The Three Structures

I got a question about TPRS asking where the number of 75 repetitions per structure may have come from. Here is an answer that may or may not be accurate:
Carol Gaab has said that she has a goal of 75 repetitions for simple structures and up to 150 for more complex structures. Wow. If an expert at that level says that, then we need to listen. I have also heard Susie say 70-170 are good numbers and, when I asked her where she got it, she said, (typically Susie so honest) “I made it up.”
So maybe that number just kind of got decided on. I doubt that a formal study was done – who needs it? We learn best by teaching, not researching. It matters little – the thing to impress upon new people is how those repetitions keep an entire lesson narrow and deep and lead to real acquisition as opposed to shallow and wide instruction that does not lead to real acquisition.
The mistake is to do about 25 reps (which already feels like a lot!) and then think that it has been enough and to go somewhere else in the CI. This is typically done and is something we all need to really pay attention to. In all honesty, I think that we all would agree that it would take a wizard to get over a hundred reps on a structure in a regular 50 minute class, but at least we can try.
When we hear ourselves really cranking out mega reps on a structure in a class and the class is interesting and moving and the hand comprehension checks are above 8, and the kids’ eyes are registering good decoding, then we gain confidence because we know that our students are definitely acquiring the language via the repetition. In a 90 minute class getting those high numbers would not be too much of a challenge.
It is a very funny feeling because you have to make it interesting and at the same time you have to stay on the structure until at least 50 (I know that is a low number but, for me, it is a huge challenge just to get 50), while then going to the next structure and still keeping things interesting.
It feels awkward as you work your way through a lesson that way, but it is like riding a bike, it does become familiar and I have written on this blog and in my books about how the three structures form a kind of girding system like the hurricane rods – big bolts that run the length of each floor – in Charleston, SC that hold those old buildings together in bad weather, if you have seen those.  So you stay on the circling of the structure and then you go to the second and then the third and it is like they form the very frame of the story.
Therefore, even now after all these years, I ask kids to count, three kids each count one structure and when I get up to 50 I ask them to signal me – they love to count by the way – and then I know I can go to the next thing.
No one in a training should miss the fact that you need to repeat the three structures, which bring balance and safety to the story via circling, along with SLOW and, occasionally, Point and Pause. This for me has been the big relearning of the past year when I do a story – the idea that really we are not teaching a story but are repeating structures under the guise of telling a story.
Therefore we don’t want to introduce too many new structures during the CI, as I got into these past few years. I became very enamored of the Point and Pause skill, and it is a great skill, but it should not be allowed to take us away from the three structures.
If Point and Pause causes us to divert from the main structures, that is very bad in the sense that the students CANNOT REMEMBER all of those new things that we bring in via Point and Pause, which is why Carol says that she sometimes goes over a hundred reps!
The point is clear – the structues, not the story, are the goal of the class. It is the conscious identifying of the structures during the story that allows the rest of the words in the story to be kind of absorbed, if that makes sense.
Krashen has suggested that we learn languages unconsciously, and, in that light, it is the conscious identification/translation by the students’ brains of the three structures, functioning like islands in the sea of unconscious “soup” around them, that brings about the almost miraculous process of language acquisition via CI.



6 thoughts on “The Three Structures”

  1. I used to feel a big pressure to get all of my repetition on one day. I still try to get as many reps as I can,but I have found more success with repetition over time in different formats. [TPR, chants, PQA, Mini-situations, Stories, Reading, etc.] This helps me to get reps in an interesting, natural way.

  2. I like both these ideas–I’m going to try to remember to assign different kids the counting job for each word. Last year, I told my counter to pick any one of the words on the board without telling me and count that. It kept me honest, but having more jobs is better. I like giving a super-star kid the story-writing, and suggest they write in Russian if they’re advanced enough. The quiz-writing task is good for either a super-star or blurting-type kid. Word counts are good for the wiggly ones who get into trouble elsewhere. They like being able to tell me whether I’ve achieved my (75) or not. I’m going to switch to 50 too.
    Thomas, your comment reminds me of something Carmen Sanchez said once: that in her AP classes, she sometimes focuses on only one new structure a WEEK. I tried that one-word lesson idea last week with my adult group, and found that this week they were already using the word spontaneously. I focused on using it in the story, the PQA, the reading, the discussion, and last night they were using it to answer “Why” questions, to my surprise. It was easier for my brain to have only one word to focus on.

  3. For me, it happens similar to the TPR phase. I am constantly cycling in new words while review previous ones. After a little while words that have obviously been acquired get cycled out in order that the students don’t get totally bored and are constantly challenged. The high frequency words make come backs throughout the year. It helps me to achieve a realistic i+1 with the students.

  4. I prefer to focus on one structure at a time…I do a MUCH better job. Then, it seems that one or two other structures NATURALLY begin to appear and to reoccur. It works much better than trying to find three structures that somehow will magically connect. So….instead of looking for three…I look for and choose one…and then wait to see what emerges….and pick one of those “magically” appearing phrases to include as well. Sometimes it is a completely new phrase, other times a former phrase that needs more reps…but it is amazing how often it happens!
    with love,

  5. Thomas I know what you mean about the big pressure. I don’t think we need to fret so much, though, about getting at least 70 reps. We do what we can and don’t let the desire to get reps overtake the fun and happy timbre of the story. I mean, our mood is so important, and we can’t let frustration show through our teaching as we try to hammer that one structure home.
    Plus, some of the structures rather suck, and I like the way Laurie implied that she tries to be responsive to a NATURAL emerging of energy with a structure – at least that is how I read her comment. In fact, I have been known to stop right in the middle of class and say, “Hey, you guys, these structures suck, don’t they? Let’s try something else…”. Of course, that rarely happens because I primarily use Matava stories with their structures that appeal to the minds of our little teen darlings.
    But we need those “hurricane rods” to hold our story together. It’s such a dance, isn’t it? We must be aware of the structures, yet be able to be the pinball, going in whatever direction the flippers (story) send us with the structures, all the time staying with them.

  6. I really like how you phrased, “We must be aware of the structures” and earlier “We do what we can and don’t let the desire to get reps overtake the fun and happy timbre of the story.” That says it all for me. A constant awareness in us that takes advantage of opportunities in which repetition can flourish. Great mental picture!

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