To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



80 thoughts on “Acquisition”

  1. Incisive and challenging.

    Incisive. This is what we are all about. How do we get the sufficient number of structures? And what do we do when we cannot?

    Challenging. I copied the following onto a poster to remind me: “What do you want to teach?What are you teaching? I want to teach the targeted structures.” I have come so far, so far to go.

  2. Agreed.

    In Matavas Scripts in her Apendix she writes that she uses the Questionnaire to spin out little stories for the first 6-8 weeks of level 1 classes. I am not yet practiced enough to figure out which two or three structures to pair together to spin out a little story.

    For example, I am targeting the structure “wants to have” which we used on our questionnaire and already had in one mini story. I’m not sure what else to pair it with.

    Another example: “Wants to become” as in a future career seems to elict TOO much vocab at one time, because I have to say the occupation the student wants to be, etc. I need help with this one to stay in bounds.

    Thoughts on spinning out mini stories for level 1 from the questionnaire?

    1. “wants to have” works well with “goes” “sees” “buys” “gives” etc.

      So if your students knows “goes,” the story can be Student 1 “wants to have” (structure 1) something, so a friend goes to a store (already known) and “sees” (structure 2) something and “gives” (structure 3) money to the boss who then “gives” the something and so the friend can go back and “give” the something to the original person.

      So “wants to have” “sees” and “gives”

      If they already know “sees” or “gives,” you can use “buy.”

      A twist for the story could be that the friend buys something, but not quite the RIGHT something, so on giving it to the original person there is a conflict.

        1. One difference, after re-reading that old post I just linked to, is that I haven’t been doing the follow-up readings this year. I’m trying to go for pure auditory CI for the entire time. It can be a bit challenging, but I want to shelter reading for these kids so that there is little chance of fossilization of poor form due to Englishization of the written Spanish. It’s only been two weeks of 82 min blocks thus far…

      1. Jim, somewhere I have a list of structures for Anne’s stories compiled by Nathan Black. When I look at Anne’s scripts, the amount of front-loading that has to be done is significant. I would guess that the 7-12 power words would be a must in addition to language specific structures. I believe Anne has said that these scripts represent her CI to scaffold German readings. It’s probably why the stories may seem cumbersome for other languages. I have worked on this briefly with one or two of her scripts. I would be happy to share.

    2. For another example, the survey asks for favorite food. So last class I PQAed with “likes to eat” and today we hit a home run story.

      We already know “goes” and “where” and “with whom” (think CWB) so our story went like this:

      John likes to eat Taco Bell. But John is in school. John is sad because he does not like to eat Taco Bell in school. He likes to eat Taco Bell on the Great Wall with Mike Tyson. John goes to the Great Wall. John is happy. But Mike Tyson is not happy. Mike Tyson eats John’s ear.

      And the “eats his ear” was actually in bounds! Because we were working with “likes to eat” and have already learned “head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” SO awesome and totally not planned at all. Laughs all around. A total home run. Thanks be to God.

      1. Last week I twisted three verbs into a story: wants, has, and gives

        La’Deja is in the cafeteria. La’Deja has a coffee with chocolate in the cafeteria (“with” is a preposition we started using the first week or so of school). McCaelin enters the cafeteria. McCaelin looks at La’Deja (we covered “looks at/ watches the t.v.” previously during CWB). McCaelin wants the coffee with chocolate. La’Deja has the the coffee with chocolate and looks at McCaelin. (At this moment La’Deja rubbed her stomach and said, “delicioso”… or I prompted her to… I forget which). McCaelin is friends with La’Deja. McCaelin wants the coffee with chocolate. La’Deja gives the coffee with chocolate to McCaelin. McCaelin has the coffee with chocoloate. [I coach McCaelin to say, “delicioso”]

        That class session moved more seemlessly than others more focused on CWB. I haven’t done a story session since because I want to be careful not to lose the magic of them by overusing them. Ben does stories all the time, it appears, and makes them magical consistently. I too have much to learn.

        Looking back at these few weeks of heavy CWB, I see how I could have spun mini-stories out of the CWB, pulled up a potential actor and typed up a reading. At least once in a while.

        1. We have to be cautious I think when spinning out mini-stories, because they can invite out-of-bounds vocabulary and in improvising these we don’t have the scripted tracks of the stories. I think, at least with beginners, doing 1-word images/scenes, asking all the relevant question words, is the way to extend a statement in PQA and still stay in bounds.

