Elementary CI Notes from Catharina

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.



31 thoughts on “Elementary CI Notes from Catharina”

  1. Simply a joy to read through. Amazing! Thank you for sharing. My wife teaches kindergarten (mainstream – not foreign language) and so obviously we talk about our days at school. It is fun to think about the TCI things that I am trying to practice in high school and visualize them being done in the early grades. Almost makes me want to make use of that K-12 Spanish certification that I have 🙂 I wish my own young children (7 and 4) would get a great in-school language experience like that. Thanks again!

  2. “They are always hungry, thirsty, tired, loosing teeth or must go to the bathroom…They have so much to say that has absolutely no connection to what we are learning. ”

    That could be my classroom, but they are 9th and 10th graders. So it is true, “all are preschoolers in a foreign language.”

    Thank you for your incredible post.

  3. Dear Catharina…I am printing this out and framing it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you so much for putting this all into words to share. How blessed your students are. Hugs to you and all of your cubs!!

    with love,

  4. You are a fabulous teacher! The love and respect and joy that comes through in your words is a pleasure to read. Like Laurie, I am printing this one out. I wish I could be there to watch you and your cubs, but this post makes it almost possible to see you through the distance. Thank you for sharing yourself.

  5. What a pleasure it was to read this having already met you in person. I can just see you explaining this in person with great passion and joy! Makes me want to go back to my roots – Pre -School!! You made me smile:)

  6. Soooo great to read this!!! Thank you! I want to come visit your class! This is just what I needed to read after a day of craziness with my k-4 graders! We met at NTPRS but didn’t get to hang out… hope to compare elementary notes someday soon.

    1. Elissa as per your private request these are our three TCI rock stars in Colorado who are doing the heavy lifting. The first two are in Denver Public Schools, while Leslie is just up the road in Summit County near Breckenridge:


      The elementary curriculum and lesson plans are not yet online at our DPS WL website and most likely will not be ready until next semester. Erin fractured a kneecap (a road biker) and it is slowing everything down. Elissa and Catharina if you want CDs send regular mail addresses to me – benslavic@yahoo.com – and I will send them to you when I get them on Friday from Diana.


  7. This is a really wonderful description of teaching young children. Really helpful! The 3 sentences thing… that sounds just right, all the way through 4th grade for sure, maybe also 5th grade. I will be using that more often.

    1. Yes, this “3 sentences” aspect is big for me in understanding better how to do stories with younger kids. I watched Darcy (?) Pippins do this in Breckenridge in 2012, but I didn’t connect the dots as you’ve done for us here. I would always park for WAY too long with the younger kids, and I rarely had them acting (out of their desks) as I didn’t think I had enough time to make it worthwhile.

      Also, I had a conversation at MCTLC last month with some Drake School teachers about teaching younger kids, and I realized that I need to go to THEIR classrooms, not them come to mine as I’ve been doing the last couple years. The reasons: they’re swimming in the big kid desks and it’s distracting for them; I can learn what their classroom teacher expects and does (preferably by observing their class in action before starting to teach them); I can use familiar objects and characters to them more easily and accessibly (i.e. Charlotte’s Web as described above).

      1. I ended up with 3-sentence “stories” with my 4th grade groups earlier this year and it was beautiful, but I hadn’t seen the principle yet. I did story-asking of a sort and brought one actor up in a chair at the front of the room. It was:
        – Who is he/she? (Obviously not the child’s real name. Sometimes the child turned out to be an animal, once Lady Gaga.)
        – What does he/she want to eat? (or drink) I had a list of words that might fit on the board. Some child wanted to drink hamburgers, and that was really where the class wanted to take it.
        – How many does he/she want to eat (or drink)? They knew numbers 1-10. Once these 3 things were decided, the actor ate or drank that many kittens, hamburgers, pizzas, etc. while we all counted as they “ate.”

        They loved this and pleaded to do it again and again. Brief time with the actor was very helpful. They knew they had to act what the class created.

