Q and A – The Ultimate CI Book 4

I’m writing a book to offer questions and answers about my new UCI books. Here are some examples:

Q. In the videos, you used a different poster than what I thought was supposed to be used. I thought I was supposed to use the question words poster but when using a student card to build a tableau you say to only ask the following…



With whom?

I am not opposed to asking more questions, in fact, I think it’s a better idea. I also want to do this for my Spanish 2 class so I think they will be up for more extended language. 

Can you comment?

A. Yes, you use both sets of questions as follows: The question words are old school TPRS and very valuable. But I don’t agree with asking a bunch of questions as they in what they call the outmoded skill of Circling, if you know about that. Circled questions come in machine-gun style and the students, once they figure out the pattern, aren’t processing comprehensible input but rather mechanical input. Why? It is because those circled questions slow the interest and lower the bar of interest muchly. Krashen’s Comprehensible Input hypothesis says that if the input is not interesting (in 2008 Krashen even revised his earlier findings when he suggested that “compelling” is a better word to describe what comprehensible input should be.

So yes, more questions are good! But if you really want to grab the interest of the students, you have to make the context consistently high interest, especially in the Create phase from which everything around the StarChart™ emanates.

So let’s say you start out trying to make a tableau from a student card, the moderate interest level. (Interest is higher when you build OWIs and interest is often approaches compelling with the ICIs – there’s a hierarchy of interest depending on where you start out, which of the three starting points you use in Phase 1.

(Of course, you have to start out with tableaux from cards because their simplicity allows you to get your bearings with all this StarChart™ work before actually moving, sometimes as early as a month or two into the school year depending on the class to OWIs and ICIs.)

Now to your question about the two sets of questions.


Each of the three methods you use to create the image in the Create Phase is done in its own way. We don’t build tableaux or stories from student cards in the same way we build them from one word images and individually created images (all explained clearly in the book). But what I didn’t make clear in the book and hope to clarify here thanks to your question is that the Question Word poster is to be used all the time everywhere, and this means when you are using any of the three ways of creating an image. So, the way to create a tableau or story there in the first way of creating CI (from a student card) is yes to ask those questions called QL1-6.

Thus, the question words should always be clearly visible to the kids because at any point during whichever of the three ways you are creating an image, that set of question words is what you use in the general flow of comprehensible input that you are generating at any moment in the Create phase. Y

Is it clear? You only use the questioning levels (QLs) when building a tableau or story. You always use the set of bigger question words whenever you are building a tableau or story, regardless of which of the three image-building tools you use in the Create phase of the StarChart™.

Now to your point about using the StarChart™ in your Level 2 classes next year. My own experience is that any kid who has been taught using the traditional method will rebel hard on this, not necessarily just level 2 kids – all of them rebel against the CI.

In Level 1 – you may not have noticed this – they figured out a way to “play” you by not really listening in class, not really getting involved and many just sitting there waiting for class to end  (I’m not talking about all your students, just the majority). They do this when the menu for each class is the same every day, the textbook and lists of words to “learn” (read “memorize”). They learn in level 1 that they can tune you out in class by memorizing the words that “you need them to know” but when you bring in CI into your level 2 classes they are going to rebel at having to actually focus during class. (See my article on Rigor).

If the kids really want to do some CI, slowly over the course of the year in the final ten minutes of each class do the StarChart™ “just for fun” stuff of CI. Gradually, when it is THEY who request more and more time with the Star during the fall, give it to them .TO START NEW WITH CI WITH ANY OTHER LEVEL THAN LEVEL 1 IS FOLLY.

Therefore it is my position that I only use the StarChart™ with my first year classes. If you want a 90% pass rate in a class of 35 seniors because they kept signing up for your class year after year because they like it because of the StarChart™, focus heavy on your beginners and let the other go. Even when word gets around the school from your level 1 students and parents that your class is interesting and when the levels 2-4 kids hear about what you are doing with your level 1 kids and they suddenly want to do CI, don’t give it to them. That’s my own opinion based on my own experience. Of course it may work for you. It didn’t for me.

