PVA – Power Verb Activity – 2

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.



61 thoughts on “PVA – Power Verb Activity – 2”

  1. I really agree about presenting verbs in the 3rd person sg. It is the easiest and most common form to use during the first year or two, and if students ask for a different form, you give it to them with meaning, and no expectation of transformation/analysis. Most of them will begin to recognize patterns eventually, when they are ready.

    I think the biggest problem with presenting verbs to beginners in the infinitive, is that it is an immediate mandate that they think ABOUT those words rather than use them. Imagine introducing students to an infinitive (or a list of infinitives) during the first year, long before they ever see an infinitive verb in actual usage (in most text based classes). It kind of pulls the rug out from under any attempt to get the kids to use and enjoy those words.

    It’s like giving a kid an amazing toy, with SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, which means hours of frustrating manipulation of small parts before any fun can be had USING said toy, if you even get there. Now many of us will begin to say to ourselves: “sounds like fun. I loved to put things together when I was little…” Stop. This is because you (we) are a 4%er freak, and are not normal. Don’t expect that your students will enjoy a “puzzle” just like you did.

    We need to fight the assumption that language learning is or should be puzzle-solving. But giving them the infinitive out of context is like giving them a piece of furniture from IKEA and saying: have fun with this.

    1. What a nice set of analogies. I’m so thankful I don’t have verb conjugating to deal with — but there are certainly lots of other ways languages are puzzle-like. Avoiding the temptation to teach it that way is important.

    2. Important point John. Teaching infinitives as useful in themselves is like teaching “the.” TPRS taught me how to teach meaning-based “grammar.”

      Blaine says to teach in pop-up grammar moments that “-r” means “to (do something).” Until they are introduced to “likes to ___,” “needs to ___,” “is going to ___” infinitives are rather useless little things.

      But when it becomes important to say “after __-ing” and “before ___-ing” we get to bring them back into use. Someone will probably make a connection and ask a “grammar” question. I believe it is Susie Gross who says we don’t teach grammar until they ask for it.

      At some point it might be helpful for them to see that “swimming (nadar ) in the pond is fun” is a quick way to express what you mean even if you do not know the word for swimming (la natación).

      Of course I never proceed like that because my students have to unlearn before they can acquire. Usually, my situation is that I students coming into my classes have already been trained in grammar identification instead of in meaning. The students do not know that “habla” means “he speaks.” When I say “What does ‘habla’ mean?” the answer is something like “to speak…isn’t that the 3rd person singular form.” “Yes, it is the 3rd p sg form. But ‘to speak’ is ‘hablar.’ What does ‘habla’ mean?” Then I write, “habla = s/he speaks.” It takes a lot of time to retrain students to think in terms of meaning instead of identify parts of speech relative to the infinitive meaning. But sooner or later lights starts turning on.

      My cooperating teacher (24 years ago) defined the infinitive as the “dictionary form of the verb.” I have found this a helpful way to think of infinitives. It helps me to redirect “infinitive” to dictionary on the shelf (until/if we need to use dictionaries) and focus the students on “what type of pizza do you like to eat.”

    3. Having commented on the uselessness of infinitives out of context for students, they are very useful for me as a teacher.

      I know which form/s of “producir” we are going to focus on and thus which ones we will actually use, whether:
      que los produzca – for him to produce them
      nunca los produjo – he never produced them
      los había producido

      So “producir” is short-hand for a whole array of forms that get more use the more advanced that students go.

      But from a brain-friendly point of view we have to select one of them and rep it until it is imprinted. And given the flood of infinitive-based teaching we cannot emphasize too much that we introduce vocabulary in the form of brain-friendly, meaningful structures. So thanks for pointing that out John

    1. If I know deep in my heart of hearts that I really can’t explain something, better not even to try. Let’s be honest with ourselves. We’re happy if we get students to memorize infinitive=”to.” Perhaps literally one in one thousand students will be able to deal with the infinitive conceptually. I’m not even sure if I can.

  2. This is fascinating, to see just how ingrained the analytical approach is, that most teachers don’t even think twice about giving students tasks from week one that are conceptually so difficult that only a small percentage of students can even comprehend what it is that they are trying to figure out. Half my 8th graders (almost none of them ESL kids) couldn’t even give me an example of the infinitive in ENGLISH, much less explain anything about it. This is high-level abstract thinking with little/no conscious application in everyday life, and so it has no place in a CI based approach.

  3. I love this. For 24 years I talk about infinitives as if they are normal things, and now I see that they are nearly impossible to understand. For at least the past 13 years after those first 24 I have gradually been trying to explain it less and less but there were about ten years of the thirteen doing TPRS when I still tried to explain grammar. I remember when Susan Gross told me that the way you explain grammar on ANYTHING is with one word – “means” – as in:

    …”this” means “that”….

    So now when the kids see “donne” I say to them simply:

    …”donne” means “gives”….

    That’s it.

    And when they see “donner” I say to them simply:

    …do you see that “r” on the end of “gives”? It changes it to mean “to give”….

    And when they see “donnera” I say to them simply:

    ….do you see that “era” there? It means “will give”.

    And when they see “donnerait” I say to them simply:

    …oh, that “rait” on the end of “donne” changes it to “would give”.

    And on and on and on through every single book we read. Always less than a four second English explanation. Not ten seconds. Four.

