PVA – Power Verb Activity – 1

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34 thoughts on “PVA – Power Verb Activity – 1”

  1. Eric is amazing. Just sayin’. A serious CI warrior. Powerhouse. Generous. Fun. I got to meet him in Maine in October. He has this completely calm vibe about him that totally shatters the myth that CI teaching “only works if you are a loud extroverted theatrical person.” He has tons of stuff posted on his web page that is SO helpful. I encourage beginner CI teachers–or anyone really–to check out his web page where there are many videos of him teaching his classes. I have learned a ton from him 🙂


    1. And, holy crap, he’s ripped! My New Year’s Resolution is to look like Eric.

      And I love this idea. I agree with Ben that this is a pretty huge idea and worthy of being added to the Big Ideas.

  2. I’ll add that webpage to the post that I transferred from here to the Big Ideas page, the one about five minutes of PQA on a single verb from the list of the Big 50 Verbs each day. I have also asked and been given permission by Eric to put his idea into my book Stepping Stones.

    I feel that this idea has the same kind of power in it for new people that CWB has. After all, teachers new to the method get to take a verb like “builds” and get plenty of PQA practice each class for those five minutes, but practice that is “free”, as it were, that is to say, not part of a more complex PQA build up to a story, for example.

    I don’t know if that makes sense, but it does to me. Just hanging out in PQA with one verb is just something we should all be doing every day, and yet nobody said it until now. Strange how this method keeps growing and becoming fine tuned by a group of quiet teachers alone in their little worlds, teachers who are in many cases experiencing some form of mild or extreme attack, and yet who soldier on because they believe that doing this kind of teaching is better for the kids than doing the old kind of teaching. It really is a labor of love. So let’s do an example with “builds”:

    Class, I build! (point to the words CONSTRUIT – BUILDS that you wrote on the board behind you) (now after you say that, you train them like seals to all say “ohhh!” – do your best to get a nice choral response on that.)

    Class, what do I build? (a few suggestions are offered).

    No, class, (sometimes I say “but thank you for playing” in English). I build a house! (ohhh!)

    Class, do I build a big house or a little house? (big!)

    No, class, (thank you for playing) I build a little house? ((ohhh!)

    Do I build a little house? (yes)

    That’s right, class, I build a little house. I don’t build a big house. (ohhh!)


    Class, where do I build a little house? (they suggest cute answers – one girl suggests “au parc” – “at the park” which she sees on the wall as a location poster – see poster page on “TPRS Resources” on this site for more on location posters, which if you download them can be personalized by kids to your town or the area around your school.)

    Applause, class! (I give Sarah huge approval to her idea – she is happy). That’s right class! EXACTLY! I build a little house in the park. Brilliant! (ohhh!)

    Class, does Nathan build a little house? (no)

    That’s correct, class, Nathan doesn’t build a little house. I build a little house. Nathan, do YOU build a house? (student says yes or no you can develop the circling around Nathan’s answer – all that is necessary here is to keep circling the verb “builds” with whatever comes up in the process of circling – it is all very natural and most teachers fail here because they want to control the learning and you can’t do that with languages – you can only get hundreds of reps on target structures, which is a great definition of teaching languages using ideas based on Krashen’s research.)

    I could go on literally for another five pages on this, circling away on builds, as long as – and this is a CRUCIAL BASIC POINT about Circling for new people reading here – as long as I use the verb “builds” in every single sentence I say. If you have been trying to learn about TPRS here and have not grocked that last sentence, go back and see that in my example of how to circle builds above, I use the verb in every single sentence I say. I DO NOT LEAVE THAT VERB. So this is a good lesson and we can now see how Eric’s idea is totally important to our growth as a CI teachers, how important it is to learn to circle by repeating SOMETHING THAT WE ARE TARGETING (we do the same in stories but each sentence instead of having a verb in it as above has one of the two or three target structures from the story script in it.

