Building a Proficiency Based WL Program

We have had numerous inquiries this past year about our program we have been building over the past several years.  We are finishing our fifth year teaching with Comprehensible Input (CI) in our small K-12 School in Van Meter, Iowa.  In 2010, I started teaching with CI at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California.  I am forever in debt for what I learned from the amazing educators with whom I worked there.  From that moment, a spark was ignited as I began to envision a program where students were placed in classes according to their proficiencies rather than moved from level to level despite their struggles/deficiencies.

Traditionally we move students to the next level if they “pass” but realistically many of these students who squeak by are not ready to move on to the next level, we just have nowhere else to put them.  Sometimes, we have students who move into district with no experience, but Spanish I doesn’t fit their schedule, so they are placed with their classmates despite their lack of foundation.  These situations are frustrating for students and also for teachers as we know we are not reaching them at their level, but there are no other options.

We have developed a program with a two year rotating curriculum where students can spend two years at each proficiency.  Since it is a rotating curriculum, students who are in year one are mixed with students who are in year two, but it is listed on their transcripts as 101 (first year) or 102 (second year).  We are still in the process of building program and are learning as we go.  We have tried to give numbers to classes as they might correspond with college level classes.  A student who has demonstrated proficiency beyond Novice Mid level would most likely place in the the “2nd year” of a college level course.  For that reason, at the novice high level, we have changed the number from the 100 level to the 200 level.

The names of our courses as we currently have (subject to change) them are as follows:

Novice Low 101, 102

Novice Mid 103, 104

Novice High 201, 202

Int Low 203, 204

Int Mid 301, 302 (We do not currently offer this course, but as we have a K-12 program, we anticipate some of our current elementary students placing into Novice High as 9th Graders.)

After five years we have students unofficially producing confidently at the Intermediate Low level.  We are looking into official tests to place students according to their proficiency.

These are our expectations after one or two years at each proficiency level:

Novice Low

Students confidently produce Super 7 present tense, all forms

Students begin to produce Super 7 past tense, some forms

Students produce Super 7 future tense (is going to + infinitive), some forms

Students are exposed to a sheltered amount of other tenses in context

Students are exposed to a variety of reactions and idiomatic expressions

Novice Mid

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 present tense, all forms

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 past tense, all forms

Students produce Sweet 16 future tense (is going to + infinitive), some forms

Students are exposed to various other tenses in context

Students are using a variety of reactions and idiomatic expressions

Novice High

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 present tense, all forms

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 past tense, all forms

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 future tense (is going to + infinitive), some forms

Students begin to produce a variety of other tenses in context

Students are using a variety of reactions and idiomatic expressions

Intermediate Low

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 present tense, all forms

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 past tense, all forms

Students confidently produce Sweet 16 future tense (is going to + infinitive), some forms

Students confidently produce a variety of other tenses in context

Students are using a wide variety of reactions and idiomatic expressions



We are looking into an exam that our school can purchase and give from year to year that assesses Listen, Reading, Writing and Speaking.  Recommendations appreciated!


Student Sample Intermediate Low (with Intermediate Mid tendencies)

The following are 15 minute writes from a student in our Intermediate Low group, a class for college credit through our local area community college.  She speaks as well as she writes.  You will see that she makes errors, which is normal.  Typically in our Novice level classes, we do not correct errors, but give two suggestions per writing sample and give them time to reflect.  More than that is overwhelming at this level.  Before the next timed write, we ask they review the suggestions from their previous entries (they are all kept in a notebook from year to year and we hold them over the summer so they don’t get lost).

In the Intermediate level classes (and sometimes Novice High), I make corrections directly on their writing samples and give two suggestions.  I took photos of the samples before writing on them.  Wish I had thought to do that in previous years!

