Category Archives: Laurie Clarcq

Food for thought

I’ve seen Jack’s Nine Myths in three different places today. What a clear explanation he gives! I’m going to print it out for a couple of kids.

Then I noticed that Laurie wrote a post about teaching for function, rather than thematically. I have to think about this more, because I get bounced out of the room every time I start teaching by theme. I love the idea of having Power be the organizing principle for a year, and would like to hear more about that. I have no organizing principles, other than the idea that we’re going to read as much as I can get my hands on at the kids’ level, and maybe that we’ll discuss history in phases on a four-year plan.

Poor Anna

A couple of kids in my first-year class are lagging, so I am trying to make sure they have certain phrases down cold, as well as varying the activities so that our 85-minute periods don’t drag. I forgot that we’d started to talk about everyone’s NY resolutions and their superpower wishes. So we started with a dictation, brought people to the front of the room to talk about their powers and resolutions, took a quiz on the information,  read from Poor Anna, and played a game. That’s about 17 minutes average per activity, just about right if you add in transition time. It keeps kids moving. I can start doing something in class, forget that the kids need to move and stick with a given activity way too long.

What I’m proud of is that I managed to work common phrases into every activity, to compare the kids who came to sit up in front of the class with one another and with Anna, that we reused “wants” a lot (to control people’s minds, to teleport–honest, there’s a Russian word!), and that when we did the eyes-closed, thumbs-up/down T/F quiz, only two kids missed any of the answers. Then, when we did the reading, because we were doing a game afterward, kids were very focused. The game was simple…Scott’s adaptation of “Around the World” –I gave them words and phrases from Poor Anna to translate. It’s really easy to differentiate by giving kids different words that I expect they’ll know.

Now I’ve just finished with my advanced class, in which I had superstars leading one group, a native speaker in another, a university grad in a third and myself in a fourth. I gave everyone about 25 minutes of reading and talking. I could hear the university guy talking with the kids about the “necessary” form of subjunctive, while the native speaker discovered she didn’t really know how to translate a lot of things that the kids figured out, and the superstars in the third group did an awesome job of reading together. In my group, I was taking baby-easy reading, and making the kids re-read it from different perspective because otherwise they could have just read on their own. I read in Russian out loud until we hit a word or phrase that needed to change, and the student would say that one correctly. It was fun! It’s highly comprehensible and they like the success. I could take that same reading passage and make the more advanced group put it into past tense, and with the most advanced groups, I could ask them to change it to subjunctive.

Everyone was nicely focused and reading happily the whole time. Lovely! I gave them all five minutes to draw a six-picture storystrip of what they’d read, and after that they did a ten-minute fastwrite. Then I had a song with some blanks for them to fill in for the last five minutes of class. Whoo hoo! It doesn’t feel like I taught at all–just facilitated acquisition!


And later…I went to Laurie’s blog to ask a question, and she had explained why she does TPRS, starting with a link to this page.

Laurie’s sliding scale quiz

Three classes of sliding-scale quizzes later, I can say that I frightened my first-year kids to death but my upper levels were smirking, especially the level 2’s who got as many points (or more) as the level 4’s who were sitting next to them. The upper-level kids absolutely loved this “challenge” approach. Laurie, you rock!

Here’s a sample of my level 2-AP quiz (points possible are marked):

(1) Она бежит. She is running.
(2) Она вбежала в дом. She ran into the house.
(2) Он выбежал в коридор. He ran out into the corridor.
(3) Выбежав в коридор, он закричал, “Мы горим”. Having run into the corridor, he shouted, “We’re on fire.”
(2) Я сидел на диване. I was sitting on the couch.
(4) Моя жена читала свой любимый “Спорт”. My wife was reading her favorite “Sports.”
(3) Везде был один дым. There was only smoke to be seen.
(4) Нужно срочно звонить в пожарную! We need to urgently call the fire department!

The level 2 kids had only to get 5 points, level 3-10, level 4-5: 15, and AP/IB: 20. Everyone got their top score, and most got more. I had key words that they had to get right in each sentence (not to mention grammar) to get the points.

I will have to dial it down to relax the first-year kids, but I will be using this again for sure!

New Year–MoreTPRS?

I spoke with Susie yesterday about TPRS blogs and explained that I started this one because Ben’s went off the air, and that I was aiming for a daily slice of classroom life–one thing that failed or went fine–because the descriptions of what other people tried in their classes were my favorite part of Ben’s blog. I often took those ideas right into my room. Reading and acting on them kept me from getting into ruts. It has been especially wonderful when folks add their ideas to mine and Nathan’s.

