Since many of us are just starting up stories right now, I thought I would share this. At NTPRS in St. Louis a few years ago I went to Linda Li’s sessions all week. Below is the story she did each day and how she did it.
Characteristically, Linda went very slowly (SLOW-LI to use the term Robert has coined). We can never be reminded enough about that most crucial point about going ever so slowly. We can’t go slowly enough – it’s impossible. We should go five to ten times slower than we think we should, so that it hurts, and then we probably need to slow down some more.
More advice. We can’t be nervous about the fact that we may not have a story line or a script. We really don’t need one when using the particular verbs Linda uses when she demos TPRS – they are a genuis arrangement of verbs as you will see below. They work on first days with new learners and that is why Linda uses them at national conferences.
So at the start of the one of the sessions in St. Louis that year Dr. Krashen was sitting there with his coffee. I think Dr. Krashen does that because Linda tells him to. Linda, already in slow motion with a very happy kind of look on her face – one that signals that she is just enjoying herself – goes around the room using the verbs mentioned below in this order:
Dr. Krashen has coffee. [ed. note: you could just give a kid a Coke or something to make this work in your classroom]
Circle it. Everybody looks over at Stephen who sits there with a contented look on his face holding a vente coffee from Starbucks, as is his habit. Linda milks this. She doesn’t go flying to the next sentence. She hangs out with this image of Dr. Krashen sitting there. People cannot help but start to smile. They smile through most of the entire two hours of this. It’s awesome, this feeling in the room of the teacher being happy about someone drinking coffee, and it is what sets Linda apart from the rest of us – she takes joy in simple things. I went to her session every day that week because I wanted to see the source of the magic. I found it. It was in that sense of mysterious play and deep appreciation of simple things in slowed down time – a kind of slow motion attention to what was happening with one person in the group. It was about just one thing – Krashen holding his coffee. It is flirty and funny, as a man sitting in a group with a cup of coffee will become the subject of an entire two hour session.
Next, Linda says:
Skip (who in the session I am describing here was sitting across the room toward the back) looks at Dr. Krashen.
She circles it, same as above. As she does this, she turns and points to a pre-prepared posted list of all the words (question words, the word “has”, the word “coffee”, etc.) to make each sentence comprehensible, since this is not her own classroom. The words are on those big sticky note chart paper things on the wall behind her.
Skip wants coffee.
She circles that for a long time, but her demeanor makes it interesting in a way that one must see to fully appreciate. Since it is Chinese, every single person in the group – except Krashen, who has done this scene with Linda countless times over the years – is inwardly yelling thank you for each repetition. It’s what we learned with Robert Allen last summer in San Diego – we cannot get enough reps on the one word being circled. Thus, we can say that Linda Li, by casting her sentences so far in the simplest of possible sentences (Krashen has coffee, Skip looks at Krashen) is showing us mastery of this method by showing us slow simplicity of the slowest, simplest kind. And yet, we who worked with Robert Allen last summer, chill and Sabrina and the others, all agreed after those sessions that for us in the audience it was really hard to get the one word Robert was teaching us in Chinese – gives. We couldn’t hear it enough times!
Dr. Krashen gives skip coffee.
The coffee goes to skip’s hand via the group, who now have ownership in what is going on. And once skip has the coffee we experience a ton of reps on “gives”. Again, we cannot get enough reps of this new verb, and our brains are as loaded up as they can be with these three new verbs that Linda has given us: has, looks at, and gives.
That’s it. An hour has gone by in the most pleasant harmony, a harmony that defines Linda’s own teaching style, and there has not been a single word of English except the visual translation input from the charts behind Linda.
Linda has spent this time just clearly enjoying herself (I call that mastery), and, since she was enjoying this time so very much herself, so has everyone else. Linda uses the next – the second – hour to ask questions and do general processing work on only those words, always using only those words and never going out of bounds and never speeding up so that her input is 100% transparent the entire time.
In one session as a joke she brought in a fluent Mandarin speaker from a Chinese university who told the story way too fast and the expressions on the faces in the group – I saw this because I was freaked out as well – reflected a kind of mild horror as their affective filters rose like thermometers on a hot day.
When this session is over, I found myself walking around the rest of the conference thinking in Mandarin half the time, as, from time to time, the four verbs jump you like bandits from your unconscious mind, which is the Din.
Since we want to start the year with the best comprehensible input, we may want to consider what Linda does as described above for our first story, if we haven’t already started stories. Or, if we have, we may want to consider trying the verbs in this story anyway.
If we go slowly enough and enforce the rules at every turn, we will have a fantastic middle of the year with trained kids who know and like each other and respect every word that comes out of your mouth, at least 95% of which will be in the target language.