The selfie is everywhere.  Even I have taken a few and I am the ugliest guy in the world and don’t much like looking at myself.

BUT selfies are loads of fun especially when the kids come up with them.  So how do we do selfietalk?

a. Get the kids to take a selfie.  Ideally, this will be taken somewhere there’s background that’s identifiable, and also ideally there will be two students from class in it.  Oh and it’s gotta be appropriate.

b. They email you the selfie.

c. Project it, and then Picturetalk it.  You make statements, and ask questions about it, and here, you ask the person(s) in the selfie to talk (in first person) about what was happening.

So the other day the foods teacher was teaching pancake-making to her grade 8s and brought me a plate of pancakes.  I couldn’t eat ’em but Neha– who had rolled out of bed late and had forgotten to eat breakfast WAS ALL OVER THESE and her pal took a photo which got sent to me.

So here’s some sample Q&A about the photo that I did:

Who’s eating? –Neha is eating.

What is Neha eating? –She is eating pancakes.

What is Neha wearing? –She is wearing a bunny hug.

Is her bunny hug blue or black? –Her bunny hug is blue

Is Drake or Neha eating pancakes?Neha is eating pancakes.  Drake is not eating pancakes.


Then, I asked Neha some questions:

Did you like the pancakes?  — Yes I liked the pancakes

Why did you like the pancakes? — I liked the panckaes bc they were delicious.

What were you eating? –I was eating pancakes.

Was SpongeBob eating pancakes? — No, *I* was eating pancakes.

That evening I made a crude meme out of this with a simple  sentence (“I like pancakes a lot”)

The next day, we spent a few minutes talking about the photo.  The cool thing here: the photo and Spanish were 100% comprehensible, and the writing 100% supported the picture.  I was able to ask the kids questions like ¿te gustan los pancqueques? and ¿te gustan los panqueques un poquito, o te gustan mucho? (do you like pancakes, and do you like panckaes a bit or a lot?) and they could easily answer from reading.

Here’s another: Max the Samoyed and me going climbing. 

The question reads “why are they happy?” and of course this is tailor-made for Sr Stolz to make fun of himself and the kids to go AWWWWWIEEE at Max. 

Anyway…happy selfietalk!






Melanie Bruyer’s Great German Class

No Pro-D is ever better than watching a butt-kickingly good teacher live in front of kids in their classroom.  And the Pro-D I got last week in Minneapolis was very good indeed.  There I met Melanie Bruyers and her first-year, 8th-grader German class thanks to Grant Boulanger.  I was also psyched cos I got to walk around the school and see a few other Spanish classrooms.  So here are cool activities.

Here’s what I saw her do:

The classroom has almost no German signs etc in it but it has a whack of Spanish pronouns on the back wall.

When the kids came in, Melanie circled the day and date and asked briefly about the weather.

Then it was TPR time!  Melanie showed a video– hilariously bad– of a German singer dancing and pointing saying things like “Was magst du?  Ich mage laufen!” (What do you like?  I like running!) and the kids were supposed to watch, dance, sing and point the way he did.  And they actually did, and seemed to like it.

Then it was time to do Bryce Hedstrom’s “La Persona Especial.”  Melanie put me in the visitor’s big chair at the front, and on the overhead projected a set of questions (in the formal) like “Wie heissen Sie?” and “Wass haben Sie gern?”  The class read and said these in unison, and I answered, s.l.o.w.l.y., in German.  Then it was time for a student, and a boy came up.  Melanie then projected the same questions (in the familiar), the students chorally read them, and the boy answered, mostly in single words.

After this, it was story time, and Melanie asked a very short, two-scene story about a boy who was somewhere in the Star Wars universe but could not hear ____ music, so he had to go elsewhere and listen to it there.  This was funny and the kids were into it.  Melanie asked a few questions, circled some of the sentences a bit, and then this period was done.

