Thursday, February 4, 2021

Online shopping activity template

Once upon a time I needed a book that was written in English but published by a German press. It was before Google Chrome/automatic site translation, so there was no just translating the page. I didn't speak any German, but I was able to successfully order the book by copying and pasting a few essential phrases into a translator, and using my existing knowledge of how online shopping works. 

We're currently in our house unit in Spanish 2, and I thought one useful skill for students to have would be to navigate a Spanish shopping website. So I picked a website (IKEA Spain), made a shopping list, set a budget, created a spreadsheet that tracks their budget, and created a slide presentation for them to copy and paste photos of their items in. 

This activity could work with a lot of different topics...if I have time, I will make one for school supplies, clothing, toiletries, and anything else I can think of. In addition to the benefit of having students navigate a Spanish-language website, it also exposes dialectal differences. For example, my students were confounded when a search for "refrigerador" only turned up one item, but when I told them to try "nevera" (a more commonly-used word for "refrigerator" in Spain), they had a lot more options. Most students really enjoy it, and if you make your shopping list long enough (like furnishing an entire house), it's an activity that can take most or all of a class period. 

If you have Google Classroom or Canvas with Google Assignments integration, it's incredibly easy. Just copy my slides presentation and spreadsheet into your Google Drive, and then make an assignment that makes a copy for each student. If you don't have those, you can copy them to your drive and make them visible to but not editable by students. Post the link and have students make their own copy of each document, and then submit the link to the finished products.

Here is my Google Slides template.

Here is my Google Sheets budget

Monday, May 18, 2020

Overcoming depression

My sister is a licensed mental health practitioner, and she recently started a podcast on mental health.  After aggressive lobbying on my part, she interviewed me about my experience with depression. (It wasn't really aggressive lobbying; I had offered because I thought it might be useful, and despite the fact that we've known each other for almost 40 years, she thought I might be offering just to be nice. I reminded her that I never offer to do something just to be nice. 😂😂😂)

Anyway, here it is. I was about as low as you can go, and today I'm thriving. If you are dealing with depression, you can feel better. If you need to connect with someone, email me at aksaalfeld AT If you are suicidal, PLEASE call the Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255. Crisis textline-74174.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Resources for giving feedback on pronunciation online

During the COVID-19 closure, I'm still doing weekly questions to make sure students are getting a little practice speaking. I could use FlipGrid for this, but one thing I've learned in teaching with technology is that simpler is better than more complex, and every time we introduce a new tech tool into the classroom, it adds a layer of complexity. When I was on a tech committee, one of the tech people at my university reminded us that even if we're only asking students to learn 2-3 new tools, if every teacher is asking students to learn 2-3 new tools that are different, that adds a lot of extra work to their load. Since we're already using Google Classroom and Google Classroom allows students to upload video files, I've just been using that for the weekly question. The upside is that they're already used to submitting assignments via Google Classroom, so there's little to no learning curve. The downside is that Google Classroom doesn't currently have an efficient way to leave audio or video feedback. (You could make a video and post a link in a comment, but multiply that by 100 and you can kiss doing anything else goodbye.)

I can give feedback on comprehensibility, sentence structure, and vocabulary choice using the comment feature, but giving feedback on pronunciation without using audio or video files is harder (and this is where FlipGrid may yet convince me to use it, since this feature is already integrated). But for now, when I notice a pronunciation issue, I put Google Translate and Word Reference to good use. Both websites include the option to play audio of whatever word you put in. So I send a link for the word or words that students are having trouble with, and then they can listen to the Google Translate or Word Reference pronunciation. I prefer Word Reference because it appears to be a real human voice rather than a robot voice, and it also has options for a few different dialects of Spanish. But either one will give students the main idea of how a word is pronounced.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Customizing Google Slides masters to save time

A little while ago I read this post by Amy Lenord and realized that I wasn't using Google Slides to their fullest potential.

When I was making slides for my son's homework assignments, I realized that I could save time by customizing a master slide to fit my needs so that I could just click the slide type I wanted with the text already on it instead of retyping or copying and pasting.

I made custom master slides for words, sentences, and nonsense words for my son's homework so that I could just click the "add" button and my slide had everything except the homework word.

