Important Question – 1

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20 thoughts on “Important Question – 1”

  1. In general during the year my suggestion is that we spend about 10% of instructional time doing output. This respects the emotional, if not actual, need that kids have to DO things in our CI classrooms besides listen and read all the time.
    But at this time of year we need to up that figure to a lot more. Craig explains why. Stories go splat in April and May. The kids have had it with stories. I don’t blame them. They are not used to learning in this very rigorous interpretive way and summer is almost here. They need to output a lot more.
    Some suggestions.
    OWATS gets kids involved in writing output and and vPQA with speaking output. It’s an amazing thing but both strategies are fully consistent with best CI practices and yet they invite lots of output from the kids.
    It’s something to think about. If there is an emotional need to come into a classroom and DO something then we might want to look at that need in our CI classrooms.
    Free writes and dictée and OWATS provide us with three strong writng output strategies. However, is there another strong speaking output activity that we could add to vPQA?
    Group Retells
    This output strategy for the CI classroom is from Susan Gross who taught it to Michele Whaley who shares with us how to do it:
    “Once the class has worked its way through a story, and I’m certain that we’ve had lots of reps on the structures, I hand out white boards to groups of three or four. I put structures they must include in the story on the board.
    “I set a required minimum “chunks” of language, rather than sentences, that each student must contribute when speaking. That’s because the kids who risk more complicated sentences need credit for that. They’re allowed to exceed, of course. If they do the minimum, and the group includes the structures, they get the B.
    “The class is to retell the class story in groups with tweaks. They may change one piece or many. They have a limited time (Susie gave them ten minutes; I end up giving them 12-13) to draw a storyboard. At five minutes in, I tell them they should start practicing describing what they drew on the storyboard. That gets the perfectionist artists to speed up. They aren’t allowed to use any L1 words or letters, unless it’s to label a store, for example, with the name. They aren’t allowed to use notes.
    “They get up in front of the group and tell their story as a group. When they’re done, they bow or curtsy to applause, and I tell the class everything they did well. (I find something about each kid and try to find something about the group. It’s like Laurie’s version of coaching. It raises the bar for the next groups, and makes kids realize I will never let them down in front of the group.)
    “Susie taught me to listen carefully as I circulate through the groups in preparation. The weakest group goes first, and the strongest one goes last. That way we aren’t setting anyone up for an act that’s hard to follow.
    “The class always enjoys this activity.”
    Thank you Michele.
    Another writing output activity, of course, is Sentence Frames (Harrell).
    Jeffery Brickler shares:
    “Depending on how we frame it, we could pick one structure and a few details and then prompt our students to fill in the blanks to create mini stories. This is a Mad Lib type of activity. Collect the stories and then do a ton of reading activities with the stories.
    “For example, here’s one in English:
    One day (structure) __________ and I were going to ___________ in order to _________ the ________. When we arrived there (structure), We saw __________ people eating ___________. One of the people said that he (structure) was eating __________. Terrified by this (structured) We ___________ him.
    “This gives them reading and output AND creates readings for the entire week! Then with the readings we can do a Listen and Draw or Read and Discuss or some silent reading with a comprehension quiz. Endless possibilities.
    “Another idea that we could do to help lower levels is to give them a sheet with a list of nouns/verbs/adjectives that fill the blanks accurately and then they can choose from that list. Make the list outrageous or throw in some high frequency stuff. If we make a number of lists with possibilities, students will have choices, yet they will be limited. It could be really great, especially for lower levels because they are producing, yet in a controlled environment.”
    Thank you Jeffery.
    Chris Stolz adds some thoughts on speech output during class:
    “My guideline is super simple and flexible. My PQA is, basically, to ask the class members the questions I would otherwise ask the actors in a story. If a spark flies, I’ll interrupt a story and run with it.
    “For me, the bottom line will ALWAYS be QUALITY input. So, I just use my superstars, Once Fahim and I discussed his Tim Horton’s mollete for three minutes, and then Jasmin and I discussed her Starbucks coffee for three minutes, Those two superstars modeled good output for the rest of the class. The slower/weaker ones get asked the same questions, and all I expect is a yes or no or one-word answer.
    “If a students wants to talk at length, they can. My students are invited to speak whenever they want and they know it. But I have an automatic “no” gut reaction when I hear a teacher say “I want them to talk more.” I take the looooooong view: if they can talk, they will, and in any case, input will serve them well in the long run. When they get to Paris or México or college, it will all be wired in, and it will kick in.”
    Thank you Chris.
    We conclude that we have at least six ways that can easily fill 10% of our instructional minutes with meaningful output in our CI classrooms:
    1. Free writes (writing)
    2. Dictée (writing)
    3. OWATS (writing)
    4. vPQA (speaking)
    5. Group Retells (speaking)
    6. Sentence Frames (writing)
    The only point to make, regardless of what strategy the teacher uses to encourage writing or speech output in her students, is that it not be forced. That’s all that matters. It can be invited and encouraged, but it must never be forced.
    Now that is just one answer. I view Craig’s question as a group problem, unless everyone else is sailing along a summer breeze of comfort and wonderfulness in their CI instruction as we transition now into May and the summer stretch. Please give him some more thoughtful options. What affects one affects all, I am beginning to see, in this group.

