SnapChatting Assignments

SnapChatI’m surrounded by students with smartphones.  Not every student, but it seems like the majority.  It’s a handheld, personal device that they have with them at almost all times.  I’m constantly looking for ways to combine our classroom objectives with the personal lives of my students.  I believe that when learning is made personally meaningful to the life of the learner, it’s truly transformative.

The was the main philosophy behind bringing SnapChat into my classroom assignment portfolio.  SnapChat is an application where users take photos using their handheld devices.  They can add text, annotate or draw on the picture and send that picture to another user.  The uniqueness about SnapChat is that the picture can only be viewed by the recipient for 10 seconds and then it ceases to exist.  Short shelf life, easy concept.

When introducing a new section of Spanish vocabulary, I often have my students do some type of immersion project: something that requires them to spend some time getting to know their vocabulary better.  I always include options in these types of projects.  Some students prefer to do more artsy things with their vocabulary words, some prefer typing or online gaming drills, others prefer writing projects, etc.  Giving options is important in letting the student create a unique learning experience for themselves.

One project option that I usually put out there is a photo labeling type of assignment.  Find words from our vocabulary list in the real world, take a picture (or find a picture on the internet), label that picture and assemble all your pictures in a slideshow for me.  My students usually made these on VoiceThread or by putting the pictures together in an IMovie.  I see the picture + they have the word labeled correctly = project completed.  They have met the objective to recognize and identify the vocabulary.

Giving the option to SnapChat this project seemed like a perfect fit.  The application (which the majority of the students were already using and familiar with) is the perfect way to capture a photo and label it.  In a matter of seconds, students can SnapChat their photos with Spanish vocabulary captions and “turn them in” by sending them to me.  Easy. Instant. Real life.

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I was extremely pleased with the results.  As with any project, I went back to reflect on weak spots or any potential problems for the future.

  • SnapChat is essentially social media and I think you have to be careful mixing with students in the social media world.  That’s why for this SnapChat assignment I created a neutral Spanish SnapChat account (espanoldhs) to make it “official”.  I feel like this established that you are sharing your photos with “Spanish Class”, not “Emily Huff”.  By not connecting the SnapChat to myself personally, I feel like it keeps a wall between me and the students.
  • Once it was established and understood by the students that this was an “official” school related SnapChat account, we discussed posting ethics.  Particularly that if anything inappropriate was shared, it would result in school consequences. (Equivalent of standing in front of the class and doing something inappropriate)
  • One potentially negative effect of SnapChatting the assignments is the short life span of the photos.  Ten seconds is enough time for me to view and assess the objectives (did the student label and identify a Spanish vocabulary word?).  The work can’t be saved and shared but I think I’m ok with that.  The purpose of these assignments is just to make sure my students have some time with our vocabulary.  I don’t really need for the project to exist after the objective has been met.  And I’ve seen enough students throw projects away immediately to know that isn’t a main concern for them either.
  • I don’t require this from students.  It is one way to complete one of the options they have for an assignment.  I don’t give special consideration for students that choose this option vs. any other option.  I grade the objectives only, not the method of delivery.

Content Creators

One great advantage technology gives to students it the ability to take ownership in learning and assessment through becoming content creators.  Students have exposure to many different tools that allow them to customize and create projects for assessment.

The positive thing about this is that students will individually produce their own unique work, revealing a personal style and understanding of the material.  Gone are the days of cookie-cutter projects and strict parameters.  This can also be a struggle for teachers, however.  Teachers receive several different interpretations and projects rather than one standard.

Here is the goal in adopting Student Content Creation:  Teachers set assignment parameters and expectations and access the students meeting those standards using any method they choose.

Here are some example methods my students have used in the past when giving “generic” assignment guidelines:

Essay (Written):  Never underestimate the power of the written word.  Some students prefer to organize their thoughts in essays.  It doesn’t include a lot of visual elements, traditionally, but if content is your main focus, it will work.

Essay (Video):  One assignment I had students do last year required them to do a five part essay addressing specific questions and observations they had following a movie we watched.  I gave them the option of doing a video essay:  recording their verbal answers by recording video of themselves in PhotoBooth.  It was much more informal than the traditional written essay but gave me a very personal account of each student’s understanding.

PowerPoint:  It does it’s job as a presentation tool, allows students to add pictures and make is attractive and easy to read.  Slides cleanly present material.

Prezi:  Think of Prezi as a non-linear, spread out PowerPoint.  Instead of having “slides”, all the material is attractively arranged on a plane.  The presenter tools let you order material, creating zooming effects.  Also easy to embed photos and video content.  It’s a website and a log-in is required.

