Sunday, February 13, 2022

7 Last Minute Ideas to Celebrate Valentine's Day in the Classroom (Includes a Freebie!)

Is it Valentine's Day already?? 

To be honest, Valentine's Day is not my favorite holiday (by far), but it is one that I truly enjoy celebrating with my students in the classroom.  

But what if you are not prepared for tomorrow? Not to worry! Here are 5 low and no-prep ideas that your students will love!

1. Decorate the Classroom (or door, or bulletin board) 

Cut out paper hearts large enough for students to write a word or or short phrase. Have students write on the hearts and decorate them. 

Students can write words:

  • that describe a good friend
  • that describe kindness
  • of inspiration
Students can write short phrases 
  • why they love their Spanish class
  • why they love school
  • a happy thought

2. Kindness Letters

This can be as simple as pulling out some paper and beginning to write, or as involved as making a card out of construction paper, decorating it, and writing inside.

Students can write about 
  • why someone is special or important to them
  • a thank you for a kind act that someone did for them
  • a note to another Spanish student in a lower level class with advice and helpful tips
  • a note to someone special just to make them smile!
Students can free-write in Spanish, or perhaps write an acrostic poem using vocabulary they know. You can also print out the simple cards on cardstock from this packet for students to fill out and color for their friends, family, and/or classmates.

3.  Love Songs (or Anti-Love Songs?)

What Spanish student does not enjoy learning through songs? My middle and high schoolers love practicing the imperative tense with a song called "Dejame" by Los Secretos. I have created activities including a lyric fill-in and different activities to learn vocabulary and reinforce the imperative tense. It's a hit every year!

You can find a fun list of songs 

4.  Classroom Kindness Word Swap!

In this activity, all students take out a sheet of paper and write their name in the center.

As a class, we brainstorm descriptive words that can describe people and write them on the board.

Next, the students move around the room, writing kind words and short phrases that describe their classmates.  I like to play cheesy Spanish love songs in the background, but you can also play more upbeat music to get the mood going!

After 10-15 minutes (or however long it takes for students to write on all of their classmates' papers), students can return to their seats and see what their classmates wrote about them.

5.  Read or Listen to a Story

I just love the story of "El Amor y la Locura" by Mario Benedetti for more advanced and bilingual students. There are several YouTube videos, but this one is nice and slow with a clear accent.

The story is about the beginning of time, when all of the different feelings are personified and play Hide and Seek.  It's entertaining and has great vocabulary.

I brainstorm a list of feelings with students and hand out the story as a text so they can refer to it as they watch the video. Most times, after discussing the story, the students want to listen to it a second time.

6.  Valentine's Day Themed Activities

I would be remiss to not mention the opportunity to review material with a Valentine's Day theme.  In my TpT store, I have several themed activities for Elementary students.

7. Valentine's Day Mini-book Freebie!!!

Click on the photo above for your own Spanish English bilingual Valentine's Day minibook. Students will love making these little books their own! Assembly directions are included.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Don't You Just Love It When Things Start Falling Into Place?

Our family has been working hard to incorporate more Spanish in our lives in 2022.  

This morning, we woke up to a beautiful snowfall which also meant that my little one's Spanish class was on zoom today.  He argued and tried to convince us to allow him to skip the class, but it was a short session and I was curious as to what they actually do in class (and how much my son actually participates!)

I was so pleasantly surprised that, after a slow start, he actively participated and even make some silly jokes in Spanish. He was one of few that answered questions about the cuento they read : El Muñeco de Nieve.  He even sang a song about invierno. I was proud of him.

This weekend, my boys helped me test out a few of my activities for the 100 Días del Colegio celebration. They completed a text prompt:

and a worksheet:

Freddie even indulged me with a mini photo session of him playing with the celebration bracelets:

Lunch this afternoon was in Spanish.
My older son just came back from the grocery store, speaking in Spanish with his dad.
Tonight, my youngest is looking forward to reading a cuento about yet another muñeco de nieve and my older two have asked to watch an episode of "Casa de Papel" with us!

I'm thrilled that with a little more effort, my boys are beginning to feel more confident again with their Spanish! 

