Category Archives: MovieTalk

Got my Second Wind

We’re racing into the end of the school year here. Yesterday we started with senior finals (two kids gave their open-ended “choose a topic from the year, make a power point with 15-20 slides that you can talk about, and blow me away” by sharing a science fiction story about the environment and comparing it to environmental statistics in today’s Russia…blew me away). Today we had the AAPPL test with the advanced kids. I’m withholding judgment on that one. We are all wearing out, but MT gave me new life again today.

In my Intermediate class, where the seniors were all prepping for tomorrow’s final, the rest of us were watching a movie. I found myself asking kids questions that came up naturally. The dad was cooking, so I asked who does all the cooking in their houses, what they like to cook, who cooks well, and so on. Then the boy was in his room, and there were car posters on the walls, so I asked who had car posters and of what cars. It led into my finding out that one of our guys has pictures of classic Mustangs on his wall, and another has a car he paid for out of teaching martial arts. I didn’t know that about either one of the kids.

When I pick my three structures for PQA (Personalized Questions and Answers) in classic Storytelling, I try to come up with questions that will lead to finding out interesting things about kids, but all too often the questions are not creative enough, or the kids see it as a teacherly way of getting to the vocabulary. By asking about things that come up in the movie, it feels more natural to ask about the kids. You can feel when something on the screen resonates in the classroom.

MovieTalking rehearsal

I’ve been worrying lately about whether I still know how to do MT with rank beginners. This morning, most of an English class was absent, and I offered the four remaining kids a Russian lesson.

The class in question is filled with “reluctant readers,” so one would think they’d be at a disadvantage in acquiring language. Recently, the only rank beginners I’ve taught have been world language teachers, people who are pretty strong learners.

I used a contemporary Russian video about a hero with a flying car–Russia’s answer to Spiderman. I couldn’t depend on high-frequency vocabulary or cognates of any sort, and when I slipped and asked circling questions that required an answer in Russian, the kids answered in English.

But that’s the thing: they answered! And by the end of the practice, a couple were answering in Russian. I couldn’t believe that I could spend half an hour speaking Russian with complete beginners. They were focused and interested, and they liked it. I was able to get a couple of extra phrases in: “Maybe,” and “I don’t know,” for them to eventually use as rejoinders.

I’m not going to do that with my English kids again, obviously, since it’s not what they’re supposed to be learning with me, but I’m sold on MT all over again.

I figured out a way to do little assessments: while the kids are watching the next segment, I’m writing questions for them. Then, when we’ve talked our way through that segment, I have a true/false or single-word answer quiz for them. That gives me a chance for extra repetitions and keeps them accountable. It’s unfortunately necessary in high school for some kids.

Sharing Cheburashka

A few things.

First, back to the idea of working on the basics. I really focused on getting a lot of reps out of some vocabulary last night. We had a story going about a guy who wanted to start dancing, and just couldn’t. Three different people told him that to be a good dancer, he needed to drink something.

We had “The young man is beginning to dance.” I circled that just a bit, but it felt really unnatural to circle the sentence. I looked up at my question board and asked where he was beginning to dance. Then I asked when he was beginning to dance. (In the middle of the night…that worked well when the person he came to for advice was me, and I could tell him I was beginning to sleep.) I turned to an advanced person–in the beginning class–and asked why he was beginning to dance. It was his birthday! Oh! He was beginning to dance in the middle of the night at his house because it was his birthday. That made more sense now.

I’m suddenly remembering Blaine’s admonition to drill deep for information, going back to the beginning of the story as needed. Repeating these basics with my classes is really helpful. Sometimes I forge ahead too fast, forgetting that with new vocabulary, we really need to sneak those repetitions in many, many times.

Just now I had kids film me as I did MovieTalk for the first Cheburashka video. Watching it, I see that I didn’t prepare the movie as I could have. I was counting on having seen it lots of times, but I didn’t take advantage of some of the repeated actions as I should have. And because I was going so slowly, I managed to make some really basic mistakes!

