Category Archives: Laurie Clarcq

NTPRS14 Promises and why we should keep telling stories

I am researching storytelling and the brain today. By Googling “Stories and the Brain,” I have run into many compelling reasons to use stories in our classrooms. Here is just one, from Jan Hills:

“So the next time you want to influence … or are struggling with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, tell them a story that has an ending which is what you had in mind. … Stories are a powerful way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.”

But that was after I checked my email and found many messages all politely mentioning my promise to put links up after my presentations at NTPRS14. Mea culpa!

Note: Another presenter was using my slides as her own in another state. Viewers must ask permission to use my work and give me credit when doing so, whether for monetary gain or not.

PDL presentation

MovieTalk presentation

Embedded Reading site (if this link doesn’t work, look over to the right sidebar and find it under websites. I can’t make it work tonight for some reason)

Laurie has our recent Embedded Reading presentation and much more there. She keeps an awesome site going. Contribute your own Embedded Readings!

Alma video

Audi Superbowl Prom Date video

Anna Koshmal video  (Without you, I am…)

For more video suggestions, click on the “MovieTalk” category in the right sidebar.

More on poetry

We had our local TPRS meeting today.

The plan was to discuss out how to work teaching poetry into a TPRS classroom. It ended up being more about some of the nuts and bolts of teaching poems to kids who need to memorize them for a purpose. I Flip-videod our speaker, a former TPR textbook writer and current university mentor for student teachers in world language, not to mention a TPRS and CI supporter (and school-board member hopeful), as she gave us a great demo of introducing a poem through gestures. The links to the videos are in comments below. She asked why we like to teach poems; her main two of three ideas were culture, and confidence: kids like having something that can roll off their lips, and it doesn’t take too long to teach them.

She taught us the first couplet of a French poem very quickly through TPR. It was fun to see how easy that made the learning, even on a Friday afternoon.

We talked briefly about how gestures seem to really nail in meaning, but that the best thing is to use every possible way to assure comprehension and recall: pictures, gestures, stories, questions, jokes, general silliness. Nick mentioned how use of gestures goes down as fluency goes up.

I was planning to talk about adding the TPRS twist to poem instruction, but then others started adding truly awesome ideas. Kristin shared a Laurie-inspired drawing-fill-in. Kids listen to the poem being read, and fill in the blanks with pictures. They could also go through the initial stages of learning the poem and do this exercise later. There is a word/picture bank on the left side of the page. Laurie had shown that to us two AFLA conferences ago; part of what she demonstrated was playing a song and having kids fill in the blanks as they listened to it. It’s very powerful. As usual, Kristin jumps on these ideas and makes them her own. I’m glad for the reminder.

Kristin's poem fill-in

Then Sophie (or Virginie…someone can correct me; I’m depending on Betsy’s retelling of this because I was sitting too far away) shared how she creates a four-column page (landscape view) with the poem in the middle two columns, and with rows marked off by couplet. In the outer two columns, kids draw pictures so that they can use them to tell the poem, having folded the paper so that they can’t see the poem if they’re ready to use just pictures as support, but they can then still open and get a sneak peek at the poem as needed. I think that we could use that technique with critical structures on the inside and drawings on the outside for any story as well!

I must break in here and say that Karen’s little boy was getting passed from person to person as well so everyone could get a baby fix. He put up with it admirably! He only started to cry when she told us that she had to leave. What, you want your son to lose time with language input???

Tam then shared how, when kids have learned a poem through gestures but haven’t seen it yet, she puts all the words for a poem randomly on a grid to project onto her screen. The kids have heard that the class is going to be completely silent. She starts by pointing at the first word in the poem somewhere in the grid, then the next one, and keeps going until she’s pointed out the first line. Then she holds out the pointer to the kids, some of whom are already wanting to do the next line. Pretty soon the entire class has helped point out the poem and she can hand them a copy of the grid and they can “write” the poem. Tam says it’s a terrific way to fool the brain so that the brain thinks the activity is to put the poem in order, when really it’s a reading activity.

It was great to see everyone. I wish I could have been able to hear what the ideas were for assessment, since a couple of people were oohing and aahing on the other side of the table, but maybe someone will send me a summary of the ideas. I love our little community.

K. leaned way across the table to explain that I still hadn’t answered her question in the following letter. I left my explanations, thinking they might help someone, but it turned out that she was talking about what to do once having asked kids to draw pictures after a weekend, for example. I said that we would talk about them, circle information on the drawings, work them into a story, use them for later assessments, and so on. Maybe other people have more specific answers for her.

