esl gamesHi everyone! I´m so sorry I wasn’t able to get together with you for Sunday Best last weekend but I was preparing something really special for you. In fact, it will be the focus of this week’s Sunday Best, if I can hold my tongue until then that is!

Today I want to share an incredible game and lesson plan with you which I created for my young students but that has actually been an incredibly big hit with adults as well.

In this game I call ‘Once Upon a Time’, students become storytellers, not of someone else’s stories but of their own. Students will be presented with three sets of story sticks, the green sticks represent the place where their story will take place, the blue will be their main character(s) and the red (my personal favorite) will be the central problem of the plot or a problem their main character must endure or overcome. Using games in the classroom

You can download my set of story sticks here and print them on card paper, or you can certainly edit the document or make your own. Making them on popsicle sticks by hand is even more fun, but if you’re pressed for time this is a faster option. Here are the steps to set up this activity in class:

1) As a warmer I like to ask students about some famous stories they might know or ask them to recap one we have worked in class. I use the one they choose to elicit who the main character is, where the story takes place and what the main problem or challenge is. That way, they’ve come up with examples themselves to serve as inspiration.

2) Ask each student to select one story stick of each color. In the first two or three rounds I always let them read through all the sticks and choose the one they like the best. In the next rounds I have them choose them at random (the funniest and craziest stories will come up at this point). Of course if you’re teaching a large class it might be best to do this at random from the beginning, students might take a long time choosing at the rest of the students might get restless.

3) Give students a few minutes to think about their story.

4) Students take turns telling their stories.

5) Awards ceremony: After a very creative lesson like this where students have worked really hard I always like to have a little awards ceremony. Click here to download my award envelopes. Inside I write what the prize is. In my case this usually includes earning one or two star stickers (I use a sticker system in my classes), being able to choose the extra activity or game next class, stickers, being able to choose and animated short to watch or the next song we will sing in class. These may vary depending on the type of class you have, so I’ve left the envelopes blank so that you can adapt them. If you find them to be too small, you can always select the figures and make them larger. Storytelling

My categories include:

– Creativity

– Best Character

– Best storytelling (pronunciation and fluency)

– Best grammar

– Best use of vocabulary

– Best behavior (and this includes their behavior while telling the story as well as their behavior while listening to their classmates stories).

I have to tell you, I have a big box of games and activities for my young students, but no other game has provided as much concentration, interest and good behavior as this one. Phrasal verb UNO comes in second in this department. It’s also great for you to check students’ progress and see what areas need a little more review or focus.storytelling game

I hope you enjoy it! Ask me any questions or leave me some comments in the section below. If you try this out and have some incredible stories (it’s amazing what their little minds can come up with), please share them in the comments as well!



Winter photosHi everyone. I’m just popping in for a few seconds today to share some of the winter beauties I’ve been photographing lately. When I take our dog to the park in the mornings I find that it’s a little bit different with every passing day. The leaves have almost left the trees entirely, little berries are making an appearance, and the few leaves that are left have this very rich color, just as they are about to fall. The sunsets are also surprising me these days. Very different from the summer sunsets we can see from our terrace which always seem to be on steroids. In the Winter, they are light and soft, but just as beautiful. I hope you enjoy them!

fall leaves


winter sunset

sunset in Madrid



ChristmasFor some very strange reason, my students (especially the young ones) seem to be extremely curious about what my life is like. They are constantly asking me about my hobbies, my favorite bands, how old I am (this little guessing game gets hilarious with the young ones), what my husband is like, whether he plays play station games or football. My life is pretty simple nowadays which is what I’ve worked my entire life to finally be able to have, but to my students, these little bits of information are like little special treats. Perhaps it’s because we spend the entire class talking about what they’ve been doing, what their favorite movies are, the sports they play, and they love turning these back at me. The idea is to get them talking as much as possible, so I’m the least important person in the room while I’m teaching. However, it is slightly unfair that I get to ask all the questions and get all the scoop. So for my dear students who are always reading the blog (thanks! you guys rock!) and to any others that might be stopping by, here’s what my day looked like today.

