Expanding PQA/Step One Over Months

Personalized information gathered from PQA is the lifeblood of comprehensible input. If we don’t have enough personalized information about each kid in the class, which we are gathering now, we will not be able to personalize our stories enough later this year and they will be flat.
The Circling with Balls cards are a start toward the stories (while they also norm the rules for us). We can use information from Pencil Man with his 16 pencils on his desk in stories all year, as Jim said in his blog preceding this one.
But what Jim has done in his blog entry today is to suggest spending a day with Pencil Man, adding in all sorts of new stuff, effectively going a lot more narrow and deep than we often do with the cards.
If a kid is shy, for example, I tend to allow them to hide. I say to the class that they play soccer and move on. I only get narrow and deep with the cards of kids whose social skills are there.
But this creates a kind of social elite group in the class, who then kind of take over the stories for the rest of the year. What I am hearing that Jim does is to not let the shy kid off the hook but to milk as much new information as possible from the class about them, keep the kid on the hook for the entire class period, while letting the one structure he chose to use with that kid drive the PQA into a supercharged version of the kid, one kid per day, into stories for the rest of the year because of their quality.
This warrants discussion. By suggesting that we go narrower and deeper with each kid, perhaps delaying the start of stories for months, Jim is offering us a way to really make the class intensely highly personalized. He is suggesting a way to get to a level of personalization (again, the lifeblood of stories) that many of us haven’t really been able to get to as a group over the years.
(The questionnaires haven’t really worked for everybody, and there are reasons for that that might be the subject of another blog entry – the main one being that PQA emerges from CI and that the questions on the questionnaires are not a full enough, rich enough, field from which CI can emerge.)
Historically, Blaine’s brilliant formula (it took me years to see this clearly) of teaching three structures and then talking about them with the kids (PQA is the second half of Step One), and then starting a story in Step Two, is essentially a mini version of what Jim is suggesting.
Blaine’s formula is this:
Step One – we present three structures and then, in the form of PQA, try (in the present tense) to find out cute (real or imaginary) bits of information that connect the kids to the structures. So Step One is about personalizing structures.
 Step Two – we take a story script and start asking (in the past tense) the story and, because we found out those cute bits of information about some of the kids during Step One, we then bring that information into the story, thus personalizing it.
An example of this process occurred in my class yesterday. I was doing an Anne Matava story called “The Thirsty Boy”. The first two structures Anne offered were
is thirsty

I did about five minutes with “is thirsty” (“Is Oshanee thirsty, class?” (she was drinking a drink) and we said no because she had a drink, and talked about four either people before it got boring.
Then, I asked who drives (we have all noticed how Anne’s stories get to the hearts of teenagers) and, of course, within five minutes, I had found out that Catherine drives a big pink tank and that Steven (#50 on the football team) drives a yellow and grey mini tank made out of plastic (which infuriated him). Now, at this point I started the story.
When I got to the line in the story
He drives to Alaska and goes to Home Depot.
it was easy to just bring up Catherine in her big pink tank and have her drive the boy to Wal-Mart. I was able to personalize the story with the information I had gathered about Catherine in the PQA.
So at this point Catherine was no longer a student in the class but had become the thirsty boy’s chauffeur. She drove him to Wal-Mart. Because of that, the class had a higher degree of personalization than it would have without the initial PQA. The PQA personalized the story.
But what I hear Jim suggeting is why not take the PQA and, instead of merely confining it to Step One, hoping we get enough good stuff to make the story script work that day, why not remove the PQA from the confines of the first part of one class, and just take the entire fall term, or longer, to expand Step One (teach a structure and personalize) into an entire class period, one per kid, so that, by December, Jim’s classroom is going to have a level of personalization that is going to be off the chart, unheard of in the typical TPRS classroom.
To me, Jim’s idea of expanding Step One from the space of a few minutes into the space of many months is really brilliant. It is a recognition of the established fact that stories, that this method, won’t work unless they are highly personalized. It suggests that we go for the personalization in a way that we haven’t before.
There should be no rush into stories. This is absolutely true in level one classes, since, at this point in the year in our first level classes, we hardly know our level one students.
So Jim is just saying that perhaps we should wait, and take the cards or whatever we want as a starting point, and, by doing what he said in his blog entry, expand each kid’s provisional ego in our class as far as we possibly can, even if the kid is shy.
I think I’ll go read Jim’s blog again. (I will add a category for “Changes 2010” as well, as both Jim and I have sugggested changes to what we do in the fall in our past few blog entries).



3 thoughts on “Expanding PQA/Step One Over Months”

  1. Hey Ben,
    Thanks for these recent posts. They are the best. I would go so far as to say, that the better we can personalize and center our stories on kids, the better the teaching and learning will be. We cannot be as effective if we are not making the class about them.
    I had a very powerful experience the other day. The kids were putting on like they did not want their card to be grabbed by me – there is great (positive I think) apprehension as to which card I will grab. This very shy student was my “victim” that day. She drew a saddle and some horses. The more I talked about her horses the more she and the class hung on every word. We were beyond “sub-conscious” We named all her horses in Spanish. We talked about her favorite and the one she doesn’t like to ride…. Then I noticed that she had drawn paints and a brush. We circled that she drew and what she drew. Of course she drew her horses. Then suddenly, she pawed through her bag and pulled out this beautiful charcoal drawing of her 4 horses. HOME RUN! We used the Spanish names to identify each horse and guess which was which. We all know this student now and appreciate this area of her life.
    Thank you Ben and all the others that post here for helping me to become better at helping students become better students. Over three weeks I have watched kids that once thought Spanish was beyond them and something that was too hard and too discouraging write notes on the back of their papers that the class is fun, great, too easy etc.
    I am looking forward to your time here in Maine with us. A year ago I told you that I thought I was close. I can feel it now. My constant reading of this blog and the constant reflection and experimenting have really paid off. I wish this for all my colleagues because, really, it is very sweet….
    See you soon, and thanks again

  2. I think the key to this post is how you described Step 2:
    “Step Two – we take a story script and start asking (in the past tense) the story and, because we found out those cute bits of information about some of the kids during Step One, we then bring that information into the story, thus personalizing it.”
    I don’t do a good enough job of taking the information gathered/created in PQA into the stories themselves, and I think that will help immensely. The main reason I like the link is that during PQA I’m more focused on rotating over to students who haven’t been involved as much lately than I am during a story. During a story if you stand somebody up as an actor in the name of involvement who just isn’t going to give you anything that day, it’s just painful for everybody and everybody loses face. If you figure out during PQA, however, who you effectively have to work with that day and then build off the mini-images you spin there, your story is half-written for you that day. I’ll have to try this next week.

  3. I have been doing nothing but “circling with balls” for the last five weeks. We’ve talked about what people do, where, with whom, etc. Sometimes it lasts the entire hour, sometimes not. It just depends on the excitement level of the kids.
    But, I’ve also snuck in some stories as well. I have one class with only 11 kids in it. Compare that with my class of 30, and the class of 11 has less activities to talk about. So we started talking about Brett Favre playing football at a nursing home and Sophie Fifi, who draws orange Chinese apples. On block days, I sometimes sneak in a story using the traditional TPR vocab. The boy walks somewhere because he wants something.
    It’s really working for me because the kids are tricked into thinking that we’re doing something different on those days with a mini-story because it seems different. It looks a little different because I guide the story more than I do when we’re just talking about kids.

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