For the past eight days, I’ve been talking about the Olympics while getting to know my students and establishing routines. The goal is to build a classroom culture based on trust, respect, and kindness. In Spanish II we often get students from different schools and even districts so  I also use these two weeks to am assess students’  proficiency level . Finally and most importantly, I am front loading all the vocabulary students will need to read Felipe Alou by Carol Gaab, but my students don’t know this yet. As far as they know, they think I just like to gossip about athletes and the coaches at our school.

Day 1:
a. I welcomed every student at the door with a friendly smile. Then I said to them in Spanish “backpack on the table please.” Oh, I forgot to mention that I have a desk-less classroom.
b. I assigned seats to students from day one. This step is critical because it sends a message to the students that you’re in charge (Ben Slavic.) Then, I told them to greet their neighbor with “hello, how are you?” in Spanish.
c. I told them in Spanish to stand up, and I modeled our daily greeting. We practice that twice.
d. I taught them the gestures for I don’t understand, may I speak English? Repeat, slower and write it on the board.
e. I shared some information about my life with them in Spanish. I also reminded them to use the gestures I just taught them to show me that they were listening. I only shared a few details using lots of cognates and asking comprehension questions. I also engaged them in the conversation. For instance, I told them that I live in Long Beach, I asked who has visited Long Beach. A handful of students raised their hands. So I picked one of them, I ask him his name, and then I asked him again you visited Long Beach? Yes! I repeated his answer, and then I address the rest of the class “oh class ___ visited Long Beach.” What I’m doing here, is teaching my class that everything that they say is important to me and that they need to show appreciation and respect when we talk to one another. Then I continued to ask the student more questions about his visit to Long Beach. When? where? how? with whom?
f. Wow! The ten-minute bell rang! Time flies by when you’re having fun. I used the last ten minutes to assign the password to enter the classroom (Original idea accredited to the Awesome Alina Filipescu) and we practiced our exit procedure (Credit: Bryce Hedstrom)
Profesora: ¡Clase!
Estudiantes: ¡Sí, señora!
Profesora: Gracias por aprender.
Estudiantes: Gracias por enseñarnos.
Profesora: Pueden guardar sus cosas.
*Disclaimer: None of these ideas are of my creation; they are based on things I have learned by attending workshops and observing other teachers and Carol Gaab two-day visit to our school district.

Switching from textbook based teaching to TCI

Here is a helpful infographic that will give you some information and steps to follow during the transition. The transition process could be overwhelming so try to practice one skill at a time. Start with the basics, like the art of circling and then add more advanced activities to your repertoire.My personal advice is to start with TCI/TPRS curriculum already published and slowly find out how to make it your own. I see a lot of people going through hell by trying to learn a new methodology and creating all new materials at the same time. They get so exhausted that they eventually end up going back to their comfort zone. Also, although it is not mentioned in the infographic, when I was going through the transition process,  I read lots of books about this method ( I recommend TPRS in a  Year by Ben Slavic, and Fluency Through TPR Storytelling by Blaine Ray ). So every time I was having second thoughts, I would remember the theory and research behind this approach.

the-switch-infographic (3)




Lessons learned

This is my eight-year teaching and learning how to teach. Four years ago, I changed from a textbook-grammar based instruction to TCI. The first time I attempted this method I failed, I mean I bombed like a stand-up comedian who said a bad joke and nobody laughed. So what did I do? I went back to my comfort zone, the textbook. At the end of the semester, I gave my students an end of the semester survey . I was surprised when the vast majority of my students said they “really enjoyed when I told them stories and we did gestures.”

Lessons learned :

I  failed the first time I attempted TCI/TPRS but failure turned out to be a great teacher.

TCI/TPRS is effective even when it’s done poorly.

