This project grew out of a short blog post. I was enthusiastic about the results I was getting with passwords and wanted to share some ideas. Originally it was just a few examples of passwords that had worked for me and an invitation to share ideas about the practice. It could have been written as a 35 part blog series, but I just kept adding to the original. This long and continually growing post is the result.

As ideas from the original short blog post began to flow comments, questions and suggestions from colleagues across the country were exchanged.  I was encouraged to experiment with passwords even more. I experimented with different types of passwords for different levels and shared those results with colleagues.

I also began to study how social, psychological and educational research applied to this fascinating classroom greeting ritual.

The result of this experimentation, collaboration, reflection and investigation is that here are now expanded explanations of WHY passwords work and HOW to implement the process, as well as an enlarged vision of WHAT a password is and specific techniques that will make it work for you.

There are also translations into English of each password with frequent linguistic, cultural, psychological and historical explanations so that non-Spanish readers and new Spanish teachers can benefit and adapt them for their classrooms. Suggestions have come in from teachers all over the country to make the original password idea even better.

¡Mil gracias!


• Introduction

• What is a Password?

• How Does It Work?

• How to Tell Students a Password

• How to Change the Password

• How to Help Students that Cannot Remember the Password

• How to Handle Passwords When You Are Pressed for Time

• Why Do Passwords Work?

• Why Use Classroom Passwords?

• Advantages for Students

• Advantages for Teachers

• Why Passwords Help Teachers: Reading Student Body Language

• Why Passwords Work with Students #1:  The-Foot-In-The-Door

• Why Passwords Work with Students #2:  Peer Pressure

• Why Passwords Work with Students #3:  Small Wins

• More Reasons Passwords Work

• The Feeling of a Password

• Password Problems

• Password Guidelines

• Password Tips

• Level 1-2 Password Examples

• Level 2-AP Password Examples



“Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift. Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club–the community of speakers of that language.”

‒Frank Smith (Psycholinguist and essential contributor to research on the nature of the reading process. Author of over 20 books on language, reading, writing, thinking and teaching, including the small gem Reading: FAQ, 2007)

I love this quote because it emphasizes the social nature of language.  No one is born speaking a language. We pick it up from our social group. What is inborn is the natural desire to connect with others. We can take advantage of our students’ natural inclinations to be an accepted part of the group, to become a member of an exclusive club.

The StingA tool that we can use to help our students feel that learning a new language is like becoming a member of a club is the classroom password. Requiring a “Secret Password” to enter the room is a concrete example for them of the idea of exclusive membership in a community of language speakers. I require a “frase secreta” (secret phrase) for students to enter the classroom. Alina Filipescu had her students do this when I observed her classroom in California in April of 2015. It seemed like such a good idea that I have been using it ever since. My students get a kick out of it and so do I.

“Classroom passwords have totally changed my relationship with students. They feel like they belong to a ‘secret society’.”     Margarita Pérez García

(See more teacher comments about  using passwords at the end of this post)

If you are unfamiliar with the idea, think of using a password to get into a tree house or a fort when you were a kid. Or better yet, think of films like the 1973 Robert Redford/Paul Newman Oscar winner  The Sting. Gambling was against the law  and customers had to know the secret sign or word to get into an establishment where illegal betting was going on. They wouldn’t let in just anyone.

And in our classes we are serving up stronger and better stuff than any bookie: engaging language acquisition. So we naturally need a password to allow in only people we can trust with this scarce and valuable elixir.

Ironically, requiring a password to enter the classroom can be, as Grant Boulanger ( has noted, “… an exclusionary practice that promotes inclusion and camaraderie in the classroom.” The password excludes those that are not part of our club–but then they are probably not even aware that they are excluded and they would not understand all of the Spanish we are using in class by not taking the class anyway. Requiring a password is inclusive because of the feeling that it engenders–that this place is something special and you have to know the code to get in. It makes it obvious that we are all part of a special group.

Storytelling is extremely valuable, but it is a complex skill that can take years to master–after years of working at it I still can’t tell a story like Blaine Ray does. Little techniques like the password that mesh with the feel of TPRS can help to set the tone by connecting with kids before they even set foot in the classroom.

The following thoughts about the password process are organized into sections: What? How? and Why?

Examples of winner passwords for lower levels and upper levels  follow.

What is a Password?

Passwords are expressions in the target language that students need to say in order to enter the classroom.  Passwords are expressions that are either common in the language or just fun for kids to say. Ideally, passwords use high frequency vocabulary. Passwords often end up being woven into class conversations and stories later on because students absorb them so thoroughly and well. They show up over and over in class discussions and personal interviews, usually initiated by students.

I sometimes require students to use the appropriate tone of voice, gestures and/or body language as they give the password in order to show that they understand what they are saying. If the tone and gestures do not correspond to the words they are saying, I have them do it again and/or I ask them if they know exactly what it means.

Passwords are always in the target language (TL). They can come in different forms:

1) Questions by the teacher that students need to answer in the TL.

2) Questions by the students that the teacher may answer in the TL.

3) Statements said by students   Some are simple, some are more complex. The teacher may respond in the TL or just nod knowingly.

If the password prompt is a question by the teacher, the student needs to give an appropriate answer to show understanding.

If it is a question by the student, the teacher usually responds. Responding increases the level of interaction and engagement, but it is not always necessary.

If the password is a statement, students say it with appropriate tone and body language to show that they understand what it means. With statements there is not always a need for a response from the teacher, other than a nod and look of acceptance. If it is natural, I will respond. Otherwise they just say the phrase, I nod approvingly, and they enter.

How Does It Work?

How to Tell Students a Password

Explicitly tell students the password and the meaning the day before they will need it. I usually tell them on Mondays or Fridays (obviously in the TL): “Class, I have a secret!” And, a la Ben Slavic, expect them all to:

a) Put a hand to an ear,

b) Lean in, &

c) Stomp on the floor with one foot

All of the students in the class do all of these actions all at the same time. We rehearse it in class and reinforce it when the actions get lax. It is hokey but it is fun, plus this triad of intentional physical movements has visual, auditory and kinesthetic elements that make an impact. The combined visual stimulation, physicality and sound demonstrate that all students are engaged and are paying close attention to what is about to be said.

This community action needs to be crisp and obvious. All lean in. All put a hand to the ear. All stomp a foot at the same time–and the stomped foot needs to be loud. All of the students need to synchronize their actions. Students do all three actions together and enthusiastically, or we practice it again until they get it right. In the middle of the year, when their response time and synchronization slows down, we practice it again. We keep up the practice until they come together. Too much repetition? Well, as they say, if you don’t like repeating yourself, don’t become a teacher.

Once students are able to synchronize those three actions, I whisper to them in the TL:

“Class, the new secret phrase is _____.”  As if it were some big secret.

I usually just call it la frase secreta (the secret phrase), but many teachers call it by the authentic Spanish term la contraseña (the password). I use the authentic term with level 2 and above and the simplified phrase frase secreta with level 1 to reinforce the idea of noun adjective agreement and word order.

After the teacher announces the new password, the students all are expected to respond with a hearty and knowing “Aaahhh!” as if they had just found out a valuable and intriguing secret. Coach them that information like this is to be treated as the most interesting thing they have heard all day.

You do not have to do this exact ritual to introduce a password, but having some kind of predictable procedure to deliver a new password builds anticipation and makes it more fun.

I write the password on the board in Spanish and in English. Although after a couple of weeks it barely needs to be written down because most students are able to figure out how to focus and can remember it as soon as I say it. They start getting it quickly because their attention is up. This happens because the password is meaningful to them and they are familiar with the routine.

I repeat the password a couple of times and sometimes even have them say it aloud. They can also be directed to say it to a partner with different emotional expression in their voices. Sometimes I will ask if anyone heard a partner say it exceptionally well. I ask that volunteered partner to say it again for us as a model. This is about the only time I ever use the listen and repeat technique.

I allow students to write down the password if they are uncertain. Some students take a picture of the password to put in their cell phones so they can glance at it in the hall on the way to class. Students also share it with one another before they arrive if they have missed class–often via text message as they scurry down the hall.

How to Change the Password

The password is changed once a week or so. If I try to change it every day or even every other day it is too hard for me to keep up. A 3-5 day time frame is long enough for most students to get good at saying it smoothly. It takes some slower processing kids a couple of days to get fluent with it and to be able to say the password quickly and confidently as they enter the classroom.

How to Help Students that Cannot Remember the Password

Here are methods that can be used to help students with the password:

  1. Ask the student that was gone or cannot remember the password to step to the side. The student can stand beside the teacher and listen to their classmates as they stream by saying it. Once they have heard it clearly several times, they can get in line (the teacher might ask the next student if they can have “cuts”) and say the password to get in. But even if a student was gone, nobody gets in without the password.
  2. Students can text the password to their friends. Taking a picture of the password written on the board and sending it to a friend that is not in class is a common and encouraged practice.
  3. The teacher can give a prompt to forgetful students. Oftentimes the first word of the password phrase is enough to jar their memory.

How to Handle Passwords When You Are Pressed for Time

I do not allow late students to take control of the process of saying the password. They all have to say it. If the tardy bell is about to ring and several students are still waiting to say the password the teacher needs to speed it up. The password is supposed to improve your relationship with your students and help decrease your stress. Do not jeopardize those feelings by making it a time-wasting, stressful activity. If there are students that have not said the password and the bell is about to ring, you can have the remaining students all say the password together.

I frequently do this with the longer passwords in higher level classes because we run out of time. I just say: ¡Todos juntos! ¿Listos? Uno-Dos-Tres…” (All together! Ready? 1-2-3…). The remaining students say the password all at the same time so that we can get into the classroom before the late bell and start on time. Modeling that we have no time to waste is helpful in getting students on task.

When students arrive after the class has begun, they do not have to say the password. They simply say the standard “Lo siento.” (I’m sorry.) to their classmates and the teacher and then quietly sit down without interrupting us further. No password is required. They missed out on the camaraderie and the fun of saying it as they entered and that is a sufficient consequence for being late. I do not give them a mean look. I do not hold it against them. I graciously say “Gracias” (Thank you.) and we continue with the lesson… but I still mark them tardy.

Why Do Passwords Work?

Why Use Classroom Passwords?

Because this practice helps to form and strengthen social bonds between teacher and students. Those connections lead to better behavior and more engagement in the classroom. When the social components are running smoothly classroom management problems are lessened.

