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What to teach if your district gets hacked

March 3, 2023

By now, we've all seen it: someone's district has been hacked, and they must now teach with zero technology for an indefinite time period. In some cases, the school is back online within a few days; more likely, though, it will be several weeks or even longer before teachers can return to teaching with technology.

While I hope that no one reading this actually needs to come back and reference this post, you'll be relieved to have a plan in the event that it does. Instead of a back-up plan, we could call it a hack-up plan. (Hey, there's a fun visual!) Here are some lesson plans for you to follow in language class if your district gets hacked.

Before hacking happens, get prepared.

"The best defense is a good offense," and this is true for emergency lesson planning. If your district is hacked, you may not be able to access your digital resources. Just in case, I would recommend two things:

  1. Save a digital copy of your important teaching files to a server that you are able to access from home, such as a personal drive.
  2. Print lesson plans ahead. On a rolling basis, at the very least print a master copy of any materials that you'll need in the near future. If you're using The Somos Curriculum, for example, print out a single copy of the lesson plans PDF for the next two units.
  3. Stock student printables. If your district is hacked, you may have limited access to district printing services. Even if you have regular access, you're going to be fighting for a turn on the copier (and hoping that it's in working order!) as everyone turns to paper at once. If you follow a curriculum, you can stay ahead of the curve by making your photocopies for the next unit when you begin each new unit. (There is a Print Packet in every unit of the Flex curriculum!) If you don't, the most important thing that you need will be access to things to read. Create a stockpile of printable texts that you can draw on if need be. Here are some sources:

Another kind of printable that you might want to stock up on is printable activity pages, such as Independent Textivities or Smashdoodle® templates (which are free). But, stay tuned–later in this post, I'll share activities that require NO pre-made worksheets.

If your district is hacked, breathe.

Getting hacked is chaotic. Administrators are scrambling, teachers are scrambling, and that frenetic energy is going to seep into students. It will likely feel like your class is all of a sudden out of control–maybe because they actually are, and maybe just because your stress is going to be a filter that amplifies everything happening in the room and makes it feel like it's so much crazier than it actually is. (This is my life as a mom of 5!)

Take some time to breathe. You can handle this. You are an expert, you are creative, you are capable. Even though this wasn't in the plan, you can make a new plan, and you're going to do AWESOME!

Teaching in a hacked district? Seize the moment.

Instead of trying to find a way to push through your plan, your curriculum, without technology, seize the moment. You are now having a shared and memorable experience with your students: why not talk about it? For the first days post-hacking, talk about being hacked.

Here's one plan that you could follow to disrupt the disruption, especially if you're feeling a little imaginative!

First, students draw characters

With zero context, give every student a blank piece of paper (could be scrap paper!) and tell them to draw a character... ANY character! It could be a person, an anthropomorphic animal, a monster, an alien... anything! A known character or an invented character. Just draw it! If you want to burn time because you're freaking out, you can let your students color it it in. If are ready to get on to language teaching, have them sketch it quickly with pencil, pen, or marker.

Have students write their names on the back of the characters, and collect them for later.

Next, establish meaning

Time to talk about hacking in your target language! You might want to do some research on this ahead of time so that you feel prepared. In many languages, the English word "hackers" is acceptable to use; in fact, you will often see it used in news articles. Commonly, you will also see piratas informáticos. Hacking is an oft-used loan word from English as well, and the derivative verb hackear and all its forms (hackeado, hackeó) is not uncommon. If you would like to avoid using loanwords, you might use terms like "atacantes" (attackers), "atacado" (attacked), and "ciberataque" (cyber attack).

After you've collected your students' character creations, state the obvious: our school has been hacked! We are the victims of a cyberattack. We do not have (access to) technology, Internet, the network, computers, etc. Say this in a way that your students will understand. We are the victims of a cyberattack.

Next, ask the question in your target language, "What is a cyberattack?" (¿Qué es un ciberataque?). Write this question on the board, and brainstorm answers with your students. Consider allowing them to provide answers in your primary shared language and in the target language. As they give you answers, restate them and possibly simplify them so that they can be understood by your students in the target language. Don't spend too much time on this, unless your students have advanced language andan advanced understanding of cyber security.

Develop a theory

Now, it's time to put on your imaginary investigator hats! Rather, your imaginative investigator hats. You are now going to work with your class to hypothesize who is responsible for the hackingand why they did it: what do they want, and from whom? Essentially, you'll be creating a One Word Image.

The most important thing here is to GET SILLY. You are not trying to develop a plausible theory here! With your students, use your creative, imaginative powers to come up with names, descriptions, and backstories for the hacker or the group of hackers. Maybe members of Britney's Army hacked your school because they heard kids were making fun of Britney Spears. Or, maybe an evil warlord named Lord Short Pants is behind the crime. Maybe, tiny bobble-headed pink aliens from the Purple Planet have hacked your school because your school mascot is secretly REAL, an international tech pirate, and responsible for a recent attack on their local bubble gum factory. Or, maybe it was a giant cucumber.

