Spring Is In The Air – 3

So here is my plan for the spring. As stated, its first priority is my own mental balance and not the delivery of as much CI into my classroom as possible, which I see now was a serious mistake that I have made with TPRS for the past fifteen years, because it caused me to put my job over my general sense of well-being. (It didn’t help that CI was so interesting, so game changing, as the game has played out for many of us!)

This is just an initial testing phase, of course, and is not intended for anyone else’s use but my own, since there is no “one way” to do TPRS. It is offered in the spirit of shared inquiry and welcome healthy dispute that marks all of our discussion here.

This plan is geared to an 85 minute block class but of course can be adapted to fit classes of any length:

First part of class/ Part A:

1. We start class as many of us do with SSR of our current novel. (I just don’t believe that FVR works in schools, except in certain fairly uncommon conditions. Teachers who are new to TPRS can search SSR/Silent Sustained Reading in the search bar for details.) The usual rules apply but as we have decided here in recent months a ridiculously easy text should be chosen. Each class starts with ten minutes of silence, after we have quickly settled them in and together decided using English on what passage to read. (The fast readers can read ahead as far as they like during this period but are still responsible for discussion and quiz on the decided upon passage – which can vary from a few paragraphs to several pages – to be given at the end of the silent reading period.) The pages chosen should easily allow the slowest readers in the class plenty of time to prepare for the next two steps of this first section of class. We do not teach for the few. While the kids are reading I settle in over at my desk to rest a bit, check the blog, and write a ten question yes/no quiz to give after the 5 – 10 min. (or longer if I want) discussion.
2. Next, we have our 5 to 10 min. of discussion of the text in the TL, with no use of English translation at all. (New readers here please search “Read and Discuss” and “Reading Option A” for some articles on how to discuss a reading passage using comprehensible input.) Since we have chosen a novel and a passage that is almost effortless for all of our students, we don’t need to do any translation. (Translating passages is ok as a part of ROA, even though it is not CI and therefore has little actual pedagogical value, but these days I don’t ever translate during SSR and I only translate when I use ROA – after the creation of a story – because it eats up minutes and gives the kids a bit of confidence for the Read and Discuss/Teaching from the Back of the Room part of ROA.)
3. Give the quick quiz. (New readers here please search “Quick Quiz” in the search bar for what has become for many of us THE best formative assessment tool we have.)

In my view the above three simple SSR steps are a GREAT way to start any CI class. Class can start slowly with little effort on my part (“it’s all about me”) and everyone, students and teacher alike, can enjoy the quietude. And the time is not lost at all – if we do SSR for ten minutes five times a day, we pare our own instructional day down immediately by 50 minutes, which over the course of a year is 150 hours! Not to mention that those minutes are all in the form of what we all know is the best form of CI out there – reading!

Sometimes we need to learn how to just shut up and let them read. What is more important, my CI plan or my students reading authentically in silence? Very often students who are clearly deeply engaged in reading complain, sometimes bitterly, when I tell them it’s time to get back to class, so I don’t stop them anymore when they are on a reading roll. We all have had classes where they even read silently until the end of the period, but that only happens with the right SSR books.

Sometimes I play classical music during this time, to slow the kids’ brainwaves down, as per:


Or sometimes I play one of those “Three Hour Meditation” music selections from YouTube while the kids read. One that I find particularly relaxing for me and the students is this one:

Observations about doing the first part of my CI classes using SSR in the above way:

When the kids’ minds are fresh and they are listening to wonderfully relaxing music and when they are reading at a level well below their abilities to start class off, many good things happen. Confidence is there. They are reading for meaning (the purpose of all CI) and not to be “challenged” to consciously decipher and decode the words in front of them. (The first – reading for meaning – is an unconscious activity and fully in keeping with Dr. Krashen’s research; the second – studying the words on the page to try to understand what they say – is a conscious activity that doesn’t align with comprehensible input theory at all.) After the reading, the L2 discussion with no translation part of class keeps the flow of the TL going. Ending this part of class with a quick quiz keeps the kids honest.

