What Secondary Teachers Learned in 2015

Happy (almost) New Year! I'm participating in a Linky with secondary teachers to share lessons learned in 2015 and resolutions for 2016! I'm sharing two fresh ideas I tried out in my classroom in 2015 and a resolution I have for 2016.  Then check out the links at the bottom of this post for other ideas from a variety of secondary teachers!

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1.  Something New I Tried in 2015

I'm not in the classroom anymore, but last school year I assigned all homework online. I had previously done a mix of online and paper homework, but last year I went to 100% online. The school I was at used Edline, which is an online program that allowed me to create assignments online for students to access on a given date. There were some pros and cons to this new system:


  • When students submitted their homework, the assignment was automatically graded and saved in my online grade book, saving me hours of paperwork. I never had to grade homework!
  • Students got instant feedback and saw their grade as soon as they pressed "submit".


  • It's a hassle to assign written (typed) assignments. If I wrote that the correct answer was “Me lo da” and a student typed in “Me lo da.”, it was marked wrong because of the period. Or if a student misspelled “ciencias” as “ciensias”, it was marked wrong. The computer program doesn’t give half credit. I would have to go back through after everyone submitted the homework to give points to students who included punctuation or couldn’t type accents (áéíóúñ) on their computer, and this became time-consuming. 
  • I started making multiple-choice assignments to deal with the hassle of typed assignments, but this isn't always the best format for a homework assignment. 
  • There is no way to know if a student's older cousin in college did the homework for them. There isn't any handwriting you can check or any other way to check for cheating.
  • Every single student has to have online access. The school I was at had a library open before, during, and after school, so “my computer broke” wasn’t a valid excuse not to have the homework done. 
Overall, I would recommend trying out assigning homework online if your school has a program that allows for it, and see how it works for you and your classroom.

2.  New (to me) Classroom Technology

The dashboard in Evernote
Evernote! Evernote is a great app for taking notes that you can download to your phone, tablet, or computer. And it's FREE. Students can type text to take notes, take pictures, label those pictures so they are easily searchable to find later, draw, record audio, make lists, set a reminder, and students can create separate notebooks so that their Spanish and chemistry notes don't get mixed up. They can also share their notes with each other, so students that are absent can get the notes from a friend instantly. Evernote has you create an account (again, for free), which means a student can take notes on his tablet in class and then access those notes from his phone or computer later. If you circle or underline or star something on the board that is super duper important, students can do the same thing in their notes in Evernote by drawing on the picture they take or in the notes they type. The labeling function is especially awesome because they can take a picture of a slide I made with all the irregular preterite verb endings, label it "irregular preterite verb endings" and then when they search for it later, the picture they are looking for comes right up. It's far more efficient than simply snapping a picture with the camera on their phone and then swiping through all their selfies to find the picture they are looking for when they need their notes. Trust me, they have far too many selfies to swipe through. Evernote basically does everything you can do on paper - all digitally.

I ran through a short tutorial with my students and showed them all the features it has to encourage them to download it. One note of caution for making a tutorial for students: apps are laid out differently on iPhones than they are on Androids than they are on Microsoft phones. Beware of this. You can take all the screenshots you want and put together the most amazing tutorial, but only the students with all the same type of phone as you will be able to follow your tutorial. Find a friend with the other phone type and have them download the app and then take the same screenshots so all your students can follow along.

Can I get up on my Technology-Is-Awesome-And-Should-Be-Embraced Soapbox for a second? Okay, thanks. I feel that it is important to teach our students how to take good notes and acquire good study skills with technology. Because honestly, how many college students in 5 years are going to be taking notes with a pen and paper? I just finished my Masters degree in May of 2015 and I took about 5 pages of notes in one notebook over the course of 3 years and I have countless Word docs named by class and date. If I had to buy a book then I did, but I have hundreds of articles as PDFs on my computer. Students of this generation need to learn how technology can work for them and how to be good students with the newest apps because that's really what applies to their lives. They are going to be sitting in their college classes taking notes on their phones, tablets, and laptops. This should be embraced.  ::Steps down from soapbox::

3.  Goal for 2016

When Common Core first came onto the scene I had so many professional development meetings about how it was going to be implemented in English classes, in Math classes, in elementary schools, in high schools... I taught Spanish. I wanted to stand up and yell "YOU CAN'T MAKE ME LEARN THIS!" Instead, I sat quietly and ignored everything they ever tried to teach me in those meetings because absolutely none of that nonsense applied to me. And now I have a job writing curriculum that has to be aligned to Common Core. I just know it's karma laughing at me. This is what I get for ignoring all those meetings. My New Year's Resolution for 2016 is to learn everything there is to know about Common Core as it relates to ELA. I'd love to hear about any materials you have or know of to help align curriculum to Common Core ELA and literacy standards! Hahaha... this is 90% a New Year's Resolution and 10% a plea for help.

