How well is Adriana Ramírez’ book working so far?

This year I decided to go in for a more classical, purely story-based T.P.R.S. than what I began with– what Ben Slavic described as “the freewheelin’ c.i.” I am using my colleague Adriana Ramírez’ Teaching Spanish Through Comprehesible Input Storytelling text. This is a set of 16 stories. You get a vocab list, a basic story, an extended reading, story comprehension questions and personalised questions. The thing was loosely designed to “piggyback” on Avancemos, the Spanish text our District adopted, but it stands alone too.

Today’s question: how well is Adriana’s book working?

1) Great.

2) I am almost done my 4th story– “Cambio de Pelo”– and these are my results:

a) for speedwrites (“write as many words as you can in 5 min”) I am alternating topics. For even-numbered stories, the speedwrite assignment is “describe yourself.” For the odd-numbered stories, the assignment is “describe a picture on the overhead” (Picture will have something to do with just-asked story).

Word count averages for speedwrites as follows:

— story 1 25 words + 45-word bonus = 70% average

— story 2 43 words + 40-word bonus = 83% average

— story 3 50 words + 35-word bonus = 85% average

In terms of grammar, every kid– except those who miss 2-3 classes– is getting at least 2/3 and over 1/2 are getting 3/3. Out of 30 kids, only 3 have “bombed” in terms of grammar and in each case their subsequent mark went way up. I.e. a kid who misses a bunch of classes, does the test, then bombs, will do much better later on (on the test after next story) because the stories recycle all the grammar and vocab.

Word count averages for “relaxed writes” (“rewrite the story, or modify it, or make up your own, and include 2 main characters and at least 2 dialogues”)

— story 1 ~80 words (they totally sucked– average grammar mark 1/3)

— story 2 ~130 words (much better– average grammar mark 2/3)

— story 3 ~ 180 words (better again– class evenly split between 2/3 and 3/3 for grammar mark)

Oral output:

The system for “teaching” kids to talk in T.P.R.S.– a.k.a. P.Q.A. (personalised questions and answers) is super-simple: you basically ask members of the class the questions you ask your actors. So, in the first story, you ask your actor “what is your name?” and s/he says “My name is ____.” Because s/he doesn’t know any Spanish, you write it on the board and they can just read off board. You then ask them “is your name ?” and they say “No, my name is _____.” You then ask your parallel character(s) the same question(s). Then– after the audience has heard it a bunch of times from actors– you ask the members of the class, starting with the keeners, the same question. Initially, the keeners will be able to spit it our right away in sentence form, while other kids will just say “John.”

After 5 weeks x 5 classes/week = 25 classes, 4/5 of the kids can now unhesitatingly and fluently answer these questions:

— what is your name? how old are you? where do you live? are you a [boy, girl, cat…]? Are you [tall, short, crazy…]?

— do you like _____? [about 15 verbs and 15 nouns to choose from]

— what’s the weather, day, date?

— what are you like? (i.e. describe yourself)

— do you prefer ___ or ___?

— do you have ____?

The other 1/5 of class (the slower-acquirers) ALL understand the questions, and all can say something— even if it’s just one word– that makes sense. E.g. “What’s the weather like?” — “Cold.”

3) Why is it working, and what would I change?

First, it’s working cos it restricts (shelters) vocab, and because the extended reading closely mirrors the story asked. Second, it restricts vocab overall. I have done a rough count and it comes out to the kids get about 3 new words/day on average. Third, the comp questions force re-reading, and fourth, I am liking Adriana’s comic idea.

Update on the comic: for the comic, after we have done the extended reading (teacher guided, and ping-pong), the kids have to create a 12-panel comic that illustrates the story. It has to look awesome– clip art, etc fine– with colour, each panel must have at least one sentence, and the comic must include all dialogue. This time, I also added a translation option: copy the story– by hand– then translate underneath in different colour, then leave a blank line (to keep it neat) and indent all dialogue. I am gonna see how the translation works, but the comic rationale is, it’s deep reading: kids have to re-read, select, and illustrate (read: concise focus). Adriana says it works best for the laggard boys and I have to agree.