Poster:  Sometimes a nicely designed poster is the best way to go.  It allows students to be artistic and posters can also be used in your classes in the future.

Blog Entry:  Having the students add their thoughts to an online blog is like doing an essay but it’s an essay they can share with the entire world.  Blogs can be informal places to share general, personal observations related to class, or you can use it as a place to upload and share assignments and project.  Check out our ongoing Spanish 2 Blog here.

Baseball Card:  This works particularly well with personalities.  Students create a baseball card of a figure: picture on one side, stats and important information on the back.

Fake Facebook:  This also works well with personalities.  Students create a Facebook profile, friends and correspondence embodying the character.  Download the PPT Template here Fake Facebook.pptx.

IMovie:  I-Movie can be an attractive way to put together information, to narrate pictures or explain a process though demonstration.

Glogster:  Glogster is an online program that allows students to create online posters.  These posters (or Glogs) include text, animation, sound, video and hyperlinks.  You have to have a an account to create a glog.  Check out this Glog on the Human Brain:

VoiceThread:  VoiceThread is an online program where students record narrations with pictures.  It moves like a slideshow but can be very effective for comprehension activities, definitions and demonstrations.  See our comprehension activity with a movie we watched in class:

Timeline:  Create a timeline using an online timeline creator like  Timetoast allows students to include photos and extra descriptions.

Twitter Notes:  Students create a list or a shot of recent Tweets that correspond to a class topic or trending topic.

YouTube Playlist:  Students create a playlist of videos from YouTube that are related to a class topic.

Infographics:  Students create attractive InforGraphic of information using a variety of online sources.  Infographics bring together text and pictures in a way that pleasingly and easily conveys information.  Sites that help create Inforgraphics:, and a complete list – –

Project Based Learning Experiment

Over the summer, I got an idea from someone in my Edmodo community in regards to project based learning and foreign language.  My friend Wikipedia had this to say about this new educational buzz theory called Project Based Learning: “the use of in-depth and rigorous classroom projects to facilitate learning and assess student competence. Students use technology and inquiry to respond to a complex issue, problem or challenge. PBL focuses on student-centered inquiry and group learning with the teacher acting as a facilitator”.

So with months of preparation, I created Misterios en Madrid.  This mystery project will serve as my concluding assessment project for Spanish 1 at the end of 2nd semester.  To test it out, I had my Spanish 2 class start the year with it.  I had the students working in groups of 3 or 4.  They would assess each other throughout the steps.

Misterios en Madrid had 4 parts, or pasos.  The first group to complete each paso received 100% and subsequent groups received a slightly lower grade than the group ahead of them.  This increased the urgency and brought a competitive component to the activity.  At the beginning of each paso, I presented the material and gave a final task that needed to be completed.  The paths each group took from the beginning to the correct completion of the final task varied.  The goal was for each group to complete that final task.

In order to complete the final task of each paso, students had to use a variety of materials.  Throughout all of the pasos, I used the following materials: written clues in Spanish, VoiceThreads in Spanish, Voki’s in Spanish, maps, pictures and other realia (authentic materials in the target language, such as party invitations, hotel information brochure and hotel receipts.)


