Beginners: start backwards

I’ve been doing beginning TPRS demonstrations lately. I typically go from the bottom up, saying there are only three main steps (present structures, talk, read) and three big ideas (go slowly, point and pause, and personalize). for which you need to remember three things about the content (comprehensible, compelling and repetitive). As I go over these ideas, I weave in a Russian language demo. We usually get to a circling practice, but if there’s only one day, we don’t usually make it to lesson design.

A chance comment from the organizer of my most recent workshop made me rethink the way I have been doing things, so since a friend had asked me to give her a quick overview (one hour) before the first adult English class she’s teaching today, I tried out the new presentation plan. What that involves is going through the same process as for an embedded reading: cut out by degrees everything that isn’t crucial, and then, over time, building it back up.

We looked first at the text she wants her students to be able to understand. I used my Verb Wall list (Mikes’s original list is on the right sidebar, as is the link to Terry’s, as “Haiyun’s link to Terry”) to help her figure out the “root” of a structure. It turned out that what she’s going to need for this first lesson is “This is ____,” and maybe “he/she is a ____.” It was really easy to demonstrate circling by starting with the text and narrowing it down to a structure. We added one question word (Who?), and I pointed out that she can add “What?” if the students are answering readily. In the meantime, she can explore the entire classroom, adding in some geographical locations, since one of the next structures is “Is from,” and another one is “lives in Alaska.”

My friend felt very steady about the whole process. There was none of that confusion about where to get the structures; they’re all in the original text. I didn’t have to talk about the three steps, since it seemed obvious to her that first the students would have to be able to hear, comprehend, and understand the structures, and only then would they read comprehensible pieces from what they’d discussed in class. Next she will add more structures from the text, and repeat the process. Finally, when the students can easily comprehend all the structures and read everything that they’ve learned about others in class, they will read the original text. In the meantime, she’ll add to her 90-minute class with simple songs that have the same structures, play TPR games, and do movement exercises that students’ children and grandchildren will be learning at school or daycare.

I’m not sure whether this sounds different to anyone else, but it was much easier to share with my friend. I’ve had similar sessions with former students who were planning to teach, and even though they’ve been in my classes, they were often baffled by how they should actually start and where to go next. I’ll be interested to hear how class goes today, since that was truly a crash course. In the meantime, I’m going to work on my own adult Russian class, starting in less than an hour.
Verb lists


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