About Michele

For 23 years, I taught Russian in an eclectic style. Flashbacks to standing in a Russian post office and not knowing how to ask for a stamp to the US after four years of college Russian made me anxious to help kids use their language. I tried every idea that came my way.

Blaine Ray came to Alaska in the 90’s with TPRS, but I was frustrated that I couldn’t be Blaine. It took me almost a decade to discover that TPRS was the most effective approach I was using. Once I gained confidence in my personal style of TPRS, my students and I flourished. Now that’s the first thing I tell beginners: be yourself!

The next piece is to remember what Anny Ewing says: “To make the most of professional development, there must be ongoing exchange and learning. Without it, only 20% of participants eventually implement what they’ve learned; with ongoing support, 90% will.”

I am honored to work with great teachers, in my district and beyond. I love helping beginners with TPRS, sharing how to use Comprehensible Input to achieve the goals of IB language programs, and improving reader confidence with the Embedded Reading tool that Laurie Clarcq and I have developed. Favorite topics include working with and around textbooks and curriculum and assessment.

This blog is here to share what goes on in my classroom and my head and ask others to do the same. Together we can inspire and support Comprehensible Input methods of teaching world languages.

I am available for summer workshops and conferences. I would be delighted to help you with any aspect of your work with CI and TPRS.


21 responses to “About Michele

  1. I wanted to ask a question about the sub plan you briefly mentioned. Can you send me more details (what you actually write out for your sub)? How long does the story have to be that each group tells?



  2. Good idea! I seem to destroy the sub plans, and I need to just keep at least one copy, since we almost always do similar things–it’s either reading or story-telling, or both–on a block day. These presentations take about two minutes in my Russian 1 class. In the class with fourth-year and above, I have to be very strict about the five-sentence maximum. It can get out of hand otherwise, and what I want is repetition of the structures, not a movie script.

    Something I forgot to mention: Susie had her students write a story and then direct actors as they retold. I haven’t quite gotten to that stage. This is my adaptation. I do think that will be fun, but I will have to try it in my room before a sub has to manage it. There might be some more rules (like: you have to stay positive, you can’t embarrass anyone…)

    Sub plans: Please copy the following structures onto the board: едет в Москву, работает, у неё есть (goes to Moscow, works, she has). Tell students that today is a story-telling day. They divide into pairs or groups of three. Each group gets a white board and a marker. They divide their white boards into six blocks and draw illustrations for a story which should use each of the three structures at least once. They have ten minutes to develop, draw and practice their story. They are not allowed to use a dictionary or any other source for language.

    The groups will generally volunteer to speak, but make sure to call on everyone. Remind the class that they must now listen attentively and appreciatively. When a group finishes, they can answer any vocabulary questions that arise. If a vocabulary question comes up, the group should write the word on the board with its meaning and then re-tell the story.

    The group members write their names on the board so that you know who is who for grading purposes. Each person should say at least two sentences, but they should not say more than five.

    Here is the grading system (please write it on the board as they work):
    A: said more than two sentences, spoke slowly and clearly, used emotion, prop, and/or was very entertaining or funny.
    B: said at least two sentences clearly and slowly. Pointed at the appropriate picture frame while talking.
    C: Might have said only one sentence; vocal production may have been less than desired.
    D: Came up with the group and pointed to the appropriate pictures, but didn’t speak Russian.

    As each group finishes, insist on energetic applause. Make a positive remark about something you noticed (even if you don’t speak Russian), and write in grades.

    When everyone has presented, set the timer for five minutes and students write their group stories into their notebooks (this is really only because otherwise they’ll try to re-tell the stories to me the next day, and they’ll have forgotten details–I love hearing them).

    Everyone erases their white boards and starts over with a new story. This time they don’t have to use the structures. If group members improve on the first presentation, you may change the grades. If there’s time for a third go, ask one of the students to pick three structures that everyone must include from one of the word lists on the wall in the room.

    At the end of class, students clean the white boards before putting them and the markers away neatly. They also straighten the chairs (or stack them, if it’s period 7).


  3. Hi Michele,

    Looking forward to meet you next week! I made a Dutch TPRS blog “Alike in TPRS Wonderland”. Next week I’ll post there about the NTPRS ; I put a link to your blog on my blog. It would be nice if you’ll make a link to my blog as well (allthough it’s in Dutch) : http://alikestprsblog.wordpress.com/
    See you soon! Best wishes, Alike Last


    • Done! I was thrilled that I could still understand some Dutch on your page. Maybe I’ll get back to my roots. Russians often tell me that I don’t have an American accent in Russian; I suspect that is because Dutch was my pre-school language. Too bad I didn’t have a way to sustain it.


  4. MJ – I found these video conversations in Russian with transcripts and thought you may have use for them. The rest of the CLEAR Michigan State website is absolutely amazing. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite sites, especially the conversation app.


  5. I LOVE the CLEAR site too! Because of a lack of lab time and the amount of time I’ve been putting into learning my Smart Board, I’ve not been using it as much as I used to. I used to always use it for drop boxes for finals (I give kids a picture and they record a story onto a drop box), or even a place where they can listen to a conversation and then respond. I like the way that I can save videos there, though sometimes they inexplicably don’t load and don’t tell me why not.


