You’ve heard about Brain Breaks, now- Brain Breaths


A day in the life of a teacher can feel wild, frantic and unpredictable.  These feelings may ebb and flow at certain times of the year, but a classroom practice of mindfulness can help curb the crazy.  There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness and its benefits, but essentially, mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment.  Focusing on breathing is a great way to do that.

I’m calling these mindful breathing activities, “Brain Breaths” because like Brain Breaks, they are powerful classroom tools to address students’ needs and foster a healthy and productive learning environment.  Brain Breaths help prepare students for class, enhance listening skills, calm and focus minds and lay the groundwork for deeper digestion of the language.  The best part is, Brain Breaths not only set students up for success, but they help teachers as well.

Setting up is easy!

Here is a list of vocab I use to familiarize my students with Brain Breath lingo.  I do this through quick translations, modeling, and pointing as I introduce my first Brain Breath or TPR style before we begin.

  • breathe
  • nose
  • mouth
  • eyes closed/looking down
  • sit down

Once these are down, you can add more such as,

  • inhale
  • exhale
  • sit with a straight back
  • hold your breath
  • calm/still body

3 simple Brain Breaths:

Five finger breath –  Hold your hand up in front of you with your fingers spread and your palm facing in.  As you breath in, trace up to the top of your thumb.  Breath out and trace down to the base of your thumb and index finger.  Repeat with all 5 fingers.  Each finger is a full breath.

Bee breath – Breath in.  Hold your breath for 1-3 seconds.  As you breath out lightly press on the small flap on your ear closest to your cheek (it’s called the tragus) and hum the letter “M.”  You should feel the buzzing vibration as you exhale.  Brain Breath in action*  Here is a video of me leading Bee Breath with my 1st graders.

Square breath –  Point your index finger outward like you are pointing at something.  As you breath in, draw the index finger upward like you are drawing the side of a square.  Breath out and draw the index finger to the right, like you are drawing the top of a square.  Breath in and draw the finder down.  Breath out and draw the finger to the left to connect the square.

Food for thought:

Are you already feeling a bit anxious about the start of another school year?  I know I am.  Keep in mind that summer is the perfect time to slow down and rejuvenate your love and passion for teaching.  Why not play around with some Brain Breaks yourself and see how they feel?  They might benefit both your students and you.  I personally like to introduce Brain Breaths into some of the “tight” moments of my day.  For example, when my 1st graders come leaping into my room after recess, they need a moment to breath.  Or, when I have 4 classes back to back in the afternoon with no break, I need a moment to breath.  Where are your “tight” moments?  Would breathing into them and noticing how that feels help?  I think it’s worth a shot.


31 Brain Breath ideas:  Here are downloadable/adaptable slides for 31 Brain Breaths.   (*Free to download. All images are copyright free. Step-by-step instructions are in the notes.)



Why I’m enamored with Story Listening


A brief history of my teaching career:

I began my teaching career almost 15 years ago using classic TPR and TPRS with high school students. As my understanding grew, I embraced the larger umbrella of Comprehensible Input.  When I moved from high school to elementary, I began to include more strategies supported by the CI community. My classes were carefully backwards planned, and embraced all the essentials: co-created stories, student actors, PQA, songs, games, brain breaks, movie talks, reading, and extension activities for reading. I received enthusiastic responses to my classes from students, parents, and administrators, I received recognition for my methods and teaching, and I enjoyed teaching this way. (Despite ending up very sweaty at the end of almost every class.  Surely this type of teaching would fall under the work-out category of some high intensity training right?!)  


By all measures, I felt I was doing a good job.  However, I did have some creeping doubts. For example, I was great at starting out with a bang and hooking students from the first class. But I struggled sustaining such high energy, enthusiasm, and novelty throughout the year.  I loved that this interactive teaching was highly engaging and personalized to my students. But I sometimes struggled to get them to settle down, focus and really listen. I was glad my students felt comfortable and supported when taking risks speaking. But I wondered what I could do to expand this speech beyond third and first person talk.  These were things I mostly thought and didn’t act on. After all, I felt my classes were successful and I didn’t know of any other way that would allow me to deliver a high quantity of contextualized Comprehensible Input to my students. And, I certainly was not willing to compromise that. 


