Category Archives: Why TPRS?

Carol Gaab article

Just got this article by Carol Gaab from Kristy Placido. It might be a nice one to have ready when a principal comes calling, or when you want something literate in writing for an interested parent.

It’s also a good reminder about basics. Last time I talked with Susie, she said that she tells people they need to go to a beginner’s workshop four times before heading to an advanced workshop, because there’s so much to TPRS. Even though it’s simple, it takes time to acquire.

Using a textbook

In prepping for a workshop on how to adapt a textbook to TPRS teaching, I was surprised to be reminded of two things: first, that textbooks can have very funny pictures in them that kids can use for stories. I found a perfect sports cartoon in my old Russian one book for this week’s story. The questions that go with it are banal, but the kids won’t have to pay attention to them.

Secondly, I’d forgotten that textbook writers consider some very high-frequency structures and words to be “advanced.” The text waited until page 385 (a page I never actually reached when I was using the book for first-year students) to discuss whether something happened in the morning, day, or night. It isn’t as though I’ve set out to teach those time phrases, but they do come up, even when we’re just discussing what kids do over the weekend.

The nice thing that I can see from looking at the text is that we do hit most of the grammar that the textbook does, without the angst of having to open it up and do exercises.

But once again, I remember from long ago that even as a pre-TPRS teacher, I wanted more reading in the text. I wanted the kids to be able to read interesting, compelling stories. We’ve known for a long time that reading is king. Does it take its place in newer textbooks?

And one last comment: I sent Susie the current draft of the presentation that Betsy and I will be making, asking for comments. Her only suggestion was that I change the part where I say, ” Teach three words at a time,” to “Teach three phrases at a time.” We should be chunking vocabulary, rather than offering it a piece at a time, once we’re past the very beginning stages.

Every single time I connect with Susie, I get a hint on how to be a better teacher.

Terry Thatcher Waltz

Terry is probably headed our way for a September conference (and any of you who have been dying to see Alaska in the fall and get in some TPRS are welcome to join us…we’re planning to be in Talkeetna, site of staging for Denali/Mt. McKinley expeditions).We’re also expecting Carol Gaab.

I love two of Terry’s recent blogs–one on why pair work is not worthy CI and the next on why a “family” unit can be problematic, so since I just spent my ten minutes of blog time oohing and ahhing over how much I agreed with her, I am going to suggest anyone looking for input read those. Click on her link to the right.

TPRS gets results!

Virginie said I could post this e-mail:

Kids are doing fine. The Regional Declamation went very well on our end. Most of my kids won 1st and 2nd place for the poetry. French IV students placed 1.2.and 3. Only one of my students was interested in doing the impromptu and placed 1st. So, they are going to the State Competition on Feb 19.

It is my first time doing it and I am going to participate in the future doing all categories next time.

Also, French I’s are doing well. It seems like I can cover so much more material and they retain it much faster and much easier than past years. Students were also able to write their very first 400 word essay –assignment of their French I sem 1 final. They recorded it when we came back to school in January and we did the same this month (less intense essay…just 4 paragraphs on weather+ sports/activities, recycling info from last year (like/dislike +adverbs).

It seems like I might be done with the French I curriculum right after Spring Break, which we leave us plenty of time to cover “Pauvre Anne” in class and record their readings+ essays about it. I have never done it before AND I am very excited about it!!!!

What a difference doing TPRS! I am never going back… (also I am mostly doing CI than story telling–It is simply NOT me:)
Voila. Please say hi to everyone out there,

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.

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 just read the Autonoblogger’s note about why TPRS fit him/her.

He asked, “What brought you to TPRS?” Here’s my story. I want to hear yours!

I had a workshop with Blaine Ray years ago, and a more recent one around 2000 with Melinda Forward, but never did more than create about a unit per year for my kids. I was having the same problems as the Japanese blogger mentioned. Lots of work, not much payoff for most kids. Then at the end of the year in June 2008, one third-year student pointed out that those “TPRS story units” were where kids got the Russian they used for the rest of their careers with me.

I realized she was right, went to the Internet, and found Ben Slavic’s materials and realized that TPRS had changed completely from set materials to story-asking and a clear emphasis on Comprehensible Input. Then I attended a Corinne Bourne workshop. Corinne came to Alaska for our state conference, and ever since then a core group of interested teachers here has been meeting monthly. We have had visits from Susie Gross, Blaine Ray, Laurie Clark, Katya Paukova, Terry Thatcher Waltz, Scott Benedict, and Ben Slavic (whether virtual–on Skype–or real). I finally know a great way to get kids to truly learn Russian.

I sometimes have to pretend that I’m amazed by how fast the kids learn. I remember again when parents are surprised after visiting a class, especially if they “learned Russian in college,” because the kids are so much farther ahead than they might otherwise be.

