Upper Level TPRS

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10 thoughts on “Upper Level TPRS”

  1. As a German teacher I have my students for four years. Sometimes they amaze me. Currently I have a couple of very lazy students (have been all four years), plus lots of senioritis. Nonetheless, my students will readily “argue” with me in German on a variety of topics. One is very politically engaged and will argue politics any chance he gets. Any chance he gets he will do it in English, but as soon as I insist, he switches very well into German – not perfect by any means, but he gets his point across.
    Recently we watched a film about Klaus Stoertebeker, a medieval North Sea pirate. Because I was gone, I didn’t do much preparation. The film was entirely in German without subtitles of any kind, yet my students followed the plot and many of the details. They could tell me setting, time, action, etc. I gave them a pop quiz on this, and the only student to get less than 80% had been absent for several days and missed most of the film. (Yes, I’m giving him a pass on this one.)
    We are also reading “Tristan und Isolde”. This reader has exercises at the end of each chapter, and I decided to go through them, primarily because we had finished the chapter with just a little bit of time left in the period. The content questions were answered without hesitation. The grammar questions took a little thought, but my students got most of them, too. Only prepositions gave them much trouble.
    Next week we will be starting “work stations”. Each student will become an “expert” on one aspect of medieval life and teach that to the others. I’m looking forward to how well they do.
    Later we will read “Das Niebelungenlied” in a modernized version and look at some short Middle High German poetry. We did an in-depth analysis of “Ein’ feste Burg” (“A Mighty Fortress”) by Luther, and my students were able to discuss this work intelligently in German. (We basically repeated an assignment I did at CSU Long Beach, so I know that this was third-year college level, which is what AP says should be happening. Both AP students and level 4 students did the work.)
    The payoff for my students is that they will be able to “earn” a “knighthood” as they display prowess (and other knightly virtues) in a variety of disciplines – all in German.
    When we read and write I discuss grammar – usually in German. To me, these two modes of communication are more deliberate (and deliberative) and lend themselves to the thinking necessary to apply the Monitor. When we speak and listen, I am more interested that my students are bathed in language.
    Hope this contributes to the discussion.

  2. hmmmmm I am going to go out on a limb here….
    At the HIGH SCHOOL level (because that is the only level I feel qualified to discuss), grammar is best approached as a game.
    A bit like chess….it has patterns. Can you see the patterns? Can you understand the moves that result from patterns. Can you see what you can do with certain moves?
    The deeper the understanding of the patterns and the moves, the more respect the player has for the game. But Frankly my dear, learning about patterns and rules before you even like the game simply has no purpose.
    Luckily even beginners can play! With just a few rules. And playing, now that is great. Even if you don’t do it well. Heck, it’s not the cure for cancer. No need to get too serious right off the bat as long as some good playing is going on.
    Learning about chess, without ever playing chess, is just an exercise in mental gyrations. Playing chess, and learning the rules, patterns and moves in chess once you understand the basics of the game allows us to play at a higher level. Substitute your language for the word chess and you get my take on grammar.
    In the classroom we have to decide how much time we devote to playing with the language and how much we devote to learning about the structure. The danger is, in language learning and in chess is in jumping in too early with the more complicated studies of the patterns. It takes a while to play with the different pieces before you can really get a feel for how each one works. Focusing on the piece, or the pattern, for too long and you lose sight of the game. Lose sight of the game and you lose interest in the game. Lose interest and lose joy, much less any proficiency you may have achieved.
    If I didn’t have to ever worry about the agendas of an institution, a profession, or other people …I would play most of the time. When the students began to appreciate and love the game they would start to ask questions about the game and how to be better at it. They would figure some of the answers out for themselves.
    The students who loved to win would focus on playing better and ask for the patterns that would help them to win. The students who just loved to be with other players and have fun would learn what they needed to learn to stay involved.
    The students who were very analytical would spend a lot of time watching and looking for patterns. They would read and research and look for those patterns as they observed others. They would play games in order to experiment with those rules and patterns.
    Some would play, with just a few rules, for most of their playing days…and be happy. Others would play in tournaments with other competitive players for the rest of their playing days..and be happy. Some would write blogs and articles and books about the game and the rules for the rest of their playing days…and be happy. Others would share their love and excitement for the game with others for all of their playing days……and be happy. Some would get better and better all the rest of their playing days….and be happy. Others people would like the rules and patterns better than the game itself…and they too would be happy.
    Bottom line? Once they know how to play, spend enough time on the rules, the patterns and the details so that they will continue to play well enough to enjoy the game…and want to keep on playing. Feed the needs of students first, then institutions. And keep on playing….
    with love,

  3. Robert and others,
    I know we’ve gone all over reading and it’s importance, but I was wondering if you would share with us exactly how you approach a novel in your upper levels. I must be thick, but I need specifics. I still have a hard time getting my students into reading. (Last week, my most advanced class actually did a sit-in to protest continuing a Goosebumps book in French. Urgh.)
    I’d really appreciate any input you would share (and, of course, anyone else’s too).
    Thank you so much.

