Can Do Statements – 6

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63 thoughts on “Can Do Statements – 6”

  1. I guess a succinct way of restating the above is:

    “Why make kids learn to say things in certain language situations when they may not want to?”

    I ask again if we have been addressing the issue of motivation enough in our work. Personalizing the classroom becomes exponentially more important than we may have thought, if that is the case.

  2. Before you get to Intermediate-Mid (IMO even higher is required), you won’t be able to handle real-life situations anyway, so why are we so obsessed with getting Novices to handle real-life situations? Vocabulary acquisition researchers have identified 3,000+ word families as necessary for understanding 95% of authentic language and you need to read how comprehension is operationalized. The researchers often define comprehension as a score of 55-70% on a test. So, at 95% coverage, you still only understand a little more than half of the outside world. And as Ben says, most of our students don’t see a need or a real way to use the language.

    What is worthy of praise is the clear shift to focusing on communication/proficiency, rather than knowledge about the language. It’s about what they can do, not know. But I still see how output-focused statements don’t align with the acquisition process, whereby comprehension is miles ahead of production. I had a 5th grade student say to the class today after a read-aloud of a previously MovieTalked story that she understands everything, but she couldn’t say it. Great teaching moment. I got to say that is only natural and ask how long it took them to output in their L1, while they understood way before they could speak fluently. If the Can Dos had any respect for the process of acquisition, then they would be entirely input-based at Novice levels. The output-related Can Dos may be justifiable if they really are the best tools a student has to get himself more CI.

    I still propose that if our CI revolves around the 100-200 or so high frequency words, then beginners have the language to handle a variety of contexts, whether they’ve been practiced or not. It could be a good last step to apply the CI’d vocabulary to new contexts (deepening connections and acquisition) and include those Can Do contexts. You know though that the traditional teachers will teach the Can Do’s ONLY as 1 isolated context and they’ll package them into units. If the Can Do requires lower frequency language, then there will be lesser return from knowing those words, and suggests the Can Dos could be improved.

    And I’m sorry, but the Can Dos stink of semantic vocabulary sets (traditional themes). We have research that shows that teaching vocabulary in related sets (vertical instruction) is less efficient than horizontal vocabulary instruction. We do get to a lot of these semantic sets during a year of TCI, although mastering the semantic set may not be our goal.

    To put personalization into acquisition jargon: it increases motivation and lowers the affective filter, while also making the input compelling, which allows us to enter that state of flow whereby unconscious acquisition occurs. As Krashen has suggested: compelling input may not only make CI more efficient, but it may be the only means of getting us out of our conscious minds and getting us to acquire. So we would need ways to CI the Can Dos that are also compelling (that’s what Mira and Michele are presenting, right?).

    Here’s an argument I’m not sure I’ve heard before: acquisition (Krashen sense) is definitely what happens for our first language. That should be indisputable. L1 acquisition is unconscious. CI was the main means. So, why would we suppose there is another path to acquisition when we get older? Just because there are fewer cases of native-like L2 proficiency, doesn’t mean it’s ever possible to achieve complete acquisition, nor does it suggest there has to be another means. i.e. is there really more than one way to get the brain to act like it does in L1?

    Now, some people can approximate a semblance of fluency, because they are good monitor-users and I do think with practice, we get to be better monitor-users (Skill-building). But the monitor-fluency-user does not KNOW and FEEL the language the same way someone who has acquired it via first language mechanisms. How could this learning become acquisition? So focusing on “learning” should only be justified if it gets you more CI and if you posit that acquisition as happened for L1 is impossible for L2. But we have plenty of evidence showing how non-formal study and just exposure, especially concentrated CI, lead to fluency. Even if pseudo-fluency or learning-based fluency is possible, then it’s still not “acquisition.”

    I suggest a path of instruction from targeted to non-targeted, whereby we loosen up the reins and include more language that are not the “structures of the day” as our students advance. That can happen as soon as 2nd semester. We need to do this in order to constantly recycle the language structures used earlier in the year. Also, I believe a consistently wider language sample will give the students more to use in order to build that sense for how the language works. Personally, I’m a MovieTalk fanatic. I think the visual makes for better CI. Plus, it’s really easy to include words that would be “out-of-bounds” (non-targeted) because of the visual and my gestures. And a good clip increases engagement (read: takes care of discipline), so it’s easier work for me. I exert less energy to teach with MT than I do TPRS. Plus, I think the whole movie theater environment shuts up the kids more. Don’t tell anyone, but I think I only did 1 or 2 TPRS stories the entire 2nd half of the year and I never did PQA, except for some concentrated PQA on verbs. I made screenshot books out of all my MovieTalks and so I now have 23 books for SSR that will review the language for the students and make for great read-alouds. Next year I’m thinking I will use school budget $ to purchase mp3 players and record my MT’s and class stories so that students can get a greater quantity of recycled CI.

    1. Ashley Hastings’ ESL program (which includes his invention of MovieTalk) requires students to stay in the listening module (MovieTalk only) until they can pass a listening test. I asked for a copy of the listening test, and Hastings agreed with my guess that the test required listening skills at the Intermediate Mid level…that same level which is what we hope for at the end of four years of HS language study. I suggested that therefore we could use just MT for all four years of a HS program…he agreed, in theory, understanding that it worked best with an ungraded program and highly motivated students. I was going to try the experiment if I got two classes of level 1; as pure a TPRS class as possible with one group, and as pure an MT class as possible with the other. It didn’t turn out for various reasons, but I think your approach makes complete sense.

      Hastings didn’t start any other “skills” until after students had reached that Intermediate Mid level of Listening, but students who emerged from the Listening Module after three-four months of intensive English (amounting to three-four years’ worth of high school hours) were at the same level or ahead of their peers in traditional ESL courses after the same number of hours in reading, speaking AND writing, though they had had no instruction in those skill sets to date. Meanwhile, they rocked the charts in Listening, and rocketed ahead in the other skills, having achieved the Listening level.

      In an ideal world, we could all tell stories and talk movies, and the kids would do great.

      1. To add Michele and to take from what I wrote for the June IJFLT: “In two studies, students in the Focal Skills’ Listening Module, of which instruction time was mostly spent on MovieTalk, showed three times greater listening comprehension gains compared to standard ESL classes, while equaling progress in reading and writing (Hastings, 1995; Yu, 1998).(Hastings, 1995; Yu, 1998).”

