Skill Building Station Activity

During our Spanish 2 Unit on travel and trains, I try to highlight the cultural importance of train travel in other countries. Towards the end of the Unit, we do some exploration with the Atocha train station in Madrid and discuss the bombings of M-11. I find the discussions about the terrorist attacks is something that interests, surprises and engages the students. It prompts a lot of questions – – which is classroom gold.

Recently I used the Atocha M-11 attacks for a stations activity. Although all the materials used in the stations could be used as summative assessments, I use it merely as skill building formative assessment. This year I used this skill building stations the day after the end of 3rd Quarter. My goal was for my students to use these activities to build their skills.

Using data from the last grading period, I split the class into small groups based on which skill they needed to work on. I identified a group to work on improving their writing and a group to improve their reading skills. I had one group of students that were missing work or had missed class time recently so that they could do acquisition or make-up activities. And most importantly, I identified a group of students for enrichment that could really do a deeper activity.

Normally I like to physically have different stations set up around the room so that the students have to physically move from one spot to another. On this day, however, the physical environment was set-up for an activity in my Spanish 3 class and I didn’t want to mess with two different set-ups. So instead I labeled file folders in the front of the room. Working in their small groups, students went and grabbed a station’s folder and completed the work. When finished, they put that folder back and grabbed another one.

I assigned each group a starting folder. (For example, the group that needed for focus on writing was assigned to start with Folder #1) This was the activity I was most interested in assessing for those students. Each station activity could take a varying length of time. Students were expected to continue to work on the other stations for the remainder of class. At the end of class, I collected all activities to see how they did.

One thing I love about collaboration, student centered activities like stations is that it leaves me untethered so that I can freely float around to areas where I am needed. It gives the students a chance to work independently and really challenges them to rely on themselves.


There is a great episode of The Office where manager Michael Scott stops all activity in the office for a designated period of time on Monday for a mental break where the staff watches a movie. His boss questions him on this later:

Jan: How would a movie increase productivity, Michael? How on earth would it do that?
Michael: People work faster after.
Jan: Magically.
Michael: No, they have to, to make up for the time they lost, watching the movie

It’s a popular belief that taking a break to do something frivolous cannot lead to increased productivity. I experimented with something called Cantaninja in my Spanish 2 classes during the 4th Quarter of school and I think Michael Scott would approve.

Cantaninja is an idea I came across reading a (wonderfully helpful and insightful) blog by Martina Bex. She describes a class incentive program and an earned privilege where the students can stop time and demand a Spanish song be played.

To begin, I created a playlist of Spanish songs that I thought my students would be intrigued by. My Cantaninja playlist is ever evolving–I’m constantly adding and subtracting songs based on what I find, what seems appropriate, what the students are “in to” and what units we are studying.

I taught three sections of Spanish 2 during the Spring. I selected one student from each section to be that class period’s designated Cantaninja. These names were posted in the front of the room–underneath a ninja mask. This designated student could attack class at any time by yelling out “CANTANINJA!”. At that moment, all activity in the class must stop and the class must watch a music video of the Cantaninja’s choosing (from the playlist).

Here are the rules of Cantaninja:

  1. Cantaninja cannot be used during the last 5 minutes of class
  2. No activity can be done during Cantaninja time (no work, no computer, no talking, etc)
  3. Only one Cantaninja per class per day
  4. Cantaninja cannot be used to skip a planned activity (if we’re supposed to have a quiz, we’re still having the quiz)

Cantaninja is something I need to keep in my classroom next year. The short little breaks actually did increase productivity–both for me and my students. I had to be more mindful of how I planned and structured my class because I never knew when (or if) a Cantaninja attack was coming. I had to be very organized so I wasn’t left standing there at the end of the hour with things left undone. Preparing for the possibility of a Cantaninja attack helped me be more mindful of the lessons I had planned–what was critical to do, what could we do without, what I can do if I need more time because there was no Cantaninja attack.

The productivity effect on my students was also interesting. There were some days when there was no Cantaninja attack because the Cantaninja felt it was more important just to keep to the regularly scheduled lesson. When there was a Cantaninja attack, students accepted that this was there time to take a break and then when work time rolled around, they were more apt to work then rather than find ways to waste time and mentally check out. Normally, as the teacher, I had 100% control over the agenda of the day. With Cantaninja, I relinquished control to the class through one individual. This individual had the power to adjust our class agenda for the day.