Be sure to check out the great ideas from these other teachers!

Holidays Ideas in the Spanish Classroom

'Twas the week before Winter Break, when all through the schools
Every student was stirring, and breaking all the rules...

That's how that poem goes, right?! The countdown to Winter Break has begun!

Here are some ideas to keep your Spanish classes of all levels continuing to learn new Spanish vocabulary, and allow them some creativity in the days leading up to Winter Break.

Scavenger Hunt

I love this activity. It's easy to prep and students get to get up out of their seats, so it's engaging and a great review activity. The teacher has to hang up the half-sheets around the room in a random order. Students walk around the room and look at the clipart clue on any half-sheet they want to start with, find the vocabulary word hanging around the room, write it down on their handout, walk over to the vocabulary word and look at the next clipart clue, and eventually the last one will lead back to the first. Students practice 34 Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed Spanish vocabulary words.

Three Kings Day {El Día de los Reyes} Webquest

This activity is public school-safe! I try to avoid anything that can be seen as too religious in public schools. It can be like poking a sleeping bear. It seems totally fine, right until the bear wakes up and you find yourself in a meeting with the principal and a gang of angry parents. Has this happened to anyone else?

This webquest gives students three websites to read about how Christmas and Dia de los Reyes are celebrated in Puerto Rico. So while, yes, the holidays do have an (obvious) religious background, these are not emphasized. It focuses more on how the holidays are celebrated, rather than why.

Verb Conjugations Coloring Activity

I also really love coloring activities. I've blogged about how awesome they are HERE. There is a verb in each part of the elf and students have to color based on which subject pronoun the verb matches. Students can do this with present tense, future tense, or preterite tense verbs, so they get to practice with whichever tense they are familiar with. And coloring activities are so calming - every teacher's best friend!

Bingo {Lotería}, Memory, and I Have Who Has

All three games use the same 34 Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed vocabulary words from the Scavenger Hunt activity. The Bingo game has 35 different bingo cards, so students don't all get bingo at the same time.  These games will all keep students engaged and learning new Spanish vocabulary in those last few (crazy) days leading up to Winter Break.

All of these activities are available individually in my store, or bundled together HERE.

I hope you find these activity ideas to be helpful!  What else do you like to do in your Spanish classes right before Winter Break?

Listening Activities for Lower Level Spanish Classes

I like to include listening activities in my Spanish classes as much as I can. It can be seriously challenging to find good listening activities for lower level students, though. Textbooks only have so many (good) listening comprehension activities, and it can be tricky to find recordings of Spanish speakers who speak SLOWLY and CLEARLY. Here are two great websites that I've found and used in my Spanish 1 and 2 classes:

1.  Quia
There are listening activities for Level 1 HERE and for Level 2 HERE. Click "Start now>>" and you will see 10 multiple choice listening activities. Each time you reload the page, it will give you new activities. There are probably 30 listening activities that Quia randomly picks and loads on the webpage. I like to go through and listen to all the activities and record the ones I want to use in class. I used Audacity to record them, which is a free program you can download on your Mac or PC. It's super easy to use, and then you can save the recordings to your computer and use them year after year. You can use the multiple choice questions and answers Quia provides for each listening, or you can create your own!

2.  123TeachMe
There are listening activities for Novice Low HERE. There are 39 "groups", and each has two audio recordings.  Again, I just go through and listen to a bunch of them and record the ones I want to use in class.  These recordings show up in the same order every time you load the page though, so you can pull up the website in class and play the recording(s) you want.  The website includes a question for each recording, so you can use that one or create your own!

I hope these ideas have helped you include more listening activities with native speakers in your lower level classes!  Where else do you get good listening activities?  I'd love to hear other suggestions!