Category Archives: Carol Gaab

Wants to eat

I love this video, but can’t imagine a parent who would watch it without fear that something bad would eventually happen.


I’m going to save it here for when I think it will fit! Maybe it could go with Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro! 



Back to School!

Thanks to Carol Gaab, who sent those of us on her e-mail list a set of ideas for the first days of school, I had a great day!

In my advanced Russian class, we started with Russian class news, so I recruited some kids to help me with multimedia presentations and got them all to agree on a good meeting day for our next environmental endeavor. Then we moved to thinking of questions that would help us learn about the new people in the class. They were: what is your name, how old are you, were you born in Alaska, what is your hobby, and what is your favorite food. The kids had to stand up and pair up with someone they didn’t know well. They used the questions to interview each other, coming up with one answer that was a lie. Then they started presenting their classmates. After each one was presented, I asked the class what they had said, and then asked for the lie. If the class got it, I told them that the presenter was obviously a poor liar! Only two sets had time to present. We’ll continue tomorrow.

The intermediate group was a little more challenging because it has a lot more lower-level kids this year. I told them the Russian class news in English first, then in Russian, circling some of the information. I have five boys and a girl coming to help with media stuff tomorrow! Then we came up with nine yes-no questions, reviewing as we did question formation. (Actually, we came up with ten, but one was “Do you know how to fly?” and that is probably not as useful for this bingo game!) In pairs, the group then practiced interviewing one another. I wanted to make sure that everyone was clear on that. Tomorrow we will do the human bingo game; that was really fun in an English class.

The last class of the day was my Russian 1 (with four or five Russian 2 kids mixed in). We practiced the rules, learned some letters as I wrote them on the board, and got to know a few kids’ names. We did: This is, yes, no, or, girl, boy, loves, basketball, tennis, hockey, fishing (it is Alaska, after all!), and debate. On the one hand, I was shocked at how long it took going slowly to do those. On the other, we’re building a classroom community, and I think they all got it all.

We did name tags, because no way am I going to survive without having those names down. Tomorrow they’ll serve as place cards, so that they sit in different places in the room. It is true that it helps to have information, however little, on each kid.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach. All the messiness of the start of the year gets left behind when real kids enter and we get to talk with them.

Forgot to take roll. Oops.

Onward! All I have to do is put in a couple of speaking grades for four kids and type up what we did today. I didn’t have anyone in the advanced class keep notes today, but at least I have the blog, and I’m hoping they’ll remember what they talked about. Just a review opportunity, otherwise!


It’s that time of year again, so I’m looking for great ways to make finals truly CI based and assess what kids can do. I’m going to go back to Laurie’s page and read what she’s been writing on this topic (if you haven’t been there recently, go! There’s a story about one of her kids that will make you glad you’re a language teacher). In the meantime, here’s what Kristy Placido had to say on the Yahoo group:

“I would make it a very proficiency and standards-based exam.

Have a bunch of pictures. Read a sentence or two and have students select the picture you are talking about. Just google image search some of the phrases in your books.

Write a story and have students read it. Have them answer questions about it.

Have them write their own story. Give them a list of 10 vocab words you have TPRSed and tell them they must use 7 of the words.

Have them converse on any topic you or they wish with another student. Or have them talk about pictures.”

Then Carol Gaab pointed out that under free downloads on, you can find a sample exam there which pretty much follows these instructions. (You have to register to get into downloads, and I had to do a search for “tests” to find the exam, but it was worth looking.)

Carol Gaab

Carol gave our newbies a webinar on Friday. A bunch of us “experienced TPRS” people attended and found that there is always something new to learn as well as good information to hear in a new way. Repetition is the mother of learning, said Lenin, and TPRS seems to bear that out.

Carol said that the reason we are using PQA and stories is to distract our students from the fact that they are learning a language. If the information is compelling as well as comprehensible, they will forget where they are. So we need to talk about whatever is most interesting to them.

Schedule: three structures per 90 minutes. That’s how long we need to introduce and PQA new vocabulary.

Questions camouflage repetition. And questions (according to brain research, Jensen, I think) surprisingly continue to make the brain process alternative answers and generate sustained brain activity.

Carol says that if we really listen to kids, we’ll never wonder what to talk about next. I feel like pasting that line to the inside of my eyes. Or maybe my ears.

What details should we focus on in stories and PQA? The ones that allow us to get more repetition.

On classroom management…walk all around your classroom. Don’t engage with a person who is off task. Instead, make eye contact and ask the person next to them a question.

For recycling reading…Emotion cards: hand out various emotions listed on cards, and students try to say a line with that emotion. (“I can stay alone,” happily, sadly, angrily, enthusiastically…) Then you can give the different conjugations of that line and hand out different character cards. Brandon says “I can stay alone.” His father says, “You can’t stay alone.” His sister says, “You can’t stay alone,” and so on.

And…on Fluency Matters (because we asked), there is a webinar either there already or coming this Thursday, can’t remember, on the Reading Process…Keeping it fresh. Several of our Alaskan teachers plan to watch it together.

Yeah, there was more, but these were the things that hit me. I’m going to try to really listen today. It’s a Monday, which means that everyone will have things that they’ll be talking about from the weekend.