          1. Oh. I thought we were referring to mini-stories extended from PQA, not the scripted story. My B.

            One of my many lessons with stories is that extending/improvising a story, but not one scripted prior, can get derailed. I’m still storyasking, but now I stick more closely to the scripted story. And extended PQA is more like an OWI. For me.

          2. Yeah I get ‘ya. What we’re talking about is getting a set of super simple mini-story scripts to use before Matava based on the content of the student surveys. (Of course some of the survey stuff leads straight into Matava, like “is afraid of.”)

  3. I have a student who put “eats donuts” on his CWB card, so our first story dealt with “Spencer wants a cinnamon roll. Spencer is in PK-Donuts. PK-Donuts doesn’t have cinnamon rolls. Spencer goes to Costco. Costco doesn’t have cinnamon rolls. Spencer cries. Spencer goes to Ikea. Ikea has donuts. Spencer says, ‘Hurrah!'” New words were “wants”, “says”, “cries”. We had already TPR’ed “goes”. For the story asking I just used English “donuts” and “cinnamon roll”; for the reading I introduced the German words “Krapfen” and “Schnecke”.

    In the other period the same story revolved around wanting a new, blue wakeboard.

    Both classes were very proud of themselves for being able to read and understand a German story after only a week of school. Their homework was to take the story home and tell it to a parent in English while they looked at the German. I did this as an embedded reading with four different versions, and students could pick either version 3 or 4 for the homework. Today they will do storyboard drawings and then take a dictation.

    1. Hi Robert, any chance you could explain what these embedded readings look like? I do ROA but haven’t had much success putting an embedded reading activity together.

      Is it that you simply write 3-4 versions of the story, each one using a greater range of vocabulary than the next? If so, do you structure an embedded reading activity in class? How does that look?

  4. Laurie Clarcq suggests coming up with pairs of words that lead to conflict. I somehow can’t get to her blog just now, so maybe she’ll chime in here on examples.

    wanted/couldn’t find/found
    wanted to see/wouldn’t smile/smiled
    fell asleep/woke (him) up
    met/didn’t like/liked
    sent/didn’t get/got

    All these are coming straight from my new structures poster for this year and making me think of new stories we could do. Thanks, Laurie, for your golden ideas!

    1. “pairs of words that create conflict”

      I like this but I also wonder if some of these words in the pairings are not high frequency enough to get recycled throughout the year. But, then again, I can see how lower frequency words like “lost” could be used in all kinds of PQA/ Storytelling scenarios to make them compelling.

      1. I would say “lost” isn’t high frequency, but my kids are always losing things. So am I. “Stole” is another word we end up using often. Came in handy when I got to tell classes about how someone stole my cell phone the other day…

        1. Davies Frequency Dictionary:
          perder (to lose) – 190
          robar (to steal) – 1492

          Vocabulary Acquisition Researchers (e.g. Nation and Schmitt) define “high-frequency” as including the first 2,000-3,000 words of a frequency list and mid-frequency as the next words until rank 9,000. So both are high-frequency. Steal is less frequent than other high-frequency words, but it is a cognate, at least in Spanish. And even if it were not, it’s high interest and can enhance the stories.

          We should be getting reps on what is high (and mid) -frequency and/or high-interest. If we are getting reps on lower frequency and lower-interest stuff, and the students still get the meaning of the input, then they are acquiring the grammatical system, if not words of higher and mid-frequency.

  5. Thanks to all for the ideas so far.
    James and Roger – Great story ideas for me to use!
    Michele – the opposites make sense to me!

    Maybe at the end of this school year we can all amass our mini-story scripts for pre-level 1 and level 1 into one document. Then there will be a hard resource for use before going to matava scripts or readers and while using the questionnaires.

  6. This thread was good for me to see. After the two conferences this past summer, I had in my head that all I would do for the first week or so with Spanish 1 kids was CWB and TPR. How hard could it be? Two weeks in almost and I CWB still hasn’t gotten off the ground and I am wondering if it’s because I didn’t fully twist them into stories which is the whole point. Same is happening to the TPR. Right now they know: sits, stands, falls, dances, runs, walks, etc…but nothing compelling.

    So, back to CWB and square 1. They all have the surveys…but I haven’t dove in to them. I’m too afraid of the students and all the behavior that needs management, yet if we only did something compelling, there wouldn’t be half the need to manage.