The following year, I was committed only to do TCI/TPRS, but I didn’t have the money to attend a workshop. So I googled, and I googled and then googled some more. I found Bryce Hedstrom’s website. I felt like I hit the jackpot! Bryce has so many wonderful resources some are free and some you have to buy. I spent about $15.00 that day, and I downloaded all the freebies. I used Bryce’s observation checklist to reflect on my teaching practice. (I still use it, and I gave it to my principal so he can use it during our formal observation.) Then, I clicked on all the people he follows, and I found a community of TCI practitioners willing to share lessons, materials, failures and successes.

Lessons learned:

There’s information is out there.

TCI/TPRS teachers are very generous.

 Bryce Hedstrom’s observation sheet is a great tool for beginners.

That year, I tried different activities some of those worked and some didn’t. I still made some terrible mistakes. I was telling stories to my students rather than “asking them stories” and I was also rushing my stories too much and trying to keep all the details of the stories the same. Still, my students were USING and remembering the language. I was doing this all on my own; I didn’t want anyone at school to know I wasn’t following the curriculum. Halfway through the semester, I was exhausted, but I was very happy with the results.

Lessons learned:

You will make mistakes but you will get better.

I still didn’t have any money for training. I discovered recorded lessons on youtube. In my opinion, observing teachers is what helped me to improve my TCI/TPRS teaching practice. The first video I watched was Michele Whaley teaching Russian. I have just read Ben Slavic book, but I understood circling and going slow after watching this video (I guess I,m a visual-experiential learner.) I found other videos by Susan Gross and Carol Gaab, I watched the videos, I took notes and then I tried what I learned with my class. Sometimes, I tried three different strategies all at once, and that was overwhelming to me and confusing to my students.

Lessons learned: 

YouTube allows you to observe teachers without ever leaving your classroom. 

Try one strategy at the time. 

I have to go to the Gym now, but later I will tell about the first time I met Jason Fritze.

The Power of Storytelling

I don’t tell stories in my class but rather, I story ASK.That means that I co-create engaging and fun stories with input from my students by asking a series of patterned questions. Story-asking is a powerful tool that elicits second language acquisition. Even the business sector has recolonized the power of storytelling as a mean to transmit content that is engaging. Writer Rodger Dean Duncan of Forbes magazine wrote an article about the power of storytelling in the business sector. In his article Mr. Duncan states that:

“No doubt about it, the best speakers are good storytellers. The best writers are good storytellers. The best leaders are good storytellers. The best teachers and trainers and coaches are good storytellers. It might even be argued that the best parents are good storytellers.”

Since you probably don’t have time to read the whole article because you have to grade papers, or answer parents’ email or finish your lessons for tomorrow, here’s a cool info-graphic that sums it all up for you!the-science-of-story-telling


I confess, I dropped the ball with enforcing my number 1 rule:

In Spanish class we only speak Spanish

In French class we only speak French

I am good at staying in the target language myself. I was so good at enforcing this sacred rule with my students, but lately I haven’t been enforcing it. My favorite TCI trainer Jason Fritze, told me that this is the most important rule and under no circumstances his students are allowed to speak English without raising their hands and asking for permission. He gave me some very good ideas to stay in the target language 90% of the time. First, I need to explain to my students why this rule is so important. Then, I need to teach them a gesture for when they need to speak English. They will only use this gesture in an emergency situation. I will follow my own rule and ask the class “May I speak English?” Lately I’ve been teaching my Spanish level 2 students synonyms, so now every time they ask me what does a word mean I say this word is a synonym of this. Example:

¿Qué quiere decir alumno?

Alumno es un sinónimo de estudiante.

This strategy has been very useful and it allows me to avoid using English. Another strategy I learned from Jason Fritze is not to let the class turn into  the dreaded ¿Cómo se dice..? or  insufferable Comment dit-on?  game. In other words, students will communicate by  using the words that they have acquired  at the moment. Lastly, keep your class fun and positive by praising and rewarding those who follow the rules.  This will  encourage students’ participation and  use of the target language.