  4. In my opinion, Laurie, the thing about teaching only the rules of the language, and not letting the students hear it, is about control – the teacher gets to be in control, fearing loss of control without a class that focuses only on the rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. Real control is found in the 90%+ L2 classroom.
    It’s like the teacher keeps implying, sometimes over years, that the kids will get to play French if they just learn the rules, but Krashen has shown that idea to be bogus.
    The model of the teacher in control allows the teacher to stay within his or her comfort zone. The comfort zone of the kids is not considered in this model, where only the few kids who enjoy such analysis of language survive and the rest just zone out.
    I don’t think that it is right for a teacher to send the message to students that, as long as they do as they are told, they will learn. It takes away their half of the game of creating language together, which is the game we who do narrative CI play in our classrooms.
    The clear and apparent need to now get out of zones of comfort and control have created well documented fights between such traditional teachers and us – some going on right now, flash points across the nation.
    The difference is that we who use narrative methods and align with Krashen can walk into any classroom and teach a fine, a beautiful, grammar lesson, whereas traditional teachers cannot do so, resisting the new narrative methods because they don’t know how to teach using them. Some resist with a vengeance.
    Many such teachers gravitate to university level work, protected by the word “academia” from the storms raging in secondary education right now. At that level, such people are safe to analyze things, and stay in their minds, and they guarantee being able to stay in their comfort zones by working at that level. Instead of leading us in pedagogical reform, they don’t leave their comfort zones. I wouldn’t really call such people teachers.
    What we are doing, Laurie, is courageous, because we know that change is necessary and we are willing to expand our comfort zones and design instructional settings around the comfort of the kids, too. Good for us.
    Summer training is available, people. Even though the Maine thing didn’t happen, Skip and I are doing a pure in-your-face coaching experience in October there. There is the mid June graduate course in South Carolina with Liz Hughes, and that is going to be a good one – very thorough, not to mention Chicago and Los Angeles in July. And Minnesota is doing what? Y’all, anyone doing any summer training anywhere, please post that here.
    We need all the work on our feet that we can get. All of us. It took me these nine years to go from, on a good day, 20% CI and a lot of L1 in my “TPRS” classes – uselessly over-explaining things, to, on Diana’s challenge, 90% L2 these past months. There is such a sweetness, as Bryce said, in doing that. A joy in that kind of teaching because we are ALL in our comfort zones, the kids included.
    Maybe a good goal would be to get an increase of 25% CI in the classroom between now and fall, and then, next year, keep going another 25% over the course of the year, so that, if you are doing 40% CI now, with summer training to give you the tricks, you could get to 90% by the end of next year.
    I was surprised to see how easy it it do so, actually. You just have to want to do it. The time for arguing the value of 90% L2 in the foreign language classroom in the United States is over. It is time to start working together in anyway we can to learn from each other how to do it. If not us, then whom? And if not now, this summer, then when?

