Dr. Krashen @ #FLENJ15

This past Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Dr. Stephen Krashen, thanks to the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey. Dr. Krashen delivered the keynote address at the FLENJ Annual Conference. Dr. Krashen’s hypotheses have informed my practice and driven my instruction of Spanish from the moment that I was exposed to them. Considering the “affective filter” when approaching each lesson, for instance, has become fundamental in determining my effectiveness as a teacher, as I conceptualize it as an invisible aura that allows me to either engage my students or lose them in five seconds.

I could probably write and talk for hours about how Dr. Krashen has influenced my work. This time, however, I want to share some of the statements that were my AHA! moments during his keynote address.


“Grammar is the result of comprehensible input.”

“Reading is the source of our literacy competence.”

“Input has to be compelling!”

“They (students) care about the story.”

“Language cannot be taught through skills methodology.”

“You cannot standardize education…you have to help people find who they are.”

I refrained from commenting on each statement as they can have a different meaning to our practice based on our individual experiences as educators. I hope one or more of these spark thoughtful consideration and meaningful discussion. To learn more about Dr. Krashen’s work click on the following link: http://www.sdkrashen.com/

¡Hasta pronto!



Let’s Talk. En Español?!!

When I ask my students about their goal in Spanish class the answer is usually the same. They all want to be able to speak in the language. Yet, having students communicate effectively in Spanish is the number one challenge I have as a teacher. Regardless of the age group, students tend to experience an incredible amount of stress when asked to participate in a conversational task. Some refuse to do it while some wait to be the last one to be called on the list. Others just giggle nervously through the whole conversation. But one thing is for sure; improving their proficiency through regular conversational tasks is the most rewarding experience for everyone.

Since I usually teach the beginner levels of Spanish, I have developed a system of using focus questions in Spanish for each lesson, that can be used as conversation starters. These questions grow in complexity as the class progresses and are practiced regularly. At first, the students memorize the questions and possible answers. Then, I ask them to “mix and match” with vocabulary words so that they can create their own message. Eventually students have a repertoire of phrases and questions that help them in feeling successful in Spanish, in and outside the classroom.

Below are some of the activities that help me in assisting students practice their conversational skills. Having a routine is key in making students feel comfortable. The more familiar they are with the activities the more relaxed they will be during the activities.


Ball Toss
I recommend using a plush ball. Throw the ball to a student and ask a question. Once the student answers, he/she throws it back to you. Continue until all the students have participated. A modification could be to have students ask you or a classmate a question.


Craft Sticks
Write the questions and phrases on the sticks as students learn them and place them in a cup or Ziploc bag. Once you have five or more, ask students to pick a craft stick randomly and answer the question or respond to the phrase.



Rueda de Casino I started doing this exercise inspired by the dance. If you have ever seen a “Rueda de Casino”  you get the idea. Dancers start with a partner and then switch. In this activity, students stand in a circle facing a classmate who is their beginning partner. They start by greeting each other and have a conversation based on what they have learned. Once finished, they both move forward and switch places. At this point they are facing a new student with whom they start a conversation. Once they meet with their original partner they can sit down.


T.A.L.K. TALK’s are meant to be conversations between students that can be assessed quickly. It can be part of any lesson in which a couple of questions are introduced. Students can turn to the nearest classmate and have the conversation. During this task the four areas being assessed are: exchange of specific information, accuracy, comprehension and knowledge of cultural etiquette.


Speed Convo This activity can be done in different ways. The idea is the same. Students are given certain amount of minutes to talk to a classmate. Then, at the sound of the timer they switch. In my adult classes of Spanish, I align the desks in a way that students face each other. I give them about two minutes (depending on the amount of information I know they can exchange) before asking them to switch. They do this without their notes and I don’t ask them to write down any information about their classmates. At the elementary level I like to give students a sheet with guide questions and they have to write the answers provided by their classmates. I also give them more time and they only talk to two classmates. The reason why I do this is because they feel successful when they have time to ask all of the questions rather than being rushed to start a new conversation.


One-On-One Conversation The opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with each student is invaluable! It is not always easy to accomplish but it is the chance to know how well your students can communicate, and provide feedback that will help them improve. Did I say provide feedback? YES! Without feedback the purpose is defeated. Giving students personalized commentary about their performance and what they need to work on is what makes the positive difference. I like to have these conversations once per semester with elementary students and once per exam with adult learners. When working with high school and middle school students I used to do them at the end of each marking period.

Click on the following link for some sample rubrics for the tasks described above http://www.erickacollado.com/interpersonal.html

Can’t find one that suits the level that you teach? FLENJ has rubric templates for all the proficiency levels that can be easily modified at the following link: http://flenj.org/CAPS/rubrics.shtml

¡Hasta pronto!


Sos Argentino?! Then don’t read this post…

Or you may want to…

I often get questions from my adult students about the differences between how words are used in Spanish speaking countries. Usually I share vocabulary words that might change from one country to another, ask them to make note of it for future reference, and leave at that.

However, recent conversations with my fitness coach, whose family is from Argentina, sparked my interest in the famous “voseo.” Until now I had seen the use of “vos” as a mere pronunciation difference. But after looking into it I’m considering to expand a little more on the topic, in my future Spanish lessons.

Here are a couple of facts that I found:

-The “voseo” or use of “vos” was common in Andalucía, Spain until the 19th century. However, it is in Argentina where is continued to be used orally and in writing. Other Spanish speaking countries may use it yet it is viewed as a “rural” way of speaking.

-When conjugating the regular verbs in the present indicative there is a difference in the pronunciation of the word as the stress is on the last syllable; therefore requiring an accent mark on the vowel of this syllable.

