First Story – 2

If you have never done a story, then you must start simply. This is about the simplest story script I have ever thought of. The following is an interchange from a previous thread on PQA between Chris Stoltz and me:

Chris maybe you can use this:

A Fight

wants to be

Jillian loves Brad. (get a girl actor up now and circle the shit out of that). Brad wants to be with Sammie (get Brad up now and circle). Jillian hits Sammie.

(The variables are only names in this ultra simple beginning script.)

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En Vacances

I’m out of here to Portland, Oregon tomorrow for a break. I’m not bringing a computer. Time stamped posts will appear. Experienced people please help the newer people as usual via the comment fields or in the Forum. Newer people you can read in any of the hundreds of categories you feel like you want to work in. I’ll be back at the end of next week – Sept. 12.

I like this not having to go to work thing. I don’t call it retirement. I call it a vacation from which I never have to return to the classroom. And yes, it hit me when school started for Annick and all my DPS colleagues.

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Report from the Field – Robert Harrell

Here is a report from le Chevalier de L’Ouest:

Hi Ben,

My brother was recently hired to teach French 2 at a local university. He receives students from a variety of programs and hands them off to a very grammar-oriented teacher. However, after listening to me for years as I talked about the way I teach, he attended a workshop by Katya Paukova in August, and TPRS makes a lot of sense to him, so he is doing as much of it as he can. They started classes this week, and my brother sent me the e-mail below.

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Report from the Field – Tim Bennett

Here is a nice report from Tim:

Hi Ben –

This has gone better than I thought. Circling and PQA have always intimidated me. When I tried them years ago, I couldn’t sustain them. I would circle with one student, then other kids wouldn’t pay attention and side conversations would erupt. I always remembered Susie Gross saying, “Discipline precedes instruction” and it haunted me because I knew it was true. Part of the class would seem to grow bored and I would lose them. Last year was almost my last year of teaching. I couldn’t take it anymore, it being my feeble, sad attempt to do grammar and textbook and some of the TPRS stories and novels that truly did work for me. This PLC is unique because there are honest discussions. There are so few honest discussions among teachers. I swear I think it’s because everyone is so exhausted and numb sometimes.

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In Defense of the Three Steps – Lengthy Ramble

Eric if the purpose of this venue is to get people thinking, your comments certainly do that. I wake up thinking of things you say and it makes me want to come over there and give you a big noogie for every minute of lost sleep. You challenge everything about what we do. What could be better? How else are we to grow? Here is a response below that certainly is not meant to question your own choices about how to proceed with CI, but rather to state my own truth about it. Yes, I believe that all teachers must make their own decisions about how they use CI, but the opposite may also be true, that we should be mindful of the dangers of straying too far from the gold mine, the formula for Coke, that Blaine discovered in the form of the Three Steps of TPRS.

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Instant Writing – IW

 A repost from last winter. I’m thinking that some newer teachers could use this as a simple and practical break in the middle of class from all the auditory work:

We make a mistake when we stubbornly sweat through PQA or a story and nobody’s feelin’ it. That sweat under your collar is your signal to bail. Click on that category here for “Bail Out Moves” that work. The big boy bailout move is dictée, but there are others listed here under that category.

Here is another bail out move I use from time to time. I just teach writing right smack dab in the middle of the PQA or story. I just stop  everything auditory and tell them to write the last sentence I said, or anything that pertains to the language generated so far in the class, telling the kids in English to take out some paper and write the sentence or sentences I then say in the TL.

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The Old Way Crushed Hope

Let’s not mince words. Kids of today have few reasons to believe in themselves. The scene in most schools is still all about competition and testing and dominating and winning and excluding others.

But if we learn to teach using comprehensible input we can change that culture of competition into one of cooperation and mutual understanding and the building of community. We can bring success in languages to many more than just the few dominant winner students.

We really can. Let’s give the kids something to believe in – themselves. By setting up classrooms in which we speak to the kids in ways that they can understand, in ways that make them want to understand, we give them hope enough to believe that they can do something, that they can be very successful in at least one of their classes.

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Past Tense Question – 2

Angie’s grammar question didn’t have to wait long for an excellent response from Nathaniel, who just happened to send this in on the same day that Angie asked the question about past tense differences:

Friday was day 4 at my school.  This was their first experience with TCI and aiming for 90%+.  After 130 reps on “she worked” we had a quick quiz.  Then with a few minutes before lunch I asked a meta cognitive question.

I asked why did we say “trabajó” instead of “trabajaba.”  The student who addressed the question had a very revealing answer.  He said that we used “trabajó” because we were saying that “she worked.”  We did not use “trabajaba” because that would mean that there was no time frame involved so we needed to used the…uh…imperfect?

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Past Tense Question -1

Here is a grammar question from Angie:

Hi, Ben!

I had my first full day of classes on Friday and it went well.  I’m wondering about how to explain the difference between preterite and imperfect past tense verbs in pop-up grammar language, and any advice on using past tense in storytelling.  I know about throwing the verb behind me as I say it, and using the language naturally.  I’m not sure how to address the 2 different forms. Any advice is welcome.



