PQA vs. Stories

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50 thoughts on “PQA vs. Stories”

  1. Love this post. For me, it depends, literally on the moment. I tend to go into a class prepared to do something like asking a story or R and D, but in any given micro-moment, I shift into PQA. I love PQA, and when I find a gap in the understanding in the room, I shift to PQA without a blink. I will PQA half a dozen in the room before returning to whatever the original plan was. For me, it’s the best remedy to a gap in comprehension.

    1. I like the idea of PQA as a remedy. I rarely get true beginners. Most of my students have had years of English, though some would still test out as beginners. So a lot of my work with them is consolidation of things that they may have “learned” for a test, but which they never acquired.

      While Teri Wiechart was visiting me I had a lesson with four boys who are in their third year of English at school. We were doing an embedded reading which had the word “found” in it. The boys wanted to know what it meant and I explained, surprised that they didn’t know it, since in general their level is pretty good. One of them said, “Oh! I thought it looked familiar. find-found-found It was on our irregular verb test yesterday.” And another said, “Yeah, it was next to last on the list.” They remembered seeing it before and even remembered where it was on the list of verbs the teacher asked them to learn. They just didn’t remember what it meant. The day after the test. Doesn’t that pretty much sum up the problem with asking students to memorize lists?

      1. “They just didn’t remember what it meant.” I thought that that was kind of the point. Why didn’t they remember it? They didn’t remember it because it was processed by a teeny weeny little computer – the conscious mind, which forgets stuff.

        Every word in this paragraph is being rapidly understood by those reading it because the words are in a rich bed of other words. They make sense to the reader because each word has been acquired through massive amounts of repetitions. This applies to speech as well. It is because of the reps and the unique capacity of the unconscious mind to make meaning from how each word is arranged that creates language and communication. Without acquisition, individual words when stuck together like this wouldn’t make sense at all. So we have to teach messages and not words by making our students focus on meaning. The conscious mind is too puny, too much of a wuss, to do that. It has to be done by the big bad boy superstar language processor that is the unconscious mind.

        Those guys didn’t know “found” because it had not been acquired, because it had not been heard in context in ways that are interesting to the learner. Why did their teacher make them think, quite incorrectly, that knowing “find-found-found” would lead to their fluency in English? They have been mislead by this teacher.

        1. “Why didn’t they remember it? They didn’t remember it because it was processed by a teeny weeny little computer – the conscious mind, which forgets stuff.”

          This conscious mind stuff makes me think about my recent experience in class during Reading Option A of using L1 to talk, briefly, about grammar points. The class was all cruising through the story, chorally translating in ways I’ve never experienced a class do before, and I stopped on a couple of verb forms I wanted to explain. It was like me trying to stop a boulder from rolling down a mountain. The kids just wanted to keep translating! They didn’t want me to point out the spelling of the verb indicates a different tense and different subject pronoun. No sir. They just wanted for me to identify the correct translation and move on.

          It’s a funny thing though. Sometimes a student will ask a grammar point in the middle of PQA and the class seemingly wants for me to go on at length to explain (which happened the other day when they wanted me to explain the difference between the articles “la, el, las, and los”, which all mean ‘the’).

          Perhaps with the four articles in Spanish, students could understand the logic, (you know, like: la chica, el chico, las chicas, los chicos) and therefore appreciated understanding the logical explanation. Whereas the logic behind how the spelling of a verb changes depending on the verb form was too complicated. Or my explanation was too complicated. Or, they weren’t ready for that verb form yet in the story because I hadn’t circled it in PQA (example: I used “fuiste” or ‘you went’ in the story when I hadn’t circled it in PQA).

          All this being said, I was just curious about how much to engage students’ conscious brains; how much to analyze the language structures with the students in class before it becomes counter-productive.

    2. Patrick, that is a great way to work it, in essence, PQA to close the comprehension gap. Yes!

      My PQA often involves TPR simultaneously, if structures allow for it.

  2. Leigh Anne Munoz

    Ben — Really nice post!

    PQA was not working in my classroom until you posted your video last year, “Brrrrrr 1” — Thank you for posting!!!

    Re: the one-structure approach — Anne Matava stories are so nice because there is, generally, one main verb structure that is super-high frequency.

