Strategies For teaching AP Spanish Language & Culture

When I first started teaching AP in the fall, I felt like I was starting over from scratch…not sure which, if any, of my go to strategies could cross over into the scary and academic world of AP Spanish Language and Culture. At my school, AP classes carry a lot of baggage and our AP teachers live by the the what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger philosophy (No joke: AP English students at my school complete “Death Packets” for homework. Gulp). I quickly realized that AP Spanish could be a whole lot of fun or a whole lot of misery, and since my Spanish 1’s have been dishing out plenty of misery for me this year, and I need all the sunshine I can get, we’re taking the fun route for AP. Because at the end of the day, preparing them for a big ‘ol scary test is important, but it’s more important that they still love Spanish long after the big ‘ol scary test is wrapped up.

I’ve gotten a handful of messages lately about how AP is going, how I lesson plan for AP, ways I’ve been CI-ing the class and ways to make AP exciting and fun. I’ve got plenty of strategies to share, but first, a very important caveat: This is my first year teaching AP Spanish. None of my students have taken the AP Test, so my pass rate right now is 0%. I have no idea what’s happening or if any of this is going to help them on May 11. <Gulp> Be warned: take this post with shovel-full of salt.

So, as I’ve been figuring out AP day to day, class by class, here are the strategies I keep coming back to because they seem to be working pretty well, and they make class enjoyable. So, without further a do, a Giant List of Strategies: (and when you finish check out this post with even more Strategies for AP, part 2!)

Free reading: Unless we have a big article to read and discuss, we start class with 10 minutes of free reading. Somedays they just read, some days we share about our books. Some days they chat with their partner, some days we do Book Dice Chat, the important thing is that they’re reading something that interests them, at a good level for them.


Inside Outside circles:  I’ve been doing this when we introduce a new theme or subtheme to get them talking and digging into the essential questions. They partner up and create 2 concentric circles. I project a question on the screen and they discuss with their partner, who they are facing. We chat a few minutes, then one circle rotates so everyone has a new partner, then I reveal the next question, prompt, image, graphic or whatever and they discuss again. This has also worked well with video clips and news reports. I’ll ask a few questions to activate prior knowledge, then we’ll watch something, then discuss a few questions afterwards. I describe this strategy with a bit more detail in this post.


Silent Discourse:  This strategy is similar to Inside Outside circles but they are writing instead of speaking. Make a paper with a different essential question on the top of each paper, and pass them out. (You don’t need enough for every student to have a unique question, it works well to have 5 or 6 questions,  but make enough copies so that everyone gets one question. Here’s a set I made for Redes Sociales. I like print them on colored paper so the 1st question is one color, the 2nd question is a different, etc. Organize students so that everyone in the group gets a different question. (If you’ve got 5 questions, you’ll have 5 students per group.) Everyone has one minute to read the question and respond, in writing, on the paper. Since this is SILENT Discourse, NO IS TALKING ALLOWED, and it is blissfully peaceful, (for the teacher)!  After one minute everyone passes their paper within their group, and everyone gets a new paper with a new question. They read what has already been written, respond to the previous comments (either with drawn emojis, comments or questions) and leave their own thoughts and observations. And repeat. Once everyone has seen and responded to all the questions in the group, do one more round so the student who wrote the first comment gets a chance to read what everyone else has written on their starting question. Finally, if time allows, shuffle the groups, so that everyone who started with the first question (So one student from each group) gets together and compares responses to the same question.


Group Essays:  This is an idea that Bethany Drew shared with me that an English teacher blogged about and I’ve been using this model to teach the ensayo argumentativo. For our first, students filled out this notetaker while reading/listening to each source. (This one is specific for Las redes sociales: ¿Ayudan o no a socializar a los jóvenes?, (from AP Spanish, José Díaz, pp 232-233), but I’ve used same format for several Argumentative Essays and it seems to be a good way to scaffold this beast of an essay. (When we are running short on time, I’ll just have them use the notetaker to dissect the three sources and then write their thesis and intro paragraph, rather than writing the whole kit and caboodle.)