  3. Yay! My own article on the blog! haha.
    Such kind words, Jen! Can you see me blushing through the computer 🙂
    To set the record straight: I started TPRS doing the loud, theatrical thing, but it was exhausting. Now, I usually sit in a chair in the circle with the kids. It’s a survival thing so as not to burn out. It’s also a maturity thing, when I realized the students have to make class compelling with their cute answers.

    I think limiting the activity to 5 minutes, having a student timer and a student counter, as well as telling kids the purpose of the activity and sharing your personal repetition best, gets student buy-in and focus. I teach beginners and the activity stays largely in the present tense, but I use different tenses as needed (with a simple hand gesture to indicate tense), even with beginners.

    The list of 50 verbs comes from Mark Davies’ Spanish Frequency Dictionary. There is nothing particularly significant about the number 50, so you could set the PQA cutoff higher or lower. They are all verbs in the top 200 most frequent words, except for a few words, which are good ones from the 200-300 frequency range. There are some 8 verbs that I will not PQA, because they are the storytelling words my students have already heard a bunch (is, has, wants, says, etc.), there may be some that are taught with TPR (mirar, escribir, etc.), and others that are cognates (pasar, existir, entrar, producir, ocurrir, recibir, permitir, necesitar). I have a Verb Wall with the words in the 3rd person, rather than the infinitive (that was a suggestion I had read somewhere, maybe from this blog). I think that intentionally planning the 50 high frequency verbs gives me a reassuring sense (whether healthy or not) of having a “curriculum.” I’ve heard before that all we have to do is speak naturally and we will give students CI on the high frequency words, but I know I don’t get to all the 50 verbs and if I don’t plan them, then some don’t get enough reps.

    On page 148 of the Frequency Dictionary there is a list of the verbs most common in speech, as well as lists of the verbs most common in fiction and those in nonfiction. Starting on page 235 there is a frequency list by part of speech (verbs on page 275).

    Here are the verbs from the range 1-200, including their rank frequency.
    #. #Frequency. Spanish verb – English verb
    1. 8. ser – to be (identity)
    2. 11. haber – to have (+Ved)
    3. 17. estar – to be (location, feeling)
    4. 18. tener – to have
    5. 25. hacer – to do, make
    6. 27. poder – to be able to; can
    7. 28. decir – to say
    8. 30. ir – to go
    9. 37. ver – to see
    10. 39. dar – to give
    11. 46. saber – to know (a fact), find out
    12. 57. querer – to want, love
    13. 66. llegar – to arrive
    14. 67. pasar – to pass, spend (time)
    15. 75. deber – should, ought to; to owe
    16. 77. poner – to put (on), get (+adj)
    17. 81. parecer – to seem, look like
    18. 89. quedar – to remain, stay
    19. 91. creer – to believe, think
    20. 92. hablar – to speak, talk
    21. 93. llevar – to take, carry
    22. 94. dejar – to let, leave
    23. 97. seguir – to follow, keep on
    24. 100. encontrar – to find
    25. 104. llamar – to call, name
    26. 105. venir – to come
    27. 106. pensar – to think
    28. 111. salir – to leave, go out
    29. 112. volver – to return, to V again
    30. 122. tomar – to take, drink
    31. 124. conocer – to know (someone or place)
    32. 128. vivir – to live
    33. 131. sentir – to feel, regret
    34. 134. tratar – to try, treat, deal with
    35. 142. mirar – to look, watch
    36. 155. contar – to tell, count
    37. 161. empezar – to begin, start
    38. 163. esperar – to wait, hope (for), expect
    39. 173. buscar – to look for
    40. 177. existir – to exist
    41. 179. entrar – to enter
    42. 183. trabajar – to work
    43. 187. escribir – to write
    44. 190. perder – to lose, miss
    45. 195. producir – to produce, cause
    46. 200. ocurrir – to happen, occur

    Here are the next verbs after 200:

    47. 203. entender – to understand
    48. 204. pedir – to ask for, request
    49. 205. recibir – to receive
    50. 215. recordar – to remember, remind
    51. 219. terminar – to finish, end
    ?52. 220. permitir – to allow, permit
    53. 221. aparecer – to appear
    54. 222. conseguir – to get, acquire, obtain
    55. 223. comenzar – to begin, start
    56. 226. servir – to serve
    57. 228. sacar – to take out
    58. 229. necesitar – to need

    Here are common verbs in the spoken register not listed above:
    263. oír – to hear
    325. tocar – to touch
    328. estudiar – to study
    353. gustar – to be pleasing to
    387. valer – to be worth
    407. fijar – to fix, set
    415. dedicar – to dedicate
    437. comprar – to buy
    448. interesar – to interest
    486. imaginar – to imagine
    524. enseñar – to teach

    1. Awesome! Thanks for posting these verbs up here, making it super accessible for us, Eric. I’ve seen the first part of this list before, from Bryce Hedstrom, and saved it in my files. Let me copy and past it here and see if it matches your list above.

      High Frequency Verbs
      Copyright © 2012 by Bryce Hedstrom

      Here are some of the most high frequency verbs in Spanish according to Mark Davies in
      A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish:

      1. ser (#8) to be
      2. haber (#11) to have (helping verb)
      3. estar (#17) to be
      4. tener (#18) to have
      5. hacer (#25) to do, make
      6. poder (#27) to be able to, can
      7. decir (#28) to say, to tell
      8. ir (#30) to go
      9. ver (#37) to see
      10. dar (#39) to give
      11. saber (#46) to know (a fact)
      12. querer (#57) to want
      13. llegar (#66) to arrive
      14. pasar (#67) to pass, spend (time)
      15. deber (#75) should, ought to, to owe
      16. poner (#77) to put
      17. parecer (#81) to seem, look like
      18. quedar (#89) to remain, stay
      19. creer (#91) to believe, think
      20. hablar (#92) to speak, talk
      21. llevar (#93) to take, carry
      22. dejar (#94) to let, leave
      23. seguir (#97) to follow, keep on
      24. encontrar (#100) to find

      (Number in parentheses is frequency of total word use. Lower number = more often used)

    2. “To set the record straight: I started TPRS doing the loud, theatrical thing, but it was exhausting. Now, I usually sit in a chair in the circle with the kids. It’s a survival thing so as not to burn out. It’s also a maturity thing, when I realized the students have to make class compelling with their cute answers.”

      Yes! I did the same thing, last year particularly, getting all theatrical for every class period every day. It was too too much. I’ve learned (perhaps not quick enough) the roll students play in making class compelling with their cute answers, as you say, Eric, and also by doing the sitting-up, square-shoulders, clear-eyes thing, or by doing any of the student jobs. I think about all the stimuli students confront in their daily lives and how we need to balance that by creating a classroom that is calm, safe, peaceful, and may I dare say, boring (or at least on the edge of boredom). May I be so bold as to say that students need to experience some boredom to slow those brainwaves down and start to take interest in the creative play of foreign language communication that we provide for them. We could also call it discipline, or meditation.

      While at a neighborhood bar last night we were talking about the importance of manufacturing and the production of quality goods in the U.S., the the Germans are known for. Then we talked about the Amish and their amazing furniture and things and how they don’t use phones and electricity. They certainly have a disciplined, meditative, and ‘boring’ life. Then we talked about Amish summer camp. Apparently 14 year olds can sign up for Amish summer camp where they do things like milk the cow for the butter they’ll make for the bread they’ll bake and eat on the chair they’ll make to sit for dinner. I think we’re trying to do a little of this in our classrooms.

      1. Random fact: I live outside of Amish country. Every weekend, a buggy goes by my house. In the summer, they stop and sell strawberries. Way better than the ones bought in the grocery store!

    3. I agree with you; I think the timer and the counter delivers such a powerful message!

      Do you do the same verb regardless of the level? On day 50 do you go back to verb number 1?

      I know, little details, but when I bring big ideas like this to the department they ask these kinds of things.