While (if I'm being completely honest) it's not always easy or even always successful, encouraging my sons to use their target language is so important. I think it's also important for them to see that even if they take a break or even forget Spanish for a while, they can always come back to it again.

Friday, January 21, 2022

My New Year's Resolutions as a Spanish Speaking Teacher-Mom

I have to admit that New Year's Eve is just about my least favorite holiday. HOWEVER, I do love the clean slate a new year brings and I enjoy challenging myself to become a better version of myself through New Years Resolutions!

I will spare you the "I will exercise" and "I will get more sleep" resolutions, and instead share with you my resolutions to help my boys increase their Spanish proficiency this year. 

Even though we are primarily an OPOL household (with my husband as the native Spanish speaker), I find that I need to step up on the target language teaching as COVID has really put some roadblocks in their Spanish learning:  

** We have not been to Spain since summer of 2019.

** My older son has continued his Spanish learning through ALCE, but primarily through zoom since spring of 2020 due to COVID restrictions. This is not ideal.

** My middle son tried to study with ALCE, but since zoom school is not for him, he learned zip and is no longer taking a Spanish class...strike that! He is taking the mandatory "Intro to Spanish" in his middle school, but he needs more.

** My younger son really struggles to put his thoughts together in Spanish. He did not begin his immersion Spanish classes last year due to COVID. He is enrolled this year and enjoys the classes, but tells me it is only about 50% in Spanish and all of the kids struggle to speak in the target language.

So here we go, Sra Casado's New Year Resolutions with regards to Spanish learning at home:


All in all, I want to encourage my boys to speak, read, and hear more Spanish in their daily lives. Since we have not been able to travel or take fun classes in Spanish, learning and using Spanish has become more of a chore. We need to turn that around, poco a poco.

1. Read more books: 

This resolution is especially focused on the little one who still loves for us to read to him. We have so many beautiful picture books in Spanish, but, at the end of the day, we often turn to old favorites in English. I propose working with my husband and son to create "Spanish book night" at least 3 times per week.

2. More songs / TV / movies: 

My older boys have begun to find expressing themselves more and more difficult as they have gotten older and the majority of their friends only speak English. We began watching Casa de Papel together as a family, first with subtitles in English, then with subtitles in Spanish, and their confidence has soared! We need to continue this, and add in Spanish music during family meal times or once per month Spanish movies to practice even more!

3. Play more games: 

What our non-disciplined family has found to be extremely helpful over the years is to have established routines when it comes to using Spanish. We know that we always play with Playmobil in Spanish. We know that bathtime is always in Spanish, etc. I think it would be fun to have certain games that we only play in Spanish.

3. Speak Spanish at dinner table: 

Again with the routines! We began doing this in December but we need to continue. It's been a bit of a challenge to (1) remember and (2) reinforce when we do remember, but we will get there!

Sometimes we may find it difficult to find topics of conversation. In another post, I will talk about some games that we play to facilitate conversation... here is a favorite....

4. Get my boys involved in helping with my TpT store: Before COVID hit, my boys would help here and there with my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It was fun for them to try out the activities, and useful for me. Now that two of them are teenagers (how did that happen?!), they are able to help with other aspects of the store such as product creation and business strategy. I'm hoping if they can find that Spanish is useful (and so many people are interested in learning Spanish), they will be inspired to learn even more!


1. Read more books in Spanish: 

I feel like my days are so full as it is, but I want to make a concerted effort to read more this year, and especially to read more in Spanish. My son is reading En El Tiempo de las Mariposas by Julia Alvarez, and reading and discussing it with him will be my first read.

2. Read newspaper articles: 

In preparation for the AP test this year, my older son will be reading a newspaper article per week and discussing it with his dad. I would like to participate in this as well.

3. Organize my reference files (digital and hard copy): 

I am not looking forward to this one, but over the years, I have created, bought, and otherwise accumulated so many wonderful resources to teach and learn Spanish. However, they are in SO MANY different books, folders, boxes, notebooks, computers, files, external hard drives....I don't even know what I have anymore! (does this happen to anyone else?) I probably won't finish this project this year, but I do want to begin dedicating time to learning what I have and simplifying my Spanish materials to my favorites.