    Although we are still having a rough year (an unusually resistant group) we are still doing stories. This is very satisfying. Sometimes I think my problem my left-brained tendency. My students and I zig-zag through the process, but I just can’t think on my feet the way some people can. Every time my students ‘zig’, I don’t know how to ‘zag.’

    BTW — I got a chance to go observe Andrew [Drew] Hiben a few weeks ago. It was so fun — he and his students are so ‘sympatico’ — he is so intuitive with them. I loved every minute of it!!!!

  3. I love PQA and I love stories. I think the more varied CI activities we do, the more excited kids get about them. I used to just do stories and although they were a lot of fun, it was the same old activity every other day. Now I do PQA, stories, Movie Talk, and look and discuss activities and kids get excited about all of it.

  4. I suck at PQA. I never get the same buy-in as I do with stories, and I always feel like I’m forcing interest. The kids feel it too. PQA sucks out all their interest. They know I’m just doing it to practice vocab, and they don’t care. I don’t know why it feels so different than Circling with Balls, because really it shouldn’t. (I was on fire with CWB earlier this semester.)

    This year, I’ve given myself permission to just stick to the stories, and they work. This week, I spun a simplified script from LICTM into an embedded reading. Good stuff.

    1. I so appreciate the honest feelings, Erin. I often feel like I suck at PQA too. Your post made me think of Laurie who wrote on this PLC before that we should be thinking of what we want to know about our students when we are choosing a new language structure to present to our classes. I’ve had more success with PQA I think because I’ve taken Laurie’s statement to heart and really worked on how I can personalize my PQA. Last semester I took pictures of my senior students as they were dressed up for Senior Picture Day. I used this pics during PQA all the time. Now, with my juniors, I’m plotting the day for when I can get good pics of them.

      It’s funny how I was thinking of Laurie while reading your post, Erin, and pleasantly found Laurie reply below!

  5. Step 1: Introduce structurally-embedded vocabulary (Comprehensibly)YOU CHOOSE THE MODE!
    (on the board, w/translation, using gestures, within a song….)

    Step 2: Interact using a story-line (Comprehensibly) YOU CHOOSE THE MODE!
    (stories, PQA, natural conversation, CWB, Movie Talk….)

    Step 3: Integrate literacy (Comprehensibly) YOU CHOOSE THE MODE!
    (read a familiar story, an embedded reading, script of video, novels….)

    YOU CHOOSE THE MODE that works best for you, your students, your building, your program, your day!!

    Use the skills you’ve developed in all of the above…
    And….sometimes the steps will combine/interweave….no worries!
    with love,
    with love,

    1. Hi Laurie,

      What a nice way to phrase the 3 steps. May I use your wording (with credit, of course) in the agenda I use for Chicagoland teacher gatherings? We’ve used the 3 steps to organize discussion (loosely).

  6. Good stuff here.

    Thank you for the example of Annoying Orange. That is clearer now and I can totally see myself doing that (PSA-like PQA). It has to be done tactfully. I would make it obvious I was messing with the kid, getting the rest of the class in on it. The relationship with my kids is such that this would be pretty funny.

    Kyle’s point is very important. Variety is SUPER important to keep things novel (read: compelling). Carol Gaab stresses novelty. We never get bored with stories if we’re doing so many other things. I’ve often heard that stories don’t work so well with upper levels, but if we gave kids a variety of CI activities from the beginning, then maybe they wouldn’t be worn out with the stories.

    What Erin says echoes what Krashen critiques in his Non-Targeted CI paper:
    “It is very hard to create compelling messages when the hidden agenda is a grammatical rule or pre-selected target vocabulary. In fact, it is hard enough to do it this when there are no constraints on what vocabulary and grammar can be used.”

    CWB works because of the ball props and how you tease the kids with the balls, and because it’s the first (or near first) time you’re doing PQA. The students’ focus is on the balls, not on the target structures. PQA without props can sometimes feel like a chore of getting reps, and it feels this way to the teacher and students. Having a student timer and limiting the time per structure, plus a target structure counter, has worked for me to create a sense of urgency and I can ask for 5 minutes of intense focus. Works for me. I think stories better disguise our attempts to get repetitions.

