Important Request from Ben

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63 thoughts on “Important Request from Ben”

  1. Your Archie videos were very helpful for me. I’d love to see more! Also, some videos of what your classroom walls look like. I know in your DVD set, you do a run-through but I wonder if this has changed.

    1. Yes it’s gotten simpler. I will take all the posters in my room now and set them up where I shoot the video and ‘splain all that. Thank you Jennifer. I had to take the Archie vids down from public viewing on YouTube, by the way, bc someone bitched about them. We’re not free and clear on being looked at yet. In fact, that made me take every single video I had on YouTube down except for one. This is the only place those are viewable. Call me cautious but not paranoid. I don’t think anybody has any idea how vulnerable it is to be doing this work. We are all so vulnerable. Hell, I don’t know what I’m doing. Not yet, anyway. But I’m learning!

        1. I was trying to explain this kind of work when we have to work with a difficult kid and mix that with just doing good CI and all the other stuff we have to think of, and somebody wrote a little zinger about how I wasn’t getting to the point and such. I don’t think that they got that that WAS the point. Putting stuff out on YouTube is just opening up to criticism by people who don’t get it. Why do that? It was hard enough making all the vids I made in the first place, bc none of them was my really good work and I’m not all that confident in the first place. So I’m going to put myself out there for assholes who don’t really get CI to comment like that? Not anymore.

          1. People are often terribly mean & vulgar in comments on YouTube. I rarely ever look at them anymore.

  2. The first things that pop into my mind, skills we all need to work on that are essential always:
    -Going slow (what this looks like) together with classroom management, seeing how they go hand in hand
    -How to train kids to play the “game”, being consistent with what we expect of them
    -People shouldn’t feel they need to be Mr./Ms. funny guy in order to deliver good comprehensible CI (you show this really well in one of your videos)
    -Staying in the moment (holding back on the urge to move ahead with the teenage urge and lack of focus)
    And that’s all for now.

  3. Thank you so far you guys. I will take every suggestion and try to incorporate it into the final product. I may even want to run each video by the group as it is made for suggestions and then reshoot it. That might be a very good thing to do!

  4. 1) How you transition from PQA directly into the story and incorporate some of the ideas into the story.

    2) RT . I also hope to get some more on it this summer at the conference.

    1. In my opinion, these are great skills (and video would REALLY be helpful) but not so much what a beginner needs. These seem much more advanced to me.

  5. 1) Provide some kind of overview of the process. When I started doing my research on TPRS I found the method confusing.

    2) SHOW HOW YOU DO/CIRCLE DIALOGUE DURING STORY ASKING. This is something I STILL don’t get how to do.

    3) Also, show how you do reading stuff. Eg you did your pqa, you asked a story, your circled like a dervish, and now you went home and either

    A) typed the story up– including embellishments of acquired earlier vocab to reinforce what they know


    b) get them to read (for example) a Blaine story whose structures you built your story around (this is what I do)

    Now– SHOW how you do the readings. What does choral trans look like? What does dictée look like? How do you circle reading?

    1. I am interested in circling dialogue as well. So far I do something like:

      (Statement) Marisa angrily said to Jackson, “Go get me four new cars!”

      Example circling possibilities, not to be delivered necessarily in this order:
      -Students, did Marisa angrily say to Jackson, “Go get me four new cars”? (yes)
      -Students, did Marisa say to Jackson, “Go get me four new cars” angrily or happily? (angrily)
      -Students, did Jackson say to Marisa, “Go get me four new cars”? (no)
      -Students, did Marisa talk to Jackson or yell at Jackson? (talked to)
      -Students, did Marisa say to Jackson, “Go get me four cars that are old or new?” (new)

      I’d love to hear more takes on this.

      1. I also found this tricky and I think what you’re doing James’ is what I also try to do. I think it comes down to potentially being able to circle each part of the sentence, including the content of the question. Just to add to examples, I’m thinking:

        Bob said to Mary, “I like turtles!”.

        So, then you can circle each individual piece separately if you want: Bob, said, to Mary, I like, turtles”. Below I just put one potential question for circling of each ‘piece’.

