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78 thoughts on “Question”

  1. I hope you get lots of feedback on these questions, Joe – these below are only my own thoughts:
    1. HW has a place in a CI classroom if it’s something that the student wants to do and initiates. Otherwise, it is a sad relic from days of old, as I see it. Do a search on “homework” in the search bar here and you will get lots of ideas on that topic.
    2. Don’t delay but don’t go full on CI. It seems to me that the best course of action is to:
    a. Avoid making any commentary like, “Class, we are going to be doing something new and it’s really cool.” That, to a teen’s mind (or the mind and heart of anyone who has been repeatedly lied to by other teachers about how cool their classes are going to be), causes, as I see it, raised eyebrows.
    b. So I say sneak the new CI in in the last five or ten minutes of each class without a label. You could just try a few Circling with Balls questions or One Word Images. I will send you a book on all that to explain those strategies.
    I’ll leave the other questions to the team. Main thing is not to start with a full day of CI, just back load it into each class. That guarantees safety. What will happen is that they will “bite” at the change and ask for more. That’s what you want. If you do a full day of CI never having done it before you will have a minor freak out moment or two during that first class (very normal, we all have to go through it), but it is better to back the CI in and make them ask for it. Slowly ten minutes becomes the entire period and your truck will be cruising down the CI highway.
    I’m looking forward to both comments from the group and your reports back on how it’s going over the next few months.

    1. That’s awesome. Sound advice. I love the idea that the kids will ask for more. And I totally agree with the raised eyebrows after a teacher says “this is new…and cool” – they’ve heard that before so many times! Thanks so much. I got the e-mail with the packet btw – looks like my reading for the winter break!

  2. Ben has great advice. A little at a time is good. I did that one year by trying CI out as the whole approach with my youngest class, and doing CI activities with the other classes while still using textbooks with them.
    One thing I needed to know when I got started with CI was to keep the language simple. I expected my students would know more from a textbook than they did, and I used too much “review” vocabulary. They got frustrated and acted bored, but really they didn’t understand and didn’t want to tell me that. Some of them acted out. If you want the whole story, it’s in this PLC (search Diane Neubauer, that was in fall 2012). This PLC has been a huge help! Welcome!

    1. Thank you, Diane. I will read the story and learn! I have been trying to compile a list of “high frequency words” that I think they’d know at the outset of any CI practice. Will report back soon!

      1. Salve Joe, mihi placet!
        My advice is even if you think they *should* know the high-frequency words, you should still get in repetitions on them. They might not be “sticky” enough in their heads yet. I am surprised at how LITTLE my eighth-graders, who had a grammarian and a ton of subs last year, remember from the book/workbook, etc. They did not even know how to handle the verbs “to have” and “to be”, so you might not want to assume much has actually gotten acquired from the learning that took place. With my eighth graders, it is weird: they can conjugate these verbs perfectly out of context (like in a table or chart or chant they learned last year) but they are stumped when they try to produce or sometimes even recognize them in context. It is so important at the outset of your foray into CI that both you and the students feel highly successful. So I would caution against anything that might make them feel like they don’t understand or you feel like you are not cut out for CI. Everyone is cut out for CI, it is just a matter of getting your sea legs under you. And the way to do that, I suggest, is to actually do CI with things you already have touched on in grammar-translation.
        It is so exciting that you are here, and I think you will find that this is a most excellent community of support and encouragement as well as a fountain of great ideas, experience, and inspiration. Welcome! Bonum cursum!!

        1. “…they can conjugate these verbs perfectly out of context (like in a table or chart or chant they learned last year) but they are stumped when they try to produce or sometimes even recognize them in context.”
          Yes! There it is. That’s the difference with other kinds of results. They can do language pieces and language analysis, but whole language in context, not so much. This is what Terry Waltz calls “sloshers” because there are pieces of unconnected language in their heads.
          I’ve had some nice results with students from this background moving into CI.

      2. They won’t know the high frequency words. It’s because they haven’t heard them enough in meaningful and interesting context, so those words never got into the deeper mind where language acquisition actually in reality takes place.

  3. Hi Joseph,
    I would like to make sure you know about the Latin best practices CI yahoo group that many (John, David etc) have developed/helped develop? If you are not aware of it it I think you will find it very helpful
    Also, I would also like to make sure you know about the TCI Maine, New England and Beyond group ( We have a TCI yahoo list serve too and, most importantly, an annual conference that many from VT (Angie for example) attend. We would love to have you join us next year.
    Finally, I don’t think there is anything better you could do than CI to help produce proficiency in students. We too have the “Proficiency Based Report Card” in Maine. (We are told kids should be IM by graduation.)
    Hope that helps

    1. Thanks, Skip! I will definitely join you guys. I also checked out the Latin Best Practices and recently signed up. So glad to hear about all this support. Good to know that Proficiency can work well under TCI. I’d love to chat with you about which proficiencies you use (e.g. do you have a “transferable skills” component?).

  4. Joe, don’t rush into it. Others have said it, but it’s crucial that you heed our warning. Try an activity with “special rules” for the day that match our ways to stay in the target language, etc., but if you switch your program, they’ll revolt. I just started teaching in a school two weeks ago (there’s a Field Report in the queue about that one), so I’m effffffed because they are revolting without me changing a thing. I am the change.
    Here’s a lot to get you started, and soon to come much, much more of what I’m working on to support teachers new to CI as they learn. I’d also like to hear what you need specifically that might be missing from my materials page:

    1. Cheers, Lance! Thank you, and I will definitely not be rushing. I think a few minutes per day to test the waters and then, hopefully, with student interest, an increasing amount of it. BTW, after spending over an hour on your materials page, I’m not sure that I can point to anything that’s missing! Thank you for that. Very, very helpful.