Advantages For Students:

• Saying the password promotes a sense of camaraderie. Students line up to enter class. No other teacher is doing this and it makes them feel that this class is something special. All of the students are in this together.

• Password interaction primes the social pump.  Students help one another to remember the password, whispering it to students that were not there the day before or who have forgotten it. They even text it to one another. It improves social connections between students.

• Waiting to say the password builds anticipation. They do not enter until I come to the door to greet them. When I come to the door and begin to allow them in, they are relieved and happy to get to their seats.

• Using the password shows respect. This built-in level of honoring the subject matter, the classroom, the instructor and the process does not always happen in other classes. Students sense that something special is going on in this class. They know that they are not allowed to enter the classroom without making contact with the teacher. This contact is the beginning of “playing the game” in the classroom–immersing themselves into the magical world of the world language class where anything is possible.

• Saying the password grants instant success. Students feel special when they say the password and are admitted. They feel as if they have accomplished something before they even enter the classroom. And those positive feelings can last all hour if I play my cards right. Just like Susan Gross says: “Nothing motivates like success.” Student that do not know the password or do not say it correctly are not allowed to enter the classroom right away. I have them stand beside me so they can hear a few others saying it right. When they can say it, they feel like they have accomplished something worthwhile.

• Saying a password is not for credit.  Using the password gets a student no points in the grade book. It is a game we play every day with one another before class starts. It is playful communication. It is human interaction and  courtesy. Using a password takes a bit off of the dreaded question: Will this be on the test?

Advantages For Teachers:

• You get a little bit of time to yourself.  Students are not allowed into the room until I greet them at the door. If I am not ready for them to come in, or if I am not there they need to wait. That way, if I need to go make copies or use the restroom students are not messing with the realia, props, posters and other cool things in the classroom unsupervised.

Even if I am in the room, a minute or so alone in the middle of the day between classes helps me to pull my thoughts together and shift gears for a new class. The unrelenting social contact wears on me after awhile, but with a short break I can recover. I am actually more on the introverted side–I just play an extrovert on TV.

I have seen this practice of asking students to wait to enter the classroom until they are greeted modeled by teachers that I admire and respect such as Alina Filipescu, Doug Stone and Carol Sutton, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

“Bryce, the Password is working great! My favorite thing about it is that bit of time it gives me. I can tuck away loose ends after a class and am not distracted by kids coming in. Your explanation of the process was really helpful.”  —Jim Tripp, Decorah, Iowa

• You get to greet each student individually. Every student knows that he or she is welcome here today, not just because I said it on the first day of school. That kind of daily reinforcement is meaningful to kids. They need it every day; some more than others. There are some students that are nearly invisible in every school. When I greet and speak to each student as they enter, contact with at least one adult is assured that day.

• You can look them in the eye. We can share a knowing nod that they get it when they say the password. That shared look lets them know that they are an accepted part of the club.

• You can give them affirmation. The teacher can show approval of each one of the students as they enter the classroom. A quick smile and a simple “Good job” in English or in the target language can go a long way to helping an insecure student feel welcome. They get a boost by knowing they are on the right track. This daily affirmation can help to foster positive feelings and relationships.

• You can give them some positive interaction. Embedded within the password exchange are feelings of mutual trust and respect. That acceptance will help once class begins. Each student knows that I notice them, that I like them and that I accept them. That makes it easier for them to receive discipline and direction from me later. It adds a few drops to their love tank every day. The “love tank” is an image by Susan Gross that refers to the balance of positive versus negative interactions with students. Try to keep the ratio of positive to negative interaction well on the positive side, with 3-to-1 being the minimum and up to 10-to-1 at the high end.

Classroom passwords can help to tip that positive to negative ratio in your favor. In the book Words Can Change Your Brain authors Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Waldman claim:

“The three-to-one ratio [is] a comparison of the number of positive thoughts and negative thoughts you generate when you engage in a conversation with someone else. If you express fewer than three positive thoughts or behaviors for each negative one, the relationship or interaction is likely to fail.” (p. 130)

Other psychologists suggest that a five-to-one ratio of positive messages for each negative utterance is a better goal for relationships to flourish.

Keeping those ratios in mind is important because we have high standards in the classroom and I realize that I will occasionally be disappointed with student behavior and outcomes, even if it is only unconsciously. I will inadvertently give out negative messages–perhaps only by barely perceptible body language. Moreover, I realize that the frustration I feel with myself for not getting through to students or not presenting a lesson smoothly may be misinterpreted by students as contempt or displeasure with them, so I am always trying to top off the love tank.

• You can tell how a kid is doing. Before I habitually greeted students at the door, certain kids would slink in and sit down in the back of the class–and I may or may not have picked up on how they were doing. I missed most of their body language signals. It is much harder to read body language through a crowd and when a kid is sitting. I know that I missed many cues because I did not greet them individually, standing, and face-to-face.

• You can send messages to students with your body language. When I am waiting for student sin the hall I can use subtle body language to let kids know they are welcome and included. It can be a smile that grows slowly as they approach, gesturing with palms up, or an eyebrow lift.

The power of a quick eyebrow lift to show recognition and acceptance cannot be overstated. This is not a creepy leering at someone, it is just a quick raising of the eyebrows that shows I see you and like you. A former student at my school once told my neighbor that I had said hello to her every day in school and that I was one of her favorite teachers. When my neighbor passed along the story and her name I realized that I had never had her as a student and I did not know who she was. She was one of scores of students that I have greeted in the hallways with an eyebrow lift over the years. In her memory I had greeted her by name every day at school.

• It is a preemptive classroom management tool. Students are tacitly acknowledging that this is my space and they need my permission to enter. Standing at the doorway of the classroom makes me feel vaguely like the doorman at a secret speakeasy in the prohibition era (again, think of the 1973 Oscar-winning Robert Redford/Paul Newman movie The Sting here) that only allowed in trustworthy folks; those that were part of the club. If you do not act like you are part of the club, you don’t get in.

• You can see if students are bringing in contraband. Does anybody else have a problem with students eating all day long? For some students, school seems to be a mobile all-you-can-eat banquet. On special foods days it is OK, but eating in class is distracting, unsanitary and rude. If I do not greet them at the door, I will not catch them smuggling in food as often. When I greet students I can direct them to finish eating before they enter the classroom, or put the remaining food in their backpacks or in my refrigerator at the back of the classroom.

• Kids are using the target language outside of class. I mean, this IS the goal of our teaching the language, right? Plus, it doesn’t hurt to let evaluating administrators see students using what the have learned outside of the confines of the classroom. Having students use the password before they enter can represent spreading the language beyond the confines of the classroom.

• Kids get to class on time. It can help some students get to class early to hear others saying the password. Students that might otherwise saunter in right at the bell get to class ahead of time to be sure they get the password right.

• It sets a posiPapelito Que dice Sitive tone. I get down sometimes. During some times of the year I need encouragement and so I assign a password is a friendly greeting or word of cheer. Having 30 students in a row every hour say “Thank you so much,” or “That is so kind of you,” really makes my day and gives me a lift to get through.

Not that every password need be positive. Even sad  expressions can work to help us connect. With a sad expression I can act as if I am sympathizing with them–and we can share an inside joke.

• Students get to wait and look around outside of the classroom. As students are lined up waiting to enter the classroom (or if they have been asked to step aside until they can say the password) they get the opportunity to read the posters around the classroom door like thisthis, and this. I find interesting, cultural or funny pictures and make mini-posters to go on the wall beside the door.

• It shows whose class it is. A password shows that it is the teacher that sets the agenda. In too many schools the students begin to run the place. Students should be involved in the management and work of the class, but not in setting the entire agenda.

• It helps with attendance. Sometimes I get distracted and forget to take roll right away. Having greeted each student personally with the password helps me to remember who was in class.

Why Passwords Help Teachers:  Reading Student Body Language

Once you start using passwords for students to enter the classroom it will become such a valuable part of the routine that you will not be able to imagine NOT using it. The opportunity to observe student body language is one more positive aspect of this daily classroom practice.

When students are walking towards the classroom or standing in front of me, I can tell at a glance how they are doing. With that extra bit of information I can often give them the extra care or attention they require. I can see the way they walk, their interactions with one another, posture, body positioning, hand placement, the way they are dressed, their facial expressions and tone of voice. All of these signs give them away. Because I see these students every day I can eventually absorb a general baseline reading on most students. When I get to know them I can notice differences in their normal behavior or appearance as they walk towards me down the hall. There are almost too many variables to notice, but here a a few body language cues we can see when we greet students at the door:

• Gait: Are they walking faster or slower than normal? Do they seem more confident or more timid? Is someone limping? Is someone guarding something? Do they seem reluctant or eager to get to class?

• Interactions: Are they engaging with other students? Are they walking alone? Are they walking in a group? With a friend? Who is friends with who? What role are they taking in the group?

• Posture: Are they slumping or standing up straight? Are they energetic or tired?

• Body Position: Are they engaged with the group? Standing to the side? Do they look like feel they belong? Is something different from normal behavior for that student?

• Hand Placement: Are their hands open or covering? Covering can indicate insecurity, guilt or fear. Raised hands or big movements can indicate confidence or dominance displays.

• Clothing and Hair: Is there extra care today or or is the student dressed more haphazardly than normal? Are they wearing special clothing for a special occasion? What is the occasion? Can I let them know that I notice? Is there something new that the student is displaying and hopes that someone will notice? Can I comment on something to connect with a student? If nothing else, you can always say, “Hey, nice shoes!”

• Facial Expression: Does the look on their face seem confident or fragile? Are they in a good mood or in a bad mood? Are they laughing? Crying?

• Braces: This is a huge thing in students’ lives. Did they just get braces on? (Oh! How do they feel? Do they hurt?) Did they just get them taken off? (How does it feel? Let me see your new smile! That looks great!)

• Lost/Loose Teeth: With younger children each lost tooth is part of a rite of passage; it shows they are growing up. That is important and we need to give them attention when we notice it: “Ooh! Did it hurt?”   “How many teeth have you lost this year already?”

• Injuries/Cuts/Bruises:  Rowdy younger kids are prone to minor injuries and they generally love the attention when the do. (“Oh my! What happened to you?”  “Does it still hurt?”). Older students like the attention too, if it is used judiciously. The observation must be related to something you already know about them so as not to seems intrusive. The line,  “You look like you are limping. Was that from the game last night?” works much better with teens than, “What happened to your leg?”

• Tone of Voice: Are they speaking in a clear tone or are they mumbling? Is the voice cheery or dull and muted?