I liked noting when students would initiate Cantaninja. There was one particular time this Spring where all three sections called out for Cantaninja during the same point in my lesson (and the class cheered with relief). This was a cue to me that this particular activity  was not enjoyable.

Sometimes students would confer with one another. “When should I yell Cantaninja?” “Do we want to do one today?” Watching them discuss and reason when and why and if they should take a break was fascinating. Some designated Cantaninjas listened to the class, some didn’t. Some rarely called for an attack, some jumped at the opportunity within the first minute of class. The variety added an exciting variable to the class that I think helped make it more engaging.

Let’s not forget that this is a language classroom and the goal is to, you know, learn the Spanish language! While on it’s face Cantaninja is just a nice brain break, it was also a way for me to expose my students to popular artists and Spanish music. At first, students would bombard me with questions about what everything meant. After awhile, the questions stopped and I think they just started appreciating the music–realizing that learning a language isn’t all about translating everything word for word. But they did pick up words and phrases from the songs (Thanks J.Lo and Prince Royce). After one class watched Tengo Tu Love I had two students mocking how “basic” that song was. I questioned what they meant and one said, “I’m pretty sure a beginning Spanish 1 student could understand those lyrics. They obviously didn’t try hard to write a good song”. They continued to pick on the song and I just returned to my seat proudly thinking “Wow, they recognized the simplicity of the lyrics! They understood what it meant!”.

12050897333_be52220d42_zOther reflections:

  • A favorite song was definitely “La Camisa Negra”. A few have it downloaded and listen to it regularly now.
  • Students recognized that “this Wisin guy” collaborates in a lot of different videos. “He must be really good”.
  • I’ve loved Enrique Iglesias for quite some time so I liked the ability to bring his music to the class. But Cantaninja also gave me the opportunity to introduce these kids to Ricky Martin. Although “Livin la Vida Loca” is mostly in English, I maintain it has important cultural significance. It wasn’t that long ago that Latin music exploded into the pop chart (Holla 1998!) but that was still before some of these kids were born. Imagine being born in a world that doesn’t know Ricky Martin? I cannot live with that. Cantaninja has selfishly been a way for me to revisit my high school music self.

Trapdoor Activity

Trapdoor is a bellringer or opening activity I do to engage the class in listening, speaking and comprehending the Spanish language. It takes a small amount of prep work but the payoff is great.

I created some warm-up activities for the first days of class in Spanish 2. It always takes me a little while to gauge where these new students are in their proficiency.  The warm-up activities I created go over the basics from Spanish 1.Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 1.45.43 PM.png

Here’s how it works: I read a paragraph to the students, telling them that they need to pay attention and be able to repeat the paragraph back to me. They usually get a little scared by the notion that they have to repeat a paragraph. After I’m done reading, I project the Trapdoor Script to the class. The paragraph is missing words and in their place are three options.

I choose one student. That student begins to read the paragraph–filling in the blank with appropriate word. Once they are wrong, just “buzz” them or say “no” and choose another student. The next student has to go back to the beginning and read the paragraph.

Occasionally the first student is able to knock it out of the park. Sometimes we have to go through about 15 students before it’s read back to be perfectly from start to finish. I prefer when it needs to be repeated because the class gets to hear the language from their classmates and needs to listen to hear if their choices were correct.


Download the free Novice Trapdoor Activities here:


Reflexive Verb Image Formulas

Following the success of my Direct Object Pronoun Goal Game, I knew I wanted to create similar activities for my classroom. I created an image formula presentation to help my students conjugate their reflexive verbs about the daily routine.

I began by finding available clipart for the reflexive verb vocabulary that my students were studying (cepillarse, ducharse, afeitarse, acostarse, dormirse, pintarse, bañarse, secarse, levantarse, maquillarse, peinarse and quitarse). Then I choose the images that would represent the Yo, Tú, Él, Nosotros and Ellos forms. I created the formulaic layouts in PowerPoint and I had 65 editable image formulas for our reflexive verbs.