    2. …they are revolting….
      In more ways than one. The shifting of cultures to CI has gotten a lot of discussion here over the years, but I don’t think any of us fully appreciates the magnitude of switching things up on kids. ANY kid who has learned to play the game of learning language from a teacher who does not actually speak to them and have them read in the TL is going to revolt, and be revolting to the stressed teacher. Everyone should get to start CI with brand new language learners. But they can’t. And so they need their courage, they must have their courage. Even my superstar 8th graders who have a traditional background can’t hold a candle to the joy we experience in our 6th grade classes where the happiness is so palpable that I sometimes want to run out in the hallway and cry big fat crocodile tears of happiness, because I can’t believe I made it to this point. My learning curve was fast, though – only 38 years! And I’ve got a lot more to learn. I’m putting a ten lifetime request on this CI deal. It’s that deep, I feel!

  5. Welcome to the group, Joe! So happy to have you. You found the right place for your endeavors!!!
    Here are my couple of cents:
    1. I don’t give HW, other than a “translate for your parent” or “draw a 6-panel storyboard” – nobody ever complained 😉
    2. It doesn’t matter when you start – even if it’s in the middle of the year. The sooner you can ditch your grammar-translation approach, the better. I can assure you, your students won’t mind.
    3. Since you’re the only Latin teacher and you will be teaching “proficiency based” (more so than you did before, that’s for sure), I don’t think that is something you need to be concerned about.
    4. You shouldn’t expect any horror on the first day or even thereafter, at least not from your students. You might feel terrified because it will be something you don’t have much experience with. Like Diane said, baby steps. Personally, I would suggest that you start out “Circling with cards”. Have each student draw something on a card that they like (to do, to eat, to whatever) and then go from there until either a.) you get exhausted or b.) you run out of cards (weeks from now 😉 ). Since you already found your way to this group, you’re probably familiar with PQA and Circling. If not, there is a ton of info right here.
    You sound so excited about this journey that you are about to embark on, I have no doubt that you will be great. And if you’re ever in doubt, now you know where you can go to get instant feedback, support or, heck, even just vent.
    Again, welcome to the fold!

    1. Thanks Brigitte! I’m very excited about it. Good idea with the cards. I have a massive stash of them in my closet so that’s an activity I can get started very soon. I will report back after day one (probably after the winter break). So glad you commented!

  6. My reply is primarily a repetition of what others have to say.
    1. There is a place for Homework, just not homework as it is traditionally conceived. Many people read Alfie Kohn (The Homework Myth), for example, and think he is saying “No Homework”. He is not. He is saying that homework must be justified on its own merit, not simply be given because that’s what you do. I have four “types” of homework that I give:
    a. Something that will take just a few minutes to finish because we didn’t have quite enough class time. (Essentially I’m admitting that I didn’t plan that day’s lesson quite well enough.)
    b. Something to get ready for a lesson, but I don’t want to spend class time doing it. For example, one assignment I give is for students to write a list of their favorite things. In class I read the list, and the class tries to guess who it is. Sometimes I don’t have students put their names on the paper so that I am guessing as well. When we have identified the person, then I write the name. My “completion rate” on this assignment hovers at about, oh, 100%.
    c. Something that they simply cannot do in class. Many teachers have a “cultural project”. As long as it is a chance for students to explore the culture and not filled with extraneous requirements, why not?
    d. Get more exposure to the language: read in TL (I have a student who read The Hobbit in German last year, just for fun, on her own), watch a movie in TL, change the language on your family’s electronic devices, play video games in German (or other target language), find someone to talk or write to (student can write/speak in English and interlocutor writes/speaks in German)
    2. Now is always a good time to get better. As others warned, however, make incremental changes for the sake of mental health – yours and theirs.
    3. Sorry, not much I can say on PBL.
    4. While I don’t have any horror stories, the advice about not over-selling TPRS is good. I do, however, believe there is a place for you to model a growth mindset to your students. Simply tell them that you are always trying to become a better teacher. (My students know that I go to conferences and workshops regularly.) Let them know that you will be trying out a few new things, and you will want their genuine opinion: did it work? how could it have been done better? do it again or not? etc. When you get the opinions you will have to evaluate how reliable and perceptive they are. Your students, though, are likely to surprise you with how perceptive they can be. When I was writing my books, I piloted them with my students, and they helped me make them better, pointing out a couple of plot holes, places I needed to make something more explicit, etc.
    Welcome to the PLC. This place has the right stuff to help you become a better teacher.

    1. Oh, I forgot. The one other type of homework is what Brigitte mentioned: “Show your parents what we do in class; impress them with how much German you know.”

    2. Thank you so much Robert. For the index cards, when they right out their favorite things, is that in the TL or English (which you then talk about in the TL)?
      I appreciate your thoughtful response!

