Friday TPRS meeting

We had our last monthly TPRS meeting for the year today here in Anchorage, and it was a good one! I’m going to be writing for the next hour here, breaking my ten-minute rule, but that’s because Allison had to leave early, and I want her to know everything I can remember.

While I write, I am going to mention the fact that Julia (student teacher extraordinaire) agreed to let us videotape her doing a MovieTalk demo. I’m uploading the video I took of her using a laptop to teach us as I write. There are five sections, including parts of our discussion after she finished. I got to feeling a little guilty, though, because I didn’t exactly ask permission to include the discussion.

Okay. Our agenda topic was to be final assessments, but when Julia showed up, we made the request for a repeat demo, since Betsy had missed the last meeting. Someone else’s comment (Martina?) after the last time we watched her was that she thought she was fluent in French with just that one lesson! So…repeat performance…it will also serve as a document in Julia’s portfolio. She’s going to get job offers from all over the country! (Okay…that one is uploaded. Next one is starting now.) I’m going to “publish” this so you can watch if you want while I type. And I’m going to get the cord to keep the iPhone juiced up.

OH. When I went to view it, I got a suggestion from YouTube that I watch Martina’s demo, called “TPRS Demo for “Cierra la puerta.” Of course all of you who flock to Martina’s blog have already seen that. I haven’t yet, but as soon as these videos are up, and this blog is typed, that’s where I’m going. And here’s Martina’s post that includes a MovieTalk demo. Here I thought we’d be the first…Martina was sitting right there, and was too sweet to mention that she already had a demo up. Shows how behind the times I am.

After the demo, we still had a million things to discuss before getting to the main topic. One of those was a tangent from Betsy’s comment that when she looks for movies for MovieTalk in Japanese, she googles “Silent Samurai movies.” And then I interrupted her to tell a story, and we never got back to the point she was going to make. But someone did mention that Kristin Duncan has a list of good YouTube videos for MT.

My tangent involved finding materials for IB curriculum, and that led to Anne’s telling how she uses a set of photos she got from (somewhere…will ask her to comment below and let us know). When she’s working on assessing output, everyone gets a picture. Students stand in concentric circles (one circle facing out, one with the same number of kids facing in, and they rotate after speaking). The kids on the inside are responsible for keeping the kids on the outside talking for whatever the time period is, so they have to ask questions about their picture that the other student can answer. At the end of the time period, Anne rings a bell and the kids rotate. Wash, rinse, repeat. Whatever the collection is of pictures, it is so engaging that the kids want to talk about them all.

That idea led nicely into our round robin discussion of ideas for finals, which are starting here in just over a month. A big theme was that at this point, we don’t want teachers to stress out; try to figure out ways to make it easier. Another theme was that we don’t want to stress out the kids; if possible, a language final should give them the chance to show off, surprise their teacher, make them feel good about themselves, but not make them add much to what can often be a period of overloaded schedules, as they study for every final, get every paper and project done, and generally try to survive the last couple of weeks.

Betsy is the one who tells them to show off, surprise her…and reminds them of the research that says the more students write for the SAT, the better their grade, because they show more of what they’ve got. The idea works well in her classes too.

The first teacher to talk said that she uses old versions of the National German Exam for her finals. That eases her stress, and the kids can’t really study for it. Fits all our situations, except some of us don’t have old exams.

Kristin said that she never uses a scantron until the final, but that’s when it comes out, since her school requires grades that day. Whatever she does has to be finished by the end of class.

An MS teacher gives kids her final, but since finals at her school can only help kids’ grades, not hurt them, she doesn’t grade them unless someone is on the edge or is really hoping to have earned a higher grade. Then she sits down with the student and goes through the final to figure out whether it really demonstrates improved ability over the rest of the semester. Since this is a teacher all of us respect, we looked at her in surprise (about not grading the finals) and got talking about the reasons for giving finals.

First of all, most of us know where kids are in the different realms by the day of the final. Their writing, listening, speaking and reading abilities are not really going to have changed that much in the last week. If a student is anxious to know about a grade, or if we suspect a final can help them, then grading it carefully is worth the effort. Otherwise…not so much.

Secondly, final grades almost never change anything. Third, as Rie at Dimond used to say, all tests are cumulative in a language class, so this one isn’t going to be any different.

Lest that sounds like I’m trying to get us out of work, I have to point out that every teacher at our meeting writes or provides a final based on the semester. Some grade the oral but not the written (with the above exceptions), some do a listening piece, some tell a story with the class. It’s all further language work, but we also all realize that it’s just one more day in 90 days’ worth of school, and should not carry half or even a quarter of the credit for the semester. If it had to, that would say that we weren’t doing our jobs the rest of the time.

One teacher gives everyone in a class the exam on the day the seniors take it, and then gives a lesser exam the last week of school to the kids who remain in the class. She doesn’t necessarily tell the kids that the second exam is “lesser.” And no one in our group tells the kids about final weights unless they have to by school rules.