        I’ve seen samples of Hastings’ listening exam, which is a yes/no test based on a bunch of short recordings and the answers depend on accurate listening for meaning.

        Again, the issue is how to balance breadth and depth. One possible TPRS shortcoming, at least in it’s likely implementation by some teachers, is the severely reduced language exposure if we are narrowly focused on 1-3 structures. Once we’ve done more structures, the only way to recycle them is to take time away new structures, so if we are to avoid the “review problem” we must progress from targeted to non targeted. I’m thinking we should all try to supplement TPRS with extensive reading and listening opportunities, whether that be through a classroom library or via more non targeted CI practices (read-alouds, MT’s, etc.).

        Furthermore, contrary to traditional practice, vocabulary, and not grammar, is essential for acquisition. It’s the content vocabulary that gives us the meaning of the message, which allows us to acquire the grammar. So if our goal is to produce intermediate level students, which requires a lot of vocabulary, then I wonder if the “shelter vocabulary, not grammar” only applies to the very beginner levels. Did the idea of “shelter vocabulary, not grammar” come about because it was a way to increase CI? And/or did it originate from the idea that we needed more reps?

        1. …I wonder if the “shelter vocabulary, not grammar” only applies to the very beginner levels. Did the idea of “shelter vocabulary, not grammar” come about because it was a way to increase CI? And/or did it originate from the idea that we needed more reps?…

          That was Susan Gross who said that and the way I understand it is that it is a way of making sure that the foundation of the house is solid before we start building the upper floors. By limiting how wide our vocabulary goes in any one class, just repeating a few targets, the rebar steel rods for the floor of each house are there to guarantee stability and the addition of future floors, and all the little words that we use around the rebar (target structures) are like the little concrete pieces that actually make up the floor, being held up by the rebar rods. So that expression must have come from the fact that language learners cannot acquire, in a forced classroom setting where time is of the utmost value, unless we target certain expressions. So I think the expression came about as an acknowledged need for more CI in our comprehension based classes. But I could be wrong because I just confused myself in writing that. I think I might have made a point there, I’m not sure.

          For more on the rebar image, see all the articles in the Rebar category, which I think are very important for new people to read:

          1. I thought she is also saying that there isn’t “too hard for beginners” correct language structure. Use normal language, but keep the discrete vocabulary items fewer.

          2. Robert Harrell

            Whenever I have heard this from Susan Gross, it has always been in the context of contrasting TPRS with legacy instruction. Specifically, the reference was to the way in which textbooks parcel out the grammar of the language piecemeal, using only the present tense for an entire year and then only in a tightly controlled sequence of “regular verbs” followed by primary “irregular” verbs and similar procedures for other grammar points, then introducing subsequent tenses and grammatical structures one or two at a time over subsequent years. As a result, students initially learn an extremely stilted and unnatural form of the language. For example, in Spanish they have to wait until year three to “learn the subjunctive” when some of the most common structures expressing basic wishes and desires use the subjunctive. When does a legacy student learn, for example, “quiero que tengas”? Tengas is subjunctive.

            At the same time, the textbook drowns the student in vocabulary, giving lists of 50 or more words to be learned out of context within a week or two from the very beginning of language study.

            Susie’s advice is to limit the number of targeted words while speaking the language naturally. All sorts of vocabulary will enter the conversation, naturally and unconsciously being acquired by the engaged learner. For me it goes back to the power of the unconscious mind vs the conscious mind. Concentrating consciously on limited vocabulary for meaning allows the unconscious mind to acquire and map a great deal more of the language than could be done with rules of grammar and lists of vocabulary (both of which fail to provide students with a true understanding of the target language).

            At least that’s my understanding of what Susan Gross means when she says “Shelter vocabulary, not grammar”.

        2. I understand “sheltering vocabulary” to mean limiting how how quickly we add new new words.

          How many words can we add before comprehension breaks down? When it breaks down we realize that there were holes in our shelter and we have to do a quick patch job to protect the students. If we do not patch up with some cycling, or PQA or TPR or ___ they will be overwhelmed.

          It is the application of i(nput) +1 to vocabulary. My “let’s get more done” mindset wants to do i(nput) +2 or 3 or… There is something so brain friendly about adding one thing at a time.

          Sheltering vocabulary is another way to spell S L O W.

          I remember someone talking once about how good TPRS is about constantly making linguistic connections. Picture a paper with five dots on it. Each dot represents an utterance. The idea is to connect every utterance to each of the others. When the sixth dot is added, it is connected to each of the others. And so with the seventh. Textbooks do not have time to connect the dots. They evenly distribute them. The clever books might try to pull out some long forgotten dot that was properly put in storage chapters ago and have a “recycle” exercise.

          1. Love the dots analogy. Exactly true. It’s where textbooks must fail. Y’all who have upper level classes next year, speak as slowly to them as you would to a first year class in about January. Watch their reaction. They will not complain. They will relax and it will be a better class. Try it. If a superstar complains, because that’s what they do unless they get the speed of instruction that they think they require, tell them to put a sock in it.

          2. Robert Harrell

            I occasionally have third and fourth-year students come by a first year class. Afterwards they always comment on how slowly I speak (though not slowly enough) and ask, “Did you really speak that slowly to us?” This year, for the first time ever, my entire 3/4/AP class asked me to speak faster, so I experimented with different speeds until they all agreed that I speaking at the speed they wanted and recognized that this was not full native-speaker speed. The class was simply unusual that way. This is, after all, the class that debated in German various aspects of Harry Potter, including which Hogwarts house was the best. One of the guys gave a masterful defense of Slytherin, using but a single word of English. (We all had to laugh because he was obviously frustrated in trying to formulate an answer, then asked if he could speak “Denglisch”, proceeded to use a single word of English, and finished his extended discourse in German.) We also got regular reports from one of the third-year students on how her show jumping with Milo (her horse) was going, and two guys told about their skateboarding weekends from Seal Beach to Malibu and Huntington Beach to San Diego. This class probably spent more time simply sitting and talking about “stuff” than any class I’ve ever had. Every once in a while we needed a break, so we played soccer, and I taught them how to fence (in German, of course) – and we had the occasional “cultural experience” complete with Bratwurst, Spaetzle, etc. I’m going to miss this group.

