Month: December 2014

The “Six Bridges” to Traditional Teaching

Image result for six bridges

Everybody reading this blog has talked to colleagues who either don’t like or don’t get T.P.R.S. and other comprehensible input strategies. Yet it’s pretty obvious our profession needs modernising. At least in Canada, a program such as Core French (regular classroom French) does not work very well: we do not, despite between four and eight years of instruction, produce fluent graduates, and savvy parents want their kids in French Immersion partly because it actually works (and we Spanish, Japanese etc teachers are not much better). This is not because teachers aren’t hard-working, innovative, etc– I havn’t yet met a languages teacher who doesn’t work his or her butt off– but because we don’t use researched, scientifically-sound modern methods.

I think T.P.R.S. (and A.I.M., and narrative paraphrase, and reading) are the best ways (so far) for upping our game. If comprehensible input works, we T.P.R.S. teachers must do our part to modernise the profession. For my part, I will– and do– demo T.P.R.S., talk to colleagues, coach, share materials, write this blog, etc, but we require something else: a simple, do-it-now bridge between comprehensible-input teachers and people who have learned more traditional methods. We need to start somewhere simple: by showing people what we do which works. So, today’s question:

What can comprehensible-input practitioners share with others?

Here are Six Bridges between c.i. and communicative and/or grammarians: simple things ANYONE can do to up their game without doing stories. If your colleague sees how well T.P.R.S. works in your class, but is reluctant, here are six easy ways to start.

A) Go s-l-o-w-l-y. As I have shown, if any teacher– and not just in languages– speaks too quickly, they will lose the kids.

B) Reduce the vocab load, focus on high-frequency vocab, and increase input via repetitions.  A person who uses their textbook can make life much easier on the kids by reducing the number of words the kids must memorise per unit. Do you really need to know all ten ways of saying “goodbye” in Spanish? Do the kids really need to know the words for “underwear” and “socks” in French?

When I taught “communicatively,” with ¡Juntos!‘ massive vocab lists, the kids only ended up using half of the words anyway. Pick the most-frequent, necessary stuff, and focus on that.

Think this way: you have 60 min in a class. If you use 60 vocab items, you have on average 1 minute/item if you want the kids to learn them all. If you have 30 items, you have 2 minutes/item. What do you think the kids are going to better remember: many items superficially “covered,” or fewer items presented in depth?

C) Do more reading. The novels by Karen Rowan, Blaine Ray, Carol Gaab etc, will work in any classroom. If the kids understand, they are learning.

In my view, a lack of reading is the single-greatest flaw that “communicative” teachers’ practice has: they are so focused on talking and writing that their kids don’t read nearly enough. It doesn’t matter what you “believe” or “feel” about language acquisition: there isn’t a teacher in the world who would argue with the value of reading. All we have to do is provide reading that’s comprehensible and interesting.

D) Always clarify.. No kid in any class should ever be guessing what something means. Ambiguity or misunderstanding = no or less acquisition, and frustration (read: behaviour problems). A bit of English is just fine, thank you, if it helps kids understand.

To those who think that the process of establishing meaning (guess, look it up, think of cognates etc) aids acquisition: The involvment load hypothesis suggests that the more meaning processing that happens to an item, the better it is retained.  However, we get a lot more processing via stories, circling etc than through dictionaries, collaborative sentence creation, etc.  Best idea:  give translation where necessary, and make focus the meaningful use of language.

Do you learn a sports skill by Googling and then watching a demo video on Youtube, or by practising? That’s right: in language acquisition, getting comprehensible input is practising. The more you hear/read which you understand, the more you learn.

E) Don’t force output. This will be the hardest pill for “communicative” teachers to swallow, because they like the idea that talking results in acquisition (while we know that the reverse is true). So how should a “communicative” teacher downplay output? Here are some ideas:

1. Use the tapes/DVDs/movies and reading exercises that come with your textbook package before you do any speaking activities. This will provide more input and put the kids on a more solid footing for when you do want them to speak.

2. Confine output– at least initially– to the superstars. If you have a couple of kids who are quick on the uptake and lovers of French/Chinese etc, get them to do the practice dialogues first when you get to new vocab, grammar, etc. If Rorie and Arabella love to chat (and are good at it) have them practice all of the info-gap activities with the rest of the class listening, so that the slower Samba and Max can get some input before they have to try talking.