In Betsy’s room, the kids do a two-part exam. The first part is speaking. They choose one of the eight or ten storyboards that the students have learned stories for from the semester, and go out in the hall with an intern or other upper-level speaker. They tell the story for five-fifteen minutes, and the intern grades them on a scale from one to ten. (These are first- and second- year students. I’ve heard from other teachers how amazed they are by what the kids can do on these.) Then the kids come inside, take the written story, and do an assignment for the rest of the period that Betsy has given: rewrite the whole story from a different perspective, or write a new ending, or the sequel…she says they fill pages and pages. And then…she looks at the writing briefly, compares it with the writing scores as they’ve been all semester, and grades those that merit special attention. If the speaking grade meshes well with what she knows, she adds that. She has a stress-free day (she says kids always do better and try harder when talking to people other than her), and the kids leave knowing how well they can manage Japanese. Win-win. Oh…Betsy starts the speaking grades several days in advance to fit them all in.

Wow. I knew this was going to be long, but didn’t know how long.

Karen C says that she has progressively higher-weighted units as the semester goes on, and she ends her last one about two weeks before the semester ends. That gives her two weeks to “play” with the kids, exploring topics they didn’t get to by the end of the year. In the meantime, each student must prepare a presentation for the class. She gives an overall assignment, and the students have to do a presentation that no one else has chosen.

Everyone agreed that we need to try to do the most laborious parts of our exams, if we are to grade them in time for next-day grade posting, earlier in the month.

I’m going to consider recycling a song-line writing assignment from a couple of years ago: take a line from your favorite song (or your favorite line in any Russian song) and write a story that leads up to it or uses it at a critical moment. I read those to the kids, and they ended up trying to guess the song lines. It was fun! Usually I give kids a set of vocabulary and have kids do stories in small groups. They all get graded individually on their performance, but it lowers the affective filter greatly if they’re standing with their buddies.

K D said that because of her experience at university, she has a hard time not making up a traditional rigorous final, something that will give students a feeling of accomplishment. We agreed that’s important, but discussed how hard it can be to balance “rigor” against stressing everyone out. Speaking and writing at length is rigorous, but “high stress” and “rigor” don’t necessarily correlate.

So…remember that we can tell stories with the whole class. We can have them step outside the room to tell the story to a video machine or to a volunteer (option two works to save the teacher time). We can do quizzes on Quia or Quizlet for instant grading, and we can have students re-write stories that they’ve told all semester. They can do tweaks on stories and tell them in groups to the class, showing their stuff by having to use x number of verbs or adjectives or structures, or they can creatively fix x number of minutes. They can read, translate, write, listen…

But make it easy on yourself at least! You’ve worked hard all semester. Pick something that will let them shine but not kill you that last night.

Part 2 (well, really part 15, but this is the part I chose to take notes on, because Karen A asked): How do we use songs?
Karen C: play the song as background music until they beg to learn it.
M W: learn the words first, talk about favorite phrases and the story of the song, then play the music when they beg.
Diana: do cloze exercises, but choose the easiest words, not the hard ones. They’ll feel good, and they’ll listen to the song better.
Betsy: sing them the song badly in English, really badly, and ask them to sing it back in Japanese (or your language, of course!)
Someone else: use the Señor Wooley technique of getting them to fill in the close (cloze?) exercise in English, rather than the target language.
From Amy Wright’s lessons: choral response with favorite words and phrases, look at the TL, sing, then look at the English, and sing again.

I just clicked on the “Songs” topic in the right sidebar and found some posts. The one I had hoped to find is here. (That’s for Karen A.)

While we said “Goodbye” for about half an hour, Karen C was riffing on how she picks new topics to go on whenever she feels like it. By weeks, recent topics have been: exotic animals, portrait week, famous artist week, geography week, favorite landmark week, best buildings week…she’s trying to pull recent plans together for a week on “dictators.” Wouldn’t you like to be in her room? She says TPRS makes it all possible.

That’s not all, but it’s all I can do. There were side conversations going on that I kept interrupting to find out, and I didn’t take notes on them. Sorry. You’ll just have to fly up to attend one of these meetings. We have good food, good drinks, and great people, as you’ll notice if you watch the video.

Just a word of warning: do NOT try to steal Julia (who could do Spanish, French and Russian) unless you are going to offer her an amazingly good salary and benefits. Your offer must far outweigh Anchorage’s, because we’ll all tie ourselves to her airplane and weigh it down unless she’s going to be a millionaire.

MovieTalk Demo Anchorage TPRS part one.

Demo Part 2
Demo 3/Discussion Part 1

Discussion Part 2
Discussion Part 3


13 responses to “Friday TPRS meeting

  1. Michele: I cannot find your uploads on Youtube. Martina’s excellent lesson is the latest listed. Help!


    • Hi Chill!