          3. Robert that class is testimony to the amazing capacities and talents that we would never know about it we didn’t ask them questions about the safe and whimsical parts of themselves.

            I knew early on, when I first heard about this work in 2001, that the personalization piece, the getting to know the students in a social and not just academic way (because languages are participatory and back and forth social things by their very nature), would be of immense importance to my success with it.

            Not only do we have to learn the skills to teach in this way but we also have to want to know about them. Before I learned about comprehensible input I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted them to come to me and ask about me and all I knew about French. I wanted them to approve of me.

            But they never did that. Just a few of them in each class went with me, but their approval had a dark side – they needed the A I could give them and the letters of recommendation, etc., which I gave them gladly in the quid pro quo of it, but what about the other 28 kids in the class who didn’t want to play that dark game?

            Odd, right? The way I understood teaching before hearing about Krashen, the entire class was supposed to make me the star of the show and yet most of them wanted me to make them the star of the show. That pissed me off. Hmmm.

            Anne Matava had a class like yours, years ago, that she brought with her to a workshop in Maine and I got to teach those Hogs (winners of the national German exam in Maine, like the whole class) French to demo the method. It was like flying a 747. I remember each of those kids but only taught them one class, yet I have forgotten hundreds of others with whom I spent a year or more.

          4. Robert Harrell

            This was also a small class by California standards: 13 students rather than the normal 38-43. Next year the 3/4/AP class will have 46 students, and I am certain we will never achieve the same degree of collegiality with that many students.

            Large class sizes represent one of the challenges facing those of us who teach relationally. Think of a party or other gathering. If there are 10-15 people there, you can spend some time with all of them; if there are 40 people there, you will not be able to do much more than say hello, if that, to most of them. Yet teachers are expected to have meaningful interaction with every student every day. One of the fallacies of our society is that “quality time” somehow replaces quantity of time. Sorry, but when it comes to relationships, there can be no quality without quantity of shared experiences.

          5. I had a class like that this year & last… smallest class I’ve had with only 7 or 8 kids. I will really miss them! We went out to lunch together after the end of school. They’re trying to get the school to let them travel to China next year instead of go to San Francisco.

          6. Robert now I know why I want only 15 in war rooms. I had like 300 people in front of me once in San Antonio in 2009 and I wasn’t able to convey much. My socks were rolling up and down too fast and my teeth wouldn’t stop itching.

          7. I’m so glad you had this kind of experience with a class and so sorry to hear about the increase in class sizes you’re looking at for next year. Sounds very similar to Louisa Walker’s situation outside San Diego, and I guess Drew Hiben’s as well. I sure hope you guys can put up a fight for the coming years!

          8. How about David Maust as long as you’re talking about Los Angeles? He had one class in the mid-40 range I believe, or maybe it was more. Try teaching CI in that setting! No thanks.

        3. “One possible TPRS shortcoming, at least in it’s likely implementation by some teachers, is the severely reduced language exposure if we are narrowly focused on 1-3 structures.”

          I would think, in terms of TCI, that this “shortcoming” would really be the opposite, because of the natural tendency of all of us to go too fast and introduce too much new stuff. We can’t help but have incidental stuff, usually high frequency stuff, enter the story/conversation at any point. For me anyways, this is true. And I totally agree with trying to get more non-targeted CI activity (e.g. Self-Selected Novel Reading) in our classrooms… I saw the power of this in my Spanish 2 class this last year (small – 15 students, super quiet/unexpressive group). I’m not sure it will be as easy next year with my rambunctious big group coming up, but I will do it regardless. We just need about 10 times as many simple novels out there, and our classrooms will be so much more kick-ass. (on that note, I was speaking to a local college Spanish prof about lit in the beginner classes, and Luther College uses novels aimed at early learners, with adult-ish themes, as a kind of after-though to the grammar curriculum. I had never heard of them. One is called Panico en La Discoteca. We’re collaborating to bring Mira back to her alma mater (mine too) and talk about literature in the FL classroom… I hope it works out.)

          With regard to Susan’s adage, I have always understood it as Diane and Robert describe. Good on you Eric for bringing it back up and re-examining the pillars now and then, making us all accountable for being able to defend what we’re doing.

    2. Robert Harrell

      Eric wrote: We have research that shows that teaching vocabulary in related sets (vertical instruction) is less efficient than horizontal vocabulary instruction.

      Could you put up a link or other indication of where to find the research? My district just formed a consult team to discuss and re-write benchmarks, and the “great idea” from the district 7-12 supervisor was “the communicative approach with thematic units”. Since I’m going to be working with some very traditional teachers in an attempt to create common benchmarks across all languages in the district (French, German, Latin, Spanish, and Vietnamese), I need to have access to all the research I can get that supports the multiple theme approach of horizontal vocabulary instruction rather than vertical instruction.


      1. This website was first posted to moreTPRS, which includes some references:

        I’m really not sure how extensive the research is on this. Here’s some links:
        Nation, I.S.P. (2000) Learning vocabulary in lexical sets: dangers and guidelines. TESOL Journal 9, 2: 6-10.

        This article distinguishes between semantic sets and thematic sets:

        Also, if interested in recommendations from vocabulary acquisition researchers, check this out. You’re sure to see a mix of learning and acquisition strategies mentioned:

        1. Robert Harrell

          I just had an opportunity to look at the links. Thank you again, Eric, for this. Overall the study doesn’t speak against all thematic unit organization, just against the typical thematic unit organization, and especially against learning semantically related vocabulary via word lists. If we think of units in the sense of things like “going hunting”, “going to the mall”, “playing sports” and then organize them using high-frequency vocabulary according to the ideas of 1) what do I need to be able to say in the situation and 2) what do I need to be able to talk about the situation later, then I think we get at some very usable thematic units. For example, I can use Anne Matava’s scripts “King of Pain”, “Take Two Gummy Bears and Call Me in the Morning”, and “Emergency Room” in a lesson on health and body parts. I could also include “Oh, Come On! It’s Not So Bad!” Voila! Instant thematic unit. Out of those four stories, students have some very usable structures for expressing issues related to health and incorporating body parts. The only structure I think I would want to add “injures/hurts himself”. If I haven’t already taught it, I would also include “that’s too bad/sorry”.