• Eye Contact: Is the student’s eye contact different than normal? Is he looking me in the eye or avoiding eye contact? Can I combine that change with other clues to figure out what it might mean?

I would observe very few of these indicators if I did not greet students at the door. There are still many clues that I may be missing, but with experience I am getting better at catching the signs (poker players call these subtle clues “tells”) that might indicate how kids are doing so that I can make adjustments and accommodations before class even starts. I can change some aspects of my plan to fit the needs of certain students. This added information can be extremely valuable in managing classroom behavior.

Why Passwords Work with Students #1:  The-Foot-In-The-Door

The password functions as a foot-in-the-door technique. The term foot-in-the-door refers to a technique that was used by door-to-door salesmen in the past. To get into a home, a salesman would ask for a small favor, like requesting a glass of water. A small favor like that could not easily be denied. But that small first act of compliance  created a personal connection that made subsequent requests easier to comply with. The salesman could then ask the homeowner to listen to his sales pitch and had a better likelihood of making a sale.

Benjamin Franklin made a similar observation. Franklin had an acquaintance that was always saying bad things about him. Ben decided to win him over by asking him for a book. That request became that foundation for an enduring friendship. Matthew Lieberman reports that Franklin put it this way:

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

(Social by Matthew Lieberman, p. 266)

When someone does you a favor they begin to have a vested interest in seeing you succeed. Your success starts to become their success. They feel good when they see you succeed because they see some of their help in what you are doing.

When we ask our students to say a password it seems like a simple request, but we are getting a foot in the door of their minds. They have complied with the rules for entering the classroom. They are tacitly acknowledging your authority.

Some students may sense that this is a covert request for compliance and will balk at saying the password. In that case it is best to put on a magnanimous face and act as if they have forgotten and you are going to help them remember it. Say: “That’s OK, just stand right here beside me so that you can hear a few people say it.” Do not let your facial expression or body language give away your potential frustration.

An ornery kid will not want to be seen standing right by the teacher for long, lest he be thought of as a teacher’s pet. The peer pressure will drive him to listen and comply.

Why Passwords Work with Students #2:  Peer Pressure

When students see every other student saying the password and complying with the teacher’s wishes it makes it easier for them to comply. Everyone seems to be doing it and it makes it seem natural. When students see others helping it makes them want to help too.

Why Passwords Work with Students #3:  Small Wins

The big goal of achieving fluency does not happen all at once. Passwords are a way of providing small and significant daily steps that take students down the road to proficiency.  The daily password interaction at the doorway is a celebration of small wins and those wins help students to accomplish the big goal.  The win is knowing they got the password right. When they do, they get a nod of approval, a slight smile, an eyebrow lift, or a shared knowing look as they enter the classroom.

A problem with the daily grind of school is that we can all get stuck on autopilot. Students and teachers alike walk through their assigned roles. A short interaction like the password before class starts disrupts that.  The password greeting is social and it is not graded; it is a different experience, an added dimension. It is not class work. It feels real.

The daily interaction creates a success habit. It begins a positive reinforcing cycle. They become accustomed to progressing in the language, even addicted to the positive interaction–I know I do. It makes them want to continue.

More Reasons Passwords Work:

• Joyful Interaction. This password interaction at the classroom door is not a chore. It is not just another thing we have to do. We are having fun. We are engaging students. If you find it tedious, I suggest you do not do it.

• Small Steps. Each successful password is a tiny achievement on the way to a bigger goal: Fluency.

• Instant Reward. When student get the password right they get to enter the classroom. They also get a look of gratitude and acknowledgement from me.

• Low Pressure. Even if they do not remember the password or say it wrong, the pain of failure is light. They just step to the side and listen until they get it.

• Progress. Students can see themselves getting better at the password each day of the week. They can also see themselves getting better at remembering passwords in general as the school year progresses.

• Long-Term Perspective. Students realize they are not fluent yet but they can imagine themselves using some of the password expressions in real interactions with native speakers.

• It is Concrete. Acquiring language in a comprehensible-input based classroom can be abstract. The acquisition is subconscious and does not seem difficult. It seems as if they have always known the expressions we are using in class. They do not have a list of verb conjugations to check off or a list of vocabulary to memorize each week. The password gives them something to mark off as definitely having learned.

The Feeling of a Password

The feelings that requiring a password generates will depend on the class and teacher. For some the password checker is more like a “bouncer” at an exclusive club, for others the role is more like a “greeter”. If you read body language and practice the 15/5 rule, the feeling will shift to that of a greeter.


Here is a concern  about requiring a password from an early career teacher:

“What do I do when administrators are critical of the password and other great but different routines? I have your articles, but they just don’t listen to me because I am young and new and do these things no one else does! I can explain the benefits, but can’t give research quotes like you can.”

Administrators are understandably wary of new teachers implementing practices that no one else is doing.

The long term solution is to develop an image of yourself with your principal based on trust and competence. So many teachers go to principals only to whine and complain. Administrators are often besieged on all sides by misbehaving students, complaining teachers, new state mandates, insufficient budgets and dissatisfied parents. It is easy to see why they would be skittish of new practices.

A cure for this is to become a problem solver. Try to have a solution in mind for every problem you bring up with your administrators. That way you will eventually be seen as someone that is making their lives easier, not harder. You will be a breath of fresh air rather than a dark cloud.

As Teddy Roosevelt reportedly put it: “Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.”

Short term, you will need to reason with them and explain your case.

The use of a classroom password is such good practice that all teachers would be wise to use some version of it. Teachers that want to implement this idea should certainly be allowed to use it. There are benefits to both the teacher and the students. I would not hit them with research as much as I would appeal to their reason and experience with students. Here are some good reasons to use a password for students to enter the classroom each day:

1) The Teacher’s Responsibilities. Teachers should greet their students in the hall because in the eyes of the law they are responsible for what happens in their classrooms as well what happens just outside of their classrooms. Being in the doorway covers both. This is good practice even if most teachers do not do it.

2) Connection with Students. Requiring a password assures contact with every single student. The teacher looks them in the eye and acknowledges each student. Even though that kind of personal contact should happen every day, in practice it may not happen unless some kind of contact like this is planned and implemented.

3) Preemptive Classroom Management. The individualized connection allows teachers to observe the moods of students as they enter the classroom. Students that are angry, upset or troubled in some way can be comforted or directed appropriately before the class even begins. With this emotional information the teacher can adjust plans on the fly to better conduct the class.

Password Guidelines:

The password is always in the target language. A good password can be:

  1. A useful idiomatic expression
  2. An authentic cultural expression
  3. A wise cultural saying
  4. Something that kids will enjoy. It can be fun, funny, zany, timely or just weird
  5. High frequency language (a plus, but not necessary)

Secret Word Cartoon


Thanks to Nina Barber for the cartoon!



“Say the secret word.”

“I don’t know it.”

“Correct, come on in.”



Password Tips:

• ALTERNATE PASSWORD DIFFICULTY.  It can be helpful to alternate a longer password with a shorter one. this can help slower students from getting burnt out on passwords. If it is always difficult for them, they may just give up and not even try to remember the password.

• KEEP IT FUN.  The password should be fun, not a chore. Your attitude and body language will determine which one it becomes.

Keep it light and playful by having a lilt in your voice and a sparkle in your eye as you greet students at the door. this is not just one more damn thing we all have to do. It is an opportunity to play.

• HAVE THEM WRITE IT DOWN.  Students often trick themselves into thinking that they will remember a password. Some kids can actually focus on the password and memorize it with the first exposure, but most can’t. Allow an honorable way out to those with less than great memories by having all students write down the password in a special place in their notebooks. If you require them to write it down more students will have a shot at remembering it.

• EXTEND THE LEARNING. Use password expressions in class as your talk with students and tell stories. Students will often do this spontaneously.

• DON’T FORCE IT. There will be some students that are enthusiastic about the password and some that are not.

• FOCUS ON DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF PASSWORDS. Sometimes during the school year student need encouragement or just reinforcement of certain positive attitudes. the password is a good way to do that. Some of the categories we have used are celebrations, kindness, team building/connecting with one another (awesome, me too, bummer!)

Here are some PASSWORDS* that have worked with my students:

* Many thanks to all of the teachers who have added password ideas and suggestions to make this activity better, particularly Alina Filipescu (California) and Nina Barber (Colorado).

There are English translations of each password idea and occasional commentary where explanations may be needed. Students are required to say only the Spanish phrase (not the English) to enter the classroom. Here are two overlapping  levels of passwords: for levels 1-2 and for levels 2-AP.


These first three passwords for lower level classes help to set the friendly and courteous tone we want students to display in our classrooms.

1  Muy amable / (That is) Very kind, nice, friendly (of you).    Alina Filipescu was using this gracious expression as her “palabra secreta” (secret word) the day I observed her and I love the feel of it. Scores of students with this phrase on their lips as they enter class sets a positive tone! This first password, with the emphasis on how common courtesy is expressed in Spanish-speaking countries, is the beginning of infusing elements of Hispanic culture into the curriculum and into the hearts and minds of our students. It also meshes nicely with the culture we are trying to develop in the class and with the class motto:

Work hard • Be polite • Play the game

2  Con permiso / With permission; Excuse me.   This is another classy expression of courtesy that works perfectly when the teacher is “absentmindedly”  blocking the doorway. Learning to use courtesies fluently is an important part of learning how to navigate in the culture. I ask students to say it authentically, as if they were really trying to get past me. To practice this I have them get up and mill around the classroom, asking “con permiso” to get past one another and saying “lo siento” (I’m sorry) when they bump into someone.

I respond with a natural, “Pase” (Come on in.) or “Si, por supuesto.” (Yes, of course)

Like the previous expression this one also supports the class motto

Work hard • Be polite • Play the game.

3  ¡A, E, I, O, U! El burro sabe más que tú. / A, E, I, O, U! The donkey knows moBurro Sabe Mas Que tu--Colorizedre than you.  This rude little ditty is used (good-naturedly, I’m sure) in Mexico to teach school children the vowel sounds of the Spanish alphabet. It can help second language learners too. Students enjoy it because it rhymes, it is an authentic school saying and because it is a bit ornery to say. It also helps to prepare them to hear words spelled out by the teacher in class. Even though this is a longer password, many students will be able to say it right off because of the rhyme and they like the mild insult.