      They might just be loading still??? I’m still writing, but I’ll stop for a moment and make sure I made them public.

      I pasted the link to Part one into the document, but here it is again. Let me know if it doesn’t work! (I couldn’t find the video when I searched for it either; I had to go to my account. Don’t know why.)

      Thanks so much for letting me know it didn’t work!!


  2. Great post! Love all your energy and enthusiasm. It’s great to see the demo so thanks to you and Julia. It made me feel better to see that what I have been doing was not far off the mark, yeah! You all are so lucky to have such a devoted and generous gang to hang with! Sharing that with us means we all have that although not as up close and personal. This is my PLC. Thanks to you and all your friends and colleagues for sharing with everyone.


    • I do love our gang. Everyone has different skills to lend the group. A couple of people commented on how nice it is to have this group of language “geeks” who all get excited about similar things, and who are happy to give up a Friday afternoon to talk about how to get better at teaching. Luckily for those who aren’t here, we can all get together at either NTPRS or iFLT this summer. Some in our group are going to each of the conferences, so say “Hi,” wherever you are! Hugs, Ruth!!


  3. Love this post! Wish I could attend your meetings too! Can’t wait till NTPRS 🙂


    • Glad to know it! (Took long enough, especially counting figuring out that if YouTube isn’t loading, start over.) I wish you could be here too.


  4. Michele, I don’t have a MovieTalk demo on my blog!! The link you used just includes a script I used, but there is no video. I am so glad you taped Julia and posted it!! And I would like to re-iterate to all of your readers that Julia is NOT eligible for hire anywhere else but Anchorage. And Clark has first dibs (although it would be middle school and Spanish…perhaps not her first choice since I seem to find out about another new language that she speaks just about every few days…). AND since I had to leave before the song discussion began, I want to say that while there are many activities that you can do for an initial listen to a song (there is a list of them on a post somewhere in this category archive:, I have found the most value in turning them into a reading activity. This can be by creating a reading about the artist, the genre, the topic, or even the song itself, or it could be by writing up student-friendly lyrics and having them do an activity like match your “lyrics” (or lyrics summary, I suppose) with the stanza that matches it. They are receiving your comprehensible input, and they are practicing the skill of interpreting unknown text at the same time. They can look for key words in the actual lyrics that help them match things up. Thanks again for posting the demos AND especially for hosting last night!!


    • You just have to promise to keep coming, even though you’ll have both arms full next year. I honestly thought that there was a demo, and was just viewing the movie when your comment came up!! So Julia is the first one truly out there for the world to watch. Still, you should know that on the FB Focal Skills page, Dr. Hastings says it’s clear you have a good understanding of MT! I was going to send you a note separately, but this will get it there.

      I think it’s awesome that the entire TPRS community seems to have done exactly what one could have expected: swooped MovieTalk under its wing and started to fly. I love that it’s so clear and easy, with not too many rules. I’m going to try to film a video again this week. We’ll see what I break or whom I get into trouble this time.

      Thanks for the additional song ideas! You are crazily creative, on top of being technologically gifted, funny, talented, and all-around amazing. We’re lucky we have you.


      • I am continuously amazed at how quickly one person can influence others, thanks to the internet! Within a few months of you starting to talk about and experiment with Movie Talk, it started popping up in blogs from across the country! Now, I think that TPRS newbies think that it’s just a part of the package! All credit to you for finding it!!


  5. I happened upon this site as I was looking for TPRS resources in Anchorage. I’m not a teacher (although I’ve taught language classes before to adults), but have recently learned about TPRS and have viewed demo videos and it looks really great. I wanted to know more about what exists in Anchorage for non-public school classes (for my 8 year old) or how I can be trained locally to teach TPRS classes (Chinese language) so that I could get started teaching my son and some of his friends.

    Is there a web page for an Anchorage TPRS or…? Or a meeting that I could attend an learn more, maybe get a coach?


  6. Hello, Todd! How exciting that you found this. We have had a couple of Chinese teachers working with our group, and maybe one of them will sign on this summer and see your message. In the meantime, I can say that you are very welcome to join our meetings once we start up in the fall. You might want to sign up for our state language conference, which will be in Whittier the last weekend of September. (Google AFLA Conference 2013.) One of the presenters will be working on TPRS techniques, and there will definitely be coaching. In coaching, one experienced person talks or supports a teacher who is working on TPRS skills with a group of teachers as students. It’s a marvelously affirming way to learn, because you find out what works without the distractions of a class.

    We don’t yet have any non-public-school classes going on that I know of, but maybe you’re going to be the one to start that!

    I’ll post my school address here in two sections so as to avoid the robot scammers, and if you’ll send me a message there, I will put you onto our list of people who get notices about TPRS meetings. Typically we hold them on First Fridays during the school year.



  7. Thank you so much for your response MJ. I’ve just sent you an email.


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