    The pedagogical bang here is coming from the repetition, not the one time explanation. After reading a few chapter books doing this with the kids, always explaining only that “donne” means “gives”, they start complaining at me that they already know it. That’s when I know that they know it.

    But they don’t complain when I do that with other tenses. So I know they know it when they start complaining that they know it and when they sit and just listen to the four second explanation I know that they don’t know it yet and I need more reps and so we keep reading, doing R and D on as many chapter books as is necessary. Blaine’s novels are written very well as far as each book focusing on a certain verb tense.

    We don’t stop and analyze. That is so hard for me to say: we don’t stop and analyze.

    I don’t want to (but I have to) give a test to “see if they know it” but in truth the only way I really know if they know it is when they start complaining and saying, “We already know that.”

    What an odd concept – instead of testing, we just wait and we listen until they just tell us what they know. If we want to know if they can speak we wait until they start speaking. Boy that idea is really out there!

    So when Susie Gross told me about this kind of grammar instruction the first time I just didn’t believe it (pop up grammar is what we call it in TPRS/CI and it lasts no more than four seconds). I mistrusted her. The reason I didn’t believe it because in saying that one thing about the word “means” she punctured 24 years of my own self image as a grammarian’s grammarian.

    (I like to trip up my French friends and Diana Noonan on subtle points of French grammar, usually the subjunctive and my fave the pluperfect subjunctive. Now I see how stupid that was. VERY few kids, like 0.4% of them, not even 4%, could grasp that stuff. And so I perpetuated the image in even smart kids that French is really really difficult. And my upper level classes had like eight people in them. For 24 years. And then Susie says to not even mention the word “conditional” or whatever and it was too much for me. It took me years to get that one.

    I’ll tell you whom it really screws up. Latinos and non-native English speakers. That’s where I really saw how it is like asking the class to fly to the moon to understand this stuff.


  4. Dude indeed.
    I really like the idea that once they know something, they aren’t silent. It goes back to the “mind-meld” concept that you freaked people out with at NTPRS in Vegas. I find that my students begin to finish my sentences, in English and in Latin. If I forget a detail from a story, and pause for a second, someone finishes my thought. And in English, when I am giving them instructions according to our routines, and I forget, or get distracted, or space out, almost inevitably a kid will chime in and finish my thought for me. If that is not happening (in either language) then I know they are disoriented, and uncertain where things are headed. If we get enough reps and comprehensibility (not just with regard to the language, but with regard to everything in the class: transparency, predictability, slow, and all those Mr. Rogers qualities that bring comfort to kids), then everyone is on the same page, and it is their absent-looking silence which tells us we still have a ways to go.

    1. …someone finishes my thought….

      Huge. That’s huge.

      …it is their absent-looking silence which tells us we still have a ways to go….

      Also huge.

      We need to pay attention. They are telling us by finishing our thoughts (which we celebrate when they get the right word in a cloze kind of way) or by remaining silent if anything is really happening. Tests and quizzes and jGR have very little to do with learning a language, but this active back and forth that you describe above John is WHERE IT’S AT. The fact that nobody thinks this way doesn’t change that fact about acquisition vs. learning.

  5. Krashen says “comprehensible input of maximum richness” is the delivery goal.

    I think Blaine got it right. In one of the early on LICT stories, there is a “he likes to ____” sentence, and also dialogue, and the teacher obviously is narrating in 3rd person (and they will see all this again in the various readings built around the asked story in past and present).

    While I agree that the kids don’t have to “know”– in the sense of being able to explain– what “3rd person” and “infinitive” mean, an early, comprehensible intro to these is IMHO essential.

    This year, I introduced 3rd person conjugated verbs before anything else. (last year I introduced verbs as in “___ likes to ___.” The kids pretty much have their 3rd person endings down…but although they know this piece of grammar, they are STILL asking “how do I say “to play?”” when they can say I play, s/he plays, s/he played __ on ___, etc. Next year, I have to remember to mix it up much more…as Blaine said, your input = their output.

    1. “likes/loves to _____” is one of my favorite structures because 1) it can be PQAed from day one, 2) it can be recycled in every single story and reading ever, and 3) it’s just so darn useful. My students hear the infinitive from the first day of level 1. I just can’t call it that or else…

    2. Next year, I have to remember…

      Maybe not. You are listening feedback from your students. They are asking you for more use of a structure. I picture them on their knees imploring: “Teach us this Mr. Stolz!” You taught/used it before. Maybe they were not consciously ready for it. But now they are. Go for it.

  6. I went in today with the verb llego- I arrive and spent the 5 minutes. In each class I had over 40 reps of the verb. I think this might be a good way to slow down storytelling for me. 5 minutes at a time then move on with the next part of the story. It is simplified which is what I need to do. I also am learning to wait for the answers from my students and not try to create the story myself. It was so natural today that I can’t wait to go in tomorrow with the next verb. I am setting up verbs to go with my first Anne Matava script. Thanks for the great idea.