        1) Did Bob or Steve say to Mary, “I like turtles!”
        2) Did Bob say or yell to Mary, “I like turtles!”
        3.) Did Bob say to Mary or to Kate, “I like turtles!”
        4.) Did Bob say to Mary, “I don’t like turtles”?
        5) Did Bob say to Mary, “I like fishes” or “I like turtles”?

        And then there are A LOT more possibilities within all of that, following the circling template. Actually typing those out really helped me visualize in my mind how circling a question would work.

      2. Robert Harrell

        I think you can get even more buy-in and repetitions by leaving the “angrily” out at first.

        (Statement) Marisa said to Jackson, “Go get me four new cars!”

        “Class, how did Marisa say to Jackson, ‘Go get me four new cars!’ Did she say, ‘Go get me four new cars!’ romantically? [Have a student volunteer demonstrate saying this romantically] Did she say ‘Go get me four new cars!’ like Donald Duck? [Have student volunteer to say this like Donald Duck]

        Keep playing with this as different students – even groups of students – make the statement romantically, sexily, happily, hysterically, like Donald Duck, like John Wayne, like Dr. Evil, like Batman, sadly, angrily. Finally decide which one is “correct”, and that goes into the story. Just think of how many repetitions you will get of “Got get me four new cars!” while the class is having a great time playing with the language.

        BTW, I need to do this more and better.

          1. Robert Harrell

            Last year I had a student who sounded exactly like JFK whenever he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner”. It always got cheers – and fortunately he never overdid it. He also sounded like Christian Bale whenever he said, “Ich bin Batman.”

  6. Today I had a discussion with a young teacher who wants to try TPRS and she asked me to give her a week’s worth of lessons, so she could see how it all fits together. I know that in time we learn to go with the flow, but new people need more structure until they have really assimilated the method.

  7. I explained it day 1 by saying “the research shows that you guys will learn by listening with an intent to understand. I will teach by making sure you understand every word, by making the stories and reading fun to do, and by repeating things often enough for you to remember them.”

    I also went through Ben’s rules (and why these matter).

  8. There are lots of good ideas here. I echo:
    – Explaining to students the method & expectations/jGR
    – Slow, and really demonstrate it, not just explain it
    – Circling (with pointing to question words/word wall) & suggestions on how to practice it so you improve on variety of questions
    – PQA and PSA (I think both should be mentioned early on for beginners)

  9. I watched the “Jesus is cold” video that you posted last fall.

    After that, everything seemed so simple…

    I’d like about a million of those kinds of videos.

  10. Teaching this is the most difficult thing that I have ever taught. Ever. It is a process. It must be acquired. It requires a series of behaviors AND the ability to teach students a series of behaviors so that the teacher and the students can interact. It’s much like teaching a dance to a beginner who is then teaching the dance to another beginner. We can’t expect that either of them to master that dance at once. That is the first thing that they need to know. BUT IT IS WORTH THE WAIT AND THE EFFORT! :O)

    with love,

  11. I find the videos that are filmed in the classroom with actual students to be extremely helpful. I picture a combination of describing the technique (like the Archie videos) and then demonstrating in the classroom. Is that possible? Maybe a mashup of clips of different teachers to show different styles.

  12. Classroom management comes to mind. We all struggle with this, and we all have to have this down before the actual teaching can happen. Any potential new CI teacher is going to want this piece. We all get evaluated on our ability to manage our classes…

    So, anything that shows
    1) high expectations for full response by everyone
    2) how we handle students who try to take over stories/pqa
    3) any application of class rules or jGR
    4) details about giving jobs/keeping kids busy with good tasks
    5) bail out options
    6) use of routines/procedures
    7) what else…?

    1. Yes! As a first year teacher who is also new to CI, I definitely say “amen!” I don’t have good classroom management structure developed enough for CI/TPRS to work well, and now I just want to survive until June. I think this year could have been (and future years could be) much more improved if I would have started with consistent implementation of rules/consequences and jGR as well as giving jobs!

