Elementary TPRS/CI Question

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23 thoughts on “Elementary TPRS/CI Question”

  1. Hi Erica,

    I have a small private language school in Japan.I see them 50 minutes once a week. I like to keep my classes very small especially with kindergarten. They have so much energy and need to be moving their bodies, so whenever they start to get wild we move, and change activities. TPR works great for them at first. My storytelling with them is very simple and very repetitive, they like what they know, and don’t seem to get bored.If I introduce something and get a blah reaction, but do it again the next week they almost always perk up because it is more familiar. Everyone wants to take a turn with every part in the action, so we can do the same thing over and over.

    I am trying harder to stay with one structure until they are using it easily. I often moved on to new structures when I first started, thinking they would get bored, but now I forcing myself to stay with it. I think behavior problems with little ones are more from not understanding than from being bored.

    The moms tell me the kids are imitating me at home, mostly using the language we learned in songs. I recycle, over and over and over. I like songs that are on video with the words to get them reading. I have card games that they love and use them to work the new language. While we play I am using the language over and over, and they begin to use it too.

    I just started using graded readers as a kind of story script with my young students. We are staying on one until we wear it out and we are also making our own versions. Most of them love to draw, and if their name is in the story they love it.

    I am lucky enough to sometimes have the same kids for years. I start to see a real payoff in the middle of 2nd grade. By third grade we are making and reading real stories and they have learned how to really enjoy personalizing.

    I was totally exhausted yesterday after two classes of ages 4-7, but I encourage myself knowing it gets easier and more fun for me the longer we are at it. I am training them for next year.

    As long as you keep everything comprehensible and slow and repetitive they will soak it up!

    1. Martha, thank you for writing this. I’ll be teaching little guys in the summer. I’ve never done it before. Your input is critical… as well as Catharina and Jim… and I’ll have to read more about what you do, Eric, on the forum. Rest assured, I’ll be reading all this good stuff.

    1. They are Oxford Reading Tree. Rob Warning who is the FVR go to guy here in Japan recommend them. My older kids and adults love the readers he wrote so I trust him.

    2. The card games are made by a friend here. I have maybe 20 different kinds that use more and more language, but the simple ones are just three letter words with pictures and words or animal cards with sounds and animal names. With two sets you can play old maid and so you have to ask for something. The graded reader is (name) wanted a (spider.) So playing old maid they easily can say I want a ——-. I repeat everything, ask questions, use he, she, emphasize the a or an which often gets left out. It’s not very creative but they love it and it’s a break for me from the wildness of other activities.

  2. Great post Martha. And you also said:

    …I am trying harder to stay with one structure until they are using it easily….

    I am trying to do this as well. More reps on one structure, and housing the structure in sentences/questions about the particular kids in the room. They don’t get bored hearing the structure as long as it’s all about them. So yeah, I believe that the idea of staying longer on one structure is becoming more and more state of the art, or at least that is a possibility. And the key to it is going to be personalization.

  3. And this:

    …we are also making our own versions [of the readers]. Most of them love to draw, and if their name is in the story they love it….

    I would think that getting them drawing about images/events that they heard in a story would be almost a requirement in a TPRS/CI class at that age.

    The thing that I would say to Megan, not being an expert, is that the things you say just have to be simple and repeated like a million times but with enough images and variation that they don’t notice it. The tendency when you only see them once a week would be to speed things up to “cover” enough language, but shallow and wide in the work we do is never the way to go. Instead, a little three sentence story with drawings and actors and mega PQA before doing the story, and a nice little “book” that they produce from the story, all of it really really simple, would seem to me to be the ticket into their hearts to get them to love the language.

  4. And this:

    …while we play I am using the language over and over….

    This is subtle. Look at it. Martha is saying that play comes first, and that the language comes later as a result. It is the play that brings the gains, not the instruction. Brilliant. We can rethink everything we ever learned about teaching. We don’t have to “instruct”. Now all we have to do is play and use comprehensible input. How marvelous!

  5. TPRS works beautifully with Kindergarteners. Just tweak it a little.

    Yesterday I used a sturdy felt board placed on my lap facing the kids. I had a whole bunch of little felt pieces: clothing, food, buildings, animals etc in a pile next to me (eBay).

    The story came to life as I asked each individual kid questions using the felt pieces:
    “Johnny is there a house? Yes? No? Yes, Johnny! There is a house! Is the house big or small?” ( circling, repeating the answer, praising …) For each question I showed the class the corresponding felt pieces- little house, big house, blue/red house, dog, girl, boy, snow, sun, 1 or 3 trees etc…

    Depending on each kid’s level, I differentiated the questions.

    This activity lasted 10 minutes at most, we ended up with a board entirely covered with little felt pieces. At first the “story” was concrete, at the end I let the kids be silly (the hungry sun was eating an apple, the house drinking hot chocolate, enough to make 5 year olds giggle).

    As a variation I may let each kid come up to me and place their piece on the board. The kids like helping, getting up, moving, but…they may trip, step on someone’s fingers, flick the board (ugh),
    act silly, try to get everyone’s attention… so… often I’ll skip that part.

    My Kindergartners understand around 50 words by now. This type of activity lets me recycle all the structures introduced so far, while keeping the kids quiet, focused, and engaged. It is visually stimulating, and low key. No one was tying their shoelaces or laying on their back. Always a good sign.

