Category Archives: Listening

Story Listening (adapted)

I am so excited! I have been trying to get to tell a story to my kindergarteners with the Story Listening technique that Megan Hayes and Cecile Laine have been helping me consider. Today was the day, and I told a story about four little monsters in our school. It was so much fun! As Cecile has posted on FB, maybe all my four- and five-minute activities are not the best for some groups. This group has consistently taken a long time to settle into new situations, so it might be some time before transition training kicks in.

We have some emoji balls that we roll to the kids who want to say how they’re feeling. I made sure to practice “angry” and “happy,” but forgot about “sad” and “scared.” Luckily, when we got to the part in the story with the sad and scared monsters, the kids remembered “sad” and figured out “scared” (thanks to Bryan Whitney, who shared some techniques to make drawing faster in his World Language Teacher Summit webinar). They were patient as I drew, and excited to find out that the monsters all became happy when someone reached out to them to be friends.

Whoo hoo! This teacher can still learn new tricks.

Not news: Boxes aren’t compelling

Yesterday we found a boxed Spanish course in a closet. I thought it would be worth my time because it has transcripts of conversations, and I don’t get enough comprehensible spoken Spanish in this ongoing experiment.

I decided I would start rolling through the mini lessons (I did 55 of them last evening). I wasn’t sticking to the transcripts alone, thus breaking a rule I’d set for myself: no focused grammar study. I laughed about 30 lessons in, when the tip on the side said, “You have learned how to conjugate ar verbs. Now learn er verbs.” I didn’t know what one of the verbs meant, but I could fill in the blanks because I’ve been hearing and reading the correct forms. I don’t know how anyone would have “learned” ar conjugation by then from the box.

When I finally rejoined my family for the evening, I was exhausted. It was nothing like the prior evening, when the same room decluttering process had yielded Mira Canion’s Agentes Secretos. I read that book in about 40 minutes, and was jazzed because it was so easy to read, and I immediately wanted another one because it was so compelling (yes, I have contacted Mira). This morning, I came to the breakfast table and saw that box. I felt my heart drop. And yet, I’m the one who set myself this task.

The box has an ongoing story about a Mexican student who is moving into an apartment with two others in Spain. It’s not very engaging, partly because the authors are moving thematically, rather than trying to tell a story, and partly because grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary notes keep interrupting the story. There’s also too much English on the pages.

I finally understand with my body why a grammatical-thematic approach is less effective than a CI method. Real communication does not stick to themes, and we don’t usually interrupt conversations to correct pronunciation or to practice grammar (only Moms do that). We can shelter vocabulary and still communicate. But we have to go to weird lengths to communicate while concentrating on an imposed theme, and it doesn’t feel right.

Back to my rule. No more focused grammar study, unless it’s to answer a question.* I’m going to listen to everything I can, even the box CDs. Searching for (free) materials at my level is time consuming, but there are still a few TPRS teacher videos out there that I haven’t watched. Muchas gracias to those valiant souls who are editing my writing, and thanks to all who have posted their videos. I hang on your words!

*My fabulous teacher editors provide occasional pop-up style grammar to explain their edits. And sometimes I ask a question. My current one is why there are accent marks on words like río, even though those follow the pronunciation rules that I finally looked up. (And why is there not such a simple rule in English or Russian???)

Dictogloss for listening

A couple of weeks ago in Episode 26, BVP answered a question about dictees. (I know there should be an accent on the first of those es but can’t figure out how to get it there. I don’t teach French.) He said they don’t contribute to language acquisition. He mentioned that something called a dictogloss was a much better choice in language classes. It’s not new; EFL teachers have been using it for years, as in this blog.

It’s the end of the year. I didn’t have time for research. But I’d just found a great set of podcasts for learning Russian, and I told my kids I was trying out something new. They’re used to that. They claim they are guinea pigs at least once a month. I pointed out that these podcasts would help with their finals.

I played a podcast once for them to listen to it. We talked about the subject (how do you divide up the chores when guests are coming). As when we had teens at home, I was astounded to find out my students saw no reason to prepare for guests, except for ordering pizza. That discussion led to a grudging search for infographics and charts about who cleans in households around the world. Searching infographics in English yielded data on where men help the most with housework, but searching in our target language yielded information on how to clean and how often and statistics on who earns the most and who’s considered the “head” of the family. Then we considered whether the English-language results were stereotypical, or possibly “politically correct,” and wondered who had created the infographics, for what purposes. We did find a lot more infographics on how young people spend time, so once again we argued about whether time in which students do their homework is “free time.” Russians say yes, American teens disagree.

