On the last morning of iFLT16, I decided to visit the language labs one last time. There were many great sessions that I would have liked to attend, but I figured that I could read about the content of most of them online or interrogate a friend that was able to attend. I wanted to make the most of my time, and so I wanted to see some really great teachers in action.

Holy smokes, y’all. Annabelle Allen is unbelievable.

After 15 minutes or so in her room, I decided to take a quick video so that you could watch for yourselves and better understand the activity that she was doing after I describe it in just a minute. And then, quick as a wink, BOOM! BAM! POP! SLAM! She did six other things in just a 1:55 time span that I also caught on camera and am going to narrate for you. Here we go…


I started filming so that you could see Annabelle executing a simple activity at a really high level. Yesterday, the class read a story about Mickey Mouse, and today Annabelle gave the students a copy of the story, but she had made some changes to it and she cut up the slightly changed story into strips for the students to sequence. Throughout the video, she is comparing and contrasting the new version of the story to the old story.

Classroom Management

A student picked up his crayons during the activity, and Annabelle caught it super fast. “Putyour crayons down! Don’t touch ‘em! Don’t touch ‘em! Ah!“, she said, “¡Puntos para la maestro!” (Points for the teacher!). Then she went right back to instruction, successfully addressing the issue without shaming the student. Making class management a competition is an easy, fun technique to help quell behavior problems in class, especially with elementary students. When I first moved to Anchorage and was substituting in elementary schools at the end of the ’08-’09 school year, this was the most successful technique that I tried. I have not found this technique to be nearly as effective in middle or high school classes, but perhaps others have.


Call it personalization, customization, or just being relevant—however you say it, we need to be aware of the things going on in our students’ lives, what they are talking about, and what they care about. In this case, many of the kids were playing Pokémon Go in their free time with their families. So what did Annabelle do? Make the class story about Pokémon Go, of course!

Think Time

(Almost) every time that Annabelle asks a question to her students, she counts to 3 in Spanish, “Uno, dos, tres”, and then the students respond together. Think time is crucial. It allows typical and slow processors to think through the question and formulate an answer before the fast processors blurt it out, abruptly ending the thought process of everyone in the class.

Being Real

Personalization is absolutely essential to language teaching. It is necessary to form a class bond, to create a safe place, and to maintain engagement and interest. If we expect our students to open themselves up and share information about their lives, their thoughts, their feelings, then we must also be willing to share ourselves with them. Annabelle does this so naturally, and you certainly don’t have to do it in the same way that she does. But when an opportunity presented itself and it felt natural to her to tell a story about her daughter, she did! We want to equip our students to communicate in the target language in the same way that they would communicate in the first language, and so let’s model that authentic communication by communicating with our students as though they are real people and we are too.

Comprehension Checks

After Annabelle says that her daughter is two years old, she checks to make sure that her students understand. “¿Cómo se dice “tiene dos años” en inglés?” (How do you say “tiene dos años” in English?”, and she confirms a response.

Pop-Up Grammar

Noticing that her students were a little slow to respond/unresponsive to that comprehension check, Annabelle zooms off on a rabbit trail, spending some time targeting the structure “has _ years”. She very quickly, in English, explains that age in Spanish is expressed differently than in English (with the verb “has” instead of the verb “is”), and then she follows it up by talking about her own age. Except…


Lies are one of our best tools as teachers that are committed to providing compelling, comprehensible input to our students. In Spanish, Annabelle says, “I am 87 years old”. For an elementary student, this is so fun. I cut the video a little too soon for you to see that some of the students actually believed her (in their defense, some of my sixth and seventh graders believed that I was 60 years old back when I was just 25!). Lying about a fact is an easy way to get many repetitions out of a target structure, as you argue with students about whether or not the fact is true and circle the various components of the sentence (subject, number, noun).

Here are two more techniques that Annabelle used that I did not capture on video:

Rock, Paper, Scissors Train

For a quick Brain Break, Annabelle had the class play “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. This was on Day 4 of the Language Labs, and the students had clearly already learned how to do this activity…and they loved it! They paired up and played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” (Roca, Papel, Tijeras, ¡Dale!”. The winner turned around, and whoever “lost” the game grabbed onto the shoulders of the winner. Then, the winner of that first round looked for another pair of two students (one in front and another behind, holding onto the shoulders of the front student). The front “engines” battled it out in another round of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Then, the losing “train” moved to the back of the winning “train” (now a row of four students, each holding onto the shoulders of the student in front of them), and looked for another train. The battles continued until the engine at the front of one train reigned victorious. It was super fast, and the kids loved it.

Sequence Sprinkles

You know the old activity where you give students a bunch of events that are cut apart, and they have to read them and move them around to sequence them? Well, Annabelle makes everything a little more magical. With her students sitting on the floor in groups of three-or-so students, Annabelle flitted around the room and “sprinkled” a set of events on the floor in front of each group. I could say “dropped”, but that doesn’t quite accurately depict the manner in which she did it. And you know what? It seemed more FUN! Isn’t it crazy how every teeny little choice that we make, consciously or subconsciously, impacts the way that our students feel about us, our class, and what we are trying to teach? You could hand out a stack of events to sequence, like I always do, and make it feel like work is about to happen, or you could fairy sprinkle them around the room like Annabelle. If I’m teaching elementary students, I’ll choose the latter. If I’m with middle or high school students, I might stick the events inside a Breakout Box (à la Leslie Davison) and force them to solve a puzzle first!!

And there you have it, a minute and 55 seconds with Astounding Annabelle Allen. I can’t wait to see her in action again at iFLT 2017 in Denver, CO from July 11-14! Plan now so that when it comes time to register, you are ready! Until then, you can learn from Annabelle directly on her website, Lamaestraloca.com!

7 replies on “Elementary Spanish with Annabelle Allen

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write this down, as well as head to this conference during your summer break and dedicate yourself to the profession.

    A colleague in my county got to go this year and said it was a-ma-zing. ¡Saludos!

  2. I was at this lab the same time you were – Annabelle is absolutely incredible, isn’t she? I can hear myself laughing in the background of this video! I certainly hope that she will be teaching again at IFLT 2017, because I’ll be there and want to see her in action again.

  3. Observing Annabelle was one of the highlights of iFLT for me. I had never heard of her and went to see her class on the first day. I was one of about 7 people there! I spent the rest of the conference telling everyone I could to go watch her. Her classes should be standing room only.

    A couple of other little things I got from her…
    – When she asks “¿Por que?” she says “español, español, español) before students answer– preventing all the English blurting out that tends to happen.
    — She says “¡Pero!” and the kids say “Buh-ut!”
    — When there is English speaking, sometimes she says “Inglés” and the class says “¡NOOOOOOO!”
    — I love how for brain breaks she plays music and has them follow each other’s dance moves for a couple minutes.

    I could have observed her all week. She has such a great feeling and authentically connects with her students. So sweet! Thanks, Martina, for posting this!

  4. Lovely! Thank you for describing this great teacher’s class so well.

    I am retired from main stream elementary teaching and miss all the fun terribly.
    I still teach Spanish and English but now only to adults on a private basis.
    I miss the kids so much!!!
    Regards. Marie.

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