Ensayo argumentativo notetaker


The Lucky Reading Game: We’ve played this one a few times when we’ve got a meaty article to tackle and we need to make it more fun. When they’re not up front answering, they’re at their seat, highlighting the answers as I ask the questions. This game makes close reading an article a whole lot more enjoyable. We started out the year talking about national identities in the context of the Olympics and then we read this article to play the Lucky Reading Game: Qué significan las pañoletas que lucían las dos medallistas olímpicas de Ecuador en Tokio


Flippity Game Show: Similarly to the Lucky Reading Game, this is just another fun way to get them to read and answer questions. While diving deep into the world of Venezuelan Beauty Queens, they read this article in groups: Venezuela, una fábrica de belleza and then we played this Game Show in teams. So much fun! We use BuzzIn.live for groups to “buzz in” using their phone or chromebook. (Teacher tip: If you’re playing the Game Show AND managing the Buzz In buzzers at the same time, open them in different windows and minimize both so you can have both visible at the same time…and use the little “Toggle Lock” feature while you’re reading the question to give everyone a chance to digest the question before buzzing in)

Extended Listening Practice: To make planning easier for me, and to give my students more listening practice, I’ve found that I love having an ongoing Movie/ Podcast/ Documentary, tied to our theme, that we do the last 20-30 minutes of every class. (We have 90 minute blocks, FYI) For segment of class, students partner up so that a Spanish Language Learner (SLL) and a Heritage Language Learner (HLL) work together. We listen or watch (if it’s a podcast, I give them the transcript so they can read while they listen). When I pause, they summarize- the SLL goes first, then the HLL goes, adding any additional details that the SLL may have missed. Since I have more HLLs than SLLs, there are a few pairs of only HLL so they take turns on who goes first. We did this first with the Luna llena sobre Chiapas podcast and it was pretty successful (and they enjoyed it). To wrap up the semester, we watched the Landfill Harmonic Documentary. I created this AP Movie Guide to use with any movie or podcast to help students explore the interconnectedness of the AP Themes and Subthemes. After watch a segment, about 10 minutes before the bell rings, students choose a subtheme and then justify how what they watched (or listened to) is related to the subtheme. Finally, we share as a class or in partners what they wrote about. After break we’re heading into Desafíos Globales and today’s task is deciding if we’ll watch Living on one dollar or También la lluvia…what’s your vote?!

Get the PDF and editable versions here: AP Movie Guide

FlipGrid: We’ve been flipgridding up a storm, to get them used to extemporaneous speaking and recording their voices, since my kiddos will be using their Chromebooks on May 11 to record the speaking portions of the test. Sometimes we’ll do a conversation practice, or a Cultural Comparison, other times I give them a topic or question and they speak for 1 or 2 minutes (For the whole month of November, we did Samara Spielberg’s “desafío de gratitud”. I gave them a list of topics each week and they make a quick flipgrid, expressing their gratitude for the topic they choose. After recording their response, they listened to two other students’ responses and responded back.) We also used Flipgrid for students to record an interviews with Native Spanish speakers who have immigrated to the United States, which turned out really cool, and often they’ll record a Flipgrid for their weekly homework (more on this later!)

Flippity Manipulatives: I’ve found that Flippity Manipulatives is a great way for students to read and interact with an article (and pretty low prep for me…find something interesting and copy and paste the text into the Flippity template and design a tast for them to do.) In this one Ventajas y desventajas de un mundo digital, students read a short paragraph and decide if it’s describing an advantage or disadvantage (source article). In January, we’ll jump into Desafíos mundiales and I found this fantastic opinion article that outlines the progress we’ve made and where we’re regressing in terms of global challenges. After they manipulate this Flippity with a partner, we’ll share out and see if they agree or disagree with the author’s assessment of global challenges (and with each other!) Here’s a slideshow to guide that discussion, with the “answers” to check their manipulatives.

Wanna play? Click here for the Flippity


Quizlet Live/ Blooket/Gimkit Sometimes when it feels like we’re getting bogged down, we’ll take a “break” and play Quizlet Live or Blooket or Gimkit, and for some reason, just a few minutes will completely re-energize the class. I have an ongoing Quizlet list that I add to nearly every day. As we’re reading or discussing and a useful word comes up, I add it to our quizlet list. We’ll either play with that ongoing list, OR I’ll search for a list by theme or subtheme (there are a zillion in Quizlet) and we’ll play a few minutes with that, then get back to the previously scheduled programming.