Susie suggested that not many people end up reading individual blogs, and that it would be better for the community if we would post (maybe double post) on Scott’s site. As one of the people who posted on that site a lot initially, I got a little embarrassed that I was hogging the site. Here people know they’re likely to read what I write and I’m not in their face (or e-mail!) unless they want me to be.

Susie pointed out that if I started posting a “this is what I’m doing in my room” note, maybe others would too.

Coaching Works!

Coaching Works!
115 reps in 30 minutes

Beginning TPRS teacher — less than 1 year teaching

Prior workshops: 0

Coaching: 1 hour of individual or small-group coaching every other week

“I had the worst kid (behaviorally and linguistically) in every class count how
many times I said Qu. On Monday, my worst kid was shushing the class so that he
could hear all my Qu s. He counted 115 and knows the word Qu, by heart. “

What he didn’t realize when he wrote this was that HE is amazing — 115
repetitions of an item in a 30 minute session?!? Lots of experienced teachers
would be proud of that sort of number! This is a new teacher in an inner-city
school, and he’s doing that many repetitions and still keeping the students
engaged! Can you imagine what his kids will be able to do by the end of the


I found this note by visiting as Laurie recommended on her blog (see under TPRS blogs). Both the comment about handling a difficult kid as well as the response demonstrate what happens in coaching meetings: the teacher shares an idea everyone can benefit from, and the coach points out the gems that the teacher might not even recognize as genius.

I had been thinking about how to start back up again next week–mostly about discussing with kids that if they get an A on the (very small percentage of the grade) classroom participation by following Ben’s classroom rules every single day, I would consider that A to have a very heavy weight when time  comes to set semester grades. I don’t mark those participation grades too regularly, but I think I should be a little more consistent about them. Generally, if the kid is . . . looking me in the eyes, sitting up straight, volunteering with answers, responding to every question or statement, reading actively, and asking for clarification when needed, that kid has every chance of succeeding. It would be interesting classroom research (I know perfectly well that it would be totally biased, so don’t get me wrong) to be really tough on giving out A’s for that teeny “non-academic” grade and then comparing the rest of the standard areas. My hypothesis is that any kid who could get an A in participation would also get A’s everywhere else.

But a number of kids who are in SpEd still struggle to maintain these classroom behaviors. I’m not sure, but I think it could be a chicken/egg situation–maybe they’re on an ASD spectrum, so they haven’t learned to look at a speaker, or they feel beaten down by school, so they haven’t developed the expectation that a class could be exciting, and their behavior leads to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s an uphill battle to get them to participate, but it turns out that SpEd program kids are the best Russian speakers, because they don’t have the perfection expectation shyness of some of the AP types. Still, getting them over that hump of learning to act like students is rough, and this idea of turning the count over to them is really an interesting one.

Well! I certainly went off on a tangent there. I meant to say that this quote captured the essence of coaching. I love coaching. I can’t wait ’till January 7, when Alaskan TPRSers are gathering again to discuss our grading systems and practice!!! Someone is going to have to channel Laurie. . .


I watched this Brene Brown video (coming to you now courtesy of Vera B) a while ago and deleted it because I didn’t realize I’d keep thinking about it. Part of what makes the TPRS community so special is the willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve talked with teachers in other disciplines about how we coach one another and share our flops as well as our successes, not to mention our plans and our stories. They are jealous of how we’ve found a way to share that is both real and a means for growth. Even the most wonderful teachers in other fields (including non-TPRS language teachers) who generously share ideas and positive stories about their kids don’t typically practice on one another. They don’t have the famous Susie Gross rules for coaching (click on “Coaching” under “Categories” to find those here). Three years ago, I would never have guessed I’d be showing off everything I do–wrong, awful, good or great–to monthly coaching groups or to anyone who wants to visit my room. Now it seems second nature. While I still get a bit nervous or excited, I don’t have that old feeling that I need to be perfect.

I just listened to the coaching session with Laurie over on Michel Baker’s blog, and realized one more key part of the TPRS/CI willingness to be vulnerable. It is because we trust one another to be positive about what we do well. Listening to Laurie coach makes me want to move in with her. She points out subtle pieces of teaching that make a difference.

Isn’t that what makes our kids do better, too? When we applaud them for what they’ve learned, rather than mark them down for their mistakes, they start wanting to acquire more and more and to risk even more, just as hearing Laurie tell unknown colleagues what they’ve done right makes me want to share my teaching with her.