So how did I go from a very sweaty teacher to a moderately sweaty teacher?  (And please don’t mistake more sweat per ounce as having a positive correlation with effectiveness.) The answer is simple, Story Listening. For me, it started with a workshop the summer of 2017 with Dr. Beniko Mason. Throughout the two days I spent listening to Dr. Mason, I questioned how SL was different from what I was used to doing. She explained these subtle, yet important, differences and at the end of the workshop, I was definitely intrigued, but not convinced. So, I resolved to tell a story SL style at least once or twice to see how it would go. At that time, I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with a fable or fairy tale yet and I thought that such complex language might be a bit much to start off the year. So I decided to tell a personal story to my fourth graders about a time in Costa Rica when I woke up one morning and almost stepped right on top of a scorpion. A sure win for 4th grade.  That went well, so I told another personal story. That went well, so I decided to adapt one of my daughters’ storybooks into a story. I liked that story so much that I experimented sharing it with 1st through 5th grade at varying levels of complexity and length. I adapted more stories, books, and AESOP’s fables. Embracing more and more stories went so well that I couldn’t stop and I started noticing some amazing things. After providing an abundance of rich language in this engaging way, I felt like nothing else was good enough anymore. All the materials I had spent years making for engaging activities in my CI classroom didn’t seem to carry enough weight. For my personal application, SL seemed a perfect fit.  

It’s been almost two years since I was introduced to Story Listening. Since then, I have dabbled, experimented, become enthralled with and transitioned to using it as the predominant way in which I provide rich and compelling input in my elementary classroom. I’ve never been quite as excited about any single thing since I first discovered TPRS many years ago. During these two years, I’ve noticed many encouraging successes in my students and have been able to enjoy my experience teaching more fully.          

Here are ten things that hooked me on SL.

    1. The undivided attention my students give me during a story.  They look, listen and seemingly hang on every word. Their comments and questions are thoughtful and almost always directly related to the context of the story. Often, they are silent. This was something I was NOT used to at first and it felt a little bit uncomfortable.  But I learned to embrace the silence and I now I look for those moments of rapt attention as a barometer for how well I’m relaying the story by making it comprehensible and engaging to my kids.
    2. The response my students give me at the end of a story.  Typically, there are smiles and facial expressions that demonstrate their emotional response and investment. But in my 4th and 5th grade classes, something interesting started happening, they started clapping at the end of a story. This genuine and unsolicited applause was so touching. Now, it has become the norm. To me, the applause demonstrates their appreciation and enjoyment, which makes the effort I put into making the story a positive experience is so worth it.
    3. Hearing comments like, “I love Spanish, Señora never gives us any work.”  The most fulfilling thing about this was that it was a line I overheard in a conversation between two 4th grade girls, WHILE THEY WERE DOING OUTPUT WORK!  The “work” was so effortless and enjoyable to them that it didn’t feel like work. Cha-ching!
    4. The mistakes students make!  Students made mistakes that demonstrated their comprehension and acquisition.  For example, during a read aloud in 5th grade, one of my students was responsible for reading the part of a character whose line was, “¿Cuál es el problema?”  This student, replaced “el” with “un” and continued reading his part. This tiny error showed me that his understanding of Spanish was not related to a rule he had been told, like all nouns that end in A are feminine, but based upon the contextualized Spanish he had heard over and over again and had floating around in his brain.  During a game of telephone at the end of my Kindergarten class, the students were passing around the word, “abuela” (grandma), from our story that day. The last student heard what her classmate had said proclaimed to the group, “¡escuela!” (school). While incorrect, this demonstrated that she had the word “escuela” somewhere in her head (a word from the previous story) and was able to retrieve and produce this word on her own.  
    5. It provides a space for my more reserved, shy students.  It was easy for these students to get pushed out during PQA or the co-creation of a story.  I used to make a conscious effort to bring them into the class dialogue, but even then, the classroom environment was most likely still a bit over-stimulating and probably intimidating for them.  I had a student named Chloe who I had taught since preschool. She was quiet, shy and never participated voluntarily in class. I often wondered what she grasped in class. During her 5th grade year, I began using Story Listening. During stories, she would listen, but I still often wondered what she was taking in. Then, I asked my class to do a written re-tell in English. Her page was full with a comprehensive summary of the story.  Wow! This SL provided space for Chloe to take in and process the language at her own pace. This was a powerful aha! Moment for me.
    6. The way I feel feeding students a consistent diet of SLI feel satisfied, relaxed even, because I know like I’m providing them with an abundance of rich, contextualized and compelling input.  It’s the same feeling I get when I feed my daughters a healthy balanced meal, like, I did it! I provided the optimal meal, which they ate, so they can have a cookie if they want!  After a successful story, I have a parallel thought, such as, we can play a game or even go out to recess a bit early because they have taking in so much good stuff already!
    7. It fits me, my school, my kids, and my program.  I teach preschoolers to 5th graders in a small independent school.  I am the only language teacher in the program. I have 100% autonomy and I am not required to formally test my students. I do not see my students every day. I see most grades twice a week at varying lengths and three times a week in 5th grade.
    8. The easy transition to reading.  With SL, my kids are exposed to written text all the time in a very nonthreatening way.  I have found the transition to whole class and Guided Self Selected Reading to be smooth.
    9. I enjoy finding and adapting the stories.  It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt.  I am exposed to fables, fairy and folk tales in the language I love.  I get to read and digest them too, which is fun. I’ve also enjoyed collaborating with good friends on stories.  It’s a great way to connect and stay in touch with colleagues.
    10. Last but NOT least, I believe in what Dr. Mason and Dr. Krashen are doing.  This is their life’s work.  Dr. Mason’s and Dr. Krashen’s research overwhelmingly supports the efficacy and efficiency of SL.  The way in which they share their research and resources without self-interest or self-promotion is admirable.

