Using Greenpeace Chile’s República Glaciar in the classroom

pasaporte la República GlaciarWhile politicians endlessly debate environmental issues, men and women of all cultures and nationalities, unwilling to wait for others to protect their homes, are taking matters into their own hands. Urgent times require new strategies, creative thinking and risk-taking.   Greenpeace Chile recently took action to defend Chile’s glaciers and you can use this event in the classroom for lessons on civics, geography, culture and, of course, communicative skills.  Last spring I used their materials in a modified version of an Integrated Performance Assessment that combined interpretive reading, listening and writing assessments.

In April 2014 Greenpeace Chile announced on the Internet and in the NY Times the formation of a new country: La República Glaciar. Frustrated with a lack of federal laws and regulations to protect Chile’s glaciers from the pollution and destruction due to mining industry practices, Greenpeace Chile decided to claim the glaciers. They reasoned that since the Chilean government refused to see the massive “chunks of ice” as falling under their jurisdiction and care, the glaciers could be declared sovereign territory by settlers willing to form a government. This new nation existed to protect the glaciers. The República Glaciar promised to cede the glaciers to Chile if and when Chile legally ensures and enforces their protection.

For the IPA, I combined excerpts from Greenpeace Chile’s press release as well as a short video on the website of the República Glaciar. Students read the announcement and watched the video, then answered comprehension questions and wrote a response to Greenpeace Chile’s Hazte Ciudadano campaign. This took about two class periods.

Students needed prior exposure to the context, such as cultural and political practices, and needed to have the language tools, such as relevant vocabulary and grammatical points. For example, my students were familiar with basic geography and weather of Chile and could describe the scenes in the video and photos. We had been using vocabulary to describe some environmental issues (most textbooks seem to have one chapter dedicated to this theme) and basic government functioning (words and concepts such as law, right, responsibility, community, citizen, etc.). In addition, we had just covered the present perfect tense (indicative and subjunctive).  Thus they could describe what happened from Greenpeace’s perspective and offer opinions or analysis using the subjunctive in noun clauses.

Recently, President Michelle Bachelet introduced measures to protect Chile’s glaciers, so it seems that República Glaciar successful.  Now students can use the written and video updates on the website to analyze Greenpeace’s political action, which included the occupation of the glaciers, social media outreach, print advertisement, letter/twitter writing, lobbying of politicians, the campaign to add new citizens and rallies.

Another approach is to have students identify the stakeholders in this conflict, what each group stood/stands to gain or lose and how they are connected to each other.   Don’t forget to include the natural world as stakeholders and introduce the systems approach to understanding the problem: what would happen if the glaciers were destroyed or polluted?

An interesting cultural question to add: could this strategy be successful in the United States? Why or why not? What problems could this strategy resolve (or create)? A number of my students noted that establishing a permanent community on the glaciers might lead to pollution and destruction of that which they meant to protect—although the relative impact seems like it would be smaller when compared to the impact from the mining industry.



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más actividades para la primavera

En el huerto de primavera:  try something new! We have a school garden and I was surprised when we visited the garden recently that most of my Spanish 2 students couldn’t predict what they would find growing there in the spring (versus the summer or fall).  As our garden teacher suggested, students tasted col rizada, espinaca and melisa (toronjil) by pulling off some of the leaves and snacking on them right there.

chickweed or "la pamplina"  picture from

chickweed or “la pamplina” picture from

There also were some edible weeds growing in several beds, including chickweed (la pamplina o la maruja) and what later turned out to be Pennsylvania bittercress (a member of the mustard family-not sure how to translate it into Spanish!).

