Some Questions

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



18 thoughts on “Some Questions”

  1. Hey Polly

    I applaud your decision and willingness to jump in to TCI. I think it is very easy to want to do everything all at once. As you point out by your questions, switching to TCI raises a lot of questions/considerations.

    I will be interested in reading the advice of others but my initial reaction to your questions would be do create a list of priorities and focus on one thing at a time. In the mean-time I would suggest that you do “most things ” the way you are comfortable/familiar with.

    I would say that THE most important start would be to make sure that you can keep the CI flowing and that the CI is compelling and personal. Ask comprehension questions after each session of CI and grade those with a listening comprehension rubric.

    I personally type up all of the CI that happens in class (my class secretary does this in a google doc) and we read it the next day in class. After a few/several of these “CI readings” I give an “original reading” quiz for them to translate that includes all of the structures that we have focused on. This is graded as reading standard.

    I use a dictation template. I would happy to email that to you if you email me at I have rubrics for reading, writing, listening, culture, dictations etc that I would be happy to share with you. I would be happy to continue dialoging with you if you would like. I have tons of resources that I would be more than happy to send you.

    There are a LOT of resources on line that you can find that will give students plenty of reading opportunities until you can purchase novels, etc. Google “El cuento del gato” by Bryce Hedstrom for example. My students have really enjoyed this story and the music that goes with it… Simple google searches with give you plenty of reading choices.

    You can find some help with grading/3 modes of communication at:

    I have found that reading/decoding together on the screen is MUCH more effective than giving each student a copy of the reading. I can use the laser pointer to facilitate the readings.

    Honestly your list of questions overwhelms me and I have been doing this for eight years. 🙂 This is a LONG term process. It includes going to as many trainings as possible and reading as much as possible. Once you have “mastered” one goal, move on to another. It took me years to even master “circling’ or achieving enough reps for students to acquire the structures.

    I would encourage you to give yourself permission to start TCI without having it all figured out. Just take three structures from a story script and practice one thing at time.

    Hope that helps some!

  2. First of all, Happy New Year to all of you! May the CI-train gather steam and make many stops taking on loads of passengers along the way :-). Besides much health, peace, and happiness, I wish all of you administrators who get it, kids who want it, and co-workers who cherish it!!!

    On an unrelated note, I am happy to finally know who “QD8C4” is. I was starting to imagine him/her as some character from Star Wars ;-).

    Anyway, in answer to some of your questions:

    1. GRADING – I grade the quick quizzes at the end of class, occasional dictations, JGR, sometimes quick writes (grades based on words written, not on content/accuracy/etc.), HW (on those rare occasions when I do give it, and then I only give points for completion). I also give a somewhat cumulative exam about once a quarter – but only because that’s what administration tells me I have to do.

    2. QUIZZES – I do quizzes whenever I feel like it. Most of the time, I give one at the end of a story asking session. Sometimes, after we have read a story. They are usually T/F and, like Ben says, only take a few minutes to administer. I always keep a stack of half-sheets with the numbers 1-10 and T/F printed on them, so I can just grab them whenever I need to. Ben does little scan trons but I have quite a few kids who are “scan-tron exempt”, so that’s not an option for me. As I give the quiz, I fill out a sheet myself, so I have a template. Then it’s very easy to grade by just glancing at it and checking where somebody is off from the template I made for myself.

    3. JGR – I made a spreadsheet in Google docs for a 2-week period at a time. Several times a week (but not every day), I put in a number between 0-10 according to the rubric. 8 is the equivalent of a 100%, however I leave room for those superstars who go above and beyond what’s expected (9 and 10 points). Once you know your kids pretty well, it is really easy to quickly gauge their performance during that particular period. If you’re on task, doing what you’re supposed to do (according to the rubric that I have “visibly” hanging on the wall), engaged in the lesson, offering ideas and not having side conversations in English, you get 8 points. You can find the rubric as well as the poster to go along with it here somewhere, I’m sure. If not, let me know, and I’ll be happy to share the one I use in my classroom.
    At the end of a 2-week period, I take the average (that’s where the spreadsheet comes in handy, because it does the calculation for me) and put it in the gradebook. I call it “Daily IC (Interpersonal Communication) – Weeks X + Y”. At the beginning of the year, I give the kids and parents a description of why and how I grade this (and have them sign it!!!) and I haven’t had any problems with it so far. JGR/Daily IC has the same value as a quiz in my gradebook, which is 30%, although I might make it worth more in the future (maybe even as much as test grade) because I feel that it doesn’t have enough of an impact on those kids who don’t “show up” in class but ace all the little quizzes and tests. We’ll see – I’m still contemplating this. Again, if you want a copy of what I send home to parents, let me know. It is not an original document, as I just put together the information from several posts here on the topic but it might save you the work of doing it yourself.

