Immediate output

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.


2 responses to “Immediate output

  1. I love this idea! I really need to improve my skills with imbedded readings as I saw my kids struggle this year with our reading of one of Blaine’s books. I am really impressed that you were able to get output on day one! Did you focus energy on the gestures so that they could come up with those words so quickly when reading? I know those classes of teachers are the dream students we never have!

    I hope you will keep us posted on how you intend to implement this idea into your classes for next year. I think that this year I was very hesitant to ask for output and then when we get to the end and I want to evaluate speaking I feel that I haven’t given them enough practice, etc. We still have two weeks to go and I am jotting notes to myself everywhere so I can try to remember all the things I can do to improve for next year!


  2. I almost always use gestures, especially in the beginning levels. The teacher story was about a guy who played his violin and the neighbors didn’t like it until he played at night and one could join in on the drum. That had lots of obvious gestures and sound effects. The kid one had walking, talking, “Excuse me,” and the word that means both “Please,” and “You are welcome.” Then we added “slow,” “fast,” and a few others that are easy to gesture. Both sets of students gestured as they read to remind their partners of missing words.

    Thanks to someone who visited this page yesterday, I was reminded of one of the links to a Japanese article that contended that language abilities increased after students had read 300,000 words. That’s a lot — something like 1250 words every day of 8 months, including weekends (or 1650/weekdays). It would be interesting to do a word count with kids–words read, re-read during class (in context), and words they get in on their own time.


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