To Realidades or Not To Realidades?

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.



61 thoughts on “To Realidades or Not To Realidades?”

  1. Why a six year license?

    Here’s the thing. As you get better at this (that takes a month or five years depending on the person – it took me eight years to get it) you will find yourself just not even wanting the book. So it is tough decision.

    I don’t know what to say. It depends on how much you think you will be using the method. If you get the results you want, you’ll begin to hate the book. If you don’t, you will want the book.

    But ultimately speaking to the kids in the TL works and teaching from the book doesn’t. So you have to do a gut check on the Realidades decision. I think it’s a piece of crap posing as a shiny new car.

    I would like to see what the group says about combining the textbook with TPRS. There have been a lot of discussions on that topic here over the years. Again, it’s a personal decision. There is certainly nothing wrong with combining the two as you learn how to circle and all that stuff. I could see perfectly well a teacher doing that, until they felt more comfortable with TPRS because once that happens you feel like you got let out of a sick can that you’ve been forced to live in for years.

    But what happens when the kids start liking the stories? They like the ease of class, the fun, the easy grades. Then what happens? Or the opposite, where, if the class has some strong memorizers in it, they start clamoring for the book (hey, they got A’s for memorizing and there was no rigor like there is with us so who can blame them?), and when they start clamoring, the class splits. Then what?

    So maybe it is better to just choose one and stay with it. I did. And to paraphrase Robert Frost, it made all the difference.


    1. “I think it’s a piece of crap posing as a shiny new car.”

      I learned two phrases recently which I think apply to most textbooks and the tactics of their salespeople:
      You can’t shine a shit.
      Don’t piss on me and call it rain.

  2. Are you willing to take the plunge into TCI? If you are, I highly suggest following this blog as your guide and do away with the textbook.

    I first tried CI/ TPRS by following Carol Gaab’s textbook, Cuéntame, in the middle of the year last year, but I flopped mostly. Then I went to iFLT in San Diego last summer and became an active member of this blog this year. In August I dove into TCI, letting the 3 steps (PQA/ Story-Asking/ Reading), Personalization, and high frequency vocab be my curriculum. By December, I felt very confident as a CI teacher. But I had to go through some growing pains. My biggest struggle was keeping kids from blurting out and being disruptive. I learned how to implement jGR, use brain breaks, keep it SLOW, and include a healthy sampling of reading exercises to combat the disruptive behavior.

    (granted… I had a very supportive administration this past year)

    If you are not feeling like taking the risk to dive into CI fully, then get the textbooks. But if you don’t dive in, how are you going to learn how to swim?

    Final note: you miss out on the meat and potatoes of our teaching if you use the textbook; personalizing instruction… making the content your students and their interests instead of some thematic list of vocabulary that relates to scuba diving in the Yucatan.

  3. Robert Harrell

    What is the purpose of your textbook?

    Will it drive the curriculum? Bad idea.
    Will it be another tool that you use occasionally? Perhaps not worth the cost.
    Will it satisfy administration and parents? Perhaps a necessity.

    As has been mentioned above, the right kind of “textbook” can be very helpful when you are learning TPRS/TCI but will eventually become too restrictive. I had the same experience with Michael Miller’s “Sabine und Michael”. It was very useful when I was learning how to do TPRS but in the end became more limiting than I wanted. The real danger for any pre-written, sequential text (including “Sabine und Michael”, “Cuentame”, “Look I Can Talk”, etc.) is that it becomes prescriptive in a bad sense and the teacher begins to think about “covering the material” rather than exposing students to the language and pursuing their interests.

    If you do order and use “Realidades”, keep the two portions of your class separate: Now we are doing TPRS – Now we are doing Realidades. Any sort of combination is the kiss of death.

    1. I’m curious why you recommend keeping them separate. In my district, after many years of –ahem–discussing–ahem–how we were going to teach what, we agreed to follow the topics, vocab and cultural content of “Avancemos.” I sometimes use Piedad Gutierrez’ TPRS supplementals, but mostly we choose vocab and structures from the chapters and develop stories from them.

      I’m not challenging your advice, but curious. I certainly feel frustrated at having to follow the textbook, but I feel like this is a decent compromise. Doing them separately might be an even better compromise, since it would give us more creative freedom. What was the experience you had with the kiss o’death?

      1. Robert Harrell

        What I meant was, don’t try to do TPRS and grammar at the same time; even pop-up grammar can destroy the flow of good Storyasking*. In my experience, pop-up grammar works far better when reading than when doing a good story – unless it is in response to a specific question by a student (then any time is a good time to address a perceived need). However, as soon as you spend more than five seconds (plus or minus) on grammar and begin to show (beginning) students the system, your story is dead, you’ve lost the flow. If your situation requires you to present anything more than a pop-up, do it at a time that is clearly not TPRS time.