    1. So Melissa maybe you can describe that period of waiting for a cute answer or a yes or no answer. For me, I always forget the choral responses. I am like a beggar and when I get one answer from one kid I am like a seagull, happy to get that scrap and off I fly looking for another scrap of a response. Of course, not insisting on a one word choral answer enabled most of the kids to lie to me, or at least to make me wonder if they got it or not. That is why I ask, how comfortable you are after each question? What happens just after you ask each question? I just have to really hang in there and demand a nice choral answer from all of them and repeatedly remind them that they have to do one of two things at all times in my class: 1. either show me that they understand through their a) eyes or b) strong choral response, or 2. show me the signal that they don’t understand by passing their hand over their head. I really have to work on this. Lots of response from our students is a requirement in this kind of teaching and since they can’t speak the language and English is not allowed, it has to be through their eyes or a choral “oui” or “non” or they just have to let me know that I have not made myself clear.

      And to bring up the other gorilla in the room, I also have to remember to circle more. Circle more, Ben. Ask lots and lots of questions that can be answered with just one word, most of the time “yes” or “no”, so that they can give me lots and lots of choral one word responses. The more we circle one idea, the more they understand it and the higher their confidence is. Try it. You will see. We have to circle more, be ready to park on one idea and ask many things randomly about its subject, verb or object over and over and over. You will see what happens.

      1. Circling is maybe something that we as a group have let fall out of our collective “umph,” if you know what I mean. It really is an every-day tool. I for one could use a lot more info and practice on circling in a way that is 1) not boring and 2) helps reinforce unpredictable vocabulary.

        1. One of the best ways to “check” our own circling is to tape a short segment and tally what kinds of questions we are asking. Usually we have a pattern, that we aren’t even aware of, that focuses on a certain type of question. Then it is easier to remember to add other varieties, or brainstorm them ahead of time!

          with love,

        2. OK James I hereby dedicate at least two full hours to your and circling when whenever we can get it in during iFLT next summer. You circle for two hours, we learn some Latin. I’ll ask Sabrina to be there because she is a great coach. And I get to learn Latin. My last Latin was from David Maust in Las Vegas two years ago so I am a bit rusty.

      2. When I ask for a cute answer I normally get one to three ideas and I choose one and move on even if it doesn’t feel quite right but yesterday and today I waited by asking the question several more times for more responses. Today I had a very successful class about a monkey (in Spanish una mona) and the monkey’s name was Mona Lisa. We changed it to Monita Lisa with a sizzle sound after it. Tomorrow we will continue with the story and I can’t wait to see what happens with Monita Lisa.

        I have also showed my classes your signal for not understanding and they are using it now. Also I am asking more difficult questions 2 times in a row to slow down my fast students. This is giving all students more time to think as I ask the questions very slowly twice.
        This is helping with the choral response but I do believe the explanation of jGR has done the most for choral answers. I have not started grading yet. I told them that we would practice this week and next week we would start the grade. More than anything I think it really shows the student what they are expected to do.
        I find the limited amount of time with this idea helps to take away the nerves of creating a whole story at one setting. If I can continue each day a little at a time I think my skills will improve. By the end of the week we should have a story.

        1. Yes, rather than focus on jGR as it relates to their grade, which is not natural*, this here is what jGR really does:

          …more than anything I think it really shows the student what they are expected to do….

          And as adults that is our job. So that sentence right there is the real deal sentence on jGR.

          *grades have nothing, nothing to do with language acquisition – nothing.

  7. I think that there are two other pieces to Eric’s success that we should not overlook.

    First, Eric chooses a verb, and then communicates via that verb in order to create a conversation of caring and meaning in the community that is his class. He doesn’t just pick a verb and use to talk to them in a random way. He always has a purpose: to light a spark that they all can share. Maybe it’s a funny spark, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s a bigger message about how to treat people. Maybe it is just a chance to be silly together. Maybe it is a verb they will just find useful in life, but the conversation using the verb is not only to create a solid place for that bit of language in their brains, it is also to create a connection between himself and the kids.

    Second, Eric has realized that this kind of teaching…a true CI/TPRS teaching has elements, maybe even steps, but it is NOT about following a specific checklist of motions. It is about interacting with students in the TL so that the interaction is completely comprehensible. He USES the skills and steps to make that happen, instead of performing the skills and going through the steps and expecting it to happen. His number one goal is to interact so that everyone is in the moment with him. He has learned to work on skills and strategies to improve that but his goal is always a positive, comprehensible interaction….and it shows!!

    with love,

  8. …his number one goal is to interact so that everyone is in the moment with him….

    And we can do that in many ways. We can get silly with the SOUND of the word. We can say it in different ways, angrily, romantically, quickly, slowly, in a shocked way, etc….

    Saying words in the CI with strong emotions serves the purpose of getting their deeper minds focused on the meaning during the circling while their conscious minds are laughing at the different sounds. They’re not even aware that they are acquiring, which is the way they acquire.

    This idea of saying things with some emotion doesn’t get mentioned much here, but it is a tried and true strategy in this work. It makes it fun.

    For more on the use of emotions in TPRS/CI instruction:


  9. I’ve really enjoyed this discussion and very grateful to Eric for the suggestion of doing PQA on some high frequency verbs in this way.

    I’m also processing the ideas about what forms to have on the Word Wall. I see the reason for having the 3rd person singular, just to keep things simple, especially for levels 1 and 2. I may do my next Word Wall this way.

    However, (and please feel free to correct me on anything I say now, for these are thoughts in progress as I try to understand even a little the acquisition process) my current Word Wall is set with infinitive forms, and from my observations, it hasn’t seemed to trip students up. I could be wrong of course, but I think several factors are at play with this.