          1. Don’t forget about Bryce’s joke about the person going to the doctor, in his Jokes Book. That one is great. Actually there are a couple, but this particular one is called Me Duele.

          2. Yep. The “traditional” sense of theme is ineffective, i.e. when the vocabulary list is full of syntactically and semantically similar words (e.g. body parts, colors, numbers), but when it’s organized around a topic, like “going to the restaurant” then you have words that are all parts of speech (e.g. orders, waiter, expensive).

            So, people use the word “theme” in different ways. The way the AP Exam is organized around 6 themes (e.g. global challenges, contemporary life, etc.) is like the topics and not the traditional sense of themes.

            I don’t know if the Natural Approach has been discussed on this blog before, but I’m reading it now for the first time, and it recommends a communicative syllabus, i.e. organized around units with topics, situations, and functions and those topics are the same ones reflected in the Can-Dos (weather, food, etc.). I think the Natural Approach assumes this organization and content will be motivating. I do recall reading several times that much depends on the group of students and what will be most compelling to the students should be chosen. So once stories via TPRS and MovieTalk came along, I think they replaced the communicative topics as the most compelling for input.

            So we would have to decide if the vocabulary belonging to the communicative situation/Can-Do is already being targeted in our stories and if not, should this language be prioritized for targeting. I fully agree with Blaine when he says his only bias is high frequency language.

            I have more to read, but there are some good activity suggestions for delivering CI. Krashen is about non-targeted CI, but we could make these activities target structures. Like we’ve said before, we have to target when we have limited time, i.e. if we go wide and non targeted, then that leaves much only partially acquired (fragile and quickly forgotten) and doesn’t get us the reps we know language takes to be fully acquired and recalled/produced over the long-term.

            At the same time, I think we could do non targeted CI if we were able to limit to a degree that non targeted CI. For example: year 1 class decides it will limit itself to the 300 highest frequency words. You could approach this with traditional TPRS and do 3 structures at a time and get through the 300 words by the end of the year, or you could work faster to establish meaning for these words (gestures, visuals, word associations, etc.) and then on any given class, the CI activity could work with all language within the 300 words. By the end of the year, you get the same number of reps, but they were fewer in each class and more spread out over the year. I prefer the latter strategy. Limiting ourselves to 3 structures seriously constrains communication, interest, and I think too much repetition (while a good thing) can bore students. On course evaluations, students complained there was too much repetition (and I already probably do more non targeted CI than the average TPRSer). Plus, limiting to 3 structures and really pounding the reps makes it hard to recycle language.

          3. Robert Harrell

            Nice distinction between theme and topic, Eric. It helps to avoid the confusion of using the same term to mean different things. Yes, a “topical approach” rather than thematic units is a good idea.

            I’m planning to focus a lot more on the highest frequency words with the understanding that I will supplement that with words that are of high interest to my students and the recognition that high frequency varies to an extent among groups.

          4. Jeffery Brickler


            Could you elaborate more on this:

            ” you could work faster to establish meaning for these words (gestures, visuals, word associations, etc.) and then on any given class, the CI activity could work with all language within the 300 words.”

            How would that look? Are you thinking about spending a quarter introducing structures and then using them all year rather than just in a story? I agree that it is difficult to recycle from stories.

          5. Compelling and review are 2 problems this approach [nontargeted microlanguage] attempts to improve. This is compelling for at least 2 reasons: more vocabulary to work with means greater ease of communication and getting the reps over the course of the year means we don’t have to be so repetitive in class, which loses attention of some students. So, I’m suggesting we look at all the vocabulary we focus on in 1 year and rather than break it down into 3 structures lasting 2-week units, we use much of that vocabulary every day in class all year long. This is me trying to get closer to applying Krashen’s theory to our limited instruction time. Krashen would have us provide nontargeted input and we can adapt that by providing nontargeted input within a small subset of language [microlanguage] (e.g. 50 high frequency verbs and 300 high frequency words).

            To me, it’s all about the high frequency verbs. If they process the verb, I figure that gives them the best chance of comprehending the message. I’m thinking in the first weeks of class we can TPR the 50 highest frequency verbs, include visualization for each one, word associations if the class thinks of any, include flashcard sets of horizontal verb learning (sets of first person singular, sets of second person singular, etc.) which along with the visualization cards are available during SSR, and do intense and short PQA sessions on all those verbs – tailor the Personal Inventory Questionnaire to those verbs.

            We’re not teaching for mastery at first. This is about glossing the words, giving them good memory tricks in order to recall the word meanings, and jumpstarting acquisition with some 50-100 reps/verb. Then, through extensive reading and listening every day in class for the rest of the year, we include any and all of those 50 verbs to build deeper understanding and internalization of the vocabulary.

            For me, it’s easier to do the extensive listening with MovieTalks. One common complaint about MTs is having to pause and taking too much time to discuss each scene and then spending multiple classes on the same video. My class really liked when I was able to finish a 6 minute MTs in one 50 minute period (sometimes it took me two, 50 minute periods to finish one three minute clip and then I’d spend an additional 3rd class reading the MT). I could probably tell any story with the 50 high frequency verbs plus a few video-specific verbs. This way, I don’t have to worry about getting the reps in one week, because I’ll get a few more every day during every MT.

            This will at first certainly favor kids with better memories, but we still make it all comprehensible (slow, gestures, visuals, translation, etc.). I’d expect output to be delayed, but I’d also expect to have done the same vocabulary by the end of the year as usual and that by June, acquisition would be even better (due to more compelling and more review). While my focus is primarily on verbs, I would also be very familiar with the 300 high frequency word list and try as much as I can to include those words in the input. As Robert said above, we also throw in some compelling vocabulary.

          6. Eric I would love to know what your teaching schedule looks like for a week. I imagine that you do lots of Movie Talk and verb work, but in general how do you distribute auditory and reading CI throughout the week?

          7. Depends on the week, the time of year, and the experience and age level of the students. I do a lot of experimenting and adjusting. I’m still searching for the best combination of auditory and reading CI. I try to make every CI activity fit the 3 steps of 1.Establish meaning (not necessarily include PQA), 2.Story, 3.Read.

          8. I had to break this post into various comments, because I was getting that darn “Security Rule.”

            The meat of my teaching this year was MTs. Verb PQA, TPR, magic tricks, etc. were short CI activities thrown in there. Definitely a lot of auditory CI precedes reading CI. This year, probably 1/3 to 1/6 of instruction time was reading CI. I did a lot of shared/guided reading and read alouds this year, with much less individual SSR. My 8th graders next year will have had 1.5 years of TCI, so the self-selected reading will increase. I did 20 plus MTs and I turned them all into Screenshot books, so my classroom library is better off and the kids love reading these. A few times this year, I set up reading stations: magazine station, children book station, embedded reading station, TPRS Reader station, MT and Class Stories and Flashcards stations. Every 8-10 minutes the kids rotated and spent the entire period in extensive reading (ER). If I can get mp3 players and record class stories/MT books, then I’ll devote even more time to SSR/ER. With individual reading, I found it super important to conference constantly with students on what they are reading and next year I’ll come up with a simple system to make reading visual, i.e. kids keep track of books they’ve read (some type of graph would be ideal). If I get fancy, then I may estimate number of words in the books and have the students rate the book 1-10 for level of comprehensibility. Then, if the student gives it a 7 and there are 200 words, then I count that as 140 words read.

          9. Or I may just level the TPRS readers and have kids count the number of books they read from each level and fill in a bar graph, each bar representing a different level.

            I’m proud to say we do almost no writing. With my beginners, I preferred speedtranslates to speedwrites. Next year, with more experienced students, I plan to include more fluency (speed) activities: speedspeaks with the 4/3/2 protocol and design some short, speedlistening and speedreading activities. I also want to try to spend more time at the beginning of the year with a Personal Inventory Questionnaire. I’m leaning towards the controlled, nontargeted approach I describe in the post above.

          10. I think we all get that everything we share here is far from prescriptive, that we are really just getting ideas so that when our own practice begins to flower (after the period of skills training) we are free to blend our own personality with this work and not feel that TPRS is some “method” that we have to learn or we won’t be cool.

            And yet I would recommend the balance of activities you describe above to anyone. We always win with MT, your amount of reading is a bit less than I do, of course you avoid output, but generally you are doing what we recommend in DPS. I especially like what you said here because it is the spinal column of our work:

            …I try to make every CI activity fit the 3 steps of 1.Establish meaning (not necessarily include PQA), 2.Story, 3.Read….

            Establishing meaning corresponds to the cervical vertebrae of the spine, connecting the brain to the rest of the body. The thoracic vertebrae are the middle of the spine, the story. The lumbar vertebrae correspond to the reading. Boy, if that’s not pushing an image, I don’t know what is.

            I am interested in the concept of speed translating if you want to elaborate on that.

          11. Eric, when can we see your MT books? I want a few of those. I’ll pay $ for a resource like that. Especially useful and time-saving would be enumeration of some video stop-times so that when I’m MTing I know precisely where to stop to get maximum interest/context during the talk time. I can imagine using 5 right now, preferably culturally relevant but whatever keeps the interest really. You’re not doing anything else right? 🙂

          12. Sure, Jim! They’re on my school website for free. I’ve shared this link before somewhere on this PLC.


            I have 23. They are all done, except I still have to upload 7 to the website. I will get to that today. They’re separated into targeted and non-targeted readings. They are edited by my native-Spanish-speaking wife, so they should be error free. I made an effort to write them with high frequency language, not sheltering grammar.

            It should be apparent how much time I spent on these. Yikes. Do I have a life outside teaching Spanish? haha.

            I had a brief back-and-forth with Ben about selling this kind of thing, but it probably is a violation of copyright and would require permission from the film studio. So for now, on the down low.

            Where to stop a video clip is all up to you and what structures you are trying to target. I often stop every couple seconds. An MT is like hundreds of L&D’s. I can easily MT a 2 minute clip for 50 minutes. But as I mentioned earlier, the stopping is what most irritates the students. So, I may pause less or else choose longer clips and allow more time between pauses. I’m really considering establishing some shallow meaning for a bunch of high frequency verbs and then doing a bunch of MT’s and working all those verbs into every MT. Then, I don’t have to worry about concentrating the reps during 1 MT, but I can get the reps over a series of MT’s. That would be easy to do so long as the words you are targeting are high frequency.

          13. Thanks Eric, I’ll be sure to borrow!

            “I’m really considering establishing some shallow meaning for a bunch of high frequency verbs and then doing a bunch of MT’s and working all those verbs into every MT.”

            Regarding this statement, do you anticipate stopping more often than not to clarify/establish meaning of shallowly-acquired structures? Or are you shooting for comprehensible (90% gist) instead of transparent? Do you see this as a potential caveat? We’re already re-establishing meaning all the time of deeply-repeated stuff anyways, so not that this caveat would be too great.

          14. “…it probably is a violation of copyright and would require permission from the film studio.”

            I’m pretty sure this is the wall Duke Crawford was running up against when he was trying to produce some useable song-books of his twexted lyrics ( Maybe sharing some copyrightable parts, and selling the non-copyrightable parts (the how-to and embedded summary type stuff) is the way to go here. But I’m not a copyright lawyer (thank gawd!!), so my 2 cents are worthless here.

          15. Well, this is where the TPR comes in. After a gesture has been established and practiced, I would gesture every verb in MTs as I said it and if I need to, quickly gloss it in English, or quickly frontload the MT by re-establishing meaning for words I plan to use. Perhaps, the more total instruction time, the more we can be nontargeted. When I say shallow, I’m talking 50-100 reps of 5 minute PQA along with gestures, visuals, word associations. Then, besides the MT’s they’ll do extensive reading and have flashcards available. Plus, my word walls include these verbs and many of the little function words. If I want my goal to be the 50 high frequency verbs, then I still wouldn’t be including all of them in every MT, at least not at first. But I would be including many more than 3 structures.
            At least in my case, most of the students will have already had some decent CI for 1 year. But I’ll also get new kids who have never had Spanish, so we’ll see how they handle looser reins. With students of more varied levels, nontargeted input and the net hypothesis becomes even more important if I want everyone to get i+1.