I know that this is a very ambitious list, and it's quite possible that we may not be able to do it all. However, it doesn't hurt to try, right? I can't wait to give it a go, see what works and what doesn't, and improve the family's Spanish in the meantime.

What are your 2022 New Years Resolutions for you and your family with regards to the target language?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Quick Round-up of Activities to Celebrate Navidad With Spanish Students

It's the "most wonderful time of the year", right before winter break and your students are restless, thinking of vacation and Christmas. 

Here are some fun and engaging ways to keep students learning Spanish language and culture!

1. Decorate the Room (or just the classroom door!)

How to Spanish speaking countries decorate for Navidad? Have your students discuss or write about this using authentic Spanish vocabulary, then go crazy decorating the classroom!

2. Listen to (and sing!) Christmas Carols! 

All of my students, from the littlest to the adults, absolutely LOVE using music as a tool to learn Spanish. Not only does it make for a fun class, but listening to and singing Villancicos can improve your students' Spanish skills in a big way. 

A quick YouTube or Spotify search will find playlists galore to use as background music. If you would like to take it to the next level, creating a lyric fill-in sheet and extension activities will reinforce this new vocabulary.

3. Write a Letter to the Reyes Magos

Have your students been good? What is on their wishlist? 

Have your students write a letter to their favorite Wise Man with a list of what they would like to receive. What a great way for them to learn meaningful vocabulary!

Here are some adorable examples of letters to the Reyes Magos. Here are some other examples.

4. Play Games and Activities:

There are so many games that you can play with students that have a Navidad theme! No prep games include 20 questions and hangman. However, by far, my students' favorite activites are Loteria (similar to BINGO), Madlibs, and Escape Rooms.

Bingo is a great group activity that helps students recognize and practice identifying vocabulary.  Here are two versions of the game: digital and printable.

Another activity that works in small or larger groups is "Fill-in" Stories (similar to Madlibs).

Students work together to complete a story using vocabulary they know. At the end of the class, students can share their silly stories and vote on the best one!

A more involved activity that was a big hit with my virtual students last year during COVID were Digital Escape Rooms with a Navidad theme. I created a Spanish Navidad and a Mexican Navidad escape room, in 2 different versions each--in English for more of a cultural learning and in Spanish to reinforce vocabulary as well. Next year, I hope to create a classroom version where students can work together in person to solve the riddles!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Using Scrambled Sentences to Improve Confidence with Spanish Reading and Fluency

We all have had to sacrifice and pivot during COVID. One of the sacrifices that my family has had to make has been not traveling. We have not been to Spain in over two years. The lack of immersion has affected my boys' level of Spanish in a significant way--especially for my 6 year old who, pre-COVID, did not have any formal education in Spanish.

As things are slowly getting "back to normal" for us, we enrolled our boys in Spanish classes for the school year. However, they, like many of their classmates, have seen their Spanish skills drop over the last couple of years.

Last week, my youngest son was quarantined at home for 10 days due to being a close contact for someone who tested positive for COVID. We were sent a couple of school packets home and had a few ZOOM classes throughout the week, but there was a lot of down time for sure.

I decided to take out some Thanksgiving themed Spanish worksheets. They had scrambled sentences where he had to cut out the words and form a coherent sentence with them. 

The worksheets had 2 different levels:

  • the simpler level asked the student to copy the sentence that was written 

  • and the higher level simply provided the words and the student had to create their own sentence.

Do you know that my son was able to do the higher level--and asked for more??? 

He had such a great time cutting and pasting, 

figuring out how to form a coherent sentence (often looking for clues like punctuation and capital letters),

and writing his sentences.

More importantly, it was a quick activity that helped him gain so much confidence with his reading skills.  

He was so excited about learning to read in Spanish that he picked up a few Spanish picture books and tried to read them as well! #winning


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

6 Reasons Why Listening to Christmas Carols Will Help Students Learn Spanish

As the weather gets colder and we move into the holiday season, many teachers look for fun and engaging ways to help their students improve Spanish. One of my favorite ways by far, for students both young and old to work on their Spanish in a fun way, is by listening to villancicos navideños (Christmas Carols).