    4. DICTEES/FREE WRITES. Again, I have templates for those that I keep in stacks on my desk. I am not particularly anal, but I hate being handed crumpled pieces of paper, ripped out of a binder. Dictees I grade like Ben, I only count the words that the kids don’t correct when comparing their text with the one projected on the screen. For the free writes, I count the number of words written. So, if the goal is 100 words in 8 minutes, if you write 100 words, you get a 100. If they write more than that, they get up to 110 points (even if they write 200 words 😉 ). I never give less than 65 points (that’s passing in our district) – even if they only write 20 words (rare, but it happens).

    5. READING. When we read one of the class stories that the kids created, I give them a hard copy. I follow the reading sequence that you can find here if you check the “Reading” links.

    6. MATAVA SCRIPTS/NOVELS. They are in English because the structures can be used for any L2. I use the structures, but I look at the script that goes along with them only as I guide in case the story doesn’t get off the ground by itself. Inevitably, my various classes come up with their own stories, so no matter what, you will always end up having to write/type your own version anyway.
    I only have one copy of each Blaine novel as well. My district is not big on spending money for “useful” purposes. So, I end up copying class sets of each novel. If I have several classes reading the same novel, the sets stay in the room. If not, then I let them take their copy home. Most of our reading is from class stories.

    I am with Skip in that it takes a while (a long while 😉 ) to become comfortable with the application of all these different things. I started out by focusing on PQA and Circling. If the PQA turned into something that I could turn into a reading, then that’s what I did. You don’t HAVE to use stories to make the reading useful and purposeful. Anything that incorporates what the kids give you will be compelling to them to read about (even if it’s a list of things they did over the weekend).

    I am glad that you are taking the plunge. I promise you, after you have gotten a taste, you will not want to get out of the water ;-).

    Best of luck to you,

  3. Polly,

    Thanks for posting. I am new like you and have been searching for answers to your questions over the past 4 months. I am a first time teacher. I have no advice but just wanted to affirm you and let you know you aren’t alone! Sometimes I just sit and think about all this stuff for hours without getting anything done!

    My biggest struggle is planning and preparation. Skip, thanks for your words:

    “I would encourage you to give yourself permission to start TCI without having it all figured out. Just take three structures from a story script and practice one thing at time.”

    1. I’ve been soaking up a lot of this stuff the same way, Brian… reading and thinking about this stuff for hours and not getting anything done! But, I am very happy to see things come together for me. I think it is important to go slow (both in the classroom as so many of the experienced teachers say, but also in planning) and to be sure that even if I experienced some success, to reflect upon that and consider what it means as I continue to grow as a teacher.

  4. Hi Polly, you’ve had some great suggestions from others already. I’ll just add a few ideas:

    – Grading: I keep that simpler by making almost everything worth 5 points. (5-point comprehension check quizzes in class, 5 pts each time I give a grade for interpersonal communication skills, 5 pts for homework assignments). I have 6 pts for free writes (and a rubric to help me grade… I do not grade by # of words because that’s a recipe for kids to type randomly and get nonsense characters rather than go slower and type correctly. [I teach Chinese – it has a lot of unique aspects.] I give quizzes after about 12 days of class.

    – In general, I think something to keep in mind is that you’ll develop your style of CI over time. Giving your students CI that is increasingly personalized and compelling will cause them to acquire language, even if not ‘perfect.’ I am in my second year of fully CI instruction and it feels much, much more natural now than it did a year and a half ago.

    – Be aware of student reactions and your reactions to the change. Switching to CI (for me at least) was predominately switching from thinking about content as the center of my classes to thinking about students as the center of my classes. Thinking about what they comprehend, where their energy is moving, and the emotional dynamics in the room all affect how I teach now in a way that it never did before CI. It’s moving from forcing a plan on them to developing a plan with them. I’m still in control of the classroom, but it’s much more collaborative now.

    – A pattern for what I do with a group of 3 or 4 structures helps me a lot: 1 day with new structures and PQA/alternatives; 1 day with story/alternatives (usually alternatives in my case); 1 day reading activities as a group; 1 day moving into more independent reading; 1 day for whatever else. Sometimes games, sometimes additional practice esp. with reading activities.

    – Within that pattern, I can add a lot of variety without feeling frazzled or pulled in too many directions. I can add new approaches (ex, MovieTalk) over time into the day of my pattern without feeling stressed out.

