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I've got a new Spanish class!

December 20, 2018

I'm back to teaching...not in a classroom, and not with adolescents. And not with 35 students. Buuuuuut....

For the first time in five years, I have students that I get to call my very own <3 <3 

My friend Adriana over at Vermont Commons posted that one of the parents at their school was looking for a private Spanish teacher, and voilà! I have two adult students (L&S) that I will be meeting with twice per week. Today was our second class, and I can't wait to see where it leads.

I love, love, love, LOVE teaching. I LOVE IT. In this season of my life, being a full time classroom teacher is not realistic (too many little kids!). Until now, I hadn't found an opportunity that worked with our schedule. I've lived vicariously through all the teachers that are using my materials, being a teacher by extension. But now...NOW...I get to be a real teacher again. And

What did the first class look like?

Last week was our first class, and I wasn't sure what to expect. From what I had been told, I did assume that L&S would be pretty beginner. I came prepared with a question word poster (never enter a novice teaching situation without it!), but I quickly realized that L&S would not need to the support of the question words to understand me. In fact, they are both quite well along on their Path to Proficiency. (L has taken private lessons before, and she was one of Mike Peto's students at Express Fluency Teacher Training this past summer. S is from Bosnia and speaks four languages in addition to devoting time to Spanish every day.)

Question word page - have these with you when you are teaching Spanish to novices! point to the words when you ask a question to boost comprehension.Get this FREE quick reference here.

I had also come prepared to tell the story of the Zebra and the Lion (available in Spanish and French), but we never got to it. We spent the full hour (well, it was more like an hour and a half) just getting to know each other as we asked and answered questions in Spanish. 

Deciding what to teach

L&S are preparing to visit Perú in March with a friend, and so they expressed an interest in learning about Perú as we move through our lessons.

Wait, did someone just request lessons? 'Cause y'all KNOW I love writing them!!

My mission is now Perú, and I am excited for the opportunity to create and field test new resources for you.

Find the story

If you were at my NTPRS keynote last summer, I hope you remember my biggest advice for teaching: find the story

Our brains are wired for stories. Anything that we discuss or share in class will have a more profound impact when it is presented as a story. So as I began to consider what to share with my new students about Perú, I went looking for stories.

The second class


Today was Day 2 of Español, and we began with PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers--aka conversation) about Christmas. Or, rather, not Christmas. You see, none of us celebrate it! S is Muslim, L is Jewish, and we are Messianic Christians. So as much as I was excited to talk about Perú, I loved the opportunity to connect with other women that experience the Christmas season as outsiders and have to navigate conversations and expectations just like I am learning to.

If you want to skip Christmas in your Spanish class without being a Grinch, here are some ideas.

Activate background knowledge

To make sure that I don't spend time teaching L&S things that they already know, I asked a simple question: "¿Qué saben Uds. de Perú?" (What do you know about Perú?)

They mentioned a few destinations, an awareness of quechua, and POTATOES! This, of course, led to a discussion about NAS DAILY, since he is currently in Perú (or at least publishing the segments that he filmed when he was in Perú). Check out Day 981, 982, and 983 (there may be more coming, I'll find out tomorrow!). We'll definitely be watching his videos and using them as a jumping off point for conversation in future classes!


Because almost all stories and legends begin by referencing a specific area in Perú (either where the story originated or where it took place), I wanted to begin by getting a basic lay of the land. 

I asked, "¿Qué tan grande es Perú?" (How big is Perú?), and both L&S responded in the same way that I would have just a few days ago: "pequeño" (small). 

So, I pulled up the True Size Map--an amazing tool that I recently discovered--so that we could see with our own eyes exactly how Perú compares in size to other countries in the world. As you can see from this screenshot, it is very similar in size to Mexico!

What uses do you see for True Size Map in your classes?


Big surprise, Cynthia Hitz has already blogged about True Size Map! Read her post here!!

Mythology: Los mukis

The first Peruvian story that I decided to share with my students was the legend of the Muki. The Muki is an elf that supposedly lives in the mines in Central Perú and is responsible for miners' success or failure.

This is why I chose to begin with the Muki:

  • "Muki" (or "muqui") is a castellanización of a quechua word, so it gives me a chance to talk about what Quechua is and its presence in modern day Perú. The quechua word means «el que asfixia» or «el que es asfixiado», which connects with silicosis and other health hazards of mining (see below).
  • Knowing that this legend originates from the Central Andes, I got a chance to talk about Paz Soldán's three geographic regions of Perú (coast/mountains/jungle) and Javier Pulgar Vidal's alternative way of classifying Perú's geography: in terms of altitudinal regions.
  • Mining is an important industry in Perú. It supplies 60 percent of Perú's exports and contributes 15% of the GDP. On the flip side, it is historically the main source of social and economic conflict in Perú. Sharing the legend of the Muki gives us an opportunity to explore how mining has impacted history and life in Perú.
  • With the introduction of Christianity, the Muki legend took on an interesting twist: in addition to being the owners of the mines, the Muki also began to search for unbaptized children to kidnap and turn into Mukis. This opens a door to talk about the Conquista and the fusion of cultures that permeates life in Perú and beyond.
  • The muki wears a vicuña wool poncho, so we get to talk about animals that are indigenous to Perú! 

Keep in mind that my students are two educated adults, so I'll get to dig deeper into these topics than I would have had I been teaching this unit to my middle schoolers. Even still, all of these topics are accessible to younger learners: it's up to you to determine your students' background knowledge and interest and to use that information to determine how much detail to share and how many bunny trails to follow.

Today, I described a muki while L&S drew what I described. I did this before I told them that the muki is a kind of elf, and here is what they drew:

Next, I told the story of Don Demetrio, adapted from this post. As I did, I used my handy dandy whiteboard to support comprehension by writing down translations, establishing visual connections between words in Spanish and English (cognates), and drawing illustrations.

When teaching a language, always have some surface to write on near you. In my small group class today, it was a mini whiteboard! Use it to translate words, write out numbers, demonstrate connections with cognates, and link meaning to visuals through illustration


Since I've got two highly motivated learners that I only see once or twice a week, they are craving MÁS ESPAÑOL! 

For homework, I'm sending them a few comprehensified texts, each one a different version of the muki legend. Some of the readings will be based on #authres Muki videos from YouTube, like this one:

I did not give homework to my middle school students, ever--so this is new territory for me!

More to come!

I'm looking forward to sharing my new teaching journey with you as it unfolds, and of course all the resources that it inspires!

Blessings to you as 2018 draws to a close! 

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