New Gem

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.



18 thoughts on “New Gem”

  1. I assume you’re talking about learning targets? Yeah, I agree. In fact, I usually create the target after I do the activity to really understand the point of what I was doing and what the students actually got out of it. And when I have my collection of key targets I make sure my students understand them and can explain them in their own words-a little metacognition never hurts-and it’s helpful during student led conferences.

  2. “Targets” was intended to mean those vocabulary words you are focusing on.
    I just hijacked BVP who says often in MCLTH to not let communication serve grammar because that’s not true communication. Let grammar serve communication.
    Same goes for the vocabulary we bring in bounds.

  3. Ah, got it. Sorry. This is what happens when you only go on the blog once in awhile!!! Arghh! I just don’t have the time to follow so it thoroughly!

    1. Exactly. Depends on your approach. This is a shift in the mind of a TCI teacher. You are not teaching the targets. You are creating a good story.
      We may in fact want those words to be recognized. And those words are brought in bounds in order to make the story happen. But you do not have to stay narrowly to those words in the script. Shelter. You’ll still get plenty of reps. But don’t force the communication on the targets. Make the targets serve telling a good story.
      And if telling a good story means you don’t end up with lots of reps on the targets, then that is what was BEST. The need of communication demanded different language. There was something more useful to the students and you let communication follow need, rather than let teacher needs of teaching a target get in the way.

      1. But you still want to get a lot of reps on those other words which were necessary for communication though right? It seems if you don’t focus somehow on getting reps (on something – even if it turns out to be something different than you expected- then you will be very shallow with a broader use of the language (which is opposed to the “narrow and deep” notion we’ve had here). And then doesn’t this shallowness make it very difficult to develop fluency since we just need a ton of reps for that?

        1. You SHELTER vocabulary. This means you stay within a limited set of words. Getting reps is a byproduct, not the objective of a communicative classroom.
          Instead of thinking of targeting new words and every class gets mass reps on a few words, you integrate these few new sounds into the vocabulary the kids already have. My best analogy is a graded reader:
          You start with kids at the 25 word level. You tell stories, etc. but mostly just with those 25 words. Then, you go to the 50 word level. Now, you do a bunch of stories, etc. within those 50 words. These graded readers largely prioritize the words by frequency. So, there is some control and planning.
          *25 and 50 are arbitrary numbers for the sake of this example
          No grammar being targeted.
          In fact, the TPRS notion of a “structure” as a phrase is much like what SLA calls formulaic language (e.g. I have to ___) and language chunks. Structures taught like this get acquired as an unanalyzed chunk – as a single lexical item. People use the chunk and grammar may be perfect, but this doesn’t mean they have acquired that grammatical aspect.
          This is so much less stressful for a teacher. And so much less forced.
          Targeting impoverishes (oversimplifies) the input (less exposure to other grammar and words). It has lacked the recycling, suffering the same critique of “units.” Of course, many of us may realize sheltering better describes what we’ve already been doing 🙂
          Language teaching is more an art (strategies applied to a new canvas – story) than a science (steps and rigid control).
          What I’ve been thinking lately is that even if we were to go wider, so long as it’s still comprehensible, this may be optimal. At some point, getting more reps gives less return and we’d serve acquisition better by going on to new words.
          Btw, this approach overcomes a weakness of the old TPRS – small vocabulary sizes. And really, vocabulary is the most important factor in communication.

        2. And another thing, Matthew, you sense where they are weak. So what if it isn’t a target? Do tons of reps on the spot if they are weak on something. WE teach the grammar through correct speech – THEY focus on the meaning. WE focus on where they are weak and get reps on that, no matter what the targets are. I don’t know if Eric said that above bc I haven’t read it yet. I always make sure I have plenty of time to read what he says and I have a class in minus two minutes.

        3. This is a huge question you bring up, Matthew:
          “But you still want to get a lot of reps on those other words which were necessary for communication though right?”
          Absolutely yes, but that is happening naturally. The structures/chunks of sound used to communicate ideas should not direct our instruction, the desire to communicate with our students should do that. That doesn’t feel like a clear answer to me, but let me keep trying.
          The reason you don’t go shallow is because you are careful – and this is the art part of what we do; it’s something we feel rather than do – to never involve them in chunks of sound with which they are not already familiar*. This way of teaching is really about feel and not thinking, and it would be impossible to even do without the grounding influence of the underlying question to all work in CI: “Is communication going on right now?”
          So I tend to agree fully with Eric on this, in his response to you:
          …even if we were to go wider, so long as it’s still comprehensible, this may be optimal….
          *This is one aspect of Blaine’s genius, in my opinion.

      2. Yes, often I don’t get any reps at all of one of the target phrases, but something else comes in instead. I sure do appreciate this reminder, though. My favorite scripts arose from a funny idea, something that I knew kids would want to talk about, rather than from a desire to include high-frequency language.

  4. Anne’s scripts work because she grabs the interest of teenagers. That’s what she does so well. I have looked closely at her choice of targets and it’s almost like when she started this about 8 years years she new that the TPRS protocol involved “targeting three structures” so she did. But I don’t think she cares much about them. I never did. And I’ve been using them all this time, like Leigh Anne, using them basically as my curriculum, and I always feel that the best stories come by far from those scripts. Everything else pales in comparison. And 80% of my CI instruction since August has been on steps 2 and 3, with much less step 1 work. It’s all the kids want to do also.

