Keep The Stories Simple

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34 thoughts on “Keep The Stories Simple”

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Ben. I am having some success with simple this year (a typical challenge for me, I sometimes get caught up in the story like the kids) and I have had so much more engagement with these mini stories that are simple and repetitive. 🙂

  2. I am new to TPRS and am having some trouble with my Chinese 2 class. We started our first real story yesterday and it was going pretty well but today when trying to extend and finish it, the students got out of hand. There are 26 mostly h.s. sophomores crammed into a small room who want to socialize and have fun. I have been trying so many of the techniques Ben writes about with some success but am still having trouble keeping them on track.
    We are working on the words go, Let’s go, very busy, why . . . because, and fun. So yesterday the kids had Bertha going to candy land. She invites her friend Maurice to go who asks “why” . . . “because it is fun.” Maurice is very busy so can’t go. Then along comes Emilio Estevez so Bertha invites him to go. “why?” so they can get married. Then the bell rang. I was just giving them the term for get married and worried that it was getting too complicated with too many new terms. They were pretty solid with “go” because we did a week of extended PQA using “go” along with review vocab on sports and countries (Sam goes to Australia to play football.) “let’s go” uses a different verb. But I think I may have had too many terms.

    Anyway, I was shooting for three sceneraios but never made it and think it is time to end it so we can work on questions and retell. They are also not used to my teaching this way and some of them think that not using the book means means no structure thus fun time. Some things that have helped so far are the little quizzes Ben suggests to make them accountable, personalizing, and sometimes explaining how the method works. A couple of kids who did not do so well last year are thriving with what we are doing now and the top students are doing fine. They are also doing well with letting me know when they aren’t getting it. But there is too much talking to friends and not concentrating. Please help!

    1. The sophomores are the worst. Or is it the freshmen? Both are hard to control in a story*.

      You nailed it – far too many terms.

      Unless they are actively participating, you know that you are going too fast, not staying in bounds, and not checking for understanding at every turn. I might suggest that you go use the search function (or click on the categories to the right of this page) to reread the posts on:

      Staying in Bounds
      Checking for Understanding

      The new kicker for me is checking for understanding – I got that tip from Von this summer – and it is doing wonders for me in keeping a much higher level of involvement from the kids. It is the one that Blaine is always talking about. He calls it getting a good strong class response on every question but it is the same thing.

      *In my experience, seventh graders are too young and require a quality I simply don’t have as a teacher, eighth graders are ideal (they make up such funny cute answers!), ninth and tenth graders are just too weird, juniors are really great, better than eighth graders, and seniors just can’t be bothered most of the time.

      1. Sorry, it’s me again but I just thought of something. Another problem might be that I have been assuming that they recognize old vocabulary from last year when they really don’t. Since last year was all output based, I am finding that they often don’t recognize terms that they could output last year because they aren’t in the same context as they were in the little memorized dialogues we did then. Ohhhhh! Maybe I should be treating the old terms like new ones!

        1. You should defintely be treating the old terms like new ones! Those terms have not been acquired, merely learned for a test and forgotten. That is what output does. Input, when does properly, leads to actual acquisition.

  3. I thought we could look at th third paragraph you wrote separately. It contains a wealth of information about what is going on in your class right now and ties directly to what we are talking about as a group right now, the most important time of year to do so, re classroom mangagement. You say:

    …I was shooting for three sceneraios but never made it…

    That right there is a red flag. You don’t shoot for anything. You stay in the moment (Skill #22 in TPRS in a Year!) and you let the discussion go where it goes. It may go the whole class on one sentence, or it may cover three or four different structures. But you don’t make that decision, the natural flow of the conversation does that. See this link:

    And in the other part of that sentence you say:

    …and [I] think it is time to end it so we can work on questions and retell….

    You don’t have to do those things. They occur naturally. What we do does not require a lesson plan and really has very little to do with school. Abandon yourself to the CI. Enforce the discipline. Forget everything else. If you just keep the idea of doing a quiz or a retell in the back of your mind, a mysterious process will bring that to your attention as you are teaching. It is all a very natural process and can’t be forced.