I practiced showing a clip in advance of talking about it. I’m pretty sure it helps the kids, but I want to ask them which they like better. unfortunately, I couldn’t turn off the subtitles, and I had a kid running the video, since I was using YouTube. I’m clear now that I need a remote, and I need to have the video on the computer, not on line.

Here’s a link to one of the sections my student filmed.

Friday TPRS meeting

We had our last monthly TPRS meeting for the year today here in Anchorage, and it was a good one! I’m going to be writing for the next hour here, breaking my ten-minute rule, but that’s because Allison had to leave early, and I want her to know everything I can remember.

While I write, I am going to mention the fact that Julia (student teacher extraordinaire) agreed to let us videotape her doing a MovieTalk demo. I’m uploading the video I took of her using a laptop to teach us as I write. There are five sections, including parts of our discussion after she finished. I got to feeling a little guilty, though, because I didn’t exactly ask permission to include the discussion.

Okay. Our agenda topic was to be final assessments, but when Julia showed up, we made the request for a repeat demo, since Betsy had missed the last meeting. Someone else’s comment (Martina?) after the last time we watched her was that she thought she was fluent in French with just that one lesson! So…repeat performance…it will also serve as a document in Julia’s portfolio. She’s going to get job offers from all over the country! (Okay…that one is uploaded. Next one is starting now.) I’m going to “publish” this so you can watch if you want while I type. And I’m going to get the cord to keep the iPhone juiced up.

OH. When I went to view it, I got a suggestion from YouTube that I watch Martina’s demo, called “TPRS Demo for “Cierra la puerta.” Of course all of you who flock to Martina’s blog have already seen that. I haven’t yet, but as soon as these videos are up, and this blog is typed, that’s where I’m going. And here’s Martina’s post that includes a MovieTalk demo. Here I thought we’d be the first…Martina was sitting right there, and was too sweet to mention that she already had a demo up. Shows how behind the times I am.

After the demo, we still had a million things to discuss before getting to the main topic. One of those was a tangent from Betsy’s comment that when she looks for movies for MovieTalk in Japanese, she googles “Silent Samurai movies.” And then I interrupted her to tell a story, and we never got back to the point she was going to make. But someone did mention that Kristin Duncan has a list of good YouTube videos for MT.

My tangent involved finding materials for IB curriculum, and that led to Anne’s telling how she uses a set of photos she got from (somewhere…will ask her to comment below and let us know). When she’s working on assessing output, everyone gets a picture. Students stand in concentric circles (one circle facing out, one with the same number of kids facing in, and they rotate after speaking). The kids on the inside are responsible for keeping the kids on the outside talking for whatever the time period is, so they have to ask questions about their picture that the other student can answer. At the end of the time period, Anne rings a bell and the kids rotate. Wash, rinse, repeat. Whatever the collection is of pictures, it is so engaging that the kids want to talk about them all.

That idea led nicely into our round robin discussion of ideas for finals, which are starting here in just over a month. A big theme was that at this point, we don’t want teachers to stress out; try to figure out ways to make it easier. Another theme was that we don’t want to stress out the kids; if possible, a language final should give them the chance to show off, surprise their teacher, make them feel good about themselves, but not make them add much to what can often be a period of overloaded schedules, as they study for every final, get every paper and project done, and generally try to survive the last couple of weeks.

Betsy is the one who tells them to show off, surprise her…and reminds them of the research that says the more students write for the SAT, the better their grade, because they show more of what they’ve got. The idea works well in her classes too.

The first teacher to talk said that she uses old versions of the National German Exam for her finals. That eases her stress, and the kids can’t really study for it. Fits all our situations, except some of us don’t have old exams.

Kristin said that she never uses a scantron until the final, but that’s when it comes out, since her school requires grades that day. Whatever she does has to be finished by the end of class.

An MS teacher gives kids her final, but since finals at her school can only help kids’ grades, not hurt them, she doesn’t grade them unless someone is on the edge or is really hoping to have earned a higher grade. Then she sits down with the student and goes through the final to figure out whether it really demonstrates improved ability over the rest of the semester. Since this is a teacher all of us respect, we looked at her in surprise (about not grading the finals) and got talking about the reasons for giving finals.

First of all, most of us know where kids are in the different realms by the day of the final. Their writing, listening, speaking and reading abilities are not really going to have changed that much in the last week. If a student is anxious to know about a grade, or if we suspect a final can help them, then grading it carefully is worth the effort. Otherwise…not so much.

Secondly, final grades almost never change anything. Third, as Rie at Dimond used to say, all tests are cumulative in a language class, so this one isn’t going to be any different.

Lest that sounds like I’m trying to get us out of work, I have to point out that every teacher at our meeting writes or provides a final based on the semester. Some grade the oral but not the written (with the above exceptions), some do a listening piece, some tell a story with the class. It’s all further language work, but we also all realize that it’s just one more day in 90 days’ worth of school, and should not carry half or even a quarter of the credit for the semester. If it had to, that would say that we weren’t doing our jobs the rest of the time.

One teacher gives everyone in a class the exam on the day the seniors take it, and then gives a lesser exam the last week of school to the kids who remain in the class. She doesn’t necessarily tell the kids that the second exam is “lesser.” And no one in our group tells the kids about final weights unless they have to by school rules.

In Betsy’s room, the kids do a two-part exam. The first part is speaking. They choose one of the eight or ten storyboards that the students have learned stories for from the semester, and go out in the hall with an intern or other upper-level speaker. They tell the story for five-fifteen minutes, and the intern grades them on a scale from one to ten. (These are first- and second- year students. I’ve heard from other teachers how amazed they are by what the kids can do on these.) Then the kids come inside, take the written story, and do an assignment for the rest of the period that Betsy has given: rewrite the whole story from a different perspective, or write a new ending, or the sequel…she says they fill pages and pages. And then…she looks at the writing briefly, compares it with the writing scores as they’ve been all semester, and grades those that merit special attention. If the speaking grade meshes well with what she knows, she adds that. She has a stress-free day (she says kids always do better and try harder when talking to people other than her), and the kids leave knowing how well they can manage Japanese. Win-win. Oh…Betsy starts the speaking grades several days in advance to fit them all in.

Wow. I knew this was going to be long, but didn’t know how long.

Karen C says that she has progressively higher-weighted units as the semester goes on, and she ends her last one about two weeks before the semester ends. That gives her two weeks to “play” with the kids, exploring topics they didn’t get to by the end of the year. In the meantime, each student must prepare a presentation for the class. She gives an overall assignment, and the students have to do a presentation that no one else has chosen.

Everyone agreed that we need to try to do the most laborious parts of our exams, if we are to grade them in time for next-day grade posting, earlier in the month.

I’m going to consider recycling a song-line writing assignment from a couple of years ago: take a line from your favorite song (or your favorite line in any Russian song) and write a story that leads up to it or uses it at a critical moment. I read those to the kids, and they ended up trying to guess the song lines. It was fun! Usually I give kids a set of vocabulary and have kids do stories in small groups. They all get graded individually on their performance, but it lowers the affective filter greatly if they’re standing with their buddies.

K D said that because of her experience at university, she has a hard time not making up a traditional rigorous final, something that will give students a feeling of accomplishment. We agreed that’s important, but discussed how hard it can be to balance “rigor” against stressing everyone out. Speaking and writing at length is rigorous, but “high stress” and “rigor” don’t necessarily correlate.

So…remember that we can tell stories with the whole class. We can have them step outside the room to tell the story to a video machine or to a volunteer (option two works to save the teacher time). We can do quizzes on Quia or Quizlet for instant grading, and we can have students re-write stories that they’ve told all semester. They can do tweaks on stories and tell them in groups to the class, showing their stuff by having to use x number of verbs or adjectives or structures, or they can creatively fix x number of minutes. They can read, translate, write, listen…

But make it easy on yourself at least! You’ve worked hard all semester. Pick something that will let them shine but not kill you that last night.