I personalized the “nosotros” slide by making it a picture of our Denver High School student body. The students immediately recognized it as “us”. Because I think he’s dreamy, I used Enrique Iglesias to represent the “Él” form, but when I implement this in class, I replace him with a student, teacher or some other figure that has meaning to the kids (last year it was an assistant football coach). The students love personal touches because it makes the content more meaningful to them.

After the presentation is created, I choose to do a large group conjugation game called the Goal Game. First, I save the presentation as images and create a slideshow the 1) randomizes the images and 2) has timed transitions. I usually set my transitions to 7 seconds.

The Goal Game works like this:

(You can see an example of the Goal Game in my post on Direct Object Pronouns)

—Setup: Put one chair in front of the screen that will project the reflexive verb image formulas. This will be the “Hot Seat”.

—Divide the students into 2 teams.

—Team 1 sends one student to the “Hot Seat”. This student must give the correct reflexive verb conjugation of the formula depicted in the image before the slide flips to a new picture. Students may answer multiple times as long as they give the correct answer before the slide changes.

—If the student cannot give the correct conjugation by the time the slide flips, their time in the “Hot Seat” is over and the next team sends up a representative.

—Each successful conjugation/slide is 1 point for the team. I limit students to 10 slides.

—Before the student begins, ask the student to set a goal of how many formulas they think they will be able to successfully conjugate. If they do not meet that goal, it’s ok! If they DO meet their goal, they score that many bonus points for their team.


Re-Branding: Meaningful Ed

My school year ended yesterday. I’m celebrating my first day of summer vacation by returning to this blog. It’s been awhile.

I used to blog to share ideas. Then I wrote to reflect on what I was doing. In my blogging hiatus, I’ve done a lot of professional growing. I reached that magical milestone of 10 years of experience, looked around my classroom and thought “am I doing what I need to be doing”? I finally feel smart enough to realize that in order to be better teacher, I need to be asking better questions about my teaching. This blog seems like a fitting platform to ask those questions and continue this journey.

The new name for the blog is “Meaningful Ed”. I need my students to be engaged in the content inside and outside the classroom. Content and delivery must be meaningful to them if it’s going to stand a chance up against basketball games, teen dramas and Snapchat. My goal and my focus is to make education meaningful. Hopefully this blog shares that focus.

The name has a slight personal twist to it as well. My son is almost two and is at that stage where he is learning so much every day right in front of my eyes. It’s so amazing to watch that much learning happening so obviously and joyously. He is helping me realize how incredible learning is. And his name is Edward, or Eddie. Or Meaningful Ed.

A Day in the Life of Classcraft . . . .

6:00 AM Wake-up and check email. Two students completed a Classcraft Quest for XP. Go into Classcraft and award those students XP.

7:40 AM Arrive at school. Award Prestige AP points.

*I have two students that surpassed Level 18 so they have reached “Prestige” status,

which means they earn an additional 5 AP everyday. I have to put these in manually.

9:00 AM 2nd Hour Spanish 3 class begins.

9:01 AM Generate a Random Event in Classcraft and do whatever it says.

9:02 AM Go about today’s lesson plan.

During the class period, I deduct HP when applicable (when students need to charge their computer, have their cell phone out, act disrespectfully, etc)

I also award XP when applicable (finish task early, win a game, help a student, etc.)

9:40 AM We have a test tomorrow. If students want to use any collaborative powers, they should plan accordingly.  If students have time, they go in and use collaborative powers or strategize with their tribe mates.

9:42 AM Dismiss class

1:10 PM Repeat process with 6th Hour Spanish 3 class.

3:10 PM School dismissed

8:00 PM Students continually work on additional (optional) XP Quests on their own time and I look at those when I can

Occasionally . . .

  • Once every two weeks I give some kind of in class assignment to be completed in groups. This assignment does not take the entire class period and students are encouraged to work on “craft” related things during time

Engaging Students Through Gamification

I recently wrote a reflection about implementing a gamification website into my Spanish 3 course. I recounted that after only 3 days, I thought it was a game changer and something that I was really excited about. This is a more detailed account of how I am using Classcraft in a high school Spanish 3 classroom. (For a student reflection on Classcraft, click here)

Why Gamification?

I was very happy with my standard classroom environment but always thought aspects of gamification would really boost student engagement. Meanwhile, I was dealing with two small teacher dilemmas.