  8. Great post with plenty for high school teachers to consider.

    I do have one suggestion: Let’s all quit apologizing for early student-initiated output. After all, that’s what we want, isn’t it?

    When correctly understood, Krashen’s precepts are aimed at forced output. Who are we to say when a student is ready to speak? Just as I must oppose overzealous “communicative” teachers who want to force output too early, I must equally oppose my own overzealous tendency to discourage spontaneous output because I think there hasn’t been “enough” input. In both cases the solution is: “Get out of the way of the student’s natural language acquisition and development.”

    1. Here. Here. I find the trouble of making sure that the rest of the class is listening as well to the student giving the output as well as they listen to me. Asking them to come to the front of the class helps.

  9. This is exactly the post I needed to read since I just sent a proposal to teach Spanish to 1 – 2 graders in the mornings for a summer program. I otherwise teach high school. It’s funny how Catharina says that the kids crack-up every time the word ‘toilet’ is used. I look forward to the energy and imagine that being still and calm and intentional is very important, when calm and still and intentional about the CI delivery, then I can put a harness on their energy and guide them through the class.

  10. Oh, and Catharina mentions that free-writes don’t work for these younger kids, so she has them do retells. I’d like to know how she manages these retells for every student.

    1. Thank you for all your kindness. It really touched me that Ben posted my letter.
      What a boost of confidence seeing one’s name up there front of the page.

      Sean, I still have so much to learn. The real experts in teaching preliterate-TCI are Leslie, Jason, Liz Hughes, Erin Gotwals, Elissa Mc Lean, and many other amazing DPS teachers.

      As far as retelling the stories, after practicing with the structures for a few hours, I’ll have 2, at most 3 kids retell to the class. It is entirely optional, and I listen carefully to offer help if needed.
      I, of course, praise profusely the kids willing to try, and act totally amazed at how well they speak.

      Most kids really enjoy this part. Our stories are 3-4 sentences long, so it does not take too much time. And I do it right before dismissal. Last year I had the kids illustrate the stories into mini-books, and retell while flipping the pages.
      Having them retell to their hand, a back wall or even parents does not work for me.
      As long as they’ve had plenty of input, I find that their pronunciation and accent are pretty accurate.

      I sometimes use a soft basketball that we toss around while translating from French to English, and also English to French (!?) which I started doing this year. It is not forced, anyone willing, catches the ball and translates with my help if needed. I give easy sentences to the new students, more challenging ones to the fast processors. It is voluntary, in the form of a game, and the kids relax as we catch and throw the ball.

      I am also learning to turn every statement into a question. Just about anything I say has the interrogative intonation at the end to engage the children. Also lots of either-or questions to encourage them to speak.

      I have been thinking a lot about output in the preliterate classes, and this is what Terry Waltz responded to my question a few years ago:

      “I think we need to remember that acquisition is a process. It does take time. But if you’re getting a high enough number of reps in (and with pre-literate kids, you need to be even more careful in limiting how much material you “cover” since they need a LOT of reps!) the language will fall out of their mouths, and it shouldn’t be something that takes a couple of months to happen. Now, the language that would be falling out of their mouths in the first month will not necessarily be long sentences. But they should be able to output the items that have been input heavily in class.? Remember that answers to your questions ARE output. Output does give us a picture of what the brain model of the language looks like at that moment, and that is something different from comprehension which can happen on the path to acquisition, but does happen with language that hasn’t truly been acquired yet.? If you feel your kids aren’t able to output, step back and take a really hard look at how many reps they are getting of the input items, and how many input items are being expected in how much time (because that, along with your level of skill, will determine how many reps they are getting of each item). You might like to get someone to count how many questions you’re asking per minute, for example, or even just tally the number of time a particular word or phrase is repeated. I know sometimes it’s easy to feel “This is going really well” and then when you look at the numbers, they are low. But this is something everyone has to work on all the time. It’s not instinctual. Also check and think about whether you’re going really, really SLOWLY! Usually “turning up” the reps and turning down the speed will cause more “language spills” from the kids’ mouths.”