Return to Core Strategies – The Big Ideas

This is a repost, for people who have recently joined our group, of strategies that have formed the core of our discussion here over the past six years. This list is meant to refocus, restate, defend and illustrate what we know works in our comprehension based classes.

The Big Ideas

1. CWB (Circling with Balls)
2. WCTG (Word Chunk Team Game)
3. OWI (One Word Images)
4. jGR (jen’s Great Rubric)
5. the Classroom Rules
6. Jobs for Kids
7. L&D (Look and Discuss)
8. ROA (Reading Option A
9. cRD (Compact Read & Discuss)
10. The Net Hypothesis (Verb Walls/Word Walls excepted)**
11. Two Weeks Weekly Schedule 2013 (includes Textivate and IMTranslator)
12. jGA (James’ Great Argument)
13. RSF (Robert’s Sentence Frames)
14. Dictée
15. Self-Dictée (see category)
16. SOA (Story Option A)
17. Movie Talk
18. cWZ (Charlotte’s Wall Zoo for elementary)

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Step 1 of TPRS is Important

In my opinion, Step 1 forms the anchor, the glue, to everything we do in comprehension based teaching, so that any discussion about changing even little things that we do in the midst of our ever changing relationship with the various strategies that we use in our CI classrooms is best housed in and looked upon in terms of the framework, the flow of Step 1 or it won’t mean anything, it won’t be intelligible, it won’t make sense.

Step 1 houses within it the magical formula, the DNA, of the method, no matter the acronym and no matter the strategy. If we don’t do the following things, no matter how much they are camouflaged in some new term, in every CI single strategy we use, the kids won’t understand what we are saying in the way they do when we stick to these Step 1 strategies:

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Need to Vent

Dear Ben,

Gotta vent outside my school.

I used to have a huge Russian program at our high school due to the fact that I taught Russian to the attached junior high through Storytelling. All the HG kids signed up for my class, and entered my program at either second or third-year. Their enthusiasm leaked to other kids. I had 30 kids starting each year, and that gave me some kids who had a six-year stretch of Russian in high school.

Then two things happened: they hired another teacher there for Russian (she taught the beginning regular program Russian and the seventh-grade immersion Russian kids), and I was successful in introducing the junior high French teacher to TPRS. Shortly thereafter the regular Russian classes started dying and the French program exploded (as a result, there are now two French teachers at our school to be able to cover all the higher level kids). Now I have only three kids who started Russian at junior high because the teacher there killed it. This year there’s a new teacher for “regular Russian program” in the junior high.

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Here is a good question from a teacher. We all have to answer this one at some point:

Hi Ben,

After one of my Spanish II classes today, a student came and told me that he has problems understanding what I’m saying. He said that he can understand when it’s written down and I point at it, but he can’t recognize it when he just hears it (I’m assuming this is especially during the quizzes…although he’s done quite well on them so far). I was impressed that he came to let me know this, but I wasn’t sure what to tell him. I said to make sure he watches where I point and I would think about what to do. I said maybe there is a disconnect between what he hears and what he sees (but I really wasn’t sure what to say).

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Report from the Field – Keri Colwell

Here is a nice report from Keri Colwell:

Hi Ben!

I just wanted to tell you that yesterday I taught my very first two classes using your methods and they both went very well (Spanish III and Italian III).  Surprisingly, my class of juniors laughed and seem to enjoy the CWB even more!!!  I trusted the process in my Italian III…not any students were actually into sports so I chose “Jakeplays videogames”  and I actually spend 30 MINUTES on this!!  It turned into “Jake plays Super Mario Brothers in his backpack with Arianna Grande only on the weekends at 8:00 in the morning….and that they play videogames in his backpack because he hides her so his mom doesn’t see her!”  So, I think this could have certainly become a story… I had Jake in front of class with his backpack, Ariana Grande there and also Jake’s mom.  I had them do a very quick dialog with his mom asking him what was in the backpack…but I stopped it…However, where could I have gone from there??

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Report from the Field – James Hosler

James Hosler’s enrollment numbers are exploding. James uses Textivate. Therefore, if you use Textivate, your enrollments will explode.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy, right?  Of course, James is doing other things with CI to make Latin the happening language in his school. He is reaching his kids on a human level, he is kind but unbending with rules infractions, he has a wide knowledge and classroom application of everything we’ve developed here over the past three years or so, he attends summer conferences and he is just a badass dude when it comes to teaching Latin. But Textivate is in fact a part of his coolness nonetheless.

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James On Textivate

We have touched in our discussions on a program called Textivate. In view of its value in visually processing even small bits of auditory CI created with our students,  I am republishing an article from last year by James Hosler on that topic:


Inspired by, I recently posted this on my blog ( I figured, though, the members of your community might like to look at it and have it to reference on your site. Feel free to post it there, too.

I was recently sold on by the members of Ben Slavic’s wonderful community. I have used it a few times now and have started trying to figure out how the different functions line up with the various goals of language learning. Here’s where I’m at so far:

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Jewels from Tennessee – 4

Here is the last jewel from Erin. It will need some testing. I am looking forward to hearing how it works out. I personally tossed a similar idea about six years ago, but that was purely because I am a very lazy person.