Melanie’s class is as good as language teaching gets.  Some notes:

  • she is input-focused and wants output only to signal comprehension, which is perfect for beginners
  • the kids shush each other during activities, because they like German
  • at the end of class, when she did “1-10 fingers to show comprehension,” most of them were at 8-10
  • the class incorporated personalisation, interesting stories, music and movement.
  • she is using unsheltered grammar

As the class left, a Spanish teacher came in, and I asked him what he was doing with his kids.  “We’re doing a unit on pronouns,” he said, pointing to the back wall.  I asked him what his end-of-year goal with his Spanish beginners was, and he said “well I want them to be able to use regular present-tense verbs, numbers and so on, you know, basic stuff.”

Then we went for lunch and we wen to Caribou Coffee.

“I’ll have a double espresso,” I said to the barista.

“What’s that?” she asked.

I have now heard it all, I thought.

In the afternoon, I saw Melanie with her Germans 3s.  This was a “boring” class to watch cos the kids were mostly reading but notable was how they were on-task, only one kid took her phone out, and after Melanie did pre-reading of new vocab with them, they were able to read (and write a bit) independently.

One cool thing she did was, she made a list of categories on the board (in this case, city vs small town, and interesting and boring) and the kids had to come up and write words in the categories.  So they wrote e.g. “viele Leute” and “Lärm” in the city section.  This then turned into a bit of PQA before the kids got into their reading.

Melanie would not normally do this kind of reading with the kids– the topic was “Landeier in der Grosstadt” (“country bumpkins in the big city”)– but she is teaching them a Uni-prep class so they have a boring standardised curriculum that they must “cover” some of.

Anyway.  Thanks Melanie for letting me see solid, engaging comprehensible input teaching!

What is “circling” and how do I do it?

Learners need a LOT of meaningful repetition to acquire something, so years ago Susan Gross developed the “circling” technique to allow teachers to make huuuuuuge numbers of repetitions on vocab.  Here’s how you do it, and no, you don’t have to use T.P.R.S. to benefit.  You are also going to circle sentences you find in reading, and things you say in Movietalk.

1.  Start with a sentence– Rochelle quiere jugar fútbol (R. wants to play soccer) & make sure kids understand it.

2. Ask a yes question– ¿clase, Rochelle quiere jugar fútbol?–and class answers sí.  Restate sentence.

3.  Ask a no question–clase, ¿Rochelle quiere jugar basquetbol ?– and class answers no. Restate sentence.

4. Ask an either/or question– clase, ¿quiere Rochelle jugar basquetbol o fútbol?– and class answers fútbol.  Restate sentence.

5.  Ask an “adding detail” question where kids have input– clase, ¿dónde quiere jugar fútbol Rochelle?— and when they suggest something interesting, add that to the sentence, e.g. Sí, clase, ¡Rochelle quiere jugar basquetbol en Barcelona!

6.  Now, circle the new detail, always restating the sentence s.l.o.w.l.y. Clase, ¿quiere Rochelle jugar fútbol en Barcelona? ¿Quiere jugar fútbol en Los Angeles? etc

If you want to add details, “with whom?” and “where?” questions are best, as these add details without adding new vocab.  In T.P.R.S., we want to recycle a small amount of vocab so people really acquire it, rather than swamping students in an ocean of partly-acquired words.

The most important thing I have learned about circling is, don’t overdo it.  If you have a story with, say, 3 parallel characters, you are going to re-use each sentence for each character, so please for the kids’ sake do not beat the sentences to death. If your structure is quería tener (wanted to have) you can ask a yes question about one character, a no question about another, etc. If you are doing Ben Slavic-style “pre-teaching” where you circle and play around with vocab before asking a story, always start with two sentences (more variety).

Goddess Laurie Clarq also weighed in– read her ideas here— and another suggestion (dunno where this came from) is to circle subject, verb then object (or to mix the order up).

E.g. your sentence is Maninder tiene tres novos guapos (M. has three handsome boyfriends).

So, first you circle Maninder.  Clase, ¿tiene tres novios guapos Maninder? ¿Tiene tres novios guapos Anna? ¿Tiene tres novios Anna o Maninder?  Always repeat the sentence.