    I really like the idea of picking structures that set up conflict, Michelle. Robert, thanks for outlining your first week with your beginners.


    1. brian, after 14 yrs of teaching and 8 using TPRS, this is the hardest beginning of the year I’ve had. I’ve been meditating on the “Beginning of the Year” category. In particular, this one:

      Here’s what I’m learning. After 2 days of stopping in some cases every 15 seconds to laser the expectations, 60 % or so of my kids get it and are doing it. After 7 days, another 30% have come on board. Now I’m targeting those last 10% with phone calls ande discussions with administrators. It’s working.

      BUT, I’ve been introducing very little Spanish as a result. I usually break out of the gate faster. I also have done TPR and CWB at the beginning of the year with Bryce’s Persona Especial too. This year I opted for a short story based on the First Story 1 thread here. It’s kinda working.

      I find that CWB needs the right actor, like James said, at first. You can get less sparkly kids after a few days. I’d recommend having the kid stand or bringing her up to the front – just that one change in dynamic is enough to capture their attention. By and large that NEVER happens in their other classes. Two kids up in different parts of the room and you’ve got instant compare and contrast and enough visual stimulation for the class with you moving in between.

      I always forget that the kids aren’t accustomed to this type of class. As someone said in that thread I mentioned earlier, they bring expectations of boredom and irrelevancy. In those classes where there are more kids defying the expectations, my tendency has been to just talk and not get kids up for fear of it spiraling out of control. That’s the wrong thing to do, I now realize. I need a kid to be the focus of their attn…

      Anyway, after seeing you teach this summer, I know you’ll get this. Remember to breathe (I sometimes forget) and to count to five slowly under your breath when you point. You’re the man.

      1. I have several students new to the district this year. One young man, a rather plain-speaking junior, told me that I was not teaching Spanish correctly. When I asked him what he thought I should be doing he said, ” You should be sitting at your computer drinking coffee while we fill out worksheets.”

        Yup…they are not used to this kind of class…

        with love,

      2. After 2 days of stopping in some cases every 15 seconds to laser the expectations…It’s working. BUT, I’ve been introducing very little Spanish as a result.

        Hi Grant. It sounds like you are doing a good job of getting the class normed. I like the time frames and approximate percentages that you gave.

        I have one class in particular (Sp 2) that is weak in the jGR interpersonal skills necessary for the conversational, give & take nature of a TCI course. “Stopping every 15 seconds to laser the expectations” and “very little Spanish as a result” describes my feelings when they leave. But I also think that persistence is paying off.

        One thing has helped me with them: Every day (almost) I have made it a point to be at the door when students enter and greet and expect an Hola (hello). There is some resistance, especially in the just-mentioned Sp 2. (And this is New England, where you can go a long way each day without greeting anyone and no one thinks too much about it.) At the end of class, I rush to the door to give everyone a high-5 (I guess it’s a bye-5), a good-bye phrase, and a smile as they leave the room. I believe the personal connection with each child is slowly making a difference. It is harder to leave with bad feelings (on their part and mine) if we are bothering to say good-bye to each other (and smile, Greg Stout’s reminder to not be neutral has left an impact on me).

        Another thing that I have noticed is that they are picking up some Spanish I had not expected. I have the classroom rules in Spanish on the front wall above the white board and in English on both sidewalls. Certain rules are getting a lot of reps: #2 Una persona habla (one person speaks), #5 Enderécese (Sit up), #8 Nada en los pupitres (Nothing on the desks). As Ben advises we laser point and say the rule to the whole class. I then look for the “stop” sign and call on someone not signing to tell what it means in English. If no one knows, ask someone to read that number from the side. Then we circle the phrase:
        ¿Nada en los pupitres, clase? ¿Sí o no? (No)
        ¿Plumas en los pupitres? as I hold up a pen (No)
        ¿Lápices en los pupitres? as I hold up a pencil (No)
        ¿Manos en los pupitres? as I hold up my hand (No)
        Sí, clase, manos en los pupitres. [Yes, class, hands [can be] on the desks]
        Maybe it would be better just to have the rules in English. But some students are beginning to say them in Spanish. I see it as working toward our 90%+ goal.

        1. Hey Nathaniel, have you considered moving the desks to the back wall? I know Grant is doing that now. I’m doing it to, but it’s easier for me since my classes are smaller. Nothing but air between teacher and students sitting in their chairs in a U-shape.