Here is a variation question on the above:

Q. I finished Book I! I am still unsure about what to do with my Spanish 2 students but I want to do some invisibles with them. Do you personally think that it will not be challenging enough for them? Well, I explained how I do that above, but it also depends on what you did last year. If you did a lot of CI, it will probably work. If little CI, it will challenge them. I don’t know which book is in, but somewhere I make a point about the U.S. State Department’s definition of Rigor vs. what most people have thought Rigor looked like in the WL classroom.

Q. How do I develop proficiency with grammar and teach grammar with CI? (for instance, asking questions like “What is your morning routine?, When you were small, what were you like?) This is a question that has always puzzled me. I just don’t think, based on my own experience, that we can ask our students those kinds of questions, the morning routine being a prime example. It flies in the face of both the research and common sense.

What teachers try to do, and have gotten away with in the past, is to work from the false assumption that  a child can transfer a list of words having to do with morning routine, words they have likely memorized but not acquired, into speech. This is a dastardly thing to expect from a child or any adult wanting to learn the language as well.

When a teacher presents a list of words to a language student having to do with morning routine – or whatever thematic unit or semantic set of high frequency vocabulary that the district “needs the kids to know “in case someone comes in from another district” or “for the test” or for whatever ever reason the school can think of to justify the use of the textbook vs. how we know kids acquire languages – then the students are thrown under the bus. Why?

Research has shown that it is through the massive repetitions – taken in by the student while not even focusing on the words but rather on the message (as per Krashen) – here in this case of morning routine vocabulary – that the kids can only acquire those words over a really long period of time and then only then in a natural way (memorization and testing are not natural). Only when the kids are put in a setting where comprehensible input is used can they avoid being thrown under the bus. Only over long periods of time after thousands of reps on the vocabulary while focusing on the message can the language learner get command of those words morning routine words, etc.

But the way it’s all been done in the past is that the teacher in most cavalier fashion expects the child to know AND BE ABLE TO TRANSFER from a list to a test in the next week or for the common assessment (common assessments go against all we know about how kids acquire languages and the only reason we still use them in language classrooms is that languages have been made a “subject” in school It’s not a “subject” at all, but rather an organic process that can be compared to the fascia in the human body that runs thought the fabric of the body, separating and holding up in space muscle from muscle organ system from organ system, cell from cell, etc. The fascia is there, unnoticed, holding us up in space (It’s not the spine that does that – what holds it up?), In the same way, language is like fascia in that it runs unnoticed through the fabric of a whole community or society and that’s how we acquire it. We acquire it by not focusing on it but by listening to or reading the message.

One thing is certain. If human beings were expected to acquire languages in the way they are taught in schools by the memorization of lists like thematic units for a test, no one would acquire the language! So my message to language teachers is make their instruction more organic, so that the kids can simply focus on the tableau or story, and be given time. This puts them in alignment with the research and takes off all the pressure on both them and you. You don’t have to spend so much time grading and they don’t have to spend so much time tuning you out and then getting an A or a B just for memorizing a bunch of words that they don’t care about the night before the test. Spread out the exposure to the words you want them to learn to make it less boring so that they can actually acquire and not learn for the test via memorization only to be forgotten.

This point from earlier books is worth repeating. It takes humans 10,000 hours of exposure to comprehensible input to have even a handle on the language, and certainly not mastery. For non-Romance languages, multiply that number by two or even three. How much time do we have in our four year high school programs even if we spend the entire four years teaching in the language? 500 hours. Do the math and go out and aggressively STOP your district management from allowing them to put that kind of pressure on you and your students. If you believe them, you won’t last long in the profession because having just 1/20th of the time you need to truly teach the language to your students is a recipe for clinical teacher burnout. Learn to say no to the ignorant bullies who run our school systems. Stop being an empath and stand up to narcissist bullies!

GIVEN ENOUGH TIME, our students, over years, will thus be able to answer questions about their morning routine, or respond in real time to the endless possibilities involved in responding to standard greetings in the TL, which, when memorized or taught for a test in just a few weeks result in abject failure, is a real nightmare in terms of the research and what can actually be accomplished. You will see amazing results if you just wait for them, give them the time they need, tone down the tests, and teach in alignment with the research. Nobody can acquire – they can only learn via memorization (not actual learning at all) – a language when preparing for a test on a a thematic unit like morning routines, and yet 95% of teachers in the U.S are still using this hackneyed, outdated and insulting-to-the-students approach. It’s not 1990 anymore.