4  ¡Claro que sí! / Of course!   This is a handy rejoinder.  I prompt it by asking each student ¿Listo/a? (Ready?) as they enter.  Students can respond with ¡Claro que sí! (Of course!) or with ¡Claro que no! (Of course not!).  This password is also a line that is repeated 10 times in a big book that I read to students early in the year to level 1 students for Kindergarten reading time called De la cabeza a los pies by Eric Carle (ISBN 0-15-315159-5). The book has interesting illustrations and contains much vocabulary that level 1 students can get early on. another I like reading to students early in the year also has this line: ¿Quieres jugar? by Marilee Robin Burton (ISBN 0-7578-1672-X).

  Mil gracias. / A thousand thanks.   This is classy way of saying “Thank you very much”; much more so than a mere muchas gracias. The Moors, Arabic-speaking people from what today is Morocco, invaded Spain in the year 711. They ruled much of Spain for over 700 years and were not removed from power completely until 1492. This expression reflects the influence of Moorish/Arabic culture that still remains in the Spanish language and culture 500 years after the Reconquista (Reconquest) of Spain. The Moors lost the last vestige of control in Spain then, but many cultural remnants can still be seen and heard in Spanish culture. This over-the-top expression of thanks is one of them.

“Alf sukr” or “Alf shukr”  ألف شكر  (a thousand thanks) is still used as a polite expression in modern Arabic.

This is another politeness reminder. The guidelines on all classroom participation materials are:

Work hard • Be polite • Play the game.

We are still building a classroom culture of respect and courtesy. Students need training and reinforcement in these norms and occasional passwords like this one help to keep that behavior front and center.

This expression is also a boost for the teacher. Teaching can be a thankless job and most of us appreciate expressions of gratitude from our students. I feel like kids are personally thanking me in the most gracious way they can when they say this over and over all day, and it gives me a boost.

6  ¿Qué pasa?  or  ¿Qué pasó? / What’s happening?   Students need to know basic greetings like this one. The password is to ask me this and I will obviously respond with “nada” (nothing) or “nada mucho” (nothing much), the only acceptable answers if you are cool.

¿Qué pasó? is a bit cooler question to ask, and that is acceptable too.

It feels good to have 30 kids saying “¿Qué pasa?” as they enter class every class period. We all feel cool and accepted when we say this to one another.

I teach them that saying “¿Qué pasa?” can also mean “What’s wrong?” if said tenderly. It also means“What happens (next)?” when we are talking about a story. Students can say it in any tone they wish as they enter.

Students may also say the slang expression “¿Qué pasa, calabaza?” (“What’s happening, pumpkin?”), to which I will reply with the traditional: Nada, nada, limonada.” (Nothing, nothing, lemonade)

7  No puedo… todavía. / I can’t… yet.  This saying supports a growth mindset described in the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, specifically the power of “Not yet.” Students with a fixed mindset are brittle when faced with adversity. When they are confronted with an error or a weakness, they shut down. We want students to develop a growth mindset, the idea that our abilities are not fixed, that they can be developed. We all are certain to fail at some time, but the trick is to engage our errors, to process them and to correct them.

The word “yet” is filled with hope. This expression not only helps to support the first person use of a common verb, it is hopeful–the speakers acknowledge that they are not able to do something now, but they expect that they will in the future. Saying “yet” makes us all stand up a bit straighter. It gives students permission to fail now so that they can succeed later.

Interestingly, as students begin to internalize this expression they start to say phrases with more meaning (in the TL, of course), such as, “I don’t know… yet.” or “I don’t understand… yet.”

Those are even better because they are meaningful than the abstract and incomplete “I can’t…”

8  ¡Trabaja fuerte! / Work hard!   This is another reinforcement of our class motto:

Work hard • Be polite • Play the game

Credit for this expression goes to Japanese teacher Betsy Paskvan, of Anchorage, Alaska. Betsy says that mothers in Japan do not say “Good luck!” to their children. Instead they tell them, “Work hard!” as they leave for school or some activity. I love this password because how hard we work is under our control, but “luck” is not. The expression is not a cultural one, but it is a good life lesson. We need to reinforce the idea that students have a certain degree of control in their lives. They do not have to depend on luck. They are not always at the mercy of forces beyond their control. They can work hard and influence their own destiny.

The feeling of having class after class say this as they enter is also inspiring for the teacher. It is what I imagine a Roman centurion must have felt before battle when his troops passed by him proclaiming, “Strength and honor!”  (See the 2000 movie Gladiator with Russel Crowe).  Hearing “trabaja fuerte”  inspires me to work harder.

When students need to leave class for a sporting event, debate, or some other competition, we no longer say ¡Buena suerte!” (Good luck!) but “¡Trabaja fuerte!

9  ¡Qué triste! / How sad!   This is a rejoinder that is fun for kids to say in stories or as we react to personal interviews.

10  ¡Órale! / An interjection with many meanings in Mexican culture     This multipurpose slang exclamation can express approval, encouragement or exhortation as well as discomfort or surprise. It is heard mainly in Mexico, but is also used in adjoining countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Using this Swiss army knife of Mexican expressions is another way of infusing the classroom with authentic culture.

The root of  ¡Órale! is the word ahora (now), with the ending -le, which gives it more intensity, as in the expressions Ándale (Go ahead; Get going), ¿Quihúbole? (What’s up?) and Híjole (Son of a …).

Here are just some of the expressions that ¡Órale! can be used to replace in Spanish. It depends on the context and how you say it. Using all of these examples as passwords would take the rest of the school year, but it might be fun to show them to students as examples of how ¡Órale! is used.

The meaning of ¡Órale! depends on the tone and the context with which it is used. ¡Órale! can replace these sayings in Spanish:


Estoy de acuerdo.     I agree with you.              

   Yeah, Yes

Claro     Sure                                       

Claro que sí     Of course

¡Por supuesto!     You bet!  Of course!

Bien hecho.   Well done.                 

Bien.   OK (can be neutral, good or bad–depending on tone)   

¡Qué bien!     That’s great!

¡Qué padre!    How cool!                                                 

¡Qué chévere!    How cool! 

¡Qué suave!    How cool! 

¡Eso!    Right on!  

Me parece bien.     Sounds good.   


Adelante.    Go ahead.  

Vámonos.   Let’s go. Come on!                                   

 ¡Apúrate!    Hurry up!

¡Hazlo ahora!    Do it now!                                                         


¡No me digas!    You don’t say!    

¡Caramba!     Wow! (positive or negative) 

¡Me estás tomando el pelo!     You’re kidding!      

¡Qué  increíble!     That’s amazing!  How incredible!          


¿Qué pasa?     What’s up?  What’s happening?

¿Cómo estás?     How are you?

Hola     Hello


¡Ay!     Yikes!    Ouch!

¡Cuidado!     Watch it!

¡Oye!   Hey!  (to get some one’s attention)           

¡Órale! can also be used to get across the meaning and feeling of these English expressions:

What the heck?    

Let’s do it!     

I’m flabbergasted!    


Rock on! 

Right on!    

Hell yeah!    



Bring it on!      

Well, there you go!


Oh my goodness!   



The elastic meaning of ¡Órale! all depends on the situation, your body language, your tone of voice and how others around you tend to use the expression.

The word ¡Órale! is often used with the word “pues(then): So ¡Órale, pues! is almost like saying, “Well, alrighty then!”

Here it is used as a snack food brand name:


11  ¿Cómo está usted? / How are you? (formal)  Students will acquire what they hear. If they mainly hear ¿Cómo estás?, that is the form they will use when they talk to everyone, which is not appropriate in Spanish-speaking culture. Using “¿Cómo está Ud.? reinforces the idea of formal vs. familiar register for students. It is courteous and it is good practice for them to hear their classmates saying this to an older person/authority/non-peer as they enter the class.

12  ¿Me puede ayudar? / Can you help me?  Students need to know how to ask for help politely.

13  ¿Se puede? / May I?  (Literally May one?)  Students cannot hear and use forms of poder too much. This is another handy courtesy expression.  It is used to ask permission politely in Spanish, like “May I…?”  Using idiomatic expressions like this gets kids accustomed to the idea that there is sometimes no direct translation of a phrase; they have to acquire the usage and feel of it. Having well over a hundred students ask this elegant expression can give the teacher a much-needed lift. They have to say it as a question to demonstrate that they know what it means. The teacher can answer with a myriad of expression, as long as they are comprehensible to the students:  Claro.  Por supuesto.  Sí, se puede.  Pase.  Andale.  Órale.  Entre.

14  ¡Sí, se puede! / Yes, you can!  This is a natural response to the previous question that gives students more repetitions with the verb poder (to be able).  It is also common saying of encouragement in Spanish. It literally means Yes, one can. It can also mean: Yes, we can! or You can do it! Hearing kids say this as they stream in to class all day is mutually encouraging for both students and teachers.

This expression was adopted as the motto of the United Farm Workers in 1974 and has been used by politicians ever since to connect with and woo Spanish-speaking voters.

15  Mi casa es tu casa. / My house is your house.  This expression is something like saying “Make yourself at home” in English. It is a polite phrase in Spanish culture that is used when somebody visits for the first time. This is classy way of welcoming in Spanish culture and shows classic over-the-top Spanish generosity. It helps to communicate a feel for Hispanic culture as well as the courteous feeling that we want students to develop in our classrooms. It is also expressed as Aquí tienes tu casa.” (Here you have your house).

The roots of this expression are double in Mexico. According to the memoirs of Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492 – 1580), a Spanish conquistador that recorded the history of the conquest of Mexico, when Cortez arrived in the palace of Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor said to him, “This is your house,” believing him to be Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god who was prophesied to return to claim the throne. The phrase was also used during the period of Moorish rule in Spain and it is characteristic of traditional Arab hospitality.

16   ¡Chao, pescao bacalao! / Goodbye, cod fish!   This is a fun expression from Venezuela that is used like “After while, crocodile.” The word pescao is slang for pescado (fish), and bacalao is cod. I like the subtle reinforcement of word order with nouns and adjectives in this saying. The word chao has a classy European ring to it that kids like too.

Almost every student gets this one on the first day because it is fun to say and it rhymes. Those that don’t instantly remember it can be reminded with a greeting of “¡Chao!” from the teacher.  This password is ideal for the end of the semester or the school year. The idea comes from Alina Filipescu.

End of First Semester

17   ¿Mande? / I beg your pardon?   This is a polite and classy way of saying “What?” when you do not understand someone. It is often heard in Mexico. This is another expression that smuggles in cultural attitudes along with the language. This saying is a component of the “Well, Excuse Me!” lesson at the end of this list. Since doing this password, students in one class now call it “Mande Monday” and use the expression ¿Mande? whenever possible all period long on Mondays.