      1. I give them categories in the target language, but they write in either English or German or provide names. My categories are (off the top of my head, so I may not get them all):
        Favorite music
        Favorite singer/group
        Favorite actor/actress
        Favorite film
        Favorite TV program
        Favorite sport
        Favorite athlete
        Favorite car
        Favorite color
        Favorite food
        Favorite class
        Favorite teacher
        Favorite book
        Favorite _______ (student choice)
        Students have permission to leave any category blank if they have no favorite in that category, and they can have more than one favorite.
        Student remember these, and they remember how to ask the question. Today in my advanced class we got started talking about books, and my students were asking me about my favorite books, even making suggestions of ones they think I like. After naming a few and getting various spontaneous reactions, I told them (in German), “And of course whatever book I happen to be reading at the moment. That’s always my favorite.” Several heads nodded in understanding. This is one of the joys we who teach multiple levels have: we get to see students genuinely using the language for unforced, uncontrived communication.

      2. I would suggest that they just draw the thing that they like to do. That way, there is also a visual that you can hold up for the other students to see while you “circle” the info.

    3. One more thing, Joe. I just wish that at the beginning of this year I had firmly stayed in French the entire time for those first critical weeks, to set the tone for the year. You have a chance to do that now but your opportunity will be over soon. If you start in with doing only a section of class with CI, make sure that you know that during those ten minutes or whatever you choose, when you interrupt yourself in class with English, you are sending a message to your students that English is o.k. to use in class. That is the one thing I wish I had not done to start every year of my 15 years doing TPRS.
      To be clear on this critical point, it is not the use of English in class that is so bad; it is the mixing together of the two languages at the same time when you are creating a story that causes all the problems for the rest of the year. If you are doing a story and need to communicate something procedural in English to the class, do it before or after the story, not during. The only time to use English during a story is when you ask the kids, “What did I just say?” at which time they can then answer in English. That is the only time.

      1. Just a word of caution as you proceed, Joe. This work is constantly under surveillance by those who still believe that grammar/translation is the way to go in language learning. It creates a stink in the classroom, a stink that has brought down many careers, and this is not idle talk.
        The stink will show up in certain willful students who openly demand grammar instruction, or who get passive aggressive about it in class, sulking because they are being asked to actually interact with you in class. Know that the source of the stink is almost always in the parents, at the dinner table.
        The stink also often originates in previous traditional classes where the “top” students don’t want to lose their grip as a class leader in your new system, which many do because we require a different skill set – a human skill set – from students than the one that they have feasted on for years.
        Rise above the stink. Search “John Bracey” for more on this topic for how to deal with the stink. John’s is an incredible story of bravery and courage against ignorance, and represents an extreme example of a fight that every single person in our group here has had or will have to fight in our careers at one time or another.
        Also, know that English in the classroom can completely undo everything. Completely avoiding English during CI instruction – and I mean completely – has proven to be the elusive gold ring of this work, and almost impossible. More often than not, I feel that it IS impossible to avoid. But one little word of English in class causes cascading problems and rips apart what might otherwise be a good class.
        So, watch out for the grammar stink, and avoid the English. In my view, the greatest single mistake new CI teachers make in this work is to send the conflicted message to their students that blurting out English in class is o.k. It brings down the CI ship faster than anything else, every day, even more than the stink.
        Final thought, and sorry to be perceived of as negative here, but I believe it has to be said. There is a darkness, a fear and a despondency in our schools these days that is destroying all the glitter in learning. There is a dullness of spirit everywhere that one can see in people’s eyes.
        Teachers are generally not allowed to confront administrators whose job it seems to be to perpetuate the darkness and make it generational, and so you must decide whether you have the strength of will to begin your work with CI there in Vermont under those conditions.
        I know that you will succeed, Joe, because people are looking for something new that can shine light on the glitter of life to bring language classes back to life, so that life can sparkle again like when we were young. I know you will succeed because I can feel it in your words.
        Just know that this is no work for many of the language teachers who are in our nation’s classrooms right now. This work is born of strength and courage. A keen awareness of exactly how dangerous our situation is in school buildings these days is necessary, along with the awareness that we hold the keys to something wonderful in education.

    1. …trying to do too much….
      There is a rhythm to CI done well. Stay in the moment of communication and don’t rush forward simply because you want to finish a story. And don’t circle because people tell you to circle. Circle when it is necessary, when you sense that the kids don’t know what you are saying – and then go in narrow and deep and keep circling it until you sense that they know that sentence and then you can move on. Always try to use terms that they already know, but if you find yourself going out of bounds, then circle it and make sure they know the new thing before you go on. It’s just a big dance – that’s all it is – in which you provide messages and make sure that they are understandable, to use the term Robert Patrick likes to use: understandable messages. Just work to deliver understandable messages. That’s all you need to do. (Requires trust – see

      1. Ben, I love your passion. As I read the comments, I got more and more excited. I’m game for the challenge. Good to hear some straight talk about the challenges. I appreciate that you are giving me the whole picture. Thank you very much.

        1. This is so key! THIS could be an ACTFL session! I find that so many colleagues who have tried TPRS have said it gets old, boring, kids are rolling their eyes. I just thought, maybe it is over-circling things the kids have already acquired. Imagine how boring in a staff meeting.
          Staff, this is the fire drill lineup order.
          Is this the fire drill lineup order?
          Yes, staff, good, this is the fire drill lineup order.
          Is this the fire drill lineup BORDER?
          Correct, staff, this is NOT the fire drill lineup BORDER.
          It is the fire drill lineup order.
          Is this the fire drill lineup order or the Taco Bell lineup order?
          Yes, staff, good job, this is the fire drill lineup order.
          Actually sometimes staff meetings DO feel like this.
          Really, this is a key skill. And I think it would help a lot of teachers stick with CI if they knew they weren’t “required” to circle every sentence. Learning how to determine what should still be circled in a class is a very important skill. A great idea for a session!