  2. Students are restless this time of year and we are tired. Here, we have 12 days of class and 2 days of finals and we are done. Some kids are checking out before we reach the finish line.
    I start using things like for TPRS novel review or other Spanish themes. The last few weeks I use videos like Mi Vida Loca (BBC). We switch off doing episodes together as a class (a la MovieTalks) and using laptop computers.
    Maintaining order and keeping large classes of teenagers hooked into story asking and PQA is tough. I use entertaining and sometimes longer MovieTalk clips so they relax and focus.
    If others are feeling that the classroom magic has faded it is just a normal process of any classroom in any school.
    I recommend trying even if it is for practicing grammar rules, culture topics, Sr. Wooly songs, etc. I have a lot of “grammar talks” this time of year so that when they have a different nonTPRS teacher next year they are slightly ready. Kids only need cell phones or computers to play. It is a HOOT!

  3. Lots of ideas here. I usually recommend (tech willing) Garagebanding a story you’ve pre-recorded, preferably one they’re mostly familiar with but not necessary, 1-2 minutes of raw audio, and have them make it into a full on audio/visual podcast. Some (dated?) details can be found here:
    (Thanks to Andrew Edwards for digging this post back up)

    1. My kids are not sick of stories, but because I don’t “binge”on stories. We do a 3 step TPRS story sequence once maybe every 2-3 weeks. The rest of the time we’re in other TCI-type activities (TPR, MT, reading, Special Person, etc.). Variety!
      This time of year may also be a chance for some culture discussion in L1. ?? I just finished a 2-class L1 discussion based around poverty in the world and in Latin America. It was wonderful to hear a few 6th graders leave class telling their peers “I liked learning about that in Spanish class.”

      1. “This time of year may also be a chance for some culture discussion in L1.”
        I usually do an immigration unit in the past in English at the end of year 1. Usually about 3 days of English. I’m not above doing something like this in our classes. But, I do notice that the change up to English kinda throws some funk into things, for me, certain things start happening that I never have an issue with when doing CI, and so can put a kink in the normal routines and expectations I’ve developed. Surely this can be avoided, but it creates a new kind of stress for me, and I felt the reaction from students that I imagine teachers who run a traditional classroom get more often (students checking out mentally, blurting out things and me having to figure out who to call on to speak and getting frustrated cause kids are raising hands, etc). I think I’d rather let a good story via motion picture (misma luna, el norte, etc) teach those more intricate details of sensitive cultural material that we hope our kids leave understanding better.
        And Spanish teachers, you might consider watching the mostly English language film (one hour long) “Oil + Water” about two guys who drive a biodiesel truck from Alaska to Chile, kayaking and interacting with locals along the way. I have some embedded readings and other activities I do before/after that I’d be happy to share. It’s been a favorite with many of my students and has even passed the adventure travel bug on to a few.