  7. Hilarious TPR moment today: There is a kind of aggressive autistic kid who sits up front and gets irritated when the students are chatty. I wait, patiently smiling, until they are quiet (á la Laurie and Greg), and then wait 2 beats more. He, on the other hand, shouts “HOW DO YOU SAY SHUT UP IN SPANISH???” and turns and glares at people. Today a big, mohawked football player said to him, with infinite kindness, “Hey – da la vuelta, man.”

      1. da la vuelta – turn around

        Great post, Angie! I gotta remember to always pause with a smile on my face when chattiness happens. It’s hard to break old habits, in my case, talking over chattiness.

  8. Grant – your point about the student actors is well taken. I haven’t used them yet, because I “feared” the out of control thing. But, I sense you are right. With the RIGHT student/s, it will capture their attention and it’s much more real. We are humans and I just want to converse on a human life in the target language. I’ll report back…

  9. Yesterday I had a student transfer into my class. We’ve had 8 days of German but have already done the story mentioned above (wants a cinnamon roll). The class was reading the story and drawing pictures to illustrate the six Essential Sentences needed to tell the story. We also did the opening of class ritual (hello, how are you, what day is it, how’s the weather, what is happening today at school), and I was checking with the new student on how much he was understanding. Even with no German background he indicated good comprehension. At the end of class I checked with him again and asked how much he had understood. He replied, “A lot, actually. More than in Spanish.” (Needless to say, my colleagues do not teach with TCI.) I told the student to be sure he lets me know when he doesn’t understand (another student illustrated the gesture for him) and listen actively, and he will quickly catch up with the class.

  10. I’m so glad I hopped onto the blog this morning and got involved on this thread! Thank you all for sharing here. I’ve been overwhelmed these past few weeks starting at a new school and having to teach U.S. History, which I’m scrambling to plan for on a daily basis. All this scrambling and feelings of uneasiness has subsided after reading these posts from the members of the tribe!

    1. I have heard of teachers using TPRS to teach Social Studies – I wish, I remembered where (I filed it waaayyyyyy back in my brain, since I don’t have to teach that). If I find it again, I’ll be sure to forward – must be awful going back to the old way of “scrambling” 🙁

      1. Well, Brigitte, I’m very curious to know how TPRS in social studies could happen. One thing that is different, for sure, is that I don’t talk so much in the social studies class. I get the kids to talk more, facilitating discussion more than delivering instruction. It certainly saves my voice some. Thanks for the sympathy!

          1. Thanks for connecting me to Laurie’s resource. Much appreciated. This embedded reading stuff reminds me of a site I intend to use in my U.S. History class called where they have daily news article written for different reading abilities all on the same topic.

          2. If you teach history, you are of course telling stories, but you can tell the stories as we do with holes and get kids to play the game. We had a tremendously popular history teacher who did just that in his classes. Kids were always reading ahead to try to be able to make accurate guesses in class. He kept telling them it was unfair to do the research.

  11. Robert – How often do you do the opening ritual with level 1? Once a week? Every Monday? I think I should do something like this, but am not quite sure how to stay in the language while doing so… Can you be more specific as to what you do and how the answer the weather and school questions? Do you have pictures to illustrate the weather answers?

  12. Leah, that’s what I did with my French class (total beginners) last year. I gave them a calendar at the beginning of each month and five kids were responsible for reporting (very, very briefly) on five different topics – sort of like the news. Weather, lunch, sports, day and date, fashion. In he beginning, I gave them a little print out with several different choices for each topic. I’d be happy to share, if you think it might be helpful (it’s in French, though). Btw, I got the idea from Terry Waltz.

    1. I do something similar in elementary. I “circle” each category briefly: 15 or 16 ? No?? 16!? September or October? It is raining or snowing? Johnny wears high tops or sandals?
      At the same time I draw on a small whiteboard what I say using different colors, silly stick figures etc to keep the kids focused. The repetition is great, but I must mix things up or the little kids loose interest very quickly.

  13. One question that I not heard discussed anywhere is “What is a structure?”

    Are “hit the ball” and “hits the ball” different structures?

    Are “goes to the beach” and “went to the beach” different structures?

    What should the counters count?