    On this forum we give a lot of credit to Anne Matava for her awesome scripts, but I need to give a BIG shout out and promote Jim Tripp’s scripts. I have only just started using his scripts, but I find they are often even simpler/shorter than any other book of scripts. Being simple and short, containing NOTHING BUT the target structures increases my chances of improving the skill of saying the target in every sentence, and in this way they really are SCRIPTED PQA SESSIONS THAT INTEGRATE THE TARGET STRUCTURES . . . I’d call that a “pure script.” Ready to have your mind blown? Stories are just PQA sessions on 2 or more target structures. Bam! Mind blown. haha. So when we talk about PQA and stories, we are really talking about something very similar, only the latter is scripted. And when a story has ONLY the target structures, then it is so short that it is easy to do multiple “situations” in 1 class and we can be flexible as teaching artists as to where in the script we dig deeper and ask for more details. This is why I would love to see more than one “pure script” for the same targeted structures. . . 2 or more different story scripts that use the exact same structures.

    Sometimes suggested structures for stories are too cumbersome (especially in LICT). I usually strip them down to 1 verb tense and maybe an adj. or noun. IMO, it’s so much easier to PQA a verb.

  7. To me PQA is a conversation and/or a story..it’s an interactive activity that has a storyline so I have always seen it as Step 2. “Back in the day” Step 1 seemed like a bigger deal with most people…now it seems so much less important in the great scope of things …It is what is what we do in Steps 2 and 3 that really matter!

    with love,

  8. It’s so helpful to see Laurie’s explanation of the steps…there really is so much freedom within this model. I have a intern this winter, and she really struggles with PQA but feels better doing the stories because she has a script. This totally makes sense for someone who’s just starting out and needs more structure (a story line) to follow. I keep blabbing to her about the importance of PQA and how great it is, but that’s because I feel really comfortable doing it and like doing it. I can see how it’s not totally necessary esp. if it feels like a struggle.

  9. I think that the success of PQA vs Stories depends not only on the personality and comfort level of the teacher with each of these, but also on the personality of the class. I am at the point with my 3/4/AP class that we just sit in a circle and talk most (or all) of the period. The conversation can go anywhere, and they ask me for the occasional word that they need or raise a grammar question that they want explained (though they don’t couch it in those terms). If they make mistakes I model back to them the correct way of saying it, and most of them then rephrase what they said. Unfortunately, just as the conversation gets really interesting, the bell rings. This is simply an amazing class to teach.

    On the other hand, I struggle with PQA with my afternoon first-year class. They respond much better to stories. The morning first-year class can keep PQA going for far longer than the afternoon class.

    There are simply so many factors that play into how we present Comprehensible Input, it’s impossible to say that one thing is “better” than another, rather one thing works better for me and this class on this day than something else. Figuring out what is “best” at any given time is part of the art of teaching comprehensibly.

    I really like Laurie’s explanation of the three steps.

    1. Do you go into your upper level class with structures or a topic? My Spanish 3 class asks all the time “Can we just talk today?” It’s always fun and interesting but I feel really lost with what I should do this class. I love these days because real communication is happening but I don’t want to take away necessary things from my students.

      1. I go in with topics to discuss. Sometimes I go in with wonderful lesson plans that then get dumped into the trash bin of superfluity.

        You wrote: I love these days because real communication is happening but I don’t want to take away necessary things from my students.

        Isn’t “real communication” precisely the necessary thing we are hoping to accomplish? When we are sitting there just hanging out in the language and real communication is happening, here are the National Standards (incorporated into many State Standards) that are being fulfilled:
        1.1 Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions.
        1.2 Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics
        1.3 Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics
        3.1 Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language
        5.1 Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting
        5.2 Students show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment
        Both Cultures and Comparisons also get brought into the mix but are not quite as central to the simple fact that real communication is happening.

        Through this simple act of having a genuine conversation, my students get all of the “necessary things” in a way that is meaningful. It’s part of my job to insert new perspectives (culture), help them make connections, bring comparisons to their attention, etc., but the conversation allows me to do it in a very natural, organic way. Besides, I can think of nothing more student centered than a situation in which I provide the information and insight that students ask for. They ask for vocabulary so they can express an idea; they ask for grammar because they want to be sure they get it right; they want to know what Germans think, say and do; we practice pronunciation because they want to be sure they are understood. (On Friday we had a wonderful time mangling “Streichholzschächtelchen” because they know that the German students will ask them to say it when they come in April. Our revenge is “squirrel”.) After a number of years of teaching with TPRS/CI, I really am seeing how pouring tons of Comprehensible Input into students results in true acquisition.

