How To Use Digital Storybooks for CI in a Flipped Classroom

If you’re like me, you absolutely hate collecting, grading, and returning paper homework. Studies have shown that the way we usually use homework (ie assign some review exercise, check for completion, and move on) doesn’t even contribute to student learning at all. But, instead of scrapping homework all together, I see a lot of potential in the ‘flipped classroom’ model for world language classrooms. I did a bit of flipping in my class. It wasn’t every night, but at least a few times per unit I would assign online homework, partly because it proved to be a great way to engage students and partly because I believe in teaching computer literacy as well as language. This post includes instructions for creating your own flipped classroom homework assignments for a TPRS or CI approach using storybooks and Google Forms, as well as a complete assignment and all supporting materials.

If you are focusing on Comprehensible Input, you  want to have meaningful listening, reading, or writing activities for homework. I love using story books because the images help with comprehension the way my body language would help in class. There are lots of tools online for making cartoons and illustrated stories. My favorite tool, because it’s easy to use and looks great, is Click on the image below to see a story book I used as part of a homework assignment for my middle school Spanish I class:

La Historia De Roy

Storybird has beautiful free artwork that you can easily drag and drop to create professional-looking picture books. This 9-page story took me about 30 minutes to create. There are some limitations: for example, I couldn’t find a way to import custom art and I don’t think it’s possible to use more than one picture per page. But, because of those limitations, you won’t waste time trying to align or resize pictures so they fit exactly right: it’s all done for you as soon as you choose the image you want to use!

I assigned the story above as homework during our 3rd unit (early November) with comprehension questions. My students loved it and, even though some struggled to get online to complete it (I taught at a 100% Title 1 school), they were all able to complete it before the deadline. I did have to accommodate some students during lunch periods and immediately after school. I even had some students use Storybird to make their own stories for extra credit. You are, of course, welcome to use and/or adapt my story. But, I think once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to create your own.

And, since students already needed to be online to read the story, I went ahead and nixed paper altogether for this assignment. I used Google Forms to create a questionnaire with comprehension questions and assigned it to my students. Here’s a screen shot of the questionnaire:

Student Questionnaire for Roy Homework

This simple form has a few different question types and even a space for a longer response. Here is a link to the actual questionnaire that students saw and responded to (and a link to the original editable document so that you can make your own copy). And, because I have a lot of students with IEPs, I made a modified version of the questionnaire (and the editable doc for the modified questionnaire).

NB: Do not use these URLs with your students! If you do, I and the rest of the word will be able to see their responses. Instead, go to the editable version of the form and click on “file” and then “make a copy.” This will allow you to make your own, private version of the doc and share it with your students. If you need help using Google Apps, check out this simple article).

The great thing about using Google Forms is that I get all the students’ responses in one spreadsheet so I can grade it super quickly. (click the image below to enlarge)

To be honest, this homework assignment took me a bit longer to create than I would have liked (almost an hour when you add it all together). But, the extra time invested paid off because the grading went so much more quickly when everything was at a glance. If my school had Google Classroom it would have been even easier (I wish)! It also saved me a trip to the copier. Not to mention that my students had a lot more fun with this than other assignments and way more of them completed it on time than usual.

Please let me know what you think about this assignment in the comments. And, if you have your used Storybird or any other tool to make CI stories for homework, I’d love to see them!

How the “Testing Effect” helped my students succeed

When I was in my first year of teaching middle school Spanish I struggled with remediating vocabulary. I had a rule that any student who scored below a 60% on a weekly vocabulary quiz had to come to coach class to review the material and retake the quiz. I would give them as much time as they thought they needed, then allow them to try the quiz again. Yet, the results the second time were often worse than the first.

Body parts study guide. By having the definitions so readily available, I accidentally made it harder for students to take advantage of the “testing effect.”

In December of that first year, one of my students taught me how to fix this problem.
She typically did fine in my class, but had failed a vocabulary quiz on the parts of the body and came to coach class to retake it. She spent 15 minutes reading over our guided notes: a picture of a girl with 12 body parts labeled in Spanish. She had gotten 7 correct on the original quiz, so she only needed to learn 5 more. After about 15 minutes I asked if she felt ready to try the quiz again. With a worried expression on her face she shook her head and said she didn’t know any more words than she did before. In fact, she might know fewer words now because they were all getting mixed up. At that point (I’m embarrassed to say it took until December), I asked her how she was studying. She told me that she was just reading the words and trying to remember them. I hadn’t taken any education classes yet specifically on vocabulary strategies (I have since then and it was very helpful!), so I just used common sense to figure out that the problem was most likely the fact that she wasn’t actively quizzing herself. So, I gave her a blank copy of the quiz and asked her to label all the body parts she definitely knew. Next, I asked her to try one of the body parts she felt less confident about. She wrote her best guess, then I had her check her answer and make a correction. After she had completed the whole paper, we tried again. This time she got more words right away and we repeated the process with her guesses. After helping her ‘quiz’ herself for about 10 minutes, I gave her the real quiz - she got a 100%. In fact, the next week she got 100% again. She finished my class with an A, the best grade she had ever gotten in a language class.

