Right before I left for Russia with half the group knowing no Russian, Betsy Paskvan and I did a workshop in Fairbanks. There she ended up coaching me at the same time that she was commenting on my use of various TPRS elements in a mini-lesson. (If you go to NTPRS, find a way to get Betsy to coach you there. She is awesome.)
After I’d done the first level of an embedded reading for brand-new Russian speakers, Betsy stopped me and asked the students to sit in pairs with one student only looking at the reading. (This has one element of what Laurie shared about her take-off on Nathan’s CYOA posts.) The one facing the screen had to try to get the other to tell the story by using gestures. That of course required the partner to read the story. Then they switched parts.
Honestly, I would never have done that to a first-day student. It seemed way too much output, too soon, to me. But the adults seemed to have fun. Granted, they were all language teachers. Then, when I was in Russia, I only had a few class sessions with my new Russian students. They needed some vocabulary really fast, so we did the same activity right away with a story in which an American student had to say, “Excuse me,” to get by some Russian girls gabbing in the hall. By circling the reading a bit, the kids did great on a retell, their first hour of Russian. Of course, they are not typical; for one thing, they were highly motivated by fear of knowing nothing. All of them have been studying other languages, and there were only four of them.
I was still surprised how doing that ramped up their abilities. They were catching our HF words in conversations, and picking up words from the story on signs. For three days I taught them the same story, expanding on it a little and pushing on the questions. Then we ran out of time for that exercise, as our project got going, but one girl tore a muscle and had to be flat for a couple of days, so I did a couple lessons with her using a book I’d just purchased to take home for my upper level classes. She was able to get the gist of an article on baby development. I was delighted, and she told me it was because “all those same words were in our story,” as though I was dumb and should have noticed.
Better believe I’m going to be trying these tactics in mini doses on my kids next year. I suspect they have something to do with why Betsy’s Japanese 1 students speak and read so fluently and confidently by the end of the year. Output is not when they acquire, but if they have just a bit of it regularly, they can monitor their own acquisition process.