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Thank you to all of our members who've sent us some of their best teaching tips, published below and in previous editions of The Zest! quarterly newsletter. We've organized them below by topic. Author names and email addresses are listed as well, for your reference.

To have your tip published, please send it via email to with your name and school site!

Teaching Tip Topics
  • Start of the School Year
  • End of the School Year
  • Summer and Other Vacations
  • Special Holiday Projects
  • Year of Languages
  • Miscellaneous, by member
  • Start of the School Year

    From Hilda Yacoub <>
    Sólo una sugerencia para la organización: tener un buzón para cada período o preparación... mantiene el escritorio un poco más limpio. Tener un área exclusivamente para anuncios y otros mensajes. Tener por lo menos dos o tres lecciones para sustitutos preparadas de antemano para esos días que tienes una "emergencia" y no tienes tiempo para dejar un plan.... También, tener una pizarra o cartel cerca de tu escritorio con lo más importante para cada semana o mes. Saber quiénes son los estudiantes con mucha habilidad y talento con la tecnología y el internet.

    From Karen Donner <>
    Re: homework - I got this from another teacher and it's working very well. When students don't have their homework they get +0 of course. But in addition, if they don't have it made up the next day, they get one hour detention for defiance.

    End of the School Year

    Summer and Other Vacations

    From Hilda Yacoub <>
    Para el verano: pasar por lo menos 2-3 semanas sin hacer NADA que tenga que ver con el trabajo. Para el invierno: Hacer una lista de resoluciones (realistas, por favor) para el próximo año que incluya aprender algo nuevo (tocar un instrumento, viajar, ejercicio, pasatiempos, etc...)

    From Karen Donner <>
    Last July my husband and I spent a couple days visiting Jamestown and Yorktown followed by the Fourth weekend in Baltimore with our younger daughter where we visited the USS Constellation ship.

    Special Holiday Projects

    From Hilda Yacoub <>
    Yo celebro el Día de los muertos (calaveras, ofrendas), navidades (música y decoraciones), San Valentín (poemas), y Acción de Gracias (cartas a los padres, amigos y otras personas que merecen escuchar lo mucho que los estudiantes los aprecian).

    From Cheryl Hurt <>
    Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos: I have Level 2 or Level 3 students write epitaphs which they later transfer to tombstones. I create a cemetary "El último súspiro" on the wall. Over the years it has become a very popular place to visit during this season, not just by my students, but by many other curious friends.

    Also popular with my students and really fun is to offer Cultural points for making "Pan de Muerto", creating special traditional string puppets in the form of "La Catrina" or "El Catrín." Some students have enjoyed learning to play "La Llorona" on the guitar and sharing with the class.

    From Karen Donner <>
    For Christmas, we learn songs in French, make cards with French phrases and have movies about Christmas in France.

    From Ursula Rovell <>
    I do for All Saints Day (or is it all souls -Dia de los muertos) a tour of the graveyard. Students have to prepare gravestones of dead Germans (or Austrians, Swiss etc.) They have to put data and place of birth and death and three significant items about that person. Plus they need to write three questions about their person which could be answered from the gravestone.

    On said day, I darken the room, place their gravestones on the desks and tape their questions in front of it. I play scary music as the students walk through the graveyard with flashlights, writing down answers to the questions (which they have to turn in). It is a lot of fun.

    Year of Languages

    From Hilda Yacoub <>
    (celebrando YOL) ...con proyectos en clase, presentaciones de profesionales y personal envueltos en carreras que necesitan idiomas, etc.

    From Cheryl Hurt <>
    Guess the Foreign Language Contest! I have recorded students who come from all over the world. I project a list of possible languages and the students "guess" the language spoken. It's amazing how sometimes quieter students "glow" in the attention of their peers because they can tell the difference between Korean and Chinese or Swedish and Danish! I offer prizes to the classes that perform the best!

    Dot Game/Capitals from many countries! Why not use the activity that Cynthia Leathers gave us in the Fall Workshop?

    Salsa Day! I have students bring different kinds of salsas to class. Each student that participates discusses how they made the salsa and reveals the main ingredients. After all of the students have shared with the class, the student "chefs" taste first! That helps to discourage sadistic behavior with the chiles... Then, students come up by rows and taste the various salsas. Obviously, any kind of food item can be sustituted for salsa mexicana. My students love "chilaquiles" and "empanadas!"

    French Lesson! Although I teach Spanish, I plan to teach a lesson in French similar to one that they have had in Spanish. Variation: Have students who know other languages teach the class a mini-lesson. I've done this in the past. It can be a wonderful experience!