        Your plan (“mostly we choose vocab and structures from the chapters and develop stories from them”) isn’t what I meant, as long as the only contribution from the chapter is the vocabulary/structures. It is decidedly more targeted (and possibly less effective; see Eric’s comments under Can Do Statements – 3) than Krashen’s net hypothesis, but if you do pure TPRS with the chapter structures, that isn’t mixing the two. Using the textbook’s work sheets during a TPRS session would be.

        Hope that clarifies what I meant.

        1. Robert Harrell

          The other thing that bringing in the work sheets and grammar from the textbook does is infect the purity of your communication with the virus of English (unless English is your target language). That is, indeed, the kiss of death for second language acquisition.

          1. Thank you for your response. Everything you say here makes sense, absolutely. I think the 5 second rule is a really good rule of thumb.

  4. Can you cancel the PO? If you can, I would. Why ride a bike with broken training wheels (textbook) when you could soar in a Jet?

    Six years is a LONG time and I am quite sure that you will grow increasingly dissatisfied as you gain expertise and confidence with TCI.

    Another point is that textbooks will not allow the type of personalized instruction that TCI does. Textbooks will not allow you to talk about all aspects of Justin playing the guitar. It will not allow you to ask if “Justin plays the guitar in class? If he says “yes” he will end up playing in class— this will do wonders for Justin and the class 🙂 This type of personalization is powerful. It is compelling. It is healing!

    Last summer at NTPRS Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido urged us to “make our class/students our curriculum. Textbooks do not allow that.

    If it were possible to back out of the order I would!

    mis dos centavos

  5. I’d use some of the saved money (from not doing the textbook purchase) to buy a bunch of different leveled novels, if you can. And a field trip. Maybe two.

    I’ve had a nice new set up textbooks in my classroom since starting my current job 6 years ago and simultaneously jumping in head-first with TPRS/TCI. I’ve never used the books in any serious way in my classroom in 6 years. I wish they’d have let me sell them, but they were scared I’d leave and then the new teacher wouldn’t have a textbook and probably wouldn’t teach like me. I’m sure you scenario is quite unique from mine though. Good luck with your decision!

  6. Thank you for all of your input everyone! I can tell that this is a great group of teachers…I appreciate your advice.

    I emailed our principal yesterday and asked if the PO had been sent in yet. I told him that if it hadn’t, I’d like to talk to him about a different option and briefly explained TPRS and CI. He is a former Spanish teacher, so I’m not sure if he’ll be intrigued or if he’ll just want me to get the textbook. I guess I’ll see when he responds.

    I will be getting back into the classroom after only teaching for two years after college and now I’ve had over 20 years at home with our family. My husband is a pastor, so there’s always the possibility of moving to our next church when we feel it’s time for a new call. I would think I would at least teach here for four years while our youngest son is in high school. I’m pretty quiet, so it will be a stretch for me to use TPRS, but I LOVE Spanish, so I think I can do it!

    Our textbooks are online versions, so if the order goes through I guess I’ll just pick and choose what we use from the textbook and make it clear when we are using the book and when we are doing TPRS…

    Thanks again everyone!

    1. Hi Robyn,

      I agree with Jen and Ben – I am naturally a quiet person (though I probably seem to talk enough around this PLC! but it’s written, my favorite way to communicate). Using CI principles works regardless of the teacher’s style and personality.

      I did something similar when I was switching over to CI/TPRS teaching. I had been encouraged to use a thick, expensive textbook and was at the same time loving the CI stuff I was experimenting with. (This was 3 and 4 years ago.) At first, I tried to combine. Bleh. There was way too much vocab, especially nouns, in each chapter. Then I tried a year based off the “best” vocab and structure from that textbook and taught it with TPRS and CI methods I was learning here in the PLC and elsewhere. The thematic stuff was not always helpful. I needed more high-frequency and more verbs to make myself happy. So this year I’ve been completely off the textbook and am teaching backwards from easy readers and movies. I like it way, way better, but I just wasn’t ready or able to imagine how I’d teach without having some kind of sequence provided for me by a textbook. I’d never really seen anything else, and it took me a while to get used to.

      But I firmly agree that the more you enjoy CI teaching, the more you want to do, and the more you find yourself stifled by a textbook. If I still felt the need for a textbook, I’d use a TPRS-style book and not a thematic unit, English grammar explanation, early-forced-output textbook. It took lots of work trying to use that bad, bad textbook, and for whom? Not me or my students. No one at the school really cared ultimately – they just wanted to be sure I had an approach to teaching that was thought-through and worked for students to gain language ability. I could show that without having a textbook after a while.

  7. Robyn hopefully the guy says yes. However, the odds are about 99 to 1, at best, that he says get the books because we are so few and because many who have attempted this method have done it in ways that have brought a generalized kind of scorn to the term TPRS so that what we do is not properly grasped by many many teachers. My guess is he says no.