  5. Laurie, thank you for the compliment.
    Kelly, we do a variety of things. I still use Ben’s basic outline of ten minutes of silent reading. During that time students are to write down words that they don’t understand and can’t figure out. The second ten minutes I allow them to ask for clarification rather than simply translating. (Remember, this is for upper level) Then I point out things that I think they missed or that I know we haven’t covered in class. Most of this is done in German; I will use English here because we are talking about the language, but I try to use as little as possible. I think we can talk about the language in the language; that way students get both the Comprehensible Input and the learning for the Monitor. After that we discuss the characters, plot, theme, lessons, etc. and create parallel stories. I say stories, plural, because I have yet to figure out how to sustain a single parallel story throughout an entire book.
    In levels 1 and 2 I still translate slowly while students follow along. They are expected to move their fingers along with my translation. Occasionally I will pause, and the class is supposed to say the next word in chorus. I have previously highlighted those words (during the silent reading period if not before). If it looks like someone has spaced out I will ask them for the next word individually. Then I’ll find out what the last thing they remember is and go back and redo the translation from there. Also, I make certain that the words I’m asking them to translate in chorus are words that they know well or have just occurred three or four times in the paragraph. This is pretty easy with Blaine’s novels because of the repetition. Because of testing and other things, we powered through a little book in level 2, “Flucht aus Auschwitz” (Escape from Auschwitz), that was a follow-up to our unit on submarine warfare in WWII. (This is, BTW, an excellent cross-curricular tie-in: sophomores take World History and deal with WWII about this time, and sophomore English reads “Night” by Elie Wiesel. As a result, most of my students are getting a variety of perspectives.)
    After we have read a book I try to show a film that relates to it and then compare and contrast the two. Earlier my level 4 read “Emil und die Detektive”. I have about four or five different film versions of the book. Interestingly, my class chose to view the oldest film version. (It is closest to the book in time and also most faithful to the text.) Then we used a thinking map to compare the two. I talked about what makes a good essay and that students had to take a position (book was better, film was better, both were good/poor examples of their respective genres) and support it. Finally students wrote an essay comparing the book and film. We will do the same thing after we finish “Tristan und Isolde”.
    My students don’t always find the reading captivating, but I’ve never had a full-blown rebellion over a book. Hope my comments help.
    Ben, you wrote “I don’t think that it is right for a teacher to send the message to students that, as long as they do as they are told, they will learn. It takes away their half of the game of creating language together, which is the game we who do narrative CI play in our classrooms. ”
    Unfortunately, this is increasingly the message that the entire school experience communicates. As a result, students come to our classes and believe that because they are in attendance day after day or have done their (often meaningless) homework that they “deserve” an A or B. It doesn’t matter whether or not they have mastered the material to any degree, they have meekly submitted to the “authority” and should be rewarded. This is a culture of passivity that is contrary to the character traits that made our country – and many others – great. ( Some of my students are shocked that from time to time I will give them credit for a wrong answer if they can defend it logically – especially if they do it in German.)
    I also see your comments about “academia” played out in the interactions between the high school teachers and the university instructors/professors in AATG. About a year ago we had Jason Fritze present on reading in the foreign language classroom at a local workshop. The university people found it interesting but didn’t see how they could possibly do those things and still “cover” all the grammar they are required to teach. There was no hint that any of them were even aware of the disconnect between teaching grammar and using the language. ::sigh:: The only ones who seemed to “get it” at all were the TAs, but they had to teach as mandated so that their students would be “ready” for the next course in sequence – not ready to go talk to people in Germany, but ready to sit in the next class for more of the same.

  6. Everything that has been said about Krashen is true, but I was just reading him and he did say that our kids need to know how to use a grammar reference more than they need to know the rule. The problem is that they sometimes don’t know what they are looking for in a grammar book. I try to give them a reference in their textbook for a structure that I am doing in class if they want to look into it further. In fact, I invited those who were interested to look up the rules for the past vs the imperfect and tell me if they thought that learning the rules was more effective than simply deciding event or description. The game of finding the pattern is much more meaningful to them when they see it and have that a hah moment. Too bad there is still another way out there that makes us feel like we are sending our young out into the world without their grammar toolbox to protect them.

  7. Bryce Hedstrom

    I would love to see the results of a complete, well-taught TPRS program. In my school this has never happened. Students have always been interrupted by spending a year or two with a grammar-based colleague. My students in level 4/AP right now came from a grammar/translator/English speaker last year and a teacher the year before that did little more than show videos . But we always have to teach the students in front of us.

  8. Thank you so much, Robert, for taking the time to answer my question so fully. And as always, thanks to everyone for the input/ideas/hashing out/help.

  9. After describing the reading process above, Robert wrote this:
    “I talked about what makes a good essay and that students had to take a position (book was better, film was better, both were good/poor examples of their respective genres) and support it.”
    So here we have a description of what an upper level TPRS class looks like, and it looks beautiful to me. Reading engenders discussion and writing. All four skills addressed with a big side order of culture thrown in. How much sense that makes! The reading is the point of power, the springboard, the flash point, for the output.
    Robert, re: your comment about how the university people didn’t grasp what Jason said to them – they will one day. They have to or they will lose their jobs, not because of tenure, which they will have, but because their department will start looking not unlike a dinosaur, and it will start smelling of pronouns and dead fish. People will want to actually learn the language, and so narrative methods will come in.
    Meanwhile, Jason will be in Los Angeles, if you can find it in your mind to think that it just might, maybe, be possible to teach grammar via correct spoken language instead of the way you were taught. Also in LA will be that other guy, Stephen something, and of course Robert.

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