3. Provide input by using sock puppets, educational software, etc. With various free things such as Bitstrips, Educreations, Storyboard That,and a zillion other apps (most of them free or dirt cheap), it is very easy to provide input– and tons of dialogue modeling– without using kids.

F) Use MovieTalk (a.k.a. “narrative paraphrase,” developed by Ashley Hastings). Kids love it, it’s easy, it requires minimal prep, it’s very effective, and it’s infinitely flexible. Here is how to do Movietalk. Just remember: MovieTalk is not for introducing new vocab.

G) Use PictureTalk.  This is zero-prep, simple, easy, fun…and anyone can do it with 10 mins of training in slowing down and doing basic circling.

A Christmas Message from Papa Blaine

Hey folks– here is Blaine Ray’s annual Christmas letter.  Can people see how many awesome story ideas there are in here? Clase, había un ratón que quería sacar el queso de las trampas…  Anyway here is Papa Blaine:


Dear Friends,

What a nice time of year. It is always fun to tell everyone about all the wonderful things that have happened in the last year. One great thing is that I am still alive. Every year that gets more significant.

A real major high of the last year is that I have been getting better at my running. I used to pass only people in wheelchairs and with canes, but now I routinely pass people who are walking and those who weigh twice as much as I do. It is amazing. In fact, just last week I passed a person in good health who was running at full speed. I passed him easily. Right when I passed him, his Mom yelled at him to stop. He very obedient and he did. Besides, he knew he was going to lose the race to me anyway. So now I can run faster than people in wheelchairs, with canes and three-year olds.

After spending years in cheap hotels, I still haven’t learned my lesson. Last summer I stayed in a nice little 40 dollar a night place. I sat on the toilet and it broke. There was water everywhere. Luckily I was only there for one night. I ran out of towels soaking up the water.

I had one thrill last year. I turned 62 and so was eligible to purchase a lifetime pass to our national park system for 10 dollars. The guy working there of course didn’t believe I was over 62 so he asked for ID. It was such a wonderful feeling to finally get asked for ID to prove my age.Usually one look at me and they don’t question that I am very well qualified for any senior discount.

I had one major setback last year. I decided to use some old material in my Christmas newsletter.  I told the same story two years in a row. A couple of people pointed out that I was using old material. What a setback. This year I had to go back and make sure all of my stories are original this year. It is not easy.

I recently found a real bargain— a $3.50 haircut. I went in thinking it would take just a minute or two. I didn’t think they would cut much of my hair because it would be bad for repeat business.  Much to my surprise, the guy went crazy. He cut my hair shorter than it had been in years. I even asked him for a normal haircut but I guess he didn’t really know what normal was. I think I could give him some good coaching on his business model. If he left a lot more hair, people would come back more often. As it is, I won’t need another haircut for over six months.

We have had a major problem around our house. We have a really smart mouse. We put out traps and the mouse just eats the cheese and the trap doesn’t go off. We have tried several different ways of putting the cheese on the trap but so far nothing has worked. Now instead of singing the song “Feed the Birds” I sing “Feed our Mouse.” Every time I put cheese on the trap I feel like I am setting up a mouse buffet. It is pretty embarrassing to admit you are being outsmarted by a mouse. Hopefully we will have this solved by next year.



Steve Bruno’s AWESOME T.P.R.S. results

So Steve Bruno– after frustrated years with traditional “communicative” and grammar teaching– heard about T.P.R.S. last year and basically took a Nietzschean look at teaching. You’ll remember that Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” idea: if you can make the same choice an infinite number of times, it’s right. Steve thought “what could I do over and over that would rock in my Spanish class?” T.P.R.S. was the answer for him. After emailing people, asking a lot of good questions, watching Adriana Ramírez’ class and seeing a Blaine workshop, he dove in headfirst. Here’s his recent email (and by the way ALL the credit I.M.H.O. should go to Adriana and Blaine):

Hi Chris,

T.P.R.S. is  going just fine! I can’t believe the general success I’ve been
having with all my classes. I have some of my 9s writing over 300 words in 25 minutes! My weakest kids could write around 150. Same thing with my 10s.