My students had just started keeping journals about their health and I had challenged them to try two new healthy foods or activities during the two week assignment.  So I gave them this sheet I created with nutritional information for col rizada, espinaca, melisa and pamplina, along with some recipes they could try at home (all in Spanish, of course).

picture from (they have growing tips, too)

picture from (they have growing tips, too)

But you don’t need a garden to plant something unique and tasty with your class!  What’s in a name?  In Spanish the flower is called taco de reina, capuchinas, llagas de Cristo….. in indigenous languages (I believe), pelonchile, texado..…in English, nasturtium.  Native to Columbia, Peru and Ecuador, this spicy, edible plant can be started from seed in small yogurt containers and replanted in larger macetas, window boxes or in the ground.  They’re good with full to partial sun, sprout in 7-14 days and in another two months you’ll have flowers and leaves you can eat!  They don’t need any special fertilizer or care–in fact too much fertilizer or plant food will inhibit the growth of blooms and make the plants produce lots of leaves, instead.   To eat, put them in a salad or sandwich, use them as a garnish or snack on them right from the plant.  Here’s a brief info sheet (three copies to a page) students took home with them after we planted nasturtium seeds in containers.


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actividades para la primavera: planeta sano, yo san@

 Here’s an assignment to integrate sustainability themes into a Spanish 2 unit on health vocabulary.  Grammar points=preterit and imperfect contrast, commands (formal or informal), future tense or future expressions (ir + a + infinitivo, etc.) and possibly present tense subjunctive.

Keep a healthy life journal-El diario para llevar una vida sana:

Prep:  We began with the vocabulary presented in the textbook, but broke it down into three categories:  dormir lo suficiente, comer comidas sanas y hacer ejercicio (o actividades sanas).

Students completed this activity about dormir-lo-suficiente with information that I summarized from an article.

The “Qué hay en tu plato” campaign from the USDA on making healthy food choices isn’t nearly as helpful as the previous mi pirámide campaign (that web site was recently inactivated).  However, this graphic of the “plate” is a good visual resource to show the quantities of comidas sanas necessary to make-up a healthy diet. Generally speaking, half of each meal should consist of vegetables and fruits (of varying colors).

There is a direct connection between healthy environments and healthy people.  To consider this idea in relationship to the food we eat, students read and responded to these consejos para comprar comidas sanas para el planeta y para mí that I condensed from the Spanish web site  To make the above activities communicative and practice critical thinking skills, students compared their responses with a partner, predicted the most popular responses in the class, rated the most helpful suggestions and defended their ideas.  They could also modify suggestions and/or identify suggestions that are the most realistic/unrealistic for them.

Hacer yoga was on the textbook’s vocab list.  I was lucky enough to be able to invite a Spanish-speaking yoga instructor into class.  However, a simple activity like dar un paseo can have surprising health benefits and can inspire communities to protect or create green spaces.  If you have a safe place to walk with trees, you could take students for a walk in which–just like in kindergarten, but now in Spanish!–they note the signs and sounds of spring.  Here’s an article from the NY Times which explains the findings of a recent study:  taking a walk among trees (for city folk)  has a positive impact on memory and relieves stress and brain fatigue  (I suppose you’d have to feel safe in the park, though…)

the activity:  Students were assigned a two-week personal health journal.   First they wrote a plan in which they identified 1-3 goals (future tense or future expressions).  Each day they were required to write (in complete sentences using the preterit) two or three things they did para llevar una vida sana.  They needed to include details related to their goals, for example “Comí comidas sanas.” would be insufficient.  They would need to write something like “Comí 5 porciones de verduras y fruta.  En el almuerzo comí una ensalada con lechuga, pimientos y zanahorias, para una merienda comí una manzana y en la cena comí espinaca y fresas.”  Their goals could also be related to dormir lo suficiente o hacer ejercicio.  They could also choose to follow one of the consejos para el planeta by buying produce locally, buying fair trade labeled products when possible or choosing packaged food with the fewest ingredients.

the follow-up: Students wrote a paragraph to describe how they felt when they did the activities and how they feel now (imperfect/preterit/present tenses).  They made recommendations (positive and/or negative) for other young people based on their experiences (commands or subjunctive as softened command).  They included whether or not they will continue to do the activities they wrote about (future).  I made this assignment personal and they could turn it in on paper or digitally.  Of course, you could also turn this assignment into a blog and have students comment or give encouragement to each other.  (It would also be easier to track whether or not students were writing daily)

In my next post I’ll include some companion activities that can help students discover a few new vegetables, try some local edible “weeds” and plant edible flowers (from South America!) that can be grown in containers.