          16. Ok, it sounds like what you’re proposing is something akin to establishing background details and “extra” stuff when doing stories, recycling older stuff via side comments so to speak. I know we sometimes advocate for focusing solely on the target structures, because if we don’t we won’t get enough of reps of the. I have never, well maybe once or twice, been able to do this purely. I always bird walk, even when I’m trying to shelter/target structures. I can’t help it. Can anyone?

          17. We need to clarify Can Do statements. ACTFL talks about them on their site. We need to get deeper into this and come to a full understanding about them. Hint, Eric. I’m on vacation. Would you mind doing that? I’m not supposed to be reading here for the next ten days. What are the ACTFL Can Do statements? How do they read? I don’t want us to let this Can Do discussion go until we all have a succinct paragraph on it. Why? Because the term will come up in our relationships with our administrators, probably more this year than in the past.

            For those new to this site, we have lots on how to talk about comprehension based teaching with administrators and observers. This is just one of the links that new people are advised to peruse before the new school year starts:


            Note that that link is a category with lots of articles in it, and not just one articles. New people are also advised to read in the Primers section of this site, which is a hard link across the top of this page.

          18. I’ve been (negatively) opinionated towards the Can Dos. I know not everyone shares my feeling and I know others won’t have a choice and will have pressure to organize curriculum around the Can Dos. I teach in paradise, though, being the only FL teacher in my district (our elementary school is it’s own district), so I can critique, but it won’t affect me either way.

            Again there is some positive to the Can Dos. They are communicative: focusing on handling situations, not grammatical accuracy. They are goals that to a large extent are not driven by a grammatical syllabus. But don’t they seem like goals based on results of a communicative classroom, rather than based on how students acquire language and develop? Maybe the biggest question is whether or not they are the best situations to use in our classroom for delivering compelling, comprehensible input. I think they will be, more often than not, less compelling than stories. So, if you must get kids to check off those Can Do boxes, then get the necessary vocabulary acquired however you want (maybe you realize you already TCI that vocabulary), then perhaps do some PQA or interview style CI with the Can Do situation as the last step. Or cover the situation with a 5 minute fluency write or a 4/3/2 oral fluency speak (I tried this as 1:30/1/:30 and I like). It’s always good to apply vocabulary to new contexts, so the Can Dos can be a new context included after the 3 steps of TPRS. If you CI the Can Dos, then remember BEP (bizzare, exaggerated, personalized). Include some reading texts that are BEP dialogues based around each Can Do.

            Maybe it motivates kids to see that the language they are acquiring in stories can be applied to the situations. Maybe they don’t care. Regarding the output Can Dos, it makes more sense to me, to go over those Can Do situations in May and June, once the kids have acquired much more language.

          19. …I think they will be, more often than not, less compelling than stories….

            I agree. The effect of our having to worry about checking some box off for some administrator who doesn’t understand how languages are acquired is that then our teaching can’t flow. Language is, after all, a flow. So teaching to accomplish some objective on some list blocks things up and the interest goes down.

            … maybe the biggest question is whether or not they are the best situations to use in our classroom for delivering compelling, comprehensible input….

            They (Can Do objectives) indeed are not the best situations. The best situations are those in which our kids are involved because we are directing the discussion towards them and their interests and not something we have to check off in a list of boxes.

            I guess we could say that as long as the Can Do statement has to do with input, our students can do it. They can understand a word or a phrase or an entire text in the TL. They can read it. They won’t be able to say it or write it, unless the research on how long it takes to get to output (thousands of hours) is wrong.

          20. . . . unless the research on how long it takes to get to output (thousands of hours) is wrong.

            I don’t think we have a number of CI hours it takes to achieve certain proficiency levels. I’ve not seen a research study on time control for method. It’s safe to say that the studies on time are based on what to expect from traditional classrooms, communicative approach at best, but not based on what to expect from a CI classroom. And yes, babies get thousands of hours of input, but how much is comprehensible? This is why Krashen says the TCI classroom is absolutely the best place for a beginner. And even if intermediates and advanced level students can get some CI from the outside world, a TCI classroom can give them more. We see our kids produce some impressive natural output after hundreds of hours, but it’s probably safe to say that the hours so that the average student gets to the intermediate level is in the thousands.

          21. I think I would say hundreds, high hundreds (between 500-1500), to get to intermediate. Thousands sounds daunting, even insurmountable, and perhaps a bit misleading.


            Now I don’t think that we can learn Spanish in 20 hours, as might be construed from this TedTalk video I pasted above. Rather, the now oft-mentioned number of 10000 hours that Gladwell popularized is blown out of proportion. We’re not trying to create Pablo Nerudas, but John Does(n’t know a whole lot but can get around in L2).

    3. To add to what surely is just a reworded argument someone has given before: when we start with a theory of how first language is acquired (L1LA) and then examine how a second language is acquired, things may become clearer. It should be much easier for everyone to accept that acquisition is unconscious when looking at L1LA. To then look at SLA and propose a different process, a conscious one, requires some serious justification. In fact, I’ve seen Krashen’s theory criticized as violating Occam’s razor (when there are competing theories for the same phenomena, the simpler one is better), for having theorized 2 processes – the distinction between learning and acquisition. As Krashen responds: “Occam’s Razor does not say we want the simplest theory, it says we want the simplest theory consistent with the data. Is it preferable to not make a distinction between short and long-term memory because it would be”simpler”? How about just saying e = mc, and simplifying pi to 22/7?”

      But if we start with L1LA and conclude acquisition is unconscious, then when we go to describe SLA, to propose acquisition is conscious may be the true offense to Occam’s Razor, i.e. it suggests more than 1 way to acquire. So the ball is really in the court of the opposing SLA researchers to explain why they would propose competence can be developed consciously, in addition to unconsciously.