At around 7 I made breakfast for my doggie and hubby and we all sat down to eat together (doggie on the floor but still…). A couple of hours of lesson planning followed, and then an early morning yoga class in what seemed to be the coldest day out ever! Then I ran some errands and continued with my lesson planning, and then after still having some of my yoga buzz left over I went into the kitchen to make a yummy vegetarian lunch. Roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa with almonds and goyi berries and my favorite ginger carrot sauce on the side, not to mention my new favorite side dish zucchini and leek “pasta-less pasta” with a rich tomato sauce. Amazing is all I have to say! Not because of any particular cooking skill of mine but because of the incredible and delicious food nature gives us! Then I had an afternoon of teaching, drove back home listening the the great Gary Jules and had dinner with hubby and doggie again. We’re about to curl up on the couch for some tv time, one of my favorite parts of the day!

Hope you had a great one too! Be sure to tell us about it in the comments!

PS: Another typical question is what our home is like, and whether I’ve put up my Christmas tree yet, so that’s what the photo above is about. Nala decided to model it for you. What do you think?!


children´s drawings


It’s a cloudy and rainy day here in Madrid. I’m sitting down to write my student’s progress reports for this week and I’m listening to The Decemberists (a must on rainy days). I love the changing of the seasons and days like these. They seem to make me want to work in the studio or plan some really creative lessons, brainstorm ideas, etc. Change seems to be in the air today since this morning I jumped in the car and went to get my long locks chopped off. It felt like time for a change (I’ll post a photo soon) and it was so exciting!

While I’m taking a break from work to write this post, let me leave you with one of my favorite things to look at: children’s drawings. A few weeks ago a baby Walrus named Mitik was rescued in Alaska and taken to the New York aquarium where they are taking care of it. The New York Times has been covering the rescue and asked children across America to send drawings of this huge adventure this tiny walrus was on. Here’s the selection of drawings, including the one closest to my heart since it was done by my super creative 8 year old cousin Sophie. It’s her rendition of Mitik the walrus on his trainer’s lap after a day of cuddles and play. Take a look at the drawings that made the New York Times’ cut and get an amazing glimpse into the minds and hearts of these little kids. I’ve always felt that drawings and games are the biggest windows into the lives of children and you’ll definitely get a sense of who these kids are by looking at their drawings here. Sophie’s heart drawing is just like hers is in real life, big, pink, creative, caring and sweet all rolled into one. I hope you like them! They certainly made me smile today.


Sunday BestI started my day by driving through the rainy streets of Madrid listening to The Shins. Everything was screaming “Sunday”, especially when I walked into the bookstore I was going to, and started browsing through the bookshelves while watching the rain outside. Now I’m back home and after a run, a yummy lunch and giving my dog a much needed bath, I’m about to get cozy on the couch with a chai, some movies, hubby and doggie. Who ever said Sundays were awful?! I leave you with my picks for this week’s Sunday Best. Enjoy!

For teachers, some great ideas at Elementary ESL. I’m dying to try their french fry synonyms, compound word eggs, not to mention their story sticks which I’ve been hearing wonders of!

For parents looking for some easy craft projects to do with their kids, Mr. Printables has tons of beautiful ideas you can simply print out and assemble. A great source of party invitations as well. Thank you to our reader/fellow teacher and friend Estela for that one!

For the little wannabe chefs that live inside you (wait…is that just me?), check out Love and Lemons. It’s a great place to find all those healthy delicious recipes you’re always looking for. Their photography is so bright and colorful it will make you run to the kitchen to cook and eat some healthy treats.

For a wonderful ride through color, design, architecture, lifestyle and photography. A little feast for the eyes, especially when you need a little creative boost, here’s Fox on the Run.

I hope you enjoy mi picks for this week and your Sunday of course! I leave you with a little ‘blast from the past’ photo I took this week. Did anyone else have this very unique deck of cards as a child? I was so excited when I saw it in a window display! Sorry it’s so blurry, I had to take it without anyone seeing me.


Graded readers ESLHere’s what I’m doing on my Saturday night. Ok, ok, I’m almost finished and about to watch a movie, but yes, this is usually what life as a teacher is like nowadays. I’m starting with graded readers with my young students with this action and adventure book called Orca. It’s about a group of adventurous sailors and the things that can happen in the big blue sea. We’re starting the actual reading this week but we’ve been slowly working on vocabulary, games, listenings and video to get their interest before reading. So far they’ve loved it and my dear childhood film “Free Willy” has come to the rescue yet again. Two of my students were actually able to do a listening activity with a CNN news segment on killer whales working together to hunt a seal (I’m still looking for a polite way to squeal with excitement when my students have a little breakthrough like this in class. Did I mention these two students are 9 and 11?!). So last week while we were playing some flashcard games and going through some vocabulary, these two little guys asked if they could photocopy the flashcards to get the answers extra perfect next time (translation: they want to be the first to answer). I told them I would of course give them something for their notebooks so that they could review the new words when I wasn’t there. So these little vocabulary sheets are what I’m up to tonight, the big blank space is for them to write a sentence using the new words.

