Input Impact: Vocabulary Quizzes

I am basically obsessed with packing as much Comprehensible Input into my little darlings’ brains as I can muster during a 95 minute class. There’s a back story. There’s always a back story.

Remember that really awful day when my Principal told me that I was changing classrooms? It was about the same time we got other bomb dropped on us: Our schedule was changing too. Rather than six 110 minute classes, we were going to have seven 95 minute classes. (So, to paraphrase our administration: you will have 30 more students and you will have less time to teach them, oh yeah, and a shorter prep period too.) 

I panicked! 20 minutes less every class?! So in a week, I will see my students 40 or 60 minutes less than the previous year?!! (Because: Block Scheduling). After the initial despair (Noooo! You can’t do this to me!! My kiddos need more time to acquire Spanish, not less!I decided that the only thing I could control was my attitude. (Thanks for the pep talk, mom!)  With my new and improved outlook, I set two goals for the upcoming school year:

  1. ONLY comprehensible input…no time for anything  else
  2.  Simplify everything/everywhere you can

So armed with these two focusing goals,  I initiated an obsessive witch-hunt searching for anything and everything not Comprehensible Input. I really honestly looked at all my activities/projects/ games/ practices/policies/procedures for the entire year and cut out or modified everything didn’t give me the Input Impact I was after…there just wasn’t time in my new schedule.

One of those things that didn’t meet my goal was vocabulary quizzes…Yeah, I think they’re important so I can give my little darlings a grade (actually, I wish I didn’t have to give them grades, but that’s another post for a different day) but in my eyes, the minutes that they were defining vocabulary words could be better spent on input. How could I give them input at the same time AND assess their vocabulary acquisition?!

Here’s what’s been working for us: I write little stories, with specific words underlined. They still translate specific words/ phrases but now they’re reading also. And they’re looking at context! And I think there’s more “real world” application here… I mean, in real life, how often do we have to define a random, contextualized word? Rarely? Never? Bueller? Bueller? 

Here’s the vocab quiz my Spanish 2s took last Friday.

Vocab Quiz

The quiz works like this: 1st I read it to them once, slowly, without them writing anything. They are just to listen and follow along with their eyes. Then they read it again silently as they translate the underlined words. When they’re finished they answer the “Question of the Day”, either in Spanish or English. Students pass in their quizzes and read/translate the story out loud with their partner for instant feedback. (So, although I’m spending 5-10 minutes giving a vocabulary quiz, they’re reading the story at least 3 times.)

There are only 6 vocab structures (that was part of Goal #2, simplify everything! ) because I am convinced that happy teachers spend more time teaching and less time grading.  The “Question of the Day”, isn’t for points or even extra credit. (I just figured, I’m going to have more kids with my new schedule, how can I possibly get to know them?! I know! I’ll ask them a question on every quiz… which has become my favorite part about grading quizzes -responding to their Questions of the Day!)

I kind of love it…It’s not earth shattering and I’m sure I’m not the first one to write story vocabulary quizzes! I just think it was the process that makes it really meaningful to me: taking a situation that I thought was going to be devastating and figuring out how to make it work for me and my little darlings. Actually, now that I’m two years on the other side of the new schedule,  the process of reflecting on every minute I have with my classes has really helped to sharpen my skills and become acutely aware of how I spend those precious minutes.

Isn’t that the best, when something that you initially thought was really awful turns out to be way better than you imagined?!  Like when your first boyfriend dumped you and  at the time you were totally crushed but now you’re like Thank You Sweet Jesus that THAT didn’t work out! I’d love to hear your stories! (I mean, mostly classroom related, but if you’ve got a great awful first boyfriend story, I’m game!)


  1. This is AMAZING!!! I’m constantly looking for ways to provide as much comprehensible input as possible while still working within the demands and limitations of my district. This is exactly the thing I needed to comply with vocab quizzes but also do something I can feel good about…MIL GRACIAS


  2. Do you have a list of your questions of the day that you would be willing to share? What a great idea! I do “check-ins” on quizzes but I love this idea to get them to open up a little more!


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