Break up that block period!

I’ve taught on a block schedule for 12 years and I love it!  If you’re starting out with a block schedule- don’t panic! You will be OK! After you get settled, you will wonder how you managed the whirlwind of 45 minute classes. It’s really nice seeing your little stinkers  trolls darlings every other day! Writing one lesson plan that lasts for 2 days is awesome.  And trust me, you’re going to LOVE your block planning period! 

So how on earth do you fill up the little darlings with comprehensible language for an entire block period?!  These are the things I consider as I plan my 90 minute blocks. (I used to teach on a 110 minute block and I miss those 20 minutes!)

  1. Have them read every single class period. Reading is awesome. Reading is awesome for them because they get lots of rich input. Reading is awesome for you because if they’re reading silently or with a partner, you’re saving your voice. Win/ win! Most days we start with Free Reading (You can read a bit about our Free Reading program here, if you’re so inclined!) because it is such a nice, stress free way to begin class.
  2.  Shoot the breeze/ Chit-Chat/ Check in. Every day I sit on my stool and chit chat with them for a few minutes, in Spanish. I try to channel Ellen DeGeneres at the beginning of her show, warming up the audience. Maybe we talk about what’s going on in the world or school. Who has a game today? The soccer team is playing today! Class, is our team going to win or loose today? Should we ask the Magic 8 Ball?  Or maybe a little Weekend Talk or Calendar Talk or current events. Perhaps I’ll ask them who’s missing today and we’ll make up a wild adventure for the absent student. When you’ve got 110 minutes before you, you’ve got time to slow down and talk to your kids. It’s beautiful-they think you’re distracted and they’re keeping you from your lesson plan, when really, your whole plan is to pack their little cabezas full of español comprensible! 
  3. Plan 5-6 activities for a 90 minute block When I taught 110 minute blocks, I’d plan 7-8 activities per class. The trick is to plan more than you think you’ll need, and just roll over whatever you didn’t have time for to the following period.
  4. Timing is tricky on the block-  I’ve been doing this CI thing for 12 years now and still I can’t get my timing down…Generally my last planned activity is a bonus. If we fly through the other stuff, it’s ready to go, but it’s no big deal if we run out of time. I also like my last activity to be flexible- something that can last 10 or 25 minutes, depending on the time we have left.  Here are a few ways to use up those last few minutes if you need something more 🙂

Update– tonight I learned the most brilliant, life changing tip EVER on the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook Page (which,BTW  if you’re interested in CI teaching and you’re NOT on that page, you’re missing out on excellent (and free!) professional development!) Lisa Larriva shared that she has a poster in her classroom with different time marks for particular chunks of her lesson, to help manage the pacing of her lessons:



In her poster (above!) the Dark Green color shows the class start time, the light green is the half way point in class, the blue indicate the end of 20 minute chunks and the red is 5 minutes before the end of class. Simple math for me is anything but simple and this will be so helpful for me! Thanks so much, Lisa! Here’s how I adapted Lisa’s idea to my schedule…feel free to make a copy and edit to work with your schedule, if simple math is anything but simple for you, too!

5. Plan something fun- Usually in my class it’s a game (we play a lot of games in my classroom sweet portable). I like to have fun with them, and I want my little darlings to have fun because in my state Spanish is an elective so if I want any job security at all, I need to have my little darlings banging down my classroom portable door, excited for another day of Spanish. BUT…that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice Comprehensible Input…Oh no! Just disguise more input as a game! Mua ha ha! 

6. Move them around! This is the most important thing to think about when you’re teaching on a block: if their bum is numb so is their brain! 
My rule is that students need to stand and do something active every 10-15 minutes. That doesn’t mean after every activity…sometimes in the middle of the activity they  need a quick stand up, partner up, do something and then back to business. Here are my favorite ways to get them moving around while staying in Spanish. 