  13. Lots of great suggestions! When I first started, I wasn’t sure exactly “what” to teach. After having yearly plans, unit plans, daily plans laid out all in advance, the feelings of panic often rose up in me as I tried to figure out what three structures to use and how to know what was important. So maybe a guide to where to start and how to go about choosing- not a curriculum by any means, but when I first started the method, I needed order. Just a thought…maybe I should have begged a little harder for a TPRS textbook which would’ve solved the problem. 🙂

    1. Jennifer in NJ

      I second this. After being a member of the blog I now see that many of you feel that these things can’t be chosen since language is acquired in an order we can’t control but……THIS DOESN’T HELP new teachers gain confidence in a land where others map everything. Something that just tells us what to focus on until we “get it” would help.

      1. Yes I agree 100% that we need a track for new teachers to roll their train down to jump start the engine.

        I also agree that we have no control over how acquisition really works, since it is an unconscious process, and that that prevents us from coming up with a textbook. It’s a confusing thing.

        What we do is all about process and not about planned activities, which are the realm of the textbook and of the eclectic, activity centered, conscious mind directed, bullshit approach that we know doesn’t work. The fact that we learn languages unconsciously really messes up teachers who have been taught to teach to the conscious faculty.

        Since the method (really the process) has not been and cannot really be formulated, because language acquisition is an unconscious process, there will be no textbook. Moreover, there is no expert to write the book. I wouldn’t use it and if a new teacher tried to use it he or she would not be able to make it work.

        So great points, Jennifer – we must train the new teachers about the process. That is just very challenging and shows how conferences are critical, to show them the process. I think we can do it here.

        I intend in in my videos with your feedback to share the process THAT I USE PERSONALLY. I can only represent in my videos the process that I have developed for myself. That is what I AM TRYING to do.

  14. Yeah the CWB and OWI and WCT game and the Word Wall from where we did Word Associations, and all that easy stuff to start the year, including Quick Quizzes and the other stuff, all of it was a response to that same feeling. It’s like the TPRS slope was too steep.

    All these suggestions will be put into my videos but we must remember that this is just me talking and describing what I do and we all have our own deals. My vids won’t be anything like a curriculum; I will just explain what I do and then somebody else should probably show up and explain what they do and we can keep growing and comparing notes like that. There are no experts. What works for one may not work for another, no set curriculum can possibly reflect who we are as individual teaching artists. As James said, there is no end to what forms CI can take. I wouldn’t even call the vids I will make over the next few years training vids. Who am I to train anyone? I will just share what I do. It feels honest to say that.

    I will be less present here as I work on the vids.

  15. bGWS. Carol this is honoring to me. Thank you. I agree, in fact, about that two week plan. I think that next to jGR this idea of expanding taxonomically (taxonomically? WTF?) through the two weeks is just excellent. An excellent and effort free plan. So thank you so much for honoring it acronymolically (acronymolically? WTF?).

  16. Here are some suggestions based on my first year of TPRS and what I would like to improve upon:
    — asking stories that are fun and quirky and personalized (I know you’ve done these videos but I need more because my stories are getting dull)
    — working with class actors
    — front loading vocabulary (I am going to try to do this in the fall – I loved how at iFLT you had the posters of the different locations like in the mountains and at the beach) and how CWB gives the students lots of vocab to work with later
    — my kids really love the translation activity where the team has to do the synchronized sign to get the turn. I don’t do it that often but they love both the quirkiness and the challenge of the translation.

    I don’t know if this is something you are interested in or not but one big unexpected improvement since I started using TPRS this year is that I have been able to incorporate more Chinese culture. Before, culture was something taught in separate lessons and often in English. Now, culture is incorporated into stories like when Yao Ming or Zhang Ziyi (Chinese actress) show up in stories and dragons and pandas. And using a “maobi” (Chinese calligraphy brush) in the story instead of a pencil. I guess it is because I choose what they learn, not the textbook company. Next year when I add the locations with posters the way you do, I am going to include the Chinese countryside, villages, temples, and the Great Wall, etc. because that is what Chinese people really talk about.