18   Me despierto a las… / I wake up at…    The expression “se despierta” (she wakes up at) is in a book that students are reading at this time of the year (Pobre Ana). It does not show up much elsewhere and students need to get some repetitions with it. If they forget, give them the prompt: “¿A qué hora te despiertas?”  (At what time do you get up?)  This quick exchange, heard over and over by students in line, helps them to acquire it. It can also help students with numbers. What I like the best though is the opportunity for casual banter when students say they get up either very early or very late. Quick conversations in the TL like these are common: What? You get up at 4:30? Why?” or “What? You get up at 7:10 and school starts at 7:30? How do you do that?”

19  ¡Tengo hambre! / I’m hungry!  To which I usually respond, “Yo también” (Me too). Kids love acting out this one dramatically by holding their stomachs and making pitiable expressions on their faces.  Adolescents are almost always hungry so they love whispering this to one another in class. And it doesn’t hurt for them to hear the word “también” (too, also) over and over in order to help prevent the bane of Spanish teachers, the dreaded “Mi dos” (my two) for “Yo también” (me too).

20   ¿Qué tal? / How are you?   What’s up?   How are things?   This is a common informal greeting that students should become familiar with. It is usually answered with something like “Muy bien” or “Bien, gracias. Y tú, ¿qué tal? Passwords like this one are so short that even clueless students can pick them up by overhearing their classmates, so I always answer appropriately with “Bien” and occasionally check to be sure students know what it means.

21   ¿Qué hora es? / What time is it?   Students enthusiastically suggested this because we showed the clip of the fake Spanish soap opera by the same name. Find it here:

22  Voy y vuelvo. I am going and I return, I go and I come back. Used like the English expression: I’ll be right back or I’ll be back.  This is a very handy expression to know. It is quick and to the point. It is much faster than explaining where you are going and when you expect to return. It also uses the first person form of two high frequency verbs.

23  Se me fue. / It left me.  It means something like: I just forgot it”, “I forget”, or “I totally forgot what I was going to say.”  I like passwords like this one because they are authentic language that are common and useful, but may not translate smoothly.  I explain that fue = it went,  se fue = it went away & se me fue = it went away from me.


EMPHASIS ON KINDNESS: In the middle of second semester energy can run low. Students are tired, winter is dragging on and kids may not be as friendly to one another as we would like. These next few passwords have a streak of kindness in them to counteract that and to help reset their brains for care and concern as they enter the classroom.

24  ¡Que le vaya bien! / (I hope) That to you it may go well! or  Hope everything goes well!   This expression is very common in Mexico and is used like sayings, “Have a nice day!” or “Break a leg!” in American English. Even though it is actually a leave-taking expression, I coach students to say it to me with sincerity as they enter the classroom. I am convinced it is the emotion that anchors phrases in our memories.

If some students are curious about the grammar, tell them that there is no accent mark needed on the word que because this phrase is a shortened version of “Espero que le vaya bien.”  The word que, although it appears at the beginning of the phrase, does not mean “How…” as in other rejoinders like “¡Qué chévere!” or “¡Qué loco!”  In this expression que means that rather than how, and so it requires no accent mark.

We also need to explain that this is a formal well-wishing expression. It is appropriate to use with teachers, bosses, other superiors or those we do not know well. For friends or people of the same age students would use  ¡Que te vaya bien!

25  ¿Estás bien?Are you OK?  This is a kind expression and one that we want to be sure students know. Are we modelling care and concern for one another? We probably do not say things like this enough in school. Tell them that you would like to hear them say it to one another more often.

26   ¡Eso sí qué es! / That’s exactly right!  or  That is what it is! (Literally: That yes what it is) This one is fun to say because it sounds like you are spelling out the word “socks” in English: S-O-C-K-S. Students can barely believe that simple spelling in English can produce a phrase in Spanish that is pronounced almost perfectly.

I like responding to this expression with ¡Eso! or ¡Perfecto!

If you set it up right, this expression can become a bilingual pun. See the lesson plans for a story about misunderstanding this expression here.

Another helpful expression to use beforehand to help students understand the pun quickly is: ¡Eso es! / That’s it! or That’s right!

27   ¡Qué padre!How cool!  Literally this means How father!, but it is a common expression among Mexican teens to express admiration and approval.

28  ¡Que tengas un buen día!Have a nice day!

29  De nada. It’s nothing, You’re welcome. Students may not have heard this reply to gracias enough. I also like to hear them say Mi placer My pleasure, or El gusto es mío The pleasure is mine, like the kids that work at Chick-fil-A do. Rather than depreciating their gesture by implying that it was no big deal and need not be acknowledged, this emphasizes that they are happy to help.


30  ¿Qué es esto? What is this?  This is an important question for novice language learners to know. A perceptive friend who had traveled extensively told me that this is one  of the first expressions he tries to learn when he is dealing with a new language. It is also helpful for them to learn:   ¿Qué es eso?  / What is that?

31  Quizás / Maybe   Kids like this expression because it sounds naughty. I tell them that I am not responsible if they say it to someone that does not speak Spanish and they get in trouble. Dad: “Son, will you take the trash out?”  Son:  “Quizás”

Pájaro es la palabra. / Bird is the word.  This is just for fun. If students are not familiar with this nutty song from the animated television show Family Guy (originally The Surfin Bird / Bird is the Word by The Trashmen in 1963) then it may fall flat. In that case go with this rhyming backup expression: Chupacabra es la palabra” which has a nice ring to it, is mysterious, and even somewhat cultural. If you decide on that route you can download a short novice level reading about the chupacabras here.

Ya tengo mi boleto. / I already have my ticket.    This is similar to an expression in a book that some of the students were reading. It turned out to be a fun password. I stood at the door saying “¿boleto?” (ticket?) like a slightly bored and irritated steward. Kids had to pretend to show a ticket to get into class and I pretended to punch their tickets. It was fun allowing them into class only with a ticket. And the symbolism works on another level: Knowing another language is the ticket to an expanded life.

Buenos días / Good morning

      Buenas tardes / Good afteernoon

These two greetings (depending on the time of day class starts) are included because, even late in the year, they have somehow slipped by a few students. We just do not use them often enough for some students to acquire them. It is also a pick-me-up to be greeted in a friendly way by so many students.

   Cuando quiero, puedo. / When I want to, I can.  I love this positive message. It reminds me of a quote by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” It also uses high frequency verbs and the “yo” form. It’s a win-win-win!  Thanks to Margarita Pérez García for this idea.
  Me cae bien. or  Me cae mal.  or  Me cae más o menos.  or  No me importa. / I get along with him/her. or  I don’t get along with him/her. or  I get along with him/her OK.  or  I don’t care.  The question students get from the teacher as they enter the classroom is ¿Cómo te cae ____?  How do you like ____?  and the name of a person.
I like using this me cae… expression because it feels authentic.
On the very first day using this password, when students are starting to get it, I like to give names of celebrities like Justin Bieber, Miley Sirus, Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Ashton Kutcher, Ariana Grande, Leonardo DeCaprio, Katy Perry, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, or Jaden Smith–the more outrageous the personality, the better, so as to engender more emotive responses. I give them a name that they will have an opinion about so that students can give a real, visceral answer rather than just some standardized reply.
I am not comfortable discussing politics or religion in class. It puts students on the spot too much and can stir up emotions that distract classroom conversations, so I do not give names of politicians or religious figures because that can be too polarizing and divisive–we do not need to inflame passions and factions.
This expression can also used with real people that they know. When most students get the hang of it (by the second day or so) you can start asking them about one another. But only do this if you know your students well and if they are operating as a cohesive unit. Be prudent. Do it in jest and be sure the student understands what is going on. Jokingly ask them about their best friend or someone that is standing right by them in line. Keep the tone light with your body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. Do not use this  “real people” technique with students that do not understand the light tone of it because someone may get hurt feelings.
A CRUCIAL NOTE: This expression is not for personal attacks. We do not ask this question about anyone that kids may actually not like. We do not ask it about anyone in the school or in the community that students may know personally and truly dislike, be they students, teachers, administrators, coaches or other school employees. We are a home team. We do not talk bad about our tribe.
This password idea above comes from Donna Gramm Rubio.
  ¡Hazlo!  ¡Solo hazlo! / Do it! Just do it!  This is not just the Nike slogan, it is from a viral motivational video by increasingly wacky Shia LaBeouf where he yells this phrase about 20 times. This video is so bad it is good and it actually is a positive message. The students enjoy hamming it up like Shia when they say it. Me too.
NOTE: This phrase worked before Shia LaBeouf became radicalized and started screaming in people’s face 24/7. It may not be so funny now in many communities. Use discretion.
Here is a fun a remix version to set the hook:
Here is the original video in English with Spanish subtitles to show them first:
Here it is in dubbed in Spanish:

¿En serio? / Seriously?   Ask students to use expressive body language to demonstrate understanding of the password as they say it. You can tell if they understand it by their body language and tone of voice as they say it. Students will surprise you with the different body language versions that they come up with for this.

¡Todavía eres chévere! / You are still cool!  This is what we say to someone in class that makes a mistake or tries but does not get it right quite. Very handy and encouraging. It also allows me to say “Tú también” (You too) back to students. Every kid gets to hear me say this to them and their classmates in line outside my door times every day that this is the password. The word “chévereis hard for some level I students to pronounce, so this expression last easily for a week or more until everyone gets it down pat.

¡Ayúdame! / Help me!  This is a useful phrase that I want students to know. It is handy to know what to yell out when you are in a pinch. Students can also use it in class often.

¿Qué te pasa, calabaza?  / What’s happening, pumpkin?  This is a fun greeting in Spanish because it rhymes. It doesn’t rhyme in English, but “See you later, alligator” gives an idea of the fun feeling of it.  For extra fun the teacher can answer with the traditional, “Nada, nada, limonada.”

No hay frase secreta. / There is not a secret phrase (password). This is a longer phrase but it uses words that students are familiar with. They are asked to whisper it when they enter like it is a BIG secret.

Así es la vida. / That’s life.

¡Vé te!Get out of here!  

¿Qué hay de nuevo? / What’s new?

¡Vaya con Dios! / Go with God!    This is a common goodbye expression in Spanish. Students may hear it in old western movies.

¡No te vayas! / Don’t go!

¡No te muevas! / Don’t move!

Te echo de menos. / I miss you.