    1. Now let’s take this sentence:

      …some of them think that not using the book means means no structure thus fun time….

      This is where you explain to them what is on the rigor posters, a set of three (or is it four?) posters that are found on the resources/posters page of this site. Here are their names so you can find them:

      Student Reflection Checklist
      Metacognition Poster
      Rigor Poster French

      I have so far just projected them through the LCD for intense explanation in English of how they will feel when they are learning, but I was talking to my principal yesterday about what rigor looks like in my class (quiet kids just listening, which is very hard work) and she told me that the Colorado Department of Education is coming through our high school on Monday and she wants them up on my walls so I will have them up there ready for laser pointing when they walk in. No English, just laser pointing. I know, more information than you need. But hey.

    2. And in the other part of that sentence you say:
      …and [I] think it is time to end it so we can work on questions and retell….
      You don’t have to do those things. They occur naturally.

      This is so true. Yesterday was my second day with students, but as my level 1 students were leaving the room, one student was telling another student in German that Nolan plays water polo with alligators.

      Also, I have added a sop to the administration. Instead of collecting the end-of-class quizzes, I stand at the door and have the students hand them to me on their way out as a “Ticket Out the Door”. (My district admins love the idea, so I’m accommodating them.)

        1. Yes, I actually like getting the quizzes as students leave. It means I don’t get them until the bell has already rung, of course, but it is less time taken away from Comprehensible Input. It is also one more personal contact with each student that day. I’m sure I will vary this and collect papers on some days and stand at the door on some days. The advantage of collecting the papers is that students hear me giving instructions in German, but the process tends to be noisy enough that I’m sure not everyone is paying attention.

          1. I’m thinking this would be good for the personal contact as you mention, and also nice for them to reflect just a bit longer on their results that day.

            But I have them correct their own quizzes, and this might give an opportunity for a few to try to change their answers/score as I’m standing by the door. I guess what I do (collecting them) isn’t broken, so I’ll keep on that routine.

            Thanks Robert!

  4. …sometimes explaining how the method works….

    I would have that talk all at once and refer to it in English only rarely after that. Make sure they get it the first time. Take the whole period. End it by asking them to evaluate themselves* so far this year in terms of what you just showed them on the posters. The stuff written on those three posters is critical, required training for the kids to know what to do as students in your class.

    They don’t have to do any of that rigorous kind of listening, the kind that CI requires, in any of their other classes and they never have in any class before ever in school, so how are they to be expected to know what to do unless we tell them?

    *So how do they do the self evaluation? Use the brilliant rubric by David Sceggel that he just sent in here a few weeks ago:

    In order to differentiate it from jen’s great rubric, I am calling this one the dsGR. It is a biggie and David (David in Illinois) invites us to modify it as we want. For convenience and speed of access, I am making both jen’s and David’s rubrics available as categories.

    1. ….there is too much talking to friends and not concentrating….

      This is why the method is not used all over the world right now. After twenty years, it is failing in schools for exactly this reason.

      I think it has to do with failure in weeks 3 and 4 as per that post here yesterday. We are in a most critical period right now in September. In two weeks, even before October, it will be too late to save our years.

      Now is the time to talk about our rules, to call parents, to pull the kids who are pushing back the hardest off to the side and ask for their help – now. By doing that hard work now we avoid an entire year of it.

      We have to grow a spine and stop that pushback behavior from them. Somebody recently said here that they were having issues with discipline and Laurie told that person to tell them to stop. That is about it.

      My version of telling them to stop is my new Three and Done plan. It’s not proven, but it is a way that right brained me needs and I know it is going to work for me. We all have to make our own decisions with enforcing discipline, but I am of the opinion that the TPRS/CI crowd is far too lenient on this point, and that it is a prime reason other teachers eschew the method.