I hope you will give SL a try.  To get started, visit



Flip the Script -keeping Lunchtime Talks alive


Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the iFLT conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was truly inspired by the formal presentations, but I keep thinking about the amazing Lunchtime Talks. It was nice to hear a variety of topics covered in such a short time (5 minutes for each, 18 slides maximum) from many different people. Even when I got home, I found myself continuing to think about them. So, I wondered, if I were to do a Lunchtime Talk, what would I talk about?

Something that is very important to me is giving a voice to diverse perspectives and people in my classroom and presenting viewpoints that might not be considered the norm. I call this, flipping the script. I do this on a micro level in my classroom and in my everyday life. But then I got to thinking, what if we all started flipping the script? Could we collectively reach a macro level?  

So, here’s my Lunchtime Talk or, Anytime Talk (well, without the 18 slides) on … Flipping the Script!

We are storytellers! We narrate, direct, co-create and lead the stories told in our class. And, we operate in a society that has a clear set of norms, traditions, codes, biases and we would be remiss to think that these stories aren’t unwittingly affected by that. We can’t help but color the stories we tell based upon our lived experiences. 

Do you feel we have an important role in students’ lives? Do you feel we have a responsibility to open their hearts and minds to new things and ways of thinking? I certainly do. So why not use our platform to challenge the status quo instead of reinforcing it? Why not present an alternate view that is as “normal” as the ones we are used to hearing? So, let’s break free, let’s resist, let’s fight back, let’s stick it to the man, let’s FLIP THE SCRIPT!   

How DO we flip the script?

Step 1 – We open our eyes. We are critical of the stories we use and create. We evaluate them. We evaluate everything: the characters we present, the families we describe, the moments in history we share, the current events we discuss, and of course our discourse with students.  We ask, what and whose stories do they tell? Does the plot reinforce societal norms and standards or does it challenge our students to think and grow? Does the story assume a Eurocentric, white, dominant culture perspective or the perspective of other cultures and peoples, those often left out or underrepresented?  

Step 2 – We reimagine the stories we tell and the information we present in class. We create new stories. We present alternate viewpoints. We decide what’s the most inclusive way to package and present these messages to our students.


Here are a few simple examples-

When my friend Cécile Laine tells the story of the three bears, do you think she takes the story as is and relays it to her kindergarteners? Do you think the Momma bear is cooking in the kitchen? No! She flips the script! She puts Dad cooking in the kitchen. What message does that send? That guys, boys, men, and Dads can cook. That men also help with the quotidian tasks of the family. That it’s ok for Moms to do other things.  


When I tell The Little Red Riding Hood to my second graders, do you think I take Little Red Riding Hood at face value and draw her with light colored skin and straight hair? No! I flip the script! My Little Red Riding Hood has chocolate skin and kinky curly hair. What message does that send? That brown skinned people are represented, valued and important in my classroom.  


When Martina Bex demonstrated Comprehensible Content to teachers at iFLT19, did she ask the “class” to determine if her character was a boy or a girl? No! She flipped the script! She simply said that the character was a person.  What message does that send? That there are more than just two options! That non-binary individuals are seen and welcome in her classroom environment.  


When I tell the family structure of my fruit family, who do you think María Mango is married to? … Marco Mango? Certainly not. I flip the script! She’s married to Melissa Maracuyá. What message does this send? That my students who have two Moms are respected and worth talking about. The first time I told this story in 1st grade, one of my students exclaimed, “that’s just like my family!”  Another said, “we have friends like that.” It brought tears to my eyes. Oh, and what does Maria Mango and Melissa Maracuya’s baby looks like? Yes, I flipped the script! They adopted Manny la Manzana of course. And this sends the message that a family created by adoption, a family like my own, is valued and normal.  


When Cécile chooses stories for Le Petit Journal, does she pick the stories being told by the media through the lens of reporters far removed from the subject? No She flips the script! She selects current event stories that tell a different angle, a new perspective. One that is less seen and heard. One that needs to be shared. And what message does that send to her kids? That there are many sides to a story and that all voices no matter how big, small, powerful or meek are important.


When I draw people in class how do I do it? I flip the script! I give guys long hair and the girls short hair. I draw boys in pink clothing and girls without bows in their hair. My kids say, “Señora Hayes, you said that was a boy and it has long hair!” I say, “Yep, and I’m glad you knew that niño meant boy.” and I move on. What message does this send? That it’s ok to look exactly how you look, even if you don’t fit the stereotypical norm and that we can break free of these norms and still be loved.


Are these examples the only ways to do this? -Nope. I’d love for others to share more on how they consider changing the narrative in their own classroom, because I know it’s going on and that I’m not the only one thinking about this. I teach elementary. And maybe some of these things go over my students’ heads. But it’s never too early to start expanding and diversifying the messages we send. And, with that said, it is never too late.

Is this all we should do? -Definitely not! But it’s a good start. I don’t think we should beat ourselves up about it or be too harsh when we slip up. But, let’s start the process, because it’s a journey and once we begin the journey, it gets easier and more automatic. And once we start doing it, others start thinking about it and doing it too.  That’s how change happens. And someday soon we could have a nation of conscious, mindful, big-picture thinkers and inclusive educators. And that’s an exciting thought.

So I encourage you to explore flipping the script and/or share with others what you’re already doing.  We can all learn so much from one another. We’re in this together. #flipthescript 🙂



SL with Songs


Here, I introduce the song Pan, by Señor Wooly via Story Listening.

When I started doing SL last year, I found it so successful and my kids were so engaged that afterward, no other activity seemed to compare.  I wanted to continue to provide rich and compelling Comprehensible Input.  However, there were a handful of things I taught previous to my SL experience that I enjoyed teaching and that the kids enjoyed as well, like Señor Wooly songs.  I didn’t want to cut them out, so when I was looking for a little variety last year, I decided to try and Introduce songs with SL.  The result is what you see.  I think it turned out to be a good intro to the song and since then, I have introduced many more songs via SL; la araña pequeñita, bebé tiburón, ¿Quién tomó la galleta del frasco?, el barco chiquitito to name a few.


  1.  Put the song in story format.  Add details to provide more context.
  2.  Relay the story Story Listening style.
  3.  Do a read aloud of the adapted story (for literate Ss).
  4.  Listen to the song or watch the video.  For videos, you can pause and PQA, Movie Talk style.

Finding your groove!


Here’s a new perspective.  The camera is focused on my kids.  My wiggliest, silliest, most talkative bunch of frolicking first graders! They remind me of little squirrels!  Ever had a similar class?

