Question from Bernard

I got this nice email from Bernard that address the question of planning structures through all levels. Since I have never taught upper levels with TPRS/CI (I failed with a traditionally trained class once, badly) and also since I don’t plan anything, I defer to the group on this. Does anyone have an answer?

Bonjour Ben,

I really missed seeing you in Dallas. The time and efforts that you devoted generously during the nightly coaching session at the previous NTPRS conference were well invested and I found myself growing all year and being unprecedentedly successful in my teaching.

I do have a little question concerning my French curriculum. I understand how TPRS allows us to free ourselves from the textbook and I am lucky enough to be able to use whatever method I feel like in my district. I fully take advantage of this freedom and teach what I love, which keeps my passion alive… and that alone is very contagious in a class.

Nevertheless, I feel that I need to have a framework to work with, to know that I have some sort of continuation in the words/structures that I teach, throughout the 4-5 levels. Do you know of some lists that I could use for each level, which would show a progression in their complexity?

Thank you for lighting up the way for so many of us.




26 thoughts on “Question from Bernard”

  1. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak

    Salut Bernard,

    Yes it is a question that many of us having to teach upper levels share.

    I think that ideally one need not worry about which structures to use because it does not really matter since we do not control the order of acquisition, and it’s outside of our sphere of influence. So in the ideal world, (anything but a school building) as long as you provide the learner with CI through any of the medium at our disposal now ( TPRS, movie talk, You tube, RT, etc….), and trusting the net hypothesis ( i + 1) they will acquire language they are ready to acquire at their own rythm and level of development.

    If we can live with that reality, then we don’t need to worry about which structure comes first and next, because it does not really matter.

    But we are teachers, and we work in brick and mortar buildings, and we have superiors we need to convince, and we need to have some plan in mind right?

    So may be one way for you to start thinking about this would be to pick your readings, whether a novel, an article, song or whatever. Skim it for structures that seem high frequency or usefull and build stories around them, or do embedded readings .

    Also, have you considered trying Movie talk? It s the latest baby on the block, and has great potential. Look it up on this blog at :

    Michele Whaley is the expert and here is her blog :

    This may give you a framework for you to start planning.

    Bonne chance et A+ Bernard!

  2. Another source, if you are looking for upper level structures from the structural point of view rather than vocabulary, you may want to look at Blaine’s upper level books. Someone at NTPRS was talking about this. It may have been at an upper level workshop or it may have been one of our chats! Gary DiBianca’s power point from NTPRS is available. It’s a good template for backward planning from a piece of literature. We need to keep this conversation going! Thanks, Bernard and Sabrina.

  3. Leigh Anne Munoz

    Hi, Bernard,

    I only teach French 1-4AP. Teaching this way is so new to me, too; I wish I could help you! When you’ve figured it out, you can let me know, ok?

    1. Bernard Rizzotto

      Of course Leigh. I feel pretty good with my lower levels. I will keep you posted on what I’ll do for the upper ones.

      1. Bernard,

        I just started using Anne Matava [books I and II]/Jim Tripp stories last year, and the results were amazing. Since I only used 22 stories for French I, there are about 90 stories left. So, those remaining stories can be used for most of the active input phase (Mon – Wed) for levels II – IV.

        The structures listed in the intro for each story could easily be placed in a list, for reference.

        My students love

        — That might be good for Thurs/Fri.

        I’ll be curious what you do — can you keep me posted?

  4. Bernard Rizzotto

    Merci Sabrina. Your thoughtful comments give me some peace of mind…
    “If we can live with that reality, then we don’t need to worry about which structure comes first and next, because it does not really matter”: well said and that’s just the reinforcement I needed! I would love to have enough mastery to just go through the motion and not plan, like Ben said. However I fear of becoming redundant, unorganized, or not meeting some of the basic requirements of the school and the expectations of the parents in particular without a map to follow.
    I thank you so much for the advise; I already incorporate several of those techniques, when I find time to plan, but you pointed out that there is much more I can explore.

  5. A great resource for upper levels is
    If you subscribe, you will get a “newspaper” every day with a “front page” article and a few other rubrics, also available as audio. I frequently read through the articles, or listen and then read through, with my French 3/4 students, and many of the articles have led to much more involved explorations, group discussions, journal entries, etc. The only problem is that you only find out that day what the main article is, so I often check here in the morning, then spend some prep time preparing introductory or ancillary materials as needed, before an afternoon class. For example, there have been articles on the rights of children, the art of Keith Haring, different weather events, wars and conflicts, whether learning handwriting is uneccessary, etc. All current news. And what is really interesting is that the information / opinions are presented from a French or Eurocentric pov, frequently somewhat challenging viewpoints for my rural US kids. I highly recommend as a reading / discussion resource!