So…what does this look like? Here are a few sample block lesson plans:

Sample Lesson #1

Free Reading                                                                                                     10-15 minutes

Chit-Chat regarding their books                                                                   10-15 minutes 

Introduce new vocab with motions and Personalized Questioning           20 minutes

Movie Talk (with breaks- students stand and answer questions!)         30-40 minutes

Listening comprehension quiz (T/ F statements from Movie Talk)         5-10 minutes

POP UP game                                                                                                    15-20 minutes

Sample Lesson #2

Introduce new song with CLOZE activity                                                         15 minutes 

Chit-Chat: Weekend talk or Calendar Talk                                                  10-15 minutes

Whole class reading: Either a chapter of novel or short story               10-15 minutes

The Lucky Reading Game                                                                              20-30 minutes 

Special Person Interview                                                                               10-15 minutes
Quick Write/Timed Writing and wrap up                                                    5-10 minutes

Sample Lesson #3

Free Reading                                                                                                     10-15 minutes

Vocab Quiz                                                                                                           10 minutes 

Chit Chat: Move if…                                                                                         10-15 minutes

Create a class story or character (with breaks!)                                       30-40 minutes      (Or just the start…usually our stories span a 2-3 class periods)

Write and Discuss (Just as much as you’ve created)                                 15-20 minutes
Quick Draw Game                                                                                            10-15 minutes

I’m always looking for new activities to add into the rotation (Our brains crave novelty, right?!) What Input Activities do you love that help break up a long block period?


  1. I student taught in a block schedule, it was fun and hard at the same time. I often had too many activities which was good and bad so I could use those activities for the next day.

    Love your posts!! I’ll be a first-year teacher in Sept.


  2. Breakouts are great for a block! I also love teaching with film on a block! I start every block with FVR and my upper levels do Gran Hotel immediately after.


    • I just learned about Break Outs last year! I’m obsessed…my goal is to write a few more this year. We love Gran Hotel in Spanish 4!


  3. […] I always have a stack of Quick Quizzes ready to go…I considered playing one of Pablo Roman’s Dreaming in Spanish videos… BUT they had just taken a test, it seemed mean to make them take a listening quiz AND I didn’t have time to preview one to use AND I had 45 minutes to fill, so that wasn’t going to cut it. #BlockSchedule […]


  4. What about when you have block and see your kiddos every day since it’s only a semester long?We are new to block this year (I did use it my first year teaching but I’ve changed a lot since 2001-2002) and I find it hard planning stuff for all levels of Spanish and I’m new at CI and like you Spanish is an elective and more kids already take French where she shows disney movies or they play monopoly in English.


    • Hi, gosh, I don’t know! I’ve never taught on that kind of schedule. The principals would be the same (get them moving, read every day, etc) but that’s a lot to plan every day!!! Are you teaching all levels? A lot of teachers will do a similar lesson plan in all levels, but adjust the language, so for example you do the same movie talk and Write and Discuss in all your classes, but it sounds a lot different in level 1 than level 4!
      Win those kids over to the Spanish side!!


    • Hi- our kids take 7 classes a year. 6 are blocks that meet every other day A/B (those are 90 minutes) and they have one “skinny” period, which is 50 minutes and it meets every day. I’d like the skinny much more if they were strategic about planning classes on the skinny, but it’s just a regular class. So this year I teach Spanish 4 on the block and on my skinny and the planning is a pain. Next year they’re trying to implement a “freshman seminar” for the skinny period… we’ll see how that goes!!


    • Often!! I don’t know that there’s any way around it! And the worst with the block and sporting events, like my skiers have races on Tues and Thurs, which means I’ll miss them for the entire week some weeks!! I used to make myself crazy trying to have them “make up” Spanish stuff when they’re out of class- I had all sorts of assignments for every time a kid was absent: listen to a podcast, watch a tv show, read a story… but it was so much and really not a good replacement for class. A few years ago I stopped. If they miss something that goes in the gradebook, they make it up. If not, we don’t worry about it. I’m much happier 🙂


  5. Moving to the block for all next year. This has been very helpful! Would love to know how you might change anything given our new restrictions?


    • To tell you the truth, I haven’t spent too much time thinking about it yet! Our school hasn’t announced our plans and I promised myself that July would be a ‘no school zone’. In August we’ll (hopefully!) have a plan and I’ll figure out what that looks like in my classroom!!


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