  1. I have students coming to class with uncharged computers when they are supposed to have charged them overnight. I have students turning in late assignments. I have students doing small disruptive things that might not warrant a full 30 minute detention but are just annoying none-the-less.  I like the grades in my class to be an accurate reflection of student learning. If I deduct points for having to charge your computer during class, that de-validates my grading procedures. How can I address these things without impacting the student’s grade?
  2. I wish my students would want to do some extra enrichment in Spanish without having to require it from all students. But how can I encourage students to do extra learning tasks when I’m not going to reward them for it in the gradebook?

All this is in my mind and enters Classcraft.  Classcraft is a classroom gamification platform that I could customize to handle both of my concerns while also engaging students in a game type setting. Classcraft is something that I do in the classroom that is completely 100% separate from my gradebookAll students are included but can choose how involved in the process they want to be.

Main Concept

I imported my student roster into Classcraft. I assigned my students to groups of 4 or 5 and I kind of based those groups on abilities, personalities and perceived interest in “gaming”. In each group, I assigned their game characters. Each student is either a mage, a warrior or a healer. Each character has a different gaming experience. So when I introduced Classcraft to my students and they logged in for the very first time, saw their character avatar, their character statistics and their teammates.


Each character starts on Level 1. They move to the next level by gaining a certain number of Experience Points (XP–explained below). In my game, students level up by earning 500 XP.

Each character also has Action Points and Health Points, all of which I will describe in the next section.

The gamification aspect of Classcraft has built in collaboration components, encouraging students on a team to help out their teammates.


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XP: These points are what drives a student to move up to the next level. If you were to keep score, so to speak, the student with the most XP would be your “winner” (even though Classcraft doesn’t have winners or losers). I am in charge of awarding XP. I have created a few preset reasons as to why I might reward a student for doing something but I can also input any XP value I want for any reason I want. Giving out XP is a way to reward positive classroom behaviors without having to tinker with their actual academic grade.

HP: Health Points are represent a character’s life in the game. I deduct HP anytime I see behaviors that I want to punish or reprimand. I can also take away HP for any reason I want to. Once a student gets down to 0 HP, they have to roll a dice of consequence. This will give them some kind of punishment. I created the punishments and they range from having to do extra assignments to bringing me a treat.

AP: Each character can learn powers and take action if they have enough AP, Action Points. Students kind of use these on their own and then the points regenerate every night so I don’t really have too much to do with AP as the teacher.

GP: My students earn Gold Pieces but that’s entirely on their own and it is purely for cosmetic purposes, like adding to their avatar and having pets. I’m not using GP for anything game related.


Students need an incentive to earn more XP and be involved in the game. Each character has the ability to learn powers. Most of these powers I have written and crafted to fit what I am comfortable with in my classroom.

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At each level of the game, students get a Power Point which enables them to learn a power. The more XP, the more levels advanced, the more Power Points, the more powers a student is able to learn. Some of the powers are collaborative and help out their teammates. Some of the powers are individual. I tried to create powers that students would want and that I thought were fair in the classroom.  For example, if a student progresses far enough in Classcraft to be able to learn an advanced power such as getting to use notes on a test, then they have done enough good things in my classroom and they deserve to be rewarded.

I will probably have more reflection on power usage as the year goes one. At this stage, no student has really used a power so we’ll see how it all works out.

Random Event

Each class period with start with a Classcraft random event. It’s a “Wheel of Destiny” button that generates some kind of rule or activity for the day’s class. I customize these too and some are strictly game based (earn XP, HP, etc.), some are content based (speak only Spanish all day) and some are just silly (make your teacher sing a song). The variety and randomness of it grabs their attention and gets them ready for class immediately. Plus it’s fun!

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Additional Quests for XP

Immediately after introducing Classcraft, I had students asking for different opportunities to earn XP. I thought this would be an excellent way to introduce some enrichment Spanish activities—things that were completely separate from our day-to-day curriculum but that would enrich foreign language learning. Basically a way to make my students do things that I normally would just strongly suggest. This idea mushroomed into a few different things.

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Drill Quests: The first thing I introduced was Drill Based Quests that required students to do vocabulary or conjugation drills through two external sites that we use all of the time: Quizlet and Conjuguemos. If students showed proof that they completed these drills, they earned XP.  One of the Quizlet sets I gave them was a list of the 50 most common words in Spanish, which includes small by valuable words that students often forget. That review has been priceless and I can see the difference already with the students that have done those drills.