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los fenómenos naturales y los seres humanos

Our essential question for the official, textbook related “environment” chapter in our Spanish 3 class is “How does the natural world impact you (human beings)?  How do you (human beings) impact the natural world?  This question, of course, unnaturally plucks humans out of the natural world.  Part of what we discover during the course of the unit–I hope–is that we are part of the ecosystem in which we live–rather than living “on top of” the ecosystem as we often imagine ourselves to be.

To reinforce the systems approach to our relationship with the natural world, I used the fenómenos chart found on page 6 of  the folleto riesgos parte 1 produced by the makers of Riesgolandia.    This chart has the advantage of being simple, visual and relatively short.  It also ties together some of the weather and geography vocabulary we had been learning from the textbook and the short story Una Carta a Dios.

Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 11.15.05 PM

I created this worksheet to provide some structure for our reflections and followed the think-pair-share model for many of the activities.  Students were asked to consider the geographical features associated with the fenómenos, and then what fenómenos can result from other fenómenos on the chart.  Un incendio, for example, can lead to deforestación and contaminación del aire.  Deforestación can lead to deslizamientos, etc.  Another way to do this would be to put these on the board or project to a smartboard and have students draw arrows.

Students can also indicate which fenómenos could be caused by human activity.  We eventually concluded that they all could be caused by humans.  Even tormentas eléctricas and huracanes can be impacted by global warming and a recent study in Oklahoma concluded that terremotos can potentially be provoked by certain techniques used in drilling for oil and hydraulic fracking.  Plagas have multiple causes, including sequías and/or the introduction of invasive species by humans.  As this news report from November 2012 describes, a sequía in Mexico led to a plaga of beetles that now is causing deforestación.  Plagas of beetles have also attacked large swaths of pine forest ecosystems in Montana.

Here’s a mini-project for students to explore and share specific examples of the above in a communicative context.(past tenses verb practice:  present perfect indicative, present perfect subjunctive preterit, imperfect)

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cosas que puedes hacer con Cajas de Cartón, parte 2

Environment and sense of place  Environment, climate and geography play an out-sized role in the lives of Panchito’s family, and others like them, by  pushing them towards new places as single crops planted in large scale for the national market ripen in succession.  This may seem obvious, however those who grew up in urban and suburban settings with supermarkets full of strawberries year-round may be disconnected from this process and benefit from a trip outside.

Vocabulary from the story can be recycled to compare growing seasons for strawberries, grapes and cotton.  If you live in California, you can check if the seasons are still roughly the same.  Outside of California, you can compare these seasons with your own.  It’s helpful to include planting, duration of season and harvest time in these comparisons.  In New Jersey, for example, strawberries are a late spring/early summer crop and are in season for only a few short weeks.  Students can also be assigned a trip to the grocery store over a weekend to note the origins of fruits and vegetables being sold (law requires labeling of country of origin).  Why are there so many different origins?  What else does this variety of origins tell us?

imagesIf you’re lucky enough to have a school garden, I recommend a visit.  We tend to read this story in Spanish 3 at the end of September, sometimes at the beginning of October, but usually before the first real frost. Here are two garden activities I’ve done that, all together, take about a 50 minute class period.

In the school garden we have a long row of strawberry plants along a fence and, on occasion, we can find several cotton plants growing in a bed.  Maybe you have access to some grape vines.  Many of my students have trouble imaging what a day might be like for Panchito and think he might, in some respects, have it easy (no school, yay!).  Others might have never actually seen the plants that produce these fruits.  So we examine the physical characteristics of the plants (large or small, tall or short, etc.), note whether or not they’re “in season” and then imagine that we’re harvesting.  In order to pick (pizcar) the strawberries, for example, it’s necessary to crouch down.  Of course, you can’t stay in one place, you also have to move along the row.  I try to get them to role-play this (I’m Ito) for about 5 minutes, though they usually don’t last that long, especially if it’s a warm, sunny day.  We return to the beginning of the story and I have them do the math to calculate how many hours per week Panchito spends picking strawberries.  This also might be a good moment to reflect on how the workers are paid.  There’s evidence in the story, for example, when papá is in the vineyard adding up the quantity of grapes they’ve picked.  Apparently they’re not paid per hour, but their income is based on how fast they can fill the boxes-regardless of weather conditions or other factors.