  6. Oops, I use the resource “petits citoyens” with French 2 as well as 3.
    Another way to organize your instruction is to decide on a really good book to read with your students, maybe one group book per quarter, then find additional materials that will coordinate with that book thematically, and use those materials to provide additional CI and give depth to your readings and discussions. For example, if you are taking 8 weeks to read through a book, one chapter every thursday, you can look (online or through your “stuff”) for materials that are related either to the plot or theme of the book, the historical time period, or even that relate to a particular linguistic structure encountered in the reading, and then, whether it is readings or short videos, or songs that you have found in the TL, or taking a more complex reading and approaching it through the embedded reading technique, you use those materials to deliver CI, to stimulate group discussions, to elicit personal written reactions, as a basis for dictations, to textivate, what have you. If you are using advanced Blaine Ray or Anna Matava resources, then that guides you for two or three days a week and the book stuff guides you for the other two days. If you decide to just “do the book”, then you use this for all 5 days: if you spend a few days in storytelling, use structures / vocab taken from that week’s readings; if you take a break from storytelling, you are delivering CI through structured readings / viewings / listenings, and use the opportunity to involve kids in meaningful discussions, written responses or even presentations. I am too haphazard in my planning to have developed a curriculum, and I like to leave a lot of room for following serendipitous tangents, but inasmuch as I have a curriculum, this is what it is developing into. The trick is to find books that can sustain teenagers’ attention and are also rich enough in thematic materials. I like many of the books published by Cideb for beginner readers. Probably, if you think it is a really good book and it doesn’t bore you, it will work for them, too.

    1. Naomi — It sounds like you are gravitating toward the same schedule I am thinking of trying. M-W stories, and Th-F online reading designed for juvenile readers in francophone countries.

      Have you used ‘Les Clés’? It reminds me a bit of ‘Petits Citoyens’ but it doesn’t have any listening resources. And, it’s free!

    2. “Room for following serendipitous tangents…” This is so nice and I don’t do that enough. I feel like a robot right now! As I am developping my schedule (I have block periods), I am now keeping this in mind: keep it loose, Bernard! Thank you for the advice and weath of resources you mention.

  7. Two days of:

    …online reading designed for juvenile readers in francophone countries….

    Leigh Anne we haven’t really highlighted this with Les Petits Citoyens and Les Clés. We’ve been talking about the published novels available to us. We have not added to our thinking (repeat: added to our thinking) exploring online resources for juvenile readers in TL countries.

    Kind of intense. To me, we need to pursue authentic texts online, and not just in published books. We need to prove it either way as being valuable to us in a new way, in a potentially revolutionary way.

    Forgive the repetition but I learn in this way:

    …online reading designed for juvenile readers in francophone countries….

    Have I explored online authentic resources for juvenile readers? No. Am I going to now? Yes.

    1. Ben, I just *have* to keep things simple for myself.

      Reading novels, as straightforward as it seems to be for many people on this blog, just never works as well for me as ‘Les Clés.’ I cannot begin to explain why this is so. Maybe it’s the limited topical nature of these readings. Maybe it’s the cool graphics on these sites. Maybe it’s the cute comments by real French-speaking kids at the bottom of each news entry. Who know?

      Novels, even easy ones, are a real hard sell for my students.

      1. My question, and I have admittedly not gone to that site yet, is if online things get wide and out of bounds on you or do you not find that a problem? And could you address that in terms of which levels best respond to Les Clés?

        1. One can read Les Cles in French or in English, albeit a clunky translation. Students reading the French could easily read the translation if the reading were out of bounds.

        1. Good question. I’ll try to answer. IMO — context is everything. So I have given you a bit of context below.

          In the past I only have experience with ‘Les Clés’ in last year’s level 3 (a mix of non-/semi- TPRS students) and last year’s level 4AP — same mix. In my upper levels, I have above-average suburban kids who are going to Junior College and local 4-year universities.

          The ‘Les Clés’ site goes a bit wide with nouns, which are often, not always, repeated within the text. The text is not a news report. The text is an exploration of a particular item in the news. The item is explored within the context of the French perspective and this, often, within a broader historical context, simplified for a younger reader. This perspective is particularly instructive if the news item involves something distinctly American, like our presidential election. The articles are so cleverly-written; they explain to francophone children a French perspective on what happens on the world stage, and presents such a positive, sometimes critical/sometimes lighthearted view of French culture. Personally, I learn hugely from these articles.

          Adverbial phrases are wide, and syntax is mid-high intermediate, which is difficult. However, the students love it. They ask questions. They raise their hand and get permission to speak in English. But come Monday, when we do a story, they can switch back to all French.