Here’s her original note:


A quick question. When you have students draw pictures, how do you use the pictures?
I am feeling very uninspired right now, or rather a failure at this TPRS thing this year. Good thing there is a lot of year left for improvement :o)

Hi K,

I use pictures in a number of ways.

I like to quote Laurie Clarcq: she says that the purpose of language is to form a picture in someone’s mind. Drawing pictures helps remind kids that they should have a mental picture whenever they hear or read something.

That being said, sometimes pictures are a way that I get to repeat the information more often. After we’ve done a story, I might have one kid draw at the board, and everyone else draws at their seat while I repeat the story. We might number four-six pictures and then retell the story out of order; they have to say which picture represents each part of the story. Then I might start pieces of the story and have kids finish or embellish a given picture. I might do a dictation with short sentences from the story and then have them identify which pictures went with which sentence.

Once the language is falling out of their mouths, they can get into groups and retell the story: if there are four kids, they retell it once with each one telling about one picture. Then they switch and a different kid starts, or they all try to add as much as they can to picture #2.

Sometimes I hand out a reading and ask them to do a mural with all the pieces there.

If someone has a phone, they take pictures for me and send them so that I can post them on our website (here’s an example, if it works.)

If you do embedded readings, here’s a post about another idea for using drawings

Don’t feel discouraged. You’re awesome for trying it! New stuff is always hard to implement, especially when we’ve taught and learned for so many years in other ways, and the kids have too.


(Note: I’m tagging this under “songs” because that way people can find it if they want to use the idea for teaching songs. Usually we don’t talk so much about teaching poetry in TPRS.)


I’ve been catching up on posts about NTPRS, most notably Laurie’s and Bess’s (see them in the blog list to the right), as well as a big string going on at Ben’s site. It’s amazing how much everyone is on the same track right now after having been at the conference last week, and I am impressed by how well the Internet helps spread the wealth to any who couldn’t attend as everyone chews on the information and digests it by writing. Be sure to go to the NTPRS website, because all the handouts are available there.

And in the meantime, I keep getting life examples of what I learned at NTPRS. Since I got to spend most time with Laurie, I learned most from her. One of her gems is the extent to which we need to assist students in forming pictures in their head. “Language,” said Laurie, “is almost always for the purpose of creating pictures in other people’s heads.” I was surprised how much it helped people at NTPRS to have the person we were PQA-ing stand up and wave to the crowd during Russian classes. I honestly thought that all of the “students” could form a picture of someone in their group. They could, once we’d identified that person.

And now that I’ve been home almost twelve hours, I can add another example. While I was at NTPRS and on his dad’s farm in Virginia, my husband was taking five high school friends on a crazy ten-day tour of our part of the state. He got them on hikes and out glacier viewing, into bear country and up mountains. They saw Denali when no one else had for days, and ate at Food Network restaurants (who knew we had some!). Karl kept telling me the details of their adventures, and I kept getting them mixed up. It’s not really hard here–there are only two highways, so it’s not easy to imagine things out of spacial order. But until I sat next to Veronica and looked at her amazing pictures, I couldn’t get the images and the sequence into my head! I had plenty of background and context, compelling stories, and a certain amount of personalization (my husband in the pictures), but it took the pictures to get straight.

Like SLOW, this “picture it” thing is taking a long time for me to acquire.


We had a wonderful meeting with Laurie on Friday. I will keep updating this post as I think of more things, and especially after Tuesday, when a bunch more teachers are going to watch the video again and talk about it in my classroom.

Two hints: to get the same kind of value with new vocabulary as you do in a novel where the setting is established already, start a story with a familiar character and a typical action as Laurie did for us: Sophie was (doing what?) riding her bike (because we all know that) when she realized something about her . . . pause, pause. . . homework. (We’re also trying to fend off too-early contributions, especially by middle-schoolers.) They couldn’t break in until now, but you are now ready to take ideas. You can put rejected ideas on earlier days in the week. “No, she realized she hadn’t done her homework at all on Monday.” “No, she left her book at school on Wednesday.” These are sneaky ways to work in repetitions of days/months.

Off-topic, somewhat: Laurie chose “realized,” because that’s what she’s teaching on Monday. Sophie was writing furiously, because that’s what she’s doing on Monday too! Nice to have company for these ideas.