Beyond the "catchy tune" that makes the lyrics stick in your head (I can still sing "Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant" and Joe Dessin's "Aux Champs Elysses" from my high school French class 30 years later...) and the inevitable repetition of playing a fun song again and again (and hearing the musak version in stores while out and about), there are several reasons why actively listening to Christmas Carols (and other music) can help you learn Spanish.

1. Students learn more by using vocabulary in context rather than memorizing lists of words. 

The more information you have about a word, the easier it will be to understand its use, use it yourself, and, finally memorize it. Brains love to learn new things by making associations or connections with information that is already known. Students will remember new information even easier if they have several facts or memories to connect the new one to.

When students listen to villancicos, they are learning Christmas vocabulary, but also words and phrases that are used during celebrations, winter, family, and culture. With context, not only do students learn a new word, but they also learn how this word is used and other words used with it. They can then use this new knowledge and apply it to conversations they have with classmates or other Spanish speaking members of their communities.

2.  Students learn "real world" Spanish including idioms and slang.

Sometimes, as teachers, we tend to teach a very tame version of Spanish. It makes perfect sense! After all, we want our students to be respectful, have correct grammar, and present themselves well when they immerse themselves in a new language and culture. 

However, many times, when our students travel or even just go to the local Mexican taqueria, they may not even understand what the native Spanish speakers are saying!


Because native speakers of all language often take liberties with that language!

Songs, even less traditional villancicos, may include "street Spanish" and more colloquial vocabulary. They may reference idioms or customary stories without explaining them completely.

3. Students learn Spanish in an active way.

Because students need to understand the words and phrases in order to understand the song, they tend to be more invested and more active in their learning. When trying to understand a song, it is not enough to just learn words in isolation...instead, they must understand the verb conjugations, the context, and the overall meaning of the song.

Additionally, instructors can make the learning even more active by providing activities that go along with the Christmas Carols. 

Many teachers provide lyric fill-ins, where key vocabulary is left for the student to complete while listening to the song. This can even be scaffolded by having the infinitive version of the verb listed and the student must listen to the song to hear how it is conjugated.

Students can also complete activities related to the song. They can be as simple as a coloring sheet for more introductory levels of Spanish, or something more complex, like a crossword puzzle or word search, an essay prompt, or a "craftivity".

When students learn new vocabulary and grammar through Villancicos, and then actively apply that knowledge, it is more likely to "stick".

4.  Listening to Christmas Carols improves pronunciation.

The fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult to give students enough authentic input of their target language to become fluent. Every extra bit of "real world Spanish" that we can expose them to will improve their Spanish immensely. It is not enough to just read and write and speak with classmates. Students need to hear a variety of native speakers speaking (and singing!) Spanish in order to perfect their intonation, rhythm, and pronunciation. Christmas Carols are perfect for this!

Not only are they familiar and fun, but traditional carols often feature slower tempos and more traditional vocabulary. Many are extremely repetitive so students will hear the same words again and again. Students will be singing along (not realizing they are practicing their Spanish!) by the end of the song.

5. The songs' melody, rhythm, and rhyme helps students remember vocabulary and grammar. explains how attributes of Christmas Carols can help students memorize the Spanish language. The Method of Loci describes a way that the brain will learn new facts quicker if you associate them with known facts. For example, if your students listen to the traditional "Noche de Paz", they may be able to hum the familiar "Silent Night" tune to remember the words noche means night and paz means peace.

The rhythm inherent a song also helps students' minds to recall new vocabulary and phrases in two different ways: grouping and patterning. We know from experience that grouping items can help us memorize a series of numbers, such as a phone number. The same can be said for learning vocabulary and phrases in a target language! Additionally, rhythm is a pattern and orderly patterns are easier for our brains to remember because they are predictable and we can anticipate the next part of the pattern.

Finally, "acoustic encoding" is what helps us remember things that we hear. Since our brain naturally breaks down words by sounds, rhymes are much easier for us to process and remember.

