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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Calling all Spanish teachers!

Calling all Spanish teachers!

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Hello out there you summer-time project planners! Until Edutopia creates a World Languages group... hint, hint ;) I'd like to see if I can find any Spanish teachers out there! I'm starting to develop a 2 year High School Spanish curriculum at a PBL school and I'd love to hear from you about what successes (or failures) you've had in your own classrooms. I have a TON of freedom in terms of curriculum design so the sky's the limit. I am interested in sharing project ideas, websites, ways to motivate students etc. Also, I'm curious to hear if anyone has had success in bringing in members of the Spanish-speaking community to help with conversation practice or to help provide an authentic audience for presentations... I'd love to hear from you! Thanks, Maria

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Wanda L. Trigg's picture
Wanda L. Trigg
High School Spanish teacher from Louisville, KY

[quote]Hola!I've taught High School Spanish for 10 yearsm, and PBL is the one method with the best results. I have some projects taht I would be happy to share with you, but I need to know what level of Spanish you are teaching and what are the core concepts for them.For expample, if you were to teach imperfect tense, I have a cool project involving a team of CSI detectives and a dead penguin. Let em know.[/quote]

I am very interested in your project using the imperfect tense. I teach Spanish 2,3 and 4 (new this year) - some of the major grammar concepts I teach are the preterite (vs) the imperfect, future/conditional, commands, (past and present) subjunctive and reflexive verbs.

I am also very interested in some PBL ideas for literature and culture. I will be using all new texts and resources this year from the "Expresate" series for all levels.

Thank you!

Maria Fernanda's picture
Maria Fernanda
9-12 Spanish teacher

Ok, here it goes:
This is a project that should be done after learning and practicing the pret vs imp. tenses. I usually practice for 2 weeks with pictures of funny events, along with exercises and such.
I also give them a manila folder and ask to write the uses of both pret and imperfect with some examples. It's better if they pull out the folders to write instead of rummaging through notes and books.

Make sure you give students a list of words suitable for a crime scene.

CSI project: (Created by Judith.B and me at NFA)

Draw the outline of a penguin (less morbid than a human) with chalk on the floor, or use mask tape if you can't. Turn over a chair and a desk, get some ketchup and spray it as blood. Make sure you make a footprint with it. Throw some paper money, some random objects, etc. You get the idea. Sorround the scene with yellow nylon tape.
Give students a folder with a title written on it as if it were one of those folders police use to file cases. (i.e: case # 44444 Mr. Penguin)

Step one: surveying the crime scene
Students (separated in pairs)should jot down all they see.
Step 2: filling paperwork
Students write down a report describing the scene. Start with somethiing like: Cuando llegamos a la escena del crimen vimos...
Step 3: interrogation
Use a co-worker or make the students create a witness. The witness acount should also be written and put in the folder.(Usually 5 to 10 questions w/ answers)
Step 4: Hypothesis
The detectives should come up with what happened, who did it and the motive. Story also written and put in the folders.
Step 5: Presentation of results (some are very funny)- Try to invite another teacher to be present at the presentations.
Students create a "crime board" and present their case to the class.They should include how they capture the coulprit. I ask them to use props

You may want to have rubrics for every step. I do. It's easier to keep track and correct.
I correct one assignment at a time. Usually it takes a week or two to complete the assignments.

They have to re write the assignments incorporating the corrections I made, and only then I give them their grade for each part.

At the end, vote for the best story.

From experience: Keep folders in the classroom!

I hope you use it and that it's helpful!!
Good luck!
Please let me know if you come up with a variation or add something we missed.

skoppenhaver's picture
9th grade Spanish teacher in Iowa


I love your CSI project for upper levels. Do you have any similar PBL projects for a first year Spanish class? We use the Realidades textbook and focus on present tense verbs and adjective/gender agreement.

Thank you very much!

Sra. Sully's picture
Sra. Sully
Seventh and eighth grade Spanish teacher from Texas.