-From a Spanish language learner perspective, it might be easier to use “vos” instead of “tú” when conjugating stem changing verbs as there’s no change in the stem.

-“Vos” can also be used as a prepositional pronoun instead of “tí”. For example the phrase “Thinking of you” could be translated into “Pensando en vos” rather than “Pensando en tí.” The use of the prepositional pronoun “tí” tends to be a challenge for the language learner as they automatically use the personal pronoun “tú.”

I’m not a linguist nor I pretend to be, but I think this is quite interesting and wanted to share it. I’m sure that I’ll discover more facts about the “voseo” as I continue to learn about it. As a reflective practitioner I always think of ways of improving the information that I pass on to my students. For that reason, I created a chart that includes the “vos” as a pronoun and some of the conjugation patterns. I’ve also added the plural form of you “vosotros” used in Spain as an attempt to provide a more comprehensive study guide. Click on the link to access the document: http://tinyurl.com/mrv8bd2

As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated. For now I’m taking a break, there’s a soccer match I need to watch 😉 ¡Vamos Argentina!

Keep Calm and Parle Français

In the twelve years that I’ve been teaching Spanish I’ve often considered learning a new language. I thought it would be good to have the student’s perspective and gain new insight into what strategies work best.

The challenge in deciding which one to choose has been how much practice, realistically, I would get outside the classroom. In addition, I didn’t want to learn a language ‘just because’, becoming proficient is a primary goal.

Although, French was the first runner up, I still found Greek quite interesting and attractive, [like most Greek gentlemen 😉 ], Italian very similar to Spanish which could make learning it easier, and Chinese (language and culture) fascinating.

So how did I make up my mind? It’s simple…I was given a classroom to share with a French teacher. My colleague’s passion and love for French culture is contagious. Spending my prep time in the classroom grading papers while he taught made me accustomed to the sounds of it. All of a sudden it didn’t seem foreign anymore. It became real and attainable. So I got a notebook, and started taking notes and following along just like another student.

The experience has been an eye opener as a teacher. So far I’ve learned that:

– It’s ok when a student repeats EVERY SINGLE WORD I say when I’m teaching. I find myself sounding like a broken record doing the same as I listen to my colleague.

– Certain words just stick to you more than others. Like ‘croquant’ and ‘délicieux’. So I manage to use them in every sentence I say. To my Spanish students that happens with ‘sacapuntas’ (sharpener), reason why they ask to sharpen their pencil a dozen times during class and sing loud improvised raps about sharpening their pencils in Spanish.

– A significant part of the learning process at the novice level is comprehension. If there’s no comprehension it’s hard to produce outcome (speaking and writing). And although using the strategies that I teach help, it can be a tedious process. No wonder why my teenage students are not always crazy about working on a reading. Note to self: keep them short!!

-Knowing other languages really helps you in the learning process. It’s amazing how the brain functions. I instinctively make connections to both Spanish and English in trying to make sense of French. I thought since Spanish is my first language it would be my primary source of reference. Yet my thoughts go from one language to the other in a matter of seconds, taking notes in both. Usually something I’ve witnessed with my students who are also fluent in Italian or Portuguese in addition to English.

But most importantly, I’ve learned that learning a new language expands your mind, gives you a broader vision of the world around you, an understanding of cultural differences, and a greater appreciation of your own

So just like the French Club t-shirts mandate in the school that I work at, I will continue to “Keep Calm and Parle Français.”

Au revoir!

On Language Learning and Student Achievement…

The first 18 seconds of this trailer show an English lesson as part of the training aspiring baseball players take in Dominican Republic.  The teacher reinforces vocabulary, pertaining to a particular theme (baseball in this case) in the target language (English).  Nothing wrong with that, right? Especially since most of the language learning at the beginner levels consist of memorization.  Therefore students must repeat, and repeat and continue repeating until they get it.  But, did you notice the look on their faces? Do you think they were really processing the information? I wonder what are the chances that there will be a real life situation in which they’ll use the same exact phrases, and if they’ll actually remember.  In looking at this clip I really understood what it means to teach and assess for proficiency, AND how far we’ve come as world language professionals.

The graph below provides a visual of the guidelines we must follow according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). It combines the 5c’s and the three modes of communication.  The idea is to make language learning meaningful and to provide students with tools that can help them in the real world by developing SKILLS necessary to communicate not just WORDS. And it’s in the development of those skills that world language teachers are most valuable for.

 I find that it is often overlooked how world language teachers support literacy. Parents and administrators might not realize that through the world language classes students learn reading comprehension strategies.  For example, students in my classes might not recognize a word as a cognate (words in both English and the target language that look-alike and mean the same) because they don’t know it in English, yet they learn it through a Spanish reading.  Not only are they acquiring Spanish vocabulary but they are enriching their English as well! In addition to other strategies like tapping into their background knowledge, making connections with other subject areas (history, sports, etc..) and reading “between the lines” to find the main idea.

Culture is also a huge aspect of language learning but it is not limited to the language classroom.  Last year my students were thrilled when they saw a reading passage that made reference to Spanish art in a state exam, because they were familiar with the topic as we had covered it in class.

 When it comes to using the target language in conversations and/or presentations students are working on public speaking skills.  It can be nerve-wracking to address a group of people in your native language let alone a foreign language.  Through speaking activities students can develop more confidence when taking part in presentations or debates in classes such as Social Studies or English.

And these are just a few ways in which world language classes help prepare students for the 21st century.  The days when language learning consisted merely of grammar drills and choral repetition are gone.  Language learning today is not just fun but meaningful, and one of the best allies in improving student achievement.

Copyright © 2015 Ericka Collado
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