    Happy New Year and blessings on your teaching!

  5. Here is my set of answers. Love the ones above.

    Q. What all do you grade as I know this will be a big factor for many kids/parents. I personally hate getting bogged down in the grades as I value learning over grades, but that is not what our educational system has taught them. Could you start by giving me the categories/things you grade and what they are each worth.

    A. See, they have infected our minds into thinking that we have to have categories and each is worth something, etc. We need to see through that mental construct. It may work in other classes, but all I want to see in my grade book, and honestly the admins don’t care – they just want to see grades – are numbers based on what I see in class (jGR) and what they do on quizzes. I hope, knowing what we know, that summative grading is just so inaccurate compared to those formative daily quizzes. Do we judge a child on some test we give them when they are two years old, to see how much of their first language they have learned? Do we really lack that much respect for children, that we expect them to have acquired some level of language skills in a certain period of time? Then we shouldn’t do it in our classrooms either. It’s stupid. Look in the Assessment categories here – there are details in many of the posts there. I like Diane’s use of a five base, and would change but now am used to the ten base, and I think my computer likes it better as well. Again, I assess both what I see from each kid in terms of the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication and what I get on those (as daily as possible) quick quizzes. The jGR interpersonal skill is for me 35% of a kid’s grade, and the other 65% is from the Quick Quizzes, which is also a category to read in. Yes, 100% of their grades is from two sources. Nobody cares. They care if they don’t see any grades in the teacher’s gradebook, but they could give a rip about how wonderful your categories are, so drop the categories and give yourself about ten or fifteen hours more per week with yourself and your loved ones. Unless you’re going for the big pay increase that comes with the nifty categories.

    Q. I know you do quizzes on story days but do you also do quizzes on reading days and Fridays?

    A. I quiz every day I can on the CI content of the class that day. It doesn’t matter what we talked about. The Quiz Writer busily takes notes on whatever we talk about or read and when he or she has ten nice questions I stop class and give the quiz. Then we do another one at the end of the period if time, or just continue that CI the next day until we get ten more questions and bang another quiz happens. It is a constant barrage of quizzes. I do this only to enforce discipline. If a kid knows they have a quiz coming up in the next fifteen minutes they tend to pay more attention. Look in the Jobs for Kids category for how that magically important job of Quiz Writer works. I used to have Fridays set aside for songs and all that, maybe a game of Word Chunk Team, but now, I find that my laziness wins and I just continue the CI we had going. It just happens naturally, whatever we do on Friday. I can’t afford to blow one day off. Every minute for CI all year is precious.

    Q. Do you give the students composition notebooks to do dictations and free writes and are these kept in the classrooms? Do you grade them as you do them and what are they worth?

    A. I used to keep the composition books in the classroom. Big mess. Nobody cares. I stopped using them. Dictees and free writes on loose leaf to hand in. I grade some, not all. Ten points each. That’s just me. More controlling teachers would like a big pile of 150 composition books spilling over the edges of something onto the floor and getting all mixed up per class, just in case someone came in to see what serious and demanding teachers they are. But, over time, I learned that nobody cares. Plus, the students lives are so complex in other classes that to have one less notebook, one less class in their day where busywork is not worshipped is a gift to them, a message that life need not be complex, that we can live simply and simply live.

    Q. When you read a story do you give them a hard copy or is it all on the overhead/Smart Board?

    A. I prefer all eyes on a projected text. Hard copies tend to get doodled on. I confront kids who are not actively reading the text and answering my questions about it as I would in any story.

    Q. Do they read silently first or do you start by having a student translate?

    A. This is all answered in very valuable detail in the category named Reading Option A. Diana Noonan shares Reading Option A (ROA) with all her DPS teachers.

    Q. Do they answer first and then you show them the correct answer or do you always answer them together?

    A. I don’t know what this means but is smacks of the way teachers used to ask questions and expect answers, making everybody nervous, instead of doing so in a much more relaxed, happy way. I’m not sure I convey my point there and I’m not sure what the question means. Yes, we ask a lot of questions, but the answers should always be one word only, yes or no or green or Irish or whatever. One word. When they are ready late in levels 2 or 3, you will be astounded at the output, but if you force too much output early, nothing good will happen in terms of their speech output.

    Q. I currently have the Anne Matava scripts one and two but will have to do a lot of the writing myself as the scripts are in English and I will try to personalize as best as possible.

