Report from the Field – Andrew Snider

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20 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Andrew Snider”

  1. Andrew we have some articles here on ninety minute block classes. Maybe a search would find them. But before doing that search, the best answer I can think of personally to address the almost insane idea of a two hour and ten minute long class twice a week would be to condense what you find on the link below into the weekly four hours and twenty minutes you have available. I tried to develop it as a movement up the taxonomy. What you have now seems to not move up, but stays flat, hence your need to do many stories in one class. This two week taxonomy would change that, possible. Carol Hill swears by the two week plan, and if she does, then I know it works, and would be an asset to anyone currently needing to move their teaching to a more narrow and deep level than it is now:

  2. Thanks for the reply, Ben. I will work on a solid two week plan based off that link and report back–You can just see in the students’ eyes how hard it is to stay focused for 2 hours and 10 minutes.

    In a typical long-block class we have been doing the reading from the previous days’ story and a new story. At first I thought it was working well, but now I’m sure it’s going too fast.

    1. Maybe you could start spreading it out a bit more by PQA/create story (with actors and a story artist and everything) on Day 1 and a reading on Day 2. Day 2 could also include any required textbooks/grammar stuff. Do you do Quick Quizzes at the end of class? Do you use actors and the story artist and the story writer and the quiz writer and the clacker? There are more info on those jobs across many posts here, just click on “Jobs for Kids” on the right sidebar of this page. I can imagine actually these jobs being a big hit in a college classroom. And the jobs all give you materials (like pictures and quiz questions and a written version of the story) that will help you stretch stuff out some more.

      1. I would suggest that those who, like me, believe that the danger in our work right now is that the approach is getting too wide and that too many new strategies are taking our focus away simple comprehension based instruction would do well to read what James describes above. He has in a few sentences laid out for Andrew the meat and potatoes of what we do. Each word shows that he is in direct close contact with the big picture. Thank you James.

        And the suggestion of doing a day of story telling and then a day of reading is an excellent one. I believe that if we keep this thread going, and if we get frequent reports from Andrew over the next few weeks in these comment fields, we can come up with an excellent protocol with him that suits his own teaching personality. Stretching out one story for over two hours can be done, and if you insert any of the strategies presented in the two week plan into James’ plan, the reading day will go by quickly and you will see something as a teacher that you never thought you would see.

        And don’t forget, Andrew, there is the the Bail Out Moves category. If you ever feel that the ground is shifting under your feet right in the middle of class, and not one of us hasn’t, consider an immediate dictée, and/or go to some of those other options that put the students more on the defensive and make them work, if they are not embracing the essential need to become good listeners.

  3. We all go too fast. We mistake their messages back to us during class to indicate that they are following along o.k. but they always understand less than we think. In addition, the faster processors push us forward. So a dialectic gets created that undermines the brilliance of the method and we must be aware of what is really going on and take control.

    The answer to that common problem of going too fast is obviously to slow down and check for understanding at every turn, and to insist on choral one word yes/no answers during our instruction. So go read in the categories of:

    Checking for Understanding

    It is a process and not something that you can learn overnight. We will always be working on this issue of going too fast. It’s just that way.

    I will be very interested in seeing how the too week plan strategies impact your teaching during this long block you have.