        What my students would absolutely fail at is a traditionally constructed grammar “assessment”. But then I don’t see that among any of the standards, national or state or common core, so that at least must not be a “necessary thing”. (Sorry, starting to get onto the soapbox here.)

      2. I’m in the same boat. I LOVE when the kids run with something.

        My prob is that I lose track of what we’ve done and I end up introducing too much new vocab. E.g. this year in early Jan I noticed that the kids didn’t know how to ask “what’s your name?” They could say things like “Fahim broke up with Selena Gomez because Selena is in love with Channing Tatum and Fahim is sad” (the result of lots of free and fun PQA).

        If there is any argument for a “curriculum” in TPRS (e.g. LICT) it’s to make sure we cover a few necessary bases (at least for random abstract types like me).

        On a related note– one of my beginners just switched schools and is in Level 2 with a “communicative” teacher who knows TPRS (but who finds it “monotonous” and so avoids it…go figure). The student just came back to visit and showed me what they are doing. It’s word lists, worksheets etc (but also more fun stuff too– the teacher likes reading stories). The teacher gave them an initial assessment from the Avancemos program…and my student got 100%! So despite not having been taught any grammar (other than pop-ups) and no masses of vocab lists, she was able to do what needed to be done.

        So ppl take heart…the method works. The only thing it doesn’t work for is for teaching kids to fill out verb charts etc.

    2. Robert–
      As I read your experience of two very different class reactions to the same basic lesson at two different times of day I was reminded of a reading we just had as a staff on willpower (to me in this case–willpower = focus and response).

      The article talked about the will power of folks being higher during the morning and waning by afternoon and evening. The suggestion put forth was to get your “have-tos” done in the morning in order to ease through the rest of your day.

      It seems to me that as I watch a large number of students daily work in classrooms that their attention for following thought process and drawing conclusions is much better earlier in the day than the afternoon. By then they just seem worn down and are better doing exploratory activities that allow them not to have to decision make so much but observe and reflect individually.

      Not that you can really change what you have to do, just a thought to keep in your mind. PQA takes a lot of brain focus for me both as learner and teacher.

  10. Robert, I love this! “Figuring out what is “best” at any given time is part of the art of teaching comprehensibly”. We’re not deliverers of instructional services, we’re craftsmen/women in the art of CI. What better message to get people excited about teaching (and learning) languages!

    Eric, thanks for the shout out about my scripts, that was really nice to read and I’m so glad they’re working for you. Favorite script? I did The Perfect Shirt this week with my Spanish 2 (super quiet and reserved class) and it was just what I needed to keep the CI flowing without exhausting myself and getting frustrated for lack of energy. Luckily I had my ugly Alpaca sweater in the classroom closet to make things a bit more light-hearted and give some visual relief.

    Really I’m just a copycat though. All I did was take Anne’s model for scripting stories and transposed my own storylines onto them. My aim was to keep them as simple as possible, something I had the luxury to focus more on since the work of designing the template was already done by Anne and others before me.

    And once again Laurie, you’ve assimilated and articulated a tough concept beautifully!

    1. I also did “The Perfect Shirt” recently with my 5th graders, only I asked the clothing detail, so I think it was the “perfect army hat” and the perfect “pajamas.”

      So far, “Hunting Season” has been my favorite, but we’re just starting these scripts.

      “Nice to Meet You” was a great script for teaching introductions and it led to some awesome customized stories (meeting BigBird, batman, and Stitch). I could repeat the situation many more times with different characters and it wouldn’t get old!

  11. Thanks for recreating for us the dialogue you had with Monica, Ben, about drinking coffee. I will remember how you kept asking her questions about drinking coffee even after she said that she doesn’t drink coffee. You kept on her. I can see myself having aborted the conversation after getting a negative answer like that instead of plugging away at it from different angles (i.e., verb tenses and situations). That’s backbone!