I am both better and worse at TPRS every day. I learn when I read what others write, and I learn when I teach or when I coach. There is no end to honing my skills in this method.

TPRS for me is more than a method; t’s a philosophy, a better way to live and connect with other people. The teachers who “join up” seem to be people who want to share and learn from one another. They are generous, thoughtful, and creative. It is easy to become friends in this community because there is an openness and common goal that isn’t linked to the level of students or the language being taught. I have never found this feeling in any other methodology, so even if TPRS were just partly successful, I am sure I would stick around for the collegiality of the group. Luckily, TPRS is indeed successful.

Any TPRS folks visiting Alaska from (what we call) Outside, please feel free to let us know. We can put you up, and we can set you up with observations!


Here is a very long blog entry (with permission) that a department head (not in my school, more’s the pity) posted about her leap of faith into TPRStorytelling. If it doesn’t make you want to go teach in her school, you must have an excellent situation.

Angie’s Blog
TPRS Fall 2010

Thursday, August 19- (COLLABORATION) I talked with Cara for about an hour.  She helped me pare down the story that I plan to present tomorrow.  I still have a tendency to want to add too much, especially for my level 1 students.  She reminded me to make sure I have different types of questions (yes/no, either/or and fishing).  She also gave me some websites to check out (Scott Benedict’s and Susan Gross, also links to Podcasts del Profe-a personal favorite!)

One of the other things we discussed was the need to not expect the kids to learn all of the traditional information (ie numbers, colors, days of week, etc).  It is more important for them to recognize them than to master them.  I have a few issues with this, but am working on it.  This whole thing is tough to someone who has and has always believed in a strong work ethic and that everything presented must be learned.  Dang!  Change is tough!

I found some great resources on these sites, as well as links to several other good sites.

I am still very overwhelmed by all this.  I thought I had a finger hold on the process, but it seems that I had no clue.  I’m sure it will all fall together eventually.  I am still puzzled about PQA.  I thought that was something you do with every story, but it seems like something you only do at the beginning of the year.

Friday, August 20- (REFLECTION) I did my first story today!  It went OK.  My first period class wasn’t really into it (but I think they just aren’t awake yet).  Fifth period liked the whole thing.  I told a goofy story about an elephant and his friends the giraffe and penguin who wanted to escape the zoo.  They had a Maserati, but couldn’t drive it because their legs were too short to work the pedals.  We had just enough time to finish (to my surprise), so I had them write a resolution to the problem in the last 2 minutes of class.  Best resolution got chocolate on Monday.  I didn’t do anything more with this story because of the weekend, but I wanted them to have the experience and get to know the way this works (slap hand when don’t understand, ooh, ay carramba, etc).

Monday, August 23 (REFLECTION) I did another story today.  A boy has (tiene) a backpack with a pencil, book and paper.  He has a pet bunny.  He has a mean friend who steals the backpack and buries it.  The bunny finds it and returns it so the boy can turn in his homework in.   Ironically, I did better with period 1 and they were more into the story.  I was losing lots of kids in period 5.

I started with some informal PQA about the kids in order to introduce them to the class and review old vocab. I realize I have the yes/no and either/or questions down.  I really need to work on fishing questions.  I am pretty good at recycling the vocab, but often lose focus and get lost.  I also need to do more frequent checks of comprehension.

Monday, August 23 (COLLABORATION)  We spent all of lunch sharing stories and successes.  All of us are trying TPRS and are committed to mastering it.    We are going to spend a couple of hours tomorrow coming up with a department plan for rubrics and how to grade our classes.  This will help kids when they switch between classes at semester and have a better transition from one year to the next.

Tuesday, August 24 (COLLABORATION) Lunch collaboration goes on.  We all shared the stories we are teaching and ideas for what to do with them after they get told.  We all feel that a steady diet of only stories will create bored students.  We are coming up with various activities to mix things up a little.  Singing, games to reinforce what we’ve learned, maybe even a little grammar practice.   We are also trying to figure out when/ how to incorporate reading into our level 1 classes.   Pretty heady conversation over salads and sandwiches.

Tuesday, August 24 (COLLABORATION) We met for about an hour after school as a department to start the process of hammering out exactly what we want our rubrics to look like and how we want to grade on Zangle.  Our goal is to have workable rubrics, a letter to explain our grading system to parents and knowledge of how to put our weighted categories and letter grades into Zangle by next week.  We want to invite our principal and our curriculum principal to our classes after school and bring them up to speed and get their final blessing next Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 (REFLECTION)  I am still having a little trouble engaging all my kids.  It doesn’t help that my classroom is 85 degrees and it is totally sunny outside.  However, I need to do a better job keeping kids on task.  I need to try and incorporate students in acting roles.  I like this idea, but have to admit I’m a little intimidated by getting kids I don’t know well to do something crazy.  Yes, I ‘m a chicken.  This will be my goal next Monday when I start a new story.