Part 2 (well, really part 15, but this is the part I chose to take notes on, because Karen A asked): How do we use songs?
Karen C: play the song as background music until they beg to learn it.
M W: learn the words first, talk about favorite phrases and the story of the song, then play the music when they beg.
Diana: do cloze exercises, but choose the easiest words, not the hard ones. They’ll feel good, and they’ll listen to the song better.
Betsy: sing them the song badly in English, really badly, and ask them to sing it back in Japanese (or your language, of course!)
Someone else: use the Señor Wooley technique of getting them to fill in the close (cloze?) exercise in English, rather than the target language.
From Amy Wright’s lessons: choral response with favorite words and phrases, look at the TL, sing, then look at the English, and sing again.

I just clicked on the “Songs” topic in the right sidebar and found some posts. The one I had hoped to find is here. (That’s for Karen A.)

While we said “Goodbye” for about half an hour, Karen C was riffing on how she picks new topics to go on whenever she feels like it. By weeks, recent topics have been: exotic animals, portrait week, famous artist week, geography week, favorite landmark week, best buildings week…she’s trying to pull recent plans together for a week on “dictators.” Wouldn’t you like to be in her room? She says TPRS makes it all possible.

That’s not all, but it’s all I can do. There were side conversations going on that I kept interrupting to find out, and I didn’t take notes on them. Sorry. You’ll just have to fly up to attend one of these meetings. We have good food, good drinks, and great people, as you’ll notice if you watch the video.

Just a word of warning: do NOT try to steal Julia (who could do Spanish, French and Russian) unless you are going to offer her an amazingly good salary and benefits. Your offer must far outweigh Anchorage’s, because we’ll all tie ourselves to her airplane and weigh it down unless she’s going to be a millionaire.

MovieTalk Demo Anchorage TPRS part one.

Demo Part 2
Demo 3/Discussion Part 1

Discussion Part 2
Discussion Part 3

MovieTalk: video suggestions

If you have found good videos for MT, please comment here. We need the paper airplane one, and any others you’ve found.

Alma has been a favorite.

The video JS showed in our group is called “Love Recipe.” You can find it on YouTube.

For a very short one, look for “Cat gets caught barking…”

Laurie is right (of course)!

I just wanted to note that Laurie is right about pre-viewing (of course).

I ushered yesterday twice for Dream Girls. (I know: tough work, but someone’s got to do it.)

The first time, I was in the balcony. I couldn’t see well, and the music was loud enough that I put in earplugs, so I couldn’t hear everything. Add that to warmth and missing a few moments due to snooze factor and directing people to seats, and I was a perfect storm to duplicate what can go on for a language learner. I didn’t understand the show, and didn’t enjoy it as I’d expected!

I was not looking forward to the second time around, later that evening. This time, I missed the loud opening, but was seated on the orchestra floor. An overhang took the edge off the volume so I didn’t wear earplugs. I could see, and I had enough of the storyline from the first time that I was watching for details, and could enjoy the dancing and voices.

Guess what: I LOVED the show! It was amazing.

So…even though it’s probably true that we can be successful in TPRS and MovieTalk and everything else without knowing things in advance, Laurie’s right: seeing a clip first so that we can attend to the language and details is going to result in better acquisition. I’m going to guess that if we want to add subtitles to the mix, that should be a separate viewing, for another purpose, rather than using them the first time.

Hmm…kind of like how we vary the activities for Embedded Reading? Love how good teaching comes out to be all the same!


I want to add a little tiny piece of “Hurrah for TPRS” news from the other day. I was going to post this separately, but felt like I was bragging or something, and I’m not: I’m just saying that TPRS wins out in the end.

