PQA vs. Stories

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.



7 thoughts on “PQA vs. Stories”

  1. …personalization allows much more compelling input than do stories….
    But personalization lacks the structure of stories and therefore brings more risk. But I don’t think it’s risk. I mean, how risky is it to talk to kids? Like in Circling with Balls, you are getting to know the kids and, since there are 35 of them in the room, you can always change the subject. Or compare them. Or create a nice cute little event from it. Always unfolding, staying in the moment, trusting, whether you are working from cards or from three structures or what they did over the weekend or whatever. No risk there, unless you forget SLOW. Keeping the focus on the meaning and not the words. As long as you keep focusing on the meaning and go slowly, all is well. Maybe there is less control with the PQA than with stories, but there is certainly more compelling discussion, as you say. But eventually, Skip, the PQA (when done around three structures especially) begins to lose energy and then, with all that personalization done, you can bring it, the stuff you learned from the kids during all that PQA – some of it, not all of it – into a story; it morphs into a story. So because of the PQA the story is personalized. When an actor stands, the PQA is over and you are in a story. So make sure you stand up actors whose PQA was bodacious. Do both PQA and stories – make them one big thing. PQA flowingly becomes a story. Now you have personalization and plenty of it dripping off the events of the scripts as the story comes to life. That’s one answer, anyway.

  2. I am also feeling torn / confused about this. Let me state up front that I have no idea what I am doing and that I have only about 8 weeks of “experience” in TPRS. And I should modify that because really, I hardly got around to the story part. It was just too scary in most groups, and for me last spring I couldn’t figure out how to go from the questions about the kids into a story about talking animals? What I did notice, especially in Linda’s mandarin session, was that I didn’t even notice that we had morphed into a story. I only figured it out afterward. I was just focused on understanding the questions and responding to them. I had no sense that she was leading us anywhere. It seemed at the time that we were all just there together enjoying the wonder of the sounds and the fact that we could communicate! And since the story was so minimalist, I realized that maybe my idea of “story” was too confining and formulaic. Maybe a story is simply a sequence of actions with a beginning, middle and end, and with some high-interest stuff like hugs and romantic glances??? Ben says as soon as your actor is up you have a story. This makes sense. I think that is what happened in the mandarin session.
    Because I am trying to declutter my teaching I am drawn to those simple script books rather than the fully written stories. But then I feel like I “should have a program” to follow. Even though I suck at following programs??? And even though I am aware that “everything after the word ‘should’ is an act of violence.”
    Some of the most memorable “stories” from last spring were not stories at all; they were random things the kids brought up. Like the “WoW” pod that some MIT student invented where you could play WoW all day long without leaving the pod. You could even program it so that during the game it would let you know that your ramen noodles were ready. It was scarily similar to the South Park episode where they play WoW for days on end. This is the kind of stuff you can get lots of reps on (we did lots on “had/ didn’t have” and “could”) because it’s so ridiculous and the kids love talking about it. What I would end up doing is writing up whatever we talked about into some sort of narrative and then using that as the “reading.” Then I could use this text for dictation. So many times my “lesson plan” was just listening/watching for a spark.
    Anyway, my inclination at this point is to use the student interest surveys as my “text” along with the simple story script books ??? I would love to hear others’ experience with this. It does seem, like Ben describes above, that by focusing most of the energy on the PQA something compelling will emerge and then you get the actors up and you’re on your way. Ha! Easy for me to say when I have not taken this particular plunge yet. It seems as though even if a whole story does not form, whatever comes from the kids will be way more memorable than anything we could attempt to push?

  3. Man oh man is this a lot to assimilate! Then, Skip, we have Carol G. telling us that the brain craves novelty, all stories don’t have to be stories, all stories don’t need to have an end. Carol’s presentation along with Kristi was a revelation to me. At the end of last year, my students did have story fatigue which I know is probably natural, but the “Are We Doing a Story Again? session really got me thinking. Yes, persoanlization is key, Jen, you are on the right track. I feel that your instincts are good. When I think of personalization and getting actors up, I think of Jody Noble’s special chair – I am gonna get me one this year!! Where I got in trouble last year was trying to prolong a story and get in too many details. In a forty minute period, the kids were too many times confused at the end. The energy was fading and I was getting diminishing returns on my personal energy investment. I was wasting a lot of time. I realized that our shorter, tighter stories were the successful ones. I think the successful expansion of the original story might be in the embedded readings that follow – plenty of time for more circling, insertion of new characters, drawing the story, whatever. I also have embraced the idea of variety and novelty. Narrow and deep, less is more, comprehensible input, stay in the TL 95% of the time, embedded readings, music, classical TPR for the beginners, poems, fairy tales, current events, history, culture, and the channelling of my gurus Ben, Laurie, Linda, Carol, Kristi, Scott, Susie, Blaine, Krashen, Jan, Barb, Bryce and all my fellow CI friends. You know how people put signs in the back of the room for slow, etc. ? I might put pictures of all of you!