    1. Also Andrew I have added a few other things to my classroom management arsenal described above as SLOW, vCU and Checking for Understanding. The first thing, and this is just me, is to get really in close contact with my timer and fight to stay 99% in L2 for ten minutes. I tell the class each time before we start another ten minute period of pure L2 that they can make any crack they want to, but they have to wait for that period after the ten minutes to do so. It has been working. I started doing that ten minute deal a few months ago and so far it has been working, more keeping me out of English than the kids. Hey, whatever works. And then the other thing I have been doing is increasing the amount of Quick Quizzes to however many the quiz qriter can write. In the past they had all period to write ten yes/no questions and hand me that with five minutes left in class. But, to increase the accountability, I ask the quiz writer to take notes on whatever we say during each ten minute period and when she has ten questions to give them to me and we do the quiz right then and there. The kids, it is obvious, must be prepared for as many as two quizzes per class period, or any amount of questions at any moment. This is called playing offense. As they say in sports, the best defense is a good offense and what happens in classrooms is that most teachers, and this is nothing less than a tragedy, are put on the defensive to “make things happen” and to “get the kids involved” when the reality of it is that if a child is not involved in a class based on comprehensible input that is being done properly then there is something wrong with the child. This is the sad legacy of what has happened in our schools and I will continue to champion, at every turn, my brave colleagues who go into their classrooms every day to deal with some of these (thankfully not all) boring kids who have been allowed by the broken, totally broken system to turn it around on us and say our classes are boring when they are the boring ones. Sorry about the rant but I am filled today with a deep respect for my colleagues who are initiating this change. It’s a feeling so I can’t describe it but dammit we are warriors, nothing less, in bringing this change, freak flags held high, and when we encounter a zombie kid who just can’t help us make the language happen (it takes two to converse) because their idea of school is to watch and memorize then I feel deep love and respect for us, for me and all the years I taught what seems like millions of zombies and I thought I wasn’t good enough but it was the zombie not me. OK rant over. But doing those two things changes the dynamic in the classroom. When the kids have the extra amount of quizzing (scantrons really help in cutting down the grading process), then there is more focus and they become less zombie-like. So working closely with my timer and quiz writer has brought more focus to my classroom. I must say this to anyone whose classes have become too listless and empty or, on the other hand, too out of control. Beyond what we already do (jGR, vCU, SLOW, strict lasering to Classroom Rules, refusal to allow side talking, etc., some of us might want to consider:

      1. ten minute bursts of L2 only with the help and guidance of the student timer.
      2. up to two 10 point yes/no Quick Quizzes per 50 minute class.
      3. inner strength and belief in ourselves and in CI so that we don’t end up being beaten down by the false truth of that permeate every atom in most schools, that the teacher is responsible if the class is not interesting.


  4. Hi Andrew– nice to see you on here.

    My advice would be, build your lessons around limited vocab but a variety of activities.

    With these long classes– if you are organised– you could conceivably do est meaning, PQA, ask story and retells (with poss some movietalk supporting your structures and story) in one class. I would assign short readings for homework, esp with the adults, after a few weeks when they have the basics down. I’d be using the intro Blaine (or any other) novels ASAP. I have a feeling that older learners will want to feel like they are “getting stuff done” so a “package” of story and activities– with a central “idea” like going out to eat, playing a sport, buying clothes, ordering tacos or whatever– will satisfy them.

    Regarding adult learners– these are often better at self-monitoring and askign for help etc than self-conscious teens, so I think you can probably play around with the choral responses etc. I’d be a bit of a Nazi regarding cell phones etc in class, though.

    1. I like the Blaine novels but they don’t resonate with the majority of my adult students. I am in the process of editing a short novel I wrote that I should be able to use with this age of students, though. When it’s done I’ll share it with the group if anyone is interested.

      jGR has really limited my need to be a phone Nazi. In addition, I think that using the short quizzes at the end of a story really helps people focus up.

      1. I cannot recommend the Carol Gaab novels from TPRS Publishing highly enough. I am using “Esperanza” with a level 1 class, and though the vocabulary is very simple, the subject matter (escaping Guatemala’s corruption during the height of its civil war in order to seek political asylum in the U.S.) is grown-up. It’s based on a true story, and the teacher’s guide has all sorts of short, comprehensible articles on poverty, unions, strikes, and immigration. I’m using a level 3 novel, “La hija del sastre,” about the Spanish civil war, and it is similarly high-drama, yet approachable language-wise. They are definitely not as predictable as the Blaine Ray novels!

  5. I teach a 2-hour adult class and love it! There are so many good CI-strategies, all of which are based around personalized, stories, and reading.

