Report from the Field – Eric Herman

I did some kick-ass PQA this week with grades 7 and 8! I couldn’t believe the engagement I got! So many laughs. And it felt much more like real communication, more so than steps 2 and 3. I wish I had had a camera running. It was magical. And this has never happened with my PQA sessions in the past, which is one reason I was turned off to PQA.

In order to keep it fresh for myself, I do different structures for each grade. I prefaced it for the kids by saying we were going to just hang out, relax, and have a conversation that worked in the phrases on the board. And for the first time I did PQA with the kids (and me) all in comfy chairs in a semi-circle. I could totally do this outside while it’s still warm if I use a small portable whiteboard for any words that may have to be brought in bounds. The less it looks and feels like school, the better!

One thing that did happen occasionally is that there was a lot of energy behind one mini-scene and the students wanted to extend it into story, once a kid even directly asked if we could turn it into a story, but it would have led me out-of-bounds, so I would move on. In order to continue to get reps, I was creating OWI’s and 1-scene mini-stories. That advice to have structures that create conflict is one of the gems I’ve gotten from this blog. I was using Matava’s “Lazy” (works, boss yells at him, lazy) and “A Day in Court” (had to pay, went to court, believed him) and the structures were perfect. One naturally led to the other.

I’ve been doing 10 minute bursts of no-English with a Student Timer and the clock goes back to 0 if anyone speaks English, me included. At the end of the L2 burst, we just hang out or do a new short children’s song (La Cucaracha anybody?!). I’m loving songs, btw, and starting classes with them like I think Laurie recommended. Excellent way to start class, especially since I get kids trailing in over a 3 minute period. Those present are gesturing and singing. 10 minute timed L2 is awesome. I can turn my back to the group and no one talks. And I’m not afraid of silence. My kids have played the game a while and we’ve used the 2 words in English rule, but during these timed L2 bursts, there is no English. Maybe the 2-words are only really necessary to get them playing the game and should then be taken away. Because 2 words in English often led to much more English.

It’s clear how much my kids have progressed in comprehension (and output fluency), since the new kids are totally lost if I teach to the kids who have had me before, rather than teach slowly to the newbies.



16 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Eric Herman”

  1. Whooo hooo!!!! This is what I have LOVED about TPRS from the very beginning. There are concrete things that we can change and work with in every class and SEE GROWTH!! In ourselves and in our students. Better yet….the ideas for the growth and change come out of conversation with and ideas from colleagues who are doing exactly what we are doing.

    So glad that you had a great week Eric!! I’m doing some big thinking about my first period class these days…it’s a level 4/5 with great kids who don’t feel safe with each other yet…but we are working on it!! On Thursday I asked them to write to me about what they are willing to ACTIVELY participate in (since nothing I’ve planned so far this year seems to be on the list lol) and they said ….wait for it…READING!!!!!!

    I borrowed an extra bookshelf from a colleague and pulled out a pile of a variety of novels that they hadn’t read as a class. I gave them 10 minutes to go through them and pick one they wanted to read that felt easy but not insulting and they settled in to read…for 20 minutes!!! I actually had to stop them to get some other things done lol

    At first I worried that it would only take them farther away from being a “community”, but I could see that they were already taking note of who else was reading the book they had chosen, and luckily I was able to see that little groups of friends did not choose books together.

    I’m going to ask them to write “recommendations/reviews” of the novels that they can share with each other before choosing their next read.

    But yes…this is going to be a “teach for june” group. :o) No magic pill…just a lot of trial and error while bit by bit they grow as a community (I hope)

    with love,

    1. I have my 3rd and 4th year students reading novels for FVR. As they read I either read or go around and have them summarize the story in Spanish or the native speakers in English. At the end of a book they will make a mini poster that represents the book. I had one student finish and make one at home. These will be a little like movie posters to draw in other students. I also have the problem that they want to keep reading when the time is up. Although I really don’t see this as a problem but a delight.

  2. Let them keep reading. This is a true and solid answer to the question we have asked so often here about what best teaching is for the upper levels. They should just read if they want. Totally. Great point Melissa. It is hard for us because we think we need to be teaching, but when they sit there and read, they are getting far more than anything we could ever “teach” them. Now, we can and should take advantage of the common text to do all sorts of aural discussion after they have read for awhile, but if they are actively engaged in reading, I suggest that we never interrupt that. That is the fruit of the first two years of all that auditory input. I have always thought reading should be the big thing happening at the upper levels and you are proving it. Maybe not so much in level one, which should favor of listening, then a bit more reading in second year, and then a lot in three and four. I am rethinking the DPS suggestion of 50% reading at level 1. I think that wastes auditory time. And what should they be reading in level 3? Those texts we make them read in level 1 and 2. They will breeze through those texts and we will have saved so much time for listening by not making them read earlier. And of course as they read more they will become better writers. Speaking is just out of the question in a four year program due to the time factor we have discussed so much here.

