Category Archives: Starting the year


This week has certainly underscored my belief that a CI/TPRS class is one in which we can differentiate. For example, after we’d told our story yesterday in an Intermediate class, we had five minutes left for a fast write.

(I’m going back to fast writes again, after a year in which we didn’t do them regularly. They offer the kids a chance to watch their improvement, they give me a chance to breathe and then see what the kids need more work on, and they get more confident about writing in general.)

One of my weakest second-year kids wrote eight words in five minutes to retell the story. Another wrote 50. The one who wrote 50 was proud enough of himself that he came up to me to show me. Then the other student came up, and she was relieved to know that didn’t mean she was going to flunk. They’re all on their own paths, and they all get to graph their own progress.

In another intermediate group, a student doing the weather was just jamming. I think he’s going to get a new job next week so that the Calendar job can go to someone who needs practice. Meanwhile, a student at a higher level in a different class was having trouble with the same information and the adjectival endings on the dates. They both get support and applause.

And stories…We’re keeping with the same story right now in one class while the other classes catch up, and while we do that, we’re adding new structures. It’s a new way to do an embedded reading! We PQA the new words, and then we use them as we retell the story. We’re backing up for more details and new information because of the new structures. By doing that, some of the kids can get solid on the original story, while others are working on the grammar for that original story. The higher-level kids can think of the details, while the lower-level ones are just along for the ride. I had a student who is doing university Russian in class today, and she got to answer specific grammar questions in Russian. That gave all the rest of the kids a little breather.

Finally, a second-year kid came into the first year class, along with a young student who has had a lot of Russian at another school. The second-year kid (who wanted that spot) had earlier said that she didn’t think she was good at languages. Full-length sentences were coming out of her mouth today in answer to the simple questions I was asking the first-year kids. The young student is now our “little sister,” and she seemed to relax a lot as we introduced kids via the photographs they’d sent us.


More slow

My workers are settling in well. They’re remembering most pieces of their jobs. Now I need to create a photographer position, as Kate suggested, and have pictures of them doing these jobs.

I have just a couple of minutes, but I want to share my amazement over my level 1 kids.

We’ve been sticking to the one structure (this is/is this? these are/are these?) and working it not into the ground but into a tree that keeps growing up. Maybe a beanstalk.

I created a little powerpoint for the kids: what’s this? and this is a … with the pictures of the animals we’ve talked about so far. At the last minute, I put in the phrases. The kids acted like they loved it. (Here it is; it’s really nothing special!)

The kids seemed to be reading so well that I opened up the first version of an embedded reading. It too was very simple. We discussed it as much as one can discuss a second-day reading. We read in English chorally as a class, with partners, and then I “let” them read it in Russian as a class. One of the kids mentioned that it wasn’t only sun he loves; it’s also rain. So I decided to go ahead and let them read the second version. They did so well! At that point, we put away the chairs and stood up in a long line of pairs, and I demo-ed Blaine’s popcorn reading with one student. They all started back at the beginning, but the bell rang and class was over.

At that point, I told them to put the copies into the class comp-book box, unless they wanted to take the papers home to read to their parents. At least half, who were headed to the book box, turned right around, asking whether it was really okay if they took reading home. Love ’em.

Starting the year with jobs and PDL

Whoo hoo! I am having some fun with two activities.

First, I am using the “name game circle” warm-up that we learned from Dufeu’s book on PDL. It’s in three sections, all done from a circle. First pairs change places when they make eye contact. Once that’s comfortable, the pairs say their names to each other as they pass in the middle to trade places. After a while, the pairs make eye contact and try to say the other’s name as they’re trading places.

This was so much better than starting out by making people learn names around a circle. Kids “met” on an individual basis. We added some pieces to it in some classes, putting in time limits, or requiring everyone to trade at least three times, and so on. Doing it with just eye contact the first time made everyone much more confident in their interactions.

The next moment was the assigning of jobs. I have a timer and two counters on hangers next to my desk. I have a squeaky hedgehog on my desk too. Kids are now responsible for counting structures, writing quizzes and class information (separate), timing how long we spend in Russian, throwing the hedgehog at my feet if I spend more than 15 seconds on grammar or use up my three time-outs for extended English. Kids will take care of my desk, put up chairs, greet one another at the door if I’m not there, welcome visitors, keep the calendar, and manage the technology. Ben Slavic’s newest book (coming out again soon) has a list of some 60 jobs that kids can do in the classroom. He says that every kid should have a job. Some are very popular and need tryouts (throwing was key today), and others just fit kids perfectly.

A couple of less-than-enthusiastic kids became enthusiastic when jobs they liked opened up, and everyone thought it was really funny that someone gets to throw the hedgehog (at my feet/legs) if need be.

In my Russian 1 class, I channeled Katya, and stayed on “This is” most of the period. She went so slowly for the beginners in Chicago this summer that they all got it! I want to keep everyone on board for the whole year.


We were all buzzing (briefly) about what we’re planning to do the first day(s) of school at our state conference meeting today.