Students who last year couldn’t write a simple paragraph at the end of a vocabulary, listening, grammar, writing old-style test and having all period to do so, are now writing 200/300 words in 20-25 minutes.

I love not having to teach any formal grammar and yet see how well they are speaking and writing!

My senior students, although sceptical at first, our now buying into T.P.R.S. as they see the strides they are making, especially in their spoken Spanish. I love how each class is so different, and, although we may be “telling” [asking] the same story in a given grade, the details, surprises, and endings may be totally different.

My 11s are able to tell a story in the past using both imperfect and preterito, again without any formal grammar and  not one lesson on conjugation on either tense!

With my 12s, it’s been awesome as our stories have taken so many twists and turns, and as a result, we’ve had so many laughs!

Another thing I’ve noticed is how students will speak to me/greet me in Spanish in the hallways, something that used to happen only with my older students but now I am seeing it with my 9s as well!

I have had administrators, other teachers, and the head of our district learning services come and observe my classes. They have all been blown away at the level of student engagement. They were all surprised that I’ve only been doing this since September! I can’t wait to get a year or two of experience under my belt; the sky’s the limit!

I’ve been asked to teach a group of interested teachers at my school’s next Pro-d day in January which I’m looking forward to (and the interest is high as it’s so different and they are curious; also, the students talk about T.P.R.S. in their classes all the time!). The head of our district learning services has asked me to do likewise for the district but I don’t feel experienced enough to take that on yet; maybe next year.

I can’t wait to see what happens with next year’s classes. In the past, I’ve had a huge drop out rate from grade 9 to 10. Based on the feedback I’ve been getting, I have a strong feeling most students will continue as they are experiencing success. My principal feels our Spanish programme will grow as more and more students get wind of this fantastic method; she’s worried about finding another TPRS teacher!

I will forever be grateful to both you and Adriana for showing me the way!

Feliz Navidad,


Bob Patrick’s awesome student-generated story idea

Ok ppl this frikkin’ ROCKS! Bob Patrick, who majorly rocks the T.P.R.S. party–in Latin, no less– came up with a cool idea as story warm-up which he calls “one word at a time stories” and Ben Slavic, that relentless acronymist, called O.W.AaT.S. Here it is:

1) make cards with 10-15 words in TL and English that will be in next story.

2) put kids in groups of 3

3) give kids 2-3 new words. They have to start writing a story using the 3 new words. The teacher circulates. When a group gets 1 sentence done– on scrap paper– teacher checks it (opportunities for pop-ups!)

4) when the sentence is good, it gets put on larger, poster-sized paper. The kids then write a second sentence. Same procedure followed.

5) when they have used their 3 words, they trade words with another group and keep going. They have to include 1 dialogue and they can’t use any notes/dictionary/new words except the ones on flashcards.

6) teacher has a sentence limit– e.g. 15 sentences total– then at end of class teacher can type them up for reading the next day.

So I told my colleague Leanda Monro (level 3 French via pure T.P.R.S.) and she gave Bob’s idea its own spin. Check it:

A) she wants to kids to acquire “Jingle Bells”– “Vive le Vent“– in French (well, a bunch of the vocab in it, anyway).

B) she’d asked a Christmas-themed story about a boy lost in the pine woods in winter, searching for his belovéd (she falls into the lake, and is rescued by a crew of Good Smaritan dogs, who feed her hot chocolate). While le petit garçon is wandering around looking for his girlfriend, he runs into a collection of random people while babbling poetry.

C) Leanda cut up 13 new words. They looked like this:


D) the kids were put into groups of 3 and their assignment: write a poem– what le garçon is babbling to himself in the woods as he wanders– using the new words. Each group got 2-3 words to start.

E) When a group got a sentence done, Leanda would correct, they would copy onto bigger paper, and they would move on.

F) the finished poems became the basis for PictureTalk (a.k.a. Ben Slavic’s Look and Discuss) and the kids were hooked– their own work. Here are two examples:



G) Here’s the kicker: when Leanda played them “Vive le Vent,” and asked them comp questions, she estimated the class was around 90/90 (9 of 10 kids got 9 or 10 of 10 questions). The activity was a really good vocab front-loading tool.

I like this: kids can own it (their stories), it’s not crappy output, it shelters vocab, it will become good input…nice work.

