Café y Conversación guest post from Jen Ries

Inside:  Guest blogger Jen Ries explains how she uses Café y Conversación to get her upper level students speaking in Spanish in an updated post!
Café y Conversación: guest post from Jen Ries on Mis Clases Locas

Hello from guest blogger Jen Ries!

Its that time of year, cold, cold seasons call for… Cafe y Conversación. It has been almost 2 years since the original Café y Conversación post. I have received a few inquiries via social media or email since the last post and it was suggested that we do an update with more ideas and variations of Café y Conversación. So I will share what I’ve done to vary it and change it a little for levels and or to mix it up.

Cafe y Conversación was born out of many things. I was wanting more authentic conversation to happen with my upper levels. I also was looking for a way to bring more culture into the classroom (always, right?) We all know that the Spanish culture revolves around, café y conversación! I knew students would love having somethings to drink, then we sit down, circle up, and talk in Spanish for 35-40 minutes.
How I set up Café y Conversación
This original info sheet sets up the rules, expectations, and guidelines for it to flow well. Basically students get to have warm drinks and chat in Spanish on a regular basis.
I now have a coffee pot with hot water, a hot water kettle thrift store warmer, and provide hot chocolate, cappuccino, cider, tea, instant coffee, and creamer. Students are welcome to bring their own mug or cup and their own mix too if they would like.
The conversation topic is chosen 3-5 days before, so students have time to prepare ideas, opinions, thoughts, facts on the topic. I use Google Classroom to share the list of topics, and they take a poll to vote on the topic of the class. The original topic options I have used are on page two. I tried to think of topics I hear them debating as the come in and out of class. I would like to get students input on topics too, but of course something somewhat controversial helps to keep the conversation going.

2020 Updated links & resources!


How students prepare for Café y Conversación
Students have a pre-thinking conversation sheet they can (not required) to fill out to help them thinking through and prepare for that days conversation.
They can only write on this sheet in English, no Spanish. As the Spanish is suppose to be spontaneous and authentic. However, if there are common vocabulary words they notice themselves wanting on the days topics, we take a minute to ask before we start about some new, common words we will need during this conversation. We put those two or three words up on the board.
Implementing Café y Conversación (updated!)
In the original post, I had done this with a class of about 12-15. Now I do Café y Conversación in Spanish 3 and Spanish 4, with classes of 23 & 16 this year. With a big class where most of the kids are energetic and like to talk it was easy to get conversation going. What was difficult, was almost trying to pull some of them back in order for others to speak. I found that doing 1 circle with that many students is an okay way to introduce it- so they get used to taking turns speaking and building confidence, But it was truly limiting their abilities. 


So after the first circle of one group, then the second time of Café I would split the class into 2. Two groups, two topics. So circles of about 11 or 12. This was smaller than the big group but clearly bigger as Spanish 3 started to get their speaking wings, so to speak. 

Then after the second time, I break it down into groups of 4. This was the perfect spot. After they had some experience and exposure- they had warmed up and we had advanced enough through the years they were finally comfortable enough to speak in groups this small. (which is lots of speaking in 30-40 minutes!)

Then for each time after the 3rd time- I vary the grouping. For example: First time I will use a randomizer so they get with different people and I will choose their topic for them (from the list), then the next time I will Pre- group them (per skill level: low, medium, high) and I will let them choose their own topic. As we get further into the year, about midterms I let them choose their own groups and topics and just make them post online (google classroom) Who they will be talking with and what their topic will be. Honestly, When they choose their own groups and topics this is when they are on FIRE and talk the MOST. 

I was very nervous to try out these smaller groups- but part of that of course as their Language Parent is “Letting Go”, which I sometimes have a hard time doing. I fear that if I’m not over their shoulder, they won’t do what’s asked of them. But, Café y Conversación has proven me wrong in that way. When you make it fun and at their level and give them space to grow, they will!
As the maestra I try not to talk too much. I will repeat questions or statements, or just direct to whom would like to be talking. The first one is very choppy as its learning for them and for you. “I talk” “he talks” by the 3rd and 4th conversation, students are just flowing, and talking as hoped for.
So the true goal of this, is not to hear perfect Spanish, but to see effort of students TRYING to speak Spanish. They are attempting full sentences, correct endings and combining it all with vocabulary in a conversation.
Reflecting on Café y Conversación
The first time students were SO NERVOUS, but after it was over, they were so happy and proud. Here is what they said:
  • “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be”

  • “I was so nervous, but once I got going I forgot all about it”

  • “I went to my next class thinking and speaking in Spanish, Señorita.”
  • “I thought 35 minutes was a long time, but it went by so fast!
The student conversation sheet also has a space for reflection at the end of the period. I also always ask students to write one thing they felt like they did really well that day, and write one thing they hope to work on or improve for next conversation.
The year end reflections question “What is one thing that went well and we should do again next year?” Over and over students said “Café y Conversación!” Expressing how it was challenging, but it forced them out of their comfort zone to USE the Spanish. The chill environment and coffee helped alleviate a little stress, not to mention it was something fun to look forward to. I will plan to carry this on to my Spanish 4 next year and continue this in Spanish 3.

Updated FAQ!

How often do we do Café y Conversación?