You next circle the verb.  Clase, ¿,quiere o tiene tres novios guapos Maninder? Clase, ¿quiere tres novios guapos? Etc

Finally, you circle the subject.  Clase, ¿Maninder tiene tres novios guapos? ¿Tiene tres perros? ¿Tiene tres gatos o tres novios?

The circling keys to success are

  • go s.l.o.w.l.y
  • keep it 100% comprehensible
  • go slow enough to be understood, and fast enough to not be boring
  • use parallel characters (or sentences) so you don’t beat your questions to death
  • DO NOT CIRCLE EVERYTHING!  You only need to (mainly) circle new-ish stuff.

What does T.P.R.S. Goddess Laurie Clarq say about circling?

Laurie Clarq– the inventor of embedded readings— is one of the nicest, smartest teachers I have ever met.  Not only is she a T.P.R.S. goddess, she also beat cancer, is a brilliant presenter, a solid writer, and just an all-around wonderful person.  She’s been doing comprehensible input for a loooong time now and recently on Ben’s  she submitted some comments re: how to circle.

Circling is where the teacher says a sentence– e.g.  Mike saw the girl— and then asks yes/no, either/or, true/false and more-detail questions about it, all the time repeating the target structure.  This is how we get repetitions of target structures and also how we add detail.  Circling was invented by Susan Gross.

So today, here are some comments shamelessly stolen from Ben’s blog 😉 where Laurie gives some ideas about circling.  You’ll have to join Ben’s ($5/month– a good deal) for the full-meal-deal.

Laurie writes:   “Confusion about circling is often at the heart of why people feel successful [in this work], or don’t. When we first learn to “circle” we learn that we can stay on one question/statement and get over a dozen ways to ask questions on that one question/statement. When we practice, we practice using that statement all of those different ways. It helps us to get familiar with all of the different options for asking questions/making statements and recycling one simple structure.

That is ‘CIRCLING PRACTICE’ and I’m afraid that as trainers, we don’t make that clear. Teachers leave thinking that storyasking in the classroom looks like circling one statement twelve ways and then moving on to the next statement [and circling that in the same] twelve ways and the next and the next and so on.  Then, when they do that in the classroom, students’ eyes glaze over and the teachers feel as if they aren’t doing it right.

So what is the “right” way?  Whatever works with your students [and whatever keeps the story moving and the interest high].  Granted, we can have twelve ways to recycle a statement/question. But as you already figured out, using all of them in a row over and over doesn’t work.

Think of it like sanding wood.  If you only sand in one place, in the same direction, you end up with a groove…exactly the opposite of what you want! Sanding needs to take place repeatedly, but over various places, and sometimes, depending on your goal in circles. Then you step back, look at how it’s going, find a place that needs a little more work and start over there…..sanding and smoothing and blending until you have the effect that you want. You may even change the types of sandpaper that you want to a finer grit as you get closer and closer to your goal.

You can use the “circling training” process when you, and/or your students, are new to the process. It helps them, and/or you, get used to the thought process. Now that you all are used to that, here are some strategies that you can use to make circling seem fresh.

GO SLOWLY, especially at first, but once they have the circling idea, these will work beautifully.

Here’s a sentence to work with: Ethan saw the wallet.

Strategy #1: Remind students that they are to ‘see the story in their head/visualize.’ Number one important skill for students!!!!! This allows you to ask students to occasionally close their eyes and visualize as you ask the questions.