    By the way, one year of TPRS and my enrollment has jumped from 63 to 100 students for next year. Thank you Ben!

  17. …working with class actors….

    Could you share more with us on what your experience has been on that topic?

    …I guess it is because I choose what they learn, not the textbook company….

    And it is your right to do that. You do not have to represent the textbook company’s passion about what aspects of culture to teach, but your own. It makes it a gazillion times more interesting to the kids. Plus, you know so much more when it is your own interest. That transfers straight to the kids. I remember when I taught AP French Literature and had to teach the AP list and not my own. Malraux? Butor? Give me a break. It sucked.

    That’s almost a double in your enrollment. Why am I not surprised!

  18. On class actors . . . I have 4 Chinese classes. In my Chinese 2 class, I have an actor who is hyper and loves to get up there and over dramatize the stories. He does such a great job of shouting out lines and using a lot of body movement so that everyone is laughing and completely involved in the story. In one of my two Chinese 1 classes, I have two junior boys who ham it up and, again, that makes the story more fun and interesting. They even add things we don’t expect. But in the other two classes, sometimes even the kids who volunteer to act just kind of stand there and wait for me to tell them to throw their arms up or whatever and it kind of slows things down. So I wonder is there some good way to make more effective use of class actors to help carry the story along and make the story more interesting and comprehensible to the students? Still a lot to learn in how to do this well . . . and I don’t want to discourage the kids from volunteering to act.

  19. I think most everything has been covered in the previous comments. I would vote for a specific “starting the year / norming the class” schedule or menu. So much of this depends on the group dynamic and trust, which really has to be at the forefront. Even ahead of TL, in my opinion.

    I know everyone has their own way of doing this. The challenge (for me anyway) is not to shy away from this important work because we feel antsy to get going. Much of this can be done in TL and at the same time we need to be mindful so we create an authentic atmosphere of cooperation and group building.

    It would be helpful to have a “menu” of weeks 1-4 so that it built a structured way to do circling w/ cards, OWI, L&D, etc. Then there could be an organic transition into the bi-weekly schedule beginning with “week x.” The bi-weekly schedule is really powerful. I have only done a couple cycles of it, but yeah. It is a beast!

    ? Reading in level 1? ?When? I had to start early with my present group bc they could not handle the stories, OWI, etc. But don’t we (ideally) want to feed them lots of aural input for awhile before getting to the written word?

      1. Ditto on the menu for the first four weeks. Thank you jen. We can do that in video. But it’s gonna have to be a group effort. Don’t forget the menu. Can’t sit down to a sumptuous repast without a menu! We’re gonna need a big table for the meal we share with our kids next year!

      2. I love the menu idea as well. I am so looking forward to the fall so I can reboot my students using the beginning of the year stuff that all the pros around talk about.

        1. James are you listening? I don’t think I can do the hardlinks, the flow charts, this menu idea, and get all the videos done, and Lynne and others surely want this stuff by fall. Not to put any pressure on you, dude. But I can really see how this group is going to have to, and actually is, start to function like a family to get things done bc there is too much to do. I know that Sabrina will do much for others, and I have asked her to take over the CC program, which we should delay publication of until September when we will want to crank it up again (it gets to rest over the summer now). Indeed, the critical work now is not in coming up with new ideas, although jGR 2 and 3 are in the crockpot with cooks James and Nathan in attendance, but it is in taming and categorizing and making available here in a clear and simple way all of the ideas we have had over the past few years. That we MUST do. Can you feel that? Guess what? I can feel the Beginning the Year/Starting the Year (both are categories) discussion staring NOW! Merde!

          1. I gotcha’. It’s all cooking upstairs. I’ll get some time coming up shortly and especially over the summer to make a lot of progress with the templates. And I’m picturing this menu idea as the “beginning of the year template.” I’ll be working on ’em over the summer because, heck, I need them more than anyone.

          2. The templates/flow charts are going to be most useful for the right brained freaks among us. Moi. Since it’s all about me.