    I’m left thinking about a student of mine, Monique (funny name coincidence), on Friday who put her head down and earphones in during Reading Option A time. She was in a bad mood, as her neighbor pointed out to me. Despite her bad mood, I should have pointedly asked her some comprehension questions, warmly of course.

  12. Catching up on the PLC is one of my favorite things to do because I always walk away with a new thought, a bit better of an explanation, or just a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Cheers for the discussion and sharing everyone!

    I have a battery of quick questions about the verb tenses in Ben’s PQA example. It started out as one and just snowballed:

    1. Is this the first time they’ve come across “drinking coffee?”

    2. How would you ease the transition between tenses?

    3. Would you consider “drinks” and “drank”/”will drink”/etc to be different structures or just different facets of the same structure?

    When I PQA I’ve been noticing all these places where I could downshift tenses to get more reps but I don’t want to overload the kids.

    1. Great questions:

      1. Is this the first time they’ve come across “drinking coffee?” No. I chose it because, as level 3 students who have been trained with CI since level 1, they have acquired it.

      2. How would you ease the transition between tenses? By putting my hand on the (third person) written forms of the verbs just behind me whenever I say one of them, with English translations, and also by pausing and keeping the discussion slow.

      3. Would you consider “drinks” and “drank”/”will drink”/etc to be different structures or just different facets of the same structure? Same structure, different facets.

      When I PQA I’ve been noticing all these places where I could downshift tenses to get more reps but I don’t want to overload the kids. Yes and I would not do this with a level 1 or level 2 group. These kids are superstars and I love them and we have been through a lot together. I am going to miss them when we all graduate together this spring. I will miss them a lot.

      1. Just thinking out loud here, but would a lot of tenses be “overloading” for our kids at the lower levels if the rest of the words around the verb being used are fully comprehensible (acquired)? As long as the new tense SORT OF resembles the acquired one sound-wise, can we just pass over it without even pointing at a translation, and trust that the context around the tense we just used will do the translating of the tense for us? I.e., when someone hears a tense of a verb they’ve already acquired, a tense which sounds close but not identical to the one they know, does it sound like a completely new, unknown word to them?

        For example, from Ben’s classroom PQA example in this article:

        Monica has already acquired “drinks” in French (boit, pronounced bwah).

        Let’s say she’s also acquired the imperfect “(you) were drinking coffee” (buvais, pronounced booveh).

        Next, Ben asks Monica “Hey Monica, if you drank coffee, where would you drink it?.” He just used the conditional “(you) would drink” (boirais, pronounced bwareh). Is “boirais” going to sound like a new word to Monica? Does it even matter?

        Even if this phrase enters Monica’s brain as “Hey Monica, if you drank coffee, where DO you drink it?” -with a present tense instead of conditional- won’t she still understand this as “where WOULD you drink…” since she already knows from her mother language that “if” is followed by the conditional tense?

        And even if Monica was asked a question about where she WILL drink coffee when she’s older (boiras, pronounced bwarah), as long as the context calls for future tense, won’t she eventually naturally produce the sound of the future tense if she hears it in context enough times?

        Or will the sound “bwarah” of the future tense hit her ears like a completely unknown word?

        I suppose another way of asking my question is, how do you all handle establishing meaning when an unacquired tense comes up naturally in conversation?

        1. Krashen would say that it has to be comprehensible, not transparent. There can be some noise, if they still get the message. I think some kids can deal with the verbs that are similar-sounding in different tenses, but other kids cannot. I’m always surprised by how cognates don’t always sound that way to all my kids, so I often do a quick comprehension check with anything new, instead of assuming their comprehension. If you want your kids to process it, tense and all, then just ask “What did I just say?” Then, take a second to tell them what the new tense MEANS.

          1. Thanks Eric -I like the way you phrase that. “There can be some noise, if they still get the message.”

            I always write the meaning on the board and point thereafter every time I use a new tense. But I still wonder how it sounds to my kids the first time they heard a different but *almost* identical form of a verb. Of course I never formally learned the conditional tense in English, but just unconsciously picked up that the verb “to be” sounds like WUZ if talking about the past and sounds like WUHD if talking about something conditional.

            I’m sure many people smarter than myself have done research on this. Like Krashen.