    As far as assessment goes, it is an integral part of my lesson. I am always assessing: do the kids understand my question? how fast do they respond? do they follow directions?
    I relentlessly check for comprehension when introducing new structures (no words are written on the board) and this is a good indicator of what they understand. For that I use a soft basketball that gets thrown around.

    1. This is very helpful, as I’m with kindergartners right now for the next week (I rotate around the elementary for 8 days at a time) and I kind of feel like I’m going in too much on the fly. But then again, it’s working fine enough for the short amount of time I have to be there. We sing a song (de colores), I PQA with them a bit, TPR heavy, and that’s it. It’s only 20 minutes though too. Wow, that would be interesting for 50 min!

      I’m going to bring a little whiteboard with me today and do a little mini story or start one at least.

      I love making up chants on the fly with little ones too… they just can’t stop singing/chanting them.

      Was there more to the forum comment that Eric was referring to?

      1. Jim

        You are a master at TPRS and could teach any level, any age.
        My students love Brrr! Works beautifully in elementary.

        I sometimes use a whiteboard as well, and draw the story as it evolves.
        I may split the board in two parts, and compare one mini event to the other.

  6. Absolutely wonderful, Catharina, and thank you for pointing us to that information, Eric. Some stuff is hiding back on the Forum that should be out here on the blog, so if you see anything like that email me and I will call it to the group’s attention. Like Steve Ford’s very important comment on the Forum last week.

    Catharina you say two things that really hit me:

    1 ..it is visually stimulating, and low key…. This is so much of what I see really young kids needing. Their attention spans must be bolstered by visual images at that age. What you do with the felt pieces is in my view as in line with CI theory as anything I have ever seen at the elementary level. And then by making it all low key it becomes engaging, relaxing, low affective filter, and all that good stuff that keeps the learning where it has to be – in the unconscious mind.

    2. [Assessment is] …is an integral part of my lesson…. Yes again. It is something you do formatively during class and not even with formative quizzes. It is a jGR/ICSR kind of assessment. It is THE WAY ASSESSMENT IN CI INSTRUCTION SHOULD BE. Interestingly, I find myself these days not giving any quizzes or tests of any kind. I KNOW what my kids know by looking at them in class. I honestly believe that my in-class visual assessments of their “observable non-verbal” behavior (see jGR) are more accurate than anything else I could do. Of course, I may give a quiz from time to time to make them still think that they are school, but in general I feel that, as I have tested less and less and less, we have had more and more time for CI, and their level of trust in me has skyrocketed and the feeling of love and happiness in the room is now much higher than it has been at any time in my career. I don’t know if it just because I assess less, or if I am happier in class because I am retiring, or what. But I love the way you described the way you assess. Giving any kind of quiz to kids that young would in my opinion be just mean.

    1. Each acronym is explained in the categories. It is the work of two years by us on this blog and the effect of it is that it is being used in thousands of classrooms to help teach kids how to sit up and pay attention. Long story. Just click and read some of the articles, by searching jGR first.

  7. The main problem for me when thinking about TPRS is that my county in FL is brainwashed by this Robert Marzano guy who wants us to state the learning goal and refer to it constantly throughout the lesson and to scale the kids from 0-4 for their levels of comprehension. Each level is supposed to be explained to them before beginning the lesson and what each level of performance should look like. Somehow, this is considered “good teaching” and it is what my administrators evaluate me on when they come in. This is my second year and i am trying to see how I can make TPRS fit into that for the sake of job security, but it doesn’t seem like there are specific learning goals? You just start with props and target structures but really anything can happen? I am wondering how to explain this for my administrators. I am in quite a conundrum. Usually i just pretend like I scale them regularly and do my own thing when they are not around. Ideas?

  8. I don’t know about the four levels, but this is my learning goal in each class:


    Students will recognize and understand vocabulary in context. (this covers both PQA/stories and reading classes)

    How to reach the objective:

    Students will create a class story by adding details and answering questions. (or Students will read and discuss a chapter book.)

    Key Vocabulary:

    vont partir en vacances, ne peut pas rester, seul (whatever words I’m targeting)

    Strategies used:

    Comprehensible Input Methods

    If you want to show that you are scaling their kids from one to four on their levels of comprehension maybe you can give a simple Quick Quiz of 8 questions (see the category called Quick Quizzes which can be used as exit tickets) where:

    1-2 – unacceptable level of performance. you suck.
    3-4 – barely acceptable. you still suck.
    5-6 – not bad but pay more attention. you don’t suck.
    7-8 – you rock!

    I’m just making this up now, but you get the idea. It kind of aligns with Marzano. Maybe it will be enough for the administrators. Really we don’t, at least I don’t, want to assess in terms of how the kids show up on a quiz, but rather how they show up in class for the reciprocal and participatory process that is language. Kids don’t learn languages by taking quizzes but in the real human back and forth exchange of information way. That is where the interspersonal skill (jGR) comes in.

  9. Megan

    If you search in the Forum you will find a thread “Curriculum writing” with some answers on how to artificially break up the year into “units” “learning goals” “assessments” “swbat” “content” etc…to please the administration.

    It is artificial (and useless) but it can be done.

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