I’m going to think about beginners for just a few minutes.

I have a lot of pictures of the kids now, and I’m sure I’ll get more as time goes on and they realize they should send them to me. We’re going to use those to compare who has a dog, who was fishing, who was in the mountains and so on. It’s going to be a CWB (circling with balls) activity in every class, a chance to connect or reconnect.

A lot of the first two weeks will be dealing with routines: where to put the backpacks, where the chairs go when we’re facing the front or the side, how to respond to unexpected adults and planned visitors (stand up for the first, welcome the latter and get a chair), what to do with comp books in the beginning and end of class, what to do at the beginning of class, where to find classroom information, how to behave during storytelling. I have my rules posted, and we’ll have the comp book boxes all ready for filling.

In the beginning class, I always hit children’s songs heavy for the first weeks, since the vocabulary will come up all year long, and I can use those songs as transitions between activities. I’ll also do some counting poems and rejoinders.

We also typically do a lot of TPR, which I can’t sustain for long, but I use it to teach classroom vocabulary and directions that I’ll need all year.

Depending on how those go, I’ll start a story with a group that seems to be ready. The three sets of activities will give us a lot of mileage.

I can’t wait!

Pictures et al

While we were having a Last Hurrah on Monday with incredible Anchorage WL teachers, pictures of my students were flowing into my mailbox. They have continued to flow. If you read Cynthia Hitz’s blog, you know that idea came straight from her.

Cindy’s idea has been a wonderful way to get me revved up about this school year. Kids typically include a note about what they’ve been doing and how excited they are or that they “just can’t wait” for Russian class. I have pictures of hikes, water parks, animals, mowing, Badlands, and siblings. I need a category of students with birds of all kinds.

Probably there will be a bunch of kids with no pictures. That’s okay. I’ll tell them the door is open and we will keep looking at these until they quit flowing. And pretty soon, we’ll have the usual classroom pictures as well as those summer ones. I went to Costco and made a collage with 20 of last year’s pictures for the bulletin board. If anyone knows a way to inexpensively get a whole bunch more pictures onto one collage, I’d like to hear it. Shutterfly allows 30, but they all have to have the same landscape or portrait format, and they’re in straight lines. Costco has a template with a bunch of different sizes and formats, but allows only 20 or 22. They said that I could make up my own on a WP document. At $9.00, it’s a steal!

We all liked the game that Diana shared from her SEL class (her comment was that it was great to have a bunch of teachers learning how to do the kind of activities that WL teachers use all the time). She said they concentrated on non-competitive games. In this one, she can ask a question, like, “Explain why the father got mad.” Groups of four brainstorm an answer. They she sends all the “B” kids (they could be divided by letters, countries, city names…) to share ideas, while the big group gets to see the next question. Then the B kids sit down with their groups and she randomly picks one of them to answer. If that kid answers correctly, it’s a point for the whole class.

Diana also gave us a 30/90/10 rule. Every thirty minutes, students need a break of 90 seconds that gets them at least 10 feet from their seats.

Victoria shared a MovieTalk trick: she says it’s sometimes too hard to stop exactly at the moment she wants to talk about, so she makes screen shots of those in advance and shows them to the kids. Telling the story and talking about the pictures first doesn’t diminish the MovieTalk experience one bit. I like that! It might both curtail my rambling and focus me a bit.

If you’ve been to Carrie Toth’s site, you’ll know the Domino retell game that she learned from her own former Spanish teacher.

I hope that the electricity and wireless and Promethean board will all be working in my relo by the end of the week, because I have so many ideas for using them! If not, we will punt.


Last Hurrah…equals Slow!


If you haven’t staLastHurrahrted school yet and are stressing out, I have a suggestion. And if you have started school already and are stressing out, I have the same suggestion: invite a group of teachers over for a Last Hurrah.

I admit that I wouldn’t know how to gather a bunch of world language teachers if not for the TPRS community, and would not have thought of gathering, had Karen not written to suggest it. I still almost forgot!


In the last week, I have been frantically gathering all sorts of websites, stacking them up, creating little documents, and trying to remember how to do this thing that I’ve done for 30 years. Going back to school is intimidating. We want to get it right for our kids. We’re about to run into that “never have time enough” wall.


So today, eight language teachers slowed down, shared some delicacies, covered topics like grading and opening tricks and SEL games. Victoria reminded us what to do with upper-level grammar. We remembered some Jody Noble and Martina Bex and Laurie Clarcq ideas. We rehashed how Jason Fritz says to keep yourself sane and healthy. (Here’s his wiki.) We went to Cindy Hitz’s website for her first-day suggestions. I showed some of the photos that are coming in thanks to Cindy’s blog. (“Here is a picture of me with my bunny and my chicken.” Love it!)


Best of all, we took time to talk out loud, not on phones, and not on electronic means! We all took notes, sure, and one of us (I) was on her computer trying to send people links and rubrics. But we ate a lot, shared our woes as well as our successes, realized that we can count on one another, and slowed the pace down for a few hours. De-stress. Do it.