      1. I’ve only done this with middle school-age kids and I try to do 2 verbs/day. I imagine the same verbs can be used for younger kids. When you have PQA’d 50 high frequency verbs you could continue past 50 (nothing special about the number 50) or go back and work on some in different tenses. Once I have done 5 minutes of 1 verb, I then try to use that verb in future classes whenever I can. The students need tons more reps than those done in 5 minutes and the more frequent the students hear the words, the better the acquisition.

        1. Ok, this is really helping me now. I have been not-so-great at TPR’ing verbs. It’s ok, but hard for me, and I don’t do it enough to really get the words to stick. But I can do PQA questions much more comfortably and I’m going to try it. I really think that the element of a time limit and a counter will be helpful for my students — adds an element of urgency in a fun way.

  4. This talk about an intense PQA focus for one language structure makes me think about the happenstance in class when a verb really clicks with students because it was housed in a meaningful context (which happened to me when I connected “ought to” with “respect”… debe respetar) students don’t seem to need as many repetitions. We may move forward or we may stay put in PQA depending on whether we sense a strong familiarity with the language structure in the eyes and hearts of our students.

  5. “I use the verb in every single sentence I say. I DO NOT LEAVE THAT VERB.”

    Exactly! I have been trying to do this. A few times, the class and I started to extend the verb into a story, but that led to many fewer reps. So, once an image has been built up with details, and I sense it may be leading to a story, I just start asking parallel questions to a different student or I start over with an entirely new image built around the verb.

    I like Ben’s example in which he starts by using the verb in the first person, modeling the “game.” Also, instead of personalizing, we can sometimes customize, asking questions with the structure about a celebrity or some other character relevant to the audience.

    And Chris R., your comment cracked me up! hahaha. (I’m a part-time personal trainer). Here’s to getting started on your New Year’s Resolution 😉

  6. ^ awesome ^ I learned this from Michelle Metcalfe…then promptly forgot it. Michelle’s great skill (well, one of her zillions Mad Skills yo) is turning the “wacky actor” side on and off as necessary. She comes across as a pretty “normal” person but very effectively uses wacky voice and gesture. With extremes in TPRS, less is often more.

    I do something like this every class after my start-up routine. The only diff with me is, I get them answering after awhile. Mostly I use my superstars. After I get a buttload of reps off, say, “drives” I ask the kids what they drive. My superstars will say “I drive a Ferrari” or whatever. (If there is any hesitation, I write it on board). We can circle that too– where, with whom are easiest.

    1. I don’t PQA “hay” (there is/are) cos it’s boring. I throw it into every story and circle it. I have a gesture for it (fist outheld with thumb on top). The kids only have to recognise it, because it WILL be in every story you ever do.

      We don’t need to PQA everything, and we do not need to make sure we get 49 reps of everything the first time we introduce it. Enough reps over time– provided we make sure meaning is established– will ensure acauisition. Other “boring” verbs are lives, works, etc. Throw them in background of each story and the kids will eventually get ’em.

      Teacher: “how can I make kids pay attention when I circle “lives” and “works”?”
      Blaine Ray: “Find something interesting to circle.”

      1. I gave Polly ways to work “ha + Ved” and here are some ways for “hay.”

        Every story in my class starts with “hay un chico o chica?” You use “hay” constantly to describe (especially to describe scenes in MovieTalk), so I agree that it doesn’t have to be PQA’d. Nothing has to be PQA’d. It is just a good strategy to get personalized reps, but if you have a better way to get higher interest reps, then do it.

        “Reps over a long time” are probably superior to condensed reps in a short period, IF you don’t plan on giving more reps after the short period. Language can’t be packaged into 2-week units. The students need to keep hearing and reading the vocabulary every day, but increasing the reps when the vocabulary is introduced is like cycling a performance-enhancement drug (steroids, creatine, etc.) – it is the loading phase. The dosage that follows is much lower and is called the maintenance phase. For example: to cycle creatine a typical dose is 20 grams/day for the first 3-5 days, followed by 5 grams/day for 3-4 weeks. This is a lot like what we do, but the drug is a target structure.

