A Suggestion for New People

I very much want new people to be able to make sense of this site – there is a level of complexity in the discussion here that is of major concern to me. It is not an easy discussion to just walk into.

There are two points to make about that:

1. The earlier articles published here (2008) are like the first chapters in a novel. They are fairly simple. Then, as the plot thickened over time and as we tried and implemented new things into our teaching, each year the articles got more complex. So now we are moving on deeper into the book we are creating together but newer people are being asked to start reading in the middle of the novel. Who would not be confused? I therefore highly suggest that new people go back to into the archives and occasionally read chronologically. Things may make more sense. The archives are not currently listed here but I think Trevor knows where they are and they should appear here later today.

2. I didn’t add the categories until 2010 or so, so articles previous to that year have not been categorized. Therefore, a person searching for articles about PQA, for example, wouldn’t be able to find them all. Those earlier articles carry value in their simplicity, before we kept adding new ingredients to the soup, and they shouldn’t be forgotten. They provide information and details about the “novel” that this site has become.

So those are two reasons why I suggest that new people here maybe go back into the archives and read chronologically here. The content is not out of date. That is because the core tenants that support this work have not changed. The froth changes, but the soup remains ever hearty and vital for us. The core ideas (Krashen’s research) that led to the real things invented by Blaine Ray and articulated and defended by Susan Gross, never change. The unprecedented level of attack on Krashen for over thirty years now is proof that he is into something real.

We know that we are into something real when we are attacked. We’ll each need a good bowl of soup through the winter, for the fights both in and out of our classrooms, and the soup here from years ago is still fresh. We can read some of those articles and keep on teaching and then spring will come and we will have grown in this work and we will be stronger.



15 thoughts on “A Suggestion for New People”

  1. Thank you so much for saying this! I look forward to being able to go back to the very beginning, I’ve been jumping around by topic but I know I need to read chronologically and I am excited to do so. As a new person, I am so thankful to have found this community and really appreciate being able to “mingle” with the experienced CI teachers. Thank you for continuing to make me feel welcome even though I am starting the novel in the middle.

  2. And if you think about it, Carly, you are much more important as a beginner than some of us who have been around for so many years. After all, you will be carrying this work forward as the years go by while some of the rest of us will be sitting around in our rocking chairs wondering how it’s going for the little kids we tried so hard to defend during our careers. So that is why I have been trying so hard lately to figure out ways to get y’all new people involved and clear on this work – that is the main purpose of the forum in my opinion. I don’t think we need any new methods books, either. The work is very simple really*. We just need practice, more and more practice. At least, that has been my own experience.

    *You just ask them questions and in the beginning they answer with simple yes/no answers and then after years of that they answer in complete sentences. And that process takes thousands and thousands of hours and there are no quick fixes. And the thousands of hours are not to be viewed in a negative, but in a very positive way, as per:


    1. “The work is very simple really*. We just need practice, more and more practice. At least, that has been my own experience.

      *You just ask them questions and in the beginning they answer with simple yes/no answers and then after years of that they answer in complete sentences. And that process takes thousands and thousands of hours and there are no quick fixes. And the thousands of hours are not to be viewed in a negative, but in a very positive way…”

      Thanks Ben for this beautifully simple description of the ethos of this work. Sorry to all that I haven’t been very active in contributing here of late -be assured that I am following, just preferring to process and digest now rather than produce (i.e., I’m following the CI model at the moment in my own learning).

      1. I printed Ben’s post, “Relax” (October 15, 2013) and taped the sheets into a poster which I have hanging on a wall in my apartment here in France as a sort of meditation station to help me teach better by doing less and being more. I’m starting to notice how much relaxing and not focusing on “the method” (as detailed in the above post by Ben) can instantly make a difficult task into an almost effortless one. It’s almost as if when you feel the difficulty of something rising, if you relax and “get conscious” about what you’re thinking/what your body is doing/how you feel, etc, the task at hand somehow becomes easier, and suddenly the path you need to take to surpass the difficulty (i.e., the “method” you need) becomes clear. Does that make sense? One example is when I sense myself getting stressed because kids are losing focus, then I make myself relax and breathe, which is precisely when I realize I just need to relax (slow down) my speech, which then recaptures the kids’ attention.