    From Karen Donner <>
    One thing is to have various Honor society students read French and francophone trivia over the announcements. Another is to have them make banners to put around the school with the same kind of info.

    From Susan Geery <>
    At Tustin High School:

  • students made Molas and Amate on display in classrooms and in the library
  • hosting 2 AFS exchange students, from Norway and another from Denmark
  • some Tustin students will be going to Central and South America this summer on AFS homestay programs
  • Homecoming theme is La Bella Noche with Spanish castle decorations
  • Christmas caroling at nearby retirement homes in Spanish, French, Latin, Korean, etc.

    From Nadine Elwood <>
    Esperanza High School is celebrating geographically close languages and cultures each month. Each month has been designated as a month to highlight the languages and cultures of a region in the world.

  • At the beginning of each month we make cultural reading suggestions to the E/LA and History classes.
  • Monday bulletins - greetings and the dates are said in the languages of the region
  • Wednesday bulletins - music from the regions is played
  • Last Wednesday of the month - students share in a simple food of the region. Since we have 3000+ students at Esperanza we have divided the student body up by their 3rd period teacher. We are going through the teacher lists alphabetically and giving “tickets” to 300 students per month. (300 x 10 months will include all of our students eventually).
  • Early spring - hopefully, we will be able to get a panel of Foreign Exchange Students from around Orange County to share their experiences with our students.

    We celebrate the regions as follows: October - Germany; November - India, Russia and Eastern Europe; December - Scandinavian countries; January - Far East cultures; February - Africa and African American; March - Ireland and Great Britain; April - France and Western Europe; May - Spanish Speaking Countries; June - Greece and Mediterranean Countries.

    Miscellaneous, by member

    From E. Joy Lamarre <>
    My biggest teaching tip: Stay connected! Membership and attendance in the supportive professional organizations of San Diego and Orange County have given my students countless exciting outings, in and outside the classroom. From excursions to a "real" German graveyard for Halloween, taking a vacation with Helga the whale, visiting the local downtown youth hostel on a scavenger hunt, attending the opera and symphony, and experiencing the German weekend camps, my students and I benefit from all of the formal and informal tips I have gleaned from our professional meetings.

    From Cheryl Hurt <>
    I don't know if it's my best tip, but it has been lots of fun these past 2 school years: To encourage my students to use my personal webpage each day, I post a new trivia question that is connected to our lesson in some way. For example, in Spanish I we are currently learning the names of important locations within a city. Some of the questions asked last week were these:

    1. Where would I find the Aztec calendar in Mexico City? What are its dimensions?
    2. Until last year, a very unusual animal lived at the Barcelona Zoo and his name was Copo de Nieve. What kind of animal was he and why did he die this past year?

    My Spanish II questions are always in Spanish and frequently relate to current events and trivia related to the culture. The questions vary from geography, politics, "la farándula", music, and history.

    Amazingly, the questions come right out of my head most days. However, is a very helpful site when I can't think of anything particularly thought-provoking.

    Before class each day, my students line up at my desk to see if they know the answer... I offer them "cupones" that are turned-in at the end of the grading period for extra credit. I'm rarely asked what can be done for extra credit given that they know there are questions posted every single day! Many parents have commented that they enjoy participating in these "searches", too!

    From Ursula Rovell <>
    Use of overhead transparencies: When an assignment is potentially difficult, I give 1/2 a transparency, numbered with the problems (translations, subjunctive, etc.) randomly (or not so randomly) to students and have them write the problem and the answer on the transparency. I then collect them and go over them for all to see, without having the confusion at the board.

    From Carolyn Schroeder <>
    I would say that the one thing I can recommend for a great assessment tool is using small white boards that all the students in class get. They buy their own Expo markers & rag (cutting up old wash cloths works great) along with the erasable white board, and you can question them on vocabulary knowledge, grammar, spelling, etc. It's a quick way to assess all the students and it keeps them active. They LOVE this activity!

    (For homemade white boards, use clear paper protectors filled with 1 or 2 sheets of white cardstock - the 3-ring holes make this easy to store in students' folders.)

