a little less consuming and more student focused. Share your ideas for procedures and set-up!

Flexible Zone Seating in High School

A popular best practice in world language classrooms today is that of deskless classrooms. Friends that have gone deskless rave about the engagement and the increased interactivity that free space invites.

Then there is another trend of flexible seating, where teachers remove traditional desk setups in favor of comfortable, coffee shop-esque environments. This also seems very student centered and invites collaboration too.

My classroom is not just a world language classroom. Many days of the week we do push desks back and are “deskless for the day” but I did not want to move all the way there for a variety of reasons. What I decided to do instead is create a few zones around the room of flexible seating options.

During classes, I will not have a teacher’s desk. My reason for lending my desk for student seating includes:

  1. I have some very large class sizes this year and will need some extra space for students
  2. During instructional time it will be good for me to not have a home base. When I need to sit and work, I can sit elsewhere in the room and be more accessible to students
  3. The desk remains mine during prep and before and after school, which is when the bulk of my work gets done anyway
  4. I inherited the world’s largest teacher desk which makes a great shareable workspace

The setup this year also leaves a giant empty space in the front center of the room. This will make those “deskless days” much easier because there won’t be a lot of desks to move. (The Quad will have to move back a few feet and the “LL’s” will get pushed to the side.)

As with all great changes, I’m anticipating challenges.

Anticipated Challenge #1: The bulk of students will be physically concentrated in the back of the room. Solution: In my larger classes where every desk is full, there is really nothing that can be done about that. In classes less than 20 students, I’m limiting the occupancy of certain zones to eliminate uneven distribution.

Anticipated Challenge #2: Students choosing their own seats can leave some students isolated. Solution: It can be hard to balance that both A) some students prefer isolation and B) some students get isolated by others. Since so much of class involves interaction and communication, I made a rule that everyone must have an “hombromigo” (shoulder-buddy). The “hombromigo” is a student in your vicinity that you will talk to that day. Everyone must identify their hombromigos for the day and everyone must have one. Even if they are not sitting right next to each other or in the same zone necessarily, they need to be able to lean or turn toward their hombromigo and talk to him or her within 3 seconds.

Anticipated Challenge #3: Who gets to sit where? Solution: Mostly I will employ a first-come-first-served system. Maybe that’s unfair. But everyday can and could be different. I have two special zones that I think require a little discretion so I’m labeling those “VIP”. Students can earn VIP status (and throughout the year move up to one-star VIP, two-star VIP, etc. but completing different mastery tasks). VIPs get preference whenever there is a problem or conflict.

Perhaps also to aid in this challenge, I’m having “mix in” days every 10 days or so. “Mix-in” days are teacher-assigned zone seatings. Typically I will do this when I want to group students for a specific activity (sometimes grouped by skill level). Mix-in days add some variety and hopefully encourage new interactions.

I’m not addressing (specifically) any behavioral challenges because I feel that any seating behavior challenges fall under the category of general class expectations of behavior. If a student is misbehaving or not listening, it’s not the fault of the zone but the student. I will address that as I do with any student concern.

Still to come:

I have a small cafe bistro table that will be in the front of the room for me to have during instructional time (I need a place to put my computer!). I plan on bringing in two cafe chairs to place in front of me in that empty space. Perhaps two special learners can join me at the Huff Café!

Combining Goosechase and Syllabus Information

I have syllabus fatigue. It’s always a good idea to find a new, engaging way to review this information with students. This year my Spanish 4 class consists of students that have had me for the past 2 years. They understand me and my procedures. Still there are some valuable things to review. What I decided to do this year was combine my love of quick one class period Goosechase activities with reviewing the syllabus and reviewing information from last year.

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When I do one class period Goosechases, I usually select 3-5 team captains that have the app on their own phone and are fast to get logged in. Once in, they assemble into teams and I set a 30 or 35 minute time limit and off they go.

This year’s welcoming Goosechase includes information they can find in this year’s syllabus that is either: posted on a QR code by the door or posted in Google Classroom. It also includes some #throwbacks to skills and concepts learned in my Spanish 3 class last year. Then I also added a few Spanish-specific caption or speaking missions.

If you are not familiar with Goosechase but you like either: gamification, photos & videos or using phones as learning tools, I recommend you investigate. After a year with dabbling here and there with Goosechase, I’ve picked up momentum so that it’s now a standard activity in almost every unit—sometimes as a one period activity like this but I also enjoy giving it as an outside the classroom option for enrichment.

Selfishly I’m also planning on using the photo submissions for a lot of this syllabus review in my classroom throughout the year. What better way to explain expected behaviors to my new Spanish 2 students than to show them a visual example.

Here are some other ways to spice up “syllabus” day:

  • Make it a fill in the blank activity. Come up with the most realistic answer that matches the teacher OR the craziest, funniest and most entertaining answer
  • Create a syllabus of errors and have the students identify what’s wrong
  • Make a syllabus jeopardy game
  • Make a syllabus scavenger hunt