Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing Children's Books in Spanish in StoryBird

StoryBird offers free accounts for educators and has a selection of pre-fab art for writing children's illustrated storybooks that can be read online, downloaded to print, or sent to press and made into a hardcover book.

My students wrote 8 page stories in Spanish 203 this semester.  The creativity of writing a narrative to accompany the art available to them in StoryBird got them out of the rut of writing the same four ideas (description of my mom, my favorite sport, etc.).  We were learning the present subjunctive at the time, so students used the subjunctive in context (a minimum of 8 times) in their story. 

They drafted stories directly in the program.  I gave them 4 days to get them written.  We went over some in class, and students paid attention and acted interested when we went over some of the stories and tweaked the grammar.  After looking at about 10 stories in class one day, I asked students to print out a Word document of their story so I could write on those and edit them for everyone.  I think two drafts were very necessary.  If we wanted perfect grammar, we would have needed a third draft---there were still some errors in the final draft for quite a few students.

Students needed to be able to include accent marks in their compositions.  I sent them to instructions on the Language Resource Center website for setting up the computer to do accents outside of Word.

Grading the first draft was occasionally confusing because I had the text but not the image from StoryBird.  Some students were not brave enough to have me go over their first draft story in class on the projector, so the Word document draft was a way to get feedback to everyone. 

In addition to bringing grammar into context, this assignment stretched students to learn new vocabulary.  They looked up words for the stories since the pictures led them in new directions. Occasionally this led to dictionary overuse and some errors in word selection. 

Here is a Wiki about using Storybird in the language classroom, with example stories in several languages.

Unfortunately, StoryBird does not allow the publication of stories in languages other than English, so I can't show you the sample stories from my class until I get them posted to the Wiki.

If you use StoryBird, comment and share some ideas about how it worked for you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Viaje virtual con muñecas de papel

Virtual Travels through the Hispanic World with Paper Dolls
A Geography Lesson

We're planning a new project about countries in the Hispanic world in the Spanish Club at my kids' school.  We are making "Flat People" (kind of like a "Flat Stanley" paper doll) wearing traditional Latin American clothing.  For an example of a traveling paper doll project, see:

Here's What We Did:
I photocopied a paper doll cutout (see PDF file below):

In advance, parents sent in a headshot photo of their child and signed a permission form so they would know the photo would not be returned, and to give their consent for sending the paper dolls with photo faces around the world to visit my friends.

During class, I wrote words on the board for the art supplies we used, and asked kids to come to the front table to request what they needed by saying, "Necesito _____________."

  • Papel de construcción (de color rojo, verde, amarillo, café, etc.)
  • Una muñeca (la fotocopia)
  • Los colorines
  • Las tijeras
  • El pegamento
  • Unos colorines (un Crayon de color________)
I told students I would not share my supplies unless they asked me in Spanish.  I urged them to ask each other in Spanish for borrowing tools at their tables.  We repeated the supply list aloud before getting started on the project.

The kids colored clothing for our paper dolls, and then attached each child's photo face to his or her "Flat Self".  I wrote to several of my friends and family in Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Spain to ask if they would be willing to receive a package of our Flat People.  I invited these Spanish-speaking friends to pose in a picture somewhere in their city with the Flat People, and then to email their photo back to me so that our Spanish Club kids can see where "we" have traveled around the Spanish-speaking world.  As we talk about the map of the Spanish-speaking world this week, sending their paper dolls to real people in real countries is bringing the geography to life for them.

When the dolls were complete, at the end of our Spanish Club meeting, I invited the kids to come to the front of the room to place their dolls in the pre-addressed envelopes to be sent around the world.

I sent home a map and asked parents to help their child to find the countries together, and to decide whether they want their paper doll Flat Self to go to Barcelona, Spain, Costa Rica (2 locations), Baja California in Mexico, Mexico City, or Argentina.

 The paper dolls have made their first stop in Tijuana, Mexico.  They visited the Hidalgo Market where vendors are preparing for Christmas celebrations with figures of the Nativity for decorating their homes in time for the Posadas. 

Finding Host Families 
I wrote to a few friends in Costa Rica, Argentina, Spain, and Mexico to enlist their help with hosting these paper dolls.  Here's my note:

Querido/a _____,

Quisiera pedirte un favor. Tengo un grupo de niños en un "club de español" en la escuela de mis hijos. Quiero que hagan unas muñecas de papel para enviar por correo a diferentes partes de Latinoamérica. Podría enviarte un paquete de muñecas de papel y pedirte que les saques una foto para enviarme por Facebook o por email? La foto de las muñequitas se podría tomar en un lugar de tu barrio, o una visita que haces a una tienda interesante, o en algún lugar de interés turístico en la ciudad. Podría ser una foto con tu familia o tu casa. Después de sacar la foto, podrías tirar las muñecas a la basura--- no me las tienes que devolver. Ya habrán servido su propósito de llevar a la clase en un viaje virtual.