    However, if you continue teaching you are going to want to slowly keep your TPRS/CI training going. It will just happen that way. It’s kind of like when you start researching this stuff and you have half a brain in your head you realize that you can’t/don’t want to on moral and many other grounds teach in the old way, which is insulting to you and your students on so many levels.

  8. Robyn, I would just add that there is a deep misperception that you need to have a certain personality to teach with CI / TPRS. Nothing is further from the truth. This is one of those myths perpetuated by those who have not fully broken with the old paradigm. The truth is that we must bring our authentic selves into our classrooms to interact with our students. Some people are quiet, some people are not. Success in connecting with our students does not depend on how loud we are. I encourage you to look at videos of many CI teachers to feel this. Eric Herman is very quiet and understated and he has a powerful presence. Don’t let your initial assumptions be an obstacle!

  9. Thank you so much for adding this, jen. It is indeed true, Robyn. In fact, if the amount of misinformation about what we do were reversed with the truth of what we do among the general population of WL teachers in the United States, then everyone in the country would be teaching this way. If you could read many of the articles here, unfortunately there are thousands of them going back eight years, you would grasp that fact, and make your mind up to pursue this way of teaching aggressively, like so many of us here in this group have done, because it, and not Realidades, aligns with best practices and with ACTFL and with the research.

  10. This year I have had to switch back and forth between our textbook and TCI. A few thoughts:
    1. Kid-centered TCI is of interest to kids. Text-books are not. I decided that I would use a reading from our textbook. Then I read it. It was boring. I was bored so I knew the kids would be bored. I closed the book.
    2. There is an inverse relationship between eyelids and textbooks. The wider we open our textbooks the tighter we close our eyes.
    3. There is a new phone app called World Lens which is a point and translate app. This makes obsolete just about anything except face to face interaction.
    4. The textbook chops up language into parts; TCI treats language as a whole. TCI is like leading students up a staircase to fluency; the textbook is like carrying the kids up a few steps and then giving a test. Since you can’t go anywhere from there, you go back down and go up another “staircase.”
    5. Using textbook listening exercises does nothing for student listening skills because the textbook writers take a whole class of listening time and expect the kids to be able to understand based on memorizing vocabulary and grammar. There is no sense of time/work necessary to sensitize the student’s brain and ear to spoken language.
    6. Focusing on textbook grammar leads to a lot of English in the class. Using a lot of English in the FL class is like talking baseball in the history class: it is off task.
    7. Focusing on grammar divides students into cans and cannots. This requires homogeneous grouping. Language and TCI unite the class. Grammar has a way of marginalizing the majority.
    8. A lot of work goes into modifying textbooks for any approach. Why pay all of that money if it is not going to reduce your workload?

    1. Nathaniel (and everyone else who has replied),

      Thank you for these thoughts. They all make perfect sense. I appreciate the time you took to articulate all of those points.

      Unfortunately, the order for our 6 year license went through already, so I’ll have to decide how I’m going to teach this year. I’ll be spending the next couple of months reading lots of posts here, reading Ben’s books, and watching his training DVDs – hopefully I’ll have it figured out by Aug. 20 so I don’t totally confuse my poor students.

      Hope everyone is having a great summer! Have any of you ever taught an adult education class in conversational Spanish? I’m going to be doing one for 10 sessions starting on Tuesday (about an hour each class). I’m going to try out some CI as I teach this summer and maybe that will give me a taste of it for my high school classes. Do you think adults will enjoy this method, or am I better off finding more traditional, but fun, ways to teach them the basics of conversation so they can talk to the hispanics who work at their factory?


      1. My experience has been that adults love TCI! I get raving reviews that it was tons of fun, low anxiety, and they felt they made gains they’d never had from traditional classes. We ended up doubling the number of sessions and enrollment doubled. I always include a little theory about SLA for adults.

        If you are a Krashenite, then you accept there is only one way to acquire a language: comprehensible input. So if you teach in another way, it will only be as effective as the amount of CI delivered. We already do little writing in TCI, so if it’s a “conversation class” maybe the students expect to spend the class time in the aural mode. The teacher (not the students) should still be the one providing most of the CI, especially if the students are beginners. Reading, especially if it includes audio, is a great means of acquiring language.

        1. I’ve also had good success with adults. I enjoy it as a change of pace too, because you can be a little looser with appropriateness. Maybe I just end up teaching winos, or maybe I’m the wino, but talking about who has/wants alcohol of some sort, then pointing at their water bottle and coming up as a class what they have in the bottle, that is always a sure winner for at least 2 sessions hammering some real frequent stuff.