          At any rate, the seven or so AP students who are taking the AP test next spring need something along the lines of ‘Les Clés’ in order to have something to say in the Free-Response Question section on the AP test. ‘Les Clés’ is interesting and memorable enough to reference months later; my kids who took the AP French test last spring had to write a stupid FRQ on vegetarianism (OMG —what the what?). Just about all 15 of my test-takers said they referenced the ‘Les Clés’ article about the horsemeat debacles in France last year. They were thrilled — something we did in class, that was not in the AP test prep materials, was the first thing they thought of when taking part II of the AP test.

          I do think that the standard AP test prep materials are good. However, they are too laborious for my students to work through, and my students can’t even remember what they’ve just read 5 minutes later. So, I am seriously considering doing only ‘Les Clés’ during class time and offering to work in the AP prep materials after school. At least ‘Les Clés’ articles are fun, colorful and memorable!

          BTW — If I don’t do the ‘Les Clés’ article reading in class, and then discuss immediately, the whole process is null. Immediacy and relevance are the strengths in working with ‘Les Clés’ articles. For my kids, it would make a meaningless homework assignment.

          Doing ‘Les Clés,’ I feel connected with the francophonie. There is liveliness to the language, and a careful, nuanced approach to complex issues, such as the hostage situation in Mali last spring, and the complexities of the consequences of the Egyptian spring.

          For me, the reasons for doing it outweigh the reasons for not doing it.

          Unlike the PQA/Story/Reading/Dictation/extension schedule for the beginners, which is very Mary Poppin-ish [you know – Practically Perfect in Every Way!], the upper level approaches to learning must vary according the additional variables.

          Whew – I am tired after thinking about all this! I’m taking a break! ?

          Thanks, Ben for giving me a chance to contribute.

          1. Dude nobody noticed. Brigitte just posted a comment for the first time since forever it seems. And it was a pretty short comment at that. So this is really a great thing to hear from you Brigitte. I’ve been wondering where you have been. And now we need to send out search parties for Brian Olive and James Hosler.

          2. Sorry for the brevity – nothing gets past you, Ben ;-).
            As I said in my (somewhat lengthier) post about two weeks ago – in reaction to Sabrina’s great news – I’ve ordered a temporary brain purge for myself. But now I’m ready to jump in again head first. Right now, I’m just busy trying to catch up with everything that has been written over those past couple of months and all the great posts. It’s good to be back!!!

  8. I don’t know what level 4-5AP classes usually reach. I’ll post this just in case it helps. I’ve been looking into “Where are your keys?” lately. (It is a comprehension based method that emphasizes speaking from the beginning; it appears to work great with motivated learners who want to speak that early. I don’t know how it would do in a typical classroom.) They have what they call the Universal Speed Curriculum that they say will take learners all the way through ACTFL intermediate levels. Levels as WAYK discusses them are defined below.

    Novice: Tarzan at a party
    Intermediate: Get to the party
    Advanced: Tell all about the party and what happened there (past present future)
    Superior: What if parties were illegal?

    If you ignore the jargon in the document, I think it is a pretty good summary of the kinds of things that are helpful to learn. In their framework, learners pick what they are interested in and can handle, so (past a certain point) this whole thing may not all be done in order. Because of the nature of the method, I don’t think it includes nouns. Here’s a link: http:// I think it would be a great reference for TPRS people who are starting from scratch.

  9. I was just composing an email to Ben just around your question, Bernard…At my school we have to map our curriculum for the first trimester in an STA format-Standards-targets-assessment (summative and formative). I’m just wondering if anyone out there actually maps out curriculum with their choice of high frequency vocabulary and stories before jumping into the school year. It seems overwhelming to me to do so, but this is how specific I need to be with my curriculum. AND I need to connect these high freq. structures and stories to the standards and connect them to my assessments. One of the major pieces of feedback I’m receiving is around how I actually can quantify my students progress using these “power standards.” I have to be able to quantify my students’ progress and provide evidence that they’ve met learning targets. How are others quantifying their students’ progress? I have had students track their progress on free writes and an interpersonal rubric, and I’m going to track their progress on quizzes. We are diving into standard-based grading this fall, so everything needs to be laid out in the grade book before we begin. I guess I could just BS my way through it, too.

  10. Hee Hee! Too funny. I am at work now and it’s the first time I smiled today I think. I do want to know, though, if there is anyone out there who maps out their teaching of particular structures and the stories they use…this is what I’ll be working on the next 3 days and Im hoping not to completely reinvent the wheel.

  11. That’s what I’m still dreaming about – mapping out my structures. Every year, I reinvent the wheel, starting out all over the place. Taking a Matava script here and a Tripp story there. In the end, though, the kids seem to all have a very well-rounded idea of the language and their results on the FLACS (formerly proficiency and regents) exams are proof enough that it doesn’t really matter whether you follow a strict curriculum or take a more lax approach to your teaching sequence. All that matters is the CI.
    I agree though, that it probably makes planning easier to have it all laid out and planned ahead of time. One day….

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