  7. Joe,
    This was me two years ago. I had discovered TPRS in October and was wanting to implement it in January. I printed off the word wall (in Spanish) from Ben’s site and the top 50 verbs (in 3rd person) from Eric Herman’s site. I also printed off a few other useful posters (connecting words and question words) and I hit the ground running. I was FREAKED out and didn’t sleep much the week before we started back. I was excited yet nervous about the new adventure I was about to embark upon. I can tell you now it was the best decision I ever made from a career standpoint and can now honestly say that on most days I enjoy my job.
    If I remember correctly I started with the word wall with both level 1 and 2 and we would do actions for 3 words a day and then after that we would close our eyes and repeat the previous actions we’d done. We did that for weeks (maybe 9) until I felt most kids had a good grip on the words and until we had finished the wall. It was a nice way to spend the first 5-8 minutes of class…very safe and predictable.
    I believe I also had each kid draw a picture of what s/he liked to do and then we would discuss 1-2 kids for however long it lasted. As long as the energy was flowing we went with it. They key is to have someone in class writing down the information that you are discussing and try to have a quiz writer too so that you can give a simple Y/N quiz at the end if you are feeling it. This way you can read what you discuss as it is a great follow up activity later that week.
    I cannot remember when we did our first story but it was maybe after 4-6 weeks. If you have a Matava or Tripp script just try it out. Again, always remember to have a kid writing the story and a quiz writer as you will ALWAYS want to try to read what you discuss in class. (I usually tell the story in past for both levels and read in present in level 1 and past in level 2…everyone has their opinion on this). I usually take 2 days to ask a story in class and then we take another 2 to read it. The 5th day is spent retelling, doing a dicteé or I may also do some PQA or have them write out some answers as well. It all depends on my mental health.
    I never give homework. It creates a nice vibe in class and I personally don’t have time or energy to grade it. I would rather be enjoying my own family. Plus, as I age I realize that students need to want to learn in order to truly do so, so why not create an environment that makes them want to learn. It’s all about building that community!
    It will be stressful at first as you learn the method and to navigate what works for you. However, I will say that my students transitioned nicely to the new method. I was very honest with them about being nervous about trying something new and together we took the journey. I really think these kids appreciated it even more, because they had had the traditional approach. My students currently know no differently and so sometimes I think they don’t realize how good they have it. If they only knew…
    Just remember to RELAX, take deep breathes and go slower than you could ever imagine. Always make sure the students are letting you know if they don’t understand and then walk slowly to the board and write down what they don’t know in L1 and L2. It may be uncomfortable at times, but now I learn to love the slowness and tranquility that I feel with this method.
    Of course I still have BLAH days, but I don’t beat myself up as much if they happen. I realize that not everyday is a home run and that is ok. Go easy on yourself and realize you are doing the best that you can and are awesome for trying something new.
    My best to you on your new journey!

    1. Awesome! Glad to hear your transition went smoothly. I’m hoping for a “one step at a time” approach come semester 2 in January. Thanks for sharing your story. It makes me feel less nervous!

  8. Joe, welcome!
    I think MovieTalk might be the easiest way to ease into CI. That’s not from experience, because I started the year fresh with Circling with Balls after reading Ben’s Laramie Handouts. But I think MovieTalk and even simple PictureTalk is very intuitive and less likely to result in student behavior issues. Try a 3 minute video like Alma (no speech) and see how long you can draw it out. Or pull up a picture of a student’s family, or your own family, and see how long you can talk about it and compare to other students in the class.
    One thing that I think may trip up people who are new to CI: expectations of student performance. Remember that LOTS of inaccurate language is going to come out of their mouths and pens for a while — years. Don’t worry about it. Don’t make them feel inadequate (like I’ve done sorry to say) because you think they should be spitting out the first person singular of To Have no problem because you’ve said it 2 thousand times. Their internal syllabus decides mostly about such grammatical connections. If you can look past grammar and spelling though, it’s hard to not be impressed with the fluency gains you’ll see after mere hours of CI.
    I, personally, might very well try to go all-in after break. Maybe. New semester? New expectations. When I got back from NTPRS in 2008, I invited a small group of friends to a spot in town for about an hour and I practiced TPRS with them. They didn’t care if I sucked, they actually had a blast regardless, and I really learned enough just from that one practice session to calm my nerves before jumping all in with my new groups of students at my new school (which of course makes it easier than transitioning mid-year).

    1. Thanks Jim! I, personally, like the idea of just going all in. I will give it some thought. I wonder how much grammar-translation “hangover” (bad analogy, I know) there will be if I jump all in right away. I practiced with my wife a bit the other night and it too was quite fun, so that had a similar effect on me. Question: when you’re doing movie talk or picture talk, are you pre-planning a set of words that you want them to acquire (like, for example, words for “like, love, not, good, bad” or similar reaction words)?