As I reviewed this clip, I was reminded of the transition period I often experience when starting a story.  It’s when I’m working hard to relay the story with Supplementation but the hook hasn’t come yet or I haven’t hooked them yet, or maybe their heads are stuck in a previous class, or anticipating a future one, or they just aren’t fully present yet or maybe … ALL OF THE ABOVE!

Sometimes it takes a while to find your groove; when the story is flowing and the kids are engaged and it just feels good!  Here is what I try and remind myself during those moments when I feel like I am failing miserably.

1.  Breathe, deeply and intentionally.

2.  Stop and smile at your students.

3.  Don’t panic.  Stay positive.

4.  Focus on the story and on the kids that are engaging.

5.  Slow your pace.  Breathe again.  Smile again.

Setting up for success with “brain breaths”  

I did not set my kids up for success in this video and it shows.  It’s not until minute 2 or 3 that they are somewhat engaged.  I pleaded, “I hope I can tell my story because it’s really a good one.”  Ay, yay, yay!  If I had to do it again this is NOT how I would go about it.

Take the time before the story to set yourself and your students up for success!  Quick mindfulness breathing activities prepare students to listen, be present and engage.  Plus, it has the added bonus of helping you too!  (I now depend on it!)  We’re all familiar with Brain Breaks, but these are more like “brain breaths.”  More on this to come in a future post.

Elementary Tips & Tricks

Add simple gestures to connecting words.  I add gestures to pero (wiggle pointer finger), de repente (clap twice), and entonces (circle open hand twice and lay palm up).  I’ve found this to be helpful, especially for my younger learners.  It gives them something to hold onto and anchors them throughout the story.  Also, and maybe its the old TPR’er in me, it provides kinestetic learning.

Incorporate simple chants or melodies.  (9:00)  ¿Cómo te llamas?  ¿Cómo te llamas?…What is your name?    This is another way to add depth and movement.  For me, it serves as a tiny brain break, provides repetition and sparks interest.  Also, it is an easy way to extend the story.  When you are finished, stand up, repeat the chant, add movement, change your voice, etc.

Choral repetition (4:19) with numbers and days of the week, give students a chance to chime in with low accountability.  It also provides repeated exposure without deviating too much from the story.

Proximity and stance.  I vary my proximity to students during a story.  If I really want them to listen, I lean in, crouch down, or sit down.  A quick change in proximity or body language can send a signal like, this is important.

Voice.  We all know how to project our voice, but toning it down and speaking softly can be just as powerful.  Especially when used sparingly and strategically.

How do you know they are engaging?

Although my little squirrels are super squirrelly in this story, (especially during the beginning) my conclusion is that they did engage.  Here are a few examples that demonstrate engagement.

  • Emily (10:43) uses her limited Spanish to say, “Feliz, no triste y no enojado.”
  • Ahmed makes several predictions throughout the story and provides feedback in Spanish (11:16), “tres amigos.”
  • Kaiden (13:40) recognizes patterns in the story and tries to produce, “¿Cómo te llamas?”
  • Students make guesses, “Ursula” .. “They are going to say Hola”
  • They react, “a cute little grape”
  • They comment with personal connections, “I get food from Kroger.  They have the best Mac and Cheese” .. “I like IKEA” .. “They have a Halloween aisle” .. “They need to ‘escucha'”
  • They try to repeat what I say
  • They relate the current story to past stories, “They are going to play soccer again?”

Does that mean that they don’t move or fidget?  Does that mean that they don’t act like kids?  Does that mean that they don’t mess around with each other?  Does that mean they sit like robots?  Obviously not!  After all, they are 5 & 6 years old!

Measuring engagement can be tricky.  It’s important to recognize how young learners engage during Story Listening and important to recognize what realistically to expect.  My friend Cécile Lainé talks more about how we know when our students are listening in this post.






Classroom Décor


I made a conscious decision to try and create a space where my students feel comfortable and excited to learn, but not too overstimulated.  For me, that has translated as bight colors, fuzzy rugs, fun pillows, art, (I prefer rainbow everything!) and a select number of posters and cues for classroom management.  I sporadically change things up to provide novelty (not only for my students but for me!) and so the space represents what we are learning at the moment.


PreK through 2nd grade classes typically sit on dots on the floor and 3rd through 5th sit in chairs.  The colors are an easy way to group kids.