  3. This comment follows Michele’s above:

    So why can’t we do that? If a doctor discovered a new procedure that saved lives and catapulted medicine forward, would the profession allow him to do that? Don’t answer that question, but I would hope so. That’s what this is like. Is it too much to ask our profession to change based on what we now know from Hastings and Krashen? Or do the pundits like those two ladies in Massachusetts who want to say that listening is not that big a deal, that other things like practicing writing and speaking are more important, get to decide how our profession moves forward? Who is in charge of our profession? Everything is based on listening – reading, writing, speaking. So why not just allow the students to listen? Then, when the magic happens in the deeper mind, our students will natural start reading easily and outputting speech and writing in a way that eerily resembles how a first language is acquired. Or is that too simple to work?

  4. Robert Harrell

    This is the conundrum of the entire school experience. The adults tell children that they must learn certain things because they will need them later. To an extent, this is true: our experience with the world gives us a perspective that students do not yet have. In addition, students need exposure to a variety of activities and subject so that their horizons are expanded, and they can see what appeals to them. If a student never tastes creme brulee, how will he know how delicious it is?

    The question then becomes one of awakening sufficient interest within and among students for them to gain something from the time spent being exposed to these “things” that will benefit them later. There are, however, certain things that will not benefit students later in life – at least will benefit only certain students because of the field they choose to pursue. When I was in school I took and enjoyed upper level mathematics; I have never used most of it in any portion of my life. (Basic math, daily; advanced mathematics, never.) Schools and teachers must then justify requiring students to take these course on a different basis. Usually it is something along the lines of “training the mind”. My question is this: what is it about this particular subject that “trains the mind” in a way that some other course cannot? (Of course, there is also the “justification” of needing the course to get into college; but what if the student is planning a different career path?)

    Foreign language is particularly a victim of this thinking. In the Middle Ages, Greek and Latin (especially Latin) were international languages and means of communication. People learned them in order to communicate with people from different lands. When French supplanted Latin as the lingua franca of Europe, the academics had to justify their instruction in order to keep their jobs. Consequently, the study of grammar and syntax became an end rather than a means. When modern languages entered the curriculum, they had to justify their inclusion and so mimicked the classicist position that this was an academic subject. Thus, we see the teaching in English about the language – essentially a course in linguistics and not a course in the target language.

    Obviously, there is no way that we can hold the attention of all students at all times because their interests and needs are so divergent and diverse. A student who wants to talk to a relative who speaks the language or who is planning a summer trip to the target country will have a very different perspective from the student who is sitting in the class because it is a graduation or college-entrance requirement. I think two things we can do are
    1. Make the content relevant through a high level of personalization by connecting it to our students’ real life, exhibiting our own passion and enthusiasm (for both the language and the students), actively engaging students (via jGR and jobs, for example), and making it novel (TPRS, anyone?).
    2. Make the content foundational enough that the language our students are learning is applicable to the broadest and most varied contexts possible except where their interests dictate more specific vocabulary. This is, I think, the genius of the “Super Seven” (or eight or twelve – whatever is most foundational for your language). It is also the area on which I plan to concentrate next year at the start of year 1 (and perhaps re-visit for the other classes).

    Just as an aside, we need to be wary of making overly optimistic statements about TPRS in terms of student engagement. By the nature of the teaching, we will engage and “reach” far more students than the elitist approach of legacy methods; however, we will by no means reach all students, and not all students will actively retain functional use of what they have acquired. Here at the end of the first year, there are huge differences in proficiency among my students. Those who have been engaged and actively listening simply amaze me with their ability; those who have had other priorities and needed the rigor of jGR the most will look at me with bewilderment over the simplest of utterances if it is not heavily scaffolded. Perhaps the fault lies with me, but I find that no method will engage all students equally at all times. Though I did have one of my former students, one of the less engaged ones, just stop in and begin the conversation in German. We were unable to sustain it for long, but then he hasn’t used it at all for a couple of years. (BTW, I don’t think that all of the fault of lack of retention lies at the feet of legacy methods; there is a strong element of “use it or lose it” with language. Why would we expect someone to retain active knowledge of a language if he doesn’t use it for 10 years? Do they remember the quadratic equation and other formulae from math? How many of the dates and other facts do they remember from history? Do they equally lament the “failure” of their teachers in these subjects?)

    Okay, enough rambling.

    1. Robert, I very much appreciate your rambling, and more targeted rambling (e.g. your philosophy paper published here recently). You could put together a book of all this good stuff, from the analyses of rigor/relevance to # or hours to your textbook questioning… all indispensable to my understanding of this stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. …no method will engage all students equally at all times….

    So true. If a kid isn’t feelin’ the mojo, there is nothing we can do, and there are lots of those kids in our CI classes, in language classes everywhere. We must let them go, lest we ruin our mental edge throughout the year wondering why Johnny, who only wants to mess around in school, can’t get into our instruction. It is not us, it is the kid, in so many cases. We let them go and keep them firmly in line with jGR. At least we are vastly closer to being able to capture their interest with what we do than can dry analysis.

    1. I had two of this type of student in the school year just ended. One failed grade 8 (he had also failed grade 6); one had a D+ in grade 6. I communicated with the kids in question and their families and advisors multiple times through the school year, and these two kids had low scores on comprehension check quizzes at the end of class, rarely if ever responded in class, rarely if ever said if they needed clarification, and very often just sat and made noises to themselves. They acted much, much younger than their chronological ages. I do not feel any sense of having failed those kids… in the one case, I estimated he was getting about 5% of the input offered in class because of his level of distraction and unwilling/inability to play.

  6. Ben, it’s really not hard to take a look at the Can-Do statements. You just have to start at page 6 once you click on the link, because the first pages are blather and overview.

    I think you’ll see that there’s a lot of no-brainer stuff in them, stuff that we who must show the data can take advantage of. I’m sure that your kids, for example, could “tell what someone looks like” at Novice Mid, presentational speaking, earlier than any kid in a traditional class. You do it all the time! I’ve seen it. And I’m betting that by the end of second year, your kids could “describe a personal event,” which is supposedly well above the level that kids hit in high school (presentational speaking, Intermediate Mid).

    From Eric:
    “So we would have to decide if the vocabulary belonging to the communicative situation/Can-Do is already being targeted in our stories and if not, should this language be prioritized for targeting. I fully agree with Blaine when he says his only bias is high frequency language.”

