Monday, February 13, 2017

A short film for the Spanish class: Cuerdas

Pedro Solís is an animation film director, scriptwriter and producer from Spain. In 2010 he won the Goya Award for the best animation short film, La Bruxa. The Goya Awards recognize the best Spanish and Latin American films every year. He is also the producer of the animated film Tad, the last explorer. In 2014 he won the Goya again for his very personal animated short film, Cuerdas (Ropes).



Cuerdas tells us the story of a young child who suffers cerebral palsy many years ago in Spain. The child cannot move and is always in his wheelchair. At that time children who suffered this condition were either not given the right treatment or did not have access to the right therapies. The main character in this short film is sent to an orphanage where Maria, a young girl, starts spending time with him and taking care of him. Maria will use "cuerdas", ropes, to help him move and play games. Their bond and friendship grows stronger and Maria dedicates more of her free time to be with the new student.When Maria becomes a teacher for children with severe disabilities many years later, she still wears a rope around her wrist in memory of her friend. 


There is a short dedication at the end of the film: "A mi hija Alejandra, gracias por inspirarme esta historia. A mi hijo Nicolás, ojalá nunca me hubieses inspirado esta historia." We discover then that the story in the short film is inspired by the director's children. Nicolas, who was born with cerebral palsy, was always supported and taken care of by Alejandra, his sister. The real story is explained in this video.



The short film has an official website where we can learn further details about the film, its production, where to buy it, and also about the book "Cuerdas" where we can get a different perspective of the story. Furthermore, fifteen per cent of the book sales will go to the association where the real Nicolás goes to receive his treatment.

Cuerdas is a good choice to work in the Spanish class and offer the opportunity of creating multiple activities. I have transcribed the script and it is available for download here: Guion. If you use the script, please provide me with credit to this blog. Thank you.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Short Films at the University of Alberta


|It has been a very long time since I've posted on this blog... Life gets complicated, we need to assume new commitments. I have been planning to start posting regularly but it's sometimes an uphill battle!

A week ago I visited Olenka Bilash class at the University of Alberta. Dr. Bilash has been working with future language teachers in the province of Alberta for years and she is a 100% committed to language teaching pedagogics. A visit to her website is always a source of valuable information for everyone involved in language teaching.

I talked to the future language teachers about my experience working at Austin O´Brien High School in the Spanish Bilingual program, particularly Film Appreciation in Spanish. In this subject I follow a CLIL approach: students learn Spanish through the study, analysis, and production of short films.

One of the activities I do in the class is to use of 30 second long short films to encourage students to use Spanish spontaneously. These films are part of the Jameson Notofilmfest, a film festival specialized in short films with a section called Triple Destilación for short films no longer than 30 seconds. Every now and then we watch one of these short films and students need to answer the same questions: "who", "what", "when", "where", "why", and finally "what is the message of the director." Even students who feel intimidated about using Spanish in public find the activity doable thanks to the length of the shorts. 

These are some of the short films I have used but there are many others in the already 14 editions of the festival.

This Argentinian short film is full of irony and engage students in discussion about the era of the Internet: Flatmates 3.0:



With this one we can laugh at the way we create links with each other thanks to social media: Chico conoce chica:

Trago amargo is a great example of the black humour Spanish speakers are so fond of.


Some shorts are a bit surreal and use our knowledge about films to their own advantage: Time lapse



Or have an unexpected ending using a play with the words: Algunos hombres siguen sin aclararse




There are many more available in the festival website. If you spend a bit of time browsing through the films, I'm sure you will find ones that your students will enjoy and find meaningful!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vacation in Asturias, Spain

Hola! I am currently visiting family in Northern Spain but have been monitoring my blog. Thank you very much for those of you who are taking interest and doing your "summer reading"! I'll be starting a new teaching position at a Spanish bilingual high school in September and at the beginning of the school year, I may not update the blog as often. Please do visit the blog regularly though since I will be writing about new resources that I'll be purchasing in Spain this summer.

In the meantime, have a wonderful summer! Attached are two photos of my beautiful province, Asturias in Northern Spain! Enjoy!

 Panorama of old town in Oviedo

 Panorama of the coast in Llanes, Asturias

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Graphic novel on Chernobil tragedy: Chernóbil - La Zona

On April 26th 1986 the 4th reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded. I was at university at the time and still recall the TV images, the lack of clear information and the discussions about the effects on the explosion. We soon learned  that it was the worst nuclear catastrophe in history and the amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere was equivalent of hundreds of Hiroshima bombs. 

The effects of this massive radioactive release reached locations over 2000 km away but the worst part was for the citizens of Pripyat, the city where most of the workers in the power station lived. They were exposed to extreme radiation for days until the Soviet authorities finally decided to intervene. Originally these were precautionary measures which involved removing the residents for a few days; however, they will later be told they can never return again. As a result of the radiation exposure, many workers involved in the cleaning of the area died. The cancer rate increased exponentially - thousands of children were born with malformations and a huge piece of territory in Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia is still unable to grow vegetables for human consumption.

