PQA Database

You know how it is. You have spent time identifying a story you want to work on (to act out or read), and may have even gone through backwards planning to identify key structures, but most of the preparation time for a given story usually doesn’t rest on the PQA. You wonder about what props you might use, or perhaps pre-plan a couple of plot twists, but when you get to the PQA that is supposed to kick off the whole affair, you find things falling flat, and you hurry up getting started with the story because that’s where your planning was.  And as understandable as this is, it’s really sad because PQA done right can take over the class and really make the conversation go where the kids are most interested in it.

That’s where a great idea of Carla’s comes in.  She has been talking for the past several months about building a PQA database, a list of different lines of questioning for particular words.  It’s pretty basic: although many of us are teaching different languages in different settings and sometimes things don’t translate from one situation to the next, the words do.  Even though you may be teaching Spanish and are tied to a textbook because that’s what your department requires, at the beginning levels at least you’re still doing much of the same vocab as everybody else at that stage.  Why can’t we develop the low-hanging fruit together?

This dovetails nicely with a core focus for me in this upcoming year, which is to get the PQA right, because when the PQA is clicking the students not only are more involved, but they’re involved because they’re making the connections with their lives (real or imagined–which is more important in high school?) they need to really make things stick.  When the PQA is really snapping, for me much of the story has already been asked.  I noticed that the reading days where I added tons of PQA details that came up were the days that really had the major engagement.  I think for next year I’m going to ask my student scribe who is writing down my story details for me to also recap the major PQA details for me as well.

A framework for much of this arises from Laurie’s fantastic post last year on power, and how to get serious power in the PQA: http://blog.heartsforteaching.com/2010/08/05/wheres-the-power.aspx. I need to reread this more often to keep my asking well-rounded.

Perhaps some basic attempts at this can be illustrated by a few attempts here.

 Is afraid of

  • What do you (or your sister, or Mr. Black) do when you’re afraid?”
  • “What are different sounds you make when you’re afraid?”
  • “What do you do with your hands when you’re afraid?” (you can create different sounds/movements for different intensities of fear and then classify student fears on that scale as they come up)
  • “When are you most afraid?”
  • “How can you overcome your fears?” (for more of an intermediate/advanced discussion)


  • “What do you send a boy/girl you like?”
  • “How do you send an invitation to a party/a love letter/fan mail?”
  • “When/how should you send a thank you note?” (As these are high-schoolers, maybe a discussion of WHY you send thank you note would be in order)
  • “What snacks should your family send you if you’re in (Germany/Russia/Spain, etc.) and can’t get it there (True story: I got root beer extract and Kool-aid packets on a regular basis)

Feel free to add/expand any of these ideas in the comments.  I think I’m going to start getting in the habit of posting various PQA ideas for selected words I want to be using next year here.

2 responses to “PQA Database

  1. If you click on Martina’s page and do a search for “Leading Questions,” you will find a bunch of ideas!! I can’t paste in a picture of the search result, but try clicking here.


  2. I really love Martina’s layout with this. Her leading questions become essentially part of the preparation and are as essential to her stories as the structures themselves were. I’m copying (for illustration) the first section of “Ugly Clothes” here to illustrate how she does it:

    Who do you go to when you need money?
    What is something that would make clothes ugly?
    If you were desperate for money, what would you do?

    ropa fea – ugly clothes
    lleva – wears
    necesito dinero – I need money

    Then she gets into the script, etc. But I think I’ll start making those leading questions/PQA part of my routine now as much as the words themselves.


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