      1. Thanks so much, Ben. Your coaching is invaluable. In the old way I used to teach, I was so used to controlling every activity but I also spent hours and hours developing output activities to the point of exhaustion. I have to learn to trust my instincts with CI which I am learning to do much better in the Chinese 1 classes because they are starting from 0 and every term is new to them. And those two classes are going well.

        This weekend I will go over all the materials you recommend above, pare our story back down to the basics, and write “slow down” and “check for comprehension” on a note to keep in my pocket for Monday morning!

        1. I work with a clone of Linda Li at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver. Annick Chen tells me that Chinese requires twice as long to acquire. Her classroom is like the Palace of Slow. All I have to do is go in there a few times during the day to experience a nice refreshing lesson in what going slowly really is. So you with Chinese have to double down on slow even more than the rest of us.

          1. Usually I only teach 3 Chinese words each week. But something must have gone weird in my mind that I decided to teach 6 Chinese words: “know”, “wish” and “listen” on Tuesday and “hungry, tired, and sleep” on Thursday. Thursday was the day when my principal came to observe me, and our story went really well and students didn’t give me any “stop” sign and I went on and on. Then, I gave them the pop quiz….yeah…you guess it right, they did so poorly in it!!! I could feel my principal’s gaze, and I artfully said to class that the purpose of assessment was to find out what you know and what you don’t know. So, the quiz told me that I will have to reteach the six words next week. So, slow is really the right thing to do.

    2. As an opposite corollary–a couple of kids who thrived in my class last year are floundering in Spanish III–same teacher and method as they had for Spanish II, projects and verb conjugations. One girl is my cadet teacher and she said that she understands everything the teacher says in class, but she cannot do those fill-in-the-blank and conjugate the underlined verb quizzes and so she is getting a B-.

      I praised her for the understanding part and told her that is most important. But grades do matter…I said she’ll just have to buckle-down and memorize those charts, that it shouldn’t take long since she knows what they mean.
      Makes me feel bad.

  5. I like the concrete admonition to “limit verbs” in the stories. My first stories this year stemmed from the TPR gestures we were learning and I only used those verbs (which they knew solidly because of the gestures.) A later story just didn’t fly and now I know why–even two extra verbs makes them shut down.

    The group of Spanish II students I have this year (I am the only Spanish II student this year, which is a blessing!) is much less motivated than last year’s class. The plus side to that is that they do not complain that they are not getting worksheets and conjugation charts. The downside is that it is harder–especially in one of the classes–to find volunteers for class jobs. They just want to sit there. Or the ones who volunteer don’t follow the “actors synchronize” TPRS rule and so they have to sit down. I haven’t yet figured out a solution to that…

    1. My kids love the class jobs and throw up their hands with enthusiasm to volunteer. I’m not sure why but two things seem to help. One is that I told them that eventually everyone in the class will have a job as the need arises. Another is that I give them titles that either sound really important or kind of fun. The weirdest one came up last week in one of my Chinese 1 classes. A student felt feverish and needed to go to the nurse, I wanted someone to take him to the nurse. I picked my only senior in a class of mostly freshmen and said, “okay, you are the class guardian.” the next day, he asked me what exactly a class guardian does. I wondered if I had gone a little too far with that one but said, “you are the oldest and wisest student in the class so you watch over all the others.” Then yesterday a freshman football player with a wrapped ankle said it hurt and he needed to get ice. The class guardian stood up immediately to take him to the nurse. When he came back, he reported that the freshman could barely walk so he supported him the whole way. He was beaming with pride.
      Here are the other jobs so far and I got a lot of ideas from looking at Ben’s resources:
      Fire Marshall for leading the kids out in a drill
      Prayer Reminder to remind the teacher we are supposed to say a prayer at the beginning of class (Catholic school and I am prone to forget)
      Mass Captain to lead the class to their seats at Mass
      Scribe for writing down stories
      Paper Boy/Girl for handing out blank sheets of paper
      Environmental Protection Agent for recycling paper to the blue bin
      Projector Manager to turn on the projector and adjust it while I set up
      Actors (this rotates)
      I keep the list of titles and names at the front of each lesson plan book. I don’t know why it works so well but my Chinese 1 and 2 classes seem to take these jobs very seriously and are very responsible about them.