The consequences of the radiation will be present in this area for hundreds if not thousands of years. However, the local authorities have opened the doors to controlled tourist visits in the hope that this will bring money and opportunities for the now almost empty area.


Francisco Sánchez and Natacha Bustos published a graphic novel in 2011 that tells us the story of what happened back in 1986 from the point of view of the people directly affected by the tragedy, the people working in the nuclear power station and their families in Pripyat. 

Francisco Sánchez visited an exhibition about the catastrophe in 2006 in Barcelona and he was impressed by the experience. The topic almost became an obsession for him and he spent years researching about the causes and effects of the event. He wanted to see and portray how the catastrophe has broken the lives and dreams of many people and their children. In 2009 he visited the area to gather graphic material and learn about the actual situation after almost 25 years. The graphic material would be used by the drawer to show the atmosphere of a soviet city very accurately in the novel.

Most of the previous information was taken from the following website.

The publication of the graphic novel in 2011, 25 years after the catastrophe, coincided  in time with the accident in Fukushima, something both authors commented in the presentation of their novel. And again, not all the information about what happened in Japan has been released to the public.


The graphic novel can definitely be used in a bilingual or IB program. It is linguistically attractive and deals with many topics that are relevant to the program of studies and our students' lives. Students will definitely enjoy researching and commenting about most of the topics in the novel:
  • What are the roles of governments in a crisis?
  • Can international help be a solution in a crisis?
  • To what extent should individuals be able to exercise their freedom of speech to access information during a crisis? 
  • How can we harness energy while minimalizing negatives effects on nature?
  • Which people are most vulnerable during a crisis?
  • How can we apply what we've learned to deal with future problems?
  • How the catastrophe has affected nuclear programs in Canada and all over the world? 

We can get more information about Chernobyl and its terrible effects on the website of Greenpeace Mexico.

"La noche temática" is a program on the Spanish TV which usually analyses controversial issues from several points of view. A documentary or film that deals with the chosen topic is also shown in the program. Over 25 years after the catastrophe in Chernobyl the topic was 'Alarma nuclear' in which the French documentary "Déchets, le cauchemar du nucléaire", was shown. Unfortunately, many years after Chernobyl things are far from being solved. You can watch the documentary in Spanish in this link. I could not find an English version but there is a German version with English subtitles available.


I highly recommend this graphic novel to work with our students in Spanish. It depicts the tragedy in Chernobyl from the point of view of the people who suffered the most. It can be a great starting point to start a research project with our students.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two autobiographical graphic novels for the Spanish class

I'd like two introduce two graphic novels that have two of the features that I have considered important in previous posts: they portray personal stories and deal with controversial issues that can lead to discussions and research in our classes. The authors, Cristina Durán and Miguel Ángel Giner, are a couple of artists from Valencia, Spain. They have produced numerous artworks since 1993 in fields such as text books illustration, publicity, comics, etc. at their own art studio.

In 2009 they published their first autobiographical graphic novel, Una posiblidad entre mil (A chance out a thousand). Cristina and Miguel Angel have their first child, Laia, but her life is at risk starting when she was born due to health issues. Their daily routine consists of visiting hospitals, rehabilitation units and doctors. There is only one chance in a thousand for the baby to survive and she fights to grasp it with all her strength, affecting everyone around her with her zest and optimism for life.

The novel follows the authors' physical and emotional trip until Laia starts to go to school. We witness their devastation when they have to assume Laia´s condition that will affect her for the rest of her life. But we also witness their determination to shower their child with love and care through this often harsh journey.


Some  of the the discussion themes in the novel are:
  • Parenthood
  • The integration of handicapped children and the acceptance of the differences
  • The role of family and society
  • The importance of determination to achieve our dreams
La Máquina de Efrén, published in 2012, is the continuation to Una posibilidad entre mil. The graphic novel continues the journey initiated after Laia's birth. Cristina and Miguel Ángel always wanted to have one more member in the family, an adopted child. Both authors tell us the process of getting an adopted girl from Ethiopia. We experience their excitement, their anguish through all the bureaucratic process and the joy of achieving their goal of having one more child in the family. We also witness their trip to an unknown country for them, Ethiopia, and share their respect for a country full of problems but full of dignity too.


As in Una posibilidad entre mil, there are numerous topics to discuss with our students:
  • Parenthood
  • Responsibility
  • Adoption
  • First world versus third world
  • Multiculturalism
  • The right of everyone to happiness

Our students will definitely enjoy following Cristina and Miguel Angel's emotional journey through parenthood, compromise and commitment to their family and values. They will get attached to the characters and will realize about the importance of learning to respect the differences and being able to accept everyone. 

The authors talk about their work together and about adoption in La máquina de Efrén.
The graphic novels' website.
The authors' study website.
Pillada por ti, a free online comic on violence against women by the same authors.
Article in newspaper El Mundo on Una posibilidad entre mil.
First pages La máquina de Efrén
First pages Una posibilidad entre mil