Leanda Monro btw is nothing short of a pedagogical genius. She teaches– wait for it– Humanities (English and Socials mixed), PowerFit (brutal, hardcore physical training mixing aerobic work with freeweights plus lessons on anatomy, diet, etc), Level 3 French (via T.P.R.S.) and Social Justice 12. Oh and she’s won bodybuilding championships a few times, is a personal trainer, and at 5’2″ and I am guessing 110 lb soaking wet could probably pick up a 300-lb dude and throw him 20 feet while smiling and reciting French poetry in a really nice accent. Ya, Leanda rocks.

Why do T.P.R.S. teachers overpractice everything?

One feature of a T.P.R.S. classroom– especially during story-asking– is an apparently insane amount of repetition. The teacher is constantly asking questions such as “is there a boy?” and “are the boys dancing in the rain?”. We also use parallel characters to get even more repetitions on vocab.

Now, we know that the more we hear something that we understand, the more we acquire it. But, as it turns out, there is another very good reason to “overpractice” things.

In research done in Colorado, scientists basically did two things while watching subjects learn new skills (here, using a mechanical arm to move objects around). First, they showed that as people practiced more, they used progressively less energy to get a task done. Mastery was defined as, they could do the task with way less energy than they started (i.e. they got more efficient), they could correctly do it, and they could do it quickly and without thinking (little conscious focus).

Secondly– and more interestingly– they showed that once subjects had mastered the task but kept on doing it, their energy expenditure for doing the task kept dropping, while the subjects were unaware of this process. In other words, the subjects got better at the task without realising they were getting better.

When I told some professional musician friends about this, one guy immediately said “amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.

The implications for the languages classroom are enormous and I’m only starting to think about this. (Of course, Mr Intuition himself, Blaine Ray, figured this out twenty-five years ago– now science backs Papa Blaine up on it):

A) “overmastery” should be the goal. We want to make it so that first, students understand without any thinking or pauses. And second, we want them to be able to quickly and easily and unselfconsciously and fluently “spit out” responses to questions, or statements describing things, or questions, orally or in writing.

B) the reason we want this, as the article shows, is that once we have “overmastery,” we are using both much less mental bandwidth and less energy to process the “known” (acquired) stuff, which, crucially, frees mental processing power for newer input.

This last point’s importance cannot be overstated. You want as much “open mind” as possible available for what you are now learning. The more mental clutter you have– unconscious self-talk along the lines of wait, what does that mean? What did he say? How do I say ____ again?— the less energy and mental room you have for new stuff.

C) if you think mental processing power is unlimited, read The User Illusion. Norestranders shows that since about 98% of mental processing is unconscious, we have very limited opportunities for conscious input, and it follows from this that the more we limit the variety of input, and “smooth out” the mind’s unconscious operations– by “automatising” them with practice– the easier it will be to acqure new stuff.

It occured to me that this could potantially be a “communicative” teacher’s argument for yet more student talk in the languages class–“the research obviously says they have to practice”– but this is probably not the case. The reason for this is that practice, in the languages classroom, is literally 90%+ listening and reading. The more we listen and read, the more automatic the language becomes. Blaine Ray was asked at a workshop whether the actors in stories acquired more than the rest of class (most T.P.R.S. teachers seem to have a regular crew of actors) and he said “no.” You don’t learn (much) by talking; you learn a ton by listening.

D) If we “overmaster” the seven basic “power verbs,” we can do pretty much anything even with limited vocab. Has, is, wants, needs, goes, likes/loves, gives/receives I am betting will get 80% of the needed work done in any language. So if students have these automatised, they have some really good “real world” prep (a point made by Jim Tripp on Ben’s).

Musical analogy:

When I started with Irish music, every new tune was major labor. But I went to sessions weekly and after awhile they became faster and faster to learn. (My first-year goal was two tunes/week and I almost did it– I’d hear something awesome, ask its name, then look the music up online and practice at home). The learning became quicker because a) my fingers got the moves wired and b) I started to internalise the scales and rhythms. Irish is mostly in mixolydian and dorian, so the classically-trained and rock guy (me) will naturally play a C# instead of C natural in a mix tune. Eventually I just naturally unthinkingly started hitting the dimished 7ths of the mix and dor scales

Once you play (and listen) enough, the input soaks in and you stop making certain kinds of mistakes. You also subconsciously note tune and bar similarities and you find yourself going “well the B part of Scatter the Mud is more or less like The Noonday Feast except with a mix 3rd” or whatever.