We usually start in October, which is perfect for warm drinks. We do it about every other week from October until about March. I do not have a specific day of the week for it, but you could put it into your set weekly or bi-weekly routine.


So what does the teacher do while they talk?
I am circulating the small groups the entire conversation day. Positioning myself in places where I can listen in to two groups at the same time. Then I’ll move to the other side of the room and eavesdrop some more. Sometimes answering quick questions or helping if needed. Often times being put on the spot like this forces them to just USE the language so I may just give them hints, like “Señorita how do I say profession?” I’ll look at them and say Cognate, and then they keep rolling. #languageteacherstrategies. About 15 minutes or so into conversation then I start to interlude into each group maybe one time. I might comment on what they’re getting heated about or if I notice some “dead air” I will pose a question, give my option, pose the question again, and walk away….This is also a great authentic way for them to practice their LISTENING in Spanish also- their peers are at their level, but me throwing in some here and there give them something to reach for, work towards, understand etc. 

What if you students need more accountability starting out?
Use conversation tallies. I started the conversation tallies on the conversation forms, just to get them thinking, and trying, and setting goals. Some students are so visual, and that feels good to hit their goal, and physically tally! It is truly a great way to START this process. Now that I’ve continued this activity with the same group through to Spanish 4 and continued it, I have found after the first 2 sessions, that the tallies become irrelevant and unnecessary. (Which I think is an ultimate goal, so that they’re just talking SO MUCH they aren’t think about how many times, and they forget to tally). So I don’t make them set goals after the first 2 sessions. For me it just makes sense to tally if it’s the first Café y Conversción EVER or at the beginning of the year.


Have you tried this in Spanish 1 or 2 or a lower level?
My answer is no. Personally having so many students in 1 and 2 that’s a LOT of coffee cups and a LOT of product to keep up with. I also feel like this gives them something to look forward to for Spanish 3 and 4. It does not mean you couldn’t adapt a version of this to your level 1 and 2 and try to get them talking more, but with their base and skills I tend to stick to lower level conversation activities like what they did over the week, or when we learn a new verb tense such as:  Future tense in Spanish 2, then making those talks about what they WILL do this weekend, and what they WILL do after high school, WILL do in college etc. so then they are focused on using that vocab and grammar we have learned and been exposed to. 
So if you’ve tried it at a lower level, reach out! Let me know how it went and what you’d do. I’d love to hear.


What’s the room set up?
I have desks, and café tables around my room. Students always go for the café tables first! Like many others I have some chairs and tables and other flexible seating options available. Then when those are taking students just pod up with their desks. The desks are nice then they all have their own spot for their coffee to sit and have a space for their paper too.

What do you have in your coffee center?
I did invest in an electric hot water kettle for the classroom. (& then after a recommendation Allison bought the same one!) It’s been working really well. Now if I have a class of 23, I do have to think ahead and plan ahead because its 3 kettles of water! So I have to warm up 2-3 kettles the period or two before. I personally fill out an old milk jug with water, so I have all the water I need in my room, then I just refill as its done. I also scored a Tall Coffee warmer jug at the local thrift store- So I use that to keep the water warm after it’s in the kettle also. You’ll also see in my picture of my coffee station- an empty crate- seems simple but Nice to have that there for when mugs are done after a session, then kids put them in there and one of them runs them to the kitchen for me!
Jen’s $1 thrift store warmer holds one whole pitcher of hot water

Fun reusable mugs. There is a crate for students to put the dirty ones in to take to the kitchen to wash. To save plastic silverware, I also invested in Plastic, reusable stir sticks that get washed in the mix of the mugs.
(A note from Allison) Jen inspired me to try it as well! You can read more about how we did this weekly last year in the spring to prep for the aappl & in this post with interpersonal speaking ideas.
Do you do anything like this in your class? We would love to hear about your version! Do share any and all of your Café y Conversación posts to @cosas_divertidas_ries on Instagram. I LOVE seeing what you and your students are doing, and that this idea is catching and helping you all incorporate a little Café y Conversación into your lives!
More about our guest blogger Jen
Jen Ries is also a department of 1 in small town Iowa, SMALLER than Mis Clases Locas! In a town of 500, she teach Spanish I, II, III and IV as the only foreign languages offered at the school. She is also the K-12 ESL coordinator, when needed. Jen can’t believe she is now in her 11th year teaching. She is a proud Central College graduate, where she studied abroad for TWO entire semesters in Merida, Mexico and Granada, Spain. Like many language teachers she loves to travel and braves the world with High School students every 2 years. She has taken five Spanish trips with students. She is married to her high school sweetheart and they have three girls. She loves teaching, having fun, talking (a lot), coffee, FOOD, and wine. Jen shares resources at Cosas Divertidas & you can connect with her on Instagram @cosas_divertidas_ries.

Thank you so much Jen for sharing your ideas and resources! Jen actually brought up this idea in the Mis Clases Locas Facebook Group and with the high level of interest, I told her she should just do a guest post. Do you have something you would like to share? Reach out to me and maybe you could do a guest post!
Café y Conversación: guest post from Jen Ries on Mis Clases Locas

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originally posted 7.2.18 & updated 2.14.20

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