Lo que sea. / Whatever.

No puedo ver.  /  I can’t see.

Me acuesto a las… / I go to bed at…   I stole this password from Alina Filipescu too. I gives some real insight into students’ lives and can start some short conversations with me as they enter the classroom: “What? You go to bed at midnight?! Every night? That is way too late, mijo.”

¡Déjame en paz! / Leave me alone!   This is a good expression to know when making one’s way through a crowded market or beach while being swarmed by vendors. It isi also a good way to include the verb dejar, a common verb that I never seem to use enough.


¡Qué chévere! / How cool!

¡Por supuesto! / Of course!

No tengo ni idea. / I have no idea.

No me importa. / I don’t care.

Cálmese, señor (señora). / Calm down, sir (mam).

No vale la pena / It’s not worth the pain/sorrow/trouble.   It’s not worth it.

¡No es justo! / It’s not fair!

Me duele… / My ____ hurts. (Students can add any body part they want here.)

¡Ánimo! / Cheer up!

¿Qué hubo? / What’s up?   (“What was there?”) Also, in a more slang way: ¿Quiúbole?

¿Aló? / Hello?  This is used to answer the phone.  It is not equivalent to Hola/Hello. In many Spanish-speaking countries they answer the phone with “Bueno” (Good) or “Dime” (Tell me).

¿Dónde has estado?  / Where have you been?  Sort of like “Long time, no see.”

¡Hace mucho frío! / It’s really cold!

No te creo. / I don’t believe you.

Engañoso(a) / Trickster, “Liar”   In Spanish calling someone a liar (mentiroso) is too harsh. When we say “liar” in English we usually just mean that someone is trying to trick us. We are not making an ugly judgement on their character.

¡Qué asco! / How gross!

Nos vemos / See you later. Literally “We see each other.” Used to say good-bye.

¡Feliz cumpleaños! / Happy birthday!
Con mucho cariño / With much love/affection/fondness  Used when writing an email or letter.
 ¿Cómo  se dice en inglés (español)?  / How do you say in English/Spanish?
 ¡Ten cuidado! / Be  careful!
 Besos y abrazos / Kisses and hugs   Used in writing at the end of a letter to a friend.
 En enero, abrigo, bufanda y sombrero / In January, coat, scarf and hat
¡Qué casualidad! / What a coincidence!

Estoy enamorado(a) de… / No estoy enamorado(a). / I am in love with… / I am not in love.  Students can say that they are or are not in love and it doesn’t have to be with a person. They can also say “Estoy enamorado(a) de comer/ dormir/ bailar/ etc.” (I am in love with eating/ sleeping/ dancing/ etc.)

Once students learn this saying, it will spontaneously and hilariously erupt in classroom comments and stories.

Most of my students (90% or more) say that they are NOT in love. I like to keep this in mind and downplay the Valentine’s Day madness that makes so many high school students feel awkward and unwanted. One way we do this with by having fun with this anti-Valentine’s Day activity:  Eres Tu Valentine’s Day Activity


These multiple ways of saying “Excuse me” in Spanish are all good possibilities for a password. 

The English term “excuse me” can be translated many different ways in Spanish, depending on what you mean.  All of these expressions may be helpful in a restaurant setting.  Each one could be translated with the same expression in English, but there are subtle differences in Spanish. Here are some “excuse me” phrases to ask pardon from minor to greater offenses.

¿Cómo?           When you do not understand or cannot hear what someone said clearly and you would like the other person to repeat.  It is equivalent to “What?” or even Huh?” and not considered as polite as the next expression.

¿Mande?          This is a more polite expression to use when you do understand what some one has said—sort of like “I beg your pardon” in English. It is common in Mexico. In some Spanish speaking countries, this phrase is considered over-the-top polite, but many Mexicans relish being proper and courteous, so you will often hear it there.

Disculpe.          This is used to get attention from a clerk or waiter. Sort of like “I beg your pardon” but not “forgive me” as if you have done something wrong.

Con permiso. “With permission.”  This is “excuse me” used as an expression of courtesy that is said when someone wants to get by someone or pass through a group of people.  Use it when you have not yet done something wrong, but do not want to accidentally bump into someone.  Often shortened to simply Permiso. This term is also used to excuse oneself from a meal, or to gently ask permission upon entering a room with a closed door.

Lo siento.         This is a general “excuse me” in the sense of “I’m sorry.”  It comes from the verb sentir (to feel), and literally means, “I feel it.”  Use this one when you have committed a minor wrong, like coming late to a class.  A silly mnemonic trick to remember this is thinking that when you are sorry you feel bad or low, so think, “I feel low; so low I see into your toe.”  “Low see in toe”, sounds something like Lo siento.

Perdón.            This is a multi-purpose expression.  Use it to ask for forgiveness after you have made a mistake and want to apologize—like lightly bumping into someone or interrupting a conversation.  Also Perdóname.

Discúlpeme.          Forgive me.” Use this expression when you realize you have done something very wrong—like bumping into someone forcefully and causing them to drop something.  From the verb disculpar, which is related to the English words culpable and culprit, so Discúlpeme is something like “make me not culpable” or “make me not guilty.” It is Discúlpame in the form.



Expressions in orange are negative tú form commands or phrases that require a subjunctive–grammatical forms that students are being exposed to more and more throughout upper level courses. Using these different language moods in passwords adds another layer of meaningful context.

Expressions in purple with a  ♦  are Spanish cultural sayings. They offer glimpses into Spanish history, culture and society while giving students bits of useful folk wisdom and language acquisition all at the same time!

Expressions in green with a  ♥  are famous, useful or interesting sayings by famous Spanish speakers.

Expressions in blue are fun, useful, and/or idiomatic expressions.


1  ¡No me digas! / You don’t say! or Don’t tell me that!  This is a handy expression and one that gives students a negative tú form command, which has the same sound as the subjunctive.

 “Poco a poco se va lejos.” ♦  / “Little by little one goes far.”  This is an authentic Spanish dicho (folk saying) that is similar in meaning to the English proverb: Slow and steady wins the race. This saying will help to prepare students to read stories like The Tortoise and The Hare, which has a crucial Mindset lesson for students: We need to persevere when we do not have instant success.

Our students need to know that you can get better with effort. Many do not believe this. They think that some people are just naturally talented or smart and that is the end of it. If they do not have instant success they give up. They think that they are victims of their genetics and upbringing. We can help students see that it is possible to change your life for the better; that you are not a prisoner to your environment, your parenting or your genes. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, after 30 years of psychological research, shows that it is possible and how to do it in the book Mindset.

Teacher prompt¿Nombre y apellido?  First and last name?  Student response: Spell out both first and last names in Spanish.  The question is said in a monotone voice like that of a bored customs agent. Students will need to understand questions like this and may well need to be able to spell their names from time to time when they are traveling as they deal with customs officials, bankers or the police.

Teacher prompt: ¿Fecha de nacimiento?/Date of birth? Student response:  Nací  el (#) de  (mes) de (año) / I was born the (#) of  (month) of (year).  I give students the prompt  in the monotone voice of a customs officer at an overcrowded border crossing to get them accustomed to this official-sounding language and tone that they will hear when traveling. It also helps to review the date and numbers.

5  ¡Ojalá que sí! / I hope so!    Ojalá is a phrase in Spanish that comes from Arabic. Originally it meant “If Allah is willing” but few Spanish speakers think of it like that even though is used often in the Spanish-speaking world. Many students are not aware of this phrase or how it is used. Students may also substitute ¡Ojalá que no! / I hope not!  

This expression will set up a password usage with the subjunctive later. It also supports the idea of Moorish Spain inherent in the following expression:

♦ “No se ganó Zamora en una hora.” ♦  / Zamora was not won in an hour.  Similar in English: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  This authentic proverb expresses the idea that worthwhile things take time in a short, elegant, historical and rhyming ditty.

You can say something like this to students to explain the proverb:  

En el año mil setenta y dos (1072) el rey Sancho II de Castilla (Sancho el Bravo) trató de conquistar la ciudad de Zamora en el noroeste de España. Había muchas batallas enfrente de la ciudad durante siete meses. Sancho era el rey de Castilla. No era el rey de España porque el país de España ya no existía hasta el año 1492. Al final, el ejército de Sancho se ganó Zamora, pero trágicamente el rey se murió antes de la victoria final.

In the year 1072 king Sancho the second of Castile (Sancho the Brave) tried to conquer the city of Zamora in the northwest of Spain. There were many battles in front of the ciudad for seven months. Sancho was the king of Castile. He was not the king of Spain because the country of Spain did not exist until the year 1492. In the end, Sancho’s army won Zamora, but tragically the king died before the final victory.

Afterwards give a short oral comprehension check.

I ask these questions for the daily five question warm up (el repasito) the next day:

  1. ¿Qué es Zamora?
  2. ¿Dónde está?
  3. ¿Cuánto tiempo se necesitaba para ganarla?
  4. ¿Cómo se llamaba el rey?
  5. ¿Qué era el apodo/sobrenombre del rey?

These questions were asked for the warm up the next day:

  1. ¿En cuál año se ganó Zamora?
  2. ¿Era Sancho el rey de España?
  3. ¿Por qué era imposible que él fuera el rey de España después de ganar Zamora?
  4. ¿Por qué no fue una victoria completa cuando por fin se la ganó?
  5. ¿En cuál año se formó el país moderno de España?

¡Se me olvidó! / I forgot!   Literally this expression means “It forgot me.” The usage of the verb is similar to gustar.

Se me fue. / It left me.  This is very similar to the previous one in both sound and meaning. It is used like the English expressions: “I just forgot”  or “I just totally forgot what I was going to say.” This one comes from Grant Boulanger. Passwords like this one are precious because they use authentic language that does not translate smoothly. I liked this one so much we used it lower levels and upper levels, but during different weeks. Upper levels all got it quickly, so we moved on to another password in just a couple of days, rather than the normal 4-5 days.

9  Ojalá que… / I hope that…    This plays off of the earlier ¡Ojalá que sí! (I hope so!) password, but offers students a chance to use the subjunctive in a personalized way. Each student can say something unique and express their hopes. “I hope that there is no homework” is always a popular one.

You might want to save this one for the right time to have more of an emotional impact. If one of your school’s sports teams is going to a playoff game there will be a lot of hoping going on that week, as in,  “I hope that we win,” or “I hope that ___ plays well.”

