Interactive Journals, Part Two: Sections Explained

So if you read the previous post you know that I have been using Interactive Journals in my middle school Spanish classroom this year and have absolutely loved the experience! I am excited to get to share it with you now and hear from any of you who have also had experiences with these journals in your classrooms. In the previous post I detailed how I had my students set them up so that they would be ready to go. I divided up the notebook into six sections by giving the students tabs for easy access. These sections were: Hacer Ahora (Do Now), Lecciones (Lessons), Paises (Countries), Actividades (Activities), Contractos (Contracts), and Vocabulario (Vocabulary).




Hacer Ahora is where students record the answers for their morning activity that is on the SmartBoard when they arrive to class each day. These activities take no more than five minutes and are very useful for getting students on task and ready to learn. I also ensure that the questions I put up there help to review concepts we have recently studied. This is a good quick assessment to see who gets it and gets working on it quickly and who is falling behind (those who stare at the board blankly). I also have students record their Minuto Loco in this section. The Minuto Loco is an idea that I cannot take credit for but I do not remember where I first heard it. It is similar to a speed drill. For Spanish 1, I have noticed that many students struggle getting used to the idea of conjugating verbs. Once we have covered this section in our notes, we begin doing Un Minuto Loco each day at the beginning of class. I give students one minute and I reveal a verb that they must conjugate. Toward the end of the first semester I give them two. Students are always allowed to use their verb chart for the Minuto Loco but I find that since we do it every day it doesn’t take long for them to unintentionally memorize all of the endings and I never had to force them to do it!


Lecciones is where students record their lesson notes. I occasionally include print outs for them to glue into this section, particularly for detailed charts or other helpful aids that would take way too long to have them transcribe. Other times they just write notes.




Paises, which means countries, is where we study our Spanish-speaking countries in more detail. This is probably the most fun section of the notebook. Part of our curriculum in middle school is to familiarize students with the Spanish-speaking countries so we highlight one a week (there are a few weeks with two because there are 22 countries and 18 weeks in a semester). On Monday, or the first day that they have my class each week, students know to pick up a blank info sheet for the featured country from the back table. Students trim the edges and glue it into their notebook under the Paises section. Throughout the week we fill out the information as we learn about the featured country. I do grade these notebooks so students are required to have a country completed by the Friday of the week after the country was studied. The very first page in this section is a Central-South America map where they color code each country so they can easily find every country in relation to the others. Info pages follow this page throughout the section. There are exactly enough pages in this section to accommodate the sheets that need to be recorded here. I let students know how precise this is so that they are not tempted to rip out pages for other activities.




Actividades is where students glue activity sheets or the occasional worksheet that we complete. Sometimes students will be grouped and have to answer questions or translate some sentences. These are also recorded in this section.




I got the idea for Contractos from my younger brother’s Spelling Contracts that they complete in elementary school. Spelling Contracts are ways that students practice their spelling words each week but in a format that is much more inviting than just writing the words 5-10 times each like we did when I was in elementary school. The Contract has a set number of points that students are required to reach then has generally nine 5 point activities and three 10 point activities from which to choose. Students choose the activities they would like to complete for practice, color in the box to indicate their choice, and attach the activity sheets to the back. To minimize on things being turned into me loose, I decided to incorporate this section into the notebooks. I assign Contractos bi-weekly. Students know to pick up a new contracto sheet from the back table when they pick up the week’s country info sheet, they trim the edges and glue it into their notebook and complete it on their own time, although they often have plenty of opportunity to work on these in class as they finish other activities early. It is due every other Friday. Students are required to include the proof of activity in their notebook. Some students choose to record it on the pages following the contracto and others decide to do it on other sheets of paper that they either glue or staple into their notebooks afterward. I require that students earn 25 points during each 2 week period.