    1. I would count both of these the same for the purposes of counting while acknowledging that they are not quite the same (students don’t have the same number of reps of one). I usually focus on one, but like to add that stretch piece to get them used to plural or past if possible.

  14. Nate, you’ve sparked a mini-rant. . . Why do we call them “structures?”

    Q: What is their purpose? A: target vocabulary (not grammar) and maintain comprehensibility
    Q: What is included in a structure that we are teaching? A: vocabulary (not grammar)

    Accepting the natural order of acquisition and Krashen’s i+1 net hypothesis means forfeiting control of grammar acquisition – no grammatical syllabus. We can include a “structure” and circle the hell out of it, but to what degree are we able to alter the natural order of acquisition? Why would we want to alter it? You can pop-up the grammar in the structure in order to help a few kids “learn” the linguistics. In TPRS, we are really treating grammar as if it were vocabulary, i.e. focusing on meaning.

    And the common question: What are the right structures? A: There is no right answer. The best answer is probably that they be chosen from high-frequency lists and high-interest word strings.

    They are word strings and phrases – we do not “teach” structure, we do not teach with a structural (grammar) focus, so I want to stop calling them structures. I’ll call them word strings until someone can convince me otherwise or come up with a better term.

    And in your example, Nate, I think that is up to you. The students will get the meaning of “hit” and “hits,” because they are similar. There is very little “learning burden” – it’s easy to understand “hits” if you know “hit.”

    On the other hand, “goes” and “went” are different (in form – sound and appearance, but not in meaning and use). Therefore, from knowing “goes” there is still a sizable learning burden to knowing “went.” If you know “goes” you will already know a lot about the proper meaning, like the concept and associations (e.g. synonyms), and know a lot about the use of the word, like grammatical function, it’s collocations (words co-occurring), and constraints on use. The spoken and written form is what has to be acquired.

    Since there is no “magical number of reps,” and if you’re gesturing the verb as well as gesturing tense, then I’d have all tenses counted, regardless of differences in form. The Counter is mainly for student engagement and community building.

    1. Hit and hits are similar and have the same motion to clarify meaning. I also use the same motion with goes and went except with went I follow it with a thumb over my shoulder. I try to use motions to get the students used to the verb changing some. Habla and hablas will have the same motion but I also use it directionally like they do in ASL. I think this helps students make the leap in understanding and they don’t get so tripped up on changes of subject. Of course when they are as different as goes and went I also write them on the board.

      In my Spanish 1 classes I just showed them on the board that I add an s to change meaning. Before this I have not written this up there and they have not had a problem answering questions. A few said that they recognized it during class but I told them not to worry, your brain will work it all out. I told them to keep focusing on meaning only.

    2. Awesome, Eric! Once again, giving us focus. I like the phrase “word strings” instead of vocabulary structures. I’d like to start using that phrase as well. Actually, I’d like to start using “word strings” but only with you guys and other TPRS teachers. I’m going to still use “vocabulary structures” with parents and admin since it sounds more academic and I need to get them on my side.

  15. I had a couple people not understand me last week in a beginning TPRS workshop because of the word “structures.” In the future, I need to explain what that word means to me! They thought “grammar,” as you’ve mentioned.

    I like “word strings,” but it is still unclear for what I identify as “structures,” which may not be the way anyone else means it: I mean either a word that is translated as a phrase OR a phrase. In either case, a structure includes grammar. I’m not sheltering grammar though. Grammar is everywhere. We can’t teach it; it has to be acquired. Here are some examples of my structures:

    lyubit: (he or she) loves (first year)
    hatel bwi kupit’: (he) would like to buy (second and up)
    poznakomilsa li: did (he) get acquainted or not (first year and up)
    oo kavo est’: who has?
    nravit’sa: (it) is pleasing (to someone)

    “Vocabulary” is typically made up of nouns. They can stand on their own, although “stool” can mean “chair,” “a chair,” “the chair,” or “it is a chair.” So maybe I’m wrong even about that! Maybe only adjectives, adverbs, numbers, and conjunctions are vocabulary.

    Now I’m confused, but I’m hoping you see why I call them structures!

    1. A “structure” (word string or phrase) is made up of “grammar” and “vocabulary” as we traditionally speak of those two. But what we do is different and we need a different way to talk about it.

      We teach everything for meaning (no form-focus), treating it all like vocabulary. The term “structure,” for me, has connotations of structure-based approaches (i.e. deliberate, intentional, explicit grammar instruction).