When you tap into your students' imagination, language can get out of bounds really quickly. Here are a few strategies that you can use to develop the backstory and still keep the conversation comprehensible:

  1. Go slow. Park on each detail. Repeat it, ask processing questions, and ask clarifying questions (such as, "how small?"). If you can slow down the rate at which you introduce new details into the backstory, you will give students more time to process each new word that is thrown at them.
  2. Shelter vocabulary. Shelter is protection, and it's your job to protect students from being shut out of the conversation because they don't understand. Sheltering vocabulary means limiting the number of new words to which your students are exposed. When students give you ideas, restate them using familiar words and simplified phrasing.
  3. Reject some ideas. You are the ringmaster in this circus, and you get to decide which details ultimately enter into the backstory. Your students will have many different ideas; you don't need to use the first ones that come out of their mouths. If students suggest something that you know will be hard to say in an understandable way in the target language, just say that that idea isn't it. No, the hackers don't want to leverage the town's population of endangered snails to increase their market share on Wall Street. They want money from your principal, who is a secret billionaire.

Photo line-up

Once you have a solid backstory developed–which might take an entire class period, or even more–, pull out the character drawings. This would be a great way to start Day 2 of hacked language class!

TPretend that one of the characters that your students drew IS the character that you invented yesterday. Go through the stack of characters one by one showing them to the class. Describe each one in great detail. Is this a person? An animal? A monster? Is it big? Small? Red? Green? Lumpy? Covered in spots? Mean? Intelligent? Muscular? Then, compare the description to your invented character from yesterday. Is it too big to be the hacker? Too short? Green instead of red? Keep going until you find a student-drawn character that you can identify as the hacker.

Keep going

Based on your comfort level speaking the target language in class and your students' interest in the activity, you can keep rolling with the hacked scenario. After that, you can determine who the hacker's cronies are! Go back to the stack of characters and ask your students who is working with the head hacker. Build out a hacker crew!

You can extend this ad infinitum, if you want. You can develop a detailed scenario for why the hackers chose your school, who the team of anti-pirates at your school consists of, and how the epic battle of good versus evil plays out on your campus. The most important thing is to follow interest! If students are not interested, move on to something else. If they are, lean into it!

Transition to a new, technology-free routine

Now that you have effectively disrupted the disruption, and honored the real-world reality that you and your students are living, you will find it easier to step into a technology-free routine. The change will not feel abrupt or chaotic, and you will have bought yourself some time to make a sustainable plan.

Here are some technology-free ideas for your longterm hack-up plan:

Foundational Input

In most lessons, acquisition-focused teachers have a foundational input segment. This is a communicative activity that is primarily interpretive in nature. When teachers have access to technology, it might be working through a Storybuilder in class, or perhaps a ClipChat. In a hacked situation without technology, teachers can lean into some of these options:


Ask stories from The Somos Curriculum (get them free in our Subscriber Library!), or grab a copy of Anne Matava's delightful Story Scripts book to have on hand, just in case.


Pick a current events story, a personal story from your life, a familiar or lesser known fairy tale, or any other story, and tell it to your students! While you tell the story, draw images and write the meaning of unfamiliar words on the board to help them understand.

One Word Image

While you won't be able to use the Imagination Lab tool that we have created, you WILL be able to create One Word Images (OWIs) from scratch. Learn how here »

Special Person Interview

Take this opportunity to interview your students and get to know each other! You won't be able to project questions, but you might benefit from printing out a copy of the questions from this resource so that you feel prepared to guide the interviews.

Read a novel

If you have single copies of different novels, you can use them for read-alouds. If you have a set of novels already, now is a GREAT time to read a novel together as a class. Print out the resources from Teacher's Guides that you might want to use ahead of time so that you are prepared, just in case!

Voting brackets

Pick a topic, and have your students nominate their favorite items in that category. For example, "breakfast foods", "fast food restaurants", "music artists"... anything! Turn it into a bracket (like this Netflix show bracket), and discuss, argue, and vote until ONE thing emerges as the class preference.


If you're looking for a novel way to introduce informational content to students, without the use of an engaging presentation, try playing a game! Students guess the answers, and they learn the information as the correct answers are revealed. The Unfair Game, Trashketball, and Grudgeball can all be played without technology.

Bulletin Board Bar Graph

Ask your students a question about their lives or preferences, and have each student record their response on a sticky note. Then, create a graph on the board that you can discuss! Read more »

Interaction and processing

Once students have been exposed to some content through a foundational input activity, give them a chance to review and interact with the content in a playful way! Here is a list of no-prep, technology-free activities that can follow your foundational input:

There is no specific right or wrong about of processing activities for any given foundational input activity. If students want to keep talking about it, keep doing more activities! If they lose interest, move on to something else.

If nothing else, treat it like sub days.

There are many valid reasons that you might be thinking... "Martina, everything you just described is NOT HAPPENING!". Maybe you're too exhausted to be the primary provider of in-class input. Maybe you're not confident with your own linguistic proficiency to lead a foundational input activity! No matter the reason, another option is to treat your time like sub days. For me, this meant finding input-focused independent work that students could complete. If you want to go this route, you will need to do some printing, which I would recommend doing in advance so that you are ready with a hack-up plan! I would also recommend layering in some interactive activities and/or activities that involve movement from the list above.

To find materials, check out this free set of 2-week emergency plans (throwback to March 2020...) or the print packets from each unit of The Somos Flex Curriculum.

Connection over curriculum

A crisis moment like this is, well, a crisis... and it's also an opportunity to lean into The Comprehensible Classroom's core mindset of "Connection over curriculum". This does not have to be an event to "get through", this can be an experience that you can share and live in with your students.

If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of teaching in a hacked district, we'd love to hear how you use these ideas and blend them with your own to make it memorable.

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