Although New Jersey isn’t known for cotton production (the plants need a long, warm growing season), our garden teacher has managed to coax a few plants to maturity and has even harvested a few of the pods.  In the story Panchito doesn’t pick cotton because he’s too young, but Roberto and his papá do.  Students can reflect on the differences in seasons (compared to strawberries and grapes), height of the plants and body position necessary to harvest the pods.  We have a few mature pods saved from previous years and we pass these around the class.  When mature, the pods become stiff and sharp, making it difficult (and sometimes painful) to pull out the cotton. The seeds grow inside the fluffy part of the cotton and can be felt, but not seen, unless it’s cut or pulled apart.  Since we don’t have any grape vines, I rely on photographs showing people harvesting the bunches.

Another garden activity that can help students situate themselves in their local environment is a scavenger hunt.  They work in pairs and first on their list is to walk around the garden and come up with 4-5 fruits and vegetables that are in season, and 4-5 fruits and vegetables that are out of season.  Most of the beds in the garden are labeled in English, Spanish, Chinese and French, so it’s possible for them to identify plants that don’t currently have fruits or vegetables.  (For those plants without labels in Spanish, I go out before class and put notecards next to or on the plants).  For the second part of the scavenger hunt, students need to find the herbs that I listed in Spanish on their sheet and pick a couple leaves:  one to bring back and one to taste.  They note their reactions on the paper.  When we gather back together students share their  experiences and some describe how they use these herbs in cooking or for teas.  On a good day, we make tea with some of the herbs.  For students with little experience seeing food outside of packages, these simple activities can be memorable.

Digging deeper. To paraphrase Andrew Marvell, if you have world enough and time to let your vegetable love grow (that is what he meant, isn’t it?), you could plant a bed with your class.  The class could work in pairs or small groups, research a plant, including growing season, space needs, even nutritional value, taste, use, etc., and then propose it.  Which of the plants proposed can be planted together?  Which can’t?  Why?

This also might be a good moment to explore which plants, vegetables and fruits are native to your region and which are not.  Also, what is the impact of large, monoculture agribusiness on the local environment (or even on the plants themselves)?

This leads to the next theme I hope to cover in cosas que puedes hacer con Cajas de Cartón, parte 3:  interconnectedness.

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The blog 3.500 millones, sponsored by Madrid’s print and on-line newspaper El País, focuses on solutions to seemingly intractable problems such as la pobreza, la contaminación, el sobreconsumo y la indiferencia.  In their own words “3500 millones es la mitad de la población mundial. 3500 millones de personas condenadas cada día a la pobreza. ¿O no? Este blog es el relato de la contra-crisis y de sus protagonistas. Vivencias e iniciativas desde cada rincón del planeta que demuestran que lo más correcto es también lo más inteligente.”  Recent posts include Navidades sostenibles y solidarias; Salir de la crisis sin crear más pobreza;  Gitanos con estudios, Gitanos con futuro; y Soy agricultor peruano.  In addition to provocative articles that report on issues often marginalized in the news, you can find compelling photos, an occasional short video and links to ongs (all in Spanish, of course).  Students should find lots to consider and analyze when reading the posts and comments.  Exercises such as identifying fact vs opinion (or interpretation of facts), analyzing nested systems or the science behind the initiatives, finding and presenting “the most” interesting or effective idea on the blog are just some ways to create opportunities for students to use their emerging language skills to engage with the world.

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cosas que puedes hacer con Cajas de Cartón (el cuento corto), Parte 1

Students can get into Cajas de Cartón, the widely-read short story by Francisco Jiménez, by examining sustainability themes.  The ideas below focus on using the title to explore multiple perspectives and experiences within the story and beyond, as well creative ways to re-use and recycle boxes.  Future posts on Cajas de Cartón will focus on environmental themes, interconnectedness and solidarity.