My changes: First, My kids are 90% Indian, so English is often their 2nd language, and almost none of them hear English at home. Our kids read, and are literate, but lack some of the linguistic mental infrastructure that Adriana’s (rich, white and Asian, educated) kids do. So, they need MUCH more reading practice than Adriana’s, so I make them read BOTH the basic script– the story I ask, by photocopying it and handing it out– AND the extended one in Adriana’s book. Second, I am varying the speedwrites (5 mins) as noted above. Third, my kids don’t always get the comprehension questions, so I have to go through them. E.g. on the last story, one question was ¿Dónde vive el chico? (Where does the boy live?) and the kids all answered with “Vivo en Colombia” (I live in Colombia). Fourth, the retells don’t work. I am getting junky output from the kids so I am putting the kaibosh on retells for awhile until I figure out a better way to do this.

Anyway, overall, the program is working well and I am both recommending it and gonna stick with it. If ppl want to try it, email Adriana (ramirez_a (attt) surreyschools (dottt) ca or hit her up on twitter: @veganadri


  1. It sounds like you grade the speedwrites based on grammatical accuracy, is that right? How does that work? Do you want them to slow down and think about forms? I thought the idea was specifically not to give them much time so that they wouldn’t have time to edit or monitor.

    1. Well I started doing that. I do not want them to think grammar so I tell them “write as much as yiu can in 5 min” and I also told them “the only way to get better is to listen and read.” The grammar mark is basically for me.

  2. I, too, am loving Adriana’s book. I am new to TPRS, and Adriana’s book starts with stories in the present tense and it introduces grammatical structures and vocab in a logical sequence. I do a “fill-in-the-blanks” version of the story once we’ve gone through the story a couple of times. I haven’t done the comic strip thing because I don’t assign homework (or at least very little) to my students. For some of the stories, I’ve gotten the students to draw the story while I re-tell it. I am using Adriana’s book for my Beg. Sp. 11 students AND my grade 11 students. (The grade 11’s started on story #9 which is the first story that deals with the imperfect and preterite tenses..) Both classes are making great progress. The grade 11’s are speaking much more than they ever spoke when I used the textbook. My beginners are floored by how much they’ve retained. One of my 11’s commented, “The thing with this method is that it just doesn’t feel like work, and yet I know I’m learning.” Adriana, I can’t wait for your next book!!!

      1. I actually like the fact that it starts out in the present tense only. I don’t know if my beginners would have been able to handle another tense along with all the other stuff…

      2. You get better results this way, trust me. I have done it the other way and when I compare the results, it is very evident than by delaying the past tense for a bit you are giving them time to develop their own decoding strategies. You could give it a try next semester: do past tense from the beginning and see what I am talking about 🙂

      3. The problem is basically time. If I had them for 4 years, I would do 100% full mixed vocab and tenses and grammar from Day 1 because with 4 years we could “spread the reps out” so they’d get enough. I am still torn over this. You could get more present-tense reps by upping the dialogues and actor questions and PQA I guess. I saw Joe Dziedzic at IFLT and his 2nd years were rocking every grammar item I’ve ever heard of in Spanish.

        So far the results are quite good with this book.

  3. Thanks Martha for your nice comments. As I said before and based on five years of experience using TPRS, when you start using all the tenses from the beginning it becomes very confusing for the students. unfortunately we have very little time with them and we have to make the best of it. I encourage Chris to try past tense from the beginning so he can see what a mess it is and what I discovered during my first years of doing TPRS! On the other hand, when you delay it a bit, you are giving the students that extra time they need to feel comfortable with the language and to start developing their own decoding strategies. By doing this you are priming their brains and once you introduce past tense with story #9 they are so ready for it that they just learn it very smooth and easy. My grade 9 students are a living proof of this.

  4. Are Adriana’s materials appropriate for elementary school-aged students, i.e., first grade through fourth grade? Or are the topics more geared towards older learners (i.e. driving, dating, shopping, etc.)