  • I enjoyed the “hands-off” role I played during worktime on the Mystery.  The students had a lot of work to do during each paso.  I facilitated but did not lead.  The students really led themselves through the activity.  I was there, in the background, to catch them if they fell or to answer specific questions.
  • Students really had to think critically about the steps they needed/wanted to take in order to complete the tasks at hand, without me feeding them the steps and procedures.  I feel that in other contexts, teachers provide students with so many guidelines that they just move through the motions towards completion like widgets on a conveyor belt.
  • I had 17 different groups working on Misterios en Madrid and had 17 different projects or experiences.  Every group worked a different way and created their own path.  At first I worried that groups would try to hard to emulate each other (or the group they perceived as the most successful) but after the first paso was over, I felt that the students started just to do what worked for them and their group.
  • There were no “super groups”.  I was happy to see so much parity in Misterios en Madrid.  In one class, the groups that finished 1st and last during Paso Uno completely flip-flopped for Paso Dos.  I think that added to the feeling that anyone can and could be successful.  When I immediately split the groups, students expected certain groups to dominate and stifle everyone else, because in a traditional setting, these students do rise to the top.  But the variety of skills need to complete a Paso combined with the open direction concept left the door open for anyone to succeed.
  • I created a few extra credit opportunities for students to work on in addition to Misterios en Madrid to offset any bad days, miscues or unsatisfactory outcomes of the grading of each Paso.  One of the extra credit opportunities I gave was for students to Tweet with the hashtag #MisteriosenMadrid.  It created a social media conversation about our Spanish class activities.  I figured, I know some of my students are already Twittering, why not encourage them to Tweet about what we are doing?  It was a fun by-product of our activities and although it didn’t add anything academic to our class, it did add to our positive classroom culture and positive student interactions.
  • I’ve had successful students before but I never saw so many proud students at the completion of each task.  I would literally see sighs and smiles and looks of accomplishment and pride that I don’t normally see when someone does a super job on a worksheet.  (See more about pride below)
  • I asked some of my students to blog about their experience in our Spanish 2 Blog.  Feel free to read their comments.  One student, Brianna, writes an especially great blog about her group’s experience, recalling the steps, successes and frustrations they encountered.  Really, she says it better than I could.
Student Feedback:
I asked my students to sum up with Misterios en Madrid experience in one word.  Then I typed all of the words into a Wordle.  Common words used are displayed larger than words that only occured once or twice.
Student feedback regarding Misterios en Madrid
  • Other than the work “pointless”, I’m pretty pleased with the feedback.  The project based direction of the class was different, thus for some students, very challenging and frustrating and stressful.  It’s easier when the teacher can just tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get done with your work.
  • Although some of the feedback is quite negative (dumb, horrible, lame), I felt that each person at one point or another during the experience had a good moment; an ah-ha moment of pride.  While one girl told me that she had nightmares about this project and couldn’t stop thinking about it at night, I had another Tweet to all her friends about how “totally accomplished I feel having just finished 1st in #MisteriosenMadrid”.
  • But it was work.  Three weeks of non-stop work where there weren’t many places to hide or slink away and just hope the teacher doesn’t call on you.  You and your group were responsible for a task, and if that task doesn’t get done . . . completely on your shoulders.  That type of work is rarely welcomed by a fifteen year old, so I understand the feelings of “dislike”.
For a better understanding of what the students experienced, please read Brianna’s blog post on our Spanish 2 blog.  Like I said, she explains the student side of it better than I ever could 🙂

A Teacher’s Intellectual Property

About a year ago I gave a short presentation on educational technology to my school board.  One of the board members complimented me but then addressed the board, asking how the district could retain these methods and activities.  He talked about intellectual property and how the school would be at a loss if I took these things with me if I ever left the district.  My only real thought at the time was, “I guess you’ll have to keep me”.

It’s a very businessminded approach.  If an employee for a software developer creates a program as part of his or her job and then leaves a few weeks later, does he  or she get to take that information and program with him?  I would think not.  But if a teacher creates something for a class he or she is teaching, is it his or hers to take to the next teaching assignment?

I’ve taught in three different schools now and each time I made the move, a bin of material and an external hard drive has come with me.  I created things while working at Star of the Sea School that I use now at Denver High School.  My thought was, “I created these, I get to keep these”.  (Although I left copies of almost everything behind too).

But that doesn’t seem to fit a business model.  Over and over again I read that the business sector has evolved into the 21st century and the education system has not in this country.  Should schools operate more like businesses in that regard?  My husband (a newbie teacher) says absolutely not: if everything a teacher creates is property of the school, a teacher has no incentive to create anything new.

If you follow my posts, you may know that I estimate that I create almost 85% of my classroom material.  I tweak and reinvent and personalize tests, handouts, assessments and activities.  I do this for a few reasons: my students notice the non-cookie-cutter-ness of it all, I highlight certain material based on class weakness and strengths but mostly because I love being creative and inventive!  And when I look back at my 7 year teaching career, I have amassed an impressive amount of intellectual property.

But is it protected?  I don’t think I have the right to copyright an activity or an assignment, especially if it was inspired by other information “out there”.  Teachers hate when students use the copy and paste trick.  We call it cheating, we call it plagarism, we lecture them about ethics and morals and tell them the internet is a dangerous place and that all information must be properly cited* or they can’t use it at all.

But don’t teacher’s do a fair amount of this?  Teachers have been flooding the internet in a share of ideas and a search for new methods and ways to connect with their students.  If I find a great activity online that was created by another teacher, I wouldn’t usually think twice about grabbing it an using it.  Is it intellectual property theft?  Or is everything fair game for educators – – as long as it is for an educational purpose?

I know I’ve asked a lot more questions today than I’ve attempted to answer but these are just a few thoughts that got brought to my attention in the last few weeks.  And in the meantime I’m thinking about hiring a talented graphic designer to help me with my copyright watermark.

*I’m not suggesting that material doesn’t need to be cited  – – just commenting on the repeated lectures students get about using information that belongs to someone else.

