Cute Ideas – 2

Idea #2: The T-Shirt Phrase
Anne Matava’s students in Maine have a classmate named Biddley Flurgenjurgen. Biddley is imaginary. He goes to school with Anne’s students in the class’s imagination for all four years of high school, and appears and reappears in major and minor roles in stories all year, serving a lot of purposes.
In one story Anne created with her kids one day Biddley was shopping for his mother’s birthday at Hot Topic, and they tried to sell him a T-shirt that said I Pee my Pants. (This was just after a story about a dog peeing in the house.) Of course, that is one high interest phrase!
In another story a policewoman wore a T-shirt saying The Food in Jail Tastes Good. Language teachers know that the idiomatic nature of that particular phrase in most languages – “tastes good” – would make it hard for students to retain, but when it appears on a T-shirt, it is easy to for students to remember!
Anne explains that she has done this a number of times since then, and she says that every kid in the class knows, and rarely forgets, every one of the phrases that have appeared on T-shirts. She further reports: “It’s quite fun when you’re telling a story. You tell them that the character is wearing a T-shirt and then you ask them what’s on it and after some months go by they guess all the old standbys: I Pee my Pants, I Pick my Nose, I Can’t Stand it Anymore, and you tell them ‘NO, it’s not any of those, it’s ….’ For some reason that is big fun!” Anne has discovered that anything that is on the T-shirt will be remembered all year and probable for a lifetime.
Even if these T-shirt phrases aren’t essential learnings (what does that even mean in a language?), they bring into Anne’s classes a big dose of humor, reflecting what is in my view the most important aspect of the work we do using comprehensible input in our classes – creating a sense of fun through stories.
This T-shirt activity also conveys the idea that comprehensible input, to be effective, must be meaningful and entertaining, recalling Joe Neilson’s statement (Joe, along with Blaine Ray, founded TPRS in the 1990s) that “the essential three elements of TPRS are: comprehension, interest and involvement, and meaningful repetition.”

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