4. Interactive notebooks. I went to a local Common Core & Literacy workshop this summer, and one of the things I got out of it was this idea of interactive notebooks. I’m still mulling over the details in my head, but it will involve the students having a composition book to go along with the novels we read. I already supplement our novel reading with ancillary materials like non-fiction articles, graphic organizers, and reading strategies (e.g. Essential Sentences), but the plan is for students to add those things to their composition books, which would eventually become like a reference book that they’ve created themselves.

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CI 810: Comprehensible Input for Language Acquisition

CI 810: Comprehensible Input for Language Acquisition

Fall term starts now for the online graduate course through Portland State University. Most of us are already planning for kids and practicing new ideas on them, so Fall is a very natural time to take the class. Registration is open now. The final date for registration is October 31. Work is due December 9.

In the course work, you select a goal area for your students/classroom to improve upon. Then, through the PLC, you research ways to improve in that area. The assignments lead you to implement the ideas that you find online and reflect on their effectiveness at meeting the goal you selected.

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Dream Necklaces (repost from 2012)

I heard somewhere that the biggest temptation of the artist is to try to reproduce her work. That is probably because inspiration can’t be cloned as per some formula.

I try to keep that idea in mind when working with comprehensible input. I accept that every class will be different, and that there will be very few really good classes. I don’t try to repeat a  previous class’ success in the next. The universe won’t let me do that. CI is not a stamped kind of product that one can duplicate.

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Jewels from Tennessee – 3

This is the best jewel from Erin by way of Martina Bex. It involves getting not just the student but also the parent to do some self-reflection about her class. It’s brilliant:

3. Syllabus homework. I got this idea from the lovely Martina Bex. My syllabus somewhat wordily explains how my CI class works and what habits are important, stressing the Interpersonal Communication Rubric & the unannounced quick quizzes, along with all the listening & reading we are going to do. This year, instead of going over it in class, I gave it as a homework assignment, and the student AND their parent had to answer the same questions, regarding what they like about the class, what concerns them, and what they see as a challenge. There is also an opportunity for parents to ask me to call them if they have any further questions. I ended my Friday at school by reading over their answers, and I was really pleased with what I was reading. I could see that a lot of parents were worried about the pop quizzes, but they are enthusiastic about the expectations of listening & reading Spanish. It also gave me some ideas for some more things to put on my classroom website, like the jGR or write-ups of our class stories for students who were absent or need to review & practice. I think that it sets a tone for open lines of communication between myself and parents, and hope that it helps enhance the feeling of community that I want to cultivate.

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Face 1 vs. Face 2 (repost)

I thought I would republish this article describing some work Bernard did a few years ago in Las Vegas:

I learned something while coaching Bernard that I would like to share bc it seems like kind of a secret. I learned in watching Bernard be coached, more by the group than just me, that what is on your face counts when you teach.

Some of us blow this – we become so concerned about delivering the instruction that our faces kind of get distorted and the kids see that and lose interest because the last thing we ever want to do in a classroom is let on that we are teaching anything, but rather convey one thing above all - that those kids in front of us are the most important thing to us in the world. (It’s not true, but we have to act that way if we are to succeed with CI.)

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First Story 1

Somebody recently brought up the Linda Li first story option and I went back and found this article from early in 2012 about it:

I will use a variation on Linda’s target structures (mentioned below) to start the year. They will last for approximately the first week of school and they alone will help me accomplish a lot, most, of everything I want to accomplish to start, norm, set up, the year:

has (probably plant a Pepsi in front of a kid who wants to play)
wants to drink
gives to him/her

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With Our Hearts – 3

TPRS/CI is a reciprocal and participatory activity. We do not deliver instructional services from a pulpit. We interact with the kids. Blaine reminds us to listen for cute answers from the kids. Do we do that, or do we just say we do?

We must be honest with ourselves. Is there any room in our internal teaching dialogue for an open heart as well as an open mind? It’s a personal thing that we each have to answer for ourselves. Can we actually hear what our students are really trying to share with us? Or do we merely feign this openness, casting our internal teaching gaze on our lesson plans and the structures that we want to “cover” that day?

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Songs Ideas

Carol Hill (chill) sends this link:

If you use music in your class, you may be interested in this link. The ideas are for ESL but adaptable. Enjoy.

Startalk Lesson – 2

Here is some follow up information from Michele. Finally, a university person coming to the aid of a high school teacher who does TPRS. How often does that happen?


You might enjoy the letter the Startalk grant leader (Russian prof at U Iowa) sent my district coordinator and principal (after I told her that they tried to take away my level 5 and AP kids this year; the immersion teacher told them I don’t speak Russian well enough to teach the upper levels and that my AP kids only get 4′s). She was horrified. She’s the one who convinced me I must present in Russian. In the end, it was parents who camped out until their kids got put back into my schedule, but meanwhile, here’s the letter:

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