Hint #2: by now, we’re all in mixed-level classes. Tell the kids who’ve missed a bunch that they have to do only 6-10 on the quiz. That lowers their stress level, and doesn’t make you write different tests.

Laurie is full of common sense, a reasonable attribute for someone who has so successfully built up her Spanish program, but she has the very unusual ability of being able to express that common sense directly and warmly. Her matter-of-fact answers to puzzlers always make me think, “Wow! That’s exactly right,” yet somehow I don’t feel dumb for not having figured it out; instead, I hope I’ll remember it. Those people going to Cancun and being able to kidnap Laurie for a couple of hours in the afternoon are really lucky. Just…take your notebooks and send me everything she says, especially her asides. Laurie’s presentation reminds me of one of our best basketball players–really solid through the whole game, with these fade-away jumpers that look so nonchalant but make big points.

Laurie reminded us about using phrases, rather than single words, for our target structures (more bang for the buck). She gave us ideas for what to do with the advanced kids in a given class: move them up a level if possible, and if not, let them read individually, or write the stories out in TL. Betsy added that she is giving her superstars the three structures and asking them to write embedded stories, because she just doesn’t have the time to do so. And right after you ask a benchmark kid to retell you the story in English, you can ask a superstar to do that in TL. The next superstar can tell you the story from perspective. We know these things, but at this point in the year, it’s easy to forget.

Laurie part 2

Here are some notes from the video I’m finishing of Laurie’s beginning TPRS class from last fall (I was hoping for the first part of the top ten structures lecture, but I don’t seem to have that). It is curious how much one can learn from every beginning presentation. Just as when we’re in a language class, there are different levels to watch. Watching how Laurie made herself the co-star at first, whispering acting suggestions to one of our biggest hams, and how she changed her voice timbre and joined in the laughter–all these are important pieces that I got from her teaching the phrase “to clean.” Watching her reminds me why any chance to observe other teachers is so helpful.

Other ideas from Laurie that help remind me of the basics:

Three parts to learning: listen, understand, respond.

Therefore, on a listening test, students who write down something that is recognizable get points just for that piece, even if they don’t understand or respond to it.

Laurie showed the pyramid of traditional teaching: it has a bunch of kids in first year, some of whom learn everything we try to teach the first year–lots of vocabulary, tense, pronunciation…and then we pile a smaller line on top of that with fewer kids, and so on the next year.

TPRS starts instead with one solid structure; high-frequency and continues by using that and interacting with the kids. Then we read with that piece of language. Doing the work this way inverts the traditional pyramid. By teaching small structures and building stories and reading on top of those structures every day, we can have 180 inverted pyramids after a year of school; we have a lot of other vocabulary and structures to connect those phrases.

Fluency is being able to communicate using the words you have, and by using TPRS, we assure that kids really have the words we’ve presented.

Introduce structurally-embedded vocabulary. Then interact: tell stories, and finally, integrate literacy at an appropriate level.

Use invisible props if need be–develops creativity. Sometimes can have real props, especially if the students will then connect emotionally with the props.

Use “fireworks” or other special applause, and teach kids to accept applause in one of three waves–with a regal nod, an “I’m so wonderful” wave, or a dignified bow.

Structurally-embedded vocabulary means using the target phrase in different contexts.

Dealing with discipline is easiest if we honor our students and use what we learn about them to include them in the conversation from the beginning and let them know right away what is appropriate.

The only way to achieve acquisition is to provide comprehensible input.

To help the slower processors, ask kids to answer only with a signal so that everyone will have a chance to think and answer together.

Then ask the faster processor a complex question.

If all you do is talk all day, every day, about what the kids are doing, what they’re wearing, where they’re going, what they’re watching, they will learn all the language that they need.

Instead of running through an entire forest (book/language/vocabulary) at a time, visit 1/4 of it slowly, and the kids will be able to revisit those places because they will remember them.

If you have a hard time coming up with a story for a particular structure, ask someone else in the community.

Always use target vocabulary in phrases–trying to usually use verbs. It doesn’t matter how grammatically complex the phrases are. Students’ brains don’t know that something is complicated. Take structures that students already know and add words. Use structures that the kids would use. If they don’t typically travel, don’t use “baggage claim.” Just don’t use nouns by themselves.