      1. Okay, sorry. I wasn’t just meaning to brag there. I was hoping to share what worked for me. I do have the advantage that I have many boys in my Chinese classes and they love to compete, even for jobs. From reading the other posts it looks like the whole jobs idea is meant to build community so maybe there is a different way that Lori can build community without the jobs.

    2. I have had the same issue with students not wanting to do the jobs. Even students who draw very well complain if asked to illustrate our story. Don’t know if this will work for either of us, because I am just starting it this week, but I plan to award participation points when students do jobs. This means they get rewarded for doing more and hopefully it encourages students without jobs to step up their eye contact and response behaviors to get their own boost.

      Thanks to the wonderful rubrics people have contributed, I really fine-tuned the participation issue and addressed the inappropriate behaviors with points. This year those count as a weekly quiz grade.

    3. Hi Lori,

      In my limited time practicing TPRS… I agree, limiting verbs is really helpful. They’re the core of sentences. I had 3 different levels doing scenes/mini-stories last week. 1 story had no new verbs really: 2 new adverbs (“often” and “most/best”), a new phrase (“it’s raining!”). Totally worked great. The other two classes became complex because, I think, too many verbs.
      One student leaving the 2 adverbs/phrase class told me on the way out, “But we only learned 3 new words.” But I said, I think you all really did learn them though – and you heard them used in dozens of sentences that you understood. That was the goal. That class had the most 5 out of 5 on a quick quiz at the end of class.

      Couple things I learned from Susie Gross in August 2012: Really helpful comprehension checks include, “What did I just ask?” and “What did I just say?” which were new to me. Students translate what they thought my question was. Totally, totally cleared up several confused looks on students’ faces & gave me important feedback about how much I think they can hear, but really need at a slower pace. Also being able to tell when those are going to be the most helpful questions to use: ex, when students’ faces are rather blank and no one (or just one or two) answer the previous circling question.

    4. Now that I think about it, I did get volunteers from the unresponsive class to do a “puppet show” about chapter 2 in Patricia va a California last week. We have fancy tables that tilt on end and they used stuffed animals while I read the chapter. So maybe I’ll need to do more things as puppet shows instead of with live actors. That was only a couple of weeks ago. I really should not forget so quickly…

      Also, it is possible that many of these kids are just shy or introverted, rather than being uncooperative. I’ve had classes like that before. It make take a few months, rather than a few weeks, before they feel comfortable. They are more used to working all the time in small groups (New Tech school–although I’m only doing short “mini-projects” so far this year, unless I start getting flak from the powers-that-be).

      Sometimes, it is just so helpful to read other comments here–just to feel like I’m not the only one who has less-than-stellar days. But I believe so strongly in this way, that there is no turning back.

      Off topic, my grammar-textbook sister–teaches at another school nearby–asked me today (she’s taught for 9 years and I’ve only taught for 4) if she can come observe my classes all day some time next month. She’d like to move towards TPRS, but it just seems like too big of a mountain to change everything all at once. Hope I can remember to keep it simple and slow the day she comes to visit!

  6. I have had a few days of school so far and as I have been doing PQA and circling and simple stories with my classes, what I have kept in mind is what Ben said sometime this summer to have every single statement or question have a target structure in it and a couple of times I know I didn’t and was giving “background” for our story, but that is what I am trying to keep in mind.

    My German 1 students are doing CWB and PQA and TPR and I have sent them to different labeled things in the class and am asking where is Jonny? Jonny is by the door, who is at the door? Is he sitting or standing?, etc. and one student told me before class,”German is so hard.” because he is concentrating so hard and they asked me to slow down, so in German 1 I am really trying to be SLOW, but I should really do that in all the classes.

  7. Ben you have done some powerful thinking about the method here..and it’s success/failure rate. I think that you should condense it and share it in a moretprs post because more people need to hear it.

    *Weeks 3 and 4 are critical
    *We don’t go slowly enough.