    I usually split my 2-hour class into MovieTalk and corresponding reading in the first half, PQA & Story in the 2nd half. I send all readings home with the students.

    I know the fear with MT is going too wide, but I think that better suits my adults who come in on different levels. The Novice-High and above students will pick up more than the beginners, but the beginners still get it. Pre-determining 3-4 structures to try and repeat in a MT helps stay in bounds.

    I also throw in some TPR and Magic to spice things up. I’ve also given them short presentations on acquisition theory. My adults are so into this approach that we DOUBLED our course length from 5 to 10 classes and we had more sign-ups for the 2nd half of the course 🙂

    1. Ooh, perfect timing Eric! I must have been channeling you 😉 I am about to dip my toes in the “adult class waters.” 2 hr classes. Never taught a 2-hr class before! Unfortunately the first session has to be really short (4 wks) bc I will be gone for a bit in late Jan. / early Feb. I just sent in the flyer today to the librarian who is letting me teach at the public library!

      But anyway, I would love to hear how you start it–day one. I know once I get going I will be fine, but I am a little afraid that I will be too scattered. It would help to see what you do so I can frame things a bit tighter. I will have to be really careful not to go too wide esp. since I only have 4 classes. I want them to feel like they got something out of it.

      Also, obviously there are no grades and such, but do you still give quizzes and dictado and stuff like that?

      And for MT do you have the story pre-written? Do you write it on the spot? I am kind of puzzled about the logistics. We’ll be meeting once a week, 2-hr sessions. Only have 4 wks for the first one but I am treating it as kind of a “pilot” and hope to get a longer session going in March.

      Thank you 🙂

      1. Hey Jen!

        I started the same way I do with my kids. I had to norm the adults to the method and that meant doing some CWB-type PQA and some OWI. I really focus on those highest-of-frequency verbs (Super 7).

        I started similarly to Ben’s example he has in one of his books. I had my name on one side of a card and I had something I wanted, but do not have (Wonka’s chocolate factory) drawn on the other side. I just made a statement: “Profesor Herman,” and started some slow circling, bringing any new words in-bounds and pointing to my classroom rules throughout (e.g. Profesor Herman or Profesora Herman, President Herman, Clown Herman, etc. and I ended up with students who were “clowns,” etc.). I had every adult write their name or name they wanted in class on a card and on the other side they drew something they wanted and did not have. We did some PQA and extended it into a short 1-scene story.

        The next thing I do is take 5-10 minutes to explain to them how acquisition works, using my visual diagram. And I tell them what class will not be (grammar, vocab lists, note-taking, forced output, etc.)

        We also did some TPR to quickly add some vocabulary and I think TPR helped us laugh together, while allowing me to gauge their comprehension levels.

        And lastly, on the first day, I did a short commercial MovieTalk.

        The 2nd day we did another MT and an easy story, the one you can download online from FluencyFast about a boy wanting to speak Gorilla. Any story about somebody wanting something, and then using the 3 location formula, would be fantastic.

        I honestly go over 2 hours every time and could keep on going. Tonight we had class and I TPR’d the tenses a la Michael Miller (I think he gets the credit for that, or maybe it’s Susan Gross) and we did the Paperman MovieTalk and started an embedded reading of a parallel story to the Paperman. I didn’t give any breaks. There were no brain breaks at all, unless you consider the TPR a brain break. Note to self: I had forgotten how helpful it is to TPR the tenses with some 1-2 ring circus (i.e. va a, está ___ando, estaba ___ando). Then, I made an effort to use the going to, present progressive, and past progressive in my MT, popping it up throughout.

        I don’t do dictation. Actually, I tried it once with my students. In general, I don’t do any writing with my beginning students (at least not 1st semester). I think of dictation as more for the unmotivated, to keep them accountable, and for a brain break. Once, we had a Quiz Writer in the adult classes. I don’t think the quiz did a lot for their acquisition, but it did help their confidence, as they all did well.

