18 May 2016

Netflix and Grill: Watching telenovelas in class

What could be better than binge watching on Netflix for class? Maybe actually learning something in the process?

The idea for this unit began when I overheard my students obsessing over their latest Netflix marathon sessions. "How can I tap into that passion?" I thought. Can I get them binge watching in Spanish?

El internado was the obvious choice, since there are SO. MANY. AMAZING. RESOURCES. But while I got my principal hooked enough to binge the whole first season and start the second, she was not hooked enough to let the European perspective on nudity slide.

Still, she found the research I'd collected pretty convincing  (shout out to Sra. Drew). So I had to pick the least-scandalous-yet-engaging telenovela that I could and then make the viewing an in-class assignment.

Challenge accepted.


I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the first 2 episodes of Cuidado con el ángel--even before we started watching it scene by scene in class--twice apiece, in first and fourth periods.

BUT I think I have streamlined the process for streamlining the viewing process for my students, and I think the process will work not just for Cuidado con el ángel, but for any telenovela, movie, or video over, say 15 minutes.

Step 1: Collect time stamps for "scenes"

I made "scenes" for the first episode between 2 and 3 minutes long--occasionally shorter if new characters/storylines were being introduced. "Scenes" did have to have a logical break, but they didn't have to stick to ye olde Greek unity of time and place concepts. The idea was to make them sort of audiovisual paragraphs, with one clear main idea.

After they'd been immersed in the characters and plot for an episode, I aimed more for 4-5 minutes on the second episode. We only had time to watch two episodes in the end, but I think I'd stick to about 5 minutes if we had been able to continue.

Step 2: Create comprehension questions for each scene

To save time, I ended up pausing as I decided each time stamp to form the questions and list them on a Google Doc. I actually copied and pasted the questions themselves to a Nearpod later and only then added multiple choice answers.

All of my questions and answers are in the target language (well, sort of) so students are using interpretive skills to make sense of what they watched, but with more accessible language. The idea was for everyone to grasp the essentials of a scene before moving on to the next one. 

Step 3: Plan interactive reflection activities for each scene

This was by student request. They are Capital H HOOKED and wanted to discuss what was happening more, partially because they have a lot to say about Juan Miguel and Viviana, and partially because they want to make sure they understand. And even though they're not quite baby parrots anymore, they still need some structure and maybe a little inspiration--not just "what happened?"

I got a lot of ideas from Sras. Drew and Zimmerman, but I think my favorite was when one partner pretended to be Marichuy and one pretended to be the mom that abandoned her, and they asked each other questions. A few types of activities I've tried to get them talking:
  • prediction check: true, possible, impossible
  • character role play scenarios
  • describe a character, class guesses who
  • compare to other stories
  • compare yourself with a character
  • discuss how the show is/is not typical

Step 4: Schedule and set up.

So far on the end-of-year survey, almost no one likes the idea of only getting to watch one scene a day. I think it would be really hard to get them hooked or tap into the spirit of the Netflix binge that way too. Therefore, it's important to figure out how many scenes you can fit in a day. I think it worked best when we could get three or four in--depending on duration--and then maybe take some time to blog a recap with predictions at the end. Getting through one episode a week (minus portfolio days) has mostly been a pretty reasonable goal.

Then I collect those scenes onto a Nearpod presentation for students to follow along (I put it on "student-paced"/"homework" mode--live session was a disaster). You could accomplish something similar with a handout with a space for students to react on one side and multiple choice questions on the other, maybe passing them out on separate half sheets to be turned over as you go.


I dithered a lot on the order of this process. Did I want students learning new vocabulary above all else? Did I want them focused on top-down processing first? How could I make sure they could follow along without giving up and improve their interpretive skills at the same time?

In the end, I decided that we were at the end of Spanish II, so my focus could not be individual words: I had to push them toward intermediate level comprehension, focusing on main ideas more than new vocabulary.

First viewing

  1. Spanish subtitles and vocabulary collection. I show one scene with subtitles in Spanish, and they collect words they think they'll need on Post-its, one word per Post-it.
  2. React in L1. My sudents react in English--as they watch or afterward--to what I just played: they can complain, ask questions, or was poetic about Juan Miguel's eyes and tight shirt. Whatever, so long as they're processing what they've just taken in on at least a superficial level. I use Nearpod, but this could work well with TodaysMeet as sort of a substitute for yelling at the screen (ie, "talking back to the text.") More advanced students, maybe level 3, might react in the L2, however.
  3. Discuss vocabulary. I pick out the Post-its words that I think will be useful, especially if multiple students picked the same ones. I explain what they mean, generally in L1, and stick them around the white board for later.

Second viewing

  1. English subtitles to fill in what's missing. I show the same scene again, this time with subtitles in English. They can pick out the vocabulary we just went over or fill in the answers to any questions they had.
  2. Multiple choice TL comprehension questions. Even if the students needed the English to get what was going on, they will see the main plot points in Spanish with these questions to begin to figure out how to process and express what they're seeing.
  3. TL reflection activity. Like I said, the kids love to talk. Creativity is key, and they can incorporate the vocabulary. Sometimes at the end the reflection is just a summary blog and predictions, though.

After viewing

  1. TL summary/prediction blog. Students sum up and retell what happened during the day's scenes. Bullet points are fine for those unready to part from the shores of novicedom, but encourage intermediate explorers to venture into paragraph territory. Predictions for the next day's scenes are not only great literacy skill practice but a chance for further engagement and playing with tenses.
  2. Vocabulary exit ticket. Of course we have to come back to the new vocabulary, so while students are reflecting--or after--each kid picks a Post-it to remove and replace by writing the word (bigger) and its English meaning. Bam! Wall glossary. (This could come in particularly handy if my weekly personal glossary blog comes to fruition...)
  3. Weekly tic tac toe reflection. This was primarily an out-of-class task to be conducted each week. Students could choose any activity from the tic-tac-toe board, as long as A) they end up making a line and B) they have at least one of the 3 P boxes checked (or exed) off. My young ones have made some keen observations about currency, family structure, and religious practices that should do nicely to demonstrate completion of my EPIC goal.


The telenovela unit has been the most popular unit I have ever taught. Love to watch them or love to hate them, everyone has an opinion, and everyone feels like they're learning--and many want to keep learning!

Not all of my students are twenty episodes ahead of me (about three are) or even caught up to me (probably six more of them), but several have already made marathon plans for the summer--either Cuidado con el ángel or another telenovela we read about.

And now they have procedures to get the most out of their viewing experience.

If they can handle pacing their binges.


  1. I LOVE this for an end-of-the-year unit! What a great, low-stress way to wind down AND acquire language AND keep them using Spanish over the summer. How many episodes do you think you'll get through?

    1. Kids agree! But they wished we'd gotten through more than 2 :(

  2. For what levels would you recommend this activities?

    1. This worked GREAT with Spanish II. I'd love to get lower levels hooked, but I think it'd be too overwhelming. Upper levels could use more open-ended review questions perhaps.

  3. This is brilliant! Love the idea of integrating pop culture, listening proficiency, and the "grilling" part--comprehension checks in a variety of styles! Nicely done, thanks for sharing!