      So, we could also consider our word strings to be function vocabulary + content vocabulary. A content word is an adjective, adverb, noun, or verb. Function words are those prepositions, conjunctions, object pronouns, etc.

  16. I like “structure” because it reflects the fact that language has structure. I think that it keeps us from going into the two textbook ditches on the side of the road. On the one side is the vocabulary ditch. On the other side is the grammar ditch. The vocabulary ditch is full of lists of words. Some lists are grouped by part of speech and others by a theme. All words appear in a tidy, sterile, lifeless, decontextualized form (for Spanish it is the ‘infinitive’ for verbs). The grammar ditch is full of lists, charts, rules, and exceptions. All forms are lined up in neat rows, given equal status, and devoid of meaning. In the middle of the road is meaning which is expressed in structures. We can think of the structures as grammar-embedded vocabulary.

    I am distinguishing between the memorized chart/rules grammar and what Ben described somewhere as properly formed speech. (Chomsky’s defines grammaticality as acceptable utterances.) I am also distinguishing between meaning and vocabulary. Structures use vocabulary in various forms (hit/s) which clarify the meaning and in a specific order (who has? vs Has who? In the second, “who” is the colloquial form of “whom”).

    It seems that a good structure should be meaningfully complete in itself. I.e, prepositions should be part of prep phrases (to the store), nouns should have modifiers (this big cat), verbs should have complements (hits the ball, gives it to him).

    Returning to the questions of what is a structure? I think my question is a little clearer. It is not so much the core idea of a structure as where do we separate one from another. If we choose A) “(John) hits the ball” and contrast with B) “(John) hit the ball,” does B serve as a valid substitute rep for A? Do A and B each have their own (theoretical) ideal number of reps that must be reached? Does the contract of A and B work synergistically so that the number of reps for both together is less than either the added numbers of their individual reps?
    To put it another way, can we assume that once they have fully absorbed A, it will be easy to absorb B?

    1. Think about the natural order of acquisition. . . the net hypothesis. . . the learning burden of a word.

      Reps on a “structure” will not lead to acquisition of the structural aspects, unless it is at i+1.

      A “structure” can be just 1 word. It doesn’t have to be a phrase.

      1. I love this discussion of structure vs word string. I don’t have any problem with a “structure” being just one word. But, chunking has distinctive advantages – usually a chunk is more “useful” than a single word, in my experience, and phrases in languages like Spanish that incorporate direct and indirect object pronouns (as an example: “No me lo creo / I can’t believe it” or “Se me olvido’ / I forgot it”) are best taught as a chunk (again, in my opinion)

        1. I agree about “chunking,” but my chunks get longer with the language level, unless it’s a phrase they’ll need a lot.

          In Russian, “I forgot” (and every other past tense verb) is formed slightly differently based on who is the subject of forgetting. I have been thinking of that as “easy,” until just now when I was considering how my ESL kids don’t acquire the “s” on “hits” for singular until really late. So it may be that even though a structure (if that is what it is) adds only one letter, it does need to be presented separately.

          Darn…hate it when thinking gets in the way of what I’ve been doing!

          1. You ever seen the “structures” in LICT? They’re like sentence long with multiple clauses! hahaha.

            Applying what we know about SLA, I accept that only the vocabulary rep’d in the structure has a chance at being acquired. Yes, the student can acquire “he gives it to him” as a chunk/phrase, but they won’t likely have acquired the grammatical system (unless i+1), so I wouldn’t expect afterwards to hear students saying “he says it to him” or “he makes it for him.” Nor would we want to ever try to impose acquisition of grammar. Only an abundance of CI will develop a students’ mental representation of the grammar.

            Structure is not taught explicitly and only successfully “taught” implicitly if i+1. I do NOT think the purpose of a structure is to teach the structure in the structure 😉

            Structures are CI tracks. Comprehensibility tools. And we can rep the vocabulary we consider essential.

    2. “We can think of the structures as grammar-embedded vocabulary.”

      I really like this defense of the term “structure” for our use of jargon. And…

      “It seems that a good structure should be meaningfully complete in itself.”

      I agree with this. If we want our kids to be monitoring their speech and stumbling when in TL on their own, we will teach vocabulary (e.g. dar=to give, le=to him/her/it/you) and they’ll have to do the figuring out of how to form it into a structure. If we focus on “meaningfully complete” structures (e.g. le dio=he gave her), then they’ll have hopefully begun to acquire the more useful language needed to communicate. Just reiterating what Nathaniel said.