            I wonder if a word like “would” for someone learning their first language doesn’t even mean anything. It’s just a random sound. But they get the meaning from the context. Like if you ask a kid “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” all they understand is “What I do with a million dollars.” and over thousands of repetitions they just learn to associate the sound WUHD with hypothetical situations.

            Like the word “would” doesn’t actually mean anything concrete (I personally can’t define it without using the word itself). It’s just a sound (WUHD) that goes along with certain situations. And anyone that’s learned the song “English” knows that’s the word you sing at a certain spot in the song.

            Sorry to get sidetracked from this PQA vs. Stories thread, I just love thinking about this.

          2. I’m OK with “noise” for reading…cos kids can slow down, reread, stop and think, etc. But in spoken language I tolerate basically zero noise– it’s too easy to lose them.

  13. Gesture the tenses (point over shoulder = past, point down = present, point in front = future). If you combine the gesture for tense and the gesture for the structure (drinks), then your kids will get the message. We don’t shelter grammar. Speak as naturally as you can while staying comprehensible. We have structures to stay comprehensible. So do it if you can stay comprehensible. When the kids hear a different tense or verb form, the affective filter may go up, because they can be nervous they don’t understand, but gestures can lower the filter. I recently read an explanation by Carol Gaab that the structures become part of a students’ productive repertoire and much of the rest that happens while we are getting reps of the structures is more part of a students’ receptive knowledge. You also don’t have to get all the tenses in PQA. You’ll have the story and the reading in which you can deliver CI in other tenses.

  14. …you also don’t have to get all the tenses in PQA. You’ll have the story and the reading in which you can deliver CI in other tenses….

    I’ve always agreed with this in theory but as I look at the actual and true amount of exposure my current level 3 class has had to future/conditional/compound tenses/subjunctive forms it is really not much, as the stars of the stories have always been the present and past forms. So I occasionally do as I did with that class about drinking coffee. It is a LOT for the kids to hear, however, so I don’t do that kind of tense-intense PQA very often.

    1. Very true. I teach elementary and middle school and I feel I am heavy on the present/past/progressives/be+going+to.

      But, these are the highest frequency structures, right? Those less-heard tenses that Ben mentions are more often than not very similar-sounding to the tenses we do use a lot in class and will be thus comprehensible. Plus, you can communicate without these tenses.

      The “will” future is hardly used in speaking in Spanish and the small change in the subjunctive is probably not even recognizable to a beginner ear and it’s non-use will not affect comprehension. I probably do give a lot of subjunctive when using impersonal statements (It’s important that . . .) and when using the verb “wants that . . . ” The perfect tenses in Spanish look so much like English, that it is easy to explain their meaning, e.g. “ha” looks like and sounds like “has.” The conditional in Spanish is so regular and identifiable (add -ría to the verb ending) that it can be quickly popped up in context.

      I think the best place to sneak in these lower-frequency, harder-to-PQA tenses is in the reading and discussion. I’m going to make a point to frequently ask these questions:

      1. perfects: “Have you ever . . . like CharacterA” – relate to characters
      2. conditional: “If you were CharacterA, would you . . .” – relate to characters
      3. future: “Will such and such happen . . .” – make predictions

      Asking students to evaluate the reading will hit the subjunctive (“Is it important/necessary/good/bad that . . .”), as well as asking what the students want to happen in the story.

      Discussing previously read chapters, shifts all this discussion to past subjunctive and past perfect.

      I’ve also given a lot of CI on singular third person verb forms and I have just started putting myself into the PQA/Story or doing MovieTalk as if I were the main character and then asking questions to which students respond in the second person.

      The point is that we the teachers have to be CONSCIOUS about the CI we are delivering to the students’ UNCONSCIOUS. Speaking naturally “covers” it all. Then we can say we “taught” the grammar. When we shelter vocab and not grammar, we are giving students exposure to a sample of the language. We could never cover the whole language, even if we tried. But I think what happens when we give a small, but unsheltered grammar sample, is that the students develop a feel for how word order, agreement, verb endings, etc. work. Then, for example, when they come across a new verb, they can spontaneously conjugate the verb, because it resembles the patterns they have already heard so many times. I developed this feeling when I was acquiring my 2nd language. It is this “feeling” that makes spontaneous communication possible. Only the 4 percent of the 4 percent can rely solely on conscious learning of grammar rules.