  5. I had never heard the phrase “targeting structures” until TPRS. Is it common in foreign language education or just a TPRS thing? (Sorry, FL is not my background.)
    I appreciate Eric’s statement, which crystalizes what we want to do: the “target structures” are just a means of giving the kids language so they can accomplish the ultimate goal of communicating ideas.

  6. …the “target structures” are just a means of giving the kids language so they can accomplish the ultimate goal of communicating ideas….
    So Claire what you said there is pretty much it.
    BUT, under Eric’s guidance, we are starting to see again that the target structures play a far less critical role than most people think. They are not necessary. It’s not a method. Communication is necessary and so why and how did those structures even get added into the mix of the soup that became current TPRS?
    (And besides Eric, here on our blog over the years Robert Harrell has also played an instrumental role in helping us define and discuss and redefine things in terms of the simplicity that is behind this work. Everything he has written in these pages is a valuable reminder that this work is really very simple. Ironically it has taken an intellectual giant of his capacity to be able to do that.)
    Your question here:
    …Is [targeting structures] common in foreign language education or just a TPRS thing?….
    is so huge. I can suggest one possible typically long winded answer to it (which short answer would be that it is “just a TPRS thing”:
    (Disclaimer: I may be off on this and so would need to get Diana Noonan or Carol Gabb or someone like that to verify what I say here.)
    Susan Gross in the 1990s played, in my opinion, an even more important role than Blaine in defining and presenting TPRS to people. She packaged TPRS for those who couldn’t just jump into the Blaine pool. Her influence in this packaging process was at the heart of what TPRS became.
    Susan was working with Blaine by actually presenting with him a lot during those early years but he was the pot and she was the fire beneath it. In her own dynamic way in these workshops she gave people ideas like “structures” to hang their teachers’ hats on. The pot (Blaine) and the soup in it (TPRS), came to a fine boil because of the fire (Susan) beneath it. Without the fire, the cold Blaine soup would have never even made it onto the menu of ways to teach a foreign language.
    Steps were argued about – how many? We went from 3 to 12 to 17 and back to 3 over a period of just a few years. Target structures appeared, very early. Reading was of course brought in because it was the big haymaker in this work and needed to be. TPRS took shape and became a method, because Susan saw in those early trainings with Blaine that teachers needed to have everything in boxes.
    It is possible that without Susan TPRS may not have happened – it may have stalled. Susan was the concrete bridge over to teachers who needed something concrete from what Blaine was presenting. She defended, defined, gave concrete form to what she knew was too vague for them. (One of her favorite things to say at conferences was “Just talk to the kids!” but she knew it was too much for them to handle; being teachers they needed to intellectualize it.
    Of course that intellectualization and failure to see what Susan and Blaine were really saying in the early days – that TPRS was not a method but a process and a way of simply being with children in a language class – as necessary as it was to attract people’s notice, also destroyed its subtle beauty and we ended up with the “TPRS Wars” of the past 25 years as aggressive traditional teachers took out, form under their desks, clubs with nails in them and continue to fight for their turf. And so we have all these teachers like John Bracey, John Piazza, jen Schongalla and so may others who are having to put up shields to keep from getting clubbed by people who, being four percenters and having become teachers for that reason only, have no more ability to “just talk to the kids” than they do to fly to the moon.
    Now Eric has brought us full circle after these 25 years as this work is starting to take on some kind of closure and return to Blaine and Susie’s original version of this work. We are starting to see again how simple and elemental this work is. Eric has been writing to that effect here for quite some time. The difference between Eric ad Susan being that Susan didn’t have near the research base that Eric has – she just had her own inimitable raw genius based on 30 years in a classroom.
    A side note: we have always had the research on our side. We have always known that the textbook has no basis in research and is based almost 100% on corporate interests, and ignorance. We have always had important links between us and the ivory tower dudes like VP and Krashen and, most importantly to me personally, Vygotsky. Krashen has always seen that Blaine’s conscious effort to base a way of teaching on his (K’s) work is the best expression of his research. (He announced that in Denver publicly in 2009 at a meeting I got to be at – it was like being at the signing of the Declaration of Independence for us.) Why else does Krashen hang out with us every summer at conferences?
    So we can suggest that the actual presenting of three structures with a story and other such machinations was a way of placating those who couldn’t get the enormity of the change from one of complexity and living in the mind to one of simplicity and living in the heart.
    Again, this is only my opinion based on my own intense years of training with Susan from 2000 to 2008 or so. But in all these years of postings (5,351 posts and 43,112 comments), I personally have not written one word that in some way is not a reflection of something Susan Gross has taught me. That is why I say every chance I can that Susan Gross saved my life.

  7. Targets should serve communication.
    My school is undergoing “modernization”. As part of this, the district will build a total of six new classroom buildings and tear down two large classroom buildings. It will proceed in a domino-like manner: build three buildings, move some teachers, tear down a building, build the other three buildings, move the teachers, tear down the second building, build a theater-library-computer complex. On Wednesday, our principal presented the plan to us. I wanted to share with my students, so I taught “build/construct”; “construction site”; “move”; “tear down”, and any other words as needed and then discussed the plans with all my classes. The construction has a direct impact on everyone, and students were interested in what is going to happen and had lots of follow-up questions that showed they understood what I had explained. I thought it was a great way to integrate language acquisition with compelling communication.

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