    1. I’ve never treated the infinitive forms on the Word Wall in grammatical language, and not used the term “infinitive.” Usually I present a word on the board or LCD screen in the 3rd person form and we circle it awhile like in that form with PQA. Then I say (sometimes after lots of reps – maybe several days later; or if it’s later in the year and the kids have more hours of language under their belts, maybe sooner): “Hey, this word (let’s say the word is habet – have) by the way is a word on the Word Wall, take a look.” Then I go over to the word wall and point to the word habere and write next to it with a marker “to have.” I point to the LCD screen and say, “habet – have,” and point to the Word Wall, “habere – to have. Same word.”

    Then I m circling habet – has, and circle also the infinitive form. I check with a translation comprehension checks – habet – has, habere – to have. It’s all in context and I may say, “habet and habere are the same word – but habere means TO have and habet just means has.” No further grammatical discussion given. The kids don’t seem to be confused to me.

    2. From early on in the year, some structures that I introduce require me to use the infinitive form. These are:

    licet (allowed to _____)
    placet (pleased to _____)
    vult (wants to _____)
    potest (is able to _____)

    Often times I’m using the infinitive forms just as much as the 3rd person forms, both often side by side in meaningful circling. Kids seem to get it, and don’t express confusion. On translation tests they seem to understand the grammar of the infinitive being “to ____” without any explanation of what an infinitive is ever being given.

    One reason I made my current Word Wall like that 2 years ago, was that I felt I always was writing up the 3rd person forms and thought I’d experiment and see if seeing the infinitive form would trip anyone up. Also I thought the kids got tons of 3rd person forms written on the board or LCD, so I’d balance things out a little more with having the infinitive form on the Word Wall. On the whole, I don’t feel I’ve regretted not having up 3rd person sing. forms up on the Word Wall, but maybe I’ll change it next year and see what it’s like.

    – – –

    So my thinking for all this is that maybe because of the above conditions being present in the class, the infinitive forms on the wall are not tripping up students.

    In fact, in Latin, there are so many similar forms of words (nouns included with all the different case forms) that I think the kids get used to not worrying about whether a form as several different endings. And I tell them not to worry if sometimes words sound a little different. I really think their aural recognition adjusts to this.

    When I’m using almost all nouns, kids are hearing several different forms constantly. The word “boy” is going to be heard as puer, puerum, puero, pueri, pueris, pueros. I just tell the kids, that all these forms mean boy or boys and don’t sweat it. When they ask questions I clarify that something meant “to the boy” or the “boy’s” or something like that.

    But maybe because the language is compelling and contextual enough, it doesn’t seem to throw kids off, and like the infinitive thing they seem to GET the grammar/meaning, even if they don’t KNOW how to explain it. I tell them: “puer, puerum, puero, – they all mean boy” and I expect they will pick up the nuances of the different forms over time, naturally, although I understand it will take time and that is ok.

    A little example here: the other day a kid did ask about a difference during a dictation-check time seeing two forms of a noun in the same passage (like puer and puerum). I explained the difference to answer the question and another boy asked, “Are we going to be tested on that?” I said, “No way. As long as you understand the passage, that’s all you need to be concerned about.” The boy looked relieved and they we continued with business as usual, focused on the meaning of the language.

    If anything, I think that seeing all this just increases my confidence in the brain’s power to acquire complex grammar without any explanation at all, just CI, (EVEN for Latin). And that means that all I really need to do is what Laurie said above,

    “a true CI/TPRS teaching has elements, maybe even steps, but it is NOT about following a specific checklist of motions. It is about interacting with students in the TL so that the interaction is completely comprehensible.”

    So, in the big scope of it all, I think whether there is habet or habere on the Word Wall, it won’t really matter to the kid; especially because they don’t even know that one form is 3rd person and the other is an infinitive – since no one has told them, and their brain is well enough powerful to sort out the difference.

    1. Maust, your Latin grammar pop-ups are brilliant. I remember hours of German grammar explanations from 10th grade from Frau Thatcher (“the dative case involves indirect bla bla, and the predicative order bla bla bla”) that, despite me being a native German speaker, failed to allow me to do the stupid worksheets.

      I ditched my first word wall– which had this massive list of things like “and” and “him/her” etc because the kids just copied them, wrong, on quizzes etc. I also tried a word wall with 3rd person verbs but then they just focused on those when I knew damned well that they KNEW other forms (ie they would write “I s/he plays” when they meant to say “I play”– “yo juega” instead of proper “yo juego”).

      So at this point I havn’t tried infinitive word walls…but…my feel is that word walls are actually not a good idea, just because if kids are using “outside support” for their writing they stop trusting their own brains. I’ll qualify that slightly: I think having temporary word-walls– with nouns and adjectives and adverbs, illustrated (with zero ambiguity– Eng if necessary)– is good– you can point to them during PQA or stories– but they shouldn’t stay there cos the kids zoom in on them.


      1. Chris, this happened last year when I had the infinitive word wall. The kids would write “I to play.” Since my classes have done ZERO speedwrites and relaxedwrites this year, I don’t know if this will happen, except now they may write: “I he plays.”

        I decided against writing activities, because I have true beginners in every class and I saw how writing, even speedwrites, can kill confidence. I ditched the output for more input activities and the kids appreciate it. 2nd semester, I think we’ll do a speedwrite once every 2-3 weeks. Not until this PQA a verb activity has our class given much attention to my verb wall, except to laser an occasional out-of-bounds word.