          I have a little booklet of 5 stories, real simple ones, that I use with my adult students for a 15 hour course (12 sessions at 1.25 hours each). I also give them an audio CD of the stories. There are 20-25 questions at the end of each story, in the booklet and on the CD. Of course it’s me Gringo Jim speaking, so not ideal. It’s like a 1/100th of content that you’d get from Ben’s Bucky program. I tack on a $15 materials fee with the cost of the class. (I teach a course or two a year through a local arts non-profit in Decorah). This covers the cost of the printing and the CD, and pays me a tiny bit for my time putting it all together. I’ve been dragging my feet on getting it (or something similar) ready for retail. Might never happen. Happy to share the files with you free of charge for now.

          (as an aside about Bucky, Ben, I had a 5 student Spanish 3 course this last Spring. Almost half of the class time over the semester was spent with self-selected literature. One girl in particular was struggling with output, to the point where she would start shaking when it was her turn to weigh in on something. During our extended SSR, I gave her the Bucky program instead of her novel. She worked on it for hours, over weeks of the semester. She would joke with me about how simple it was. Every day she’d voluntarily give me an update like “Bucky no quiere jugo. Bucky quiere agua mineral” or something mundane like that. It cracked us up. Her output improved, or at least her nervousness when she did output. I am glad I thought of that for her.)

          1. …pointing at their water bottle and coming up as a class with what they have in the bottle….

            I got a story out of can of Pepsi that was sitting in front of one of the attendees at the Maine conference a few years ago. That conference, by the way, is a good one. I’ll be posting details about it here from time to time between now and October.

          2. Jim,

            I would love to see the stories you use with your adult class. I’m getting excited about sharing this method with them and seeing where they go with it.


          3. Robyn, please contact me via email at trippatmail2jimdotcom and I’ll send you my files. I looked for your contact info on the blog, didn’t see it, maybe I missed it. You’re from Iowa too?!

          4. Jim,
            Are you going to be in Denver? I’d love to chat with you on this specific topic 🙂


          5. I’ve only read about the Bucky program on Ben’s list of products, but never seen/heard it. What do people think of it? Is there a place (e.g. an article on this blog) I can go to get more information, samples, and reviews on the program. For $80 I’d want to know more about Bucky. . . could be a good resource to use on days the teacher doesn’t feel like talking, add novelty, and for substitute teachers.

        2. Eric,

          Thanks for your comments. I have another question… if the teacher (me) is the one giving most of the CI, when do the students get a chance to speak? I know I’m showing how new I am to this method…is it just that they can answer the questions I ask as they feel comfortable? Or do I call on people so they all get a chance to speak?

          I suppose some will speak more than others and hopefully they will all start feeling confident enough to talk to some of the spanish speaking workers at the plant during their next shift.


          1. Probably the most anxiety-raising thing you can do is force adults to speak, especially if they are beginners. My adults loved that they could just absorb the language and were only required to ever respond with short answers. A mix of choral responses, small group, and individual is probably best. You differentiate your questions based on your student’s comfort and proficiency level (yes/no question, one-word answer, sentence length output).

            That said, adults probably expect to speak, and many will still think that practicing speaking is what leads to acquisition, regardless of your discussion of CI theory. So, give them opportunities to respond with as much or as little as they’d like. TCI is constant interaction, constant questioning, so there will be plenty of opportunities for them to speak. In order to be the one doing most of the talking, ask more questions that require short answers and limit group work.

            The only time I think more extensive output has a place is after a lot of input on the language that will be needed for output. You can design speed speaking / fluency activities (look up the 4/3/2 oral fluency protocol). But don’t allot a lot of time to these. The teacher can provide better quality and quantity CI, so the students acquire more by listening to the teacher.

            Your students shouldn’t expect miracles. You have 10 sessions. That’s nothing in the scheme of things. They will be capable of little to no natural output after only a dozen hours. I’d explain that listening comprehension is the most important skill and precedes output and leads to output. If these are beginners, then I’d focus your stories on the Super 7 verbs, plus anymore you find foundational for fluency, because these verbs allow students to express a lot (greatest return) and are very high frequency.

    2. Since we’re talking about which numbers on Nathaniel’s list we like, I’ll say #2. It’s poetic and speaks to how much educating and learning is effervescent and unpredictable, not easy to capture in a scientific study.

  11. Nathaniel can I make a Primer articles out of that comment? It’s spot on, esp. your third point. Dang! I wouldn’t want to be a textbook company president with a mortgage right about now. Also love your points 6 and 8. Love ’em all.

  12. Hi everybody.
    (This is my first post and I am sorry if it reveals my ignorance) I am not at all an experienced TPRS practionner. I totally agree that the textbook bores students to tears. As a teacher who wants but hasn’t made the transition to TPRS what I think would be difficult for me is record keeping.
    In Ireland I have to produce what’s called “schemes or plans of work” this outlines all the work and topics done and when they were covered. These schemes need to be given to school officials and if we get a school inspection they are checked. These schemes is a very linear way of looking at language I really hate doing them but the textbooks do make the job of doing put the plan of the year easier for the teacher BUT makes the job of language acquisition harder for the student!