What was the point of this story? I had used every kind of presentation method I could think of to address every possible learning modality (visual aids, graphic organizers, mnemonics, Total Physical Response (TPR), games, realia, stories, you name it I tried it) and yet my students were still struggling with vocabulary. It might just sound like my students needed more reps: trust me when I say they had PLENTY of reps. In fact the second student had probably practiced dozens of reps during those first 15 minutes and yet she knew FEWER words than before she started. Why is that? It has to do with something called the “testing effect,” the theory that people recall things better when they have to try to produce them instead of just ‘studying’ them. It turns out that attempting to retrieve a memory (in this case a Spanish word) has a much stronger effect on long-term retention of the memory than even prolonged periods of study. This holds true even if the retrieved memory is incorrect (i.e. if the student mixes up pie and pierna she is still learning their meanings more effectively than if she had read the words and their meanings several times correctly). Of course, if the retrieved memory is correct, the effect is further enhanced. So, for my students taking the quiz was even more important for long term retention than the time they spent studying!

Interactive Word Wall

So, how did I apply this in my classroom? Well, for one, if a student came to retake a quiz during coach class, I insisted that they take practice quizzes before the graded retake. It helped a lot. In class, I spent more time on retrieval practice than I had before. That helped a lot too. I didn’t spend a lot of time doing practice quizzes in class, because it’s boring and not communicative. But, I found other ways to help my students practice active retrieval. For example, after briefly introducing a new vocabulary list and the TPR motions for each word, I would have students close their eyes and try to do the motion for each word as I called it out. After every student attempted a motion, I would correct as needed - but by having them close their eyes and act it out, I was forcing them to attempt to retrieve the information themselves first. We played vocabulary games. I even started adding random slides to my lesson with some pictures of words we were learning or needed reviewing and then called on random students to identify the word in Spanish. It worked great! My students did much better during the spring semester than they had in the fall, and by the end of the year they were all able to ROCK our city-wide final exam.

But, all that retrieval practice took a ton of time out of my lesson - time I would have preferred to spend engaging my students in interpersonal and presentational communication. What if there were a way for students to study using active recall more efficiently? What if, instead of calling on random students, every student had an opportunity to practice at the same time? That’s why we decided to build ClassTracks, an online tool for vocabulary practice that allows teachers to upload their vocabulary list and then helps students study using research-based techniques. It’s free to try at We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback! email us at

Me Shirt: fun project for the last weeks of school

One of my absolute, all-time favorite activities to do this time of year is the ‘me-shirt.’ My students love any excuse to not wear their uniforms and this projects gives them a creative, fun, (and most importantly) communicative way to share their style.

“Yo soy muy artistica” - Peyton, 7th grade Spanish


Objective: Students will be able to describe themselves in the target language and compare what others wrote about themselves.

Materials: Ss will need a blank, light colored t-shirt, their notebook, and a pencil/pen.

I provide: fabric markers, glitter-glue, fabric paint, brushes, and butcher paper (to protect my desks)


  • A week before the activity, I ask students to look for a blank, light colored t-shirt that they have permission to write/draw on. They don’t know why.
  • For homework the day before the activity, I ask students to write at leasme-shirt2t 10 sentences to describe themselves in Spanish. I expect at least half of the sentences to be at least 5 words long and at least one of those to be a compound sentence (the requirements will depend on your students’ level).
  • In class on the day of the activity, I have students peer-check each other’s sentences (to make sure no one ends up embarrassed by their shirt) and I walk around to double-check my more struggling students and/or answer questions.
  • When everyone is confident in their sentences, I explain the activity: we will have the rest of class (about 45 minutes) for this activity. Every student will make a custom t-shirt (me-shirt) that describes themselves in Spanish. They can draw anything they like (as long as it’s appropriate for school) and can write as much as they want as long as it’s in Spanish and includes at least the 10 sentences they wrote for homework. I bring out the supplies and explain any necessary procedures about how we will be using them.
  • Students spend 45 minutes having fun, being creative, comparing their shirts, and practicing their Spanish. I walk around to help - especially if students want to test out a more advanced construction.
  • The shirts have to dry in my classroom overnight, during which time I write up a quick ‘quiz’ about the students in each class (who has red hair, who likes animals, etc). The following day students pick up their shirts and wear them over their uniform. Then in class I take about 15 minutes for them to present their shirt to the class and ask each other questions. Then, we play a quiz game to see who remembered the most about their classmates. They get to be creative, break dress-code, and compete with each other. This has always been a winner in my classroom!
  • Bonus: if there’s a spirit week or something similar at the end of the year, ask your principal for permission for a second showing of the shirts. Really, any excuse not to wear uniforms is met with excitement. If you’re looping with your students the following year, have them wear their shirts during spirit week in the fall to get your new level 1’s excited.