Vocabulary Podcasts

Learning vocabulary takes a certain amount of time and repeated practice.  I can repeat words with the kids over and over again in class and I can also highly suggest they go over the words themselves.  Still I haven’t ever felt the students enjoy the repeating or fully embraced that concept.

I decided to have my students make vocabulary podcasts: recording of them pronouncing the words in Spanish, defining the word in English and then spelling the words letter by letter.  I had two goals.  1) Have them review the pronunciations and definitions of the words while creating the podcast, and 2) have the students create an audio file of the vocabulary words that could be downloaded and accessed on a portable electronic listening device (i.e., Ipod).

This was the first podcasting experience for nearly all of my students.  We experienced some equipment problems and time issues, but overall the assignment was a success.  The students all submitted their groups podcasts to a class created account on Podomatic.  From here, students are able to download any of the podcasts as a file that can be added to an Ipod or mp3 player.  They can also click a button and subscribe to these podcasts through Itunes.

Podcast Spanish 1 5.3

Today I showed the students how to access the podcasts and suggested that they use these assignments to prepare for next week’s quiz.

Please visit our Spanish Podcasts through Podomatic at:

Map Making and City Investigations

My Spanish 3 students have been learning about places in a city.  Eventually in this unit, they will be learning how to give directions and read directions.  A map making activity seemed like a logical extension activity and I thought about how I could use modern technology to enhance that basic lesson.

I played around with a website called CommunityWalk where users can make maps using the GoogleMap satelitte images.  There is no log-in and no software necessary.  I researched about 25 cities in the United States: each was at least 25 miles from a major metropolitan area and each city had a Hispanic population of 50% of higher.  Students each chose a different city and looked for real life places in these cities.  For example, they had to find a hair salon, or peluqueria, in Odessa, TX or Salinas, CA.  This real world application made the map activity a little more relevant and I think made an impression.

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The maps that my students created are marked with Spanish vocabulary words of the places in a city we have been studying.  We will be using these maps later in the unit when they learn how to give directions.  They will be giving real world directions, navigating through the streets of Haverstraw, NY and Hollister, CA.

Student Blogs

This year I’ve been requiring all my Spanish students to access a classroom blog and to post their own personal blogs.  My original intention was to get them to reflect on the ways Spanish melts into their everyday lives.  I figured if they could make the class material personally relevant and meaningful, it would enhance the everyday experience in the classroom.

For the first quarter of school, students seemed unsure of what they were doing but went along and did it because they had to.  I realize that there is a learning curve with blogging.  One doesn’t become a blogger overnight – – especially not when your teacher is forcing you to.  But as we approach the new quarter, I feel that they are starting to see the value of blogging and the overall inspiration of this experience.  A few of my students have realized that the blog is their chance to make things personal; they don’t have to write formal sentences that please me.  They are opening up to it and having fun with it.

I think it might take awhile for everyone to “get it” but nevertheless this is a truly valuable educational experience.  I love reading what they have to say and I love that it is “out there” on the web for everyone to see and read.  I like this so much better than having them write on a crinkly sheet of notebook paper that then sits in a folder on my desk for a week before being returned to the students hands before quickly ending up in the trash can.  I’m very much enjoying this experiment and hope that my students do to.

Please visit our Spanish Classroom Blogs:

Spanish 1, Spanish 2, Spanish 3

Spanish Classroom Blogs

I’ve been working to create some classroom blogs where students can share work and things that they have learned.  Once you get the hang of this blogging thing, it goes really smooth and I think the students will enjoy it.  I hope anyway.  🙂
As the school year stars, hopefully these pages will be filled with photos and comments and lots of stuff to see.  Please stay tuned and visit.
Please visit the following links:

Voice Thread

Here are some voice creations my Spanish 1 students made using VoiceThread. Voice Thread is an online program where you can upload pictures and record voices reading and narrating the images.
My students first created these pictures using the online cartoon maker ToonDoo. They created a picture, saved it and uploaded it to VoiceThread. Then they wrote 10-15 sentences in Spanish about their image and recorded the Spanish narration. It was a great project for them and it was a nice way for me to evaluate their speaking skills and their comprehension skills.
Class Examples of VoiceThread
Here are the Web 2.0 applications

Fake Facebook


I created a PowerPoint presentation where students can create Fake Facebook Profile Pages for important figures and people. I’m planning on using it for important Hispanic political leaders later this month. I like it because students have to create the biography information, make wall posts and think about possible friends for their profile character.

Here are some screenshots of the PowerPoint Fake Facebook Profile for William (Bill) Shakespeare.



 The template is available for FREE through my store at Teacher’s Pay Teachers (here).