I use Google Slides to make my vocabulary lists for my Spanish classes, and then students go on gallery walks with a notes page to get their vocabulary for our unit (in normal times; not right now when we're not in school). I put the images in sheet protectors so I can re-use them, and put little sticky labels indicating whether they're for Spanish 1, 2, 3, or 4 since I frequently do our vocab days on the same day for all classes. I thought that was pretty clever, but then I realized that I could eliminate that step and save time by customizing my slide master.

I added a custom master slide layout with Spanish 1/Spanish 2/Spanish 3/Spanish 4 on the side.

My master slide layout menu.
The nice thing is that once you've used the slide layout, when you click the add button to add a new slide, Google Slides keeps using the last one you used until you tell it to use a layout. So I don't have to copy and paste to get the layout I want; I just click the add slide button and it gives me the layout I want.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Moving online for COVID-19

The nice thing about my school is that we're already 1:1 with Chromebooks, and pretty much everyone has internet access at home (I know I am extremely spoiled). So I've already been doing the kinds of activities that will work well online and just need to make a few modifications.

To keep things simple, I created a weekly activity list for each class in a Google Doc that I shared with students, and will stick to the same or similar activity types. During our normal class, I have a weekly question that I ask students every day Monday-Thursday. However, when I've been gone for illness or professional development, I've had students submit their answers as videos, and what I've learned is that it takes me a LOT longer to give feedback on 100 videos than it does to quickly move around the room and give feedback during class time. So I decided that instead of having students make a video every day, we'll do them on Monday and Thursday. I'll give feedback on Monday so that they can make adjustments, and then have them try to answer without notes on Thursday, just like we do during class. 

I'm using Google Meet to do a few games online. For the sake of simplicity and organization, I set one time for both sections of Spanish 1, one time for both sections of Spanish 2, and one time for Spanish 3 and 4. I posted the link to Meet in Google Classroom, and then I share my screen to do Quizlet live on Mondays, and I'll call bingo games on Wednesdays (all of my bingo games are online here, and my Quizlet sets are available here). 

I'll keep doing my listening and reading comprehension activities using a Google form, but I'll make a YouTube video for the listening activities and add it to my Google form so that students can do it on their own. Edited to add: I've created a public Google Drive folder where I'm putting copies of all my materials here

My other concern was trying to get information out to parents, and having everything in one place so parents could easily access it. I had already created a course website using Google Sites when I started teaching at my school, but I hadn't really used it for anything except posting pictures of Spanish Club activities. But it's really easy to edit Google Sites, so I embedded my weekly activity list document into each course page, and then as I edit my Google Doc, the edits will show on my course website

Then I thought that maybe other people would like to have a ready-to-go website that they could use to push information out to parents, so I made a copy of the site and turned it into a publicly available template here: If you'd like to use it, just click the "Use this template" link on the top of the page and follow the instructions to make your site. You'll need to change your permissions to share when your site is ready, but you could have the site up and running in a matter of minutes. I hope it's helpful to you! 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Homework hack for parents of new readers

My son started kindergarten this year, and I'm thrilled that he's starting to sound out words he sees and words that he uses! I really get into asking him how he thinks words are spelled, and he does pretty well for about 5 minutes, and then he's over it and wants to do something else. He's starting to have short homework assignments every week (basically sounding out words and reviewing sight words that they've learned in class), but it takes longer than 5 minutes, so after the first 5 minutes, it's been painful trying to keep him on task long enough to finish the assignment. The assignment would take maybe 20 minutes if he just did it, but he starts saying random words when he gets tired of doing it, so it's been dragging on for around 3 hours every week and getting split into multiple days just to get through it.

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that he might do better if he only saw one word at a time instead of the whole list of words, so I made a Google Slides presentation with his homework one week just to see if it would go better, and BOY was it SO. MUCH. FASTER! As an added bonus, having the homework in Google Slides means that it's always available on my phone, so if we have a few minutes here or there while we're out and about, we can go over some of the words.