Laurie’s rules:

1. Watch me.

2. Follow me.

3. Respond in a way that enhances acquisition.

Laurie and her success grid

Some of you attended Laurie’s session on her success grid last year here at the AFLA conference. I had to leave another teacher in the session in charge of recording it. I promised Laurie that I would send it to her. I didn’t say that would be after I watched it…and I’m doing that now, the second-to-last day of spring break. I’m not sure I even got the whole thing…but here are a couple of the gems I picked up.

First of all, the stuff on the first page is what is non-negotiable for first and second year. It is what you want to be able to fall out of the kids’ mouths. If you add anything to that page, you have to take something else off.

The same goes for the other top-ten lists. If you added more to those pages without taking anything off, Laurie said that you’re trying to get too much curriculum into the kids.

Laurie had everyone write a five-sentence story that they could use Monday and every kid would understand. A story requires a character, possibly a setting, and a problem–not a solution (how freeing!)–and you’re going for something the kids can understand without any teaching up front.

Then she had everyone come up with a phrase that they could repeat three times in the course of that story that would be useful or fun for the kids to know. It could be, “Oh my goodness!” or a question, “Where did he go?” Kids will respond to that kind of repetition because they were brought up on it.

After watching Laurie and re-reading Jody’s post on teaching kids, not curriculum, I feel a bit guilty about “teaching to the (con)test” that I am going to be doing for the next couple of weeks. But guess what…after that, I’m going to re-read a bunch of the good advice that folks have contributed here and on other blogs, and I’m going to retreat to “simple.”

Oh, and I’ll mail Laurie her DVD. Luckily I’ll be seeing her daily at NTPRS, and will be able to pick her brain whenever no one else is talking to her! Anyone else going?? I can’t wait!!

But first I get to race through the last weeks of the school year and attend another wonderful couple of days of OPI with Ben Rifkin and talk to teachers in Fairbanks about textbooks and take kids to Russia to do bird counts…meanwhile, Laurie will be in Cancun at TPRS/Carol Gaab with Stephen Krashen, and oh my I wish I were too.

Laurie’s word list/story builder

It’s spring break in Alaska! Some grump just said it should be called snow break. It’s about 12 degrees here today, but the snow is beautiful.

I have lots of work to do–a big translation and a bunch of grading, so I might not be especially active. But Laurie just saved me for today and sent a link for her English-language vocabulary success grids and storybuilder. Go get ’em!

And if anyone in Anchorage is reading this and has a cheese head so that I can go represent teachers at the Miners and Trappers ball, PLEASE!! send me an e-mail or call me soon! I’m going to wear or carry a sign that says something like, “Sure, blame me for the economic crisis. After all, I taught those bankers.”

Laurie on Power

Yesterday Nathan sent me this post of Laurie’s, since I was asking about her Power organizing principle. Laurie gave us permission to repost it. You can also find it here.


Where’s The Power?

One of the amazing things that I observed at NTPRS 10 and IFLT 1 was how certain parts of a sentence or a story carry more power than others.   Ben Slavic calls it part of the “flow” and when you are watching a lesson, and the teacher taps into it, you can actually SEE the power enter the lesson.  It’s incredible.

Let me start with a sentence.  As Susie Gross has pointed out to me many times, the brain goes where there is meaning and stays where there is interest.

So…..if you want students to stay focused on what you are saying long enough to get those reps in….there has to be some power added  in the sentence.   Let’s face it …not every phrase we teach is all that interesting!!!

Where does the power come from?  Here are some things that I observed and that presenters and teachers modeled:  Power words/phrases

1.  can be clearly gestured.

2.  represent or are connected to movement or action.

3.  represent or are connected to sound.

4.  represent or are connected to emotion.

5.  represent or are connected to taste, touch, scent.

6.  create an immediate and powerful visual reaction in the listener.

7. tap into memory.

8. tap into a shared experience.

9. tap into humor.

10.  are unique.

These are all ways to offer the students a way to connect with the language!!!!

Take the target phrase:   Jose sleeps.    Not all that exciting except that Jose, my Chihuahua is a cute little guy…but…using the ideas above we can more interest…more POWER.   If I talk with my students about Jose I can say…

  1. Jose sleeps.(and throw a stuffed Chihuahua onto a pillow.  I could ask a student to curl up like a dog and snore.)
  2. Jose sleeps all day (make ASL sign for day) and Jose sleeps all night (make ASL sign for night)
  3. Jose sleeps loudly.  (SNORE!)
  4. Jose sleeps like a baby. (AWWWW)
  5. Jose sleeps on people. (put stuffed animal on students’ shoulders)
  6. Jose sleeps on  top of the tv. (or in the oven, or in front of the Principal’s office, or on the back of a motorcycle)
  7. Jose sleeps with a blanky.   (we all have a memory of our blanky or someone else’s…)
  8. Jose sleeps during the math class.  (oh how language people love math lol)
  9. Jose sleeps in footie pajamas.  (see how one sentence can tap into several possibilities?)
  10. Jose sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeps.  (if the word itself isn’t unique or fun, use your voice to make it unique!)