Because of our research tangents (some of which I had gathered in advance), the second time they listened to the podcast was a couple days later. In the meantime, we’d heard and used a lot of the vocabulary, so I don’t know whether I can claim that results were based on the new trick. We played the podcast section a third time, and then students worked in pairs to try to reconstruct it.

If I had more year left, I’d add this technique to my bag of CI tricks. Here’s a CARLA article on how to proceed. I obviously didn’t do it exactly as directed. I always want my kids to feel prepared for any task and make it part of a whole.

I don’t like giving students much time to “free talk” in Russian because they aren’t the best language models for each other, but in this case, I could hear all sorts of phrases coming out of their mouths directly from the podcast. They were very engaged and almost competitive in how much they tried to remember. It was fun for me to listen to. A groan went up when I called time. Then we listened to the podcast, sentence by sentence, and they raised one hand if they had the idea of the sentence, two if they got most of it. “Can we do it again?” Love those words.

In oral finals, I heard several constructions we’d heard in the podcast, used correctly. I need more time to research this idea, but now other teachers are the ones who have to do it. We’re out! I think you could do this sitting outside with notebooks on the lawn though…no smartboard technology required, once kids are trained. Let me know if you try.

Quia quiz

For my second cool trick of the day, I posted a quiz on — it was really a listening exercise for my level one and two kids, but I called it a quiz so that they’d take it seriously. I recorded myself reading a script about Lake Baikal. I pasted every statement into a question box and left out one word. The kids had to listen to the script to fill in the missing words. Of course, since I also pasted in the translation, I had a couple of kids decide that they would do it without the recording. That was okay. They were getting input.

Take a look and see what you think. In pre-TPRS days, I would never have approved of putting in the English. Some of these sentences are too complex for my level one kids, though, and so I wanted them to be able to feel comfortable.

I made a recording on Garage Band (PC users can use Accousticity) and uploaded the sound file to Quia. I gather I could do the same thing on Moodle but haven’t learned Moodle yet. Gotta do that–$50/year isn’t much but is something.

If you do go with Quia, put in the kids’ names yourself so that you have control.

Listening for first year

We have been talking about Lake Baikal. It turns out there’s a great legend to go with it–we had the father lake throwing a huge cliff at his daughter river for having fallen in love with another river and (gasp) giving him her water!

At the beginning of the period, I did a quick, dirty recording on Garage Band of the information we’ve learned to date. I handed out a transcript with blanks in it and a word bank on the bottom. I told the kids they could have a greater challenge by folding the word bank under, but even for me it would have been tough to write fast enough. Then I played the recording twice.

It worked pretty well…the kids seemed to think it was not easy, but also not too hard–about where we should be. To get this information into their heads, I am going to have to figure out a new way of getting them to read, hear and act it out every day until the contest.


I love TPRS, because it’s always possible to do it better, yet there’s also a limitless source of ideas to keep improving because of blogs, listserves, and colleagues’ support. Earlier today, a group generated a bunch of ideas about how to handle mixed classes with AP.

We were discussing ways to address listening, because we all know that kids need to hear other people speaking the target language. Allison said that there are German sites where video news is aimed at teenagers…I found a YouTube segment in Russian about teenagers putting on news shows, even though I didn’t find any Russian video news for teens. There are lots of different places to get listening materials, now that we have the Internet. You can google any subject in the target language and get videos to play. Of course, we can also play short segments of movies, or use the CD’s that came with textbooks, or the listening exercises on line…my problem is not a lack of sources for audio, but the ability to quickly find material that will be comprehensible and compelling for a group.

Just as with any form of input, I pull out the high frequency structures in advance and play around with them–PQA, stories–and very often I will ask the story that they’ll hear, so that they have at least the structure of the piece in advance. Strangely, kids are always surprised to find the similarities between our discussion, our class-written stories, and the ultimate piece of reading or listening. On the other hand, I guess that’s a good thing…maybe it means I’m not as predictable as I think I am.

Back to those ideas that got generated…we discussed that an easy way to do listening or reading comprehension is to ask kids to write down X number of facts they remembered from the piece (maybe people were saying just to have them write down everything they understand in English). I could see that perhaps it would be an issue of memory if the kids don’t have the reading in front of them or a chance to hear the listening several times. I’ll have to try it as a twist on listening assessment. That would keep me from the necessity of typing up quizzes and probably make it easier for me to justify my time searching and finding appropriate segments. I think we also said that the AP kids could do those summaries in the target language, prepping them for at least the Spanish AP — Angie mentioned that they have to write a synthesis of a reading for that test.