      1. This is to chime in with the practice-with-adults idea. I know that I gained some extremely helpful experience, skills, confidence, and a “feel” for the work by teaching a year of after-school beginner Spanish at a local elementary school. I was there one night a week for two hours. We did a story each week, and then I typed it up over the weekend and we did a reading activity with it the next week and then continued on to a new story. This was a great way to practice in a low-stress environment without the added challenges of teenagers in the room. 🙂 I would highly suggest finding a sympathetic audience to practice with, even if only a couple times, over break.

      2. I think the Hermanator would agree with your analogy of a “grammar-translation hangover” as he brilliantly likened such pedagogy to drinking the hard stuff.
        I suggest having some words in mind ahead of time. And, I think Ben’s advice to start with pictures before movietalk is GREAT advice. Preferably use pictures from the movietalk you want to use, as Ben suggests. There are a ton of good Christmas videos floating around right now. I just did this one today, related to Xmas in Spain
        It’s one minute long and I spent the entire 50 minutes of class talking about it. I didn’t have pictures, but if I were just starting, for a 1 min video I’d find 5 or so pictures that relate to the big moments/emotions in the video. “Surprised” is a new one that couldn’t help but get stuck in kids’ heads today. Also, “puts the gifts” and “kings” were new so I spent a bit more time on these parts. If I were doing picturetalk before the movietalk as we’re suggesting, I’d take a few screenshots (e.g. the kid leaving his bedroom, the kid surprised, the parents putting the presents under the tree, the parents surprised, the king, etc). Talk about these pictures using your circling skills (i.e. asking various types of questions, yes/no, either/or, What/Who/Where/How Many). Then when you get to the Movietalk, you’ll get renewed energy from the kids and you’ll know better where to stop and discuss with kids about what’s happening in the video. If something happens but it likely will take extra effort to establish its meaning and might detract from the momentum/flow of the discussion, I’d let it go by undiscussed, or think about how to say it in words they understand.

  9. Jim, as you say Movie Talk (search the term) might be a good starting point for Joe. Just don’t try to do too much with it, Joe. Less is more in this work. You may want to work from a screen shot (we have some here on Simon’s Cat) and slowly over time you will have done enough screen shots of the clip to show the entire thing with commentary. It’s a good idea because you have the visual to anchor you, whereas the kids in non-image related CI don’t have that and can get nervous because they have to actually interact with a teacher in class.

  10. Another thing, Joe, don’t be surprised when goodness happens in your class. I define goodness in CI instruction as group collaboration with the intent of enjoying happiness and laughter while staying in the language together. If students who can do that outnumber those who can’t, a class can work. Sometimes, not too often, sad kids outnumber those who don’t in a class. This is a warning to the new CI teacher to tred lightly with the CI, and to forge bonds of trust first before diving into the CI. The soil must be fertile if it is to bear fruit. And don’t forget – don’t announce it as a new thing you are doing in class. Just do it.

    1. No, luckily I am their first Latin teacher. My predecessor was not into grammar-translation either, so even the older ones do not know of a super old-school, grammar-heavy class. I do, however, have kids who soak up grammar like sponges, and I hope they don’t feel like I’ve betrayed them or something. I think I may just talk to them separately – they’re great kids and definitely trust me, so I think an honest talk about it may be the best move.

      1. I would not do the honest talk personally, even with the trust there. I would slowly curve the class, without their even noticing, to more and more conversation with no English. Talks with teens have a way of backfiring. What you tell them might by one or two be interpreted as a threat to the success they enjoyed before, requiring brand new behaviors from them, that they may not be up for. Call me paranoid, but sometimes the least likely student becomes a thorn in the class when called upon to function in a different hemisphere of the brain and more from the heart, and if it is a strong student, she can take half the class with her in one lunch table conversation.

        1. SLOWLY is key here. I know you are tempted to dive right in, but if I could go back and slap some sense into myself in August/September, I would have started slowly with that eighth grade class and presented CI like an “activity with special rules” as someone responded earlier here. Oh well, lesson learned for me. Maybe my hard knocks can help you. Go slow. Build confidence. Don’t make it into a big deal for the kids. It is a big deal for YOU because you are excited and passionate (as you should be since you just discovered gold…not just CI but CI with US!!) but for the kids it is just another day in Latin class and hey, this new thing we did for ten minutes at the end of class was fun. Let that slowly grow, as you feel more and more confident. Maybe at the end of a month you will be providing CI throughout the day, maybe not. But my hope for you is that you are still excited, and feeling successful, in ten years. So tread lightly at first, because success builds trust. Both for the kids trusting you and for you trusting CI.

          1. Thanks Tina. This blog and PLC is no doubt GOLD. So glad I’m here. So many thoughtful responses. I am grateful.

  11. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I started my first real T/CI story with 1st graders toward the end of the school year. I pre-selected the targets (is hungry, [does/n’t] like, eats.) They have to know lots of other connector words for it to fit together and be comprehended, i.e., There is, the, a… I would definitely have narrow, hi-freq targets for your first story (down the line). Make it a short story with only one or two variables – a name, a place… When you see the names and places they throw out to you, you can start making PowerPoints of these favorite characters and places, and do some picture talk. I have, for example, an ‘old’ Ppt of famous cats that I made for Carol Gaab’s Cuéntame cat stories, and every year I show it, whether doing her stories or not. And every year I add or remove cats, based on student ideas. A simple slideshow becomes a guessing game by adding a screen shade (Smartboard feature) and scrolling down slowly, so Ss have to guess who it is…)
    We look forward to hear your successes and challenges. You’ve come to the best place for support and celebration of a delightful way to communicate.