As I go through these different reps with the students I can pay attention to which sentence elicits a natural, powerful reaction.  What kind of reaction?  A visual, audible, or physical response to what I’ve said like….



Denial/Rejection (No!!!!  Not footie pajamas!)

Interest  (I want Jose to sleep on my shoulder!)

Interaction (super loud snoring)

Verbal Response  (I sleep with my blanky!)

When your students “click” with something….jump on that baby and ride it.   We practiced recognizing, and responding to, strong student reactions and I saw it transform the teacher, the students and the interactions.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to go with a sentence or a story.   We are afraid of standing up in front of the class rambling on and on about one thing.  It feels like pressure to us and that trickles immediately into a message for our students.  They read us quickly and soak up every message we give them.

So this year I am going to try to think of the scripting or listing ideas (like I did above) as a way to look for solid ice.  When I find a sentence or word that elicits a stronger response…I’ve found the power….and the place to go deeper.  A trail to follow.  How cool is that?!!

with love,


Go with it!!!

With love,



I mentioned earlier that we were reading the news. I just can’t bear to read more of that disaster tonight with my parent classes. Somehow I ended up finding a story about a crocodile that swallowed a lady’s telephone. The park rangers wouldn’t believe her until they heard ringtones coming from the animal. He’s lost his appetite now and may need surgery. In searching earlier for the word “explodes” (thanks to Laurie, who has inspired me to do news/song/video searches when I have specific vocabulary), I came up with a story about a python who exploded when he tried to eat an alligator. And when looking for news about airports, I found a story about a proposal at 35,000 feet. So we’re going to get all that vocabulary into the parents’ minds, and then tomorrow I’ll use these stories with my kids.


Note: where I mention horizontal conjugation in the following post, I am not presenting it correctly! I’m going to leave this up like this for a couple of days, and then I’ll edit it to take out the references that are incorrect. But if you read the comments right now, you’ll get confused unless I leave the wrong stuff in. (You’re probably confused now, and it is probably important only to me to do it like this!)

Here’s the original post:

Figuring out what vocabulary words to use when students are reading different books is a bit of a challenge, but I think we nailed it today. I asked the upper-level kids (5/AP in the 2-AP class) to offer three words they felt they needed to repeat, then did my two-minute-write-a-story-in-English-on-a-tiny-square-of-paper-using-these-words activity (man! are they fast at this by now) and then we told two of the stories. That worked out really well.

One level 5 said that she can never remember the word “remembers.” She’s offered this up before, but no one commented; we all have those words we just can’t get. Instead of giving “remembers,” I gave the form that means “having remembered” for their story-writing, and then as other forms came up in the story, I put them up in horizontal conjugation form (thanks, Susie!) with their meanings. I checked whether they got them all as they came up in the story. It was a very satisfying day.

I’m also pleased with myself because in the first story, I remembered to use the rewind button idea twice. (We inserted a flashback into the story.) We also assigned one girl to say “Bing” in a high pitch every time we used a form of “remember.”

In the three of the four Russian classes that met, I also gave Laurie’s sliding-scale quizzes again, except this time I didn’t write whole sentences. Instead, I did this:

1. goes home 2. (she) went to the store 3. (the girl) who was going to school 4. in the town, 5. will come up to me 6. (she) had been talking with you 7. sees me (but it looks like “me sees”) 8. having seen him

Now the kids are watching those forms closely when they come up in reading. This quiz gave me a chance to find out whether the advanced kids are catching the structures, and whether the beginners are getting the gist. Everyone is still getting more right than I expect them to get. I like how sliding-scale quizzes let me quickly discuss other ways to say things so that meaning changes (in not quite the same subtle way that Susie leads contrastive grammar). It’s a grammar teacher’s resting spot, but the kids really care because they’re trying to get as many points out of each phrase as possible. They seem to love this kind of quiz…it’s almost a game. Following that short quiz with story-telling worked out very well.