      2. Can I indulge on here in a a non-classroom anecdote that might (or might not) be of interest for illustration purposes?

      I play the piano in my spare time and one of my current projects is an étude by THE master of piano études, Frederic Chopin. The one I’m working on, number 2, was written by Chopin in such a way so that the melody has to be played by the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of the right hand, because the other fingers are occupied with other keys. The thing is, those three fingers are the weakest of the hand and instantly want to tense up when you try to play this piece up to speed. I started learning the piece this past summer and began having pain in my right hand. So I did some research and found one pianist who said the only way to get through this piece up to speed without the right hand cramping up is to keep the entire right hand and forearm COMPLETELY relaxed at all times.

      I immediately began to practice this piece with a completely relaxed right arm/hand. However, it seemed even harder now than it did before. The principle behind the idea made sense to me though, so I persevered in hopes of future payoff, stopping over and over again to make myself relax my arm and hand -essentially trying to unlearn very tense playing that I’ve developed over years without even realizing it. Then, I laid off the piece for a few weeks, and am now back to working on it several hours per week. Suddenly last week, after several hours of painstakingly slow practice, stopping often to make sure I was not holding tension anywhere in my arm/hand, the practice began paying off. I started playing the piece much faster (and much less muddled), without really even trying. My arm felt as effortless as if I was dragging a paintbrush slowly back and forth across the keyboard, even though my fingers were moving quickly underneath. Finally, I’m about 50% up to speed, with several more hours of relaxed practicing left to do.

      This was a great physical experience for me in realizing the time frame we work in with language acquisition. If you watch a video of this piece by a good pianist (Valentina Lisitsa has a good video on Youtube), you’ll see how relaxed they are. Not only is it a paradox to PLAY this piece relaxed, but it’s a paradox to LEARN this piece relaxed. If I ever want to be able to play this piece up to speed and not risk future damage to delicate muscles in the hand/arm, I have to keep practicing VERY slowly and stopping immediately when I start to tense anything, until my muscle memory “remembers” to relax. Since this is the first time I’m learning to play something on piano with total relaxation, it could take me a year or more until I can play this piece up to speed without tension at all. And that is actually a good thing (even though I’d rather play it NOW up to to speed), because the total arm/hand relaxation I’m learning through this piece is helping me play better (more fluidly, with cleaner articulation, more artfully) for everything else that I play. SLOW, RELAXED, and REPETITIVE = the path to fluency.

      3. I do have one question, which I’ll post here b/c I’m not sure where to post it: For those of you who do NOT allow answers in L1, how do you get around that? Do you just require your students to answer using words they’ve already learned? How does that work if you’re starting with them from the beginning and they only have a handful of words? I’m starting to like the idea of barring L1 completely from the classroom (except for translations of course), but how do you do that? I’m sure there must be a thread on here somewhere about this. Can anyone point me to that/offer any ideas? Also, I want to avoid letting students ask “How do you say…”. Ben wrote in Stepping Stones about banning this question, and it makes sense because when I instructed my students to use that last year the only thing it resulted in was more L1 use and, in line with Ben’s point, students directing attention to themselves without furthering the flow of the conversation per se.

      1. Is this the piece?


        If so, Chopin was one sick individual. What if we taught that fast?

        I have an anecdote too, Greg. Before you were born, probably, we had a speed skater in an Olympic Winter competition, a guy from Wisconsin named Eric Haydn. Although he had set the world record at 5000 meters several times in other competitions, he had never won gold in any speed skating event at the Olympic Games. As he was rounding the last curve in the 5000, leading the pack in the final heat, he once again started to drift into the boards. In the interview after the race he explained that his coaches had told him that the only way out of a fall coming out of a curve (due to too much speed) is momentary full relaxation. If he tensed up, he explained, he would have hit the boards. He relaxed, the moment of danger was over, and he dug into the last straightaway in his last chance ever and won it.

        So Greg you are doing some good work there. Some really good work. Trust that although I point to the importance of relaxation, I can’t say that I am walking the walk. I talk a good game only. This stuff is big though, this hippy stuff, in that I don’t believe the method works unless we relax, to put it simply.