April 12, 201820180426_104551.jpg

April 24, 2018 (a reflexion at the end of the year – This course finishes the 2nd of May, 2018)


I am sure there are many questions I did not think to address.  Please ask and I will add to this post so that others can see the answers you are seeking.  Our Spanish team in Van Meter is Megan Fandel, Stacey Wigant and Melissa Evens Newell.  We do not claim to be experts.  We are simply professionals doing what we think is best for students based on the experiences we have had!  🙂



Coco – El almuerzo de Dante

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 1.38.04 PM.pngWow!  I am SUPER excited for this movie to come out November 22, 2017!  It is by far one of the most anticipated movies on my list (aside from all the superhero movies) in a long time and I’ve been counting the days!

In class, we have been doing activities designed around one part of the trailer, El almuerzo de Dante (Dante’s Lunch).  The students are super engaged and come eager to class every day, as do I!  Yesterday, I spent a fair amount of time organizing a slide show to support the mini-story I wrote using screen shots from the trailer.  Today, we read the story together while looking at the pictures.  I gestured the story while reading using the TPR in Context list I created and front-loaded for several days.

Here is a link El almuerzo de Dante – Story and Materials where you can find the materials I have created.


Below are the activities that we did leading up to reading together in class today.  Many of the structures I have used in the storyline are recycled from past stories.

  • Front-load TPR in Context – I hit this hard for a few days and then do it nearly every day after.  (Below you will find  two videos of me showing my students these gestures.  I was out sick and wanted them to still have some sort of input.  Here are the videos.  No judging.  I was sick.  In jammies. 😉 )



  • Tell / Circle story while watching video clip several times over several days on and off (just the Dante’s Lunch part)
  • Reverse Charades with TPR in Context (Brain Break)
  • Reverse Pictionary – with TPR in Context (Brain Break)
  • Quizlet with TPR in Context
  • Project and read story to students using gestures pausing to check for comprehension
  • Project and read story to students with student actors
  • Pinzas – Teacher reads phrases or projects phrases out of order
  • Rompecabezas – puzzle
  • Draw – Teacher reads or projects phrases out of order and students draw on paper or white boards
  • Match phrases to photos  – Reading and Listening)
  • Write story using photos as a guide
  • Tell story using photos as a guide

Frase de la Semana

(Password inspired by Alina Filipescu and Bryce Hedstrom)

Week 1: ¡Eso me hace agua la boca! (That makes my mouth water!)

Greet students at the door and help them through the phrase of the week each day until they are able to say it fluently.  I have it posted with the translation for reference.

Week 2:  ¿Qué te hace agua la boca? (What makes your mouth water?)

After students tell you the phrase of the week, ask them the question and help them translate their answer.  I usually warn them on Friday that I am going to ask the question, so they should have something in mind.  You might want to suggest they refer to for help with translation outside of class as they are deciding their answer.

Other Materials!!!

After tweeting out my phrase of the week yesterday @newellystories, I discovered that Elena Lopez @lopezelena has also created an awesome movie talk and accompanying resources of the same clip in Coco!!!  Her story is amazing and our stories and materials combined could make a great embedded reading and unit.  With Elena’s permission, I’m sharing this link  Coco – La cena de Dante to her materials!  Thank you Elena!


¡Dibuja! / Draw!

I’ve been concerned about my students not getting enough input of the “I” and “you” forms and have been exploring new avenues to deliver our story through engaging activities to our novice classes.  In our upper levels, we are still sometimes hearing students using the the subject “I” with the third person singular form of the verb.  Yo quiere / Yo tiene / Yo mira…  (I wants / I has / I looks…).

We typically have our students draw our stories.  They LOVE drawing on our white boards!  (And wearing the socks on their hands…)  Why not have them draw the story while they listen to it from the perspective of one of the characters!?

I explained that they would have two tasks.

1.  To mark the times they heard the “o” / “oy”at the end of the action word in the sentence, indicating the subject “Yo” (I)

2.  To draw what they hear

I make sure that there are no side conversations during my activities because everything I say in Spanish is important.  🙂  I have 20 minute classes for elementary and 30 minute classes for middle school and secondary, and we use every minute.  (High School also has a Spanish enrichment time which I will describe in a different post another day.)

Also, to encourage the students who need me to know that they got it correct and typically shout out “Yes!” or “I got it right”, I request that if they need me to know they got it correct (and most of them want me or someone else to know) they give me a thumbs up and a big smile.  “¡Pulgares arribas, sonrisas enormes!”