Strategy # 2: Ask these questions as if they ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ON EARTH. Your tone of voice can completely change circling!! [anyone who has ever seen West Vancouver’s own T.P.R.S. goddess Michelle Metcalfe in action will get this].  How?

a. Add pauses. Class………………..did Ethan………….or Jay-Z see the wallet? Right…….Jay-Z did not ……see the wallet. Ethan……saw the wallet.

b.  Adopt a “thinking pose”. Before, during or after a question stop and pose….as if the question deserves your entire body’s attention to figure out. You can be natural or overly dramatic..either works!

c. Pause and point. Or, have a student point. Or have a student hold up the phrase on a card as you use it.

d. React facially to the students’ response. Raise your eyebrows, shake your head, look confused or relieved, nod knowingly. When students answer a question, they need to know that you are LISTENING, not just waiting for a sound.

e. Add short, natural phrases that are comprehensible to your circling: It’s obvious, Yes, I had no idea, It’s the truth, Who knew? Do this slowly and put a phrase on the board if necessary, but this is very fun. “No?!! Seriously? Ethan saw the wallet? Who knew?”

Strategy # 3. Ask the individual opinions of several students. “In your opinion Marcos, who saw the wallet first? Really? Interesting, class, Marcos said that Ethan saw the wallet first. Ale, in your opinion, who saw the wallet first? Oh…class Ale also said that Ethan saw the wallet first. Who said that Ethan saw the wallet first? Marcos and Ale both said that Ethan saw the wallet first (give Marcos and Ale a high five). Who said FIRST that Ethan saw the wallet first? Yes! Marcos. Why did Ale and Marcos say that Ethan found the wallet first? Because it’s the truth!! Ethan found the wallet first!!”

Strategy #4Add at least one extra piece of information to the statements other than the Subject+Verb+Complement. This gives you more to circle. Instead of “Ethan saw the wallet. ” Consider: “Ethan the elephant saw the wallet.” Or “Ethan saw the wallet first.” This is of particular use if you have a variety of “processors” in your room. The faster processors love hearing/knowing/remember the extra information. This also makes visualization easier…more details. Be careful not to add too much.

I add this: when adding extra information, the easiest things to add are always place and person, because these do not require any new vocab, and allow a ton of interest and loads more reps.  For example, if we have “Ethan saw the wallet” and we add “in McDonalds,” we need no new vocab, and we have a ton more room for asking questions.  “Did Ethan see the wallet in McDonalds or in Burger King?  Did John or Ethan see the wallet in McDonalds?” etc.

Strategy #5: Get that information from the students. Fish, Fish, Fish. Keep adding details so that they can visualize, so that you can reuse the structure, so that it stays interesting. IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW FAR YOU GET IN THE STORY IF YOU ARE USING A STRUCTURE. Was Ethan a big elephant or a gigantic elephant? (get the opinion of three or four students…then have the class vote.) “According to the popular vote, Ethan, a gigantic elephant saw the wallet first!! Yes!! So, Ethan, a gigantic elephant saw the wallet first…..wait….what kind of wallet did Ethan see? ”[

[Blaine Ray: “My goal is to never finish a story.”]

Strategy #6: Say two statements then circle, rather than circling after every sentence. So say your statement is “Ethan the elephant saw the wallet first.” Add a second statement before “circling” “Ethan the elephant saw the wallet first. The wallet was in the garbage.” This gives you more information to “circle” and will keep them more alert to the questions that you are asking. “Did Ethan the elephant or Morgan the snake see the wallet first? Ah yes, Morgan didn’t see the wallet first, Ethan saw the wallet first. Where did he see the wallet? He saw the wallet in the garbage?? Really?? Did he see the wallet in the toilet? No? He didn’t see it in the toilet ? Ok so he didn’t see it in the toilet, he saw it in the garbage.

Strategy #7: Go back in the story. You’ve established that Ethan the elephant saw the wallet first. You’ve established that he saw the wallet in the garbage. You’ve found out that it was inside of a Mountain Dew cup on top of one half of a sandwich. Ok class….let’s go back a minute and remember how this started. Who saw the wallet first? Did Ethan or Morgan see the wallet first? Ask 2 or 3 questions and get back to where you left off. Don’t beat it to death, but go back for a short time.

Strategy #8: Go back in the story and add a detail. Who saw the wallet first? Where was the wallet? What did Ethan do when he saw the wallet? (did he yell when he saw the wallet? did he pick up the wallet when he saw the wallet? did he eat the 1/2 sandwich when he saw the wallet? Did he pick up the wallet before he ate the sandwich or after he ate the sandwich?)

