May Thoughts

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



27 thoughts on “May Thoughts”

  1. “1. TPR a lot more than we ever have in the fall.
    2. Lower the amount of L1 we use throughhout the year.
    3. Pick whatever strategies that we resonate with and enjoy a 95% Use of the TL winter.
    4. Read more in the spring, go for more output, allow projects, or do whatever we have to do so that we arrive at the summer of 2016 rested and happy.”
    You’re reading my mind. This is not the time of year to treat the kids like laboratory rats while I try out new innovative ideas. While the other teachers in my department are in full-blown review mode (hmm…even if we have to review, would it be fair to say that they haven’t acquired it?), I’m spending quality time with my kids having personalized class discussions in the TL and there is a welcoming environment in my room.
    I have the Blaine Ray workshop in Dallas in July (with the man himself!). I’m really looking forward to this summer so I can decide which structures are essential for my students to learn, how to cherry pick the vocab from the chapters that I’m suppose to be “teaching” from the books that have been very lonely in my cabinets since this past December, and even writing a few short stories that will tie in the structures and limited vocab.

  2. Thanks for the reminder, that this is a difficult time for pretty much all of us, regardless of our specific circumstances, and that it’s not a time to get down on ourselves over what we have or have not accomplished this year, much less try to make up for any of it. The yearly flow of CI, from input to reading to output, to BS testing and projects in the spring, precisely when everyone is burned out, makes a lot of sense, and hopefully can contribute to a bit of sanity and even levity in May and June. Let’s not forget a bit of explicit grammar, either in order to placate our bosses, get students ready for that grammar grinder they will have next year when they leave us, or to throw our 4%ers the bone they have been asking for all year.
    My thoughts and best wishes to everyone who, like me, is trying hard simply to hang in there in these final weeks.

    1. Michael Coxon

      I had one of the most restful weekends I have had in a long time. The last 4 nights I slept well over 40 hours. This is an accomplishment for me and I went in very refreshed on a Monday morning.
      During my morning routine I was thinking about the last 8 days of school year. I have worked at this school for 5 years and started off the first year by following the school’s grammar syllabus. I am fortunate enough to be moving on to a school where TCI/TPRS is being embraced. It is bittersweet to be leaving a school where a lot of changes have been made through the influence of TPRS.
      We have TPRS readers in every level of our Spanish and German program. We have some usage readers in French and some CI-based strategies being used in Latin. I believe this has happened partly because of the influence of teaching with the door open for 5 years. I have also endured hours and hours of meetings in order to discuss this stuff. Hours and hours of finding ways to be transparent and friendly with colleagues that have been less than professional with me.
      The questions I was asking myself this morning were…
      Really? I battled 4 years with my department chair and colleagues for the ability to speak Spanish with my students?
      Really? I fought for 4 years for the right to teach TL literacy and read books and short stories?
      Really? I endured attacks and fought off other language teachers just to engage my students with topics that interested them?
      When you think about it, arguing with teachers that promote TCI and TL usage makes very little sense. TPRS/TCI is not that divergent from learning a second language…it is actually how it is done. What a bunch of nonsense that we all deal with!!!

    2. Well said, John. I’m totally sold on the idea of doing explicit grammar at the end of the year. There is a little over a month left in my school year and my 8th graders are going to be hurled headlong into the grammar grind next year. In previous years I would spend the entirety of 8th grade trying to emulate the high school classes with hideous results. Cramming it into the end of the year has lead me to the following insights:
      1. A traditional grammar course doesn’t really involve any teaching. The teacher is there to make the students aware of a grammatical concept and/or paradigm. The burden is then placed solely on the students to commit that concept and/or paradigm to memory. The traditional teachers and administrators only care that you “covered” that material. Neither of them are overly concerned with whether or not the kids actually learned it.
      2. Sheltering grammatical structures over time only seems to further confuse kids. The assumption is that giving a rule here and an ending there will help kids put the puzzle of language together. Very few human beings are able to learn anything this way. By spending the whole year showing them the completed picture, it becomes way easier to explain how the bits fit together.
      3. The kids end up focusing very intently on the fake grammar lessons because it feels different than our normal class.
      4. Our 4%ers stop resenting us for a period of time because we are finally indulging their interests.
      5. Because teaching grammar explicitly is ineffective by nature, there is no pretense that such a lesson is supposed to work. This can also prevent us from falsely blaming ourselves when a well-constructed CI lesson falls flat this late in the year.