As many of you know, we just had a statewide Russian contest of oral speaking. I was particularly worried about one of our judges, because she was someone who had attended a TPRS class that I was in charge of and had openly shared her disdain for TPRS, both in the class and in a hour-long rebuke session in the parking lot one day several years ago. I have carried the scars of that conversation for some time, and have assumed that she would never have any respect for me. On top of that, this has been a rough year, so I haven’t taught as well as I could, and don’t even remember the last oral presentation the kids had to do. I was not confident about what they would demonstrate.

I respect this person as one of the most talented teachers I’ve ever watched. I get to talk with her students from time to time, and they always blow me away (one was in my room yesterday, wanting to use the computer; he told me that he knew his mother’s login and password on the system, and even though that turned out not to be true, the fact that a pint-sized American boy could respond to me with no hesitation in Russian blew me away again…he’s a former student, but I’m betting a lot of that comes from her). If you could be in her presence, you would agree that any student within fifty feet of her would gain just by being there. She’s awesome. My respect for her made the negative feedback all the harder to bear.

Anyway, at the competition yesterday, she was positively beaming. She told our curriculum coordinator how impressed she was, and she told me too. Granted, she was judging the upper levels, so she got to hear my very best students who have been with me for several years, but she still asked the question: “How do you get your students to be so good at Russian and to be so comfortable talking?”

I did not remind her that TPRS is my method. I thanked her instead of trying to answer, singing inside. I almost never make them do oral presentations. It’s a real weakness with me. I do talk with them. I ask them about their lives and their loves. We build stories and virtual realities together. I show them movie clips. We read. We sing. We laugh. We tease one another. We do CI as much as possible. I steal from Laurie, from Bryce, from Martina, from Kristy, from Betsy, Victoria, and Cara and more. On the other hand, we sometimes crawl in boring depths for days and days as I try to manage four years’ worth of kids with highly different levels of motivation in one room. And then…once in a while they pull it all together. I don’t know how. Thank you Blaine and Ashley and gurus and CI friends everywhere. Because of you, magic happens.

MovieTalk really works!

I’m going to be very honest right now. I have been loving MovieTalk in my classroom this year. But sometimes, I have wondered whether it truly “works.” That’s because I’ve only heard myself do it, and then I’ve read scripts in English. I haven’t been able to feel it the way that we get to feel TPRS work when we go learn bits of other languages or attend workshops that give us days of Chinese or Spanish.

Today I can tell you for sure: MovieTalk works. Our First Friday bunch got together with the goal of coaching one another through some MovieTalk. A student teacher was up first with a funny little video. She used French to tell us what was going on in the movie. I had to interrupt her right away. “I understand everything!” I was so excited! And she’s a student teacher…one who walks on water, obviously, but we don’t always expect stellar teaching in the first year. Then we watched a Water Boy movie in Japanese for a while. Again, we understood everything. Then it was Russian, then German. In German, where I have acquired more of the nouns, I found myself picking up verbs.

I can almost not believe this. I can understand how my kids picked up words after hearing them one time now. I can’t remember the French for “leg,” but I can remember these: cook, dog, woman, man, cake… and I can say them! I can understand a whole bunch of verbs and a few adjectives, but at this basic level, acquiring a few nouns is probably where I’m best, because I am a true beginner. (I won’t let myself go off on a tangent here about order of acquisition, that maybe we acquire nouns we’re interested in first, and more slowly verbs…)

The second most interesting thing about this experience is that I should have been dead tired (after a day of state Russian competition; I organized the judges and ran the competition room. It’s hectic). I was thinking I was crazy to have scheduled this meeting on the same day. But once the movies started and I was understanding everything, I was alive and energized.

It’s going to be a while before any of us knows enough about MT to know how to coach it. That will take a different kind of mind, but then we’ll be able to take off running!

My colleagues in the ASD rock. I am incredibly lucky to know these teachers who care enough to turn out on a Friday for a couple of hours and practice our craft. And the geniuses of the CI world also rock. They have been giving us the tools to help people acquire languages…for real…at last.

MovieTalk in elementary school!