        When I MT, I always have the story written beforehand. Not only because I follow-up the MT with reading, or I combine it, but because it is my planning. I pick what structures I will be repeating and I want to know what to say so that my students have heard every word before they try to read it. I have a document I add to with all the clips and Spanish readings. Adapt the readings to your aims.

  6. Nice point Chris about how adult learners will be more adventurous in language production. Encourage that but don’t force it. And Eric your point about MT working better with adults is also well taken. All of what we do is far more effective with adults, who are motivated. I think that the ideal population for TPRS/CI class is motivated people, which unfortunately leaves many of our students out.

    1. Haha. Yeah, paying adults is definitely better than unmotivated teens.

      I wasn’t necessarily trying to say that MT works, because the adults are motivated. I was trying to say that I get a larger range of language abilities (multilevel) in my adult classes (from the adult who has never had a FL class to the adult who has had it in high school and been abroad) and because MT is so visual, I can go wider and stay comprehensible. At least for me, it is harder to challenge the more experienced FL acquirers with the storyasking. In fact, one of the problems I have when I storyask is that my most advanced student keeps saying so much that is incomprehensible and out-of-bounds for the majority of adults in the room. I made her the Story Author to shut her up a bit 😉

      1. So MT works well with multi-level groups eh? I am going to try to amp up MT this year, thanks to all the great testimonials I’ve heard here lately.

        Andrew, I think narrow and deep is best with stories, instead of trying to do “too many”. When you finish the story, have the students draw it, mime it, or some other way of piling on more CI. Then go back and add details. I think the story will keep interest better if you go deeper into the feelings, thoughts, and dialogue of characters. But that’s my style, perhaps you’ll have success moving on more often.


  7. …narrow and deep is best with stories….

    So that they get more reps. We try to sneak as many reps as we can in as often as we can at a slow pace and packaged so that they are interesting, meaningful, and on a good day compelling, to our students. So we use some of the ideas from the Two Week Plan like Textivate because it presents the same content in a different way.

    Yesterday in a level 1 class I spent at least 30 minutes on “was returning home” to set up a Matava story about a refrigerator. My students may not have acquired some of the stuff around that structure, like “was returning home while doing Prancersize” or “was returning home via small airplane” but I would be willing to bet that “was returning home” was acquired in the real way. Maybe.

    We forget that acquisition takes place over years in the 24/7 original perfect model of language acquisition. The one Blaine Ray didn’t design. Do we not exhibit a bit of hubris when we try to imitate the original design in our classrooms by compressing it into 4 hours a week when the original design calls for 168 hours per week?

    Here we all are thinking that because we have TPRS we can do a story in one class period and expect huge gains when the truth is that the original design requires a lot more time and reps than we get in class. I tend to think that if a person is exposed to comprehensible input for 168 hours per week over many years, they would tend to learn the language a bit better than a person exposed to only 20 hours per week.

    It is an unreasonable expectation we put on CI/TPRS, to expect it to bring acquisition of a targeted structure in just a few days. And yet we go into our classes each day and expect miraculous gains because we have found this model. In doing so, we become like those grammar teachers who, having once “covered” the material, expect it to be have been learned.

    Since learning a language is so vastly different than learning say, math, which is an activity involving conscious left brain analysis when what we do requires unconscious whole brain/right brain functioning in ways we could never understand, so that when students have had just a small percentage of the necessary exposure the targeted structure actually requires, there are no, or very limited, gains.

    Jim has has long written here about the need for sneaking in as many reps as possible, and he often brings us back to this necessary but often forgotten need in our work, the need for far more reps than we think are necessary.

    I would go so far as to say that if I were to do my job right I would probably need to do one story per month, and that would be the fast version, that story being presented in a million different ways. THAT is the model that most closely mirrors the original design.

    The oft repeated lament about “they forgot what I taught them” is not that they forgot at all, but that they never acquired anything in the first place, because they only got, say, 2000 reps on a particular structure when they needed perhaps 28,000.

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