Friday, August 27, 2010 (REFLECTION)    I still need to remember to get kids in acting roles.  I still need to slow down.  I still need to make sure all the kids are engaged.  That said, I feel like most of them can use “soy, es and tiene”.  They all know what a backpack, pencil, paper and book are.  They can give a rudimentary description of a person (bad, good, and lots others if they use the wall of cognates) and, just to have something completely useless in their arsenal, they know how to say bunny.  Not bad for a first week.

Next week I want to re-introduce “soy, es and tiene and add me/le gusta “with lots more nous.

Saturday, August 28 (REFLECTION)  OK, now I see that I really need to slow down!  The modeling that Allison did in class yesterday was eye opening.  I can only think that my students are brilliant beyond words because their heads didn’t explode with all the things I gave them last week!  I think I need to make a giant “SLOW” sign for the back of my class so I can see it and remind myself!  Maybe I’ll wait for another week to add me/le gusta.  I think more practice with “soy, es and tiene” with more  nouns might be better.  Those are some pretty fundamental verbs and I’d really like to see the kids get them into their active vocab.  Maybe if I get totally crazy I’ll add “tengo”

I’d also like to do a shout out to my pals at East.  Cara, Allison and Regina-thanks for your insights and patience.  It is really appreciated. And here I thought one could only fish for salmon! I’d still be circling if you hadn’t explained what that meant!  Megan, you rock for fearlessly giving this a try!

Monday, August 30 (REFLECTION)  I started a new story today.  It went OK, but I see that I am not reaching all the kids.  I can’t tell if they just don’t get it or are bored.  Grrrrr.

Tuesday, September 1 (REFLECTION)   I told the story again today.  I tried to go slowly and do plenty of circling.  I think I am putting too much added detail into my second telling.  I need to ask about horizontal story telling.  I know some kids are getting it, but many are still staring at me.  I asked the kids to summarize the story for me.  I read their summaries after school and graded them with the rubric.  I had a handful of A’s, a few more B’s and lots of C’s.  I also had some D’s.  Kids who totally missed the boat.

Thursday, September 3 (REFLECTION)  I showed the kids their summaries today.  I told them how many of them would give me looks during the story telling that say “Hey, I’m bored” or “I got it already”.  This demonstrated to many of them that they, in fact, do not get it.  I explained the grading scale (1-4) to them.  I explained the whole concept of performance based grading, how that it shows progress and that they should not be discouraged by a low grade right now, how that I was looking for trends in improvement, how I know what hard work it is to stay on task in a world that wants immediate rewards with little effort (OK, I didn’t exactly put it that way, but that was my point) and exactly how they could get the grade they were looking for.

I didn’t hide the expectations and I was blown away by their response.  They were really focused on the class activity that day.  They were all trying to  “kick it up a notch”, now that they knew what I was looking for.  They were really enthused and not at all bummed about their low grades.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe this stuff does work!

Friday, September 4 (COLLABORATION)  I have just finished writing the writing and speaking rubrics (the long forms).  These are the ones I will give to kids and parents to explain what we are looking for.  Obviously, we will need to create a shorter, more user friendly form for grading purposes.  I am a little stymied on what to put in the listening and reading rubrics.  I will have to think about that this weekend.

We have also been discussing input vs. output at our daily lunchtime debrief sessions and via email discussions.  I think we are all still trying to figure out how to evaluate kids without demanding output.  I can input until the cows come home, but without output how do I measure if it is sticking?  Do I even need to care?  According to Susan Gross, I don’t need to.  According to the ASD, I do.  Oh well, we’ll all eventually figure it out!

Tuesday, September (COLLABORATION)  We’ve been meeting as a department once a week for an hour or more since school started to discuss what we are doing and how we are feeling about TPRS and our activities.  Today we decided that we were going to choose a weekly target for assessment.  For example, next week we are going to choose reading.  This week we will come up with activities and run them by each other, hoping to tweak them into perfect plans.  After we do them next week, we will debrief with each other.  This is a very valuable process.  I have decided my peers are brilliant and I can definitely benefit from their advice and experience.  I think having all of us focus on one skill at a time will really help us “newbies” and we will have a bunch of creative and fun activities when we are done.

We have also decided to create a notebook with sample activities/assessments.  It doesn’t really matter what language they are in, we can look at the general idea and make it fit our needs.  For example, we were talking about taking one of the stories and instead of having the kids translate it, give them a list to complete first.
1.    Boy’s name
2.    Animal
3.    color
4.    Girl’s name, etc.
Then give the kids a cloze copy of the story with the blanks numbered.  Every time there is a blank numbered 1, the kids put in the boy’s name they had written down.  It is just like Madlibs.  Then have the kids translate that story.  They are still getting all the structure practice we want them to have, but it is personalized and more fun.

Gotta love the creative minds around here!