  4. …I realized that our shorter, tighter stories were the successful ones. I think the successful expansion of the original story might be in the embedded readings….
    I totally agree. I have always felt this to be true but forget as new and funny stuff keeps occurring in PQA and stories. Thanks. I want to keep my stories, especially, tight and shorter and then get the gravy going from spins offs of the readings. Great point, Carol.

  5. Stories, PQA, Circling With Balls, all may be necessary, but they aren’t essential. The Essential: C+1, repetition, interest. The vehicle you choose to deliver the Essential is your choice based on your context. Freedom!!!!!!!!

  6. Hey Byron. I was sitting just behind Krashen at NTPRS at Linda and Bryce’s session. He pointed at the words in Mandarin and English that Linda had written down to help establish meaning for us and said to me….
    …TPRS is light years ahead of everything out there but there is too much reliance on form….
    My response to that is that, for me, PQA, Circling with Balls, Stories, those things described above are my essentials because I need that flat, bouncy, dependable springboard to get the CI off the ground. The point could be debated, especially in the light of Krashen’s new Compelling Input Hypothesis, but I personally need that structure. I need to rely on some degree of form, translation of target content on the board, Point and Pause, the Three Steps, etc. They give order to my instruction and give me something to hang on to. I think it is because we work, in schools, in very unnatural settings for learning a langauge and so need that structure. We are not in a position to get compelling input going in high school classes because of the semi comatose state of some our students. You could light a fire in the room and it wouldn’t be compelling to some of the kids I taught last year. Of course, I completely respect your own definition of what is essential above. We are all different and there is no one way to do comprehensible input. The above is my own overview and I apologize if it sounded like I was saying that what I wrote above is the only way to do it.

  7. In the introduction to my story scripts book I write:
    “Few teachers get through all three locations in one class period. Sometimes, if the story really has some momentum, it will carry over to the next class, or I’ll add the rest into the reading and get further repetitions of the structures while we read and add more details from there.
    In a forty-five minute class, I seldom get completely through the first location and hit all of the target structures. If this is the case in your classroom, do not worry! The important thing is that your students are hearing the target language 90% of the time, and that what they are hearing is comprehensible to them.”
    My intention by writing this was to emphasize that the “form” of 3 structures and 3 locations is only a suggestion, a template that can be modified as the user gains confidence. As Pepino Suave (Byron?) says, the essentials are repetition, C+1 (aka i+1), and interest.
    Jen, I do what you do too, write up readings from PQA that derives organically from Circling with Balls, and I think it’s important to do that. We don’t have to limit readings (the ones we write up) to just stories with a plot. Several of the readings that went into my Class StoryBook (aka Yearbook) for my level 1 class last year were just PQA situations. One of them was just about a kid who had tons of pencils with him in class one day so we called him Pencil Man (in English… I think I got this name idea from Ben) and talked about where his pencils “are” (16 on his desk, 9 in his hair, and 1 in his bellybutton). And this had an illustration too, even though it isn’t what we would call a “story”.
    Yes, I agree that kids can easily get burned out on stories. Frankly, I think that anybody will get burned out if forced to report to the same place 5 days a week for several months, even with a stellar teacher. That is why I am really glad I currently teach block semester classes. It cuts this yearlong everyday monotony in half, and I wish I could go to a quarter session instead with my students.
    Anybody that thinks they can’t do stories because they are boring or because they think they suck at CI or whatever, should offer an adult class, once or twice a week max, and do what you would do with your middle/high school students. Hopefully it will allow you to see that the problem isn’t with your style or ability. The problem lies in the way we beat learning into kids. That’s my opinion. Even though Linda Li is awesome (and I stress AWESOME) at delivering CI, we have to admit that even her CI will lose some oomph if given day after day to the same group.
    PQA works, stories work, CI works. The institutions in which most of us teach don’t (that’s not meant to be a dig on public schools or those who work in them, but a rebuke to the large shadows that loom over them).

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