6. Students learn better in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

In this study presented in the 2016 European Conference for language learning, researchers found that learning through song improved students' vocabulary learning and retention. The brain is stimulated through music and song, and balances out the left (traditional classroom teaching) and right (music) brained learning of a language. However, one of the most significant findings of the study, in my opinion, was that students bonded and relaxed while listening to music, which enabled them to enjoy learning their target language and look forward to learning more in the future.

So what do you say? Have your students responded well to listening to Villancicos in class? Which are their favorites? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Improve Spanish Fluency with 6 items that you already own!

How much money do we spend on educational toys, workbooks, or other items to help our students learn Spanish? Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could just use items WE ALREADY OWN to teach these skills?


I love using household items, toys, or other things I already own to teach my students Spanish.  Let's talk about some of my favorite items that I use all the time to help my students improve their fluency.

1. Wordless Picture Books

Buenas noches, Gorila (Spanish Edition): Rathmann, Peggy, Rathmann, Peggy:  9780399243004: Books

Since we only visit Spain during the summer, I can never seem to find enough authentic Spanish books for my kids and students. I found that I can use wordless picture books to help my students work on their fluency and specific vocabulary.

Some of my favorite wordless picture books (also available at my local library!) are:

  • Wave, by Suzy Lee
  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  • Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
  • One Frog Too Many by Mercer Mayer

You can also click here to find a more compressive list of wordless picture books that may work for you and your students.

2. Magazine pictures or Photo Albums: 

In the same vein as wordless picture books, students can piece together their own story using magazine photos or photo albums. Here, the students have more creative license to not just tell a story, but to tell their own story. 

I find that helping them limit their choices will enable them to target specific vocabulary that they are currently learning (or already know) so that they can concentrate on improving their fluency.  

For example, if students are learning travel related vocabulary and the past tense, they could find some pictures of a family or group of friends taking a vacation. Using magazines or the internet, they could find pictures of famous landmarks in their chosen destination and talk about their travels.

If, instead, the students are learning about foods and only speak in the present tense, they could tell a story about going to their favorite restaurant (or a funny story about going to a not-so-favorite restaurant).

3. Sequencing Cards:  

I have found that sequencing cards are SO PERFECT for working with beginning Spanish students. You can even have a word bank to trigger key vocabulary that the student can use while telling the story. Sequencing cards provide a simple and short plot that increases confidence and enables students to begin to tell meaningful stories that happen every day. 

4. Puppets, Stuffies, or Action Figures: 

For whatever reason, many of my students (young and old) love to work together to make a silly puppet show. I find that if I set the scene and pick out two to three "characters", students will jump at the chance to create a short, one to two minute dialog.

Some examples:

  • Duck and Penguin cannot decide where to go and what to pack on their vacation. Duck wants to go to a warm mountain lake and Penguin wants to go skiing.
  • Grandma and Grandpa want to buy a birthday gift for their grandson. They discuss his hobbies and decide what to buy him.
  • Turtle and Horse are trying to plan a party. Turtle has a terrible memory and horse has to describe everyone he wants to invite before turtle will agree (or not) to put them on the party list.

5. Sticky Notes and Flash Cards: 

Sticky notes or flash cards can be used to prompt ideas, grammar or vocabulary into a dialog or story plot. If your students are talking about their last vacation, you could ensure that they are also using interesting transition words by giving them 3 phrases that they have to use at some point in their story. 

Another way they can be used is to help students with role playing. One of my favorite games to play with students is to have a group of students pretend to be in a restaurant. One student is the waiter and each of the customers draw a card with a specific problem or characteristic written on it. For example, one diner is allergic to tomatoes. Another is a vegetarian. A third only wants cold food. It is the waiter's job to figure out what is going on!

6. Costumes and Props: 

Many students love to "dress up" and play the part of a character. It's often easier to speak as a professor when you are wearing glasses, or as chef if you are wearing an apron. Allow students to bring in or use some props you have when performing a dialog and watch them take it to the next level!

Props can also be used as a game in which students must invent an advertisement for a specific object. Students can work alone or in teams to write a script to convince others to buy their item. Another game would be where students write a description of an item that they "lost" somewhere in the classroom and have the other students try to identify and find the item.

What other non-traditional, household items do you use to help your students learn Spanish? Let me know in the comments below!