Before you know it, your CI classes are almost (or more than!) half over and all you did up to this point was have them read silently, then talk with them about what they read in the TL for awhile, then give a quiz. The kids feel confident because of how easy it is for them to read the text, and then during the discussion, since you are such an expert at SLOW, no fast processors can hijack the class, and then the quiz eats up more minutes and requires kids when they come into class the next day to take the SSR reading and discussion seriously.

All we have to do to add to the above is make sure we are frequently using the classroom rules:


So that is what I would like to do everyday to start class for this second semester. It’s a plan anyway. I think it should test out pretty well in the next few weeks. SSR has been tested so successfully here over so many years anyway, and so we know that, no matter what, starting class with SSR as described above is probably going to be a good strong start to our offering excellent CI instruction with minimal hassle for us and therefore will keep us close to the cherished idea that our mental health should always come before trying to be the best CI teacher in the world.



24 thoughts on “Spring Is In The Air – 3”

  1. If any German teachers can recommend things for students to read that are well below their level, I’m all ears.
    Love this idea.

    1. I used to start class by having students choose to read a story or me doing a read-aloud of a story we had already done earlier that year and then asking some oral comprehension questions.

      Now, I’m thinking of purchasing a set of LICT Student Workbooks and having kids start class by reading one of the stories. We’d go through the book in order, starting with Lesson 1 of Chapter 1.

        1. You didn’t miss anything, Bryan. Look I Can Talk is the original Blaine publication of a series of stories that were really the first attempt to make a product out of TPRS, along with Pauvre Anne. It came out of Blaine Ray Workshops in about 1999 and proceeded to confuse the hell out of tons of people, because they had to attend a workshop to figure out how to use the book. Karen, wno was working for Blaine then, just handed the book to you after a workshop and told you to buy it and use it. At least that happened to me. Most of the stories were pretty bad.

          We have come a long way since then. We have realized that TPRS is about personal expression of things relating to the kids in our class, and cannot be bottled and sold as a product. LICT just watered down the quality of the CI so much, making the class more of an exercise in bad circling and low personalization.

          Yet, many of us cut our teeth on it along with the equally restrictive Raconte Moi stories from Carol. After about ten years of those books dominating TPRS, they just disappeared as people realized how restrictive they were in terms of what we now know CI can be – so much more personalized and free. Most of the really great teachers resented the heck out of those books, and early on. I remember that group of teachers in Maine, as Anne Matava reported to me once long ago, had a book burning of LICT when they realized how it was limiting the creativity of their stories. I don’t know if she was speaking metaphorically.

          That’s the short answer to your question, Bryan, with no apologies to anyone, because everybody I know pretty much agrees on what a nightmare LICT was, perhaps because it was conceived for profit, and thus limited creativity, as happens when dollars enter into great ideas.

          1. LICT has the highest frequency and vocabulary controlled stories I know of. They are not compelling stories. The only book with higher control on high-frequency language I know of is my Speed Reading book, which is also way more compelling.

            But even the boring stuff becomes compelling when it’s personalized and customized to a class that plays the game, offering silly details.

            I only intend to try to use LICT as a 10-minute read and oral comprehension check period. Like a warm-up or a confidence-builder. And we’ll get lots of reps on the highest-frequency language.

          2. Eric said:

            “I only intend to try to use LICT as a 10-minute read and oral comprehension check period. Like a warm-up or a confidence-builder. And we’ll get lots of reps on the highest-frequency language.”

            This is exactly what I did with your stories Eric! I still have not used the speed reading progression, but the stories are excellent for SSR. The stories alone are well worth the price of the package. Super compelling because they are about characters and people kids are interested in.