    My question is How do you guys know what you have covered if everything is done in the context of stories especially since many of those stories are made up spontaneously in class by student and teacher. How do you know if you have covered all you need to cover for official examinations? Do you keep records of the material converted in class?
    Thanks for any comments. I love reading everybody’s posts.

    1. Welcome Philip! First off, I would highly recommend you read the recent article posted here called “Robert Harrell – A Philosophy of Language in High School”. Among many interesting things, you’ll see in this statement of philosophy a little about how FL students synthesize information as they move towards writing and speaking in the FL. I’m sure your admin would like to see this higher order thinking term, synthesize, in your scope and sequence document. But, otherwise it is a good document to have at hand when thinking long term and having to argue CI and Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (as Robert is using this term) to people.

      Philip, planning the year is actually very easy when you teach CI. It’s like, you start the year off with the most high frequency vocab and you move down the list of high frequency from there. You could look at it in this linear fashion.

      Yet, we CI teachers don’t totally do that. We also include vocabulary and language structures that represent interests of our students and that help with creating stories.

      Then, you may include the different texts that you’ll include in your “curriculum”. You’ll include readings that you type up as the teacher based on stories and dialogues you had in class. You’ll include MovieTalk videos and narratives of the MovieTalk that you’ll write and read with the class. And you’ll include class novels (though it’s recommended that you don’t read a novel until the forth quarter, or if you’re lucky, the end of the third quarter of year one at the earliest… the content of the novel can be just too disjointed from what you otherwise talk about in class).

      Unit Questions, Essential Questions, Unit Objectives, Can Do statements and all that jazz throughout the year should look similar to: “Students will recognize and understand vocabulary in context through listening and reading activities.” Perhaps you’ll need to fancy that statement up depending on what you think your administration is looking for. Hopefully you don’t.

      Anything else you might be looking for, Philip?

  13. Sean, thanks so much for your comment. I read the article you recommended with interest.
    I see a lot of good sense in your comments and will implement some of them in my planning documents.
    I suppose it takes a real leap of faith to go from textbook to non textbook approach. Faith that one is able to correctly carry out the instruction in an efficient manner and faith that the new approach will have a positive impact in examinations. Yes I know examinations are not everything (I liken them to one massive vocabulary rote learned test) but they are important to parents, administrators and students in final school examinations as they need a certain amount of exam success in order to move onto further education.
    Your comments highlight the need for teachers to perhaps talk to administrators. What does one do without their support? How does one react to a fellow colleague who does not wish to implement a non-textbook approach within the same year grouping? How does one go about teaching TPRS to older students who have never been taught in this manner? These are some of the big questions I have. I would welcome any thought you have to these tricky questions!

    1. Hi Philip,

      To add to Sean’s and Ben’s comments, welcome to the group and to CI teaching. I teach Chinese (so far, mainly to grades 4-8) and first gradually testing out CI methods, then intentionally 2 school years ago making everything in class for language acquisition based on CI principles. I learned a ton in this PLC and was helped greatly through some difficult times with a class that transitioned to new methods quite poorly at first (and I was part of the problem – I thought they knew much more than they’d retained from a textbook the year before). There are some articles about that (since you mentioned transitioning older classes) – if you searched “Diane Neubauer” I think they’d come up.
      A few other ideas about making this transition that is SOOOO worthwhile on many levels:
      – It felt a lot like being a first-year teacher again. I couldn’t take anything for granted and was re-thinking a lot of issues: output, how much vocab new at once, how to teach slowly enough and to the students’ eyes instead of the pace I thought “reasonable”;
      – I shared about things I was doing in class that were showing gains in student engagement and comprehension with colleagues and then administrators. Not to say, “Do this!” but because I was excited about what I was seeing, especially compared to previous methods. I also didn’t know it might be controversial. But teaching Chinese means my Western language teacher colleagues already felt I was in my own class…they weren’t threatened or oppositional.
      – The biggest lessons I learned about transitioning with continuing students: don’t assume retention from memorized-for-a-quiz vocabulary and keep it much simpler than you expect. There is, I find, a period of time where they’re just getting used to hearing the target language most of the time and in communicative, meaningful ways instead of only in short, sentence-long spurts of mandated, prescribed output. The dynamic with the students changes and can be messy, but it’s better in the long run, even if some kids never really get into it.