The final section is Vocabulario, which I went into greater detail about setting up in the previous post, and is a really important part of the notebooks for the foreign language classroom. I originally did not include this section but after only a week or two had students add it to their books and the class proceeded with new ease and more words learned! Any time we come across a new word in class I have students record it in this section of their books alphabetically so it can be found easily in the future. This is also very helpful for them when they need words to use for their contractos! Since the very first day of class we have been doing Spanish translations, getting steadily more complex with each passing lesson. I only have them record words that I know are high frequency or very important for some other reason. Since we have done this, students have learned many words in the first semester of Spanish 1 that several students don’t typically grasp until Spanish 2 or 3. This also keeps them from having to study words traditionally with flashcards all the time. I can focus on having them learn verbs and a few other words the traditional way and have them learn high frequency words through this tool. When we do group translations we will often come across a word that they have written down previously but do not know. Instead of telling them, I say, “This one is in your book,” and have them search for it themselves. After a few times of doing this they generally have the word memorized.




Our middle school Spanish class is only one semester long and is an intro course. I really must credit the interactive journal to much of the success of the students, especially the translations (which are a part of our country emphasis) and the vocabulario section. It is now the 15th week of school and students can translate as a group paragraphs that I have borrowed from college text books. Learning through encountering words instead of just memorizing them makes a huge difference! I would love to hear from any of you who have further resources that have aided in your students’ language acquisition!

Interactive Journals, Part One: Set Up

I am thrilled to get to share my experience with interactive journals in the Spanish classroom – they have worked incredibly and I will definitely be using them again next year! These particular ones are set up for middle school or higher but they could easily be adapted to elementary level and to different subject areas.


I had students bring in a plain black composition book (not a spiral notebook because the spirals get messed up and students are tempted to rip out pages for other activities). It would be preferable for students to choose one that has 100 sheets to be sure that there is enough room. Students then followed very detailed instructions to get them properly set up. This took up an entire class period but it was well worth it! Sacrificing one class period for a year’s worth of smooth transitions and good organization is a pretty good bargain if you ask me. Students had to put their full name on the front cover as well as on the top and bottom of the book so that notebooks could be easily located in a basket no matter which direction they were oriented.




Students then numbered all of their pages at the top corner in a visible marker, large enough to be seen. Pages were numbered front and back so that your 100 sheet composition book had 200 pages. Once the pages were correctly numbered (you have to impress on students to be careful in this section so that they do not skip pages) they were given little paper tabs that were labelled: Hacer Ahora (Do Now), Lecciones (Lessons), Paises (Countries), Actividades (Activities), Contractos (Contracts), and Vocabulario (Vocabulary). Students could color these with colored pencils if they so desired. Students then cut out each of these squares and glued them to the page in their notebook as directed (so that all tabs for all students were in the same order and orientation). I wound up adding the Vocabulario section to their notebooks later and it was much needed! I encourage you to do that from the beginning if you decide that you would like to use this system in your classroom. Since I did not pre-plan that section, the tab had to be added as a “second row” in that back of the book. Once the tabs are correctly glued, so that half of the tab (the part with the word) hangs over edge evenly, students were given a piece of large clear tape with which to “laminate” each tab by taping over it. It actually looks really good when finished, not like tape at all, and it keeps the tabs from ripping, wearing, or becoming frayed over time. Especially necessary since my students keep their books in baskets in the classroom where they are routinely abused by classes searching for their own books among them.


Page Numbers


I mentioned that I added the Vocabulario section later and therefore it was not a part of a my original class set-up. Next year it will be though! In this section I had students divide several pages into four boxes, enough so that there was one for each letter of the Spanish alphabet. I then had them write the target letter in each box, in order! In each of these boxes students record new words that we learn, organizing them alphabetically. This has been one of the major catalysts for their success in language acquisition. Students are also encouraged to add their own words to these sections as they encounter words that they would like to remember. This becomes a valuable resource for them when they need to look up a word they know they have seen before or when they need to use vocabulary words to complete a contracto. If/when a student runs out of room in a particular box, I provide them with a sticky note to place over the box and continue. That way all of the words are still in the same section and it is easy to see them all.




Other things that I have had students add to their journals over time include a Quick-Reference Guide and an envelope for a Verb Chart. These have both come in very handy. On the back inside of their journal I had students glue an envelope (to cut down on cost I had them all make their own through origami out of copy paper) and a small square of construction paper (color of their choice). I printed out a verb chart for every student as soon as we learned about verbs (I choose to cover all verb endings around the fourth week of school, I know that is earlier than most curriculum suggest but I have found that it is helpful for providing a full framework for students so they can feel like they are really do something. I do not have them memorize the endings until much much later). These charts are just a small sheet of paper that outline all of the endings for present tense -ar, -er, and -ir verbs. Students fold these up and put them in the envelope so that they can be quickly accessed. I allow them to use these for Minuto Locos, translation, activities, and for the first several tests and quizzes. I have found that giving students plenty of time to use the verb chart before requiring them to memorize the endings, helps them really grasp the concept and they often accidentally memorize it without you having to ask them to do so! Win, win! But I digress, on the construction paper, students record phrases that are important and frequently used. I have them record phrases like: “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” “Please repeat,” “Please slow down,” “How do you say…in Spanish?,” and “What does … mean?” These are phrases that they may need to use in the classroom or are likely to need to use in a conversation with a native or more advanced speaker.


These journals have worked wonderfully for us in Spanish class. It helps students be more organized, it is easy for parents to see exactly what we are learning in class (and easier for students to explain their homework or material to their parents), it keeps students engaged during class, it gives students something to have ownership of, and it incorporates the opportunity for creative learning in the classroom. I have supplied every table with scissors, pens, colored pencils, markers, and glue sticks to be sure that these journals are a success and that they help the class run more smoothly. If you have used interactive journals in your classroom I would love to hear from you and some of the things that you may have done the same or differently!

2016 Classroom Reveal – Middle School Spanish


Students are grouped in pods of four in the front and pods of three in the back, six total tables.



Each table has a basket with supplies: glue sticks, scissors, colored pencils, pens, and markers, for completing their interactive notebooks throughout the class.



Giant Scrabble Board! Students can play Spanish vocabulary words on the Scrabble board for part of their homework grade. I have found that the students love this one the most.



Scrabble Board with Spanish Vocabulary



Country Wall. Each week we have a featured Spanish-speaking country that we study. This wall is a fun way to feature the countries as well as keep them on the front of students’ minds. It is also great for geography practice!



Word Wall and Bookshelf. The word wall features major vocabulary that we have covered throughout the class thus far and makes it quick for students to recover vocabulary when they need to use the words for homework or practice writing sentences. The bookshelf features games that we use in class for practice as well as children’s book written in Spanish to enhance vocabulary.



A more grown-up and stylistic way of displaying classroom rules and group work roles.



Teacher’s Desk. The table behind adds much needed work space and helps keep my desk clean. I also found that window treatments go a long way in making a classroom much more inviting!



Organizing student interactive notebooks! Allowing them to keep them in class allows me to do some grading in segments as well as keeps them from forgetting to bring them to class!

For Starters…

A great teacher once told me that if you truly love the children who come into your classroom and truly desire to see them succeed then everything will fall into place. I believe this to be true. The teacher who truly loves the children placed in her classroom will go to whatever lengths necessary to be sure that they succeed. She will make changes where necessary, she will look up new strategies that may assist comprehension, she will alter lessons to meet differing needs, she will demonstrate and allow the students ample time to wrestle with the new material. She will labor out of love for these students. This teacher will desire more than good grades, she will desire to inspire.


This is the kind of teacher I seek to be and to become. A teacher whom students can trust, a teacher who inspires confidence and assurance in her students, a teacher who creates an environment of love, acceptance, and safety. I want my classroom to be a place where students feel safe, where they know what is expected of them, but most of all where they know that they are loved and cared for. Students spend so much of their lives in the classroom, it should be a nurturing atmosphere that helps the child grow in wisdom and stature, academically, socially, psychologically, morally, emotionally, and physically.


This blog is an area where I write about my journey to become this kind of teacher. I record the nifty strategies that I have learned along the way as well as helpful hints about starting up a classroom and handling the different situations that arise throughout the school year. Hopefully you will find some pointers here that will help you on your teaching journey as you seek to meet the needs of the students in your classrooms.


I am currently a middle school Spanish teacher so for this time a lot of my posts will focus around strategies that I have found particularly useful in the foreign language classroom. Many of these strategies are not foreign language specific but rather have been adapted to meet the purposes of my classroom. I encourage you to do the same! I love an interactive classroom and many of these strategies and activities are ones that I would take with me to any classroom, primary through high school, adapting them as necessary, because they are so useful in engaging students and helping them learn core skills such as organization and time management while they learn their academic curriculum.