The way people have mixed TPRS/CI with the textbook has caused me to scratch my head for a long time now. It goes entirely against the research. It is o sad to see them do it, and it’s not helping us keep our jobs when these kids with good reason decide not to take our class the next year. It just feels wrong to students to be asked to memorize a list for a test and then be expected to speak it (transfer it from the list into speech in a few days). In fact, who can transfer speech from a list into speech in any language? It doesn’t work that way but it doesn’t stop thousands of languages teachers from asking their students todo  that on a daily basis during a typical week in middle and high school in the United States.

Q. How can I have good classroom management when I teach grammar?

A. Sorry. I know I recommend teaching grammar SEPARATELY from using the Star. I do that because one is boring and one is fun. Classroom management is a problem when we teach grammar. It is just so boring and so the only thing you can do is get through it as fast as you can. Remember, in our school systems here in the U.S they want you to cover it, but they never really care much about how many of the kids learn it, gain proficiency. In fact, since the system is designed and exists to favor the few. In our country there is a kind of superior elite group, usually the one with the white skin, who gets to prevail over students with non-white skin. So, as long as the privileged few (who are really good at memorizing because they start getting rewarded for that bigly so early in their academic careers and it just goes on and on until they graduate with 4.0 averages but really don’t know much at all) are getting high grades, no alarms are raised because the assumption in schools is that kids of color are not as smart as white kids, in general.

That’s the assumption and it perpetuates what we could call the “Big WL Lie” that those few kids who memorize everything for the test are in some way smarter and better at the language when in truth you could test those “successful” students on morning routine vocabulary six months after the test and THEY WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO do much of anything in explaining to you their morning routine because THEY NEVER ACQUIRED IT, BUT ONLY MEMORIZED IT and by the end of the six months it is completely inaccessible to the tricked student.

Why else would we have so many adults who say as adults that they “took four years of a language, even got As in it, but I can’t say a word.” There is a reason for that. It’s not that the teacher is bad, many are pulling their hair out trying to do it right, but they are using an outdated method that stinks.

If our profession existed as a business, we would all be fired because without results businesses fold and rightfully so. But since it “only” involves children, and since the language used in the U.S. is the dominant language of the world and so who in our schools even cares if the kids actually learn anything as long as the bosses keep getting paid and as long as the textbook lobby is happy? They don’t care because the system is designed to work by excluding certain students who for whatever reasons. The people in charge of education – not all but some who are deeply connected to the financial lobbies who control our economy – are perfectly happy that some of our students fail. It is all a result of the systemic racism at the very foundation of our country. Brown and black kids are not as smart or able to succeed, and that’s the way they want to keep it. If you decide to disagree with this, don’t contact me because I will return your objections with fire.

So to answer your question and I don’t apologize for its length because screaming this information to anyone whenever and wherever I can is what I do. The answer is to get through the grammar as quickly as you can. That’s all you do. In fifty years, schools will have figured this all out and there will be no textbooks – that is guaranteed – and teachers won’t be in the most ridiculous position they are in now, asking us to continue teaching in an archaic, outmoded way while also encouraging us to reform our profession.

What is really sad is the current state of affairs where the people who don’t want the old ways and the status quo to change are the exact people who are pulling our profession down into the old smelly mud are, insanely, the very people who are paid by the district to be helping us reform the profession. How can we grow as professionals if we don’t start teaching according to the research and the standard and just continue to focus – like we have done for so long on the four skills and high frequency verb lists and those stupid novels and lists giving morning routine vocabulary, etc. etc.?

Q. Should teachers gesture, too?

A. Only when they remember. I can never remember because so many other things are going through my mind. There is no requirement that we or the kids gesture. Indeed, when you transition and have internalized a lot of this new way of teaching, you will find yourself gesturing naturally, when you remember. That is when you are doing it right, when you are not putting any pressure on yourself to remember to gesture.

Same with the kids. There are two things to please (I’m asking for the kids) never to do when you use the Star: never force kids to gesture and never force kids to output speech. But if either one happens naturally in class, then that is in keeping with the research and therefore fine.

Q. When I upload the student drawings to my class page with the description of the story, do I write it in both the target language and English?

A. Not in English. and don’t gloss English in class either.



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