        I do like word walls, even permanent, because the visual definitely helps kids and now I don’t have to write the words down every class on my board. Even for me, when I see a new word spelled, I can better pronounce it and better remember it. And then, these word walls are up for kids to refer to when they are reading.

        Maybe Laurie can elaborate on something she mentioned to us that she was trying: introducing just the stem of a word, e.g. “habl” for speaks. This would work with the regular verbs, but may be problematic with irregulars, e.g. “quier” for wants, but “quer” for infinitive and “we” present. At the least, “quier” and “quer” look alike, but “teng” and “tien” for “I have” and “he has,” not so much.

        1. Thanks Chris and Eric for you thoughts on the Word Walls. I hear what you’re saying about there being good and bad features about having the words up on walls. A few things I picked out of your last two posts that I really like.

          -The absence of writing activities for the beginning levels.

          Eric, I have done the same thing with my Latin 1s this year: no free/timed writes yet. In fact the only writing they have done are dictations, about one every week and a half or so. This just feels right for writing right now. But like you, I don’t know how much the kids would try and rely on the word wall.

          -Having the words up on walls saves me a lot of time writing stuff down; I can just point it out.

          In my class this year I made several other posters of Latin words with English meanings next to them. They are up all the time for reference for kids, especially visual learners. I haven’t decided if these are going to stay or not, but wanted to try it out. I love just being able to point to the word when I see blank stares on a word I thought they knew. In this sense, the Word Wall is really a class efficiency help and a time saver for me.

          The words that are up around the room are: a poster of prepositions, a poster of pronouns, the question words and a few useful interjections and class commands. Then I have my main Word Wall of randomly mixed high frequency verbs, nouns and adjectives. As we learn the words on these walls I write in the meaning with a marker (I can erase it at the end of year and re-use it).

          But Chris, I hear you on the desire of not wanting the Word Wall at all and for many years I didn’t have one. But…. I still think I like having it better than not having it. The main reason is that when I sat in on the Chinese TPRS presentation with Linda Li at NTPRS Las Vegas I really appreciated having the word walls up because I tended to get lost sometimes, even with her going very slowly (as she is known to do so well).

          After that experience of feeling like I was in the students desk and really valued the word wall I decided to get one. And I think because I wasn’t being forced to write yet, and just had it there for reference the wall was not in danger of being abused, but just used when needed.

          And I so much value everyone’s input and experience on this, especially on putting verbs in the 3rd pers. sing. on the Word Wall. I hope my last post didn’t sound like I was trying to challenge that; just wanted to share some positive experience that it seemed to me kids can sort it out, even when they hear and see different forms of verbs (and for Latin, nouns too!).

          1. I LOVE the idea of the “add-on” word wall. It only gets translated when the kids have used the word a lot.

            Blaine has IMHO a brilliant system for writing: handicapping. So after 3 weeks or so you tell the kids “write” and they can write whatever– who they are, describe someone, rewrite a story, etc. They have 5 min and their goal is 100 words. They count words and first try they gt +40 so if they wrote 50 words they get 90%. 2 weeks later + 30 etc. You tell them, in 6 weeks you gotta write 100 words in 5 min w/zero “bonus” marks. They’ll be able to do it, esp if you start early with stories and reading. This way you avoid the discouragement syndrome and they have a clear goal and easy progress.

            (Oral PQA is awesome but they MUST start reading early on IMHO. I want to get to stories very quickly, like within 6-8 classes, because I want them to see “assembled” language with the small bits that get left out of oral stories, plus in stories we get to use 3-4 verb tenses, which I suck at doing in PQA).

            I agree with the idea of delaying “big writing” like complete stories etc. I did my first prompted story writing (I told them to start with “There was a boy/girl named ___” and they had to include one clothing item) after about 6 weeks and I got an average of around 120 words (now after 4.5 months I am getting average of 275 and grammar is steadily improving). I also tell them, “you can re-do anything” and a few of them have gone back and re-done freewrites etc. I don’t even care if they copy from anywhere…because all the copying they do is C.I. = useful reps.

  10. Besides injecting emotions into the circling of the target verb, don’t forget that you can personalize the verb to your locality and that could open up possibilities for a story. I don’t recommend moving into a story without a script because you tend to go wide, away from the target. Without a script, the train tracks tend to go off into the sand.

    Yesterday I was doing Step 1 to set up the Matava story “Lazy” (a famous one) with my French 1 class and the first target structure, a verb, was “works”. So before I knew it one kid was a stripper at P.T.’s which is a strip club about a block from our school. The kids loved it. I just circled the verb “works” and asked all sorts of questions, NEVER LEAVING THE VERB ONCE IN ANY UTTERANCE, and the kids took it from there.

    Was it a story? No, it was PQA around one verb in Step 1 – I had not moved into the script yet (Step 2), and the kid therefore did not physically get up to act by sitting on one of the actor’s stools, it was just PQA of the verb.

    But I am certain that the hilarity in there was all because of the fact that someone (me) had suggested that Sergio works at P.T.’s whereas the fact that he worked as a stripper came from the class. The kids often don’t think, when coming up with cute answers, to suggest local places, so I do so until they learn that skill, and working with local places, like working with emotions, goes a long way in raising the level of interest up towards the place where we all want to be with our kids – compelling input.