        But I also think there are plenty of compelling ways to PQA even the “boring” verbs. We get “there is” when we do OWI: “THERE IS a green, one-eyed dog, with superpowers, etc., etc.”

        Having students live in funky places, or living with celebrities or cartoon characters, boosts the interest with “lives.” Or talk about a show the kids watch: “Bart lives with Homer.” My students always want people living in an animal stomach, so I imagine it wouldn’t be long before a student offered: “I live in a whale’s stomach.”

        And “works” is an easy one that isn’t so boring when you create some cool jobs the students work. If anyone actually has a job, then the students will love you talking about their real job. Sabrina kept our interest for 15 minutes during a PQA session on just the verb “works” in Maine.

        In a way, the “boring” verbs are great for this unconscious process we call acquisition, because they can’t stand on their own. The students will be focused on the rest of the sentence, where the interest lies, all the while, you are repeating the target a bazillion times.

        1. Great comments on “hay.” “Hay” is boring in and of itself. But it can become a signal that something interesting is about to be introduced.

          A colleague of mine chickened out on TPRS, but she learned the power of stories/circling for “il y a / hay.” Every year, whenever she is ready to attack “il y a” she goes back to storytelling. Strange but true.

    2. Oops just realised I misread the question. I’ve used this tense:

      I just introduce it in context. Its use is the same as in English– the tense refers to completed past action which has a direct bearing on what is happening/being discussed in present– and I have found contrastive pop-ups useful (“what is he diff between “I ate” and “I have eaten”?”). However I would leave this kind of explanation for level 4 or so. With the younger kids I just use it in context.
      Here’s a story skeleton using this tense (I used only 3 structures):

      has sold (ha vendido)
      has (not) paid (no) ha pagado
      has forgotten (ha olvidado)
      has eaten ha comido

      1). J is hungry. He wants to eat ___ but there’s no ___ in the fridge.
      J goes to ___ where there is a __ and J says to the ____ “I’m hungry. Do you have any ___?” The ___ says “yes I have 497 of those and they are $2 each.” “OH NO I have forgotten my wallet!” Says J and returns home to get his wallet.

      2) J gets his wallet, and returns to _____. He says “I still havennot eaten.” OH NO! In ___ the ___ says “I have sold all the ____!” So J is sad and still hungry.

      3) J then goes to _____ where there is a ____ where there is a girl. He says (repeat) and she has ___.

      J orders 283 ___ and eats them. When he pays his credit card doesn’t work. OH NO! J has forgotten to pay his credit card! So he works for the girl for 23 days to pay for the ____.


  7. Others may have a better response than me to Polly’s question, but I’ll take a stab at it.

    Up until now I have added in the “ha + Ved” into readings. Since the “ha” looks so much like “has,” my students have no problem with it. I have also popped up “tiene” and “ha” from the same reading to show that they both mean has, but in different ways.

    I think Polly has given one totally feasible way to get reps on “haber.” It would be tied to some other verb, so it would be easier if the kids already knew the other verb. Now they are going to see that verb + ado/ido (and some irregulars).

    Maybe, play a little “never have I ever . . .” minus the drinking 😉

    Or have the kids each write/draw something outrageous they have done.

    Or get kids to lie or use PSA and just tell the class that “Mary has danced with Harry Styles.”

  8. I have done the “Have you ever?” game where everyone is standing in a circle with one person in the middle. In the real game the person in the middle is the one who asks a “have you ever? question and if you have done X you have to move to a different spot. But in my class I stay in the middle the whole time so I can control the questions 🙂 It is fun in short bursts and it gets them up and moving.