Varying class reading

More AFLA 2011 notes:

I mentioned that Carol helped me understand how to do class/text reading better. These are the times you have short texts, not when you’re reading a novel. Nick and I briefly discussed today how much more prep can go into reading a novel than we’ve been doing, but there are a lot of techniques for the daily reading that we can use to change the daily variety.  “Brains crave variety,” is a big Carol quote. Here are some ways to vary:

Group choral read: this is what I do most often. It’s when I’m sure that kids know the meaning of the structures as a group, and we read it all together (or they do) as I point to individual words on the overhead. I think I remember that Ben “conducts” the group to keep them together, if they’re reading from a book. But watching Carol, I saw how she points to words in the order they occur in English. A lot of other languages have different word order. It’s really useful to have a laser pointer. I don’t, right now. It’s hard to be without it.

Fill-in: Teacher reads, and the kids fill in missing words. Also, teacher asks which specific word meant what.

Partner read: kids read in pairs. At upper levels, one can read in TL and one can read in English. Mostly I have my kids read in English, as fast as they can. Carol says that when people read out loud in TL, they can become distracted by their ability (or lesser ability) to read orally.

Jigsaw (hand out story strips with all part one on red, part two on yellow, part three on green, and part four on orange): each kid gets just a piece of the text (color-coded), and they meet up with one other kid with a different color to put the texts in order. Then they meet with other colors and figure out the order of the whole story. Or, all the kids meet in same-color groups to figure out what the piece means. Then they go back to mixed-color groups and put the story together.

Marcia sent me notes from this session, and one thing she noted that I had forgotten was that Carol said try not to circle during this time, because kids will get really tired of circling if you use it during reading and during storytelling. Instead, try to ask a million questions using the target structures. Keep pointing at those target structures within the text. Read a little, personalize a lot. And if you’ve done a complete job, you shouldn’t need to ask comprehension questions at the end. In fact, you shouldn’t have to ask comprehension questions at all.

Vary whom you call on. I almost always call on the whole class, but Carol makes up new names for the different parts of the room, so that each week they have to listen for something new to answer. The last couple of days, I used Russia, Siberia, and Chukotka for my three parts of the room in Russian 1-2. Other ideas: call them by colors, sports teams (at specific times of the year, or by your own preference), nationalities, numbers, professions…Carol also gave each set of partners a number, and would call on a pair of kids to answer. That way everyone is ready to answer but no one has to answer alone.

Her basic plan is that one day you might call on the whole class, the next day on halves of the room, the next day on partners, and the next on team members.

Now I feel as though I have what I need to really talk my kids through a reading. This type of reading is what Blaine demonstrates so well, but it confused me because he did it with novels, and my kids were about to mutiny on me the times I did this close personalization with novels, because they thought we were never going to “get through” the novels. Of course I didn’t think of “getting through” as the goal, but kids like to see some serious progress.

Brain Rules

Last year I went through all of John Medina’s brain rules on his website with great interest, and now Kate Hunt has reminded me about that with postings by Karen Rowan and Carol Gaab from the moretprs yahoo group.

Here’s Karen’s posting, which answered a query about how teachers can keep up the energy to do TPRS:

Sustainable TPRS: 

“I’d add one more thing to that. Read “Brain
 Rules.” In a lot of ways, the way we do TPRS 
isn’t brain friendly, mostly in the amount of
time between activity transitions. Since I read
this book in particular, but also previous brain 
research, I have re-worked TPRS with:
1. Real transitions. The brain pays attention
for only 10 minutes, so I change activities more often.
 2. Fake transitions. I do something in the
 middle of a story that includes the entire class,
so it’s not just me telling a story or a couple of people acting.
3. Processing transitions. Take a 30 second
break — turn to the person next to you and 
predict what could happen next in the
 story. (Stole that from Beth Skelton) Draw the 
story we just told using your left hand. 30
seconds. (Brain Rules — in order to transfer
information to processing by a different part of the brain) 

In an adult class in Washington in February I 
experimented with really following the Brain
 Rules advice and changing activities A
 LOT. Every few minutes I was asking them to get
 up. We did running dictation, reading a story
 and acting it out with a partner. I told a story
and they acted it out. They drew with their left
hands. The class went AMAZINGLY fast. When I
did it yesterday in class — randomly changing 
activities even within TPR, by grabbing a prop or
a picture or recycling older vocab, attention
 goes up. It has to be COMPELLING, comprehensible
 input, and if they aren’t paying attention…
well, it isn’t compelling. And the brain isn’t
capable of paying attention to one thing for more than a few minutes at a time.

It also says some pretty interesting things about
 how multi-tasking is a myth. No such 
thing. It’s a worthwhile read. It’s physically 
changed my teaching more than any other book I can think of lately.

Karen Rowan


Here’s what Carol had to say:

“In regard to the teacher who asked about TPRS being sustainable, I
wanted to throw out just a few tips for keeping it sustainable:
1) Use music
Once a week (or every other week) introduce a new song by decoding
the lyrics with students. Tell them about the song, play the song a
couple of times while students follow the lyrics with their finger. As
they build up a repetoir of song, play ‘old’ songs. Require students
to either a) follow the written lyrics as song is played. b) sing or
lip sync as it’s played. I play at least one song per class.