10  No creo que… / I don’t believe that…   This expression provides another opportunity for students to express themselves with the subjunctive, to hear it over and over in line and for me to respond in kind to each student. It provides all kinds of meaningful repetitions. This one is a bit harder than the expression from last week (imagining a negative, as opposed to a positive, situation), but it fit because it was the week before final exams, so many students were incredulous at the semester being over, Christmas being around the corner, their grades in some classes and many other issues.

11  ♦ “A quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.” ♦  / He who gets up early, God helps him.  Similar in English: “The early bird gets the worm.” or “God helps those that help themselves.”  or “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealth and wise.”

la madrugada = entre la medianoche y el amanecer (between midnight and dawn)  This word is sometimes translated as “dawn” but in Spanish it carries the connotation of a even earlier time in the morning–the wee hours well before daybreak, like when the milkman and the donut maker get to work.

madrugar = levantarse muy temprano, antes del amanecer (to get up very early, before dawn).

12  ♦ “Más vale tarde que nunca.” ♦  / More valuable late than never.  Similar in English: “Better late than never.”

13   ♦ “Del dicho al hecho, hay gran trecho.” ♦ / From [what is] said to [what is] done, there is a great stretch (distance).  Similar in English: “Easier said than done.” or “Actions speak louder than words.”


   ♦ ¡Dicho y hecho! ♦   / Said and done!   Similar in meaning to the English phrase: “No sooner said than done.” It is said of something that the speaker intends to accomplish right away. On the grammatical level, both of the key words in this phrase are irregular past participles. It can be helpful for students to hear them used in context because these particular forms are not high frequency and do not appear often, even though the infinitives are considered high frequency verbs.

14   ♦ “Hablando del rey de Roma, y por la puerta asoma.” ♦ / Speaking of the king of Rome, and through the door he appears/shows up/peeps.  Equivalent in English: “Speak of the devil, and he appears.” In Spanish this phrase is often shortened (as it is in English) to:  “Hablando del rey de Roma…” / “Speak of the devil!”

Spain had a long history with the Roman Empire. The Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) was divided into three Roman provinces and for more than 500 years Spain was part of the empire. It was bound together by Roman law, language, commerce and the imperial military presence. The outrageously wealthy Roman senator and Stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC – AD 65) was from Spain. Three Roman emperors were also from the Iberian peninsula: Trajan (r. AD 98–117), Hadrian (r. AD 117–138), and Marcus Aurelius (r. AD 161–180). With all of this influence and presence, saying anything negative about the “king of Rome” (the emperor) would have had serious consequences in ancient Spain. This cultural memory has lasted and the expression has endured along with it.

To me, this folk saying is friendlier and more literate in Spanish than the equivalent in English.

15   ♦  “Zapatero, a tus zapatos.”  ♦  / “Shoemaker, to your shoes.”  There are two possible interpretations for this expression: “Stay with what you know best” and “Mind your own business.” The first is a wise and gentle reminder, the second is a bit of an insult. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference except in context and tone of voice.

16    ♦  “El tiempo es oro.”  ♦ / “Time is gold.”    Similar in English: “Time is money.”  Time is very valuable, so you shouldn’t waste it.

17    ♦  “Poderoso caballero es Don Dinero.”  ♦  / “Mr. Money is a powerful gentleman.”  Similar in English: “Money talks,”  “He who has the gold makes the rules,” or even “Show me the money,”   “Follow the money,” or “Cash is King.”  Students may know the term don from Don Quijote, Don Juan and perhaps Don Dionís (after reading a simplified version of Becquer’s La Corza Blanca). Be sure to remind them the female equivalent is doña.

Francisco de Quevedo

This saying comes from a recurring line in the poem Don Dinero by the Spanish Baroque poet Francisco de Quevedo (1580 – 1645). This is one of Quevedo’s most well known works and it has been included in anthologies of the best Spanish poetry for hundreds of years. The poem is a satire on the corrupting power of money and is filled with subtlety, word play and brilliant contradictions.  Students deserve a taste of it. You can read the entire original poem here, or here. There are also many versions on YouTube where you can hear the poem read in Spanish with flourish by a native speaker. Read an overview in English of the poem here

18       ♦  “Cuando yo tenía dinero, me llamaban Don Tomás.

           Ahora que no lo tengo, me llaman Tomás, no más.” ♦ 

         When I had money, they used to call me Don Thomas.

         Now that I don’t have it, they call me Thomas, nothing more.

Meaning: People may give you a certain amount of respect when you are rich, but that kind of respect is likely to disappear when you become poor again.

This is more poetry about the power of money, this time from the Hispanic community in the southwest USA. It is a bit too long for each student to say it as an individual password, so I had some students say it together in groups when they came to the door instead of individually when we were pressed for time.

19  ¡Cuánto me alegro! /  I am so glad!  That makes me so happy!  It is such a pleasure! (Literally: How much I am happy!)  Having students enter the class with such a cheerful expression on their lips can give the teacher a boost. 

20  ♥  “Los ordenadores son inútiles. Solo pueden darnos respuestas” ♥    “Computers are useless. They can only give us answers.”Pablo Picasso, artista español (1881-1973)  This is the first quote on the list by a famous Spanish speaker. As sophisticated as they may be, computers still are not able to ask the best questions. They can merely give us answers. This quote is not an anti-technology saying. It is a warning to remember the importance of imagination. Imagination is the most important thing in our thought life. Mere answers demonstrate the lowest form of thinking. Answers are often nothing more than recalling information. Citizens in our complex world need to understand issues well enough to formulate the insightful questions that will lead to new and unexpected

This quote is similar to that of another transformative 20th century thinker, Albert Einstein, who said, “Information is not knowledge.” I suspect that we are still confusing the two.

According to the New Bloom’s Taxonomy there are several levels of thinking. The lowest level is mere memorization:

1) Remembering

2) Understanding

3) Applying

4) Analyzing

5) Evaluating

6) Designing

We need to prepare learning experiences for our students that get them to use all levels of thinking as well as pushing them to use experience, context and wisdom in developing deep understanding of subjects.

Despite the advantages of modern electronic communication, we may be more stuck in the low level memorization mode even more than in Picasso’s day back at the dawn of the computer age. Google can give you an answer. We need to model, teach, train and expect students to use higher level thinking skills so that they can come up with good questions–and not just give us answers.

Read more about using the New Bloom’s Taxonomy and World Language Teaching here.

21   ¡No te vayas! / Don’t go!   Another negative command that gives students the feeling of the subjunctive in both the sound and meaning.  This is an important short saying to know and recognize. It is useful for letting people know that you will really miss them. When I was first learning Spanish I didn’t know what it meant. I missed some deep emotional moments when it was said to me. Be sure they know the formal form too: ¡No se vaya!

22   ♦  “En boca cerrada no entran moscas.” ♦  / “In a closed mouth flies do not enter.”  Sometimes you are better off keeping your mouth shut. If you do not, you should be prepared to face the consequences–and they are usually not pleasant. There is not a saying that is exactly equivalent in English, but there are plenty about keeping one’s mouth shut in every language.

23  ¡No me molestes! / Don’t bother me!  Quit bugging me!  Let students know right away that this expression has nothing to do with the way the word “molest” is used in English because it sounds naughty to English speakers. Knowing how to say this can be useful in getting rid of unwanted street vendors or ardent suitors. Use it when a simple “No gracias” doesn’t work.

Follow Up Passwords/Alternatives:  

me molesta./ …bothers me.     

Me molestan…/…(more than one thing) bother me.      

Me molesta cuando…/It bothers me when… 

One or all of these expressions can be used as a password to follow up to “No me molestes“. They can review this expression and let students express how they feel in a fun way.

24  ♦  “Si al comienzo no muestras quién eres, nunca podrás después cuando quisieres.”  / “If at the first you do not show who you are, you will never be able to afterwards when you want to.”  The saying is similar to the English expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

This quote comes from a classic story in Spanish culture: El Conde Lucanor, Cuento XXXV: Lo que sucedió a un mancebo que casó con una muchacha muy rebelde (Count Lucanor, Story 35: What Happened to a Young Man that Married a Very Rebellious Girl), by Don Juan Manuel (1282-1348).

Don Juan Manuel was perhaps the most important author of 14th century Spain. His most famous works are his 50 “Conde Lucanor” peasant stories, including this one, written in 1335. Although wedding customs have changed considerably, Cuento XXXV has had sticking power over the centuries and still resonates with readers today. The quote above is the last line and the moral of the tale. Read the original story here.

Even from the first day that students are required to use this password, I do not allow them to read. They can glance at their phones or notes, but I expect them to be saying most of it from memory. Even with longer quotes like this one they can do it. They get a feeling of accomplishment from doing something difficult like this.

Teachers would do well to internalize the message in Don Juan Manuel’s story. We can condition students if we start early. We have the opportunity at the beginning of the year to establish our standards. If we wait, it will be impossible to get them to respect our way of doing things.

I also like this password for linguistic reasons. It contains several high frequency function words: si, al, no, quien, nunca, después, and cuando–seven of the 100 most frequent function words, not bad for one saying. It also contains three different verb forms: muestraseres (present indicative), podrás (future indicative), and quisieres (future subjunctive version of querer). In modern Spanish quisieres is usually replaced by quieras.

25   ¡Auxilio!  Help!   There are many ways to ask for help in Spanish. Students need to know this one and not just “Necesito ayuda” or  “¡Ayúdame!”  ¡Auxilio! has an older ring to it, but it is still a useful expression.

“¡Socorro!” is another useful expression that can be combined with it.

A benefit of using this expression is showing students another way to pronounce the letter X in Spanish. X is an unusual letter in that it can be pronounced many ways and they need to be aware of this.

Most students will quickly make the connection between auxilio and the English word auxiliary, as in “auxiliary gym” or “auxiliary power”.

A fun way to play with this one is to respond to the level of emotion that kids use when they say it with “Te creo” (I believe you.), “No te creo” or “Te creo un poco.”

26     “El éxito y el fracaso son dos impostores.” ♥    “Success and failure are two impostors.”  —Jorge Luis Borges, autor y poeta argentino (1899-1986).  This saying has a ring of the classical Stoicism of Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius & of the medieval genius Boethius to it. It is an attitude that our students would do well to pick up. “Good luck” is a trickster. When you are down don’t do anything drastic, because your feelings will pass and your circumstances will change. And when you are on top of the world don’t get cocky, don’t think that will be a permanent condition because it will pass soon enough too.