Vocabulary ESL

Did I tell you I felt incredibly old when my 9 year old student explained how to make videos bigger in my iPad last week? (Sigh…).


Shops in Madrid SpainHi everyone! A long weekend plus an important errand on Monday and several days of being sick kind of threw me off the teaching/bloggging arena for a few days. After some much needed rest I’m finally back to show you some photos I’ve been taking with my phone and which I just realized have one thing in common: pop up books. The photos aren’t exactly of books so lets call them pop up moments. Remember those wonderful children’s books that had a new surprise in every page and it seemed to jump at you and fill you with giddy laughter as a kid? It turns out that Spain is full of those moments if you pay attention.  I seem to be obsessed with the image of something unexpected popping up as if out of nowhere. Madrid and many other Spanish cities are filled with these beautiful sights since the old seems to be fighting with the new for central stage, and the small streets usually have a hidden agenda if you look close enough. I wasn’t doing this intentionally, but today while I was browsing through my photos I noticed a pattern. Take a look…

Here’s a beautiful park in San Lorenzo del Escorial where we went to last week for the day, and its “pop up book” cathedral.

San Lorenzo del Escorial

Two blocks away behind a huge wall you think has nothing beyond it, you walk through a very tiny alley and find this little beauty below as you look to your left.

Fall trees in Spain

In the same town, right behind the famous El Escorial Monastery lies this beautiful mountain that seems to be leaning in to take a peek. I had always stood there looking straight at the incredible building but this time I found myself wondering what life in the houses on the hill was like.El EscorialAfter years of searching for the famous prince gardens in Madrid, I found them when I wasn’t looking. The garden was a lot smaller than I thought, but beyond the beautiful and really old trees was the sight of the roofs that peeked through. It was incredible to see that terracotta orange behind those bright greens and you know how I’m obsessed with contrasts right? The photo doesn’t do it justice because there was so much light there that day, but you get the idea…Prince garden in Madrid

Below you’ll find my second obsession in photography, tunnels and bridges and alleys oh my! The quintessential pop up moment, the first peak at what lies behind the passing of a bridge. Another view of El Escorial featuring my hubby and our friend Daniel strolling the stone path.

Let’s not forget the little surprise I got a few weeks ago as I turned a corner and saw the beautiful floating stationary in a shop in the center of town (top photo).

I’m still obsessed with pop up books and can’t help myself whenever I’m in a bookstore, but if you look closely, you’ll start seeing little surprises catching your eye. I’m going to start collecting some of these and maybe it will make me even more aware of those contrasts I love.


autumn changeMany of you probably read my last post about election day and then saw no posts for several days. This happened to me and many friends and fellow bloggers. I think we were just so busy reading about the elections online and getting back up, that we weren’t sure what to say or how to continue with a normal post after that day. That was true for me at least, that is until yesterday. Yesterday was Thursday, and on this day I go to the CEPI center where I’m a volunteer English teacher (you might remember my post called “A Special Anniversary”). We started a new course yesterday which meant a bunch of new students. To say they are lovely and motivated is a complete understatement! They are one of the best groups I’ve had at the center so far. Not because of their level of English but because of how much they participate and how much they want to learn. A funny thing happened, Carmen, one of my new students approached me before class and said she was terribly sorry but she needed to ask me something before coming inside. As soon as I looked at her I saw this little furry white head pop out of her bag. Her dog had just had surgery and she couldn’t leave him alone but she didn’t want to miss her English class.She asked me if “Bichin” (which roughly translated means ‘little critter’) could possibly join us for the class. I’m sure she had no idea that she was asking the perfect person for that favor, and a few seconds later they were both sitting in a desk next to her classmates.