It's not fancy, but it's been working really well for us. I made a few customizable templates that are available here:

Sunday, December 1, 2019

New activity types: Speed dating, PearDeck, and Conjuguemos games

As I have more of my materials developed, I've been working on improving or modifying existing activities to better meet learning objectives.  I have a number of activities where I ask students to interview classmates, and in the past I've done this as a free-for-all where they get up and move around the classroom. This worked pretty well in higher ed, but in K-12, what usually ends up happening is that I get a few big clumps of people that are answering the questions as a group. Efficient, yes, but part of the goal of the activity is to get them repetitions asking and answering the questions. So I borrowed an activity that I read about online (with apologies, because I can't remember where I read about it) and set up interviews in a speed dating format. To make it easier for me, I arrange all of my classes to do interviews on the same day so that I can arrange the desks the day before. I make a set of questions for each class, and give them 2-3 minutes to interview their partner. When the time is up, one partner moves on and the other one stays, and the process repeats. This has the added benefit of holding all students accountable for participating, and it's easier to plan for how long it will take. It also makes it easier for me to walk around and make sure people are talking in Spanish, and there's a lot more focus and a lot less off-task talking. Pretty much every time I've done it, I've heard students negotiating meaning in the target language in a way that surprised and impressed me, so it's been a great addition to my rotation of activities! I still do the free-for-all for short activities, but I've really been enjoying the speed dating set-up for more detailed interviews.

My school bought a subscription to PearDeck for all teachers this year, and it has a lot of great features. (It's a Google Slides add-on that lets you make your slides interactive, kind of like Kahoot but with more options.) It has a lot of features that I haven't tried yet, but my two favorites so far are drawing and dragging. For drawing, I'll give students a description of something and have them draw it. So in our housing unit, I might describe a room with furniture and students will draw what they hear. In a clothing unit, I describe what someone in a picture is wearing (or I just make something up) and they draw the outfit. I have also made a mental note of what someone in the class is wearing and described that for students to draw, and then asked students to tell me who in the class is wearing that. You could just as easily go low tech with this and have students use paper or mini white boards, but the added bonus of this is that I can show everyone's responses on the projector, and they enjoy seeing each other's drawings. (There is a feature that allows teachers to select specific responses to avoid projecting anything that might not be school-appropriate.)

The other feature I've been using is the dragging feature. With a draggable question, students can drag up to five icons to a specified place on the slide. There are a lot of potential uses for this, but I've found it to be great for working on location prepositions. So I might say "The red dot is in the center. The blue dot is to the left of the red dot. The green dot is above the blue dot. etc."  I can add shapes or drawings to my slide and then give students directions on where the dots are located in relation to items on my slide. For example, "The red dot is in the center of the circle. The orange dot is underneath the rectangle. etc." Once I've modeled it for students and we've practiced (over several class periods, I have students work in groups doing this activity on their own. So one student will put the dots in a pattern on the slide and describe it to the other students in the group, and at the end, they'll compare their screens and see if they match.

I work hard on creating activities that are meaning-focused and rarely use drills, but I do think it is very important that students know verb endings because so much meaning is conveyed in verb endings in Spanish (tense, aspect, mood, and subject in one tiny verb ending!). For the last two years, I assigned timed Conjuguemos quizzes with a required minimum percentage and number correct for a particular grade. It was not a popular assignment, which in itself would not be enough to dissuade me, but some of my best students were getting frustrated because they didn't type very fast, and their knowledge of verb endings was being conflated with typing speed (it also resulted in lots of cheating, as students who didn't know the forms just handed their computer to a friend who did to complete it for them). However, when students took their first unit test this semester, they did far worse than students in previous years in their ability to recognize who a verb was referring to and produce the appropriate verb ending. So I made two changes. First, Conjuguemos has a set of games that I hadn't been using, including Battleship. Students didn't like the timed practice, but they were pretty excited to play Battleship with each other, and it's a nice low-prep activity for days when I have a lot of other stuff to prepare, or days when I have a sub (I have students submit a screenshot of their game to Google Classroom). The other thing I started doing was having a required but ungraded practice time at the beginning of every class period. I pick a different pronoun to work on and students set the timer to 5 minutes and conjugate as many verbs as they can in 5 minutes.  Some of them still hate it, but now that it's just practice and not for a grade, it's more palatable, and now that they're doing it in class, I can walk around and make sure that each student is doing the work themselves, so it's easier to identify who might be struggling.  My pedagogical commentary on this subject because I can't not make this disclaimer when I'm writing about using drills: My main focus is always on making sure students can interpret language and produce intelligible language, so a lot of my activities push students to associate form and meaning.  We do not recite or chant verb endings, because those types of activities don't push students to make form-meaning connections. Conjuguemos also does not push students to make form-meaning connections, but it does push them to produce forms that will allow their listener/reader to understand what they're saying. Even if you firmly hold the line on explicit grammatical instruction not being converted into implicit knowledge, there is value in students knowing and being able to produce a grammatical form because it makes them more intelligible.