      That all being said, I am happy that I have re-posted one of my big (random high-frequency) vocab poster in the back of the room after giving it a 5 year hiatus in the closet. For no more than 3 minutes each class, we stop what we’re doing and look at 2-3 new words a day and gesture them a few times, maybe brainstorm a mnemonic association, and quickly back to real language use.

      1. We speak to our students in comprehensible, contextualized ways – that is how they acquire. Embrace the unconscious. Whether the structure is “gives to him” or just “gives” or just “to him,” the words will still be heard and understood in context for the bulk of class time. Including them together in the “structure of the day” will probably better lead kids to include the “to him,” but it will also be overgeneralized (e.g. “gives it to him” when should say “gives it to them”), much like a memorized phrase.

        In this example you have content word + function word. In traditional terms, it’s a verb and a grammar aspect (indirect object pronoun). We establish meaning and pop-up like it’s all vocabulary (this means that). But the rest of the time, we’re delivering extensive CI, and what can be acquired will be acquired – the “structure”has structure, but the goal should not be to get that structure acquired, because it may not be possible nor efficient. We’re not even sure the extent to which CI can alter the order of acquisition. Regardless, there is no reason to try to alter it. No control.

        More than anything, calling it a structure reminds me too much of the old ways of trying to teach grammar. And this confused me when I had less understanding of Krashen (I wish I had started with or simultaneously studied theory and then gone to study pedagogy). I rest my case. hahaha.

        1. “Including them together in the “structure of the day” will probably better lead kids to include the “to him,” but it will also be overgeneralized (e.g. “gives it to him” when should say “gives it to them”), much like a memorized phrase.”

          This is so true. I’ve seen this happen with my students. The antidote to such overgeneralization fossilization is to make sure to do plenty of circling within this “structure of the day” (e.g. Did he give it to her OR did he give it to them? Did he give it to me?). Still, the amount of reps of “he gave it to her” will far outweigh the others and would likely be the default IOP used until the student can correctly differentiate IOPs when producing in real time. Regardless, I see the “le dio=he gave to her” as far superior to “le=to her” and “dio=he gave”. I think syntax will ultimately be better as a result.

          But Eric, your point is well taken. I also see a lot of value in what Nathaniel said about the idea of structure. And what Ben is saying in the original post, about focusing on something and teaching it, not straying into the vast territory of not-yet-acquired language.

          Here’s a thought: Perhaps more than anything, what Ben is encouraging us to do in this post will give our students, and their parents, and the public, greater confidence that kids are really learning something in our classrooms. It’s like us breaking off chunks of the metaphorical iceberg (the one your illustrated for us Eric) and bringing them to the surface for all to see, versus us naturally allowing the iceberg to slowly rise out of the ocean as it is pushed up by hundreds/thousands of hours of elevation change. The latter requires a certain faith in hypothesis and difficult-to-measure gains which our data-driven institution does not currently allow. As I re-read this paragraph, I’m not sure I want to hit “post comment” because I’m tired and I’m not sure it is accurate. I’m hoping you’ll all correct the idea.

          1. Jim, I hear what you’re saying about the current system not respecting the way things actually work. And I think, in principle, you’re right that it can be worrisome to parents if their child’s achievement is based on the subconscious. But I’m reminded of Krashen’s oft-stated assertion that if we do things the right way but fly under the radar and the kids achieve higher gains, the dominant paradigm of the day will take credit for those gains.
            Perhaps we’re getting off (or I’m getting off) into TangentLand, but even if we target strtuctures and reassure parents/kids that “these are the targeted structures” we are still bound, I believe, to inform and educate about how languages are acquired.
            Now, I’m not sayiing that you guys aren’t saying that. I’m just thinking with my fingertips this morning… Cheers!

          2. Me too! I’d rather they overgeneralize! Definitely to a traditional teacher, to hear a kid say “le dio” sounds impressive! Even if it should have been “les dio.” That’s because traditionally accuracy is valued way more than fluency! The antidote to anything is more CI, or so would say Krashen 😉 Contrastive grammar (e.g. “to him” vs. “to them”) is a conscious, “learning” activity and only useful in terms of acquisition as the number of comprehended reps.