        1. Jim maybe I am even more boring as an instructor in English than I am in French, but this same checking out has occurred with me every time I have tried to use English, and this is 37 years worth of classes, to share something that I am passionate about in the French culture with my kids. I am not the culture and talking about it is just not that interesting, I suppose.
          This culture piece is one reason I have changed on the 90% thing up to 98%. I feel like I am on much higher ground with kids when I am in the TL. They know the quiz is coming if nothing else. English immediately brings the vibe down in my classes. Poor kids – getting lectured at all day. I’d check out too. They don’t know the French world that I know. How could they? You kind of have to go there.
          Plus I think that only the kids with a connection to French speaking lands would really relate to my culture lessons. It is my belief that we are all connected somehow to some other country/countries. Why else would we be so drawn to the languages we teach?
          (Except for Harrell. His connection is with every little corner of the world and he speaks most of their languages. But even with him, there must be some little place somewhere he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about.)

          1. Comforting to hear I’m not the only one who experiences this Ben. If it happens to you, then there’s something to it. There’s something very special about the community and experience we create in L2, with the way we are learning how to teach, and I agree that a move up the ladder of percentages nearing 100% is a good one.
            I bet we could brainstorm a list of all the ways we overtly (and subliminally just by virtue of using the language) inject culture lessons into our classes constantly.
            Example: When we learn and use the word for “store”, I will ask if the store is small or big. If it’s big, I will ask where it’s at. This will seamlessly lead to me making a one sentence statement about how in Mexico and Peru (the places I am familiar with) there are lots of small stores. Here there are big stores but not a lot of them.
            This is culture and comparisons in one simple statement.
            What are other ways we inject culture into our stories/discussions in L2 at the most basic ability level? Perhaps they are too numerous to list. I am certain none of us neglect culture nor comparisons when doing TPRS/TCI with out kids… we just don’t overthink/overdo it.

  4. I’m afraid I’ve resorted to, at times, watching a movie or playing a silly Jeopardy game. Needed for my mental health.
    One thing I’ve learned to appreciate, among all the CI I do, is the need to check in with students individually. Sometimes I’ll have students draw visuals that represent whatever is important to them or whatever is on their minds these days. As they draw, with colored pencils or crayons, I move around the room and chat with students. This one-on-one relationship building has helped in that later on they are responsive to me when I call them to attention during CI sessions.

    1. “I’m afraid I’ve resorted to, at times, watching a movie or playing a silly Jeopardy game. Needed for my mental health.”
      I do the same thing, usually falling back on a cultural film when my 7th graders are high as kites right before vacations and dead tired after them. They seem to appreciate the mental break/variety and I can pause it at any time to do some circling on the characters. When we’re both a bit more rested, we get back into our usual routine.
      I like the community building process you mention above, Sean. It seems like you’re heading off potential future disruptions by reinforcing that 1-on-1 relationship. Thanks for the ideas.

  5. I’ve been doing MovieTalk with Chinese 3 (it’s a full-length movie and I spend 6 weeks overall, including 6 days on the movie viewing itself plus days working with some new words and reading based off those words and class discussion as well as the movie itself).
    It’s easier for me to prep, it’s new to them, it’s a fun and interesting movie, and I wish I could be doing the same in Chinese 4, too. I used that movie in the fall semester instead. I’m going to get ready to use another film with Chinese 4 next school year in the spring. Nice way to finish the year.
    With Chinese 1 & 2, I’m putting more on them in terms of reading on their own and writing, and trying a few adjustments to “normal” class activities when it’s listening and discussion.

  6. Larry Hendricks

    I’m recently retired from teaching in schools, although next week I’m going to begin teaching an evening class for adults. But I remember the kind of “spring madness” that descends on the students as the school year draws to a close. I agree with the idea that we should be asking for more output at this time of year. If we’ve done our jobs with CI correctly, the majority of students should be able to give more output at this time of year.

  7. Here is a list of possibilities:
    1. Free writes (writing)
    2. Dictée (writing)
    3. OWATS (writing)
    4. vPQA (speaking)
    5. Group Retells (speaking)
    6. Sentence Frames (writing)
    The only point to make, regardless of what strategy the teacher uses to encourage writing or speech output in her students, is that it not be forced. That’s all that matters. It can be invited and encouraged, but it must never be forced.

  8. Larry Hendricks

    Ben, how soon in the school year can you begin doing one or two of those six output activities you listed above? I’m thinking of the class for adults that I’m starting next week. How soon could I expect them to do one of those activities, say, dictee?

  9. Larry I usually wait for about three months before doing dictee so that is a lot of classes if you are teaching adults and not seeing them every day. So I would avoid it for that reason. Dictee has far less pedagogical value than we may think, anyway. I just use it mainly as a change of pace when needed with no expectations of gains.
    As output, those activities need verb work and more verb work. VSA, vPQA, TPR, Word Associations off of a word wall, anything that can fill in a rich manner the first weeks with a class so that they are saturated with input. It’s like with infants – they can’t output so why ask them to, until they have had enough input.
    Look what Julie does – like four or even five months to set up vPQA and all of that time is input and the verbs are the stars. Think of your time with your new students in that way. Input is king in those first months. I would become a vPQA machine in those first months, making sure I rotorootered the verbs, always mixing image with sound and entirely bypassing the left hemisphere and L1*.
    *this is what the traditionalists simply don’t get. Helena Curtain doesn’t get it. I know that because Alisa and Eric have had some significant behind-the-scenes contact with her lately and I wish they would share it here. Not to raise the curtain on that tired old topic again.
    (I just now got an email from Eric mentioning HC that I will share with the group tomorrow.)

  10. Larry Hendricks

    I suspected the truth of what you just told me. A class that meets only once a week is totally different from a public school setting, so I will major on tons of input for months on end before I begin to expect significant output.
    I would love to eventually do vPQA, based on all I’ve read about it here. The problem is, the only equipment I’m using for this adult class is a whiteboard and an overhead projector. There’s no way I can project a PowerPoint, for example. That may be limiting, but of course it doesn’t leave me helpless.
    I do plan on doing some TPR, with the ideas you shared about it in “TPR in a Year.” Also, the OWIC (what is OWATS?), and of course, lots of PQA and CI.

    1. Just an FYI, you can use an apple TV ($60-70) to project from an apple device (iPhone, iPad, macbook) to a TV with an hdmi port. If you already have an apple device, it’s a lot less expensive than an LCD projector.

    2. Larry since they are adults they may have taken “four years in high school and can’t say a word” and so you can appeal to their sense of reason when you explain that the reason they never learned anything in spite of all that study was because they were required to output before they were ready, before they had heard and read enough input. The seedling was pulled out of the soil before it could grow flowers – not enough time was given.
      If it’s a ten week adult course meeting once a week you can tell them that in truth they will have to sign up for your course many times through the year and only then, after tons of input, will they see the magic as in an exponential curve if they have the patience to indulge you in what you say. Maybe direct them to the internet where they can get slow input in the TL as well.
      Also, if you can find zany and compelling images for the overhead that is all that is required. The subtlety of vPQA is in finding the right image that brings laughter and lighthearted interaction in the TL. Then they don’t know that they are learning. When no thinking is involved, they learn.
      Leah was that you that talked about some sharks in a funny image that set the kids off? It may have been Keri. That is the key to vPQA – the wide variety of humor we can bring in to keep the class popping with interest, and the internet does that so easily for us if you can, but if you can’t you can still find good images hopefully.
      I do appreciate your wanting to get those adults outputting the language in some way. There is no difference between kids and adults in that they do have a need to express themselves. They just don’t know they’re not ready to.
      Back to the vPQA as a powerful tool that leads quickly to the output that your students desire. PQA based on images, to quote Suzy Livingston, “feeds the need of the students to speak and write.” The pictures work to generate output where the stories don’t because they are more concrete and easier to discuss. This leads to the students being able to more easily say and write what they have heard and read.
      When this happens, a need is fulfilled in the human brain to express oneself in a kinesthetic outward way that is natural. The images somehow stimulate the unconscious mind with interesting and at times compelling language that then naturally wants to come out. All it takes is a ton of verb reps beforehand. So TPR their world, for sure, for a good portion of those weekly classes.

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