      I’ll be moving to a high school and transitioning with 3 continuing classes… I’m re-thinking how much to explain to them about what/why I’m teaching as I am. Some of that can be helpful, but I think on a wants-to-know basis for each class. Last year I began class sometimes with a quote about some aspect of language acquisition and we’d read and discuss it briefly. I think that caused some students to feel assurance and greater buy-in, and others not to complain – research was behind me, I wasn’t moving.

      1. Thank you Diane for your generous comments to a newbie.

        As I said it takes faith to make the jump into TPRS but when I read the support of fellow professionals like you and Ben who have already travelled the path before me it gives me confidence that it can be done.

        It’s very “big” of you to admit to past failings while introducing a change in your classroom, as a profession we teachers are often reluctant to do this and it’s a great testament to you and the other teachers here that you didn’t settle for the comfortable, that you changed out of compassion for the students you teach and evolved to become better teacher as a result.

        As Ben says below I think it’s time for me to get wet and jump into the water even though I am sure I will have many of the problems you experienced!

        I am really impressed by the generous it’s of spirit from many of the contributors here, it makes me feel very lucky to have come into contact with TPRS.
        Thank you,

        1. Hi there Philip,

          I’m Jason; I teach Gaelic out on Islay off the coast of Scotland. This past year was my first with TCI and I can echo what Diane said about feeling like a first year teacher again. The folks on this PLC are such a wealth of information and support and they really helped me survive the transition.

          I’ve been wrestling with how to pacify all the attention that the final exams get myself – I take it you have a big testing authority over in Ireland like the SQA over here? If you’d like to chat about anything, please drop me an email: . It would be great to have someone to talk to who has a (possibly) similar course/exam structure.

          All the Best,

  14. …what does one do without their support? How does one react to a fellow colleague who does not wish to implement a non-textbook approach within the same year grouping? How does one go about teaching TPRS to older students who have never been taught in this manner?….

    Philip when face to face face with an ocean, and this IS an ocean that we are all just now dipping our toes and feet into together, it is easy to be a bit cautious and long for the safety of the land.

    However, we must get wet if we want to experience the fine feel of the water on our skin and to enjoy the long term health benefits that the ocean offers. We must then invite others, those administrators you describe, and, of course our students, to swim for themselves.

    This is not easy. But, face to face with an unknown, or just turning back and walking back to the safety of the land, that has not been a difficult choice for me. I know where I have been and I don’t like it, and I know where I am going and I love it.

    Go read the category on Administrator/Teacher/Parent Re-education, read the Primers section, read other stuff here. Pull up your trunks, run around on the beach a bit if you must to get your muster up, and then go put that foot in, and maybe even wade around a bit!

    I guarantee you that the water is fine and that you will see things about teaching that you never thought possible and then when you tell others they will chastise you for not telling them about it sooner.

  15. I just finished writing up some thoughts on this for someone else.

    Realidades is the book that I have taught from for the last 6 years. I found it very discouraging to try to make it work for comprehensible input. Here were the challenges I faced:
    *Strict grammar syllabus (learn infinitives. Learn -ar verbs endings. Now learn adjective agreement. Etc.) (—> students spend so much time learning terms and concepts for talking about language that there is little time to hear the language. When they do try to use the language, they process language mathematically instead of acoustically, which sets up barriers to success even if they are pretty good at it. There are too many things to think about to process them all in real time conversations. )
    *Strict grammar syllabus along with thematic vocabulary (—> unnatural and limited conversation instead of party talk. Also predictable. Example. Textbook: “I like to ski. What do you like to do? I like to ski too, and I like to draw.” Next person: exactly the same question. Versus. “I like to ski. Oh really? Do you water ski or snow ski? I would like to go skiing. Can you ski around here? How often do you ski? Who do you ski with? Are you pretty good at it? Isn’t it too cold?” By the end of the year, students have practiced enough language to have the second conversation, but they have never had such a continuous conversation and so generally, they don’t make that leap.
    *Too many words altogether (—>no time for 50-150 repetitions of each one)
    *Too many low frequency words (—> not reinforced in real world conversation)
    *Vocabulary words are not prioritized: no fluency vocabulary vs. passive vocabulary. You have to know them all (—> heavy cognitive load from vocabulary… only the students with the highest ability with words can manage to do it all and still all the rules for putting together a sentence)
    *Not enough high frequency words, and the ones students do learn get introduced late in the year because they are “irregular (—> students quickly get stumped by the 100-200 most frequent words that make up 50%-60% of all the language they will encounter)
    *Low proportion of verbs (50+ out of 750 or so words and phrases just up to chapter 6A), leading to limited conversations and limited TPR
    *Thematic vocabulary lists (—> lacking variety in context for use of words that help cement them in students’ minds)
    *Novices are expected to perform above their proficiency level, with no errors. Novices will still be novices—there’s no way around that — but if they feel ashamed about it, they are less likely to take risks and become lifelong learners who use this stuff outside the classroom. They “practice their Spanish” on people instead of having conversations.
    *While perfection is expected on grammar items that are taught, many common grammar items are not taught in the first or even the 2nd year.
    *About 95% of students typically fail to become fluent using these strategies, even if they succeed in class. Teachers who accept the textbook method talk of needing to “weed students out.”