Art Memory: This game has been great for introducing new themes or subthemes, then discussing. I love it for showing art (basically anything by Carmen Lomas Garza is a winner!) but it is also great for photographs. Before listening to the Duolingo Podcast Las Cholitas de Hoy and discussing how the Cholitas’ clothing is a reflection of their cultural identity, we played Art Memory with this image:

Las cholitas escaladoras de Bolivia


Describe and Draw: When I have a bunch of images that I want them to look at, this activity has been really fun. Students partner up and each pair has a whiteboard. One partner faces the board while another partner sits facing them, but with their back to the whiteboard. The partner facing the board describes the image while the partner facing away from the board listens and illustrates. (Half the class is describing while half the class is drawing. Then after  a min or two the drawers turn around and compare their drawing to the projected image, then the partners switch so that now the drawer is describing and the other is illustrating)  We had to make the describing partners sit on their hands because it was just too easy to turn this into a charades game! We did this with La nomofobia slideshow and we had way too much fun. After drawing and describing, we discussed the artists’ perspectives and if we agreed with them. This would also be lots of fun in the Belleza y estética unit with famous paintings.

Think the Same to Win the Game: Here’s a game that we often use in AP Spanish as a warm up, to get them thinking about Products, Practices and Perspectives in our culture and our target cultures. It works pretty well to do this before a Cultural Comparison practice, to get their ideas flowing.

Homework Rotation: OK, so this is not a “fun” strategy per se, but it has been working for us. In general, I am against homework and do not assign any outside work in my other classes…but AP…and I have a bunch of Little Darlings that need all the extra input they can get! So, I’ve tried to strike the balance between not-too-much (no paquetes de muerte here!) but something relevant that with either give them more input or more cultural information to draw from for their Cultural Comparison, or even better, both at the same time. Trial and error and student feedback has lead us to this rotation, and I’m happy with it. They have 1 assignment per week, assigned at the beginning of the week, and due the first class of the following week. I alternate between two assignments:

  • Duolingo Podcasts: I love these, especially for my Spanish Language Learning Little Darlings, for the additional input AND because they’re jam packed with rich cultural information! They listen at home then we do a quick quiz in class. If they don’t do the homework and bomb the quiz, they can always come in and redo it, after they’ve actually listened to the podcast. I choose a podcast that related to the theme we’re currently discussing. So far this year they’ve listened to Las cholitas de hoy, Rap originario, Una maestra en botas, and Los niños de los desaparecidos. Because they’re short, I also assign a practice from My AP Classroom. These, per the College Board rules, are not factored into their overall course grade, but I do enter their scores in a category that is weighted 0%. Doing them doesn’t hurt or help their grade BUT parents can see if they’re doing it.
  • Country Research: Each student has “their” own country that they research all year long, so they’re an “expert” and when the time comes for their Cultural Comparison on that big ‘ol scary test, hopefully they can think of something specific related to “their” country….if nothing else comes to mind! For this homework assignment, they get a notetaker, specific to the theme we’re discussing, that they must fill out (in Spanish and by hand, to prevent copying and pasting!) and then do something with. Sometimes they make a quick video on Flipgrid comparing and contrasting a cultural element from their country with the US and other times they come prepared to share their findings with a partner or small group. Here are a few of the notetakers I’ve crafted last semester: Investigación: Dos héroes, Investigación: Los sistemas educativos, Investigación: la emigración, Investigación: Un artista. When I’m running short on time or inspiration, it’s Bethanie Drew’s Current Event Notetaker to the rescue! They research a current event from “their” country, then share it with a small group. After all students have shared, they discuss the similarities among the current events presented and make connections with what’s happening in our own country. I have a handful of Little Darlings who don’t do their homework (shocker, right!?), so when everyone else is presenting in small groups or in pairs, the students who are unprepared research rather than participate in the group discussion, and if they want to recover the points, they can come in at lunch to present their findings to me.

So, that’s it. We’re halfway through the school year, and I feel like I’m finally getting into the groove of planning this class, which I was totally dreading before school started, but I’m actually really loving it. Hopefully you nabbed a few tools that will be helpful in your AP or Pre-Ap class and I’d be ever-so-grateful if you’d share your go-to strategies, tips and advice for AP Spanish, because Lord knows, I need all the help I can get!

Hope you had a Blessed Christmas and are ready to wrap up 2021 (I sure am! What.A.Year!)

18 comments

  1. ❤️❤️❤️

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey/intelligence/kindness/all of the things.