      1. Hi Sean!
        So, the real “have you ever” game that I have played goes like this:

        Everyone stands in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle asks a question: “Have you ever been to Australia?” (something he/she has done) Anyone who has been to Australia has to move. So if 2 ppl have been, they would try to switch spots. AND middle person tries to snag a spot in the circle. Whoever misses out on getting a spot goes in the middle to ask the next question. The idea is to move to a different spot in the circle and not get “stuck” in the middle. Although in the middle you get to come up with the question.

        The way I have played it in class is that I am in the middle asking the questions. It still works the same way, except for the fact that whomever ends up in the middle doesn’t have to ask the question out loud. For lower level classes they whisper it to me in English and I ask in Spanish. For upper level, the kids could ask. School appropriate questions, of course 🙂

        It can get out of hand pretty quickly and/or can go on too long, so use sparingly 🙂 That is how I have played. It’s not a winner / loser game & it is always pretty high interest. Hope that clarifies it a bit 🙂

        1. Yeah, winner/loser games are the dregs. I’m working on building a list of short kinesthetic activities that can break up my 90 min classes.

          I think I get the game, but still a little unclear about how people move. You say that the people that can answer the question get to switch spots. Does this mean that the person in the middle who asks the question can switch places with anyone on the perimeter of the circle that can answer in the affirmative? Is that the gist? Then the new person in the middle asks another question.

          Thanks, Jen!

          1. Hi Sean,

            I have some short move-around activities I use for brain breaks. Would you like the list with short descriptions?

          2. I would love to have your list of activities with short descriptions, Diane. Will you post it here for all of us?

          3. I will put it as a post in the Forum (it’s a tangent here). I have a chart the kids see and then a list with descriptions of the activities. Some will not apply to others but most will.

          4. Sean, would you mind sharing your list of short, kinesthetic activities? I’m horrible at coming up with stuff like that, so I would love to have them!

            And Diane, could you tell me how to get to your list of activities you posted to the forum?


          5. Hi Greg, For my list, sign into the Forum. (I know you’ve been busy – Forum link is at top of each page of the blog. You need a separate login there.) I put the post under General Discussion and called it “Brain breaks – and movement.”

          6. Thanks Diane! And wow…a thorough list with great ideas I can’t wait to try out. Also, thanks for solving a dilemma I’ve had since I started teaching two years ago…the dreaded bathroom policy. I even tried a complicated system one time of letting each kid go 3 times per semester, and keeping track of their names each time (Was I insane? Yes, completely).

            So simple…they only go during brain breaks! Duh. Such a minor problem, but you’ve dramatically simplified my return to U.S. public schools next year. And I’m guessing anyone else in the PLC who will see your rule and who doesn’t already follow it.

            One last thing as a general comment/question to all: I’ve been teaching in France now for almost four months and literally ONLY TWO students have asked to use the restroom. And it probably would have been only one student, but the second student was inspired by the first. The same goes for cell phones -I have only seen THREE students even touch their cell phones in class since I’ve been here. Three students in four months! And I haven’t seen their phones at all after since then after asking them to put them away. The students here just know that cell-phones in class, and bathroom requests, are just not done. The system here has it’s weaknesses too, but they’ve got those two things down. Why do so many schools in the U.S. fail with these two little parts of school culture? Maybe it’s classroom teachers like me who need to grow a harder spine with bathroom/cell phone use.

          7. Sorry for my bathroom/cell phone tangent below (or does it appear above?) which has nothing to do with PVA. I think I missed the final decision on the question of Forum use a couple months back. Is the forum continuing, and the place for any general comments? What have we decided as far as our guidelines for blog comments?

  9. As we move into past narrative the V-ed is reinforced with more reps:

    J was hungry. He had not eaten. He had forgotten his wallet. He had forgotten to eat.

    It may also be simpler for the student since one word (había ) is used for:
    there was
    s/he had V-ed
    I had V -ed

    1. ^ I saw a Matava (?) script that did this. But I would leave that for later because I can see confusion between the ha and había tenses.

      Where I teach, the Punjabi kids CANNOT keep English past tenses straight…on English essays and writing I always get “yesterday I had gone to…” I think it’s an interlanguage thing.


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