            I’m psyched. Finally! A safety net that is a mouse click away and so constantly there in the classroom as we work our CI. It will guide us back the next thing to do in class when we go turbo on ourselves. A return to safety in the form of a flow chart.

            The flow charts will be there in our classrooms, nets ready to catch us and bounce us back into the real Net of CI – whatever form it is taking in our classrooms! This is going to be good!

    1. I, too, would like to know when it is ideal to start reading in level 1. Well, maybe not “ideal”, because it could be argued that it would be ideal to only have auditory input during year 1, so when is it “acceptable” to start reading in level 1?

      It may depend on the language. I think we can start reading fairly early in Spanish thanks to Mira Canion’s “Tumba” novel. It is so unbelievably simple that it can be read in October, which is when it should be since the storyline revolves around Day of the Dead.

      I know a teacher who starts little bits of reading in week 1/week 2, making little readings based on the CWB information that comes out during class. I might start doing that next year since I prefer reading above all else.

      1. I think readings based on TPRS/CWB-style stuff can start very early. Just pitch it like “you’ve heard this stuff, now look at it.” I think my ideal year 1 would be lots of auditory CI with readings based only on that personalized content.

        1. Agree Chris & James. I am pretty sure I wrote up a few sentences after the very early OWI / CWC. So maybe we just launch in right away with the bi-weekly schedule, only in the early weeks it is based on proportionately more aural CI with very simple readings? It would make sense to establish that there is a “plan.” I have issues with not being clear that I am operating from a structure. Kids think I am just randomly doing “whatever,” which is kind of true content-wise because you can’t predict how the weekly structures will get used, but I am not winging it totally bc I am using the schedule.

          This long-winded explanation reminds me that I want to second the vote for “how to explain this system to kids” without going off the deep end. This year I based my explanations on the documents I created for parents. It didn’t seem that effective, which means probably that the kids tuned out / don’t care. A few of them totally “get it,” while others just wanna know what they need to do for the A and by March they get very antsy, insisting “I have not learned much this year.”

        2. …you’ve heard this stuff, now look at it….

          Yes this is it. We can read on the second or third day of class. I do that. It is about running cables, establishing neurological pathways, from sound to the visual process of reading, much like how they teach reading on Sesame Street, where sound sets up the visual recognition piece.

          The real question is when to start novels. We all will have different ideas on that. My inclination lately is to push back the novels intil spring. But there is nothing wrong with starting them (level one of course) earlier.

          When I taught pre-CI, I could never fill a class with enough interesting stuff and the classes seemed to go by so slowly. Now I have too many choices and the classes go by so fast!

  20. I like reading in Level 1 AFTER massive auditory input–months.
    Two reasons: I want them to “comprehend” the TL when they “hear it”, and I eventually want to hear a TL “accent” that somewhat approximates the real thing.

    When kids are introduced to reading very/too early in the process before enough comprehensible auditory input, they cannot help but superimpose their own sound/symbol decoding system from English on the target language. Real problem in my opinion. Language is sound–first.

    After a long time of observing the “language mess” reading too early creates, I stopped writing stuff on the board from Day One. During early activities, like “one-word images” and “circling with balls”, I keep to very, very concrete verbs and use real objects as referents for nouns. It really helps me to stay with S-L-O-W instruction (sufficient repetition, staying inbounds, keeping it simple, staying with a kid long enough to start the “sticky” process). If I start with reading too soon, I am adding on another layer of complexity they just don’t need yet.

    When I sense from the EYES and oral responses of the class that certain structures have advanced to a more “acquired” place in their brains, I introduce small amounts of reading–the highly personalized kind to which James refers. How do I know when they are ready? I start hearing the Spanish fall out of their mouths sounding like Spanish–real Spanish–not some incomprehensible English-intoned garble.

    Even when I move to writing the three structures on the board later on, I remove them after a couple of days of working on them from students’ direct view, transferring them to a sticky poster sheet I put on the back wall. They know it’s there–although I don’t say anything. By that time–they’ve got the structures in their ears, are able to comprehend them when they HEAR them, and rarely refer to them during the “storytelling” process. If I start to see too much turning around to look, I know we haven’t worked on those structures enough and I can return one/them to the board.