    1. Thanks Alisa! Question: I keep hearing “stories” and “down the line” – is the idea that the creating of stories can only happen months down the road from the inception of CI practices in a classroom? In other words, can you explain precisely what the “stories” idea refers to and when/how a teacher would go about doing that?

      1. I think everyone is suggesting postponing stories because you are changing things in the middle of the year. When starting fresh with a new group of students, stories can come very early; all you need is enough vocabulary to create a problem (Joe wants chocolate), go somewhere (Joe goes to Hershey, Pennsylvania), and either solve the problem or not (Joe doesn’t get chocolate in Hershey, but he does get chocolate at Ghirardelli’s in San Francisco). Especially at the beginning, stories often develop out of something else. Ben also spins stories out of a One Word Image (OWI), but the story has only one place rather than the traditional three.
        There are lots of articles about how to do this, how different people put their own spin on it, etc. Check the categories on the right side of the page.

  12. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Yes- what Robert said, and also you prolly wanna be sure that they get lots of extended chunks of input through regular circling or CWB or classroom banter or persona especial – whatever vehicles you choose that allow for the language acquisition to start to accumulate, some TPR verbs, plus some basic survival and storytelling vocab – in order to tell a ‘proper’ story. You could do it along the way, but I think for newbies it might be easier to have, for example:
    There is
    a boy/girl
    teacher/student etc
    has: a problem, # dollars, etc (USE COGNATES)
    A coupla rejoinders
    You could accomplish this with little scenes in your class before you go to a full-blown story format – but I encourage you to work with backwards design – then later when you have a sense of the parameters – you can improvise more.
    *This partial list is from Carol Gaab’s 2-week Elementary Teacher’s Manual Intro from Cuéntame and is also free on her website, I think.
    Having your first story skeleton/script/’structures’ ahead of time will allow you to find/pull together props, images and other word-related stuff. Puppets, food, logos, songs, photos etc.

  13. Hi Joe and all others,
    Joe I am right in your shoes and grateful for the questions and feedback put forth regarding new implementation of CI after winter break. My quest for wanting to switch to CI has been going on since the beginning of the year at my new middle school job this year. I was unprepared and too nervous to begin the year with CI but have been studying a lot, here and other CI teacher blogs, this past few months and am determined to make the leap when second semester classes start. I am really understanding the importance of slow and staying in bounds; it is deciding how to go from day-to-day and what language to focus on, and how to sequence which is my current brain-buster. I am confused about knowing what language to focus on, does it matter or doesn’t it matter to have a plan? Do CI teachers have scope and sequence tactics?
    Another brain-buster is how to instruct kids on their roles and expectations. I understand Ben’s sage advice of not spelling it out for them, that things are going to be different, but how do you teach students to play the game and teach them about distinct class structure such as the new no-English rule and required class/ individual participation?
    Nervous in Montana

    1. Oh and resources confound me too; there are many great resource ideas here, I am wading through them and deciding what materials and activities I need to amass (scripts, readers etc.). Do people here ever use a CI curriculum? There are a couple out there I am looking into (Immediate Immersion / Martina Bex), or do I just structure my own curriculum and resources? The free form of CI leaves me stricken me at this novice stage.

        1. There is no “right” Scope & Sequence. No “right” list of structures.
          Focus on communicating about what compels students and it largely takes care of itself. Then, you genuinely have an “organic” and “personalized” and “communicative” curriculum.
          If you look at a high-frequency list, you’ll realize that those words are necessary in every communicative event – by definition 😉
          So, if you need to know what you are “teaching” then look at the highest frequency 10-50 verbs, plus some good action verbs (e.g. “eats,” “runs”) and those will drive your “curriculum,” at least at the lower levels.
          The revolution in our field will happen when we stop creating language-driven curriculum and start creating task-based and content-based syllabi about the communicative intent (the content in the messages being exchanged). If language acquisition happens as a result of comprehending messages, then the focus needs to be on the message.
          I view the mechanics, e.g. the circling, targeting, pointing & pausing, as ways for teachers to stay comprehensible. If teachers aimed for the goal of communicating (requires comprehension), then these mechanics are like the explicit textbook rules – they are what we observe as a result of communicating, i.e. not the cause.

          1. Carrie, Eric has well articulated the aim of where we all want to be. If that still seems out of reach next week, though, it is fine to borrow or buy others’ curriculum materials while you get started. That can allow you to adjust to the new approach and build some success at that. It’s better for the students to be less targeted and sequenced, but we work in schools with many pressures and expectations.
            Then there are personality considerations. If you’re naturally more of a planner, going without a clear plan for activities may add too much stress at least now. Some of us in the PLC quietly continue to plan despite the great examples of those who do very little to no planning. (I’m not saying rigid, moment-by-moment planning. I mean things like… I aim to use a book and pull out phrases they don’t know yet. Eventually we can read the book. It’s not always the most compelling, but it keeps me from being overwhelmed, and it’s compelling enough for my students — we rarely use the actual book, so it doesn’t feel all tied to something.)
            So if you find Martina Bex’s materials helpful, or other prepared plans helpful, I think it’s fine. That way you can develop your skills, get a “feel” for how this works, and go more free-form over time.
            But I’d say the weekly plan idea was really what saved me. Years later, I still generally follow a weekly plan: 2 days auditory-based, 2 days reading-based. (My classes meet 4x a week.) So, each week I’m introducing some new language and working with it first with activities that are mainly aural input, then that are more reading input. I change what activities we do so it doesn’t feel the same each week. I made a chart of ideas from the PLC, my own, and other teachers and that way I didn’t have to be super-creative all the time. I could look at my chart and pick something to do.
            Over time, I’ve been able to shift the schedule around more freely based on how the students actually progress & their interests. It’s just to keep things manageable for me, and to accommodate the need in Chinese for massive auditory input to precede any reading in characters — and then to allow plenty of reading including a few new characters each week. I have that need in greater measure than a phonetically-written language, it seems.