      1. Interesting stuff, Eric. I wonder when would be a good time to start asking these questions:

        1. perfects: “Have you ever . . . like CharacterA” – relate to characters
        2. conditional: “If you were CharacterA, would you . . .” – relate to characters
        3. future: “Will such and such happen . . .” – make predictions

        Asking students to evaluate the reading will hit the subjunctive (“Is it important/necessary/good/bad that . . .”), as well as asking what the students want to happen in the story.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if these questions using the different verb tenses can be done sooner than I would be inclined to think. When so doing, don’t you think these different verb tenses should be part of the key language structure to focus on for that day? Carol Gaab, in her Cuéntame series introduces the subjunctive in year 2, (if I remember correctly) with verb phrases like “como si fuera” — ‘as if (s)he was’. But, I think she suggests the possibility of using all these verb tenses when doing PQA even in level 1.

        1. But in all forms of verbs through the past subjunctive, the problem is always time. L1 kids have years of exposure to complex verb forms and it still takes them over ten years, 24/7, to even begin to get a handle on these forms. Think of the compound forms of “if” clauses – “If he had gone, what would he have done?” These can’t just be dropped into stories in the first three years. Plus, as many have said, kids get burned out on stories by level three and, in my classes anyway, reading takes over. I think that all we can expect to do is get level three kids intellectually familiar with sophisticated tenses, because the time for reps isn’t going to be there to get to acquisition. It’s always the time problem. For Carol to say that she introduces the subjunctive in year 2 is one thing; to teach it for acquisition by the end of level 4 is going to be nearly impossible. There are too many verbs. Just thinking out loud here. I just don’t think that complex verb forms can really be ACQUIRED in a high school program and we shouldn’t even worry about it. I certainly won’t be doing too many classes like the “drinks coffee” class I described above. It was too intense. We can only do what we do, and that is plenty already.

          1. I really sympathize with my students (and sober up about how little I can really accomplish with them, especially if they only take two levels) when I think of my own lack of acquisition of certain French tenses.

            The first French class I had was my first year of high school in 1999. I’ve taken a French class almost every year since then, and in the past few years have kept up by reading a ton and listening on repeat to podcasts and youtube videos until I understand almost every word in them.

            And still at this point, 15 YEARS later, I feel like the only subjunctive tenses I’ve truly acquired are the first person singular indicative for “It’s necessary that I be/do” (Il faut que je sois/fasse). For any other person or time, and for any other verb, I intellectually know that I need to use the subjunctive, but I have to think about the right sound. Plus, if it’s a verb besides be/do, I might not even know the subjunctive off the top of my head. And forget about writing them….I have to use an online dictionary to make sure I’m spelling them right whenever I need to use a subjunctive in writing. Granted I’ve never lived in a French-speaking country before this year, but I’ve logged an insane amount of hours listening to French AND UNDERSTANDING it. I’m talking about listening to 5 minute podcasts fully comprehensibly 30 something times each.

            And this is just the subjunctive. Forget about me fluently using the pluperfect, or any of the other French tenses besides past and present.

            And prepositions? Every day here in France some kind soul corrects me about using à instead of en, or whatever. And then I make the same mistake the next day.

            And just this weekend, I learned than I’ve been unconsciously pronouncing the nasal “en” the same way as the nasal “on” since 1999. But if I was thinking, I did know how to pronounce them differently. This caused me to say that a certain musical artist had a lot of high-heels (talons) instead of a lot of talent.

            And I sometimes fantasize that my kids will be using the passé composé and imparfait, or even the present, fluently in conversation after only 2 years of French?

          2. Greg you are so right to point out that we often live in a fantasy world about the time required to get command over a verb tense. A twelve year old child in their L1 lacks complete command over output of certain complex verb tenses, but what we forget is that all the information has been put in there, only needing more time in the turbines of the unconscious language acquisition power house. I heard my son say “aten” instead of “eaten” the other day. I knew what he meant.