I did this activity with 3rd through 8th Grades today.  They loved it.  I loved it.  We will do the activity again tomorrow from the perspective of yet another character.

Below is a clip I filmed in one of the classes.  At the end of the video we count the number of times they heard the “o” or “oy” to indicate that the subject is “yo” (I).  If you look closely in the pictures, you will see the tally marks on their white boards.




Batdora:  Mi mamá me dice, “Yo no sé.  Busca en tu habitación.”  Yo busco en mi habitación, pero no puedo encontrarla.


Batdora:  Yo le pregunto a mi mamá, “¿Mamá, tu sabes dónde está mi mochila morada?”


Batdora:  Yo le pregunto a mi mamá, “¿Mamá, tu sabes dónde está mi mochila morada?”


Cuando el matador sale al balcón, las mujeres le tiran flores.  (El matador guapo – El ratón Pablito –


Hola, yo soy Traigon y soy cruel.


Simón:  Yo estornudo y el gato va volando.


La puerta se abre y hay silencio.  (El matador guapo – El ratón Pablito –

¡Entrevista! Interview!

I recorded my class the other day and I thought the activity went well.  Of course the class after the one that I recorded went better, and the one after that, even better.  Buuuut…  I didn’t record those classes and after I realized that I was getting more creative and engaging as I went, it was already too late.

I teach K-12 Spanish this year.  Yes, every grade.  It’s both awesome and overwhelming.  As I was looking ahead at the beginning of the school year just three weeks ago, I didn’t know how I was going to adapt and get through it.  But change is good.  I thrive on change.  And honestly, when there is no change, I get bored and look for new jobs.  This is my fifth year at my current school and we have had change every year.  Soooo….  I’m thriving!  Right?  And exhausted.  But it’s awesome and I love it!

The night before, as I was trying to think of how to deliver our class story in yet another engaging activity, I didn’t think I could possibly come up with anything to keep them distracted to the point that they didn’t realize we were speaking Spanish.  Then, bam!  An idea I’d done years ago came flashing back.  Interview.  The last time I tried this was probably six or seven years ago.  I didn’t script as well as I should have then and the ideas that I did script were were dull and dry.

But not this time.  I crafted questions to reach my audience.  “Do you jump onto the bed or do you jump in the toilet?”  “When the bottle of water falls to the ground, do you wake up or do you vomit?”  Not all students appreciate my humor, so I designed some normal questions and some interesting questions.  Later in the day, I began asking students if they wanted a “personal question” or a “normal question”.  Most picked “personal” which made the activity way more fun!  I tried to keep the class engaged as well by asking what they thought our characters would say, “What does the class think?  Does the cat jump into the bed or does the cat jump in the toilet?”  Looking back to our actor, I told them what the audience thought.  Then I asked him/her what she did.  They did not have to answer truthful to the story for this particular activity.  It kept it more interesting!

My classroom is a disaster.  I am unorganized and untidy.  I write ALL over the board wherever I can find space and I think it’s ALL important, so I don’t erase it.  There.  I’ve hopefully left no room for judgement.  🙂


My Formal Good-Bye to my Former Students

I am recovering from an emotional flashback to about eight to ten years ago in my teaching career.  As a younger, not-so-hip educator trying to connect with my students, I coined a term.  It was an experiment of a sort with a class or two of positive, innovative kids.  I was teaching in a smallish town, Ellington, Connecticut, where I taught French and Spanish at the local middle school.  7th and 8th grades to be exact.  It was, and still is, I’m sure,  a lovely school, with awesome kids and a genuine, caring staff… I miss them all dearly.

I don’t remember exactly when I coined the term or how I chose the word that I did, but I wanted to see if I could make up a word and have it travel across the country, eventually gaining international momentum.  So I introduced the word to my students.  I told them that I wanted to include them in an experiment.  I explained my expectations and told them that if they used our term enough, naturally, in everyday conversation, someday, it would be an accepted term in the English language, perhaps even earning a place in the Miriam-Webster dictionary.   I told them that one day, as they heard their own children use the term THEY had been a part of coining, that they would be able to claim their part in the experiment.  I said that their children would not believe them, but they themselves would know.  And there is satisfaction in knowledge.  I left Ellington seven years ago in an unexpected move to California after the school year had ended.  In the years since my move, I had forgotten the experiment.