I have taught Spanish both in the traditional style and also using TPRS. What a difference with the TPRS!!! The wonderful thing about this method is that you do not need much to be successful! Props are important but your student actors are really key, as well as providing translations for everything! They will learn fluency much much faster!! Blaine Ray is the individual who developed this particular method and TPRS stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. Blaine states that a new language should be taught the same way as teaching someone to play an instrument or a PE class. It must be learned by doing, listening, and practice in the classroom. You do not give someone a how-to book for piano and tell them, "Here, read this so you can learn to play piano." On the contrary, piano is taught through listening, practice, and feel. Occasionally, a necessary technique will be taught, but it is woven right into the playing. This is how we should teach foreign languages.
What is so wonderful about this method is that you can incorporate culture and grammar right into the stories you use! My first year students learn to speak in the preterite from the very beginning. I don't have to teach much grammar as it is built into the stories I use. This makes so much sense to me. It never made sense to me that you would learn a language in a "fractured" manner, then have to take everything you learned and put it all together. Native speakers speak through "feel" not based on "rules".
The beauty of this is how quickly students pick up the language. It enables you to do more project-based activities using the target language so much faster! My students are writing, acting, and creating props for their very own mystery novela! We are very excited about this year-long project and the kids are working harder than ever to learn as much Spanish as they can to be able to do more in their novelas. I have created stories to help them prepare for the many plots they are creating. This way, I can weave in the necessary vocabulary and any grammar structure they may need without formally teaching grammar. I see such excitement from these students! This can be done even in the beginning of Spanish acquisition. Just look at ?Eres tu Maria? from Prentice-Hall. The first few episodios were mostly visual and body language.
Have fun!

Sarah Greeley's picture
Sarah Greeley
HS Spanish 1 Teacher, Seattle, WA


I am a new teacher and just starting at a PBL high school. I would love to implement PBL into my classroom and get my kids more invested in Spanish, but I have no formal PBL training, and to be honest, I am suffering from what we'll call "ideas block."

I am having trouble understanding how to make my classroom PBL when the students don't know the language I'm teaching... I would like to give them a driving question and a project and say "go," but how do I do that and ensure that they get all the information they need?

I would love any ideas for projects or how to implement PBL for a beginning level Spanish-1 classroom. I am excited for this year, and I want the kids to be, too!


Stra. Mitchell's picture
Stra. Mitchell
Spanish Teacher Levels 1-4


Did you go to a TPRS training in order to use TPRS properly? I want to find a seminar or training before I try to incorporate it. I learn fastest through watching things done properly. Any additional information on how to incorporate TPRS would be greatly appreciated.

Stra. Mitchell's picture
Stra. Mitchell
Spanish Teacher Levels 1-4


Did you go to a TPRS training in order to use TPRS properly? I want to find a seminar or training before I try to incorporate it. I learn fastest through watching things done properly. Any additional information on how to incorporate TPRS would be greatly appreciated.

Nancy Salazar's picture
Nancy Salazar
Spanish 3, 4 & 5 teacher from Wisconsin

I love reading all the ideas from everyone else! The CSI project sounds like something I would love to incorporate. I'm wondering if anyone has any other ideas for PBL that reflect the philosophy that the projects should be real-world experience based. I'm just beginning to brainstorm this but would like ideas if anyone has them as to realistic problems that you might have heard about, used, or just have thought about incorporating that would encourage using the language in a meaningful way? I'm thinking that these are the areas that should be incorporated: Speaking, listening, reading, writing and most importantly, it should all be based in the culture. For example, in the CSI project, I'm thinking it would look something like this:
Culture: Crime scene is based in another place like Argentina or somewhere else so that students must learn about and apply knowledge about the culture to assess the crime?
Reading: Maybe one of the clues left behind is a note or a few notes or pieces of paper with partial notes, etc.
Writing: Taking their notes of the scene as was mentioned and writing up their report
Speaking: Discussion about what each "detective" on the team observed and wrote down in their notes
Listening: Interpreting what is said by others, possibly, even include a police report or 9-1-1(or whatever the police # would be in that country) call made by a witness?
I'm not sure yet how to tackle incorporating PBL but I am glad to have you all looking at the same thing and that we have a place to share ideas for projects. I am using Realidades level 2 for Spanish 3 and 4 (we teach 1/2 book per year) and Asi se Dice level 4 for Spanish 5.
Thanks. I look forward to finding out more and sharing ideas as we all embark on a quest for more knowledge on how to best implement PBL into our classrooms.
I found a great site that has helped me look at a beginning step-by-step approach to PBL here: BUT...I find it much more practical to learn this and then find out more about how it will actually LOOK in our classrooms from you all. Thanks again :)

David Hirst's picture
David Hirst
Building Chair World Languages, NBCT, Golden Apple Fellow

I have used blogs in the past to encourage my AP students to write and react to each other's projects as well to have students access high interest reading in Spanish. I am interested in integrating these in my level wtwo class.

Sra. Sully's picture
Sra. Sully
Seventh and eighth grade Spanish teacher from Texas.

Yes, I have attended several TPRS workshops and have even facilitated a few for my district. I highly recommend you go to Carol Gaab's website for additional resources and tips. She is wonderful at this and has even written curriculum for a TPRS classroom.
My first semester students are writing about 90 words in 15 minutes for our timed writings (completely in Spanish).
Good luck!

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