  11. This strand reminds me of something rather stupid I did when I was about 10 years old. We were living in southern California and I heard kids speaking in Spanish at school. So I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish, which was not offered in grade school then. So I went to the public library, found a book in Spanish and a Spanish-English dictionary, took them home and announced to my parents that I was going to teach myself Spanish. I thought all I had to do was to look up the words in the book and memorize them. It worked for the first word or two, then I hit a verb. And discovered that it wasn’t in the dictionary. There was a word that looked almost like it, but it didn’t have the same ending. Knowing nothing about conjugaisons and infinitives, I was convinced that it was a different word. I thought that it just happened to be a very rare word that wasn’t in the dictionary, so I decided to skip it. Of course I had the same problem with adjectives, and I finally gave up, because I had a really bad dictionary that didn’t have any of the words I needed.

    I do want to second and third the idea of using third person singular forms on the board instead of infinitives, particularly for those who teach English. Our students have so much trouble acquiring that -s ending that we should never miss a chance of getting it up there in front of them.

  12. This activity is as much (or more) for me than it is for the kids. I want to improve my PQA skills. I second Ben, that I need to circle more. Circling is definitely the cheapest way to get reps, so in 5 minutes you do a lot of circling in order to get the reps.

    I also love the spontaneity/improvisation of the activity. It’s fun to try to come up with new, fun ways to use the targeted verb. As a fall back, I may steer one class towards a use of the targeted verb that worked with a previous class. And so far, my 7th and 8th graders have paid amazing attention during the 5 minute periods. The students have not acquired the targeted verb after 5 minutes, not even close, but as I build our class vocabulary around the high frequency verbs, it is freeing me up to speak so much more naturally throughout the class, gesturing the verb when I use it. This activity is also great for norming the class.

    Today, when we did “debe” (should), I told my overly aggressive English Ref (throws a penalty flag at me when I exceed 4 seconds of English) he should close his eyes, should sit in front of the class, should put his hands on his legs, should count to 5, and the class decided I should get revenge and I should throw the flag and I should throw it quickly at his head. We got 50+ compelling reps on “debe” in 5 minutes. Then, in a different class, I took out my singing dog, Pablo el Perro, and we created a band: Riley should play the guitar, Alana should dance, Pablo and the teacher should sing, and Curtis (our exotic dancer) should dance. . . It’s going. . . going. . . gone! Homerun! 🙂

    1. Eric, it sounds like the 5 min. allotment really helps focus the class for that amount of time, closely and attentively. I like how this is a short intensive use of time, compared to our other times of PQA that may be more relaxed, but also necessary for language and stories to develop.

      I find sometimes I get into the same predictable patterns with my delivery and then it is tempting for students to tune out. This will be a good way for me to practice changing things up, and sharpen my ability to get reps.

      And thanks for sharing the story about “debe” too. Very encouraging!

    2. I did this 5 minutes yesterday in the present tense with Yo llego a la escuela. I arrive at school.
      The next day then I should ask about what I did yesterday using the past tense. This also reviews anyone that was absent. I love this idea of 5 minute power verb activity.

  13. We actually do eI (sorry, I had to – Eric’s Idea) in Step 1 of TPRS when we start the storytelling process.

    Note further that it doesn’t necessarily have to be five minutes. Sometimes I circle one verb, the first verb in the story script’s list of target structures, for an entire class period. I like doing that. I know that if I can get up to 20o reps on that target, they only need to hear it maybe 5000 more times for them to acquire it. The rule I use and I am sure most of us use is to circle a target structure, whether it be a verb in eI or a target structure/verb in Step 1 of storytelling, until it gets boring.

    Any suggestions on my acronym for Eric’s idea of working with verbs in this way are of course welcome.

      1. Yes but what you did was call it to our attention. It’s so obvious that this is needed and yet to my knowledge we have never actually talked about doing it. I hope we can remember. Five minutes spent circling one power verb in each class is just a fantastic idea. So it’s new and it’s not new. Is the new name from Melissa – “Five Minute Power Verb Activity” – OK with you? The thing is I have, with your permission, already added it to my book Stepping Stones to Stories as a key element. But I have to make sure the name is OK with you before I add it to the ideas in that book.

        1. Love the name! I’m going to start calling them power verbs tomorrow in class!

          I’m getting the sense that my kids genuinely enjoy the activity, because they reminded me to do it today 🙂

          I’ve been trying to do 2 power verbs/day, 1 right after the other. I’m going to start breaking these sessions up, because the 5 minutes can be intense for both the students and me. Had I done this activity from the beginning of the year, I think I would be doing 1/day. I’m excited for my current 7th graders who will be get reps on the top 50 and then I’ll have next year with them to maybe extend that list to the top 100 verbs and/or reinforce the first 50 in different persons/tenses.

          1. Here’s a good place to post this resource:
            I would like to share images to use for Visualization during PVA. I have images for the 52 highest frequency Spanish verbs all within the 220 highest frequency words.


            In addition to gestures and word associations, visualization is another powerful learning strategy. I say “learning” and not “acquisition.” But, I do think this helps to create that “movie in their minds.” Furthermore, the visual can help keep the images in the working memory, until enough reps have been had from CI to cause acquisition.