Si tienes tiempo para recibir un paquete de personitas hecha de papel, déjame saber. Gracias por considerar la idea.


They all said yes, and now the kids have been assembling packages of paper dolls.  We mailed the first set of paper dolls yesterday! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

DREAMer Deferred Action Event:

The Valparaiso University Immigration Law Clinic is hosting an event for DREAM-eligible youth and their families about the Deferred Action program.  You're invited!

Are you a DREAMer?

If you entered the U.S. before your 16th birthday and are under the age of 31, you may be eligible for Deferred Action. With Deferred Action, you cannot be deported for two years, and you can obtain a work permit. 

The Valparaiso Immigration Clinic helps people who cannot afford a lawyer with their immigration law cases.  The Valparaiso Immigration Clinic invites you to our community forum on Deferred Action. At the forum, we will:

·         Explain what “Deferred Action” means
·         Help you to figure out if you’re eligible
·         Teach you how to apply for Deferred Action
·         Help you decide whether you need a lawyer to assist with your application

Where:           Valparaiso University School of Law—Tabor Classroom
                        656 S. Greenwich St.
                        Valparaiso, Indiana  46383

When:             Saturday, November 10th, 2012
Check in:  12:30 p.m.
                        Session: 1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

¿Es usted un DREAMer?

Si usted entró a los Estados Unidos antes de cumplir los 16 años y tiene menos de 31 años, puede ser elegible para la Acción Diferida. Con la Acción Diferida, no puede ser deportado por dos años, y se puede obtener un permiso de trabajo.

La Clínica de Inmigración de Valparaiso ayuda a las personas que no pueden pagar a un abogado con sus casos de inmigración. La Clinica de Inmigración de Valparaiso le invita a nuestro foro comunitario sobre la Acción Diferida. En el foro, haremos lo siguiente:

    Explicar lo que significa “Acción Diferida”
    Ayudar a averiguar si usted es elegible
    Enseñar como solicitar la Acción Diferida
    Ayudar a decidir si usted necesita un abogado para ayudarle con la solicitud

Lugar:            Valparaiso University School of Law Classroom-Tabor
656 S. Greenwich St.
Valparaiso, Indiana 46383

Cuándo:         Sábado, 10 de Noviembre 2012
Hora de llegada: 12:30 p.m.
Sesión: 1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thanksgiving, Memories, and El Día de los Muertos

For El Día de los Muertos, we're enjoying "Pan de Muerto".  Papa brought home a loaf in the shape of a person.  The kids can't wait to have a bite of the melt-in-your-mouth sweet cake.  We talk about the red sugar, a color which represents life and health since Aztec times.  In the wake of Halloween, El Día de los Muertos, Reformation and All Saints Day can easily get glossed over.  But we stop to talk about these fall holidays and to blend cultural traditions. 

For every month of the year, when we shop at our Mexican grocery store, there are special foods, in-season produce, and seasonal treats.  Day of the Dead food and decorations are especially delicious, colorful, and different from other U.S. holiday traditions.  While Halloween costumes in recent years have tended toward the grotesque, the terrifying, and the bloodier the better, el Día de los Muertos celebrates death as a part of life.  The joyful calacas, artistic representations of dancing skeletons are dry bones---not dripping with blood, not scary, but joyously clickety-clacking around town, and living it up.  El Día de los Muertos brings the dead back to life.  Everyone knows that it's wishful thinking, but for a night per year, there is joy in pretending and remembering and savoring the favorite foods and drinks of family members who aren't at the daily dinner table anymore.

When I lived in New York City, we belonged to a church that rented space in a seminary with more progressive theology than the renting congregation.  The seminary had a Day of the Dead altar on display with skulls, flowers, candles, and recuerdos of deceased loved ones.  On Sundays, the pastor's wife brought tablecloths to cover up what she saw as inappropriate ancestor worship.  Some norteamericanos are freaked out by a holiday that brings death so closely into the circle of life.  Protestants tend to keep their crosses empty, and are turned off by the detailed descriptions of bloody sacrifices.  How can we be a bridge between cultures, and how can El Día de los Muertos be made more accessible?

My students on Friday observed that we don't have a U.S. holiday to celebrate the dead.  Memorial Day comes closest.  But what is missing is the commemoration and enjoyment of the daily joys of living and breathing--the moment by moment experiences that make up quotidian pleasures.  In the sense of sharing time with favorite food and family, and remembering years gone by, maybe Thanksgiving comes a bit closer.

When my grandpa died, he and Grandma had chosen to plan for a memorial service rather than a funeral.  We got out his favorite Hershey's chocolate hat.  Having that small piece of his daily wardrobe brought back floods of memories, of how he pulled chocolate kisses from our ears, and made s'mores up at the cabin.  We made a book of his favorite recipes to display.  And we felt close to him and recalled many fond memories of his life--the daily blessings that he was quick to enjoy and share.