Each year I try and change my board.  This year I went with emojis.  The kids seem to enjoy looking at them and they also serve as rejoinders.  My library for Sustained Silent Reading is below the board.  The books are on floating shelves from The Container Store.

On the chalkboard, I typically write frequently used words/phrases and my call and response.  On the far left side, I keep a large pad of re-stickable poster paper.  I use this to rotate what is displayed to fit the class/level I am teaching.  The current poster shows the acronym PIENSA, which is a Story Listening guideline I devised for an extremely chatty and easily distracted 5th grade class.  P stands for Piensa.  Have you stopped to think before calling out?  I stands for Importante.  Is what you want to share important?  E stands for español.  Is it important in order to learn español?  N stands for necesario.  Is it necessary at that moment?  S stands for Sentido.  Does it make sense or is it a silly or distracting statement?  A stands for Ayuda.  Does it help you or the class learn Spanish?


The pink and green lettered poster is how I begin every class in 2nd through 5th grade.  My part is pink.  Students chorally respond with the green.

Las Reglas are my rules.  This original idea came from Annabelle Williamson, but, I’ve modified it a bit to fit my needs.


Common brain break activities – Piedra, Papel, Tijera and Evolución also from Annabelle

This is my guide to effective group work.  We discuss how A+B+C=D&E.  We discuss each component and I model or have students demo what each one looks like in a partner or group work setting.  In a nutshell, Amistad – friends include everyone, treat classmates with kindness, try to be fair.  Bienestar – ensure safety and well-being.  Essentially, No one gets hurt! Colaboración – cooperation, sportsmanship. All of these components make group work fun (Diversión) and help us learn the most Español.

9th story with Kindergarten


So sometimes, the stars align.  Sometimes, the hard work you’ve been putting into your teaching  proves to be working and worth it.  This was one of those days.

Here, I tell the story of a little bunny named Simon who doesn’t want to go to school.  Thank you to my dear friend, Cécile Lainé for sharing the story by Stephanie Blake 🙂  Here is a link to the story in Spanish on YouTube.  The series is also on Netflix in English.

This was my Kindergarteners’ 9th story this year.  I had already told one Simon story and it went over well.  So, I decided to continue with this one, even though it was longer.

Thoughts and observations:

3:30 – Kids chime in, “¡Simón!  ¡Simón!”  This is the beauty of repeat characters for young learners, it gives the kids something to latch onto.  In the first Simon story, his Mom called to him in the same way.  They recognized that!

7:25 – “Where’s the pillow?  Where’s the stars?”  I’ve noticed, especially in K and 1st grade, that some kids can get a little hung up if my drawing doesn’t match what they expect.  It’s typically little details that don’t matter to me, BUT, it matters to them.  I’ve approached this in 2 ways: 1- Ignore the comment and continue telling the story. Or, 2 – acknowledge the comment and do my best to address it quickly.  When I have the time, and patience, I the ladder is way more satisfying to them, naturally.

9:12 & 10:50 – “I thought he didn’t like cereal!?”  “I know what the Mom could do…” Emma remembers and connects to the first Simon story where he doesn’t want to eat any food but pasta!  Well, … pasta and chocolate.

15:15 – “Feliz” 🙂 Multiple kids chiming in in TL.

22:05 – “Guácala you mean?”  Love it when Ss use what they know in the TL to engage with the story.

23:42 – The same girl who said, “guácala” says “no le gusta.”!! … Now we’re talking in TL!

24:08 – “How is Simon ever gonna learn?!”  Cutest comment!  Love hearing how they internalize and digest the story!


Story Listening with Kindergarteners



At iFLT18, I spoke with several teachers about Story Listening.  (*If you would like to get acquainted with Story Listening, The Stories First Foundation is the place to start.)  Story Listening was new for me, but after attending a one day workshop with Dr. Beniko Mason last summer, I was compelled to try it in my elementary classes.  I was surprised, intrigued and encouraged that I LOVED IT SO MUCH!  I think it is such a powerful approach, especially for the elementary teachers.

Here is a video of me teaching with SL.  This was a Kindergarten class and it was their 3rd story of the year.  Please note:  I am not an expert!  I was/am feeling my way through this method.