Laurie on Power

Yesterday Nathan sent me this post of Laurie’s, since I was asking about her Power organizing principle. Laurie gave us permission to repost it. You can also find it here.


Where’s The Power?

One of the amazing things that I observed at NTPRS 10 and IFLT 1 was how certain parts of a sentence or a story carry more power than others.   Ben Slavic calls it part of the “flow” and when you are watching a lesson, and the teacher taps into it, you can actually SEE the power enter the lesson.  It’s incredible.

Let me start with a sentence.  As Susie Gross has pointed out to me many times, the brain goes where there is meaning and stays where there is interest.

So…..if you want students to stay focused on what you are saying long enough to get those reps in….there has to be some power added  in the sentence.   Let’s face it …not every phrase we teach is all that interesting!!!

Where does the power come from?  Here are some things that I observed and that presenters and teachers modeled:  Power words/phrases

1.  can be clearly gestured.

2.  represent or are connected to movement or action.

3.  represent or are connected to sound.

4.  represent or are connected to emotion.

5.  represent or are connected to taste, touch, scent.

6.  create an immediate and powerful visual reaction in the listener.

7. tap into memory.

8. tap into a shared experience.

9. tap into humor.

10.  are unique.

These are all ways to offer the students a way to connect with the language!!!!

Take the target phrase:   Jose sleeps.    Not all that exciting except that Jose, my Chihuahua is a cute little guy…but…using the ideas above we can more interest…more POWER.   If I talk with my students about Jose I can say…

  1. Jose sleeps.(and throw a stuffed Chihuahua onto a pillow.  I could ask a student to curl up like a dog and snore.)
  2. Jose sleeps all day (make ASL sign for day) and Jose sleeps all night (make ASL sign for night)
  3. Jose sleeps loudly.  (SNORE!)
  4. Jose sleeps like a baby. (AWWWW)
  5. Jose sleeps on people. (put stuffed animal on students’ shoulders)
  6. Jose sleeps on  top of the tv. (or in the oven, or in front of the Principal’s office, or on the back of a motorcycle)
  7. Jose sleeps with a blanky.   (we all have a memory of our blanky or someone else’s…)
  8. Jose sleeps during the math class.  (oh how language people love math lol)
  9. Jose sleeps in footie pajamas.  (see how one sentence can tap into several possibilities?)
  10. Jose sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeps.  (if the word itself isn’t unique or fun, use your voice to make it unique!)

As I go through these different reps with the students I can pay attention to which sentence elicits a natural, powerful reaction.  What kind of reaction?  A visual, audible, or physical response to what I’ve said like….



Denial/Rejection (No!!!!  Not footie pajamas!)

Interest  (I want Jose to sleep on my shoulder!)

Interaction (super loud snoring)

Verbal Response  (I sleep with my blanky!)

When your students “click” with something….jump on that baby and ride it.   We practiced recognizing, and responding to, strong student reactions and I saw it transform the teacher, the students and the interactions.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to go with a sentence or a story.   We are afraid of standing up in front of the class rambling on and on about one thing.  It feels like pressure to us and that trickles immediately into a message for our students.  They read us quickly and soak up every message we give them.

So this year I am going to try to think of the scripting or listing ideas (like I did above) as a way to look for solid ice.  When I find a sentence or word that elicits a stronger response…I’ve found the power….and the place to go deeper.  A trail to follow.  How cool is that?!!

with love,


Go with it!!!

With love,


11 responses to “Laurie on Power

  1. So far I’ve been looking at this list primarily in retrospective: when PQA or a certain interaction really goes off well, I can track it back to one of these items and say “oh yeah, there it is.”

    I think I tend to use the “shared experience” and “emotion” ones the most, but with the risk of overusing them as well. This week I’m playing the Green Bay Packers card as much as I can (not every week the local team hits the Superbowl), and Justin Bieber has a way of finding me. That said, I need to diversify a bit and the “visual reaction” and “taste/touch/smell” are begging to be developed. I am simply a horrible artist, so much so that I can provoke my students to participation just by attempting something. I can also coat anything in German chocolate or make it Fish-flavored to really stir the pot.