If I allow it, they think it’s okay

Laurie told us that if we allow a particular behavior, students will assume it’s acceptable.

Guess what. I used her “evil smile” when even the slightest talking started today. I stopped on a DIME when any whisper started, smiling in the direction of the offenders, not saying a word. I had the most rapt attention all day long in both English and Russian classes, the day after a very long weekend, and have had the best Monday of my year.

AFLA Conference

Send good thoughts north for the Alaskans, who are meeting tonight at Majestic Valley Lodge at mile 114.9 on the Glenn Highway for our state conference. You can google it to get a picture of where we’ll be massing. We won’t have much internet access, so I will be back on Tuesday.

Susie and Laurie are in my house!! Abby is at a hotel down the street! I am VERY excited!! Six of us will pile into my van and drive for two hours. Do you think I might learn something on the way?? We will take pictures to prove to Laurie’s kids that she is here.

Struggling Readers

Hi Michele,

I was just on the district’s assessment database looking at my students’ SBA scores, and it turns out that I am very fortunate in that I have four classes of 35 students with only 1 or 2 students in each class whose SBA scores were below proficient, and then I have one class of 34 (my smallest class haha!) that has 9 students with below proficient scores in reading. Not surprisingly, this class is (1) my biggest behavior problem and (2) my lowest performing class. Pretty interesting to see how the students that are really struggling in reading and writing in Spanish are the same students with low SBA scores! I’ll know to look ahead for that last year.

Anyway, I’ve done lots and lots of reading, writing, listening, and speaking assessments, and now that I’ve identified who needs additional support in each skill area, I’m wondering how to support that in my classroom. Maybe you have some ideas from your multi-level classes? I’m seeing that my kids that are struggling to read in Spanish are struggling to read overall, and frankly I don’t have the training to teach basic reading skills—everything I teach relates back to English!

I’m writing this very quickly and it probably doesn’t make any sense, but what are your thoughts?


(I’m going to blog the answer to this question, since I haven’t done a blog entry today, and I think others might chime in with their tricks.)

Your question makes perfect sense! I too have a bunch of kids whose reading skills are low, partly because every year my “reluctant reader” English class students decide that they like me enough to sign up for Russian the next year. Ironies abound, don’t they?! There are lots of different tricks reading teachers use. Here are just a couple. We can talk later, and we should talk at the conference about this as well.

Before I start with ideas, you have to know that I follow the Susie/Ben techniques of reading out loud in class, and having kids immediately translate. I stay right with them, and if a word is about to come up that they might not know, I fill in the translation as we go. The text we read should have the expectation of 80-90% comprehensibility. Success is very important. I don’t spend all day every day on a paragraph, as Blaine does so effortlessly. I may do a parallel story if it fits, but most often I am just discussing the story.

There are a lot of different ways to scaffold reading. Embedded readings are your friend. If you go to Laurie Clarcq’s website and look in February 2010, there are some fabulous posts about embedded readings (including a hysterically funny story about oatmeal). Basically, you take what you want them to read, and you cut it down in successive versions so that only the meat remains. Or, you do the opposite, and you take the bare bones reading and write two follow-up versions, adding details each time. Laurie had a formula for this last year, but I can’t remember what it was. Something like two details for every sentence, but when you have struggling readers, you don’t want to add too much. I’ll do a quick example below. What embedding does is repeat the bare bones that you want them to get three times…you have to make sure though that every kid understands every bit of the first one. I make my kids put their fingers on the words that we are reading until they are third-year. I explain that I will be interrupting the reading often, and they have to know where we are. (I can also tell with a quick glance around the room who is still “on”.) And if a kid is really struggling, I have learned from Jason to ask them to highlight the words on their page as we read them. You can let the kids know in advance that you’ll be offering the highlighter pens, and then have a few extra for other students. It keeps them focused. Poor readers often don’t scan well. They get instantly lost in any text.

You have to circle those first story versions really well, and ask the struggling readers the most basic questions, meanwhile asking the faster processors more complex questions. Maybe you have some of the vocabulary on the board. Just as you would when you’re in the middle of asking a story, you can ask a “barometer student” what a word means, while pointing to the meaning of the word. You can ask the kid next to him what the phrase means, and a Susie Gross trick is then to congratulate the kid who answers, but look at the barometer kid as you congratulate the neighbor. It works well for me as long as I haven’t screwed up by asking the barometer something he makes a mistake on. If a kid does make a mistake, I try not to drop it, but keep going until he has two right answers in a row and feels successful.