2) Use video
Play videos – but make sure they are completely comprehensible. Sr.
Wooly, Youtube, Cuéntame más interactive story cd, Extra, short
snipits (1-2 min.) from movies and TV shows.

3) Partner Work
Short activities (2-3 min.): practice vocab, re-tells, creating a new
ending to a story, inventing the next event/detail in a story,
reading, predicting the next event in a reading. My goal is a partner-
type activity every 15-20 min.

4) READ!
If you are reading engaging and interesting pieces, reading is very
low-energy / low-stress. Read with your classes!

5) Use a curriculum that is easy to use and requires little to no
prep! I may be a little biased, but the Cuéntame series is incredibly
teacher-friendly. Daily comprehensive lesson plans are provided,
including gestures, pqa, story-asking outlines, and concentrated
readings. To see/practice with the curricula, go to the ‘free
downloads’ at

6) Use any OTHER source that will provide compelling, contextualized,
comprehensible input.

Hope this helps-

Variety is it!

Laurie and I had a fabulous time presenting Embedded Readings this week at NTPRS…eight times! I can’t say that I got to hear many other sessions–total was actually two–but what I did hear kept coming down to varying the routine. I learned a lot from Laurie, and now I hope that I have really begun to understand. As she said to our audiences, if you think of a tweak on the method and want to know whether you should work in one way or the other, the answer is, “Yes!” There are still only three parts to this technique: introduce the structures, use them in a compelling, comprehensible, personalized way, and then read! But vary each of those three parts, and your kids will stay tuned. I got in just a few minutes of Carol Gaab’s reading session yesterday morning, and here are some of the varieties she gave, just for reading/choral translation: divide up the groups and call those groups numbers. Read the sentence and ask group number 3 to translate. Then group number 1. Next week, call them by colors, or geographical names…

I’m also toying with another idea: taking down the word wall until they need it or putting it up only for the writing times. Or maybe using pictures or just English words for the questions. More on that later.

Bryce’s presentation on jokes was absolutely the best–go to the main NTPRS2011 website and you can download his presentation. Laurie and I decided that jokes are a natural for embedded readings.

And that is all for now. Wish you were there if you weren’t, ’cause I would have seen you, and I hope to be there again next year. What a great group of people this TPRS thing has. Passionate, great teachers.

AFLA 2011

On the weekend of September 16, 2011, our Alaskans for Language Acquisition conference will be in beautiful Talkeetna. Having read the exchange with Carol Gaab about her sessions, I’m very excited. She’s going to talk about activities to deepen comprehension and how to use pop-up grammar in advanced levels. She plans to show how to use a novel as the source of curriculum and what to do when it works with a textbook. There will be a session geared for elementary teachers, and then there will be a coaching session that focuses on some of what we can easily leave behind when we jump into the TPRS pool.

I can’t wait!

Any “Outsiders” (we call people who live in the Lower 48 – states – outsiders, so don’t take it personally) are welcome to join us. Carol isn’t even the entire conference, but you bet I’m going to be treading in her footsteps!

Carol Gaab article

Just got this article by Carol Gaab from Kristy Placido. It might be a nice one to have ready when a principal comes calling, or when you want something literate in writing for an interested parent.

It’s also a good reminder about basics. Last time I talked with Susie, she said that she tells people they need to go to a beginner’s workshop four times before heading to an advanced workshop, because there’s so much to TPRS. Even though it’s simple, it takes time to acquire.

Three-tier plan

Adult classes are the ideal place to try new things out. I posted my three beginner phrases:

Grandma loves you

I will invite friends

it’s not allowed to drive the car

(admittedly not very beginner-friendly, especially with three cases, two tenses and an infinitive verb phrase)–and then added phrases for “enriched” and “impress me.” I went really slowly, and we developed a story around one girl’s grandma, 30 dogs, a snake, and her grandmother’s classy pink Corvette (yes, still teaching Houdini…can you tell?). I had one very new beginner, and she seemed to get it all, surprisingly enough. She was actually mouthing everything I was said.

Then I was able to leave the beginner phrases up, review the story, and go into the next lesson with intermediates, pointing at the advanced phrases as we did. It worked better than I could have imagined for this purpose, which was to overlap a beginner’s class with the intermediates, but still have something for everyone. I didn’t really use the upper tiers with the beginners, but some of the intermediate group needed those core phrases. I think I’m sold. But as you know, I’m bound and determined to practice this for a month. I will track my progress here.

In the meantime, it turns out I need to teach a mini-unit on space in two classes, since we have an artist-in-residence coming to teach watercolors, and we’re going to be focusing on images from space. I need to figure out how to introduce the most concepts possible of space in only two weeks — because we have a week of testing after this one. Anyone have suggestions for how to do that?

Maybe I’ll use the rocket ship analogy for my three tiers and use core vocab as the rocket ship on the ground, the rocket ship blasting off (for “enrichment”) and the rocket ship in space for the “impress me” vocab. Someone could draw those three pictures for me!