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Jennifer Bilby: Understanding the global impact of Una canción original

February 10, 2019

Last week, the genio himself, Señor Wooly, debuted his new, original song.

It's called "Una canción original".

I told you– ¡él es un genio!

The 100% true story of how Jennifer Bilby inspired "Un año" by Yatra and Reik

The untold story of Jennifer Bilby

By now, Spanish students and teachers (and their families) worldwide know the story of how Jennifer Bilby won una canción original escrita por el señor Wooly and how she patiently waited for that song for more than two years.

(Wait? You don't know? Get yourself a subscription to Señor Wooly and find out!)

But there is something you don't know. Allow me to explain:

I share this with you now is so that you can help your students to further connect with this powerful song and also so that you can make an authentic connection between Una canción original, the authentic song that it REALLY inspired (Seriously! ¡Se lo juro!), and the way that the authentic song has, in turn, brought together a nation in crisis.

I went back into my files after I made this video to see if I could find any of the old communication between me and Jennifer Bilby or me and Wooly so that I could corroborate the story. I couldn't find everything, but I hope that what I did find will help you to feel confident in sharing this true story with your students.

Emails from Jennifer Bilby seeking advice

For me, it all began with some emails from Jennifer Bilby. I don't remember when she began emailing me, because I have since deleted most of her emails. When I realized the enormity of what was transpiring, I started to save them–you can see the last two that she sent me here:

My takeaway? ALWAYS ARCHIVE YOUR EMAILS. You never know when–or why–you might need to revisit them.

Jennifer Bilby's love letters to Wooly

The other piece of the puzzle that was responsible for placing me in the unique position to share this story with you is a strange agreement that I have with Señor Wooly. A few years ago (2015, maybe?), he asked me if he could send me all of the love letters that he receives from adoring teachers for safe keeping. You see, he loves and respects his wife very much. He doesn't want her to feel like he is distracted by the love and admiration of so many other men and women. But at the same time, the cards are meaningful and he doesn't feel comfortable throwing them away. So every month, I get a large package from Señor Wooly with collections of love letters.

Because shipping household goods was so expensive, I got rid of quite a few of these letters when I moved from Alaska to Vermont in 2017, but I kept a few (and I have kept all the ones that he has sent me since then!! Promise!). As luck would have it, one of the letters that Jennifer Bilby sent to Wooly in 2016 made the cut. I still have it, as you can see here!

Hopefully this doesn't undermine your confidence in Señor Wooly. I assure you that he appreciates each and every one of his fans and that he reads every one of the cards that you send him. I am sure that you can appreciate the sacrifice he is making in letting go of the cards in the interest of honoring his relationship with his wife (In fact, it might increase your admiration for him even more!)!

So...with all that behind us...let's get to the tea.

The true story of Una canción original

I have written three versions of The True Story of Una canción original for you to share with your students. Each one is written with a different level of detail and linguistic complexity. Thank you to Nelly Hughes for proofing the story.

I recommend telling the story to your students first–perhaps supporting comprehension by illustrating it as you go–before you read the full story.

The most detailed version is formatted for printing:

Click here to access the printable PDF!

You can access the printable, formatted PDF as well as the text-only versions of all three readings in this folder.

Support comprehension

Once you have told your students the story and read it to them, try out two activities to further support their comprehension of both the story and the specific phrases that'll see.

First, play Pencil Grab using the statements in this file.

Next, have students work individually or with a partner to match quotes from Jennifer Bilby with quotes that have the opposite meaning. Comparing opposites is an excellent way to push students into higher order thinking skills while simultaneously clarifying their understanding of the story at hand. Get the file here–students can cut apart the quotes before sorting them into pairs in their workspace.

Click here to access the opposites activity.

Understand the global impact of Jennifer Bilby

Finally, the time has come.

I am so thrilled to reveal to you the title of the song that was inspired by Jennifer Bilby's patience and love for el genio....


I know, I's really unbelievable.

But it's ALL TRUE.

¡Se lo juro!

Your students can read about it here:

With a story this big, I know you will want to dig into it some more. I have put together a list of resources that will help you do just that!

Additional resources for exploring the global impact of Una canción original

Song activities for Un año

Kristy Placido has a set of ready-to-use activities for Un año. Click here to purchase them.

#authres video interview with Sebastián Yatra

In this interview, Sebastián Yatra explains what it means to him that Venezuelans have connected with his song so intensely (and, by extension, Una canción original):

News articles about the crisis in Venezuela

If you'd like to learn more about what is happening in Venezuela and discuss it with your students, here is a collection of 22 archived news articles from El mundo en tus manos on the subject.

LIVE video about what's happening in Venezuela

Fluency Fast Language Classes hosted a LIVE on Sunday evening, February 10, with a Venezuelan named Nathalia who shared what has been happening in her country from an authentic perspective. Check it out for your own information or share parts of it with your students!

Additional #authres connections for Una canción original

While "Eres tú" was not written by el señor Wooly nor inspired by Jennifer Bilby, it is indeed an original song that was written for the Eurovision contest in 1973– and it's perfect for Valentine's Day!

Work with this canción original using these materials:

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