    I think I need to go along the lines that Laurie talks about with “finding solid ice” in pre-planning my PQA along the lines of which hooks could be most powerful on a given day with a given set of words.


  2. When an idea like this comes along, what I find is that it energizes my teaching. Today was a bit rough with that same class I mentioned yesterday, because there are two very different factions who really want their own stories. At one point, a girl stood up and led the story asking on her own. It was pretty impressive. But things still fell apart a bit, and I finally told the kids to find a person they didn’t usually sit with, exchange compliments and tell them something new. I found out a lot about Marie in just a couple minutes, and one of her compliments for me was that when things don’t go well, I don’t lose it like some of her other teachers. After that mini love-fest, we went back to storytelling, and managed to get a story with a love square in it and finish the class. (But I didn’t get the speaking assessment I’d wanted to work in, so we’ll do that tomorrow!!)

    After that class, I was feeling a bit worn out, not necessarily looking forward to the next group, who were filing in at the same time the others were packing up (overlapping schedules between the high school and middle school). We sang a little bit, then I put my target words on the board, and THEN…out popped Laurie. I truly believe that she came into my room and taught the class. We used the “sleeping” scenario. A very shy kid volunteered to be the sleeper, and she got to sleep loudly, in her purple Hello Kitty pj’s, and a series of family members tried to wake her up for her trip to China. The only thing that worked was when the brother sang to her.

    I also tend to use the same power ideas over and over, so that’s why having a list like this helps, especially with the wonderful explanation. And maybe it’s why I was so effective when I was using Ben’s TPRS in a Year book–every few days, I would change up the skill I was working on.


  3. The challenges in TPRS are indeed universal. I had a stinker of a story today. The power phrase that had the most energy was he hid. Not until my actor at the end of the story hid himself between a cabinet and the wall (almost got stuck) that the energy went way up. We have just started back after exams. The kids are really rammy. There was entirely too much shouting out – competiton to get their idea in which of course leads to too much English. They have a hard time fighting the urge to get too many details out at once. Does anyone have a suggestion about fitting PQA and a story into a 40 minute period? I am never getting to the end of the story or am feeling too rushed to do the short quiz. As usual, this community of incredible people picks me up with just the blog I needed! Thanks, Laurie, et al


  4. Today I am not the person to answer, though here I am writing anyway…just to let you smile over the fact that I forced a story to end at the end of an hour yesterday in my level one class, and the same class re-told that story for another hour today.

    I think the answer is to keep it simpler than I am doing. I tend to want to add in much more detail, which really shouldn’t happen ’till the second run-through. I’m going to try try to focus on a very short story in my next class (which is only 43 minutes, not 85 like the other one). Maybe the principal is looking for someone who hides. We don’t know “hide,” so I can just use “runs in to the . . .”

    Yes! I just thought of it: the principal is going to be looking for Jack, who was late because he didn’t wake up on time. (Jack is a home-schooled kid who shines in class, and they will love to have him in trouble, I think, if the story goes that way.) Thank you for the idea!!

    Later…we did it! I kept it short-ish. The principal looked for our class mascot, who went and hid in the ladies’ bathroom when he saw her, and she went in there and danced, but all the kids saw her and laughed, so she cried and drove to the chocolate factory in a Lamborghini. That would be my choice too on a bad day.


  5. Chill,
    This is a subject that I have been wanting to talk about for a while. I have kept quiet because the grass looks greener and the CI looks better in all of your classrooms and I always think I’m the only one having problems.

    Here’s my problem (and I welcome comments or advise if possible). I start on a group of structures and spend days (!) on them. We have 55 min periods on regular days but have had lots of irregular days lately. We sometimes spend most of a period on the PQA and gestures. Time just seems to get away from me. I like to break up the day in little ways so will do TPR or a short activity with kids in pairs or something other than just me doing the story all period.

    We might start the story on the first day but NEVER finish on the first day. Usually on the second day we do a warm up with structures or info from the day before and then a recap. We continue the story but often don’t seem to finish even then. By day three we usually can finish but not always. I feel terrible admitting this but I really want (and I think my kids do too) closure or resolution or something on our stories. I know I have much to learn (Not very young Jedi that I am) but that is just how it usually goes for me. I know it’s not supposed to go that way, but it does.