Until today.  While parked and waiting for my groceries that I had ordered online yesterday evening (Who doesn’t love online shopping?!), I chatted with a friend about words that I’d heard on the east and west coasts (wicked hot, rad, stoked, etc.) that I didn’t acquire into my own running vocabulary.  We had been debating the spelling of the word pigeon, which I ALWAYS spell with a “d” and have to spell check EVERY time I use it and how he lost an elementary spelling bee for the same reason.  Devastating.

He suggested we start using the phrase “totally pidgin” to describe something rad, and suddenly, it all came flooding back.  Not the word.  The experiment.  The faces of all my former students.  The emotions surrounding our experiment.  Near tears, I wondered where those students were today and if they had continued to use “our” term beyond middle school.  I didn’t get to say good-bye to my students, so it was an emotional, unresolved mess of a departure for me, leaving a job I loved, yet looking forward to new adventures.

As I drove home from the grocery store, I nostalgically reminisced the memories of my students randomly using the word in class, in the hallway, and shouting it to me across the crowded lunchroom at a school dance.  I smiled at such fond memories.  But… I. Couldn’t. Remember. The. Word.

Continuing the short drive to my house, I tried to put it in the back of my mind and let my dendrites work on it while I started mentally composing my formal good-bye.  It was always a regret, leaving like I did.  I wanted to pull over, grab my computer from the passenger seat and write.  But… I had perishable groceries in the back and it was HOT outside.

As I turned the corner from the main street to the one that intersects my own, as suddenly as I had remembered the experiment, the word came back to me!  My little dendrite buddies had done their job!  How could I have forgotten?  And then another flash as my mind’s eye glimpsed our gangsta-like gesture that we made up to go along with our term, creating a brotherhood of familiarity among us.

Once I got home, I couldn’t get the groceries unloaded fast enough.  My mind was composing faster than I could move.  As I shoved food, still in bags, into the fridge, I hoped that they had appropriately sorted the frozen items at the online fulfillment center.  I just needed to get to my computer before I lost it all.

And here I sit with a tender smile, remembering moments with those special students.  To my fellow term-coiners who happen across my blog…  You know who you are!  To you all, I tilt my head and raise my thumbs and index fingers and give you a hearty cheers and my formal good-bye.  I apologize that I didn’t say it in person and I’m sorry it took so long.  I REMEMBER each and every one of you!  You were all awesome and made me want to come to work EVERY day.  It was ANGLE-LICIOUS.

Yesterday, I was ready to retire… Reactive Reading

Yesterday, I was ready to retire.  Yesterday, I thought, “This is it for me.  20 years is a good run…  I don’t have the energy to do 15-20 more.”  I’ve had blah days, but yesterday it was a different sort of blah.  I’d finally lost the spark.  It wasn’t the kids.  It was me.   On normal blah days (and after a BIG cup of coffee), once my 1st graders walk through my door, I am usually back to smiles.  But not yesterday.

Yesterday, I dreamed of becoming a YouTube sensation.  Yesterday, I thought about composing and recording a song.  Yesterday, I decided to write my book.  Yesterday, I wished I could go home to bed.  For several days… And binge-watch Netflix.  Yesterday, I tried to think of anything I could do so that I could  Just. Be.  Done. Teaching.

But today…  Today, I woke up.  I woke up and looked in the mirror.  Today, there I was, myself again.  Today, the spark was back and I was excited.  Perhaps because it’s pajama day for Dr. Seuss week and I didn’t have to think of an outfit.  Perhaps because seeing all my little elementary kiddos in their jammies just makes me smile.  Or… perhaps, yesterday was really just another ordinary “blah” day after all.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”  -Bil Keane

Yesterday, I did not become a YouTube sensation.  Yesterday, I did not compose and record a song.  I did not write my book.  And I did not go home to bed and binge-watch Netflix.  Yesterday I did not retire.  Today, I’m am excited to share an activity that I have been doing in my class for several years.  Today, I recorded it!

Reactive Reading / Reactive Listening

Since it is Dr. Seuss week at school, like last year, I decided to read Huevos verdes con jamón with my elementary students.  This activity can be adapted for any age and any level of Spanish.

I call this activity Reactive Reading or Reactive Listening.  As the students read or listen to the story they react with gestures, expressions or noises.  Before I read the book, I explain the reactions I expect to see and hear.  Sometimes, they give it their own twist, which is what happened in class today.

As I tell stories in class and students act, whenever I introduce a character, I have the actor wave at the audience and say, “¡Soy yo!”  (That’s me!)  In the book Huevos verdes con jamón, the first line is, “Yo soy Juan.”  I had initially asked the students to point to themselves and then cross their hands over their chest to gesture, but once we started, after I read the first line, they all automatically said, “¡Soy yo!”  It was amazing, really, and caught me by surprise!  I loved it and used it in the rest of my classes.  You will hear my surprise in the first video

I spend time thinking of engaging reactions for my students during different parts of our stories.  Too many is too confusing, too few is not as engaging.  In the first video below, I modeled the reactions I expected to see and hear before beginning the activity.  Once I started reading, I realized that some students thought they were supposed to repeat.  I clarified by asking, “La clase dice ‘¡No me gusta nada!’ o ‘¡Para nada!’?”  And they responded with the correct answer ‘¡Para nada!’.  It only took a couple of reminders before they were all on the same page, reacting instead of repeating.  Unfortunately, I did not get the whole activity recorded because my iPad ran out of room.  Fortunately, I deleted some videos between classes and have examples of other grades.  The best quality video to view is the 2nd grade video, however, I am partial to them all!

3rd Grade – Reactive Reading:  Teacher modeling reactions

2nd Grade – Reactive Reading

4th Grade – Reactive Reading

5th Grade – Reactive Reading






I’ll Write on Yours if You Write on Mine!

I’ll Write on Yours if You Write on Mine!

I’m sitting in my classroom trying to think of a way to engage my first class of nearly 70 first graders in writing.  I have three enormous carpets for three different classes that meet at the same time,  a total of 69 little bodies teeming with energy, waiting to be entertained.

We’ve been working with our current stories for about three weeks.  The students can understand it when spoken to them, many can read it, and most of them can produce it orally.  The only skill left is writing.  How do I pass out paper, pencils and hard writing surfaces with all these cute little critters AND do an activity in 20 minutes?  I could pass out the little writing pads that were donated, but I envision busy little fingers pulling off the plastic glue binding, holding all the papers together.  I cringe at the thought of pen caps being chewed and imagine blue tongues from pens exploding in mouths.  Ok, the latter is extreme and unlikely, but it can happen.  And it has.

So, how do I engage my large groups of students, 1st through 5th grade, in writing?  I could have them write in the air.  That’s safe and clean, however slightly boring.  I need a hook. If I don’t entertain somehow, I’ll lose them.  What to do… What to do…  What did I like to do at that age?

I remember as a little girl, writing on friends’ backs and trying to guess what we were writing.  Who didn’t do that as a kid?  Who didn’t love it?   I’ll write on yours if you write on mine!


I introduced the activity by first whole group reading through a sentence from our story on the board.  I invited students to write specific words in the air with me.  As I predicted, not as many students were excited about writing in the air.  However, when I told them that the next activity was a surprise, more students started to participate.  After we read a few sentences together and wrote a word from each in the air, I explained in Spanish that I would be writing the words on the backs of a few students.  I then invited volunteers up to the front of the room.  All students were engaged at this point and eager to volunteer.

Finally, we had time to pair up students and practice a couple of words.  We chose a sentence together and read it out loud.  Then the person who was writing looked at the board while the other person closed his/her eyes. I pointed to a word from the sentence and the students began to write the word on their partner’s back.  When class ended, shortly after, they were disappointed to leave so soon and left wanting more.  I will repeat directions again tomorrow, model the activity with volunteers again and then continue with this activity.