            The field lies empty of flowers, but the seeds are active and growing. But many of us are like farmers staring at a freshly sown field in June and wondering where the plants are, scratching our heads and saying, “They’re not growing! They’re not growing!” Comparing ourselves to such farmers, we say with our level 3 and 4 kids, “They’re not speaking! They’re not speaking!” Man, what a way to waste one’s day worrying. And then we conclude that we’re not good teachers. It’s all about the amount of comprehensible input they get. That’s what it’s all about, and really nothing else, no matter how snazzy our lessons get.

          3. Wow, that’s also sobering to think about Ben -that even as an adolescent a child still may lack complete command when outputting certain complex verb forms OF THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGE.

            And while a different issue from acquiring the syntax of a lanuage, even in high school I remember learning certain words from my senior English teacher which struck me then as esoteric, but which I now encounter all over in speech and print. I was still learning my own language in high school.

            Not to mention I still have much room to grow in my own command of English -especially in enlarging my vocabulary to have just the right word for different nuances, etc.

            Like the farmer analogy Ben talks about above, I have to remember that the only indicator of success I have for myself is how much input I’m providing, and whether or not that input is comprehensible, narrow, and deep.

          4. Greg, I enjoyed reading your reflections on learning French. It really helps me realize not to stress about the verb tenses too much. “We shelter the vocabulary, not the grammar,” as the saying goes.

            Your story and Chris’s story below remind me of a time when I studied abroad my senior year of college in Madrid. I often felt like I was laboring away at learning and using Spanish while in Madrid. One day, at the Madrid airport, I was eavesdropping on a Danish guy doing business speaking broken Spanish on the phone. It was super choppy: he used a lot of “Voy a …(verb infinitive)…” [I’m going to…(verb infinitive)…] because clearly he did not want to have to conjugate every verb. It was an “Ah Ha!” moment for me. He was getting his message across however he could using the language he knew. And he was successful at it.

          5. I quite successfully functioned in Guatemala for 5 months without either the imparfait or the subjunctif. The subjunctif came on line one sunny morning as I was waiting for a bus in Huehuetenango, two years after having been “taught” it…I heard myself saying “espero que no esperemos mas” and, well, there it was, unbidden. The imparfait came a few weeks later. I think I’d heard enough Spanish that things just clicked.

          6. Love this. Pure Krashen. There is a natural order to acquisition and we don’t get to know what it is.

            Another way to say it: “Just wait and you will speak one day, but you must be patient and you must keep the process in the turbines of the deeper mind, where the real stuff happens.”

      2. This really says it all:

        … it is this “feeling” that makes spontaneous communication possible….

        The feeling is what comes into the conscious awareness from the unconscious language turbines. They know best. Let them do their work. Feed them as much fuel as possible, grabbing every extra minute of CI in class as you can. Then watch your kids’ test scores outstrip everybody’s, as long as the assessment is proficiency based and comprehensible-input-friendly. If it’s not, don’t worry about that either. Because assessing a CI trained kid with a 1950’s assessment instrument is just wrong. Let the turbines roll – that’s all that there is to it. And the “feeling” will become fluency over enough years. But how many of us have seen a kid trained in the old ways, a really smart kid, be unable after five years of instruction to barely say a word. At last, those days are over.

        Related: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwzDxp2TC7I

  15. I would/will do it in level 1. I don’t think they’d have to be the day’s structures, but certainly can be. I like the idea of asking the questions consistently over a longer period of time (every time we read a story, definitely when we read a novel). I’d ask the question in level 1, but I wouldn’t expect students to accurately output these structures. The goal would be to provide the input. So, I’d give students a question that has an easy answer (yes/no, either/or, one-word).

    1. …I’d ask the question in level 1, but I wouldn’t expect students to accurately output these structures….

      We have no right, the way I see the research, to expect a student to accurately output any structures at any point, including points way beyond even French 3. Output will occur naturally and not because of anything we “teach”. We all need to accept the fact that we can’t, no one can, teach a language. It’s an oxymoron. We present it, that is all. After time, much more time than we have in any high school or college program, after years and years and years of constant input, we may then have the right to expect a very little bit of output. But why should we expect anything? That’s hubris, which is well fixed in our schools at the great expense of children. The process is not related to anything we manipulate as instructors. We just provide the input, and the kids listen and read. That’s it. Once the seeds are planted, they come up in their own way at their own time, and a very long time it is indeed for that process to happen.

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