    One of the biggest thrills of my life, teaching Spanish w/TPRS/CI, is hearing the almost native-like accents that emerge from these kids. They can really communicate with native speakers because the language they produce is actually the TL.

    I love using reading in CI classes (I have a whole blog on the subject.). I just think we have to be judicious about it–when and why. Yup, it’s harder for the teacher to deliver really high-quality aural CI at beginning levels than to put a reading in front of them at high-school level.

    1. Ah! I needed to hear this. It’s like I was feeling everything in your response, Jody, but didn’t want to say it to myself. I think in many ways for me reading (and writing, too) is a crutch I use because I don’t have confidence with delivering auditory CI day in and day out. When it has clicked in my classes it’s always been when we are all talking together in Latin about somebody in the class. That’s not a coincidence, is it?

      Maybe I’ve got to just go ahead and dive off that highest platform next year and commit 100% to tons of auditory CI and only reading when it’s right to read. Like Jody said, I sense that’s later in level 1 than I am currently comfortable with.

    2. Jody, your commentary here is very compelling. I am one who starts reading right away (well, in week 2 of block schedule), with 3-5 sentences if that. Your words will bounce around in my head here for awhile, and I hope we continue this conversation as a “best practices” topic.

  21. Ben, your workshop handouts and the CWB explanations were very helpful (understatement to the max) to me as I started on this journey 5 years ago. Putting those in a video (if you haven’t already, I haven’t seen most of your latest videos) would be a great way to articulate things, in my opinion. I think that if the videos go with a certain text or handout, it will be more powerful.

  22. I have filmed and uploaded here under Videos some classes that demo that CWB stuff, etc., but it is limited. We need more vids on those things in the “TPRS Resources” section.

    I was thinking of connecting the videos to certain articles here, as explication and illustration, so to speak.

    I don’t know if I want to write more about it. I’m all written out. And this is just for us here anyway, and people read, so I don’t know if it is necessary. We’ll see what happens. I am determined to respond to the expressed needs of the group for clarity for new people, as stated by Jennifer here this morning.

  23. Dear Ben

    Sounds great. I don’t know what jgr stands for by the way. I have a sulky 10 year old student. Bit naughty. I want to put my foot down. So looking for the posters that explain rigour – what’s expected from students in class. A post I read said they were in Posters but I can’t find a posters section.

    To be honest I find it hard to find what I”m looking for on the site… it’s more fleamarket than supermarket. lThere’s an A_Z of posting topics on the right hand side. It would be useful for me if these were categorised into different areas / aspects of practice.

    There is some list theory that says humans can’t cope with a choice of more than about 7-8 options. It’s called Chinese restaurant menu syndrome, I believe. Categorising would help me focus more I think. I can wander down tangents easily and forget what I was looking for.

    Also some posts are specific to people working within the standards /politics of the US high school system. It would be useful to me if all those topics were listed as such so I know they’re probably not so relevant to me..

    I hope that helps.

    1. I would love a list of all the CI-lingo that appears here in the form of acronyms! jGR, CWB, etc. I’ve figured a few of them out…but many elude me! 🙂

      1. Quick answer for now:

        jGR; “Jen’s Great Rubric” (a system for grading interpersonal communication and classroom behavior/participation)
        CWB: Circling with balls (beginning of the year)
        R&D: Read and discuss (method for doing readings)
        L&D: Look and discuss (method for discussing pictures)

        There are a ton more. I agree it would be helpful to add an ever-expanding glossary of this stuff somewhere as a permanent link.

      2. There is an acronyms link on the side that has a bunch of them. I know that I’ve used it often when I wasn’t sure what things stood for, especially in the beginning of my journey. 🙂

      3. Robert Harrell

        Also, this isn’t really CI-lingo; it’s Ben’s PLC-lingo. Anyone not in this group will be pretty clueless about these. Welcome to the “in-crowd”. 😉

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