Strategy #9: Incorporate a gesture. Create (or, better, class-create) a gesture for saw. EVERY time you say “saw” in your narration/circling, the students show you the gesture. Use this judiciously. It can get old. Another option is to put two “gesturers” in the front of the class to gesture for the class every time you use the phrase.

[I note: gestures are good with any verb, noun etc.  After awhile, you can drop them when you know the kids have them.  E.g. when your slowest processor knows “there is” (a crucial yet oddly hard term) you can stop gesturing it]

Strategy #10/11: Interview the actors (if you are using actors….or…ADD actors…Class…oooo…let’s really SEE this scene…then you have to go back and review the story with the actors) Ethan, did you see the sandwich first? Yes. Class, did Ethan say that he saw the sandwich first? Yes class, Ethan says that he saw the sandwich first. Marcos, did you see the sandwich first? Yes. Class, did Marcos say that he found the sandwich first? Yes, Marcos also says that he saw the sandwich first. Hmmm Did Ethan or Marcos really see the sandwich first? What is your opinion?

DO NOT TRY ALL OF THESE STRATEGIES AT ONCE. My guess is that you are already, naturally incorporating some of them. Make note of that first. Improve on what you are already naturally doing!! Then pick one and integrate it until you are comfortable…then add another.

The more advanced your students are, the more of these strategies you will eventually want to incorporate. These are some of the “skills” that bring “practice circling” to the level of “natural circling”!!”

How should I teach boring stuff, like numbers, weather and pronouns?

At a workshop, somebody asked me how T.P.R.S. deals with boring stuff.  Some things are essential, but boring.

  • Hellos and goodbyes
  • weather
  • time
  • numbers
  • days, dates & months
  • the alphabet
  • pronouns
  • colours
  • location words
  • Connectors, like “she said” and “then” and “afterward”
  • verbs such as “there is/are,” “to go,” etc

YAWN.  Some textbooks– e.g. Avancemos– do entire units on this stuff.  DOUBLE YAWN.  I used to make games to teach this stuff TRIPLE YAWN I AM FALLING ASLEEP!  Boring stuff is like a nice salsa: a bit makes everything better; an entire jar at once will turn you off Mexican food forever.

Today’s question: How do we teach boring stuff without boring students?

a) Days of the week, months, numbers 1-31.  Every day, you write the date on the board in TL.  Under the date, write how to say the date in TL.  E.g. hoy es lunes, el 4 (cuatro) de mayo.

At the start of class, circle the date for a bit.  Clase.  ¿Es el lunes?  Si, es el lunes.  ¿Es el martes? No, no es el martes; es el lunes. ¿Es el lunes o el martes?  Es el lunes.  Clase. ¿Es el cuatro o el cinco de mayo?  Si, clase, es el cuatro.

If you don’t know what “circling” is, it’s easy.  Make a statement, then ask about it.  Ask a question with a yes answer, then with a no answer, then an either/or answer.  For every question, restate the positive.  Don’t keep the same question order for circling.

This should, over 5 months, help the kids acquire #s 1-30 and days of the week.  You literally need 30 seconds per class.  After awhile, the kids will start saying them.

b) Colours and #s greater than 30.  Throw one colour– and one number the kids don’t know– into every story you do.  The boy doesn’t want a cat; he wants a blue cat.  No, no; he wants 54 blue cats.  You can do the same for hellos and goodbyes— throw one or two into every story.

c) Weather.  I start the year with one weather expression on board for the weather that day and circle that.  If the weather is different the next day, I write that on board and circle it for a minute.  30-40 seconds of weather circling every day = weather done by end of year.  This eventually extends into PQA.  Once the kids know a few expressions, you can then feel class energy and start circling something like “When it’s raining, Suzie dances in the street!”  You can also add weather as background in stories– “when Suzie went dancing, it was raining” (bonus: imparfait/imperfecto input!).