    From Nancy Rodríguez White, Diamond Bar HS
    It's not an original activity, as all the really successful ones I use I learned from Tina Bobbitt and Kathy Trosko who were my master teachers, or Chris Buccola who is my BTSA mentor and dear colleague. However, I will pass on this great practice which I decided to try after observing the wonderful Connie Vargas at Granite Hills High. In between activities or while students rearrange desks, get out homework or materials, pass out papers, etc., I have the students count, sing a song, or chant. When they count, it becomes a sort of race (especially if I start them off counting quickly). I try to vary it by having them count in odds, evens, tens, etc. Students always know that by the end of the song/counting they should be ready for the next activity. Doing this saves me from waiting and telling them to hurry and it doesn't allow an opportunity for students to chat with their buddies. Most importantly, it keeps students using the target language at every possible moment.

    From Nadine Elwood, Esperanza HS <>
    "LPT" Last Person Talking: 2 or 3 students (Level III or above) go up to the front of the room. I give them a current events issue. If it can be tied to the students' US History or Government classes, even "double lucky". So...the students are in front of the class - I might say "Discuss the pros and cons of the Reagan administration" or "Talk about the basketball game play-offs last night". The students all talk about the same topic ALL at the same time, almost shouting over each other (not a conversation). Last person still talking...who doesn't give the winner!
    Lately our school has been very involved in reading improvement. At recent training teachers were remained about the useful addition of the student’s finger for tracking. While using a finger to follow along is usually considered to be the tool of an immature reader, in reality it is quite useful, even for the GATE student. The technique is to simply ask students to follow what is being read with their finger. It can be further expanded these ways:
  • Teacher guided, student reads silently. Stopping to check comprehension frequently.
  • Student pairs. Student ‘A’ reads in “loud whisper voice” to student ‘B’. At the end of the paragraph Student ‘B’ tells Student ‘A’ two or three of the points from that paragraph. Then the students switch roles.
  • Don’t be afraid to use choral readings while the students use the tracking method. The whole class reads aloud with the teacher. The teacher stops and checks for comprehension and all the students respond.

    From Helga Schluender <>
    My best teaching tip is still battle ship. It is so versatile for all levels and all verb forms, tenses etc. I have my students fill out two blank grids - one for their own "ships" and one for the opponent's. Basically you have an X/Y grid. The X axis has all the personal pronouns and the Y axis takes the infinitives of the studied verbs: present or past tenses of regular verbs, irregular verbs, for German and French verbs conjugated with have and/or to be. You can do it the other way around also. Each student hides one aircraft carrier -5X, one battleship -4X, one frigate -3X, one speedboat -2X and one U-boat -1X. Xes can go in all directions but have to be a straight line. Commands should be: it is my turn, it is your turn, is this a hit?, no, water; yes; sunk?; no, not yet, etc. The object is obviously to sink the enemy ships by asking for "verb forms". Once there is a hit and the ship is not sunk the students are required to use specific verb forms to find the rest of the ship. It can be played with 2 or 3 partners. For 3 partners, the third person should have the correct verb forms in front of him to check for correctness and record points for the two opponents. This can take an entire period when instructions need to be first explained.

    From Sharolyn Jansen <>
    I would have to say that the best activity for me has been standardizing the start of all of my (six) preps with my cultural calendar. As you know, it's an extension of the homework calendar from COACH, but most days, there is something historical, funny, language/culture/history/ famous person/event whatever, on the calendar ¨D and we begin class at least three days each week with "real speak/real write" about the calendar topic for the day. It lets me get out of the "grammar/topic sequence" box and just spend a little time using the target language with students. We just learn, for example, as a matter of course, the passive construction for "was born," without all the "trappings" of a more formal presentation. It's a bit of discourse that is more important to be able to use, than is necessary to understand precisely. Tracey (Peters) and I organized a presentation for CLTA in Monterey this spring, around a coordinated use of the calendar for teaching across the skills, beginning class, keeping track of HW points, classroom management, student-centered learning, etc. It was well received, and we were asked to present again.

    From Liz Kaulard <>
    Here is one of the warm up activities I presented with Astrid Ronke, Grossmont College (actually her activity) at CLTA. Start up with mime:

  • to get students' immediate attention through the element of surprise
  • to be motivated to speak (non-verbal behavior stimulates speech)
  • to practice vocabulary in context (everyday phrases, adjectives that express emotion)
    Language level: Second semester and up (previous introduction of the present perfect tense is helpful.)

