Looking back to move forwards


I used to do a lot of different things in my teaching past. I didn’t just use worksheets and grammar (I did for middle school, because that’s what I thought they needed). In the lower grade levels, I did a lot of varied and interesting activities with the kids that I pretty much stopped doing when I started TPRS. I have found that after 1.5 years of only stories and timed writings (and games, for when we’re low on time) in the classroom, the kids are in search of something different. Because of the CI they get from our stories, they have never been able to do more with the language, so I decided to look back at the activities that I have done in the past to see how well they fit into our CI Classroom.

Turns out that many of them (some with a bit of editing and creative updates) will help the students to develop their proficiency in all of the modes of communication.

Here are some of them and how well they have worked out so far…

Secuencia activity –

  • Engagement Level: High
  • Interpersonal Communicative Level: Low
  • Interpretive Communicative Level: Mid
  • Presentational Level: Low

I got this activity from a book of language class activities (that I have since gotten rid of and can’t remember the title) for middle and high school. The idea is that the kids are each given a sheet with an instruction on it, something like “when  you see/hear ___, do ___,” all written in the TL. The kids have to be paying attention and listening to know when it is their turn to do their activity. This can get into some pretty silly territory, especially when the kids just get up and do ridiculous things like “When you hear ‘Hola,’ do 5 pushups and say, ‘Me gusta espanol.’” This makes for a really great activity if you don’t have much time (because of pep rallies and the like). It is also a fun way to incorporate TPR actions for vocabulary words, if you have been practicing that.

Linguacafé – (link to the musicuentos blog post – http://musicuentos.com/2014/11/linguacafe/)

  • Engagement Level: High
  • Interpersonal Communicative Level: Mid (for now, at least…They will have a higher level of interpersonal communication once they have gotten the hang of the procedures and start talking about unstructured topics)
  • Interpretive Communicative Level: High
  • Presentational Level: Mid

(I still do this with k – 3, but I hadn’t done it with older kids). I started with cómo estás? in 4th – 8th, just to see how it would go…and not surprisingly, it gets them up, using language in proficiency-level-appropriate ways and gets them to feeling more confident about using the language (because they are able to do it successfully in this small context). And as we all know, the biggest byproduct of success in the classroom is more confidence to try different things in the classroom!

A few changes that I have made from the instructions (in the link above) include only having the students talk to 2 others and no music. This has been very helpful in getting the kids to open up to using the TL in the lower grades and I have seen that it seems to open up the older kids, too.


Here are some other ideas that I have dredged up from folders from past years that I plan to implement either in the next few weeks or in the next year. I have included screenshots of the activities as I used them in years past and will discuss what I would do to change them:

Cellphone activity


Basically, this activity is just a different way to frame our normal conversation activities in class. It’s putting a different spin on the same old activity, but with our focus on proficiency, any excuse to give students new contexts to recycle language they have used before is a good one.

I’m not sure where I got the original idea for this plan. When I did it, I would call out the numbers aloud and then talk with the student who “answered.” The goal was to practice understanding numbers. I plan on making a lot of changes to this activity, but as a jumping-off point, it can be great for role-playing activities. After the first few times of completing the activity with upper grade students, I can cut out the specifics of the conversation and have the kids talk about whatever they want to talk about or they can talk about a topic that we are discussing in class.

It can also be fun to use the cellphone template for students to “text” each other. The 8th graders have a BYOD program, so the ones who have tablets can use them to text each other in the TL. I have to look into apps for doing this in a way that I can evaluate, but it has potential.

Pasapalabras (Password)

This can be a very useful activity for practicing circumlocution techniques. In a proficiency-based classroom, we need to give students opportunities to struggle to find the right word. We also have to give them the tools they will need to get their point across. In my classroom, as we work on circumlocution techniques, I am posting phrases around the room that will help the students to be able to talk about the things they don’t have the vocabulary for. For example, “Se usa para…” (it’s used for…) and “Es una cosa que…” (It’s a thing that…).

In this activity, the students pair up and words/pictures are posted on the board. One student faces the board and describes the word. The only rules are that the describers are not allowed to use English or state the word. The partner faces away and is not allowed to look at the word or picture for a set amount of time. The first group to get it wins a prize (candy, pencil, etc). Then, they switch roles for a new word.

This activity puts the students in the “hot seat” because they are forced to talk about something without using its name. They are forced to struggle to find the words to describe the item, which is a skill that I wish I had when I found myself talking to native speakers in other countries (or even here at home talking with people who don’t speak English).

Estudiante Nueva Writing Activity


Originally, this activity came as the culminating assessment for a unit on school in general and class subjects, in particular. I wouldn’t teach the vocabulary the same way I did when I originally did this, but rather through stories and acquisition-friendly methods. I would definitely use this activity as a writing assignment, though. One thing that I was not able to find to show a picture of was a blank student schedule for our school. I had the students, once they had learned the vocabulary for their subject areas, fill in their own schedule in Spanish. Then, they would complete this assignment to help the new student to find her way around school. I would also keep the assignment in the same format: a letter to another student. This is something that they have not had much experience writing and would be a good skill for the real world and good practice for focusing on the 2nd person, which tends to get lost in our storytelling activities.

Animal Creation Activity


This is just a fun activity for the students to create their own animals out of the body parts of other animals. This used to be in a unit just about animals, but now that I am storytelling, we talk about lots of animals and the students have acquired (or are working towards acquiring) lots of vocabulary about animals just through discussing them in our stories. Instead of creating a unit about animals and placing this in there, I would tell a story about a character who has to create their own animal (maybe around Halloween as a play on the story of Frankenstein?). This activity would then fit in with that story as the students get to be the character and create their own animals. I would also change the sentence prompts at the bottom of the page because they are a little bit unclear. Instead of saying just “Tiene____de____,” I would give more context and more support. The point of the activity would not be to show me they know all the body parts of animals but rather that they can understand the input and then use it to make something fun, interesting, and original.

I will update when I have used these other activities…I am looking forward to trying them again and seeing how they mesh with the TPRS and CI methods we have been using lately.


  1. I absolutely love this post! It is so true that there are things we used to do that we can incorporate into our instruction now. I have done some of this revisiting myself, but what I learned is that because I was timing them wrongly the power of the learning experiences was lost and the students gained no ground in their proficiency! In many ways what I used to do was exactly backwards of what I do now! Reading and listening used to always come after I felt students had learned the content, and the input was the vocabulary and grammar lessons. That was then, THANK GOODNESS. Anyway, great post! Keep up the good work! You always add such great insight and energy to our community! Also, I hear SCOLT was a huge success for you, so CONGRATS!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the comment and the support! Have am humbled and a little shocked at the amount of traffic and support I’ve been getting since presenting and posting my presentation online.

    Right now, I am reveling in the new (aka old) lessons and activities that I’ve been able to find and I’m having a lot of fun editing them to use in new proficiency-based contexts. I am finding lots of old stuff that I’m dusting off and finding new life for it.

    The next step is a school-wide plan for proficiency-based assessment and then maybe even a proficiency-based framework for all the other schools in our system to use so we are all on the same page level-by-level.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s