Las cajas de cartón  Al examinar el título del cuento es útil examinar una caja de cartón actual.  Muéstrales una caja de cartón.  1.  ¿Cuál es la primera cosa que piensas al ver la caja de cartón?  Los alumnos deben anotar esta primera reacción.  2. Puedes dividir la clase en grupos y darle una caja de cartón a cada grupo.   3. Los grupos escriben descripciones de la caja de cartón (adjetivos) y las cosas que personas pueden hacer con las cajas de cartón (verbos infinitivos) EN la caja, usando marcadores.  Pueden buscar palabras en un diccionario si es necesario.  Los grupos pueden intercambiar las cajas, comparar su trabajo y añadirles más ideas a las cajas que reciben de los otros grupos.  Después, las cajas sirven como apoyo visual en la sala de clase.

Frecuentemente los alumnos piensan en maneras creativas de utilizar y reutilizar las cajas y piensan en reciclarlas.  Si quiero que los alumnos piensen en maneras “fuera de la caja” (ja ja) a veces ayuda si les doy un número (8 o 12) de maneras que necesitan poner en sus listas/en las cajas. Si necesitan un poco de inspiración, puedes mostrarles fotos de Caine’s Arcade, construido completamente de cajas de cartón (si haces google “Caine’s Arcade” vas a encontrar un montón de fotos).  Si conocen el mundo un poco, tal vez piensan en las personas sin hogar que viven en la calle y que utilizan las cajas de cartón para cama.  Si no conocen esta experiencia, puedes mostrarles el video de la canción la Historia de Juan por Juanes.  Otras maneras de reutilizar una caja de cartón incluyen usarlas en la huerta para cultivar plantas o en el abono.  Si tienes tiempo (¡ojalá que tuviera más tiempo!) sería interesante dejar que los niños busquen y compartan imágenes–o que peguen las imágenes en sus cajas junto con las palabras.  (¡Una caja soñando con su próxima vida!)  Si preguntan, una caja de cartón dura más o menos un año en descomponerse (degradarse).

Al terminar de leer el cuento puedes volver al asunto del título.  ¿Es un buen título?  ¿Por qué los personajes (por ejemplo Panchito y los hermanitos) tienen reacciones distintas frente las cajas de cartón?  Los alumnos pueden comparar las reacciones personales que notaron al principio y compararlas con las reacciones de Panchito.  ¿Son iguales o diferentes?  ¿A qué se debe la diferencia (o la semejanza)?

Aquí puedes destacar la importancia de considerar las perspectivas múltiples cuando tratamos de comunicarnos con otras personas.  El mismo objeto puede inspirar emociones y reacciones muy diferentes por las vidas que hemos vivido.  ¿Has experimentado alguna vez un conflicto o un malentendido que se basó en interpretar algo de manera distinta de los demás?  ¿Resolviste el problema?  ¿Cómo?

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Actividades ambientales fáciles que puedes hacer con las clases

Looking for meaningful ways to help students put their language skills into action?  This web site from Chile, El Libro Verde de los Niños, includes instructions in simple language (lots of informal commands, basic vocabulary) for projects, experiments and environmental audits of home and school.

Click on Manos a la Obra to find steps to make a solar shower, plant a box garden, make a bird feeder, write a letter and even conduct simple experiments to test car emissions and soil quality.  Although the web site is written for younger children, high school age students should have fun interpreting the directions, creating projects and later describing them.  Another idea:  As a class students could create one of the above projects from the web site as a “model” and then in small groups use their own ideas to write instructions and create visuals for an original project using the grammatical strategies you’re working on (such as informal commands, present tense, future tense or the subjunctive, etc).  Then the groups could exchange their instructions and make each other’s project!

Another useful part of the web site is the Auditoría Ambiental, where students can take multiple choice “tests” to inventory their homes, school and shopping habits for best practices in sustainability.  Activity ideas:  *Students can “tweak” the questions to fit their own school, then survey students in other Spanish classes and/or Spanish-speaking members of your school community.  *Students can debate particular suggestions and ideas in the surveys as to their effectiveness or debate whether or not the changes (or any changes to improve sustainability) are worth the effort.

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Vamos a la playa

Vamos a la playa, a mí me gusta……¿bailar?  ¿nadar?  ¿tomar el sol?  ¿LIMPIAR?  My students love to talk about (and sing about) the beach.  But no one likes to see the trash that washes up on shore.  This September 2012 the Ocean Conservancy will sponsor the 27th annual Día Internacional de Limpieza de las Playas.  What better way to help students connect with people and places across the globe and reflect on our personal responsibility to care for our shared natural resources.  After all, the oceans belong to everyone.