    I would love to offer you support, but only have sympathy or empathy for what you are asking about because it is a similar question to my own. I’m not too worried about being perfect, although I do feel a strong urge to get better and better at this wonderful method. I feel that my kids are learning and so I know I am at least doing better than I did before CI. I have been working on this for a while and have some impatience with the fact that I am not a master yet! I think it is good that we share ideas and problems with each other as it all seems to be helpful and we are all getting a little better all the time!

    Anyone else take forever to get ‘er done? What are your thoughts esteemed friends?
    (Jody, what you are doing with that new book is blowing my mind! I’m inspired!)


  6. and if every day were perfect, there would be no wonderful unexpected moments!!!


  7. I gave up the idea of “days” a long time ago: PQA/Monday, Story/Quiz/Tuesday, Reading/Wednesday, blah, blah. Just doesn’t work for me. Maybe it is the age of my kids. Likely, it is my basic philosophy: Teach kids first, then your curriculum.

    Things I know:
    1- I never really know how long Vocab Intro and PQA will take. It depends on the structures, the group, the stars aligning, who knows what else. I just know that I must to be ready to start a story in case I need to.

    2-If I don’t start a story at the beginning of the period, I NEVER finish it by the end.

    3-If I start a story in the middle of the period, I know we will just have to pick it up where we left off tomorrow or whatever day we meet next. I actually like doing it that way better because we get a chance to look over the structures again after 24 hours; we review/retell the story as a group up to the point where we left off; and I get a really good idea what was retained, not circled enough, etc. Then, we go on and finish the story. I have cut off many stories in my life because it’s just “time to move on”. I don’t worry about it anymore. There’s always another story!

    After that, sometimes, we segue right into the reading. Sometimes, we have a little quiz. Sometimes, we don’t.

    I like to look at my time as a series of steps that need to be done thoroughly and done well. If I worry about “finishing”, I do a poor job in the end and the kids really get short-changed. It does mean that I have to do all lesson planning in light pencil. I am constantly erasing and moving things around.

    Not pressuring myself so much about “which day it is” helps me be open to the wonderful unexpected moments. It also helps me STOP, when things get a bit out of hand, to go over the rules on the wall slowly, seriously and clearly and to stick to my guns. I do not feel guilty about moving this slowly. The excellent results I see with my students has proven to me that depth trumps breadth over and over and over.

    Yesterday, I had a kid tell me how many minutes certain kids had wasted of class time. Nice wake-up call from an 11-year old! I was letting things go; the volume was getting out of control; it didn’t feel good. I was starting to nag. Her words stopped me on a dime! Today was very different because I was different. I feel blessed to have my little angel who slowed me down enough to take back the reins today.

    TPRS has liberated me from the “days routine”. My only filter is the CI filter–comprehensible input, not “sort of comprehensible” input or CI in between output activities. If it ain’t CI, I am not likely going to be doing it in my class. I don’t have time!

    Jody (who has about 5 pending posts on her own site to look after :-))


    • Jody, your “comment” strikes me as a worthy post! It’s one of those nuts-and-bolts things that plagued me in my first two years a lot, and I often get questions from others. A schedule gives a new TPRS-er a certain feeling of structure support. Either one of us could post it…since I get the idea that people go from here to your site regularly.

      I’ve had a long journey, and I agree with you–the only thing that I instituted this semester that is schedule-like is my quiz rotation. Scott keeps a sticky note for each class and marks off when he has X number of assessments in each standard. It didn’t work for me, because I kept losing the sticky notes. Now that I do the assessments on a schedule, I have a better-rounded picture at progress report time (today, for us!) I printed out reports for my first two classes this morning, and they told me they understood them and felt they were fair. That was a huge change from the old chorus of “explain! why? but…”

      My Mondays still usually start with a weekend report, but we do other things if that doesn’t take over. And my Fridays are usually kindergarten days, but in one class so far today, we told a story instead of playing a game or reading, so it can be flexible.

      Let me know if it would be okay to officially post this, because I think there are lots of different takes on the schedule idea.


  8. Thanks for the comment on the reading blog, Ruth. Gotta get over there and do some work! Sounds like you are doing yours!! I wish you continued success!


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