            I first felt the power of a visual in Laurie Clarcq’s workshop in Maine this past Fall. She had us look at a picture associated with a structure, then close our eyes and visualize the picture as she said the target structure. The visuals stuck with me for a long time after that short demo. I think the visual may even stick in the mind longer than the associated word. By presenting a visual without text, we can get students to go directly from target language to meaning, rather than target language -> first language -> meaning. There is nothing wrong with translation, because it does help us accurately establish meaning, but then the visual helps us skip over the translation.

            I printed the images out without the text and laminated and wrote on the back of the cards the first person and third person present tense forms. I use the cards to introduce a new verb, to review, and to informally assess. By showing students an image and asking students “How do you say ‘he goes’?” and asking “How do you say ‘I go’?” the conjugation patterns became clearer to my students, especially for those irregular patterns. I also ask what letter gets added to say “they,” “we,” etc. This is grammar instruction, but without the grammar terminology. It is important students grasp that “va” doesn’t mean “goes” but rather it means “he goes.” I think reviewing the images builds confidence, because the kids see how much they really know and I get to tell them that they know the most important parts of the language! I wouldn’t waste time on this if it were not for all the CI reps my students have already received on these verbs.

            I’ll be adding more images as I find time to search on Google Images. You can download the PPT, modify any images (maybe you don’t like that I included the Yankees choking in 2004 to the Red Sox as the image for “loses”, haha), and change the Spanish to whichever language you teach.

          2. …the visual can help keep the images in the working memory, until enough reps have been had from CI to cause acquisition….

            The key part of that idea is this part:

            …until enough reps have been had from CI to cause acquisition….

            Visuals, gestures, word associations, but especially visuals, I agree, are the scaffolding on the acquisition system. They are needed for the building to go up but not after it has been completed.

            …the visuals stuck with me for a long time after that short demo….

            This is an area that needs attention. Thanks Eric. Hopefully this begins a neglected part, yet a crucial part, of the mix we are always creating for more effective instruction using comprehensible input.

          3. I love the fact that when we talk about implementing a new idea (visuals as per Eric’s great idea) we go out and test it in our classrooms. We don’t sit around and smoke pipes and scratch our beards wondering if we can think our way to whether it will work or not. We go into the field and we try it. That’s so cool.

  14. It’s official unless anyone objects. When Melissa wrote:

    …I love this idea of 5 minute power verb activity….

    it clicked in my mind that the name of this should be:

    Five Minute Power Verb Activity.

    So I changed it. Thanks Melissa!

    Can the acronym be FMPVA or PVA? Or what?

    Remember, I need me a nice acronym as much as I need me a nice Broncos victory over New England this weekend. Unless skip and Gabe object….Hee hee!

  15. I was thinking that a really helpful use of the blog could be for people to do what Eric and Ben did, to actually describe the PQA they use. What I mean is that Eric described the PVA but then he gave an EXAMPLE using the word debe-should, which totally opened up my understanding of what he had done and it was only a short paragraph or two. I think it would be amazing to have a catalogue of these examples to go to when planning to circle a verb, to pool our creativity that way. Then you can dip in and find out how other people have circled that verb, and it can jog your own creativity. Could we have a heading for PVA circling ideas/examples?

  16. Power verbs for kids: dances, wants to have, drives, plays an instr, plays a sport, knows a person, owns a ___

    Best simple extensions (ie for beginners): where, with whom, then when

    CRUCIAL tip: always introduce TWO verbs or nouns @ same time– makes for richer circling– and choose 2 very diff members of class to up the contrast factor. Eg girl and boy, athlete and bookworm, Indian and Asian kid, etc.

    “Class, Breleigh dances!” and “Antonio plays hockey!”

    Circle Breleigh, then, dances, and to circle “dances” you ask ?s about whether Br dances or plays hockey. Then circle the 2nd sentence. Then ask details– with whom, and where. “Breleigh dances with Seamus Ennis in Ballylochlan on Tuesdays!” etc.

    For each I will circle name, verb, where, with whom, and I will also compare and contrast (e.g. “Class, does A. play hockey, or does B. play hockey?”). Also, if we get to “B dances in Ballylochlan with Seamus Ennis,” and we got back to adding/establishing details for Antonio, I can review A.: “Class, does A play hockey? Does A. play hockey with Sidney Crosby?” With beginners who have been in class for a month or so, I can add “when.”

    I did this yest with an observer in my class and I got her to count reps. I got 31 reps each of “dances” and “plays hockey” in just under 5 mins, even with going slow and using point-and-pause.

    1. Those are some powerful verbs for students that Chris mentions and definitely ones you want to get reps on, but neither dances, drives, plays an instrument, or plays a sport is a verb in the 50 highest frequency verbs in Spanish. These verbs are easy to TPR and because they are easily gestured, you can say them whenever and in every class and just add a gesture. Comparing and contrasting definitely helps get reps, but doesn’t necessitate we try and do this Power Verb activity with 2 verbs at the same time.

      I barely got on first base today with the verb “deja” (lets/leaves). The creative juices weren’t flowing. So with the next class I plan to write a few sentences, each sentence containing the verb “deja” and then circle as in R&D and maybe parallel the sentences for more reps.

    2. Chris, the idea of introducing 2 verbs or nouns at the same time is interesting. I think sometimes that would work better than introducing 1, like with the example you gave — “dances” and “plays hockey” — maybe another good coupling would be “runs” and “walks”. Then again, maybe it’s better to introduce 2 verbs or nouns at a time only if the students have some familiarity with the words. Spanish is unique in that regard in the U.S. because there is so much exposure to Spanish on the street and in the media. Everyone knows the word, “la fiesta,” for example.

