Suggested Block Schedule

Below is a 90 minute lesson plan that allows us to go in to our classes and be mindless and not worry about anything at all. It suggests a set of automatic steps that will still hold our students’ attention for the entire class period. I use it whenever I want a class to move by fast without me having to actually think. It is, for me, an automatic pilot kind of lesson plan. There are days when I need such plans, to be quite honest.  
The goal here is to get the kids’ little pencils moving right away in the creation of a written text. Then, for the remainder of the class, we use that written text to address all four learning modalities in short, roughly ten minute, segments, including work on grammar. So how do we start such a class?  
Step 1 – (10 min.) Free Write or Dictation  
If it’s a free write, just follow the guidelines for that at write rules
If you choose to go with a dictation, just start dictating – dictation instructions are also on that same link. I may take the most recent story the kids did and make up about a five or six sentence dictation. Here is an example of a dictation that I made up on the spot once for a level I French class based on the last story we had done:  
There is a girl who feels alone. She wants a friend. So, she goes to the circus where she meets a horse who tells her that he would like to be her friend. But the horse finds her ugly.  
You can pull material from a novel the kids are reading as well. Anything can be used for a dictation. 
2. Step 2 – (10 min.) Grammar  
If they did a freewrite, just take one from a student and quickly write it on the whiteboard, verbatim, with mistakes and all. Then, if you wrote in black, correct in red and explain the grammar and such – it’s just a little mini grammar lesson – what Meredith Richmond calls “Grammar Hospital”.
If you chose to give a dictation, it’s the same thing – just go over the grammatical points that you would like to make. For example, in the sample dictée above, the difference between definite articles and object pronouns can be explained. How nice!
Step 3 – (10 min.) Speaking 
Doing output in the form of speaking before the (input driven) neurology has been established in the brain gives the kids the feeling that they are learning, so why not? Remember, we are just  trying to get through the block period on a low energy day.  
Just have the students read and repeat after you to work on accent. Rote repetition, explaining nuances of accent won’t really make their accent any better, because, in my view, conscious focus on accent is far less effective than constant uninterrupted CI, but it makes them feel like they are learning, so why not?  
Step 4 – (10 – 20 min.) Comprehensible Input
Now, having given the kids the opportunity to write a little, and having explained some of the grammar, we can do some actual comprehensible input, something of real value. We start by asking basic yes/no questions about the text, going slowly, and using all of our CI skills. Then, we can move it up a notch and try to personalize the discussion (PQA the text). If, in the text used to start class, a girl has gone to a circus to find a friend but instead finds and falls in love with a clown, we can ask if that has happened to any of the girls in the room and see where the discussion goes. 
Step 5 – (10 min.) Cooperative Learning 
Now for a little group work! We can’t call ourselves good teachers unless we get them into groups now, can we? (There are people who believe that, even though the kids don’t speak the language, not to mention that, the minute that we put them into groups, they start speaking English.)
So create small groups and tell them to either use one of the already started freewrites, or start a new one, and ask them to write four or five lines to finish the story or extend it further without an ending. When asked to extend the story above about the horse, a group came up with:  
So, the horse is very sad. The horse hits her on the head “No!” she says. “Bad horse!” “Excuse me,” says the horse to the girl and he gives her a cake. She eats the cake, and they become good friends.  
Step 6-8 (20 min.) Repeat the Process
Now just repeat what you did in steps 2-4 above, but use instead the newly generated text from Step 5 above. Choose the work of one of the groups, and just start in as you did in step 2 above with the grammar correction, then work on the accent, and then do some comprehensible input discussion/PQA around the new text. Theoretically, this recycling of the newer text through steps 2-4 could lead to yet another text being added by the groups as per step 5.  
This is a self perpetuating lesson plan and theoretically could be done all day. The reason it works is that the chunks of lesson are short, and, most importantly, are generated by students. Things that are clear and easily understood by kids, and that are about them, can hold their interest indefinitely.
Step 9 (40 minutes or more) – Story (if there is not time in class, this can be done the next day, and can also be made into an embedded reading in subsequent classes):  
We use now use the text created in class up to this point to ask a story. We just follow our new “script” line by line, asking questions, allowing the new story to form as the class deftly handles the vocabulary because they have been working with it all period. For details on the process of story creation, see the sample stories in the back of TPRS in a Year! or simply refer to the link on the posters page of this site entitled “Sample Story A”. An embedded reading or a quiz can follow.



8 thoughts on “Suggested Block Schedule”

  1. A little thing about cooperative learning. Like most schools this is a focus at my school and I have found a great little thing to do to help the kids get a little bit and my admin seems to really like it. Basically when teaching new vocab I teach them the gestures and then have them turn to their neighbor and have the partners teach each other the gestures again. Real quick takes maybe a minute but it gets in a little cooperative learning and a little output without overdoing it.

  2. Thanks Ben!
    My classes have been floundering lately, the kids seem to really be craving some structure. I think I will take this lesson plan and tweak it a bit, so they can feel like they are learning, and I can feel like I am giving them enough CI.

