TPRS: making contests easy

For the past 23 years, I have run a state Russian competition. This year I turned it over to two other (younger!) teachers.

I used to spend most of the year on this contest. The materials became, in essence, my curriculum. It’s a good contest, as contests go. The kids have to memorize and present a poem. They also have to talk on three cultural and three personal topics. They tell the judges everything they know. The judges mark whether they address the content, are comprehensible, and so on. The judging ticket is pretty close to the holistic rubric, except of course for the poetry.

Before TPRS, I concentrated on getting kids to do output from the beginning. I knew that I’d want them to regurgitate long speeches. They learned a lot, but really all they could talk about or read was what was in the materials that we prepped with. It was kind of like a personalized version of ALM. If a Russian speaker fed them the right questions, they could answer at length about themselves.

The first year of doing TPRS, I set aside only three months to work on the contest, and ended up doing the preparation mostly through the lens of my new TPRS glasses. We told stories and embellished. The kids did great. The next year, I focused for two months, and my students actually did better. This year, the advanced kids are gasping because I told them on Thursday that we have a month.

Yet when I started the first-year kids on this, and asked them to be imaginary figures and talk about themselves, it was so easy! We’ve played Hurricane, in which they all tell about themselves (I think I have shared about that elsewhere here). They had a lot to say. We just finished a song about our mascot, in which he tells where he was born and that he didn’t go to school, so that transferred. Then all the stuff about family and what they love, where they live–all that is simple now that I’ve been following the Susie technique of retelling from perspective.

A week on a city, on a literary figure (Pushkin and Lermontov are great, since they killed themselves; Pushkin because he ran afoul of the tsar and got exiled), and one on something else like a movie or artwork will take care of timing–all of this fits perfectly into TPRS, especially when you use embedded readings and just a few props.

Each year, I’m amazed that it’s so much easier to do this than it was in the past. Talking about yourself shouldn’t be hard, after a year or two of TPRS. Yes, it’s output. I don’t like requiring it, but I do love the fact that kids can reach the same goals with seemingly far less effort from all of us.

Even the poem goes well…I spend a  couple of days treating all the different choices like new songs, talking about the story involved, using the new (high-frequency) words, and the kids learn the poems really fast. TPRS is close to magic.

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