      I tried PVA today as a way to review before the end of the semester some verbs that we have been neglecting somewhat. During the PVA I found myself going too fast for some students, and a few others started talking in English with their neighbor. I don’t know. I have many low-skilled students who have issues with attention and cognition. I wanted to pause the flurry of getting reps in to acknowledge the bad behavior and slow things down. I didn’t. I don think, though, that it was a good activity for most students, and most students appreciate the 5 minute time frame.

      We were working with the verb “sale” (leaves: “She left the classroom.”) and I remembered that Willie leaves his home at 5 am to get to school since he moved far, far away a couple of weeks ago. That was a killer few moments of PQA. This happenstance makes me think about the importance of personalizing the PQA, and how maybe by doing a PVA as a review every once in a while we get to share some juicy, compelling details of our lives.

  17. BTW as Ben noted in Sept 2013, if you have to present the method to colleagues, THIS is the way to start.

    It’s personalised, easy, fun, guaranteed to work (esp if you do it in a language they don’t know…hell, you could use a made-up language if you wanted!) and it will build interest in the open-minded, who will leave your presentation, delightedly mumbling their newly-acquired ____ sentences to themselves.

    1. Chris, my impression is that this is a great way to present to colleagues especially if you can discuss interesting facts about those colleagues (or whatever audience you have). I’ll be job interviewing this spring and want to try it. [My school is closing at the end of the year… an all too common story here in Chicago.]

  18. I like this idea because it also fills up 5 more minutes of class time! And by choosing one verb hopefully I can get a little discussion going, but with a limit of 5 minutes we won’t be too off topic. This is great for those days where we are tired of reading and reading. Again, another little activity in our repetoire. Danke!

  19. The only prob with Eric’s great idea is that a lot of these top 100 verbs are boring. So I realised a few things

    a) we’ll need nouns, or proper nouns, to go with a lot of them (eg. “has”)

    b) I think Blaine had the right idea here: he put boring verbs (e.g. must, lives, works etc– what ppl think “boring” will vary from person to person or class to class) as background in stories. E.g. “there is/are” will show up in every story so I wouldn’t bother PQAing it. If I’ve established meaning and the kids get it, eventually they will be able to use it. “To say” is also boring (to me) so I will never put 5 mins of PQA into it…I’ll just have it in stories– “he said…did you say? I said…”

    c) TPR is a problem cos of meaning ambiguity and fossilsation. I ditched it this year and my kids are doing way better than last year (but I’m also using way less vocab and getting way more reps). I have gone to gestures for person (I, you, s/he,we, you guys, they), tense and meaning. Once the kids have these down I can ditch the gestures.

    Blaine was also VERY emphatic about this, and added that we shouldn’t jsut be teaching the most frequent verbs, but also their forms.


  20. Well said, Chris! Especially, “…my kids are doing way better than last year (but I’m also using way less vocab and getting way more reps).”

    Yes! This is so key. And props to you for your success with limiting vocab in your classes this year. I applaud your accomplishment while I go on reciting Webster’s dictionary every day with my own students here. But I’m definitely doing better with slow, so that’s a plus.

    It’s also the reason I miss my students from North Carolina. While there WERE 1,000 rather unpleasant things to deal with behavior-wise, in terms of language abilities across the students it was MUCH simpler. Especially with my French 1’s, who only knew what I taught them. I look forward to having more French 1 classes next year, so that I can practice what you said from the very beginning of language acquisition. Tons of reps, very little vocab. Of course I’m aiming for that here in France too, but it’s a little messier than it was for me with my kids back in ‘Murhca because in one class here it’s common for some kids to be able to talk in past, present, and future, while another kid can barely understand the question “What is your name?” spoken at 10 wpm (words per minute).

    Anyway, thanks for reminding us that kids need more reps and less vocab. That’s what they really want anyway, even if they might act otherwise. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs a reminder about that every day.

    1. It is very exciting, a very exciting and happy moment, when, as we ask questions and circle, that it dawns on us that in that moment in class, in that one moment at least, that we really are going slowly enough for them and are really limiting the vocabulary. It is just so good to see those faces answering happily chorally with one word answers. SLOW and limited vocab really are the Holy Grail of this stuff. Thanks for making the point again, Chris and Greg. Because we will all forget it over the long weekend and will need to be reminded when we start our engines again on Tuesday.

  21. The value of this tool is partly tied to our needs. When I teach beginning levels I know without a doubt that the students will be going into a textbook or worksheet based class. They will be expected to “know” the conjugation from the scope/sequence from the year they were with me. I think that means that the teacher will ask whether or not students “did” this verb the previous year. That is, “do you remember this?’ If it was “done” (in some way, we know that this probably means listed in a list in the infinitive form, inputted into a conjugation exercise, and –possibly–incorporated into a “communication” exercise). Then a few smart kids will remember having seen/done it.

    What the 5 Min PVA is offering for this situation, at least, is a way to help all kids have a meaningful interaction with the scope/sequence verb forms. I am hypothesizing that a greater number of students would be able to recognize s/s verbs in various forms.

    At the very least, and this is not to detract from this experiment, it is a way to say (where necessary) that we do cover and did cover all of the verbs.

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