And when these things start happening– when finger movement and scales (what’s “in” and what’s “out”) get automatised– acquisition of tunes becomes easier and quicker. Indeed, I now mostly learn purely by listening, and only occasionally look at sheet music.

Another interesting effect: the more “wired in”– automatised– tunes become, the more you can experiment on them. I still remember playing Cooley’s, a tune I’d played a hundred times at least, and finding myself playing triplets– hard on mando– because I had the tune so wired in that my brain could now explore a new music trick.

I also remember the exact moment I acquired the Spanish subjunctive. After a month of lessons, lots of travel and work, on a sunny day waiting for a bus near Huehuetenango, Guatemala, a guy asked me “when is the bus coming” and I said “espero que venga pronto.”. If the input is there and you get it, the more of the basics you unthinkingly do, the more easily the non-English stuff comes.

Anyway, the analogy’s point: the more you solidify the basics, the easier anything subsequent becomes. Luckily for us, T.P.R.S. allows us zillions of reps because stories– especially with multiple parallel characters– accomodate repetition without boredom because the language is the container, not the content: we teach stories with language, not language with grammar.

How do we do “ping pong” (a.k.a. “volleyball”) reading?

We know from Krashen and many others that reading is crucial to acquisition of first and other languages.  Reading gives us repetitions on vocab, “fuses” the visual with the auditory, and, crucially, allows us to slow down, pause, and go back, which we can’t do as much when getting oral input.

Also, crucially, reading shows us the zillions of subtle ‘rules’ that make up language use, rules which we could teach but which would be tedious.  For example, which sounds better: “I am a hard-working, employed professional” or “I am an employed, hard-working professional”?  The first.  Why?  I dunno.  I could work it out, probably, but who cares– I’d rather read a good story and soak it up that way than have to hack through a set of rules.  In Spanish, this is another tricky thing: you can say “es un gran hombre” and “es un hombre grande.”  The first means “he is a great man” and the second means “he is a [physically] large man.”  You could teach people the rules about literal vs figurative adjective placement, bla bla, or you could let them read.  For what it’s worth, as an English teacher, I can tell you with 100% certainty, the best writers are– always— readers.  There are no good writers who don’t read a ton. (I often joke with friends that the exception here are the Irish, and in the case of the Irish what we have are a culture that seems above all to value verbal dexterity and storytelling.)

(By the way, in my view, one of the biggest problems in the so-called “communicative” classrooms I see is that they don’t read.  No matter how good your teaching is, if you don’t make the kids read, you are shooting yourself in the foot).

So, reading matters a lot. First, principles:

a) reading should be 95%+ comprehensible.  If it isn’t, the kids stop or majorly slow acquisition, screw around, get annoyed, etc.

b) reading should be easy, and not intimidating/embarrassing, etc.

c) reading should be interesting— and what is interesting usually involves people, suspense, and a bit of humour (and surrealism sure doesn’t hurt either).

The best non-teacher-centered reading strategy I have yet seen I learned from Von Ray, and it’s called “ping-pong” reading, also known as “volleyball” reading:  the kids take a text, sentence at a time, and “volley” the target language and the English back and forth at each other.

So how do we do ping-pong reading?

a) Get kids into pairs.  I do pairs of rows (5 kids per row, two rows beside each other, three “pairs” of rows = 30 kids).  They can “be with their friends” because they will be moving soon.  You can also do Socratic circles.  Any system where kids can easily move to a new partner works.

b) Make sure each kid has a copy of whatever you are reading (versions of asked stories best– novels tend to have WAY too much new vocab).

c) Set a timer with alarm for 3 min.

d) One kid per pair reads the first sentence aloud in the target language.

e) The other kid translates that into English, then reads the second sentence in the TL.

f) The first kid translates that into English and reads the third sentence aloud, etc.

g) When your timer goes, they switch partners.  In my room, the left-hand kid moves one back; kid at back moves to front.

h)  They figure out where each was, and start from the least-far-along kid’s last spot.  E.g. if Max and his partner read to the 19th sentence in the story, while Samba and her partner read to the 15th, when Max and Samba sit together, they will start reading where Samba got to: the 15th sentence.  That way Samba doesn’t get lost, and Max gets reps.

i) Reset phone and start timer again.  Repeat until they are done the story.  Then of course review the crap out of it!  You can ask t/f questions, or get your superstars to give one-sentence answers (and have the slower processors translate) etc.