  3. The kids are in class on a brain break right now (brain breaks every 20 min. are so necessary to drop the French from the desktop into the hardrive!). While they are on their break I would like to suggest here an option to to the “Suggested Block Schedule” above – another way to experience 90 effortless minutes with the kids staying in the target language. The people in Maine can relate to this (the Skip in the Box image) – imagine taking that further and further and further.
    So what is going on right now? We in this (first year) class are just building a big image! (A kid is drawing it all on the back of the rolling whiteboard – more on that later.) So far we have a huge house in South Africa (just got a new student from South Africa today) on the beach with three huge arms, “like a lobster” was the chant) coming out of the right side of the house)….
    O.K. the break is over so I will go back and see what we build together until the end of the 90 minute period! ….
    O.K. class is over. It wore out with 15 minutes left in class. We added a small pink sombrero on top of the house (the artist rocked it!) but I recycled and spun a lot so we didn’t get a lot more details. (It doesn’t matter – it was CI with energy and that is all that counts.) So when it ran out of energy we played the work chunk team game. I had forgotten about that as a grouping device that actually works and what Jesse wrote made me think about it. We just needed a change after 65 minutes of straight CI with only one break.
    So I just learned something pretty big about block classes. I can take one word image (usually a noun from the five we start class with off the word lists) and build it as far as it can be circled until it is “saturated” (Blaine’s term). Then I can go to a the Word Chunk Team Activity (explained on this site at resources/workshop handouts).
    So this is just another option in dealing with those long block classes. Teach the next five words off the word list on the wall, as usual, then gesture them, maybe using Jesse’s idea at that point, then PQA them, then start developing the one word image (today’s was “house”), keep adding details until that image is saturated, optionally add in a new event or character, then show and discuss the work of the artist by spinning the board around, and then get them into groups and play the game until the end of the period.*
    *if you read that last paragraph carefully, you will see that here we are merely using the 3 Steps of TPRS to create the One Word Image. We establish meaning, we gesture the words, we PQA them (that is Step 1), then we build CI from that (that is Step 2). This is Blaine’s genius and the best application of Krashen’s research that we have to this point. It’s the formula for Coke and pretty much guarantees success in any CI class as long as the rules are followed and the teacher has command of slow circling and Point and Pause. Thank you Blaine!

  4. Thank you for this. I am using the five required words a day this year and since I pared down the list from last year each word can be used and stretched until it is used up. I am also drawing each word and they guess the meaning. Then I write it down.

  5. Of course things are always changing and as I reconsider this schedule I am struck that there is little to no reading. I should put some FVR in there. Or some SSR. I am about to embark, for the rest of the year, on using much more reading and songs to generate CI. I think that the focus on stories only has kept us from innovating into these two vital areas – vital because they are more interesting to teenagers who may not want to actually be in the class. Of course, stories would work wonderfully with paying students who are highly motivated. But I have just spent over a year in an urban setting with huge classes, with at least five and up to ten kids in the room who function as chains around the CI. To quote a recent email from a colleague:
    I don’t know why this group of resistant kids (no blame – they are unconscious) in our classes hasn’t received more press over the years in the different TPRS discussion groups. These few kids, after all, have ruined CI for many classes, and many teachers have quit the method precisely because of these few unconscious kids. Teachers agonize daily about how to reach these kids. That really sucks.
    Maybe the fact that over the past twenty years TPRS has failed in making strong inroads into the existing curricula not just because of the resistant power of the grammar wolves guarding the hen houses, and not just because it is hard (it is easy, actually), but because of these kids who wouldn’t be reached by anything because they are in rebellion mode. Those kids may be the real culprit in the failing of TPRS to be more universally used by now in our nation’s classrooms.
    That is why I am going to spend the rest of this academic year seeing if more reading and a lot more twexted songs can generate more interest in the CI discussion than stories and PQA, because they reach deeper into those pissy kids’ hearts. Especially songs, right?
    I will try to combine this comment with another recent comment I made on this topic and categorize that new blog entry under “songs”, “reading”, and “student generated comprehensible input”. If this works, then, at the end of this year, I can say that, for me, CI now consists of four, not two, things:
    *I know that reading has always been an important part of using contextualized comprehensible input as this thing has developed, but I just never did it enough, not nearly enough, so I kind of have to add it as a new thing to my list. I have been so taken by the power of PQA and stories these past ten years that I have lost the obvious – reading and music are more powerful than PQA and stories to catch the interest of the entire class including the five or ten students who disrupt the chemistry of our classes by sucking on the positive energy generated by the others.
    Michele told me about Victoria’s recent successes with using music almost uniquely in her classes and we should hear about that here soon. It’s not like the focus of the blog will change, but it will shift, at least my won entries will shift, more towards reading and music. It’s not like we don’t have around four thousand texts in the form of blog entries and comments on the subject of PQA and stories here over the past three years.

  6. I just re-read this, and in light of what happened with the Toni Kellen plan the other day, realize that if the kids have been dealing with some language over and over during the class, it may well limit the amount of input/length of story/new vocabulary. Then the kids may truly be able to use it more easily. And it is certainly student-generated CI, if you take writing from a kid’s notebook.
    One of my girls keeps telling me that if I don’t correct every mistake in her writing, she won’t learn anything from it (meanwhile, the native speaker in the class has said that hers is the best grammar in class, so probably the thing is that she’s actually ready for grammar after these five years) — I can just mine her notebook for writing samples, so she’ll get the corrections she craves, and I’ll have a lesson plan in place for our Thanksgiving week block schedules. I have not really explained well enough that writing doesn’t teach them so much as it tells me what they’ve learned.
    Thanks, Ben! I love this blog.
    And…if Victoria is reading this, sorry for “outing” you…not only your colleagues are raving about what you do: I got to hear a parent rave about that “runner at Dimond who teaches immersion Japanese” yesterday because her kid adores your class so much…please do put it into writing!!

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