There I was, teaching 11 and a half students, and my heart was slowly recovering and warming up. My new group has students from Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Honduras and Spain to name a few, and we all made a very special bond yesterday. Perhaps it was the doggie in the room that made everything so relaxed and special, or maybe it was just one of those lucky days. It was one of the most special classes I have ever taught and my students felt so at ease they stayed during their break chatting with me about their previous learning experiences and how lost they’ve felt in classes in which the teachers rush through the class and leave them frowning. This is something for a different post because I think it’s very important, but for now, the point is that in that classroom I remembered that everything goes on and that I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to share my time with people. Last night I taught another group of new students and again left smiling realizing the beauty of English teaching. You teach a language by talking about life and interests, movies and hobbies, politics and new discoveries, world news and personal experiences. This is probably one of the few subjects in which your students share this much of their lives and their opinions with you and you with them. When I was driving back home after a long day of teaching blasting The Decemberists on my stereo, I was smiling.

In regards to the election process, I wish everyone that felt really down that day a fast recovery and especially to all my friends and family that are still in Venezuela. You can always count on my vote no matter how many times we feel it makes no difference. A lot is being said about the election process, all I know for sure is that I will vote, EVERY SINGLE time as I have before. It’s just what my mamma taught me.

The photo above is of my first spotting of the changing of the leaves and I also leave you with “Bichín”, my first canine English student. Hope he puts a smile on your face as he did on mine.doggie


creative teachingI know it seems like I suddenly disappeared from the blogosphere, but don’t worry, it was only temporary while I was getting my second teacher certification as a young learners ESL teacher! That’s right, I’m now officially certified for teaching adults and my favorite little friends. I’m so happy I did it, so excited that I’ve finished, and now I get to apply so many of the amazing and creative ideas and techniques I learned these past few weeks. I have to tell you I was not prepared for learning in such a creative environment but that’s what I kept walking into day in and day out. You can imagine my excitement! Not only that but I was so lucky to be in a classroom with such a diverse and interesting group of students (well, teachers really!), and our tutor was a force to be reckoned with. Incredibly creative with one little extra wonderful side to him, he was a technology “junkie” just like me! Suffice it to say I was hooked and happy to learn from someone with so much experience.

In one of my favorite lessons about using dvd and video in the classroom, he said something that really struck a chord. He said that he doesn’t agree with people that say that technology will someday replace teachers, but that teachers who don’t embrace technology will be replaced by teachers who do. I loved this! What a great way of reminding us we must always stay on our toes to continue to create magic in the classroom.

Today I just wanted to pop in to give you my happy news and to say I’m still here, I’m not going anywhere! I leave you with a photo of what my life is like these days. cutouts of cartoons, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, made up memory games to teach verb tenses, and so many other unusual ways to plan my lessons and keep my students engaged and learning. I’ll see you all tomorrow for our Sunday Best!


madrid buildingHi everyone, I´m just popping in to show you this incredible building I saw in Madrid today. I was walking with a friend trying to find a children’s bookstore, and after walking up and down the street a few times we finally realized it had sadly closed its doors. Before we realized it we were staring at this beauty neither of us had seen before. I’ve been in this neighborhood many times but this little gem had been hiding behind a street corner. The reason I was in that part of town to begin with was the fact that for the past few days and the next couple of weeks I’m back in school for my young learner teacher certification! This means that really soon I’ll have amazing ideas and projects to share with you here so that you can do them with your little ones. It feels great to go back to school and be the student for a while again. It’s a very unique kind of class, very creative and interactive, and after every class we leave with big smiles on our faces and ready to try out what we’ve learned.

Some of these great ideas are coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to share a little piece of wisdom I read about today as I was planning a couple of lessons for my younger students. We all have a curriculum to adhere to, a course book to follow, and parents to please, but students, especially young learners are a lot less interested in the amount of topics we cover in one lesson as it is for them to feel cared after, understood and taken into account. This is not to say that we should throw our lesson plans out the window, it just means that if we take care of these other aspects of teaching as much as our grammar exercises, it’s definitely more likely that learning will occur. This was written by a teacher who is currently working in South Korea, and I definitely think this applies to children of any nationality. Take the time to get to know your students, to listen to them, to make them realize how special and smart they are, and the subject you’re teaching might become an exciting part of their day and be more memorable. They’re also more likely to continue coming back for more, wide eyes in tow. More to come soon so stay tuned!