          2. What Diane said!
            I can’t know what it’s like to try to learn this without first studying the mechanics of TPRS, using a TPRS curriculum (LICT), and following a weekly plan of activities, cuz that’s how I did it.
            I just like to help us keep our eyes on the prize 😉 My response was actually less to Carrie and to this thread, but more just me satisfying my own need to get out the “communicative” message.

          3. Carrie Anderson

            Thanks Eric,
            I will revisit LICT as a choice for a guide. I need to just start and do. Your advice about the message is a good one to keep in mind always. The more research and study about CI (including your videos thanks!) enlightens me yes, but it also confounds me. I suspect this blog, research and studying will become even more relevant once I am actually practicing CI, as opposed to trying to absorb and understand it all in advance; still helpful for certain but obviously one must do and practice any new skill to learn it and then become better at it. Thanks for your help!

          4. Carrie Anderson

            Thanks Diane,
            This is very helpful. I do need something of a “plan” for my own sake as well as posting to a school website (but mainly for me- I realize I am likely being overly anxious, but I am at a new job and so the stakes feel high). It is the framework of what a week looks like, and what activities therein, that you helped me understand better. Thanks!!

    2. I would encourage you to look at Jen’s Great Rubric (jGR) for ideas on how to introduce the “rules of the game” to the kids. It is a very powerful tool and much has been written about it here.

  14. I did a lot more TPR when I first started (Karen Rowan’s Realidades ancillary very helpful). It’s an easier way to get kids acquiring vs learning, and can smoothly move right into story-asking if things work out.

    1. Carrie Anderson

      Hi Jim,
      Is Karen Rowan’s helpful ancillary here on the site? I cannot readily find it by searching “Karen Rowan Realidades.” This type of transition sounds appealing. Thanks! Carrie

  15. Hi Carrie!
    You nailed it when you said:
    “I suspect this blog, research and studying will become even more relevant once I am actually practicing CI, as opposed to trying to absorb and understand it all in advance”
    It’s a process, so take it one step at a time in whatever way feels most comfortable for you. There is no “wrong” in this because you are drawn to a way to communicate more authentically with your students and so you are undertaking a way to do that.
    Be kind to yourself in this try to reframe the concept of “right and wrong.” That is an illusion, since we are all doing the best we can given our current circumstances and awareness 🙂 And…have FUN! It is supposed to be fun!

  16. One delicate balance is repeating activities, and focusing on strategies/techniques to improve your own CI skillz while varying things up and NOT making class boring or predictable. Students will not appreciate how awesome you’ve become at MovieTalk if that’s all you do for two weeks.
    I’m a few weeks (~13 hours) into CI with 7th graders, and have only repeated two or three activities. I’m able to make mental notes and revise for next time, but I’m mostly improving upon universal ideas key to CI success each day:
    – Teach to Eyes
    – Run with Compelling diversions
    – Check for Comprehension

      1. yes exactly! My favorite one was when a 4th grader lost her tooth in class and I immediately jumped from TPR (we hadn’t got much past that yet I think since it was at the beginning of the year) to a few sentences about the girl who lost her tooth – and I think it was the best class we had all year. I can’t create more compelling input then a student losing her tooth in class!

    1. Carrie Anderson

      Thanks Lance, good advice! What are some of your favorite/staple/go- to activities? I am reading Ben’s CI big book which is just that: BIG! i.e., many strategies outlaid. Maybe some of your’s are the same or different?
      Carrie : )

      1. I have a post in queue that didn’t quite make it out before Ben left. I’ve been recording a portion of every day and making a video with captions as a way to chronicle and reflect upon my teaching. The videos are titled by activity. The following come to mind:
        Choral Translation
        Volleyball Translation
        Draw, Write, Pass
        Word Race
        Persona Especial (Star of Week)
        Word Wall