            I will try this again, tightening up the process as per this post: pick out a passage to discuss. What I did was a bit too loosey-goosey. The reading was similar but then the follow up to reading was variable. I like the consistency of 1)read 2) discuss 3) quiz. Also great reminder about fast readers reading ahead AND also being ready to discuss the specific passage. I tell them they can read ahead but I don’t always specify “we are all going to discuss page 27 as a group.” Specific clear directions!

            Now that I think of it, I am pretty sure I’ll be able to get level one beginners and grade 8 exploratory kids reading these if I am strict with myself re: sheltering and SLOW-ing. And for the first week(s) while we are building the auditory foundation, I can always type up the “journalist” notes so that the kids have something to read. Maybe I will start out with 3 mins of silent reading and build from there.

    2. Arme Anna by Blaine Ray is well below the reading level of German 2 and up. Brandon will einen Hund by Carol Gaab is also below anything other than German 1.

  2. I’m loving what’s available to Spanish (as I’m now 17 hours of CI into teaching it), but I’m getting pissed that we have a dearth of Novice reading materials for Latin. What’s worse is that Latin teachers are quick to criticize rather than help solve that problem and just write some understandable Latin!

    1. Old habits die hard…and sometimes hardly die, if at all. Isn’t that why they took Latin in the first place…to be a cut above the rest and not have to mingle with the masses?

      BUT…I think your comments apply to some Latin teachers who are not a part of this blog. But things are a changing, Lance. A Latin teacher who is adopting spoken Latin and apparently moving in the direction we haven chosen is the new MAFLA TOY (Teacher of the Year) and the ACTFL TOY. Rachel and Miriam are working on new stuff in the Latin state of Atlanta. World Series winner, Carol Gaab, was impressed by the Latin at the the National conference and sounds serious about publishing Latin materials. It is a matter of time.

      I challenge you and John B, John P, David Talone, David Maust, and James (or any other Latin teachers here) to write and share novice materials. If you each shared one novice reading weekly or fortnightly you could probably create sufficient materials to to keep you going for awhile.

      1. I also challenge Anne and other German teachers to write more specifically German materials. We can’t make Robert do all the work. We have said all along that if we want language specific materials we have to create them ourselves.

    2. …Latin teachers are quick to criticize rather than help solve that problem and just write some understandable Latin!….

      I don’t think it’s that easy. I have followed furtive efforts here on the blog for many years now by John Piazza and others to create something useable in Latin. But with jobs and families, it’s just not getting done. I know that Latin Best Practices – founded by John and Bob Patrick – has a lot more information on current available stuff than I do.

      Carol and Karen have both gone into stop everything mode to create their books. Karen rented a house in Costa Rica to write Isabelle and didn’t leave until it was done.

      The point that we need to produce materials fast is sure a good one, though. I am willing to offer this site to test anything. If anyone wants to use these airwaves to test or share anything they are developing, just send it to me. We may find something that is now sleeping that we can really use, so don’t be shy.

      1. I am not sure this is “share worthy” but my students write books in the target language. Sometimes, they write independently and sometimes they dictate to write words for a wordless picture book. We’ve done The Arrival by Shaun Tan and it’s a lovely story and worked so beautifully for my English Language learners. I’m going to possibly try out Robot Dreams by Sarah Varon in my French class. This does not fit into your lesson above where they are “reading” but it could if the teacher added ability-appropriate text (or I used higher level students’ text –they were proud to be “published” if only in my classroom library).

        I agree that sometimes you just have to write your own text to get exactly the words your kids are familiar (particularly when teaching high frequency words).

        1. By the way, the wordless picture books I chose are full-blown graphic novels- at 150 and 200 pages each, they allow us to stick with the same themes and characters. And they are both really moving and beautifully done.

          1. Thank you Claire! Someone recommended The Arrival a couple of years ago. I bought it and have not used it yet. Can you describe your process? Do you work through it orally first? Do you supply text at the get go? Embedded reading? I can see all sorts of possibilities with this. Would love to hear what you did.