  • I don’t do this a lot– typically once per story, and it will last about 15 min– but I have not yet seen a better way to keep kids reading and focused.  I also tell them “if you disagree about what something means, check your vocab sheet or ask me.”
  • Another REALLY good idea thanks to Laurie Clarq is to use embedded readings for this (Blaine Ray is also big on embedded readings).  For this, the teacher reads the first version– the simplest one which contains the target structures– aloud and the kids chorally translate.  For the second, more complex version, the teacher reads aloud, the kids translate, and you can throw in a few questions.  You must make sure they understand everything, because if they don’t, they will screw up/misunderstand when they are reading on their own.  For the third and longest version, the kids go into full ping-pong on their own and the teacher just sets timer and keeps them on track.
  • the kids seem to see this as almost a game, which is cool.  Also the get-up-and-move thing is really helpful and they like that they can sit even for a few minutes with their friends.
  • I have found that my kids really do stay on task for this, provided it doesn’t go on too long and provided that the reading is comprehensible.
  • One of the reasons the kids like this– other than the “I get to sit with my friend” thing– is that, like choral output, this is non-intimidating.  You know the words so you probably won’t screw up either the reading or the translation, and if you do screw up, only one person gets to hear.

What is T.P.R.S.’ Sequence of Instruction?

Now that I have been using Adriana Ramírez’ Learning Spanish With Comprehensible Input Storytelling for 10 weeks I thought I’d show how I use the text. At any point, if there is extra time, or we are bored, we take out our novel– Berto y sus Buenas Ideas, or whatever, and we read– guided and questioned by me– for 5-15 min.

Adriana’s teacher book has the historia básica– the story version we ask– and the preguntas personalizadas, along with a short list of the grammar “points” introduced in each story.

A) Photocopy the historia básica and the preguntas personalizadas and give the kids each a copy.  I give my kids the historia básica in photocopy form because I want them to re-read a simple version of the story.  The historia extendida and the comprehension questions are in the student book.

B) establish meaning– have kids write down Spanish words and English meanings in the student books.

C) ask the story, sticking fairly close to the historia básica. Add 1-2 parallel characters. Have 1-2 actors for the main story and have the parallel characters sit at their desks (with one prop each) to identify them. The beginning is always establishing lots of details about the characters.

D) Personalised questions and answers (PQA): ask the faster processors in class (just regular kids sitting there) the questions you ask the actors. Do this AFTER each actor has said his/her answer. E.g. If you narrate “the boy wants to speak Spanish,” ask the actor “do you want to speak Spanish?” Then ask the kids “do YOU want to speak ____?” For this I use whatever I ask actors plus the preguntas personalizadas in the teacher’s book (the kids also have copies of these).

E) When done, ask a thousand comp questions. Does the boy want to own a Ferrari? Does the girl want 10 blue cats or 20? I read sentences from the historia básica aloud and ask questions, and I also throw a TON of PQA into this.  I will generally do the comp questions around the historia básica  that I’ve copied and given them– I have found that another, very simple, re-reading of more or less exactly what was asked helps a lot.

F) Spend one block (75 min) reading the historia extendida aloud, asking zillions of questions, doing PQA, etc.  This takes awhile, as the historia extendida typically has a bunch of new vocab (typically 15 or so words not in the asked/básica version of the story).

G) Do ping-pong reading of the historia extendida for about 15 min. Then give them 20 min to write the answers to the comprehension questions in the student book. I collect these and mark 3 questions/student for comprehension.

H) at this point, Adriana gives them one period to practise and perform the story– changing only names and places– but I have ditched this because the kids give me crappy output and retells do not seem to boost acquisition. Adriana is convinced it works– it definitely works for her and her kids– but I have not figured this out yet.  I’ll keep ppl posted as hopefully Adriana can walk me through this for the 37th time (I am not a smurt guyy).