In the clip with this class, I gave students the freedom to choose which words to write.  I wanted to make sure they understood the activity so that tomorrow, when we revisit, I can give directions again (more input!) in Spanish and move seamlessly from activity to activity.

I have considered that some students might not want to touch another student or be touched.  Although I don’t anticipate many who do not wish to participate, I will have them write the words on the carpet while their partner watches.  I invite alternative similar ideas if you don’t mind sharing!

This activity has exposed the students to their class story once again!  The more they see/hear it, the sooner it will start flowing from them naturally and spontaneously.  🙂  If you’d like to see the script to conduct the activity, continue reading.

In the following two videos, students took turns writing entire sentences.  They did not guess the sentences, but read them from the story (projected to the screen) as they wrote.

Script for explaining to students:  I give all instructions using Spanish that I have previously made comprehensible to them.   This activity is also great for exposure to commands.  I struggle with commands at times as I was mostly exposed to Spain Spanish.  I naturally use vosotros.  The ustedes form does not flow freely from me.  This helps me as well, and I often need to plan ahead what I’m going to say or “try it out in my head” before I say it.  I find that I often use vosotros or default to “tú” commands when speaking to my group as a whole and am progressing towards becoming proficient with “ustedes”.  If you notice an error in my script, kindly let me know!

Choose a sentence from your story and read it all together

Parte 1

Clase, vamos a leer el número 17 todos juntos.  Lean conmigo. Read the sentence with your students pointing to the words as you go.

Ahora, vamos a escribir la palabra “quiero”  en el aire.  Point to the word on the board and say it, then point to each letter and spell it in Spanish.  I might take the opportunity to ask the students what the “o” means at the end of the word.  Or I might ask what the “mos” means at the end of vamos.  I usually only ask a couple of forms a day (sometimes none depending on the activities that I’m doing).  ¿Qué quiere decir la letra “o”?  Point to the letter “o”.   Students respond “I”. // ¿Qué quiere decir “mos”?  Point to “mos”.  Students respond “we”. 

Levanten la mano.  Pongan el dedo en el aire.  Escriban conmigo.  “quiere”.  Pronounce the letters in Spanish as you write them in the air.

Repeat two or three times.

Parte 2

Ahora, yo voy a escribir una *palabra en la espalda de un estudiante.  *If students don’t know the word “palabra”, say “¿Qué quiere decir ‘palabra’?”.  Wait for student response.  I give a hint if nobody answers by starting to pronounce the word for them.

Yo quiero/necesito un voluntario.  Levanten la mano para ser voluntario.  

Bien, ponte en frente de la clase.  Mira la pantalla/pizarra.  Vamos a leer el número 13 todos juntos. Read sentence with class, pointing to each word.

Ahora, yo voy a escribir una palabra (¿Qué quiere decir ‘palabra’?) en la espalda de Jack.  Look at class and put your finger to your lips. No digan nada. Write the word on Jack’s back.  Be sure the class can see.  If Jack doesn’t get it the first time, encourage him.  ¡Casi!  ¡Otra vez! (I think I said “muy cerca” in the video, but it might not be accurate…  If it is or isn’t, I’d love to know.  Gracias!  I think I also said “Es lo mismo.” in a part to say that it was the same as the question we had just finished…  But Es igual que la otra frase. is probably a better way to phrase it for students.  Again, I appreciate feedback.  This was my first time with this activity.  I don’t always anticipate what I’m going to need to say.)

If Jack doesn’t get it the 2nd time, encourage him and write it again, asking the class to help you spell it out loud.  If he still doesn’t get it, start the word for him.  Again, hopefully, you have picked a student who will get it by the third try.  

After two or three volunteers, you are ready for the students to work in groups.  