Limpiando la playa en Ecuador.   de Equilibrio Azul.

Where does it come from?    Trash on the beach tends to be on the move:  wind and waves sweep some garbage away and leave behind more.   You may also have heard of the garbage patches in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (aka islas de basura).  It’s been estimated that a striking 60-80% of ocean debris (desperdicios marinos) originates on land.  That means it potentially comes from you, me, our neighbors and friends.  (And yes, if you clicked on the Ocean Conservancy’s link above, I do find it ironic–at best–that Coca-Cola, which is responsible for the generation of millions upon millions of plastic bottles every year, helps sponsor the clean-up.)

Todos juntos haremos una diferencia.  Below are Spanish-language resources and activities, as well as readings, reports and videos highlighting the efforts of young people in Puerto Rico, Ecuador and Chile to document and clean-up the trash on their coast lines and beaches.  If there’s a beach or a river near you, you and your students can participate, too.  If you’re in New Jersey, check out the Beach Sweeps to be held on October 20th.

Puerto Rico’s Scuba Dogs Society created an imaginative campaign Elimina el Pez Basura with downloadable folletos educativos, mini-posters and other visual materials.

Here’s  10 cosas que puedes hacer para salvar los océanos from National Geographic (en español).

Equilibrio Azul  supports and helps organize the beach clean-up in Ecuador.

La Armada de Chile takes the lead in organizing the day (to be held this year on September 28th) up and down the long Chilean coast.  Their web site includes photos and data collected by the many student group participants, as well as articles, maps and facts.

Another excellent resource from Chile is the student-oriented Científicos de la Basura.  Among other activities, you can download children’s stories such as Bolsas Plas y Tika: una historia real that tells the tale of two plastic bag hermanas, including one that is blown out to sea.

En la sala de clase.  Communicative activities:  Students can use the above resources to research and present the issue; journal about their experiences; write Spanish captions for “before and after” photos; compare and contrast experiences/geography/trash found;  survey others and create graphs about the use and destination of plastics in their own school or community; respond to stories by writing letters or sending e-mails; evaluate web sites and articles;  create their own campaign materials; write stories, songs or poems; role-play; debate reduce, reuse, recycle or not.  Grammar and verb points:  descriptions (present tense), where did it come from/how far did it travel, what happened during clean-up day (preterit/imperfect tenses), what will happen if people reduce/don’t reduce trash (ir + a + infinitive or future tense/”si” clauses/conditional, imperfect subjunctive), recommendations (imperative, present subjunctive mood)

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actividades de comprensión auditiva

Radioteca is a web site dedicated to un intercambio de audios.  You can listen to or download free authentic Spanish-language radio spots, stories, news reports, interviews, literature and more from a wide range of countries.  Audios can be thirty seconds to thirty minutes or longer.  Search by country, format, date of uploading or theme.  The site currently lists 1,916 audios under medio ambiente.  Sub-themes or categories include biodiversidad, cambio climático, contaminación, desforestación, animales y plantas, desastres, energías alternativas, desarrollo sustentable and agua.

Una actividad

Below is a radio spot (under two minutes) produced and/or uploaded to Radioteca by Soberania 91.5 FM in Venezuela under the category basura/ciudad limpia.  The spot, mostly in the present tense, reinforces vocabulary such as basura, calle, carretera, reciclaje, vidrio, plástico/a, botellas, latas, residuos, cartón, envases, bolsas, tela, metal, desperdicios, as well as verbs like producir, tirardescomponerse and some numbers.  Students can listen to the audio for homework or in class and write a summary of the message.  (I’d let students listen to the audio multiple times.)  Then they can work in groups to produce and present visuals that go with the audio using pictures or photos from the internet, drawings and/or using the actual items and pantomiming the verbs mentioned in the spot (“separar botellas de vidrio”  etc.)  They could also create posters illustrating one of the lemas used in the spot  “Respeta la Tierra.  No contamines” or use informal commands to write suggestions (one affirmative, one negative) based on the spot’s message.

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