When I was in my second semester of teaching, I had a class that LOVED to write. Every time I gave them an in-class activity or homework assignment that involved writing, they sprang to life, eager to let their imaginations run wild. They loved writing so much that we completed an entire project above and beyond the already-demanding syllabus imposed on us by the department, a class collection of short stories inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s “Un día de estos.” Even when I tried to prank them for April Fool’s by coming up with utterly ridiculous personalized writing assignments for each of them, about half of the class did the work anyway. (Did Katie really think I expected a second-semester student to come up with a full set of military operation orders in Spanish? Apparently!)

Naturally, I was ecstatic. I had found the secret to teaching! I knew how to make each and every one of my future students love Spanish! I had become the Best. Teacher. Ever! All I had to do was build lots of creative writing opportunities into my courses, and I’d have all of my students ready to declare Spanish majors by the end of the semester.

I’m guessing you know how that worked out for me.

Unicorn asking for more writing activities
Were my students secretly mythical unicorns?

I’m now in my tenth year of teaching, and I have yet to teach another group of students that comes close to displaying the same level of passion for creative writing. If anything, I consider myself lucky when I get a class that isn’t actively resistant to writing activities. Part of me secretly wonders if that first magical class was even real, or if they were perhaps a group of mythical sparkly unicorns sent from Planet Glitter as my prize for winning the Intergalactic Teacher Lottery that year.

I’ve gone from thinking that writing is the solution to realizing that often, the trick is in convincing students that writing isn’t a problem. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the same complaints that I have through the years:

  • “I’m not creative. I can’t think of anything to write about.”
  • “I don’t know enough vocabulary.”
  • “It’s too hard.”
  • “I get all the verb forms confused.”
  • “It’s just not fun.”

To be fair, these would all be valid concerns—if they were true. But they don’t have to be. A well-designed writing activity can provide students with the scaffolded support they need to feel confident that they are able to write in Spanish, while being fun enough that they want to.

So What Is the Solution?

Enter my favorite writing activity ever: the “cuento al revés.” This is the best activity I’ve found for getting even my most reluctant students writing in Spanish. And they LOVE it!

Here’s how it works: First, you come up with a list of questions in the style of a traditional reading comprehension activity. For example, you might ask “What did Maria need to buy at the store?” or “How many people are there at Juan’s birthday party?” (But in Spanish, of course!) I usually use 10, but you can adjust the number of questions according to the amount of time you have and the level of your class. Students use their imagination to answer the questions as if they have found the information in a reading passage. Then, they write the corresponding story, using their answers as a starting point and adding as many other details as possible.

Link to a Spanish writing activity to practice the future tense
In this “cuento al revés,” students imagine their future: where they will live, what they will do, and how that treasure got in their backyard!

There are a few things to keep in mind as you’re crafting the questions:

  • This activity works best when the questions correlate to the grammar and vocabulary of your current unit.
  • Try to strike a balance between providing structure to the story and leaving room for your students to be creative.
  • The sillier, the better! I like to start with three or four questions that seem pretty straight-forward, and then start throwing increasingly wacky things at them. (Why did Mariana’s grandparents have a tiger in their kitchen?!?)

Here’s why it’s awesome:

The “cuento al revés” activity works because it solves all of those problems that students so often have with writing. Let’s revisit them:

  • “I’m not creative. I can’t think of anything to write about.”

Since students answer specific questions as the first step of the activity, by the time they need to write the story, all of the ideas are already there on the page!

  • “I don’t know enough vocabulary.”

This activity is great for reinforcing vocabulary! Since you’ve designed the questions to correlate to the current unit of study, they can be answered using the vocabulary that you’re actively working on. I like to incorporate those active vocabulary terms directly into the questions as much as possible, to further support my students.

  • “It’s too hard.”
  • “I get all the verb forms confused.”

The structure of the activity addresses both of these common complaints. In the first part, the students see all of the verb forms modeled for them in the questions. For example, when students are learning about the imperfect versus the preterite in Spanish, they can use the tense of the question to help them figure out which tense to use in their answer. If you’re working on the present tense and a student is unsure whether a verb is a stem-changer or not, they can simply refer to the question to check. Moving from answering targeted questions to writing an open-ended story provides just the scaffolding they need to succeed! (Note: You might need to point this out to students the first time you do this activity. They don’t always know how to use the questions as models.)

  • “It’s just not fun.”

This is where those wacky questions come into play! Try watching your students’ faces as they do the activity, and you’ll know exactly when they get to the first unexpected twist. There will be no doubt that they are having a blast!

Are you convinced yet?

I could keep going with a list of all the other ways that this activity is fabulous and how much more you can do with it, liking keeping a stack on hand as a fast finisher activity. But the best way to see its magic is to try it out for yourself!

Cover image for mega bundle of 30 cuentos al revés
I have over 30 “cuentos al revés” available in my TPT store! This mega bundle includes 30 stories at a 30% discount!

If you’re unsure of how to start, you can check out all of the “cuentos al revés” I have available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. They’re a great way to save yourself some prep time! If you’re looking for a particular grammar and vocabulary combination that I don’t have yet, let me know in the comments or via my contact form, and I’d be happy to make one for you!

So yes, that one group of students may have been mythical unicorns from Planet Glitter, but now I’ve found a way to get all of my students to enjoy writing activities in Spanish, even the ones who are just ordinary human beings. And that may be the most magical thing of all.  

How to make students love writing in Spanish

What are your favorite writing activities? Let me know in the comments! And if you give this one a try, I’d love to hear how it went for you!

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