    I think all of us in this camp would agree that if we use these statements, we won’t be picking “Can describe a science project,” unless it fits into a story. Now that I think about it, we do have a cult story that fits the description. Back when I used Blaine’s mini stories, there was always the lemonade that exploded. Since I ended up with the kid who brought bomb-makings to school in my class, we tread carefully and we do it with a little bit of science to keep me out of trouble. If I were occasionally checking the Can-Do statements, I could pull that one out with a wink and ask the superstars in the class to retell it as a presentation.

    What about, “I can sometimes understand questions about how old I am, my name, where I live…” at the Novice High? Circling with Balls means we have kids understanding those questions in week 2! Show off! Wow…you’re a genius teacher.

    To answer another question somewhere above, there are DLI lists out there that give number of class hours needed (for motivated small adult classes) to reach particular levels. 1,110 hours are needed to get to S3 in Russian, for example.
    Post by Irene Thompson here:

    I really want to relax about these…not to get all worked up about them. Instead, use them to our advantage! Use them to show off! If you’re like me and your kids think you have no system, no structure, drag them out every two or three weeks to show what you’re working on. (I’m also going to go back to posting the Ben skill that I’m working on.) Have fun with them, or don’t bother. We’re in this to get to know kids, and we do it by learning language together. Otherwise we’d have to hang out with them on their own time, and I’m too old for that. We’re the lucky ones in the school. Who else gets to talk with the kids like we do?

  7. YES!

    “We’re in this to get to know kids, and we do it by learning language together. Otherwise we’d have to hang out with them on their own time, and I’m too old for that. We’re the lucky ones in the school. Who else gets to talk with the kids like we do?”

  8. …have fun with them, or don’t bother….

    Michele this is such an important point. We tend to recoil from yet another top-down task that will be looked at by the visionless eyes of some administrator. You are saying that the Can-Do statements can be fun and that we do them anyway. I am sure that is what your focus in Chicago will be. Are you also presenting on these in Denver?

  9. Just for the record, all of my kids are decidedly not 4%ers. I was just giving my kids something that they needed/wanted. Like Michele’s experience, my guys think they don’t know how to do a can-do statement and they can! Everyone experiences language learning differently, everyone experiences life differently. I cannot fix that part of it. God put this opportunity to teach French 20 years ago when French jobs were hard to find. It’s just the garden where I landed. My daughter would be incapable of working with my student population. She prefers your students – the ones who have so many challenges. In reality, they are all challenged – just takes different forms. I just had 23 kids going to France who wanted to say “I would like” and I obliged staying as true to CI as I could. Have not had a chance to read this thread but will read with interest.

  10. I am reconsidering the value of CAN-DO statements.

    1. Michele challenged us to see CAN-DO statements as a tool in our hands instead of weapon against us.

    2. I have been in contact with a department coordinator here in MA. He is a TPRS teacher and encourages TPRS at his school. In order to accommodate the legacy teachers and the TPRS and other CI teachers they use CAN-DO statements as the backbone of their curriculum maps. TPRS teachers are able to accomplish the goal with TPRS.

    3. The FL coordinator at my school gave us copies of the CAN-DO statements at Christmas time. So this would give us common ground in the curriculum mapping, with the blessing of the dept coordinator.

    4. I was told by my principal recently that we MUST line up our curriculum with ACTFL and the MASS Framework. Since this comes from ACTFL my (anti-TPRS) principal would probably support it. She did say that we want a variety of methods used, not just TPRS, but she did allow that TPRS could be one of those methods, just not the sole method.

    I got to thinking about CAN-DO statements in light of what I have learned here on this blog. What is a CAN-DO statement? It is a statement of what the student can do. Note that every list of CAN-DOs is open-ended, allowing for teacher experience, need, and creativity to fill in the blanks.

    Let’s take the one word description and try to exhaust the modal possibilities:
    1. I can interact appropriately with the teacher as s/he creates a one-word description.
    2. I can understand a one word description when it is supported by pictures.
    3. I can understand a one-word description when it is not supported by pictures.
    4. I can tell a one-word description.
    5. I can read a one-word description.
    6. I can write a one-word description.

    Consider this application from the MASS Framework:
    1. I can narrate in the present.
    2. I can narrate in the past.

    Too general?
    1. I can tell what I plan to do this weekend.
    2. I can talk about what I did this weekend.

    This can be broken down to fit the learners ability:
    1. I can respond to the teacher’s questions about what I plan to do this weekend.
    2. I can respond to the teacher’s questions about what I did this weekend.

    As with the one-word description we can consider it from the other modes:
    1. I can understand when the teacher asks another student about what s/he did this weekend.
    2. I can write what another student did this weekend.
    3. I can read what another student did this weekend.

    In the interpersonal mode:
    1. I can ask for clarification non-verbally when needed.
    2. I can ask for clarification by saying “I did not catch that.”
    3. I can sympathize with another student by saying, “What a shame” when appropriate.

    We need not lament that ACTFL is heavy on output. We can rewrite CAN-DOs to validate comprehensible input. We take every good thing we do in class and rewrite it as a CAN-DO. Why did they not do that at ACTFL? They are not on this blog. Otherwise, they would have, eventually.

  11. Today I had to write a report after being observed on Danielson measures. The admin came in while I was using the powerpoint I tweaked in my lead up to the class watching a student-made video I shared here. (I also shared the PPT under VisualPQA today.)

    Since we have to show how we’re addressing the standards, I threw a whole lot of ACTFL talk about proficiency guidelines and specific Can-do statements. I challenge anyone here to NOT be able to come up with a Can-do statement you’re addressing in class. As Nathaniel makes very clear, we can probably write 15 Can-do statements about any given class hour. We just have to think like that. It will help us CYA, and honestly…it’s completely true! We are addressing the standards with every moment we teach with CI.

    I’m hoping this gives me at least a grade of “Proficient.”

  12. Do you use Laurie’s ‘adapted for T/CI’ Danielson rubric? Our department made a big deal out of educating our evaluating administrators about this adapted framework, (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Laurie!), and how the existing Danielson framework, with its emphasis on student-to-student communication, was inadequate/misaligned with what we do.

    Also here’s a new teacher T-shirt I dreamed up in light of the evaluation BS:
    front: P…
    back: It’s the new E.

    [P=Proficient; E=Excellent]

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