    These two things go together. By weeks 3 and 4 we teachers are feeling the need to pick it up and move it along. We either go too fast, add too much, or do not stop and check for comprehension because we are worried about getting somewhere.

    Then, because WE have derailed the train, without even realizing it, we get scared, angry, frustrated, and/or discouraged and start to think that it can’t be done in our rooms with our students in our programs.

    You are reminding us how to keep the rails clear (simplify) and keep the train moving (slowly but surely) while at the same time maintain the train’s engine with clear expectations and behavior.

    Great stuff. Share it.

    with love,

    1. But Laurie I have to get up at 4:00 a.m. just to get this stuff written and the PLC is my priority anyway. It seems clearer here and I get lost over on the list so I don’t go there anymore.

      Also I have to get a bike ride in (73 degrees and no wind in the Rockies today – as close to heaven as one can get) and my son Landen has a basketball game later and then I have to get a print cartridge to print Dave Sceggel’s rubric and then to Fed Ex to make the rigor posters for the Colorado Dep’t. of Education’s visit on Monday and then our Australian Shepherd Elsie needs some airing out at the doggie park – like big time if you can imagine with a two year old runner like that. You get the idea. I was able to go to the moreptrs list today and post that interview with Diana and my East High kids, but I never seem to get over there because of all the activity here.

      You just share it. I don’t need to be credited. We’re all in this together. I am thinking of posting a series of articles on this thread, around Tamula’s original question. It really is key.

      And you are right, there is a huge connect between weeks 3 and 4 and then inadvertently blowing the entire year out bc we sense that we might be able to pick up speed and add a few too many words in the input just at the wrong time.

        1. We are being visited by the Colorado Department of Education tomorrow and my bosses want those posters up (I talked with them Friday afternoon about rigor in my classroom) so I had to go today and have them made. Our poster guy might take about a month and a half to get them to me if I went that route. Clarice and jen and y’all who were in on creating those posters, thanks so much. They are beautiful, I have a special place for them, they will be a BIG part of my class this year, along with the new initiative on quick response action in the area of discipline. As I begin my 36th year in the classroom, I am thinking I should have this stuff down at least in another 50 years. 75 tops!

  8. Honestly they are everyone’s problems. There is something about the method that leads us to forget these three things, probably in the rush of having so much fun.

    It’s like anything – we have to keep the boat at a safe speed safely between the banks of the river and not get too fancy. We always want to speed up, challenge the river, and get too fancy. We forget that our comrades have never been in a boat before!

    It’s just a natural thing that we make unnatural by forgetting. But safety dictates that we keep this mantra of slow, in bounds and checking for understanding as the key in our work.

    And what is the prime indicator that we are messing up? That happens when they don’t understand us, they just sit there, and we start having discipline problems.

    We need to start seeing such flat classes with discipline issues as immediate warning signs instead of thinking that we are screwing up or that the kids are bad or whatever myths we are used to buying into about teaching.

    This method is so powerful when it is done right. We know that that is true in a strange intuitive way even if we haven’t yet hit the homerun story. But when that happens it’s like nailing a three pointer from the key in a basketball game – we get our confidence. But man we are all so guilty of not doing these three things – we guilty like ALL THE TIME.

    We just have to do them, and once the kids are with us, each doing our 50%, something really great begins to happen, the Dance of CI, the goal of so many years of previous futility in language instruction and the end of that gnawing desire we’ve had for long to just quit teaching. We are as close and as far away as those three things.

  9. Something that I have found beneficial this year is to make sure that I verify the details with the student actors as per Blaine’s workshop at NTPRS. This has really helped me to slow down this year so far, and the students seem to like the added interaction too. Then I PQA and compare the actor’s situation to the audience’s personal answers. I’m not really having a problem (yet…I’m crossing my fingers) about students trying to talk to their neighbors and not pay attention, but I do have a few that chronically TRY to check out (i.e. lay their heads down) which causes me to have to stop and lose my focus. Ugh!!!

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