Playing the game when you have to cram information

An e-mail I got today:


My name is ********* ********* and I use your books to teach my Spanish classes. I have a question to ask and because I use your books, I chose you – lucky you. If you have the time to answer, I would appreciate your help.

Do you worry about covering thematic vocabulary? If you do, how and when do you do this? Do you try to make it fit in with your chapters or do you teach it separately? I’m scared that I’m not getting in the vocabulary that I should teach. Is there a guide somewhere that says how many words a student should learn in a semester or year? Thank you so much.

My reply:

Dear ********* *********,

I don’t believe there is any such guide telling you how much vocab students must learn in a year, and I do believe that major textbook publishers like EMC, etc would have you believe it is a MUCH higher number than is generally comfortable processing for a student.  They do that because they want teachers to feel like they are getting a “good deal.”

You need to look at your district’s curriculum guide and if you do not have one, are your students taking a common assessment with another class that is “learning” more vocab?

Personally, I do have a couple of thematic topical vocab units that I am forced to cram onto opt to teach my students whenever I am sharing sections of the same course with another teacher who is heavily thematic topical.  (I am a thematic teacher, however my themes are things such as “Immigration,” and “Traveling as an exchange student” and “living during a civil war.” We are talking here about topics such as “adjectives, home furnishings, animals, and the dreaded much anticipated amusement park rides unit.”)

What I generally do in this situation is use and make lots of flashcards (I shell out the extra $10 a year to be able to upload pictures of the vocab).  Here is my account:

Quizlet offers several study or game options!

I go through the flashcards with the whole class for about 5 minutes a day on my projector, and also have them take a day and play the quizlet games in the computer lab. They then have to practice at home (wow, I think I invented the flipped classroom!). Once each student feels he or she knows all of the words well, he or she comes to my desk and takes a quick assessment (I allow the students to decide when they are ready).  I randomly show them 10 different flashcards and they have to say the word.

So, ask yourself…what or who is making you scared?  If it is just your internal voice, tell it to stop and keep doing comprehensible input with small chunks of vocabulary every day.  If it is an external pressure, ask yourself if it has the power to do harm to you if you don’t give in.  If it has that power, play the little game and cram some vocab every now and then.  If it has no power, keep doing comprehensible input with small chunks of vocabulary every day.

Best of luck to you!


  1. It sounds like a g reat system i’dlike to adopt. Just one question, When do you have time to individually assess them if you are,doing all teacher directed activities?

    1. We certainly do not always do teacher-directed activities, but during times of verbal storytelling it might appear “teacher centered.” I think in reality is is very student-centered and collaborative, but the teacher is speaking a lot in order to provide the comprehensible input and also in order to drive the story forward. In terms of assessment, you can still assess any way you like. I use Google voice for speaking assessments. It works great for presentational as well as interpersonal assessments! Thanks for your comment!

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