  6. Hi,

    I just read on the moretprs list that Terry has taken one of your Russian class stories and modified it to make a low level Chinese reader. Do you sell the original Russian class stories? I am always looking for TPRS materials in Russian for our Russian/French teacher who has a million preps… she is currently using the Russian version of Brandon Brown and modifying Matava scripts, but I am sure she would be thrilled if I could get her some low level scripts/readings already in the TL.

    Mike in California


    • Hi Mike,

      I don’t have anything for sale, but my school website is completely open to wanderers. There’s a complete novel there that my students wrote one year, and many kid-inspired stories. She’d probably be horrified by the “silliness” of the stories and might have a hard time using them, since they’re written to my kids’ needs (and by them). You are welcome to put her in touch with me:
      whaley underscore michele at asdk12.org.

      Suggest she search for my name and west high Russian; I’ll come back when I’m at a computer (on a pad now and can’t get there!) to add the school website.


    • Thanks for letting me know about this…I didn’t realize that it had been translated into Chinese…


  7. HI!
    You are an inspiration 🙂 It was because of one of your blog posts a few years back that I tried nanowrimo this year. (I didn’t reach 50,000 this year) I remember reading about your writing a class novel back in 2009 or 2010. At the time, I knew exactly where to find the helpful resources you posted on Ben’s blog. Do you still have a novel writing template? Did it work for you in class? I have an opportunity to work with students for 40 min per day on anything academic. Since I have mostly native speakers, I thought I would do a creative writing group, TPRS style. I would teach them how to speak novice Spanish using HF words and cognates with the purpose of creating a level 1 reader with various lengths of stories. I would also do some short mini-lessons on creative writing (such as how to find a story). I might let some do their own personal nanowrimo the way you did with some of your students one year. If the project turned into a class novel, that would be fun. that was my original idea, but I wasn’t sure I could pul off a giant unified project. I might use Inklewriter, so that dead ends and parallel stories could become part of the story. Since their spanish is advanced, I think the story asking process would go a lot quicker.

    I saw your reference to Tom above, and have been reading that. I would love to hear any other ideas you have on the class novel project or creative writing project.


  8. Hi Carla!

    Fun to hear from you, and wonderful to know that something here helps. I love the blogosphere, though I admit to spending too much time on it.

    I haven’t done a novel lately, but will be trying again this year. If you search for “Karen” on this site, you might find some ideas, since she’s our creative writing guru. Seems as though I have some of her templates in my email, if not posted here. If you can remember what the resources you’re thinking of were (approximately), then I might be able to help find them again! I’m sure you know where the nanowrimo site is! That’s great that you tried it too!

    Tom remains the most successful novel writing experiment for me, though Karen had a more organized approach to the setting, situation and characters, deciding on all that before having kids start to write. We had the one kid write the overall outline, and then we divided it into chapters and handed it out. It probably would have been better to do the deep discussion of the characters, because that would have kept the kids thinking in the same direction, but our characters were stereotypical enough that there weren’t too many chances for them to act out of character.

    I’m almost thinking of having kids start a story that they’ll end up writing on their own, Karen style, from the first day this year. I wish I could firm up my plans for all my classes, but it’s hard to do until they fill up and settle and until I’ve had a chance to get to know who’s there.

    Let me know how I can help more. I think writing a novel with native speakers is a fabulous idea, because they would know what’s interesting to their age group.


  9. Thank you! Was Karen the one that had very successful individual writing conferences with her students? That’s a completely separate question from the novels, which I am also interested… I remember the conference process being pretty impressive, but I couldn’t remember who the teacher was or how to find it again on your blog. I like Kendall Haven’s Super Simple Storytelling. I may use that to help kids think about how to tell a good story.


    • I’m pretty sure Karen talked about sitting down with individual kids who were having trouble writing and encouraging them so that they knew they could write. I don’t remember the details any more though.


  10. Maggie Salisbury

    Hello Michelle, I have just sent you an email.. I’m so excited to have found you in Alaska. I am a TPRS beginner teacher.. My husband and I have moved to Tuluksak, AK this year and I’m teaching Spanish and French. It’s pretty tough over here.. I need to connect with TPRS community in Alaska for support and materials. I am also interested in attending any TPRS training workshops led by you or anyone else in Alaska.. thanks so much.


  11. Hi,

    I was just chatting with Gerry Wass on his FB page about multi-level classes and he mentioned that the two of you have had in-depth conversations on the topic. I think that this is a crucial topic for those of us who teach courses designed for heritage learners. It is common for those courses to have students with reading levels from first grade through to college level. I have always addressed this with a vibrant independent reading program, but if you would like to write an essay on the topic I think that it would be a wonderful addition to the 2nd edition of our collection of essays by classroom teachers ( https://www.amazon.com/Practical-Teachers-Heritage-Learners-Spanish/dp/1540343375/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508851894&sr=8-1&keywords=mike+peto ).



    • Hi Mike, Wow, sorry that I didn’t see this before. I’m not too active on the blog, but I do think about all of this frequently. If Gerry hasn’t proposed an essay and you’re still looking for them, maybe we could talk…can you message me on FB?


  12. Pingback: Making Star of the Day even more awesome! – Loading up my little darlings with Comprehensible Input

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