    This is an effective warm-up alternative to the usual small talk questions by the teacher (Was hast du am Wochenende gemacht?-What did you do last weekend?). Instead of a verbal beginning, start out the class non-verbally, miming (pantomime) to the students what you have done on the weekend (last night, during vacation, etc.) or will do for upcoming holidays or events. It helps the students if the general context is written on the board (e.g., "Mein Wochenende-My weekend"). Students shout out individual words or sentences, pointing out all the details about what they think the teacher is trying to convey ("zu Hause, Frühstück essen, du hast pancakes zum Frühstück gebacken, du hast lange geduscht", etc. - whole sentences are preferred, but individual words or phrases work, too). Students are genuinely interested to speak and find out if they guessed correctly. The teacher can vary his actions according to grammar and vocabulary that the students have previously learned. Afterwards students do the same exercise with a partner or small group.

    From Beth Geiss (Student Teacher) <>
    My best teaching tip consists of three things: maintain excellent classroom management, be well organized and ALWAYS be optimistic. During my short time as a student teacher, I have realized how crucial it is to control the energy in the classroom so that the students are actually learning and comfortable enough to participate. In addition to this necessary tool, one must have confidence. There's a catch, though. In order to gain and retain this particular confidence, the teacher MUST be prepared and continue to have a good outlook towards the kids and any and all situations. Love your students and they'll love you back.

    From Tatiana Chilingirian <>
    Here is what I think could be a fun summer activity for an "intermediate or advance French Class"...

    "Journal de voyage" -Mes vancances d'ete (A diary about your summer vacation)

    I. Vocabulaire: Avant de partir, projeter un voyage/faire des projets de voyage...
    EX: "Je projete un voyage au Maroc: Pouvez-vous me fournir des renseignements:
    -Consulter les horaires des trains,etc...
    -Acheter un billet: un allez simple, ou un aller-et-retour
    -Retenir une place (dans un avion, un train...)=faire une reservation
    (Vous pouvez visiter une agence de voyage comme: nouvelle frontieres ou

    II. Maintenant, racontez le voyage que vous avez fait:
    Par Exemple:
    -Quel vol avez-vous pris de Los Angeles ou New york a Paris?
    -A quelle ville etes-vous allees?
    -Dans quel hotel etes-vous descendu(e)? Combien avez-vous paye votre chambre?
    -Dans quel restaurant avez-vous mange?
    -Quel site ou monument avez-vous visite?

    Voila votre journal?
    Bon Voyage...

    From Debbi Forster <>
    ¡Chiles y Anchoas (Actividad en equipos)!

    Objetivos: Repasar vocabulario, modismos, tiempos verbales o preguntas de comprensión de un cuento, obra de teatro o novela.
    Número de participantes: 2 equipos.
    Duración aproximada: 15 - 30 minutos.
    Material: Una lista de vocabulario, modismos, tiempos verbales, preguntas de compresión (preparadas por los estudiantes o el/la profesor/a) un reloj o cronómetro, un(a) tanteador(a) o persona para marcar los puntos, un telemando (juguete) o una campanita, dulces o premios.

    1. Se divide la clase entera en dos equipos: Chiles y Anchoas.
    2. De dos a cuatro alumnos de un equipo (Los chiles) van al frente del salón de clase.
    3. Por turno, cada alumno contesta tantas preguntas como sea posible en el tiempo indicado (1-2 minutos). Por cada respuesta correcta recibe un punto.
    4. El/la tanteador(a) apunta los puntos ganados en el pizarrón.
    5. El/la maestro(a) usa el sonido del telemando para indicar un error.
    6. Al terminar los dos minutos se repite el mismo proceso con el otro equipo (Las anchoas) hasta que todos los alumnos de ambos equipos hayan participado varias veces.
    7. Una vez terminado el juego, el/la tanteador(a) suma los puntos ganados por cada equipo. El equipo ganador recibe un premio: dulces, olés, o peso, etcétera.

    Variación: En el caso de las preguntas más complicadas de literatura el equipo al frente puede consultar entre sí y decidir en la respuesta correcta.

    From Alice Mack, Sonora HS <>
    Help with Stem-Changing Reflexives!

    I came up with this activity to help correct the common errors associated w/ learning reflexive verbs such as "ducharso" or forgetting to include reflexive pronouns. Prepare sets of morphemes for reflexive verbs: reflexive pronouns, verb stems, & verbs endings. Have them in separate envelopes. Divide your students into groups of three and give each group a set. Have students arrange their desks to close the gaps. Call out different conjugations for verbs; for example, "Yo, acostarse." Watch as each student constructs the conjugation. For immediate feedback, walk around and say "Sí" or "No" if their conjugation is correct and watch them correct their mistakes. Make sure you have the class say the correct answer chorally before you move on to the next verb. Laminate the cards so you can use them year after year.