Cat and mouse story wins

For the fifth year in a row, my parents got to see the Susie Gross story about the cat and the mice. I usually have time to ask the kids to teach vocabulary to their parents, but this time remembered only for one group (the other group had just one day). It turned out that the kids didn’t want to let their parents act. They wanted to act, and they were very cute! We didn’t have much time for going over the syllabus or the grading expectations.

I never have enough time on parent Open House night. I really want to do some little talent nights or something like that to get parents and kids here. We’ll see whether I can! If I promise a movie and some classroom videos, I bet they’d come.

Bryce’s Community Plan

Last week, when I started the student interviews, I didn’t know how it would go to learn about just one student every day. In the past, we’ve tried to do more than that with the interview forms, and I have always ended up letting some of the kids slide. I think part of that might have been that there was just too much information about each kid. This year, we’re finding out just a little each day: how old the kids are, how many brothers and sisters they have, and what they like to do or what they like. Some of that information is crossing over: kids like to listen to the same kind of music, or they play the same sports or like the same colors. We’re getting a lot of repetition, and really all I’m doing is trying to learn a little about the kids and give them some connections in the classroom that they might not have otherwise.

The same plan works in the advanced classes; kids are learning some things they didn’t know about the kids who were in their classes all this time as they simultaneously draw in the new kids.

It’s very similar to Ben’s Circling with Balls, but I don’t have to keep track of all the name tags. Because the information is repeated, I don’t have to “circle” so much. And because it’s just one student a day, we can do other things during class.

Oh. I’m also taking a page from Bryce’s (and many of your) handbook: daily work on the board to start the class. That really does help me be a little more organized. It used to be that I started every day with singing. Now we might start ending with singing.

Slow and steady with routines

Last year, I had a horrible experience with two English classes. I felt like a first-year teacher. Some of the kids were indeed difficult to handle, but honestly, I didn’t set up very well for them. I was dealing with a new curriculum and learning the Promethean Board and a new set of kids, and I fell down on getting the kids ready to learn. 

So this year, having attended Bryce’s workshops at NTPRS, I bought the Fred Jones book, Tools for Teaching. My room is set up with an interior loop, two aisles, and plenty of space. I have been “working the room” and finding that Jones is absolutely right about moving amongst the kids to stop problem behavior. A cell phone disappeared as I moved in front of the knees it was sitting on, and a couple of talkers responded quickly to the Queen Victoria look. The funniest part for me is what Jones calls the “smiley face reaction.” I can’t believe it. The kids really do it. But I don’t smile back at them any more. I keep my face blank and check on them with eye contact every so often. Really, Jones has made specific what Ben Slavic was teaching in “Circling with Balls.” Ben was using props to do what Jones is talking about. That’s what makes him a master teacher.

I’m also getting routines going: moving chairs quickly to change the way the kids face (it also helps give a little brain break), and emphasizing placement of materials. I haven’t done class starters in a while; now I am doing them every day because that gives me a chance to take roll and breathe for a moment. 

I feel incredibly empowered by these simple but huge changes in my structure.

Meanwhile, I am following Bryce’s plan of getting to know just one kid every day. I like this a lot! We are repeating vocabulary over and over, and in the beginning classes, we are learning the stuff that I sometimes missed if it didn’t come up in stories. But we’re also learning some basics for stories. We’re learning important things about the kids, even if I have to keep myself from jumping forward. Slow, slow, slow. 

I was getting ready to launch into an embedded reading in the advanced class, when I suddenly remembered people asking how to make the kids care about a reading in advance. One answer was to have them do a parallel story first. I put on the brakes (SLOW is my mantra), and asked for a female athlete, so we got a story going with her before we read the basic story about the Russian pole vaulter. It was great: we were able to knock out the parallel story, which led to a prediction, and read the first version of the embedded reading, in only 13 minutes at the end of class. It worked perfectly, because they were all so focused on their original story and finding out how in the world it was going to match up with the one that they would read.


It begins again, all over…

I have been stuck in a computer-not-working situation for most of a frustrating day. Our district has lots of in-service videos they want us to watch, and since I’m in a relo where the new system hasn’t been wired yet, I had to sit in a dark lab where I couldn’t multi-task.

While I waited fruitlessly for tech support, I was going through files to throw out what I hadn’t used in the last few years.

One of the files I found was from ACTFL 2001. My notes are full of wonder about one session in which the presenter emphasized that “Less is more.” She said that three new structures a day were more than plenty. I had a note to myself that she agreed with Melinda Forward (TPRS instructor who had been to Anchorage with an “old school” TPRS presentation) with only the nine words for a unit.

Once again, I can’t believe that the information had been out there for me all this time, and I’d just ignored it. I’m working very hard on myself to limit whatever I do this semester to few structures and SLOW, no matter what class I’m teaching.

I plan structures going to embedded readings, MovieTalk, and brain breaks that support the first two as my basic plan. With my advanced kids, we’ll add in Scaffolding Literacy. I want to wring every last drop out of structures and readings, going deep rather than wide.