Here is a conversation from 2012 with a PLC member who was completely new to comprehension based instruction. It will help us to review some basics about PQA as we crank up the engines again.
Two weeks into the new year and I’d say on a scale of 1-10 I’m at about a 5 or 6. I think the key is going to be my pressing in through that period when it seems like nothing is happening. I’m doing my lesson plans for this week. I planned to start off (after the bell ringer and the pledge) PQAing about the students’ weekend (10-15 minutes).
My response: I find it real hard to PQA about weekends because it requires so much new vocabulary. Maybe it works with accomplished students at upper levels.
PLC Member: Then after that I will transition into PQA session having to do with greetings.
Me: I vote no. Don’t teach greetings right now. Teach them when they naturally occur in dialogue in PQA and in stories later. Here is the reason:
PLC Member: I’m thinking I have way too much for the kids to learn but am concerned about a sacrifice of a “natural flow” if I artificially decide not to use certain vocab. Am I correct in my thinking?
Me: You will not lose the flow if you keep the amount of vocabulary extremely limited and ask a ton of question words around those few things. The flow will be lost and the kids will not understand if you have too much vocabulary. Good PQA classes are based on about one to three sentences per class period, at the most. You try to get as many repetitions using circling on one sentence like “John plays football” using the question words. You spend 15 minutes being fanciful and bizarre with just that information. You add in details and constantly check with simple questions that they understood. The class should be always checking for comprehension way past any degree you think is enough, as per:
Add in more and more details. Ask where and watch it take off. Also compare that John plays football to yourself but that he is better. And compare/contrast (this is all using the Circling with Balls technique) John with other kids. Just keep the focus of your questions on “plays football” at all costs, only bringing in new vocabulary when you must via Point and Pause, and you only do that to make things clear and you do not test the kids on any Point and Pause vocabulary thus introduced simply to keep the dialogue going. Point and Pause is vastly overused in our classes.
During class, have a superstar write down possible questions for a 10 point quick quiz to be given with ten minutes left in class, every day if possible. Teach them that all they have to do is answer some easy questions that they get right bc all they did was listen in a relaxed way in class with no notes, none of the usual trappings of school, the memorization and all that klunky stuff that alienates them. Make sure the superstar only writes down quiz questions on the base content vocabulary from the cards, not from any Point and Pause vocabulary.
In the very beginning, even if it takes four days of talking about seven kids in class to get the first quiz set up, start out that way. You instruct the superstar quiz writer to only ask yes or no questions that are extremely easy. Yoiu may want to read right away. No problem! Just instruct your superstar story writer to write out what you all come up with in class, writing in English and you go write it up at the end of each day and voilà the next day they can read!
Your goal should be that all the kids do well on the first quizzes. Doing this sets a positive tone for the year that your kids are smart, thus cutting down vastly on discipline issues. A lot of troublemakers make trouble simply as a fashion statement because they know that the teacher and the blond memorizers in the front row are going to make their own class anyway.
If you teach in the first few weeks with lots of new vocabulary, why would you do that? The kids will instantly lose confidence in themselves and you will lose touch with them for the rest of the year because they can’t understand and they won’t like you because you are focusing on words and not them.
These are crucial days to not so much teach the language but to make contact with them and set the rules in place so that they know how to act and know that you care more about them more than you care about the subject matter of the class, which is crucial with teenagers in a language class. So stay to those base sentencees over three or four days before that first quiz and start giving daily quizzes when they get up to speed. Then their confidence and motivation will be high because the language you have presented to them in such a SLOW fashion is so easy for them.
Introducing anything like greetings is crazy right now. If you want to lose a class, quiz them on greetings right now and/or present too many new words. Then you will think that they are stupid and can’t learn which is the last thing that is true, as the fault lies with you for teaching too many new words and going too fast. You have to go slow and keep every sentence 100% intelligible to all of the kids in the class now, or none of this is going to work.