  11. I am teaching the wrong age!!!!! I wish Elem. schools in this area put a big emphasis on teaching FL. =( There is no job security in teaching Elem. in this area.

    1. Erica, although I haven’t pursued it due to lack of time and energy, I’ve found that teaching elementary ages after school in a private (versus public) setting is popular and enough parents are generally willing to pay for it… that’s the case where I live anyways. I wonder sometimes if that would be the impetus for public schools to offer it, or to get parents to express to school board its importance. I found that when I made a public statement about how important I found early language learning to be, and that I believed it to be essential that our school offer it, some momentum outside of my own energies began to arise. You’re the language expert, so people will usually take your opinion about such matters seriously. The funding though, that’s always the hold-up.

      1. Jim and Erica, a few years back all elementary schools in our township offered Spanish starting in 2nd grade. It was so poorly taught. The teachers mostly spoke English, dabbled a little with the target culture ( projects, cooking ) and taught holiday songs. Kids and parents were miserable. The official reason the elementary language program ended, was funding. I am convinced that had there been TPRS/TCI teachers DPS-style, and a language supervisor like Diana Noonan, we would have kept the funds. As a parent to 4 kids in the public schools, I have always suggested TPRS/TCI, but teachers have ignored me. Even the after school programs, payed by parents, have failed because of the lack of “comprehensible input”.

        1. the “official reason”… that is an important note, because we can assume they’d have found the money if the parents/kids had found much value in the program.

          I want to comment on that last post “report from the field – Erica”, but for now will just say that it is an area where we all need to push for a bit more, because it inpacts all levels beyond that.

        2. You are right! Before coming to the Nashville area, I taught in a city that was 50% Hispanic due to the carpet factories. They saw the need and several times they started elementary programs but every time they failed. The teachers were mostly fresh out of college with not much experience. In fact, it wasn’t until the year before I moved that the HS FL teachers (really only the Spanish teachers) came together and went to a Blaine Ray conference.

          I would love to organize a program teaching FL to elementary schools using the CI method. My only concern on my part is my lack of experience in teaching elementary schools. I’m the type of person if I am going to start something I want all the details and I want to make sure I do it perfectly. In college, I double-majored in Elem. Ed and Spanish so I do have some background knowledge of Elem. Ed. I just don’t have the experience. One of the Admin where I taught before actually used to always tell me I was an Elem. teacher but the job security has kept me teaching HS. As far as I know there is only one Immersion school in the Nashville area where I could potential teach and not fear I’ll lose my job the next year. I’m not sure if they are using the CI method or how they are teaching FL but they are a reward school which means their scores are in the top 5% of Tennessee

          Thank you Ben for posting my question! And thank you Catharina for posting this. I love this! It’s exactly how I would love my teaching days to be.

          1. Hmm. I guess this conversation should take place on the forum? I would love to help you Erica. If you ask specific questions it may be easier for us to break it down.

            Jim and Erica, you are so right about getting schools back into teaching FL starting day 1 in Kindergarten. Even just 15 mn/day of -quality- instruction, TCI style, right when the classroom teachers go for lunch, or coffee break. In and out, minimal disruption, everybody is happy. In a TCI class the kids get the tools to learn a language, they feel successful, and love learning. Key.

  12. Catharina I just posted a Report from the Field from Erica McCurry about starting an Elementary Support section on the Forum. I will email her to suggest that she read your recently published article here. I would like the PLC to have a concrete and organized plan and a steady daily conversation about elementary TPRS/CI. Are you in?

      1. OK Trevor just set that up today so we now have an entire section in the Forum for elementary discussion. I won’t comment much, as I am a total idiot on teaching kids below 8th grade. Can’t figure their minds out.

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