  3. …let’s not forget a bit of explicit grammar….
    I really agree with this. Most kids get how lucky they were when they only have to fill in blanks in May and not all year. Heck yes do grammar now if that is what placates the spring insanity. Mental health comes first as we have said along here, right?
    Also output activities that make them seem more productive:
    1. Free writes (writing)
    2. Dictée (writing)
    3. OWATS (writing)
    4. vPQA (speaking)
    5. Group Retells (speaking)
    6. Sentence Frames (writing)
    7. Textivate
    8. Running Dictation (speaking, writing)
    (if you are new to any of the above terms look in the categories)

  4. I’m writing a list (have been collecting since before spring break) of things I’d like to have working better next year. Some include:
    – Using TPR more at the beginning of the year so they can better understand directions later, and to get (at least aural) introduction to picky words like classroom objects, body parts, & directional phrases. Right now all levels will need more of that. Eventually it’d be a Chinese 1 thing.
    – Find ways to include a bit of reading every day even if I’m in step 1 or 2 that class. Reading more often in chunks helps. I’m thinking 2-6 sentences depending on the class, nothing requiring more prep, just using earlier material and reading & discussing for a few minutes. I’m finding more & more this kind of thing is necessary for Chinese fluency. Non-phonetic script is a game-changer; I keep learning more about that. More reps and more spread out over time is better after that initial massive set of reps when we first read those words.
    – Have a better way to keep and track student progress in fluency writing. Going to borrow from Bob Patrick & Chris Stolz here.
    – Reports… I do these at the beginning of class often to hit those everyday words like time & date, weather, but also topical lists like sports, events, foods & drinks, clothes & colors. I like them. Want to add “school life” stuff, directional phrases somehow, & do these with Chinese 1 & 2. The 3s and 4s will one day be masters of that language & we’ll do other things to begin class. Probably random question of the day, seen in written form, so it’s one of those reading approaches.
    – If there’s time & energy, re-do my wall posters because I’d like them better. Quality of life thing.
    Now I’m going to copy & paste this list to recall it later!

        1. …I need to face my fear of TPR….
          Me too.
          At least Eric has written an article on it, plus he sent us that video recently, and there are other posts in the category on TPR. I have to accept, given what I saw in Julie’s classroom, that vPQA can’t work at full strength without lots of TPR in the fall first, as we have been discussing here recently. I think it’s just a question of putting our minds to TPR, and not dismissing it for what on the surface looks like some pretty boring stuff.
          Here is the link and thanks Eric for providing this:

          1. Urg I can be such a baby with trying new things… I feel so self conscious. But there’s no reason I can’t try some TPR for ten minutes with the class I feel most comfortable with. I’m sure it will go just fine and then I can do it for ten more minutes, and try it with the class I feel second-most comfortable with…
            I can really do whatever I want for the rest of the year (I’m going til June 22!) so I need to make myself try more things right now in preparation for next year. I can’t believe how much my students can understand and respond this year, even with me chickening out on CI quite a bit and going way too fast and generally doing a very crappy job.

  5. And since it may be best to do grammar at the end of the year how do we go about it?
    We know that an essential part of the grammar exam is the subject pronoun. Without the subject pronoun, how would the kids know to put the yo form of infinitive of, let’s say, estudiar? In the traditional presentation and assessment of the verb, the subject serves only as a cue to the desired verb ending. The students do not have to know what the word means in order to do the mathematical-logical process of rewriting the infinitive with the matching word ending. We know this because we ask students to tell what something means and we find out that “ustedes” means “they” (it really means “you,” speaking to more than one person).
    So since we may not have covered all of the pronouns in Spanish (because there was no need to use them) we could begin by learning the pronouns as isolated vocabulary. But it is not really isolated because these are stand-alone words which have real mean just by signaling to a group of people and saying “ustedes.” Or by looking at a student while motioning to three other students and saying “ellos” (they).
    So we can gesture, draw groups of people, make PPTs, etc., all with the purpose of them knowing what these words mean and to whom they refer.
    From there, we move to a verb and add the verb form (ella está – she is (here, or there). We can circle this, add more forms, gesture “she” with the kids calling out the Spanish form, call out “ella está” and the kids gesture “she,” and whatever else we can think of to cause them to focus on the meaning as indicated by the form.
    We could also give the traditional take the -ar of and replace it with an -o for first person singular, and take off the -o and replace it with -as for second person singular, and so forth. This is a tedious, meaningless focus on form. As Robert might point out it is a non-rigorous non allowance of the “suspension of premature conclusions” on the part of the students