            Related, I’ve been thinking more and more about what “mastery” means to us in SLA and questioning linearity.

            Grammar may not be “mastered” even when we get crazy reps, due to i+1 and acquisition orders. And multiple pieces of grammar are being acquired little by little at the same time. e.g multiple tenses are being acquired simultaneously! VanPatten has used a very specific type of CI (processing instruction) to achieve acquisition of certain grammar aspects, but his method is not practical and certainly not efficient nor pleasurable.

            I know I’ve voiced my opinion before, that “practicing” first person verb forms of the Super 7, may not be the best use of time. While the result is impressive to a traditional teacher and it appears as though the kid has acquired the grammar of first person verbs, really they have just acquired that first person verb as a single vocabulary unit. And could the amount of time spent on that have been better used to deliver more CI? Then again, it may be worth the time to get kids to acquire specific high frequency first person verbs. I plan to make a word wall with first person (present and/or past) verbs.

            It seems that i+1 would not apply to (content) vocabulary acquisition. What counts most is quantity and quality of reps in meaningful, different contexts. It may slow vocabulary acquisition by presenting vocabulary in semantically-related sets (interference theory). Even if we got 1,000 reps, if they are massed reps (e.g. happen over 1 week), then that vocabulary will fade if it isn’t met again for a while. Paul Nation has written that if too much time elapses between occurrences (3-6 months?), then the subsequent repetition is like getting the first rep all over again.

            We need spaced reps! We cannot count on high-frequency (HF) vocabulary being in the input, because there are 3,000 word families of HF vocabulary. So, the spaced reps will need to be deliberate, especially if we don’t have the instruction time necessary to deliver an abundance of CI. I finally got myself an answer to the idea that “if we speak naturally, the high frequency vocabulary will be inherent to the input.” – False!* (unless you got tons and tons of input – certainly false in a 45 minute class period).
            *Depends on how you define “high-frequency.”

            More reps in general means more memory, but that doesn’t mean we should get all those reps in a short time period. I shared recently a Mason paper that looked at efficiency – while the group spending 6 times the amount of time did lead to relative mastery, it was less efficient. It suggests that more vocabulary could have been acquired had time not been spent trying to master a set list of words. Perhaps, the best, most efficient approach to structures is to make use of the Goldilocks Principle: not too little nor too much repetition in order to get it just right. That “just right” will not be a constant number. It will depend on age, quality of reps, etc.

            SLA is messy messy messy. It’s much easier to stomach the idea, especially in schools, (and it sounds much better), that we “teach structures” and we “teach for mastery.” The old ways were more about covering, not mastering. So yes, we need to spend much more time on a limited language set than has been done traditionally, but perhaps the ideal does not lie at the extremes, but somewhere in the middle would be just right.

  17. Re Roger – Someone remind me please what story board drawings are…? Thanks.

    Brigitte – Seeing the documents you are talking about would definitely be helpful. Danke sehr.

      1. Thanks James.

        So, I was giving the kids 6 sentences to copy (all 6 being from our mini story) and they had to make the picture for each. Since our stories are so short for level 1 now, I guess that’s okay.

        If I did this with level 2 or 3, I now see that I can have them indeed pick what to write as their caption, as long as they copy it from our reading/story and don’t write it themselves.

  18. I found this in one of Ben’s two-week plans as an option for a story day:

    Story – with artist’s drawing.
    Also the option to have the kids fill out the story script with their cute answers before the story to get ideas as per David Maust/Laurie Clarcq/Michele Whaley.

    Can David/Laurie/Michele or someone explain this activity of having students fill out a story script before the story? I’d like to understand and maybe try it!

    1. I think the idea is to give them each a copy of the script you will use to ask the story, but with blanks (_______) for all the variables. They then individually fill out the blanks however they want, takes just a few minutes. Then you collect them and read them to get the cute ideas ahead of time and save yourself from an awkward, boring class. Treat the scripts with blanks like surveys, I guess, to give you cute ideas ahead of time.

    2. Might be slightly different from what you’re expecting:

      1. put the new structures on the board
      2. ask kids to spend 2-3 minutes writing story “skeletons” using those structures repetitively (in English)
      3. use the skeletons either one at a time, in concert, or to create embedded readings; in class on the fly if I need to (on brain-dead days), but I also use the best of the ideas to create or add to stories that I plan to do with the kids. Try it; students love to hear their own ideas brought into the class.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben