Bellringer Choice Boards for Spanish Class

Bellringer Choice Boards for Spanish Class

Inside: Bell-ringers for Spanish class, with a free download for Para empezar choice boards.

Bell-ringers are my nemesis. Many things could be termed as such– taking attendance, keeping track of late/missing work, maybe– but my para empezar history just might take the cake.

I have lots of different preps, and coming up with something specialized to each class has been overwhelming. I’ve come up with more than one bellringer in the 5 seconds before class started, too.


Lol. Anyhow–

— as a new teacher, I usually made them grammar-based. While I think there’s a time for focusing on accuracy, the first few minutes of class are precious. Students typically retain information best from the beginning and end of class. And what helps students acquire language the most is comprehensible input, and so CI, exercises, probably belong in those precious minutes.

I was beginning with grammar exercises as my Para empezar— conjugate this verb, translate this sentence, correct the mistakes, etc. The students who “got” grammar easily flew through it. The middle students may have improved their accuracy. The students who struggled with Spanish grammar struggled with it. They walked into class and were immediately frustrated by their novice errors, which set the tone for the rest of class.

The message to all my students? The *most* important thing is to not make mistakes. Because when they walked in, I was immediately asking for them to work on their accuracy.

Since then, I’ve moved to a proficiency-based model. I am focused on my students growing and growing in what they can communicate, not in finding their mistakes. One of my goals this year, then, is to completely restructure my lessons. I want to immediately begin with input, and front-load the lesson with rich, compelling content– like a good song or story, or a novel we’re reading.

(Update: since writing this post, I wrote an extensive blog on Easy Bellringers for Spanish Classes with a ton of ideas.)

Para empezar Choice Boards

To combat the stress of lots of preps and my own disorganization, I came up with these editable Choice Boards. Essentially, I can simply copy and paste any song, text, or story onto the board. The students choose a option with which to respond. Everything is very short, as the point is really that they’re taking the content in. I have the prompts and blank squares ready in their notebooks so that I can check at the end of the week. (Or, let’s be honest… whenever I’m able to get to them!)

spanish _interactive_notebook_bell-ringer_choice_board spanish _interactive_notebook_para_empezar



When we start off the year, for example, I plan to do Persona especial interviews. The next day, the para empezar could be one of those typed interviews. It could be the chorus to a song we’ve listened to that week, or a short story we wrote the day before.

Hopefully, as they begin class this year, the message is different. Hopefully they walk in and see all they know: that the compelling content itself hooks them, and the confidence carries over into the rest of class.

If I want to, I can choose a specific square and have all the student respond with the same prompt, so we can immediately go over the responses. Grab your editable version today, if you think this might help your bellringer routine for class!


Para empezar choice boards

After attending Camp Musicuentos I’m considering moving my bellringer– administrivia, as Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell calls it– 15 or 20 minutes into class, to maximize the beginning. We’ll see. I think these can work either way!

I’d love to know what you think. Let me know if you have any suggestions to make it better!

5 Myths About Interactive Student Notebooks

5 Myths About Interactive Student Notebooks


In a recent post, I wrote What Not to Do When Using Interactive Notebooks: things I’d learned the hard way as I began to use them. I concluded at the end that interactive notebooks will neither make or break your teaching, and only you– the teacher–can decide if they are right for your students. Interactive notebooks are hot right now, and so I thought discussing these common “myths” might help you decide what you think of them. Hopefully this can help!


1. Foldables & Flip-ups Make the Notebook Interactive.


I may be going out on a limb here, but I think this is important. It is easy to assume that because a foldable is involved, what was once a mind-numbing worksheet is automatically “interactive.” What makes an notebook interactive is that an active connection occurs between the page and the mind of the student. This, of course, only happens when the content itself is compelling and excellent. If the hands-on format of a foldable makes the page even more engaging and undestandable, so much the better!

Foldables and flip-flips can be amazing tools. Sometimes just the fact that a flip up can be physically lifted in three parts provides just the right “Aha!” moment. We just need to remember that some pages can be very plain, and still highly engage the mind and imagination of our students. That is the ultimate test for our notebooks– not how fancy or cute the components are.


2. Interactive Notebooks are Only for Elementary Students. 


I see this one a lot. Perhaps just the mention of glue and scissors gives nightmares to upper-level teachers, who chose high school precisely to get away from such materials. But the beauty of interactive notebooks is they are exactly what you want them to be: just as cutesy, formal, and involved (or not) as you like. I do think that many of the benefits for younger students (organizational help, portfolio of learning, ownership of work) extend to older students as well.

3. Interactive Notebooks Are Just a New Fad. 


The first time I came across interactive notebooks was actually 10 years ago in South America. While teaching in Peru, I watched my host family do beginning-of-the-school-year prep. My host mother bought notebooks for her sons, a different color for each subject, and carefully laminated each one. Those notebooks were used the entire year, with every student in the school following the color-coded system. The glued-in parts were less elaborate, as copies in general were a precious commodity, but it was the same basic concept. My husband remembers having a notebook for each class and gluing in organizers and notes 25 years ago then as well.

Nature journals (advocated by turn-of-the-century educator Charlotte Mason) provide another early example of “interactive notebooks.” Students began with blank notebooks. They would then go out into nature, find something interesting, and either draw it or glue the plant itself into the notebook. Then they would write about it, label it, or include a related poem or thought. Her Book of Centuries was another example of a precursor to our interactive notebooks.

Again, it’s not exactly the same as our modern-day notion of an interactive notebook. But I think shows that the idea of compiling a year’s worth of learning into a notebook to synthesize information in a hands-on way isn’t exactly a novel invention.


4. Interactive Notebooks Must Be Time-Consuming.


Interactive notebooks can be time-consuming. They don’t have to be, especially if you gravitate toward a simple format and clean lines that only require one cut. With good procedures for materials, prep time can be very short (and might make for a good brain break in the middle of a lesson.)

If you have lots of foldables, it will take some time to do them well. But in the overall scheme of things, ISNs can still save time. When foldables, outlines, or graphic organizers are well-done, they are formatted to make sense. They are made so that the foldable or arrangement itself tells the story. One of the biggest concepts in Spanish grammar, for example, is getting the plural vs. singular. Our grammar notes are on flip-flaps that consistently follow a plural/singular,  left/right format. I don’t have to even talk about this very much– it’s simply implicit in the design itself. We may spend a little longer setting up the notes, but I feel like I get more bang for my buck in the notes we do take.




5. Interactive Notebooks Mainly Benefit the Teachers. 


This myth might come from a suspicion that it just makes the teacher feel good to have a learning portfolio that looks nice. I have found, though, that using an interactive notebook makes me think harder about what I want students to take away from a lesson and how I want them to interact with the knowledge. I think the students are more directly in contact with the information; it is their work to make it their own in the notebooks, and physically place it there.

Typical worksheets– which I do still occasionally use–seem to require less thought. They tend to involve more fill-in-the-blanks, information I’ve already digested for you as the teacher. The advantage of an interactive notebook is that the burden of recording and assimilating the information is on the student. Interactive notebooks are begun empty, only filled in real time as knowledge grows. With ISNs, I know that each page will look different between different students, and that’s okay. It is their notebook, and their own record of knowledge.

I’d love to hear what you think, as I’m still a newbie with interactive notebooks! Have you heard the myths too? Do you think they might actually be true? I’d love to know.


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Lo bueno, lo malo, y lo feo: End-of-the-Year Reflections

Lo bueno, lo malo, y lo feo: End-of-the-Year Reflections

Some of my favorite bloggers have been sharing end-of-the-year confessions and reflections, and got me thinking about the same. Mis clases locas, Musicuentos, Maris Hawkins, and Las clases de Stilson all have GREAT posts. If you– like me– usually limp toward the end of the school year, these honest and hilarious posts are the perfect read right now. 


Lo bueno


1. Reading novels in class.


I cannot tell you what a good decision this was! We read Piratas del Caribe in Spanish I my Middle School elective, along with several homeschool classes, and Esperanza in Spanish 3. Esperanza was an easier read, which was perfect– good review and we were able to focus on great discussions together. I liked Esperanza, but LOVED Piratas. It was perfect for the end of the year, just when we needed fresh, exciting content. If you are moving away from the textbook and need good comprehensible input, buy novels. Now for next year, I can work backwards from Piratas for Spanish I and have a good idea of how to build stories up.

2. Convincing my school to formally ditch the textbook.


Yes! We did it. We aren’t throwing them away necessarily, but I don’t have to plan around them or use them at all. I sat down with my supervisor and showed her the ACTFL Proficiency standards, from which I’d be working, and she loved it. I also requested several novel sets for each level of Spanish, and was approved for everything. As a department of one, it’s basically up to me to research, advise, and implement so this summer my to-do list is HUGE this summer. Thank goodness I have Camp Musicuentos to look forward to, as I plan plan plan.

To be honest, I used to look at the teachers who planned late into the night and all summer as weird, no-life nerds. Well, now it’s me. But when you know you’re onto something good, it’s hard to stop, right?

3. Spanish at home.


Between blogging, TpT, and teaching 7 different preps, this year was busy. There was too much screen time,  for sure. But I do think we at least did well speaking Spanish with our kids. They know tons of poetry and songs in Spanish, and our 3-year-old speaks very well. The 1-year-old understands everything, and has some words like por favor, agua, leche, and te amo down. It makes me really glad we committed to speaking Spanish from an early age, because by now it’s more natural for me as a non-native. Even when my brain is fried, it’s still kind’ve programmed to kids: Spanish.


Lo malo


1. TL in the classroom.


Okay, so it was better than previous years. But, I am a very-in-the-moment teacher and often forget my management systems. I was always forgetting about my euros (though they’re still handy during specific activities) and I kept forgetting about my piñata thing. I had bought this pirate piñata to hand to students who spoke English, as a fun little reminder. If someone else spoke English, the piñata would get passed on, and whoever had the piñata at the end of class got a castigo. Great in theory, and for specific discussion times, but I usually only remembered it because the students said, “Profe, la piñata! because they wanted to get an unlucky friend in trouble.

2. Bell-ringers.


Ah bell-ringers, you are my nemesis. We started the year off strong, but halfway through the fall… not so much. Part of this was because I was moving away from the textbook and my grammar/vocab-based exercises, and didn’t really have a replacement system in place. Gah– so many of my classroom management failures can be traced to not starting class well. I don’t see my students every day, and I need to be better about creating an efficient, orderly, welcoming routine to set the mood and atmosphere the rest of class.


Lo feo


1. My house.


My housekeeping definitely got the brunt of the chaos that this year was. Seriously– there were days if you’d knocked on my front door I wouldn’t have let you in, I’d be so embarrassed. However- I will say I finally let go of some of my housekeeping guilt. Cooking and cleaning have been sad, sad, sad this year, yes. But I am giving myself more grace and remembering that for right now something has to go, and I’d rather it be the house.

2. Our interactive student notebooks.


Oh my. The first year of interactive notebooks is CRAZY! I have a billion posts I plan to write on what I learned about them. I think the first year just is what it is. The students liked them, I liked them, but most of them turned out really sad. To do them well (and not feo), you really need a clear plan.

3. The process of throwing out the textbook.


Okay, so have you heard the TPRS camp (whom I love), say “A bad day of TPRS is better than a good day of traditional teaching?” That may be true, but it also probably means they didn’t watch some of my bad days. Thank goodness. I do not regret the decision to drop the textbook and move to a Proficiency-based, CI-driven classroom one bit. However, doing so has been chaotic, messy and disjointed at times.

Thank goodness for the school calendar, right? Thank goodness for an actual end-of-the-year, a summer ahead, and a fresh start in the fall. I am planning a ton of posts this summer giving you a peek into my new-and-improved interactive notebooks, philosophizing about CI and no textbook, and what I’m learning about teaching to proficiency.

Do you have any posts or reflections on the end of the year? Leave them below in the comments!


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