    After all my attempts to make it work, I started to think it was probably better to start fresh with something that was designed to work with comprehensible input.

    Despite all those issues, I know that Michael Miller’s Charo y Lee uses the vocabulary and grammar of Realidades in a fully comprehensible input way. He prioritizes vocabulary (passive vs. fluency) and brings high frequency vocab to the front, adding in what is missing. And he has the novel Pío Pista to go with it. He had to rearrange the textbook so much that i couldn’t actually use it in my classroom. When I was free to rearrange the book, students still had to take a common semester test. Since the chapters were out of order and he only did half the book in Spanish 1 and half in Spanish 2, I couldn’t use it. He tells a lot of jokes, which get kids making inferences in another language.
    To summarize, if I were in your situation, I would probably try to find something that was designed from the beginning to work with CI. If you are the department head, you might have better success than I had. Mira Canion made a comment in a workshop last year about how she had talked to one of the makers of Realidades about how it was being used, and he said that that was not what it was intended for. Using the the long vocab lists as word banks instead of required lists might help to prioritize vocab. they have a whole book of art by Spanish speaking artists that could be used to generate CI. They have lots of cultural information. You could movie talk their chapter videos even if you are not requiring all the vocabulary. My terrible experience with Realidades may have at least a little to do with the way that my department chose to emphasize the least helpful parts. (That’s me looking on the bright side, in case you decide you want to cancel your order and you can’t 🙂 If you do figure out how to use it successfully for CI, let me know!

      1. Of course. Everything I wrote is what I have learned from being a part of the TPRS community. I hope it helps.

        I would add one more thing that I just realized a month ago. Traditional teaching starts with a rule and teaches you how to say sentences you might want to say some day. TPRS starts with the meaningful conversation you are having right now and teaches you enough about the rules to understand them. In CI, PQA or a story is meaningful now, and grammar acts in service of meaning. The sentences that come from traditional teaching act in service of the rule. I’m having a hard time getting this out because it’s everything and nothing… obvious and subtle… In traditional classes, they use a you-might-need-this-some-day approach, and for most people, some day never comes. But in the CI class, some day is right now. We need it right now to laugh and connect and communicate with each other. I think that is really key. If we can give kids a living core of language… if we play with the the clay until it we feel a strong heartbeat, they can take it out into the world and grow it as much as they like. But traditional classes don’t look anything like what they need to succeed in the real world.

    1. Carla,

      Thanks for the comments. The order went through for Realidades so I’ll be doing my best this year as I try to blend the two. My head is spinning as I try to soak up all of the new TPRS skills and figure out if I can actually do it! I know I’m much more comfortable explaining the grammar, etc. but I can really see how CI is better for the students.

      One thing I’m wondering about is whether high school students (especially juniors and seniors) actually will “play the game” – especially the part where they say “ohhh” after a statement. So far I’ve mostly seen video examples from middle school classes – I don’t think I’ve seen older students experiencing it.


      1. Hi Robyn, I think more TPRS teachers are high school teachers. There’s also no requirement to force them to say Oh! But some kind of response can be helpful so everyone is in this together. May I encourage you that the transition, though uncomfortable at times, is worth it? And I think try easier things first… for me, live actor stories are rare but I do all CI stuff. There are a lot of options. I find Look and Discuss and shorter actor scenes work well for me as stand-bys, for example.

      2. Oh.

        As Diane said, this is a “response.” It is part of their buy-in in the communication game. Since we are focused on the interpersonal standard there must be a two-way street. Perhaps in AP science they can text and thrive, but in interpersonal communication they have to stay engaged. Multitasking does not cut it in the real world. Ask you parents (Put down the phone and listen). Ask your spouse (Can we turn off the TV while we talk?). Ask your children (Mama/Daddy, …) Ask your boss (You can pick up your last check on Friday).

        Oh! is powerful because students already know it. Thus there is no conscious output involved. It is pure limbic response. And, because students already know it, we are able to engage all students and expect engagement from all students.

        Oh! is natural. When engaged we react appropriately to what someone says. It is often inappropriate and awkward to say more. It can be equally inappropriate and awkward to say less. Maybe someone else finds Ah! to be more natural. Go for it.

        On paper, Oh! is pretty much just O – h – ! But in the acoustical world of face to face communication it is not monotone. It is a statement (Oh.) It is a question (Oh?) It is an exclamation (Oh!) So our pitch can be flat, rising, falling, rising-falling, falling-rising.