27  ♥  “Los buenos artistas copian, los genios roban.” ♥    “Good artists copy, geniuses steal.”  —Pablo Picasso, artista español (1881-1973).  No one is completely original. Creativity is recognizing the genius in others and taking those ideas and applying them in another way. This is famous quote was revived and popularized when Steve Jobs mentioned it in a 1984 interview explaining how creating Apple’s products was as much artistry as it was technological application.

Alternative version of this quote: “Los buenos artistas copian, los grandes roban.”

28   ¡No hagas eso! / Don’t do that!   This is a negative tú form command that has the same form as the subjunctive. Expressions like this are added to reinforce the irregular subjunctive forms.

Spanish-speaking mothers say thousands of negative tú commands to their children, so it makes sense that native speakers naturally begin to use the subjunctive, in a limited way, as early as age three (The Acquisition of Heritage Languages, by Silvina Montrul, p. 67)

29   ♦  “Allí donde fueres, haz lo que vieres.”  ♦  / “There where you may go, do that which you may see.”  A similar saying in English is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” or simply “When in Rome…”  It is important for our students and all American travelers to internalize this idea. When you are a guest in another country it is only courteous to try to fit in with the culture and partake of the local customs and language–it makes the experience so much more memorable and enjoyable.

This expression uses two verbs in the future subjunctive: fueres and vieres. This tense is no longer used commonly in modern Spanish.

30   No te preocupes. or  No se preocupe. / Don’t worry.  This is an important phrase to know. Even though it is a bit awkward for students to be addressing a teacher in the familiar “tú” form, it is appropriate to practice it here because this saying would mostly be used as a caretaker speech in comforting someone one’s own age or younger.

31   ♦  “Aunque la mona se viste de seda, mona se queda.” ♦ / Even though the monkey is dressed in silk, it is still a monkey. Similar in English: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” or “You can’t put lipstick on a pig.”

32  ¿Qué quiere Ud. que yo haga?/ What do you want me to do?  This is a good expression to know when dealing with authorities. It shows that you are willing to be compliant and are not resisting, even though you may not understand entirely.


♦  A lo hecho, pecho. ♦  / To what has been done, chest.  The idea here is similar to the English expressions: Deal with it. Stay strong. What’s done is done. There’s no going back, so you might as well put on a brave face, stick out your chest and face what has been done.

♦  Al mal tiempo, buena cara.  / To bad weather, good face.


♦  “Mejor pájaro en la mano que cien volando.”  / Better (a) bird in the hand than 100 flying.  Similar in English: “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” 

♦  Quien se ríe último, se ríe mejor.  / Who laughs last, laughs best.  Same as in English. Be patient, my friends.

♦  No hay mal que por bien no venga.  / There is no bad that through good might not come. Similar in English: “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

♦  “Si fortuna me tormenta, esperanza me contenta.”  / If fortune (bad luck) torments me, hope makes me happy.   The upbeat tone of this saying has echoes of the medieval philosopher Boethius, particularly considering the source where it is found. This is a quote found in the memoirs of Sir Richard Hawkins in his fabled The Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins, Knight, In His Voyage Into the South Sea in the Year 1593, which was the definitive guide to the Pacific for over 100 years after it was printed. Hawkins had been captured by the Spanish, accused of piracy and imprisoned for years on orders of the Spanish Inquisition. He learned Spanish as the prisoner of Spain in Lima, Peru and as the frequent house guest General Beltran de Castro, commandant of the armies of South America. Years later General de Castro argued for Hawkins’s release from prison.

♦  Quien fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla. ♦  / He who went to Seville, lost his seat.   If you leave your spot, you’ll lose it. Move your feet, lose your seat.

♦  Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león.  ♦   / Better to be a mouse’s head than a lion’s tail.  It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a little fish in a big ocean. Better to be the best at something less ambitious than average at something more impressive.  This is similar to the often-quoted line from John Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” (Book 1, line 263).


♥  “Aprende las reglas como un profesional para que puedas romperlas como un artista.” ♥    “Learn the rules like a professional so that you can break them like an artist.”  —Pablo Picasso, artista español  (1881-1973)  This quote is longer and has a different tone than a typical password, but it is an important message for students to understand: There are some basics to get down before you can experiment freely.

It also good for students to begin to get to know more about how Picasso thought and how that thinking was expressed in his artwork.

Please do not take this as meaning students have to know everything about conjugating verbs or using object pronouns in all their permutations before they can say anything useful or creative in a language. This is referring to life and job skills.

♥  “Lo que más admiro en los demás es la ironía, la capacidad de verse desde lejos y no tomarse en serio.” ♥    What I admire most in others is irony, the capacity to look at oneself from afar and not take oneself seriously.—Jorge Luis Borges, autor y poeta argentino (1899-1986)   The ability to see oneself from the outside, as others see us, is the beginning of wisdom, another quality we want to encourage in our students.

♥  “En realidad las cosas verdaderamente difíciles son todo lo que la gente cree poder hacer a cada momento.” ♥    “In reality, things that are truly difficult are those that people believe they can do at any time.”    Julio Cortázar, novelista y ensayista argentino (1914 – 1984)

♥  “Solo un idiota puede ser totalmente feliz.” ♥  Only an idiot can be totally happy.”  —Mario Vargas Llosa, autor y politico peruviano, recibió el Premio Nobel en 2010 (1936-   )    

♥  “El que busca la verdad corre el riesgo de encontrarla.” ♥ “Who searches for the truth runs the risk of finding it.” —Isabel Allende, novelista chilena (1942 –   )  Be careful what you wish for…



¡No tengo la culpa! / It’s not my fault!  This is a good expression to be sure that everyone understands the classroom job of “El Culpable” (The Guilty One, the Class Scapegoat)

No me di cuenta de que… / I didn’t realize that…   The phrase “darse cuenta de que” (to realize that…) keeps showing up in reading at this level. This is just another version of it.

¡Ya se acabó! / Already it’s over!   Time’s up already!

¿De qué se trata? / What is it about?  The response to this prompt is a useful expression in writing: se trata de… , as in: El libro Los ojos de Carmen se trata de un joven fotógrafo de California que se llama Daniel y lo qué aprende acerca de la fotografía y sí mismo durante un viaje a Ecuador. (The book Los ojos de Carmen is about a young photographer from California that is named Daniel and what he learns about photography and himself during a trip to Ecuador.)

Estoy harto de… / I am sick of…   Students add something that they are sick of. They always generate some fun and creative answers.

 A propósito… / By the way…

¿Usted se dio cuenta de que… ? / Did you realize that… ?  The phrase “darse cuenta de que” (to realize that…) keeps showing up in reading at this level.

Olvídalo. / Forget it.

Bien hecho / Well done

Sigue trabajando / Keep on working  This is a good password option for low energy times like the end of the semester or the end of the school year.  And my constant reply is: “Tú también.”  (You too.)

¡Qué chévere! / How cool!

¡Qué tontería! / What foolishness!

Estoy de acuerdo  /  I agree

¡Me estás tomando el pelo! / You’re pulling my leg!

¿Qué son esos? / What are those?  The students came up with this one. They insisted on it. This expression is not cultural or a common idiomatic expression, but it was a popular meme going around at the time and kids thought it was hilarious to say it and point at my shoes. Look up What Are Those? on YouTube. The popularity of the saying vanished almost instantly, but I wanted to take advantage of their enthusiasm for the expression while it lasted.

Here are some more expressions that have potential for upper level passwords from Beatriz Varela:

estar en el quinto pino— to be very far
pasar las canutas — to have a hard time doing something because it is very difficult/difficult situation
estar cuadrado — to be very strong/muscular, “swole”
meter la pata — to say something you shouldn’t to the wrong person/ put your foot in it
hacer zapping — to watch television by changing channels all the time to see what else is on
pasárselo pipa — to have lots of fun
estar como una regadera /como una cabra— to be crazy
tirarse de la moto — to exaggerate

Todavía eres chévere! / You are still cool!  This is what we say to someone in class that makes a mistake or tries but does not get it quite right.

¡Eso sí que es! / That’s exactly right!  or  That is what it is!  This one is fun to say because it sounds like you are spelling out the word “socks” in English: S-O-C-K-S. If you set it up right, this expression can become a bilingual pun. See the lesson plans for a story about misunderstanding this expression here.

Va a ser pan comido. / It’s going to be a piece of cake.  Literally this means “It’s going to be eaten bread.”  Authentic sayings like this infuse the class with culture and give students something interesting to say.

¡Por supuesto! / Of course!  A few students in Spanish 3 did not know this expression, so I added it to this level as well as in level 1.


These passwords have worked for me, but if you have new ideas or adaptations, please share. We all get better when we work together, mis amigos. If you have more password ideas, comments, explanations, suggestions or corrections, please pass them along. I will add them to this list so that we can all try them out with our students. 


Comments by teachers that have used passwords and the ideas in this blog:

“This is an awesome resource 🙂 ” —I. Reyes

“Classroom passwords have totally changed my relationship with students. They feel like they belong to a ‘secret society’.”     —M. García

“How do we create opportunities to keep students compelled? Start with class passwords. Bryce Hedstrom has written about his program. It’s a fun and simple way to build camaraderie and use colloquial expressions used as “rejoinders” in CI classrooms. An evaluator of mine recently commented that requiring a class password seemed like one more tool to effectively use the target language. He was right.”  —Lance Piantaggini

“Thanks Bryce!! I’m going to trial it for sure as it fits beautifully with providing students with input ready for kursi luar biasa (special student interviews – oops, can’t remember the Spanish!!)”  —

“This is how to be a loving teacher. It makes my heart happy.”  —Lauren Tauchman

“This is powerful. Thank you for passing it on.” —Clarice Swaney

“The password has given me more satisfaction than any of the new practices I have adopted this year. I love the new moments of encounters at the door, the eye contact, hearing them checking the password with each other before I open the door, and above all, knowing that it’s part of the deep community, the secret club sensibility which I can sense here. I still struggle with basic storytelling, but I get a lot of mileage out of the sum of such small, powerful practices. I’m grateful to Bryce, and to Alina before him.”  Gerry Wass

I love this idea, and I LOVE that your list of passwords are expressions that are both super-common and fun for kids to learn! I imagine these “passwords” end up being woven right into class conversations and stories.”  —Emily Williams

“I used this today, worked like a charm! Thanks Bryce for generously sharing your trade secrets.” —Betsy Paskvan

“Thanks! I love the idea to get them even more excited as they come in.” —Jeremy Jordan

Great idea! Gracias por compartir.”  Beth Beery