Parte 3

¡Bueno! Ahora, yo voy hacer grupos de dos personas.  Una persona se sienta en frente de la otra persona.  Esa persona enfrente cierra y cubre los ojos mientras la otra persona mira la pantalla/pizarra.  Entonces, yo voy a apuntar a una *palabra (*¿Qué quiere decir ‘palabra?).   La persona que escribe mira la pantalla y escribe la palabra en la espalda de la otra persona.  Primero, vamos a leer la frase todos juntos.  Vamos a leer número 7. Read the phrase together pointing to the words as you go.  Then make the groups.  Personas enfrente, ¡cierren y cubran los ojos!  Todos los demás, ¡escriban la palabra!  Point to a high frequency word and enjoy!  

A special thanks to Profe Klein at  The story we used, “Puedo ir al baño,” comes from his book and videos about El ratón Pablito.  Because his stories are highly engaging for students, I frequently use them in my elementary classes.

Tonsil Balls!

No, it’s not an expletive.  Although I do believe we’d all agree that if you were to shout out “Tonsil balls!” in public, heads would turn.

Over the past several years, I’ve made it one of my long-term life endeavors to enlighten others on the bizarre occurrence of tonsil balls.  It’s quite a shocking phenomenon to those who have never experienced one of these beauties.  And quite frankly, it’s shocking to people who have.  Most individuals with whom I have conferred who have had first hand experience are hesitant to admit, but eventually exclaim, “You get those, too?!” Clearly, this taboo phenomenon needs attention.  Millions of people are wandering blindly, alone in their shame.  Afraid.  But I’m here to tell you.  You. Are not. Alone.

Tonsil balls, otherwise known as tonsil stones or Tonsilloliths, occur when debris gets trapped in the nooks and crannies of tonsils, forming a hard or calcified ball.  Eventually they get too big for their cozy crevice and out they pop.  I have talked to a diverse enough group of people to arrive at the conclusion that tonsil balls do not discriminate.  Tonsil balls can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.  I remember my first time, sitting in Government class, quietly day-dreaming about who-knows-what, when… boom.  There it was.  This rubbery nugget appeared out of nowhere.  I hadn’t had lunch…  not even a snack, yet, there it was, a chunk-o-junk rolling around on my tongue.  I didn’t have a tissue, I was too embarrassed to get up and spit it out mid-lecture and I certainly wasn’t going to try to talk to ask to go to the bathroom and risk spewing it across the room.  So I faked a cough and removed it daintily.  A small white mass of…  What is that?   A tiny brain?  Did I just cough up brain?  No, I didn’t cough.  Gross.  What do I do with it?  

Although it is usually never a solitary occurrence, the strange thing is, if you have experienced this phenomenon, you only think about it in that moment.  It’s horribly embarrassing.  Then something strange happens…  You forget about it.  You block it out.  You never give it another thought…  Until it happens again.   Or until someone mentions it and then suddenly, all the tonsil ball moments you have ever experienced come rushing back in images, flash-flooding your mind.

When I had my first conversation about tonsil balls, I was studying in Spain where I lived with a family and an American roommate.  As my roommate and I chatted those first few days, we realized that we had quite a lot in common.  We were both terrible at speaking Spanish, we shared the best birthday of the year, we shared the same sense of humor and, although I don’t know HOW it came up in casual conversation, we both got tonsil balls.  I. was no longer. Alone.

Just a year after my stay in Spain, I got my tonsils removed at the age of 24.  I remember the doctor saying I had some of the biggest tonsils that he had ever seen.  This was an oddly proud moment for me.  (I do like winning and it doesn’t happen all that often, so perhaps it was a small victory.)  I have not had a tonsil ball since that day.  As I travel and speak with people from all walks of the earth, sharing experiences, they tell me their stories and I feel a sense of nostalgia, perhaps a hint of jealousy.  But when I see the disbelief then relief on their faces, I know I have made a difference.  There is no shame in tonsil balls.  We need to come together, have these tough conversations and know that We. Are not. Alone.

So share your experiences.  If you are a language teacher, sneak a tonsil ball into your story.  Let us know how it goes!  And if you happen to personally experience a tonsil ball, I dare you to squish it and sniff.

#bolitasblancasdelasamígdalas #tonsilolitosnosontabú

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