    1. I don’t want to give my level 1 kids SSR/FVR time, but I WILL give FVRL time. My native-speaking wife is recording my class stories and MovieTalks and I have some TPRS novels-on-tape. (btw, why the heck are these so expensive?!). And I have mp3 players in my class for everyone. If they really are reading (and listening), then they are getting individualized CI and tons of it! More efficient than the CI when trying to teach the entire class. If you wanna see a Shared R&L procedure I’m using, you can check this out:
      The reading I used was easy for my returning kids, but not for newbies. My newbies got a lot out of it. 3 days later, I had a newbie correctly output “soy” just from hearing it in this activity! Also, it’s a very low anxiety activity.

      1. This is also a difference between elementary and high school – my elementary kids have been together for a long time and already know each other really well. There’s already a higher degree of safety to start with.

      2. (btw, why the heck are these so expensive?!)

        Exactly Eric. I understand they may have to hire a native speaker, but these should be way cheaper. And reproduce-able for students (maybe they are?).

        One other issue with the novels on tape is the speed. I’ve heard this can be solved by a certain audio program that allows you to adjust the speed, but I’ve never used these.

        Perhaps a solution could be for us to record ourselves each reading a novel, slowly, and then share with each other freely (copyright infringement even if we don’t sell?). These could be recorded in class with our students listening (no out-of-class work for us)… and even creating sound effects!

        1. I think that is copyright infringement. If we keep it within our own classrooms, then it’s probably still illegal, but I’ve heard of teachers recording books for their own students.

    2. “Let them keep reading.”

      I second that, big time. I had two girls in a small level 3 class a couple years ago who each read well over 10 novels, in class. I gave the few kids in the class options for a sort of “independent study” portion of the class, about 45 min of a 90 min block, and they would sit and read quietly for so long. Huge gains in those two girls (Much more in writing than speaking. Super anxious about speaking aloud, even in English.)

  3. Eric, I went with Laurie’s recommended song, the Como estas one, and my Spanish I students love it. Even the football players are singing loudly. I followed the recommendation to split off into partners and sing to each other (all together, though) and it was just what I needed this week. As for the 10 minute timing, okay, I’m in. Digging out my hotel desk bell to give to a student Monday. My second period class is still dead so I think if I honestly survey them, I have a chance of getting some feedback I can use. Otherwise they will passively blink at me the rest of the year. My seventh period joyfully yells answers out at me and creates glorious, crazy mini-stories. What a way to end the day.

  4. Eric, glad to hear about the magical PQA. Sounds like you entered the Pure Land!

    Re songs, I agree, a great way to start out class. I like to play one song for a week or two with my level 2 kids (and 3’s when I have them), give them the lyrics (twexted preferred… Where the hell is Duke Crawford?), and either just have them sit and listen and read (or sing along), or I’ll put up a few questions on the board for the kids to answer while they listen. I’ve taken ideas from several teachers to inform how I use songs in class, so none of this is my ideas.

    1. On songs, I’ve embraced Spanish Nursery Rhymes. Authentic. Check. Culture. Check. And they’re short and so less meaning to establish. Then, we decide gestures for everything possible. Kids have to gesture with me, but they don’t have to sing. So far, nobody has complained about my singing! hahaha. We now have a repertoire of 4 different songs and we re-gesture and sing any of these at the start of class and as brain breaks. I’m doing a new song at a rate of 1 per day. When I present it, I have 2 columns – L2 one side, L1 other side. And I find a cute 1 or 2 videos on YouTube. The whole process for 1 new song only takes 10 minutes.

      1. I love the nursery rhymes, I just don’t know many. That should be a conference session at a future conference. I don’t know why, I just need to learn them IN PERSON, I’ve never been able to acquire them only thru video or audio. Something about communicating with a machine…

        Re using pop songs… I like them for my older kids because they are “cool”. Incomprehensible for the most part, but surely there will be a part or parts that they will understand and keep singing, and mumble the rest… this is what I do in English too!

        Also, they might like the song and download more by the same artist (this happens sometimes). Plus, they will see these people in the news, perhaps. And, I can hang up the picture of the singer on the wall and bring them into stories/PQA. (seach “Wallflowers” on this site for a description of this).

  5. Great report to hear, Eric! If I’m not mistaken, you said last year that PQA was the one area you felt wasn’t working for you as much as the other stellar things you do. Sounds like you’ve made it work now. I hear you saying that you’ve made it work because you are doing OWI, 1 scene mini-stories, 10 min timed bursts in L2, do different structures for each grade, sit all in a circle (including yourself), and avoid all English, even one word answers in English.

    I’m taking note!

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