El Día de los Muertos isn't a satanic ritual.  It is a family gathering to cook the foods that bring back memories.  It's a celebration of the little joys that make life worth living.  It's a conscious effort to remember and stay close to the human blessings that God provides.  As we savor our bedtime snack tonight, we're giving thanks for our whole family history.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Videos electorales

Cada candidato en esta elección presidencial del año 2012 quiere influir al voto latino.  Algunos dicen que el voto hispano ganará esta elección.  ¿Cómo se representan los canditatos para la elección presidencial en español?  ¿Quién te convence más en sus anuncios publicitarios en español?  ¿Cuáles son las tácticas de los anuncios para convencer al electorado?

Hoy en clase, hablaremos de los esfuerzos de los candidatos de ganar los votos de los latinos.  Miraremos tres videos electorales en la clase:  un video histórico de Jacqueline Kennedy, cuando su esposo todavía era Senador; y dos videos recientes, uno de Craig Romney, y uno del Presidente Obama.  Despúes, hablaremos acerca de los mensajes y las imágenes que hemos visto.   

Primero, lee las preguntas que siguen.  Después, mira cada video.  Luego, contesta las preguntas en preparación para la conversación durante la clase. 

Jacqueline Kennedy
Campaign Ad by Jacqueline Kennedy

Mitt Rom
Campaign Ad by Craig Romney

Barack Obama


1.       Describe la voz y la fluidez de Jacqueline Kennedy en español.
2.       ¿Cuáles son los temas que más le preocupan a ella?
3.       ¿Qué dice acerca de su esposo John F. Kennedy y sus planes y promesas?
4.       ¿Cómo termina su mensaje?
5.       ¿Quién representa a Mitt Romney?
6.       ¿Qué dice acerca de su familia y de los inmigrantes a los EE.UU.?
7.       ¿Qué promesas hace acerca del sistema de inmigración?
8.       ¿Qué dice Barack Obama acerca de su familia?
9.       ¿Cómo describe a los DREAMers?
10.   Describe las imágenes de cada video que hemos visto.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Local Latino Immersion Experiences

The first culture projects for this fall semester are due on Friday.

Students in intermediate Spanish have been going into the community to discover businesses, churches, cultural centers, clubs, stores, restaurants, events, and homes where they can be immersed in Spanish language.

During the first visit to their cultural immersion destination, students are encouraged to ask questions that the experience raises for them, make vivid and honest observations, to note any particular things they realized they wished they knew how to say while they were there, and any cultural notes that they made while preparing to attend an event.

After attending or visiting an event or a location in the local community, students spend time in reflection.  They note anything that surprise them about their observations.  Perhaps there were words, attitudes, actions or concepts that made them wonder or feel uncomfortable or that made them feel especially at home and welcome, etc.  The idea of reflecting on the experience is to examine the language and culture up close, to get out of one's culture zone, and to prepare for deeper observation at the next opportunity.

In an online discussion forum, students share their reports (en español) about what they observed, how they felt, and how they plan to prepare for a return visit next month.

Already, several students have shared their plans to visit a church service in Spanish, their experience volunteering in a local tutoring program for Latino gradeschoolers, a visit to the local Hispanic fruit market, and a Mexican Independence Day celebration.  I'm looking forward to reading the submissions as they come in, and watching the cross-pollination of culture project ideas for the next round next month as students share what they've observed this time around.   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Experience the local flavors of Mexico right here in Valparaiso--and bring home ingredients for your favorite regional cuisine at Tarimoro Guanajuato.  The fruit market / ethnic grocery store has opened a new location at 908 Roosevelt (at the corner with Evans, right behind Phil B's restaurant and the gas station).

Prices can't be beat.  I recently bought 15 limes for $1, two green peppers for $1, and $3 watermelons.  The avocados are generally perfect, just ripe enough to use the same day ($1.09 each).

I love going on Saturday mornings to buy tamales, corn-husk wrapped cornmeal dumplings stuffed with delicious meat or cheese.  The selection is freshest on the weekends, when a new batch is delivered with selections of pork, chicken, and my personal favorite, queso con rajas (cheese with slices of jalapeño).  

Interesting ingredients include:  huge aloe leaves,  pan dulce and gigantic cookies, whole anise seeds from the spice section, candies and snacks from Mexico.  "Manzanita" apple soda is a favorite holiday treat for the kids at my house.  

Kitchen supplies include tortilla presses, molcajetes (a volcanic rock mortar and pestle), a wand for stirring hot chocolate...and if you're planning a birthday party, don't miss the huge piñatas.

While you're there, be brave and try to speak Spanish with the cashier.  She's friendly and she told me earlier this week that she feels very glad to let language students practice their skills while checking out.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Decidí participar este año en el NaPoWriMo, el "mes nacional para la composición de poesía" y publiqué mis poemas, sean melodramáticos, ridículos o triviales, en un blog.  Visítenlo si les interesa....

Si quisiera participar, hay información sobre el NaPoWriMo aquí:

¡Hasta pronto!