This is where I do MovieTalk and PictureTalk (Ben Slavic’s “Look and Discuss”). I will picturetalk 1-3 images that support the vocab from our story, and I’ll movietalk one video that does the same.

I) for homework, they have to either draw a 12-panel comic of the story, or copy and translate the story (the historia extendida). This is “deep reading” that really focuses them in on the story.

J) I sometimes “re-ask” the basic story super-quickly at some point (much less circling).

K) Test. First, speedwrite: they must write as many words as they can in 5 min. The topic will be either 1. describe yourself or 2. describe a picture I put on the overhead (this picture will be of a person who has possessions or characteristics of a character in the story).

Then we have a 5-min brain break.

Second, relaxed write. They have 35 min to re-write the story. They need 2 characters minimum, 4 dialogues central to the story, and they have to “twist” the story after our 3rd story. For the first two, they can just re-write the story. After that, they have to substantially change the story details.

L) I then give them the vocab etc (see A) for our next story.

Test and introducing new vocab takes 1 block.


1. If the kids like whatever we are doing, or reading,nand/or PQA takes off, I’ll spend as long as I can on this. If they are in the target language, and they understand, and there are zillions of reps, they are learning. Remember what Papa Blaine said: “My goal is to never finish a story.”

2. Another AWESOME thing to throw in are fake texts– easy to generate and personalise/customise for each story– kids like the visuals and you get loads more reps on the dialogue (this is the hardest thing to do– reps on dialogue). Just google “fake text generator” or try this one for iPhone texts.

3. Each class begins with me circling date, day, month, time and weather for about 1 min.  This means that by end of five-month semester kids will know all weather, #s 1-30, days of the week, etc.

4. It’s crucially important to remember that you must do what works for you and your kids. Adriana and I and Natalia and everyone I know who uses this book (and T.P.R.S. in general) uses it differently. T.P.R.S. itself is now different than what Blaine Ray created– he himself continues to modify the method– so do your thing. As I told Adriana, her excellent book is a platform from which Spanish teaching launches.  Adriana does retells; I don’t; both of us do assessment slightly differently, etc.

Ok there you have it, what I do.

Results: Beginners after 10 weeks of T.P.R.S. (Fall 2014)

I did my stats today on my beginning Spanish class.

Relaxed write (they have 35 min to re-write a modified version of our most recent story, or to make up their own):

Average word-count = 360 words
Average grammar mark = 1.9/3

Speedwrites (they have 5 min to write as many words as possible. Topics alternate between a) describe yourself and b) describe a picture on overhead (the picture will be of someone very like in our most recent story)):

Average wordcount = 60 words
Average grammar mark = 2.2/3

The grammar marking rubric is this:

3 The writing flows smoothly and logically, with minor errors that do not interfere with meaning, and no what? moments.

2 The writing mostly flows smoothly, with a few rough spots and the occasional what? moment

1 The writing is rough and/or illogical, hard to follow, and has many what? moments.


— I have one student with real problems– some home stress, attendance issues, and she has difficulty focusing in class– whose writing is simply not improving. Without her, the speedwrite wordcount goes up by about 7 and the grammar mark by .2. Relaxed write wordcounts & marks would also be higher.

— Of course I also have superstar Shayla, who wrote a letter-perfect 550 words last relaxed write.

— the speedwrite grammar marks on the “describe yourself” tasks are better because– I think– the work is more repetitive, and because the input is as well. If I am constantly asking my actors “are you a guy?” or “do you live in North Korea?”, the class will be hearing the answers– the “describe yourself” vocab– more than the story vocab.

— the speedwrite marks on “describe the picture” tasks are a bit lower, because there is less repetition and more new vocab. Also because they are a “two-step” process: they have to look, think, then write.

— course goals: write 100 excellent words in 5 min; write an excellent-grammar 800-word story in 40 min. I am hoping that 9 of 10 kids can do this and that 1 in 10 will do 80/500 words at grammar level 2

— so far we are well on track to course goals. I am speeding up story-asking process (5 days/story including one block for speedwrite and relaxed write and introducing vocab for new story). I am hoping to do six more stories (plus novel reading) so 11 total– we should be well into the past-tense stuff

— overall I am pleased and this year I am going to take video of some beginners’ oral output at end of year (just to document how far they got, not for marks)