    1. I did the verb “come (here)” with my freshmen yesterday. Pablo likes to express everything I say. I was weary and had a headache. He kept turning to people and asking, “¿vienes?” So I sent him around the room asking other students, “¿vienes?” He lower his body, bending at the knee, get right in their face and, with beautiful exaggerated intonation, he would ask “¿vienes?” I assisted students as they replied “Sí vengo” or “no vengo” (I am coming indeed /I’m not coming). It was a relief to me, it was a lot of fun, and it looked like a grammar lesson. Why “vengo”? It will be on the common final exam which includes this common chapter of our common curriculum/textbook.

      1. This year for the first time ever I’ll give up a little time at the end of the 8th grade year (we don’t end until June 29th!) to go over the grammatical terminology they’re going to hear for the next 4 years. Mostly just labeling and re-packaging what they already know, while pointing out some patterns. I wrote a grammar manual with all the cute mnemonics in my first 4 months of teaching, before I discovered TPRS. I was determined to be the best grammar teacher I could be. ha. I’ve never once touched that manual. I’ll dust it off. I can probably “cover” all the grammar expected of a level 1 class in very little class time. Unfortunately, my kids are moving on to a program with very traditional expectations about accuracy from the beginning and of trivial elements of the language which have little to no communicative value. For the most part, acquisition stops with me.

        1. Not the right place to post this, but wanted to share:
          I was just told tonight that my adult Spanish class has the highest enrollment of any course offered via Adult Community Education (ACE) this Spring. It’s only like 13 students, but guess that’s enough to take the cake. Most of my adults are “repeats” – they love it and keep coming back for more.

  6. What about a subject pronoun poster on the wall? I do not have one- I think it’d be way confusing for most elem school kids. My colleague in 5th-6th has one on her wall though not sure if she ever references it.
    But if you used it for pop ups during the year, or even for a point n pause, it might get acquired. I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel as a novice in a class seeing all those pronouns up there at once- could feel overwhelming… Maybe you make your own poster, or cut up an existing one and add the pronouns back to it as they are acquired?
    We have to find clever ways to work around the ‘show coverage’ or rule mastery.

  7. In our district, the awesome!! 6th grade French T/CI teacher (Carla) was requested by her 7-8th-grade feeder teacher to expose students to certain grammar points/meta-language. So Carla also wrote her own grammar booklet. Now, however she plans to rewrite it using excerpts and examples from the stories done in class. So kind of a review from the grammar lens. She says the students love to do it, because it feels intuitive now. It makes perfect sense because they are so familiar with the language /meaning in those stories….good end of yr tricks…

  8. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Today a young teacher from a nearby district came over to observe in my classroom. She says they are considering TPRS and sending the Ts to a Ray workshop the summer. However, due to changes in her school schedule, her principal is thinking of ‘creative’ ways to deliver the WL program next yr, including a push-in to other specials’ model. Just imagine! 1st graders go into gym or music class, and the Spanish teacher accompanies them and starts barking commands in the TL. The noise! The confusion! The futility!
    I wrote her an email explaining our own district’s history, and why the push-in idea might be problematic. I was trying to give her documentation so that she wouldn’t have to confront her boss – she could simply say, “I got this email from a veteran teacher whom I just observed in a similar district up the street.” She is fully aware that her administrator knows NOTHING abt SLA, so I encouraged her to invite the principal to Blaine’s workshop, and ask the push-in question there…
    BTW, her district currently uses a Santillana textbook with all elementary grades… and she absolutely LOVED what she saw in our class – noting that it was ‘freedom’ and ‘so interactive.’ She is thinking of applying elsewhere…

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben