Start with Art

Continued to read Chapter 1 of Agentes Secretos on the document projector, Elmo.

ACTIVITY: I chose three student’s names out of their class name box.  I ask them, in Spanish, if they would be willing to draw. After I got my three volunteers (several kids declined), I assigned each of them a character from the chapter.

  1. Paula, the romantic symbol observer
  2. Luis, her impatient friend, who wants to find the Spear of Destiny for his father
  3. Luis’ father, a politician, who is competing with General Francisco Franco for the “lanza” and the power to dominate Spain.

Their task:  to start drawing a portrait of the character they were assigned–probably more like a “character map”, as we read the chapter and translated. I hope to put these up on the wall as a way to keep characters straight, watch how the characters grow, and keep students noticing what they are learning.

The text seems within their range judging from their ability to translate it. I still marvel at how difficult more sophisticated facets of reading are for some kids:

  • finding meaning from context
  • connecting what they just read to what they are reading now
  • recognizing cognates
  • making connections with real-life events or human motivations, etc.
  • and then, adding the increased “weight” of doing it in a foreign language–whew!

The children who volunteered to draw were very excited about the task. The funniest thing was that one class didn’t really get far enough for two of the artists to do anything. Their characters were not introduced in the reading yet. They handed in blank papers and quipped about the beauty and complexity of their work. All look forward to adding on to the drawings tomorrow and beyond. Others asked if there were more characters. Luckily, there are.

Already, questions about this particular historical period are increasing in frequency and sophistication. Today, the concept of a “general”, from one’s own country, attacking politicians from that same country was a difficult concept to get their heads around. We will look for some modern-day, as well as historical, examples of that very thing.

As usual, Mira Canion, the author, has found a way to pique kids’ curiosity about the places, people and periods of time she writes about—even though the language and the story are simple.


  1. Autonomy – choice about drawing or not
  2. Mastery – noticing and tracking “what they are learning” by adding on to drawings.
  3. Purpose – Does it matter? This will be the hard one.

Hmmm. I’ll probably have everybody do something like the portrait maps, although it won’t be drawing for all.

5 thoughts on “Start with Art

  1. What grade do you teach? How do you introduce vocabulary before beginning the chapter? What types of questions do you ask them and how will you assess them? And what do you tell them the objective is and what they will get out of reading the book?


  2. ¡Hola chica! I’m excited to read this blog. I love the idea of kids drawing the characters. I’m about to start “El Nuevo Houdini”.. Vamos a ver…

    1. They are still really liking the “drawing” part. They ask me everyday if they need to get them out of the magnetic clip on my white board and do some more work on them. They add to them every time. One kid was noting that he was “stuck” and didn’t feel he had enough information to draw Luis’ dad’s face. We went over the information we had (once again reviewing the reading for information–LOVE IT). He was right. He really doesn’t have enough info yet. At least Luis’ dad has a head and a body, if not a face.

      Another thing that is happening to the drawings are the plot details like places, objects, times, etc. They are actually going to be quite cool when finished.

      I am starting to think about how we could use them when they are done. IDEAS?

  3. Chris, I teach younger kids–sixth grade.

    I don’t introduce vocabulary before beginning the chapter. First of all, I believe that the text is more than 90% comprehensible to them without help. Secondly, if they don’t know a word, I just translate it. If it is an important word, I may write it on the board or in my plan book so that I make sure to “harp” on it as we continue with the book.

    I ask tons of questions. Examples: What does _____ mean? Who is speaking? Where is he? –the usual comprehension questions. I start with easy yes/no questions, leading to either/or questions, questions with one-word answers, and finally, to questions requiring longer responses and open-ended questions requiring more thinking and more language. I tailor these to individual students (differentiating across the span of acquisition and reading abilities). Sometimes, I ask for English summaries to check for comprehension. Sometimes, I ask higher acquirers to summarize in Spanish.

    I ask lots of grammar stuff:
    What does “sufren” mean? What does the “n” mean on the end of “sufren”? (for my lower kids). How would you say “I suffer”? (for my higher kids)

    What does “le pega” mean? (For higher kids) Does “le” mean “to him” or “to her” in this sentence? How do you know? (for low kids)

    Assessment happens in a number of ways:
    I listen to them speak when they answer questions. I watch their processing and speed of response.

    I give short, unannounced vocabulary, translation (Spanish to English), and comprehension quizzes. Sometimes they must read. Sometimes they are listening quizzes.

    The objectives are always the same: increase acquisition by hearing and seeing Spanish that they understand. This will improve their listening comprehension, speaking fluency, reading comprehension , and writing fluency. They know that if they can find interest in what we are doing (a story, reading, etc.) and will engage enthusiastically with me in sufficient repetition and personalizing of the content, they are guaranteed to increase their acquisition.

    Sorry to take so long to reply. Please feel free to ask more questions about the process.

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