        Oh! can be modified to express quite a range of emotions: anger, disgust, doubt, fear, etc. Basic stories include mild surprise (the response to any new information–the girl wants a small, red dog), sadness (the girl does not find a small, red dog), happiness (the girl does find a small, red dog).

        Oh! is fun. Some students know how to make it more fun than others. In so doing they make it more fun for others. And if they can all achieve Diane’s “everyone is in this together” moment, it raises fun to a new level.

        Oh! is what emoticons want to be when they come to life.

        1. Brilliant! I am going to make a poster of the Oh’s. This furthers the message of communication is our goal. Your explanation shows the student just one more way to show understanding. One syllable to convey so much meaning.

      3. Will juniors and seniors play the game?

        Every year is different. Every section is different. Every graduating class is different. (Or, as I am hearing more and more, every “cohort” is different.) Sometimes seniors are more willing than freshmen.

        But first of all it starts with me. Will I play the game? That is will I model for them the “Oh!” when they are not doing so well. Will I carry it out so that it sounds like I am having fun “oh-ing”? Will I raise my hands like Ben does until I get the desired response? Will I lower my hands and start over if it does not work the first time? Will I play around with intonation? Will I have so much fun someone else will want to join in? Will I devote enough time to playing around with Oh! that they understand that Oh! is important? That it is not just a cute thing and there is much more important stuff to get to? That right now Oh! is the important stuff?

        (It is easy to fall into traditional teacher roles here, chastising, belittling, showing frustration. That it does not work in traditional teacher roles becomes all the more obvious when we are trying to lower the affective filter.)

        Second, is there at least one student that will play the Oh! game with us? They will probably make it enjoyable if not infectious.

        Third, some students need to see that Oh! is a natural part of communication. If we get a little exaggerated, that is OK. Sometimes that is natural, too. And sometimes it just makes school more fun.

        Four, it helps to point out that those who are doing a great job with Oh! are scoring higher in their interpersonal rubric grade (jGR).

        It is often not a question of Will they play the game? Rather, When will they play the game? For some we just have to hold out longer. Some may never join in, but let’s burn that bridge when we come to it.

      4. I teach middle school. I go with the Blaine Ray (I think) approach of telling students that everything I say is completely fascinating and it is their job to show me how fascinating it is. Then I say (or repeat) my statement and look expectantly. They come up with “Ohhh” all on their own. I ask for more sometimes until it sounds like fun and the class is getting into it. Sometimes they will even give me “ho ho ho!” not the santa kind, but the kind with knowing glances at each other, maybe pointing, nodding heads and interested looks on their faces. The joys of middle school! I think the key is not to stress about getting it right so much as connecting with the students. I have heard great things from one high school teacher friend about how willing and playful her students are. I am sure as Nathaniel said, every class is different.

      5. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts on “Oh!” I’ve been watching Ben’s training videos and I’m getting more and more excited about using CI and TPRS in my Spanish classes in the fall. (I just hope I don’t start speaking French the first time I get up in front of class – this stuff really works!) 🙂


        1. Robyn, You will be fine. Don’t get too caught up stressing! Connect with your kids, connect with what you’re doing, keep it slow and have fun. I teach both middle and high school, and totally agree that it is up to us to set the tone. That said, every group is different so allow that to be. In some HS classes I give them a choice of “oh!” or a very visual widening of the eyes or a rejoinder (“De veras? / No me digas / etc). I have to mix it up a bit after awhile, so even if we start out “oh-ing” I usually add in rejoinders as the year goes on. One at a time. After awhile it can sound like a cacophony if kids are all saying different things, but I don’t mind, as long as they are responding.

    1. I got that from Susan Gross’ DVD workshop. It’s literally true: frontal lobe vs. left brain. And she shows on the DVD how that would ruin the fluency of even the native speaking teachers in the workshop! (She gave them an arbitrary rule like, no words with -r allowed. Now talk. It was pretty revealing.)

      1. Laurie Clarcq had a volunteer at the Maine conference who was told to speak and follow certain restrictions and we could see how hard it was to be fluent and monitor.

        Trying to speak with grammar rules is “mental math.” Also referred to as “mental gymnastics.”

  16. I have just been offered a job where the curriculum director is all about bringing comprehensible input to the district! (He used the word TPRS specifically!) I was beaming! until I got to the part of the email where he told me that we would be working with Realidades…I may have to take my own advice above :-S If anyone has had success making Realidades work with CI, I would love to hear. It may help me to decide about this job. Thanks!

    1. I’m both happy and sad for you !¡ Carla. You know, I’m taking a job for next year where I’m the only foreign language teacher in the school. As much as I would love talking shop with other FL teachers in my school, I’m so glad I don’t have to put up with the kind of inner-departmental grief lots of you all are going through. Here’s to the struggle!… it is a civil rights struggle 🙂

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