    I am always grateful for the kindness of others but it has been even more appreciated as of late.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    • Oh you are more than welcome! Getting all my thoughts in one place helps me too! (Often I can’t find a doc in Google drive, but I know exactly where to find it on the blogcito!)

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  2. Genial-tantas buenas ideas! Creo que tus estudiantes aprobarán sin problemas con estas actividades. Mil gracias por tu energia y inclinación de apoyarnos.

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  3. This email is incredibly loaded with creative ideas! I LOVE the idea of giving each student a country for the year. I wantta do that next year! Sounds like such an interesting project. Mil gracias!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    • It’s worked out pretty well… I asked them if they wanted a new country for second semester. About half want to switch countries and half want to keep “their” country, so I think I’ll give them the choice. (But since 16 or 21 are Mexican Americans, I very strategically assigned Mexico to one of my non-heritage students. I wanted my Heritage students to be able to draw on their own experiences in Mexico AND the knowledge they’ve gained about “their” assigned country. Shhhhhh, don’t tell, they have no idea!)

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  4. Thank you for all these incredible strategies! I have a blended class that is level 4 and 5. I have often thought of trying to design the course around the AP themes without having the pressure of it actually being an AP course. If I did this, where would you recommend I look for materials? Where do you find your articles/material?

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    • I think this is a GREAT idea! There are SO MANY sub themes, there’s no way to dive into them all before the AP test, so it would be helpful for any kiddos moving on to AP to get a head start, and if your school doesn’t offer AP, just dive into what you think your kiddos would like. There are some really interesting themes and subthemes. I have the textbook Triángulo aprobado, and I use that for some practice activities but it’s not very exciting. I spend a LOT of time reading articles and watching YouTube videos, searching for supplemental materials. There’s a Facebook group called AP Spanish Language and Culture Teachers. All the time, teachers are posting “This would be a good article for X subtheme”, so I use that for a starting point. I also use the search feature there often to search a Subtheme or Theme to see what others have suggested. I’ve also had good luck googling the name of a subtheme + AP Spanish and finding some good materials. Best of luck, I love the idea!

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  5. I feel like teachers should be able to receive state continuing education credits from reading your blog posts b/c you share SO MANY wonderful ideas/reflections and resources (that are so much more worthwhile than many PD ‘humps’ we have to jump through as teachers. Thank you for your generosity…and to think it’s only your first year doing AP. Amazing!
    I have not let myself do anything school related for these two weeks of break until this final weekend so your blog post is just what I needed to get myself back into teacher mindset. Thank you!!!

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    • Oh thank you, Jane! You have been such a help to me with AP this year! I really appreciate your generosity!!
      Good for you for taking break off, as teachers should!!
      Wishing you a Happy New Year!

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  6. Fantastic article! I am curious, do you only/primarily use the Duolingo Podcasts or do you use other, completely TL podcasts as well?

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    • I’ve used Radio Ambulant in class, but it took so much scaffolding and support to make it comprehensible to my students, I wouldn’t assign it as HW. I like the duolingos for HW because they are easy enough and short enough for students to do on their own

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  7. These are all wonderful ideas! I have 4 preps and am wondering how you go about grading these assignments? Especially the Flipgrids…I always find that grading speaking tasks takes me forever, even with rubrics!

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    • Ug! Yes, and I HATE grading!!

      Here are a few things that help:
      Often while they’re recording flipgrid, I’ll mark on my clipboard who’s doing it and use it as completion grade (for their HW they usually have to research something at home, prepare a note taker, then record something about it in class).

      When I actually grade them and give feedback, I schedule it strategically. A few weeks ago I was quarantining at home, so I had them record one, knowing I’d have plenty of time to to grade. Or, have them record before taking a practice multiple choice test, so I can watch/listen (w headphones) while they are working on their test.

      That’s the best I’ve found so far- I’m sure my little darlings would benefit from more feedback, but in giving it my best!

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  8. Love this so much, there’s so many great ideas! Question about the podcast quizzes – what kinds of questions do you ask and in Eng or Span? Thank you!

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    • The Qs are in Spanish. I make 8-10 quick multiple choice (for ease of grading) then a long response question that’s related to making a connection with our community or tied to an essential question for the unit. (And to be perfectly honest, I don’t grade or even read their written responses… but they don’t know that!)

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