Reprinted with permission from the Focal Skills FB page:

Applying the FOCAL SKILLS Approach in Valdivia has been a tremendous challenge for all FS researchers in Valdivia, Chile! We designed and implemented, through a classroom research, an adaptation of the FS Listening Module in four public schools with elementary school students at social risk. Through surveys, questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, pictures, video recordings and pre and post FS tests, we could prove that students, parents, school teachers and administrators highly appreciated FS methodological innovations and students’ level of interest increased to a great extent. Academically speaking, children amazingly improved their listening and oral skills. On the other hand, students who attended English lessons under traditional methodologies in other schools showed very low scores in their pre and post tests and did not show much improvement.

We are analyzing our findings and hope to publish a second paper on the implementation of the FS approach in Valdivia very soon!

Comments from interviews:

a) Children’s comments:

– “We enjoy English more than other subjects at school”

-“Activities were fun and games, songs, and dances made activities more interesting”

– “We learnt more using these kinds of strategies rather than the ones we had used in the past, which consisted mainly on worksheets and activities on the whiteboard”

b) Parents’ comments:

“Our children have shown high levels of motivation”

” These methodological innovations are key to reach a better educational system and a better country”.

Best wishes in your conference!

Yasna Yilorm
María Paz Díaz
Catherine Vergara
Javier Zuñiga
Sebastián Avilés

PD: María-Paz, Catherine, Javier and Sebastián wrote their theses on the impact of the FS Approach on elementary school children’s acquisition process. All of them did an excellent job. They graduated and are now helping me with my doctorate research.

Yasna Yilorm
Profesora Inglés
Pedagogía en Comunicación en Lengua Inglesa
Instituto de Linguística y Literatura
Universidad Austral de Chile


Laurie’s MovieTalk/Embedded Reading combo

Laurie’s MovieTalk/Embedded Reading combo

I finally tracked down the “connection” that WordPress kept sending me, and found that all trails lead back, as usual, to Laurie Clarcq, my hero.

Martina and I were sharing Storytelling with a wonderful group of Alaskan Yu’pik Language instructors yesterday, and part-way through the day, I realized just how inseparable Embedded Reading is for me as a tool that I use with TPRS. Now Laurie is tying it to MovieTalk in a coherent way that explains them both.

Go read!

Parent talk

I haven’t been posting here much. I’m involved in a competitive rowing challenge this month, and it’s taking up all my time, but it will be over and then I’ll be back to normal levels of craziness.

Today a bunch of my advanced kids left the room to go advertise our program to the nearby junior high, and I decided to reward the ones who were left by doing some MovieTalk with the same cartoon I use with my beginners. I was wondering how it would go, since obviously the advanced kids aren’t beginners. The last movie I worked on with them was very different!

It turned out that I could talk on a way different level, and what I was talking about had a much richer vocabulary, but they were tuned in almost as strongly as the beginners are. There’s the sound, and then there’s the visual, and I’m providing a river of Russian as we look at individual slides, because I almost don’t let it play freely at all.

What I found was that it’s just like parents with their children: I changed my language level based on their eyes. They understood, so I talked a little faster. They looked a bit confused, so I re-explained with different words. Some of the kids heard variations in synonyms and asked about them. I explained. I LOVED it!! I should just use the same stuff with every class, all day long!

Another interesting thing: because I’ve been showing these particular cartoons to my beginners all year, there are specific vocabulary structures that they understand. It didn’t even occur to me that my advanced kids might not understand some of them. I was blown away when I realized what I’d taught the beginners, and that it seemed so strange I hadn’t taught the more advanced kids. Sometimes “high frequency” does depend on the context. Most of the time, it doesn’t, and I can’t even tell you what it was that the advanced kids didn’t have in their repertoire. It had something to do with being awakened and being disturbed, sleeping until the sun came out, and putting clothes on in the morning. We just haven’t ever discussed those things in the advanced class, while the beginners are always talking about what they wear and having things go bump in the night. In fact, their structures this week are: “at night,” “is afraid of,” and “s/he meets.” Aren’t those a great set of structures for stories??