  17. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I’m chewing on what Eric said:
    “The revolution in our field will happen when we stop creating language-driven curriculum and start creating task-based and content-based syllabi about the communicative intent (the content in the messages being exchanged). If language acquisition happens as a result of comprehending messages, then the focus needs to be on the message.
    I view the mechanics, e.g. the circling, targeting, pointing & pausing, as ways for teachers to stay comprehensible. If teachers aimed for the goal of communicating (requires comprehension), then these mechanics are like the explicit textbook rules – they are what we observe as a result of communicating, i.e. not the cause.”
    At the novice level we are still building toward the ability to engage in task- or content-based syllabi/curriculum, so the biggest bang for our buck is to insure our Ss acquire the highest frequency, flexible, practical lexical items. Since for many Ts this is not a natural way to teach at first, we rely on said lists. I for one teach 4 grades, so we have a ‘down n dirty’ list for each grade for backwards planning for a leveled reader and testing purposes across the district. We have to create/proctor Cornerstone assessments at each grade to demonstrate that the Ss are all acquiring our ‘targets.’ The curriculum is recursive and recycles words from previous years. It’s a handy way for me to scan and say, “Oh, I’d better try to incorporate “was correct” (tenía razón”) into an upcoming event as the 3rd graders need it for the Isabela novel. It doesn’t really matter whether I start my process with a list of target words or with a story – so long as the communicative event (story in this case) employs these choice words to the greatest extent possible. I’m pretty free wheeling – I find story/scene content from my Ss, from the internet, from movie clips, picture books, the news, my life…but the key to comprehensifying is to massage the message into words they understand – including pulling out new words and establishing their meaning.
    Ahhhh… to be unencumbered by the machinations of the institution.

    1. . . . to be unencumbered. . . We can do it!
      Eventually, we’ll have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that our approach works and we’ll bury the old paradigm. That includes tossing assessments that are tied to precise word lists or at least improve upon that (checking/sampling vocabulary size at various high-frequency levels, e.g. every 50 words).
      People understand that immersion schools are also language schools. And yet the content are the academic subjects. No one is trying to sequence and control the language. Yes, there is a lot more exposure time in an immersion school. But that reduced time doesn’t give us reason to need to resurrect word lists. The idea is the same just on a smaller scale.
      Our “subject matter” are the students’ lives, the content in the stories, or whatever else will compel students to comprehend input – hence the more adequate course title “Students & Stories in . . . e.g. Spanish.” In trying to find out information about students and create stories the language our kids need the most and are most likely to acquire with fewer repetitions (because it’s meaningful to them and not to a teacher) is the result. Whatever is highest-frequency to your population will result by definition! So you “teach” reactively – bring into bounds (establish meaning) as needed, rather than predetermining it.
      We’re not really “teaching” are we? We’re communicating. And the two have totally different feels to them. I can feel the difference and students certainly can feel the difference between moments when someone is “teaching” and when someone is “communicating.” We (TPRS) may believe that we are disguising the “teaching” in a story, but that’s because we are still growing out of the old paradigm and old habits.

    2. “massage the message into words they understand ‘
      love that analogy ! A massage is slow and repeated so it can get to the point of tension.
      Alisa I’m going to use that metaphor and quote you on it!
      Happy new year to you all, wishing you all much successes on your CI journey!

  18. We’re not really teaching like other other GEN-ED colleagues in the sense of explaining and applying concepts, but we do work in schools, employ the tools and trappings of the classroom, report to school adminz, are accountable to them plus Ss, parents, BOE….So we have to work within that institutional framework – hopefully either under the radar or with colleagues and adminz who understand how SLA is different from other disciplines (unconscious, non-linear, etc.) – usually because we’ve trained them and had them observe repeatedly in our classrooms.
    The comparison to immersion classrooms is interesting. Yes, there the World Language is simply the vehicle for the content. But interestingly, many dual immersion programs have the same kinds of misunderstandings, unrealistic goals & expectations, parental distrust and underwhelming results as traditional WL classes. It seems as though they are not informed and driven by SLA principles, either. From what I have seen, their teachers don’t have the tools to set language acquisition goals and assess student progress, and their adminz don’t know enough about SLA to set reasonable expectations for the parents. One would think that parents would run to sign their kids up for optional long-sequence dual immersion programs at public schools, but many (English dominant parents) are afraid and doubt their effectiveness.
    No worries – the revolution is coming – to a school near you!

    1. On immersion programs: I had two friends who both teach in Mandarin-English dual language schools visit back in November. I had expected that they were going to find my students’ language ability really low compared to kids getting like 4-5 hours a day in Mandarin from 1st grade through 8th. However, they thought my students were doing very well with Chinese, which was a pleasant experience, and they loved the high motivation they felt my students had. They attributed some of the success to their interest in what we were doing. In their schools, they have to teach “boring stuff” most of the time, and they were also not used to speaking comprehensibly — they spoke at normal speeds without sheltering vocabulary. Nonetheless even level 1 students could respond to their questions most of the time. That was sweet to see. So I am not so intimated by immersion programs or their results anymore. If they really knew how to be comprehensible all the time, and they made their instruction more engaging, I think they’d be happier, too.

      1. Thanks for the testimony, Diane, and congrats.
        Let’s see if I understand this:
        1. Interesting and compelling beat out their opposites.
        2. S L O W trains for FAST.
        3. Sheltering vocabulary prepares for unsheltered vocabulary.
        4. Increasing time is not automatically going to increase communicative ability.
        Am I concluding correctly?

  19. And the focus on literacy in C/I classrooms also makes a huge difference. In some immersion settings, the Ss aren’t learning to read well in either language – just not enough scaffolded ‘eyes on text’ time. I see this as a huge difference w/my own Ss too. It used to be so painful hearing them try to read (in the old regime). Now they volunteer – because it feels easy. And they sound so great!!

    1. Even true for Chinese. There’s still a range, and there are still a few students who struggle, but the overall character reading ability is strong, and they pronounce well. And the kids with struggles still read better than those who struggled the old way. The low point is higher, if that makes sense. We need painless guidance in hearing real language read, and over time, we can read, too.

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