        I would love to hear some more answers to the L1 question. Someone wrote here at some point THE best answer I’ve ever heard but I forgot it and can’t find it now. For me after all these years I think that the best answer is to say no L1 but if an answer slips in at the beginning of the year I ignore the fact that it wasn’t in L2, even using it if it’s really good, but I focus those first weeks on no L1 answers. Since I use my word wall to start classes, the kids are able to access it after the first few weeks to answer in L1. Biggest mistake is to allow L2 answers. That’s all there is to it. It’s a gateway drug to hard core chaos in the classroom later.* All teachers who have chaos going on in their classrooms, I would guess, allowed L1 in small doses at the beginning of the year.

        *of course, the biggest reason, by far, for all that English blurting from the kids, all that chaos, is the teacher using English after the first week. In the first few days, really, we have to explain some things, but by the end of the first week, if we are still popping back and forth between L1 and L2, we are toast. If we can’t discipline our own minds on this point, letting go of all those cool things we want to say to them in those moments when we shouldn’t, then how can we expect our students to? Impossible. Of course, I am the worst on this. I can write about it in a comment but I can’t do it. So that is why I started doing this lately, and it is working, a Plan B on my own use of L1, if you will:


      2. Interesting read, Greg. Thanks. I’m left thinking about how students do need to train their minds to learn the language. The learning my come unconsciously but students still need to train themselves to be receptive to the language, and to be receptive for extended periods of time. I find it a struggle when I have half of the class unable or uninterested to receive the language. But with consistency on my part to stick to L2 and to go back and repeat or rephrase, I hope to keep my students consistent with their learning behaviors.

        Using L1 in class: often when kids start speaking in English, I interrupt them, saying, “Español. Español. Español. Español. Por favor. Por favor,” until they stop. If students use the “time-out” signal to go off in English, I show grave disappointment on my face. Often they want to make the story go a certain way and don’t want to be limited by Spanish. When they are done, I will say, “Now we are going back to where we left off.” I’d like to think that they are left with the impression that all that English didn’t help us any. Is it working? Well, some days I think it is. It all takes time, no?

  3. Or is that what you were asking Trevor to add? Sorry, that really was a dumb question….just anxious to start reading those articles.

  4. Ok, I see the benefit in reading in a chronological order the various articles. Maybe I’ll do that. Or, maybe not. Since I joined the group a couple of months ago, I learned by reading the full thread of comments on current articles. Inside many of those threads were golden nuggets of info with references to other categories on the blog. I took notes as I read through the threads. I still take notes.

    It’s the thoughtful writing from all the teachers here that help me learn the method. This teaching we do is certainly not something that can be delivered in a neat package by UPS. It gets understood through the thoughtful, caring, and often entertaining reflective writings done by our compadres y commadres on this blog.

  5. One more thing beginners should remember: TPRS, like Linux, beer and bluegrass, comes in many flavours. Blaine favours only stories; Ben likes his pre-story stuff (PQA,CWB etc). Lots of ppl like digital support (movietalk, educreations); Blaine is less into that. All you have to remember are 3 things:

    A) relax and slow down and have fun
    B) if you are in TL and kids understand and are tuned in, they are learning
    C) if there’s a problem, go back.


    1. “…TPRS, like Linux, beer and bluegrass, comes in many flavours.”

      I have been realizing this more and more as the weeks pass and I reflect on what’s been happening in my classes. I have one class where we have PQA’d for the full 50 minutes and another that just shuts down when I try to fire it up. It all depends on the group dynamic and I’m grateful that I’m able to sense the climate in the room on a much deeper level since starting with TPRS.

      The ideas and experiences shared on here are worth their weight in gold. I feel very lucky to be part of the PLC, even if I do tend to lurk in the shadows and read stacks of posts. A big thanks to you all!

      1. “I’m grateful that I’m able to sense the climate in the room on a much deeper level since starting with TPRS”

        Jason, your comment totally resonates with me. I know and accept my students as they are (rather than as I wish they would be, or the textbook wanted them to learn!) more than I ever did before CI. I feel that teaching this way challenges me to be a better person. It’s really richly rewarding.

  6. Sean on the map of PLC members, does Google Docs include overseas locations? Jason teaches on an island in Scotland (and he’s the only Gaelic teacher on the island, which I think is muy cool, because Gaelic must live on or there is no sense in this world.)

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