    A. Why not just translate Anne’s English scripts into the TL on the spot in class?

    Q. Do you have any thoughts on the reading days as I won’t have any novels to utilize until possibly next year.

    A. I guess without novels you have to do more stories and then embed new stuff, not too much, just a few words and watch their reading skyrocket from the reading of the class created stories. You don’t need the novels. It just makes life easier for you because if you read in the R and D category you will find a truly lazy way to teach, yet a truly effective one that beats stories. R and D is the real deal, and you can sleep through class with a book in everybody’s hand.

    Q. I saw where you start your classes reading for 10 minutes. Do you do anything after this to discuss it or have them do free writes or just go right into the story/reading for the day.

    A. No, after they read for the ten minutes I do R and D (see the category), but you need the novels and can’t do SSR (see the category) until you have the novels.

  6. Hi Polly,
    I will echo what many have said. Especially the part about keeping everything simple. It is not worth making yourself crazy trying to “figure it all out” at once. This is a process. When you are making changes, you have to make them in the way that best resonates with you. Some of us jumped in, all in…one fell swoop. Others chose one piece to work on at a time. And there is every combination on that spectrum. There is no “method” to this.

    For grading, especially, I would like to mention that Laurie Clarq (teacher of the month 🙂 did this presentation on grading at the October conference in Maine. She took one student from her class, entered all her grades, and worked out about 8 different formulas based on a variety of categories and weights. No matter which way the numbers were crunched it worked out to an 82. So…why put more time into that than is absolutely necessary. Obviously you need to comply with your school policy, but as Ben said above, basically they are just looking for some numbers in boxes so why sweat it?

    It is definitely helpful to have a schedule or framework, like Diane mentioned. It is a framework, rather than a plan. This is important to note, because the “topics” or “curriculum” depends on the group energy. You can’t really “plan” what kids are going to say. That is why the student quiz writer is such a critical job.

    I guess most important is for you to be able to negotiate all this without having to spend so much out of school time worrying and planning. You need to save your energy for your family and your kids and for yourself so you can be energized to come to school every day and be present with your students. 🙂

  7. Thanks to everyone who has posted. I am still reading through everything and SO appreciate all of the advice. I also appreciated Brian’s post about sitting and thinking about things for hours and feeling as though you have gotten nothing done. That is totally where I am at. Thanks Brian for making me feel more sane in this process.

    I am not sure where I’m heading this next week, but am going to see if my district will pay for me to attend a Blaine Ray conference in Chicago in March. I am not sure if they will, so if not, then it’ll be up to me to read and watch videos to try and figure this all out.

    Again, thanks to everyone who is willing to help along the way. I am not very good at balancing all of life’s things (family, work, errands, friends and whatever else pops up), so I’m finding that I have to get away from work for awhile so that it doesn’t affect my family too much. I am very fascinated by this whole process, but am still trying to take it all in!

    I wish you all a wonderful 2014!

    1. Polly, are you near Chicago? So am I! There is a group of Chicago-area TPRS and CI teachers meeting quarterly. We share ideas, demonstrate methods, talk through problems, etc. I’ve found it really encouraging and helpful.

      I think we’ll probably next meet in March or thereabouts. If you’d like to know about our meetings, please send me an email ( and I’ll add you to the list.

      1. PERFECT! My dream is that there be strong regional groups all over the country where people feel supported, can meet occasionally for peer coaching and can communicate with each other via a regional PLC/Yahoo group!

        The peer coaching group in Maine is meeting on January 25th again. We already have 6 signed up!


        1. Hi Skip, can I talk with you about how your group is going and what you do? We’ll be meeting for a 4th time in the Chicago area. I’d like to hear how you promote, if you have speakers, what you do, etc. My email is Thanks.

        1. I understand the drive time would be considerable then. We’ve had at least 2 people come from that distance (Eric S. & Ardythe from here in the PLC). We meet about 10am through 3pm or something like that.

  8. About the training, I encourage you to find a way to go. Last year I jumped in full on TPRS. I went to training this summer and it made such a difference. My school didn’t pay for it either but you can get(I think) 100 dollars off scholarship for the training when your school doesn’t pay. I don’t regret spending the money at all. To me it was vital and am looking for a way to earn the money for this summer. I hope that you can find a way to go. Also they had readers that were at a discount at the training and I stocked up on several for a classroom library. My students love the library even though it is really small.


      This is a link to get a trip to a conference (or any other teacher-learning endeavor) fully funded. I know of at least one person that got their iFLT conference in San Diego (2013) expenses fully funded through this Fund for Teachers organization. If only I had found out about it before I paid for my plane tickets! I don’t think I’ll be making it to iFLT in Denver this summer because I’m teaching a summer program (shucks!) but I’d be plugging in my application with Fund for Teachers if I was!

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