Project Quests: And they still wanted more Quests! I created a Google Doc with different project based Quests. There are writing, speaking, artistic, statistical and historical quests involving language and culture. All of these projects are beneficial in the foreign language classroom but might not fit into my curriculum. I love being able to encourage my students to do these things without requiring them.

Bounty Board: Then I created a board in my room where I could pin up index cards that have Quests written on them. These are one-time-only first-come-first-served Quests. For example, I have a board in my room that I need taken down and changed and I never get around to doing it. I made it a Quest and I have students clamoring to do it for me.

“Ok, but this is too much work for the teacher”

I’ve shared this evolution with a few people and I hear a variation of this comment a lot. Yes, Classcraft does look like it’s time consuming and overwhelming for the teacher. Looks awesome for the student, but I can understand how teachers looking at this might think Wow, way too much for me to handle. As with the implementation of any new procedure, there is some significant prep work to get it all ready and to make sure the back end is all set-up but after that, it’s just a matter of going with the flow. Each day I start with the daily event, keep track of what it tells me to do and go from there. As class goes on, if I need to deduct HP or award XP I make a note or do it quickly. The Classcraft website really does make it easy to do those things quickly.

The engagement I see and the enrichment possibilities associated with Classcraft have been worth any time sacrifices I’ve made. I’m also excited and happy to be able to punish small, unwanted behaviors in a way that doesn’t tinker with grades. I see a gamiification platform like this as a problem solver and content enrichment opportunity. I’m so pleased with what has happened so far and look forward to finishing the year with Classcraft!

Student Reflection on Classcraft

I had planned to update my blog this week with a more detailed picture of how we are using Classcraft in my classroom.  While I’m still working on that, I wanted to share something that one of my students recently wrote about Classcraft.  I love that it is in his own words and describes our process in a way that is easy to picture and understand.

Classcraft by definition is “a free online, educational role playing game that teachers and students play together in the classroom.” However I do not believe that the definition I just told you quite captures what Classcraft really is.

The thing is, is that Classcraft is so much more than just any one thing to a person or people. Classcraft is a place where a gamer who doesn’t quite fit in can work side by side and cooperate with a varsity Quarterback on the same level and work as a team. Classcraft is a place where a disinterested student who can’t find the motivation to take time and complete his homework or listen in class can finally have a fun way to learn an otherwise “boring” subject. Classcraft is a place where two girls who maybe aren’t in the same “clique” or do not get along can work towards a common coal (and maybe even become friends in the process). Classcraft is a place where you’re not a Jock, or a nerd, or even the mean girl. It is a place where people forget about the status quo and “the norm” and see their classmates as a level 3 healer who bailed them out so they didn’t have to roll the infamous “Cursed Die” or a level 5 warrior that took a big hit to their HP for you because that’s what teammates are for. And yes, even in some cases as a level 12 mage that stays up way too late completing quests. Classcraft is a place that transforms our classroom from a boring room with a whiteboard to a battlefield where we face other teams in competitions, or a foreign land that we are exploring during a quest. Classcraft can make you or take you anything or anywhere, it really just depends on your imagination.

Classcraft for me personally has been a huge motivator. Instead of procrastinating and waiting till the night before to due homework and projects I know finish the as soon as I can because not only do I get an XP bonus if I do finish multi-day assignments early but if all my other homework is done I have more time to complete other quests that reward me with XP. I also do more quality work because I get more XP if I do. Also by doing quests such as learning Spanish and Spelling Spanish on quizlet I have learned numerous new useful Spanish words that have been a tremendous help on my more recent Spanish assignments.

Classcraft most importantly is a new and effective way to teach kids in an age that students are constantly plugged into technology with their cell phones laptops and videogames. Times are changing and education needs to change with it. We can’t expect new and different generations to learn the same way kids did 50-100 years ago, and in reality our generation is much different from what it was even 15-20 years ago. Classcraft is a proven educational tool that can teach kids in a new and exciting format. Classcraft doesn’t just improve learning it changes it, and for the better.

Thank you to Creed K. for writing this assessment of Classcraft and allowing me to share it.  He did it for the XP but I appreciate it anyway 🙂