If the weather where you are never changes, ask “what’s the weather like in ____?” and circle that for a bit.

d) Also works for location words: in most TPRS stories the characters move somewhere.  So when you say “there was a boy in Spuzzum, B.C.” and then you ask “where in Spuzzum was the boy?” (and kids make suggestions) you can add something like “the boy was in the purple Ferrari behind his Spanish teacher’s house.”

e) Time is easy to deal with.  I just randomly once/class point to the clock and say “Clase, son las diez y veinte” or whatever, then translate.  I circle that.  Clase, ¿son las diez y veinte or son las diez y quince?  Si, clase, son las diez y veinte.  If I said “son las nueve y diez, what would that mean?”  I also throw time into each story once– great chance to toss in the imperfecto/imparfait— and briefly circle.

f) For connecting words— like asks, answers, then, after, before, etc– just translate.  The kids will see these so often during the year that they will pick them up.  Every story has “she said” and “then he answered,” etc, in it.

g) for boring and high-frequency verbs, throw them into every story, use them over and over, but don’t circle them obsessively. Verbs like to like, have, be, want, go, come and need are going to be in every story, basically.  The first time you use one, circle it by adding interesting student-suggested detail.  (“Class, was there a boy or a blue turtle?  That’s right, there was a boy….”). After that, use the verbs (in various person and tense forms) but don’t circle them, and do comprehension checks.

Students will see/hear the “boring” verbs a zillion times during the year. They will get the reps, so keep things interesting. 

Blaine Ray does this in his Look, I Can Talk books and it’s simply brilliant: the boring stuff is simple easy background.  If you get rid of the idea that students must learn all “things in a category” at the same time (which they don’t, and can’t, and it’s boring and silly, and even if they do learn it, they forget), you’re set.

H) The alphabet.  Oh God what is more boring? Nothing.  Also note that the only place the alphabet is regularly used is the classroom. It is low frequency and therefore not important. WASTE NO TIME ON “ALPHABET ACTIVITIES,” PEOPLE 😏. Label your parallel characters with letters (chica jota = “Girl J”) and just write and point during quizzes (e.g. label your exit quiz questions n,o,p,q,r, point and say). Also note that if you do alphabet (or number) “games” or songs with your kids, they are probably learning the song a whole lot better than the numbers and letters.

i) Pronouns.  Put them into the background of stories.  You are narrating el chico quería a la chica.  La quería muchíisimo (the boy liked the girl.  He liked her a lot).  You say “la means her” and then you check to make sure they understand the sentence.  Then, you use that (and other pronouns) for the rest of the year.  Because they are of low communicative value, pronouns are late-acquired, so don’t stress if your kids don’t start using them right away.  Whatever you do, do not make a “unit” around pronouns, and do not expect to teach your kids a song or rap about pronouns and expect them to pick them up.

If you’re teaching with a text, just locate all the boring stuff for the year and spread a nice thin layer throughout your year rather than forcing your students to swallow the whole Boring Jar in one tedious go.  The greetings unit (eg Avancemos 1 Ch1)?   Use one new greeting and goodbye per story.

One final note on circling: do not beat boring stuff to death (i.e. don’t let boring stuff take over your story).  Do NOT spend 3 minutes per class on the weather, or circle the time in a story for 5 minutes.  A few reps each day over the year adds up to the same thing as 60-100 reps in one story.  If they know that hace buen tiempo means “it’s nice weather outside,” it doesn’t matter if you repeat it eighty times in one day, or eighty times in one year.  However, if you do it eighty times in one story, some kids will tune out…and your boring stuff will, sadly, have become boring.

There is also research regarding memory which states that “distributed” practice beats “massed” practice for retention. If we need, say, 100 repetitions of hearing something to remember it, we have (broadly speaking) two options: repeat it 100 times in one class (massed practice), or repeat it four times per class for twenty-five classes (distributed practice).  It turns out that for learning sports skills and music, distributed practice wins hands-down.  However, I havn’t seen S.L.A.-specific research on this topic, so caveat magister.