Jason told us to find ways to make kids re-read the text several times. If you are giving a quiz, you can ask them to answer questions in English, and then write the number of the question in the text where they found the answer. That means they can’t just depend on memory. They have to show you where they found it. It’s helpful to demonstrate for the whole class on the projector, then circulate to make sure they understand.

You can ask them to fill in charts: who, what, when, where, how. It’s not really a lot of output, but they have to go back and forth to the text. Someday soon I’ll post some of the “repeat reading” ideas, and maybe we can get some more. It’s really important to force re-readings of a text. Each time they return, they’ll get something new. And I tell the kids that this will help both their target language and their scanning skills for use in reading their regular texts.

Okay…an embedded story example directly from my Russian 1 class last week…(missing some details about dreadlocks…I got these extra details by leaving the story up on the projector screen for my next class to embellish. They had a lot of fun, and there was much laughter the next day in the Russian 1 class. Everyone got 100% on the quiz.)

Version 1

Brad Pitt had a problem. He had long hair. He wanted short hair. He went to Trend Setters. He said, “I have long hair. I want short hair.” Trend Setters said, “Impossible.” Brad Pitt cried.

Brad Pitt went to Great Clips. He said, “I have long hair. I want short hair.” Great Clips said “Impossible.” Brad Pitt cried.

Brad Pitt went to Mr. Lau, a teacher at West. He said, “I have long hair. I want short hair.” Mr. Lau said, “BZZZT,” and suddenly Brad Pitt had no hair. Mr. Lau laughed.

Version 2

Brad Pitt had a problem. He had long, green hair. He wanted short hair. He wanted short hair, because Angelina Jolie loved short hair. She didn’t love long hair. He went to Trend Setters. He said, “I have long green hair. I want short hair. I don’t want long green hair.” Trend Setters said, “Impossible. We aren’t working today.” Brad Pitt cried.

Brad Pitt flew to Great Clips. His mother was working there. Brad Pitt said, “I have long green hair. I want short hair. I don’t want long green hair.” His mother liked his long green hair, and she said “Impossible.” Brad Pitt cried.

Brad Pitt went to Mr. Lau, a teacher at West. He said, “I have long green hair. I want short hair. I don’t want long green hair.” Mr. Lau said, “BZZZT,” and suddenly Brad Pitt had no hair. Mr. Lau laughed. He was evil.

Version 3

Brad Pitt had a big problem. He had long, green hair. He wanted short hair. He wanted short hair, because Angelina Jolie loved short hair. She didn’t love long hair. He went to Trend Setters. He said, “I have long green hair. I want short hair. I don’t want long green hair.” Trend Setters said, “Impossible. We aren’t working today.” Brad Pitt cried. He knew that Angelina Jolie loved short hair. He had long green hair.

Brad Pitt flew to Great Clips on a pink penguin rocket. His mother was working there. Brad Pitt said, “I have long green hair. I want short hair. I don’t want long green hair.” His mother liked his long green hair, and she said “Impossible.” His mother knew that Angelina Jolie liked short hair. His mother didn’t like Angelina Jolie. She liked Jennifer Anniston. Jennifer Anniston liked long green hair. Brad Pitt’s mother was evil. Brad Pitt cried.

Brad Pitt went to Mr. Lau, a teacher at West, by transporter. He said, “I have long green hair. I want short hair. I don’t want long green hair.” Mr. Lau said, “Why do you want short hair?” Brad Pitt said, “I want short hair because Angelina Jolie likes short hair.” Mr. Lau said, “This is not a problem. BZZZT,” and suddenly Brad Pitt had no hair. Mr. Lau laughed. He was evil. Mr. Lau loved Brad Pitt’s mother. Brad Pitt’s mother loved Mr. Lau. Brad Pitt’s mother was evil.

That’s all for now. Maybe it’s too much!! But if we can demonstrate that we are teaching literacy skills in language classes, we may be able to defend our enrollment when times get tough.


You know how Ben says NOT to put up too many words, and that if you do, you’re going to confuse kids? I know that. So why did I have a board covered with words left over from the last class, and then I didn’t put up the picture that went with it, so the kids had no visual (that the class before them did) about the bear opening the door. They were totally lost. Thank goodness I was asking kids on the way out (another Ben trick) how I did, and those kids were able to tell me exactly what the problem was: too many new words.

As Laurie wrote to “L” on Ben’s blog last week, we can work in as many of the exciting “new” tricks as we want, but we need to stick to the basics.

Basic #1: shelter vocabulary!!