  5. I like the Van Patten quote that me helps through the question of tenses.

    “Tenses are not acquired as “units” and the brain doesn’t store grammar as a textbook-stated rule.”

    IF tenses are not to be taught for mastery in the beginning, I think there is nothing wrong with retelling the story the next day using the past tense. Meaning is not compromised and with beginning students we don’t have to ask for past tense output. We are simply exposing students to CI.


    Day 1 There is a girl, she has a problem, she goes to school.
    Day 2 or 3 There was a girl, she had a problem, she went to school.

    Tense confusion doesn’t happening in comprehension. It is only noticed in output activities when we ask students to write or speak. Unconscious mind will do its thing and figure this stuff out over time.

  6. Is it sufficient to use this and not a textbook? I have been lightly using Realidades 1 because I like the sequence and I’m super familiar with it. Has anyone with experience with Realidades 1 used this book to compliment the text? Do you still use Avancemos with this book, or just Adrianna’s book and no textbook. Finally, I only see my students 2 days a week. Do you think TPRS will work better than a textbook in this case?

    1. The Ramírez book *is* a complete program. But you must also use novels.

      Avancemos was totally useless. It’s in the book room.

      I havn’t used TPRS for 1-2 day/week type programs. BUT I can tell you this: when I get my 2s, they have not forgotten anything after the summer. We are ona semester system, so sometimes the kids have 7 months between Level 1 and 2. Sometimes they have 12-19 months if they take Level 1 in gr 10 and Level 2 in grade 12. They STILL remember everything! (Although the late-returning 2s take a bit longer to get their output back up…but this doesn’t matter, as input drives everything).

      My guess is that

      A)the strict vocab restriction that stories impose (the “narrow and deep” approach as Blaine Ray calls it), plus

      B) the fact that they get GOOD input (as opposed to the impoverished language they use– when not using L1- in a communicative or grammar classroom), and

      C) the fact that I can be in the target language almost all the time

      mean that the taught stuff really sticks. One thing is for sure: TPRS absolutely BLOWS TEXTBOOK RESULTS AWAY.

      Let us know what you decide, and how it works.


      1. “they have not forgotten anything after the summer. We are ona semester system, so sometimes the kids have 7 months between Level 1 and 2. Sometimes they have 12-19 months if they take Level 1 in gr 10 and Level 2 in grade 12. They STILL remember everything!”

        Chris, I’ve had the same results several years in a row. I am on a block semester schedule and some years I will get the kids back after 3 months and other years not for 12 months. I don’t think there was any difference, I didn’t notice one anyways. Stuck in the hard drive.

      2. Yeah. The only difference I see between kids who have two summer months off, and those who have a year or two off, is that the longer the “time off,” the less output you get right away. Other than that, I am guessing they retain about 90% of what they have acquired.

  7. Adriana’s books have a Teacher edition and a Student edition. Is it suggested that students purchase the student version or can it be taught just by using the Teacher version? Thanks!

  8. I have just started Adriana’s program (just one class, so far), so I can’t comment on effectiveness just yet. I like it because it’s such a nice departure from textbook teaching (which I abhored!).

    I think the kids like the approach. I do have one question: it seems like it might be a kind of single-prong approach that the kids might tire of. Is there a way to incorporate other elements into the storytelling that make it so that it’s not just all-verbal all the time? Has anyone experimented with this? Any contributions are much appreciated.

    Thank you.

    1. I found that Adriana’s book (like any defined book) got boring, so I stopped using it.

      It is however good for TPRS beginners as it will keep you focused on restricting the vocab.

      If the stories get boring, ask using parallel characters, and supplement with movietalk and picturetalk. My blog has entries on both.

      1. Thank you. I forgot to add that I teach 90 min blocks, and that is why I feel it might be too much of one thing. At this point, I feel that her approach would work really well with 50-60 min. classes, but 90 is probably pushing it.

    1. Oh, that’s good information. If I could support the stories with movietalk, that would help. Thank you!

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