            I will check out Robot Dreams too. Another one that I love (more of a short story / picture book) is “A Day A Dog. “

          2. I loved the Arrival. I used it with English Language Learners, so I used it create a shared experience for my students of all ability levels during our whole group time. Then, I would break up into small groups and have the advanced students (note that ELLs get really advanced–like native speakers who’ve been studying English full time since Kindergarten–so this doesn’t apply to foreign language kids) write a letter home from the perspective of the main character. They also had discussions and wrote about their (or their families) experiences’ immigrating. When I got them in small groups, I was able to help them with their writing and even sneak in some grammar; but they generally like the book and enjoyed sharing their experiences. The final writing was beautiful. (I would caution other ESL teachers that not all ELLs feel comfortable sharing their stories–sometimes parents even get upset or tell kids not to say anything, so give kids the option.)

            I keep my beginning students longer, and with that group, we did the full-blown TPRS stories that used vocabulary and themes found in the text. I used Tripp’s Scripts (like “Come Here” and modified “Where’s the Bathroom When You Need it”) and I tried to recycle target structures and relate stories to the Arrival. For example, we read and circled the word “bed” in the scene where the main character is settling into a sketchy bed with critters everywhere. Then, we told the Tent story (posted on this blog around Halloween) with the word “bed” (not tent).

            After each story, I gave kids hard copies of the books and the “super-sticky” kind of post-it notes and let students (if ability appropriate) either write with a sentence frame or write independently, sticking it on the page like a caption.

            This won’t work with Robot Dreams, but with The Arrival, I projected the images (somebody arranged as a slideshow on youtube):

            I projected the clip, hit “mute,” and paused and circled like a MovieTalk.
            In hindsight, I should have written the author first to ask for permission, as this is copyrighted.

            There’s so much you can do with the story… I could go all day, but this post is already pretty long. In sum, it’s ripe with possiblity.

          3. Claire if you get some time could you expand on the above process? I would like to add it to the Primers section of this site. We have so few documented situations where TPRS effectively meets ELA. Any document you might write could easily become a must read for ELA teachers interested in the TPRS/ELA connection, that murky land that someone at some point is going to have to go into and clarify for the rest of us, and present to the general ELA community worldwide, which is about the size of the planet Jupiter next to Pluto in terms of numbers of students between ELA and WL.

          4. I would love to email you some of my thoughts on the subject of English as a Second Language and how TPRS can be used to provide comprehensible input. Whether it’s worthy of being posted on your blog… I’m not sure. Thank you for asking.

          5. Nobody seems to be addressing the great chasm between WL and ELA, which seems to widen every day, as WL moves more and more to some form of CI each day but ELA seems to be not moving at all. Or so that’s how it seems to me. So Claire please send something to me and I’ll share it here and add it to the ELA category of articles. I think you may have gotten a decoder switch on TPRS/ELA by the fact that you do both. The ELA world is not aware of what we are doing. We need to do something about that. We can’t just sit on this gold mine of ours, that, with a little effort at diplomacy, has the potential to help so many kids!

          6. By the way, because there is no easy MovieTalk option for Robot Dreams (although maybe if I hunt down a document camera…?)… I have decided with Robot Dreams to give students the text from the get-go. I’ve got student aides and post-its and 1 example copy of what words go in the text, and I’m ready to assemble a classroom set of texts. I’ll try it and let you know if I survive the text-assembly and how it goes.

    3. The Latin teachers now being replaced are stuck in their head. They are being replaced by Latin teachers that blend mind with heart in their teaching. The former have nowhere to go now but out. How do you say hasta la vista baby in Latin? Vale infantem? No offense but it sounds better in Spanish when mixed with a heavy German accent.

  3. …World Series winner, Carol Gaab, was impressed by the Latin at the the National conference and sounds serious about publishing Latin materials….

    And not to forget that Carol has invited Latinist Justin Slocum Baily to be a presenter at iFLT this summer, as per the iFLT website:

    Justin Slocum Bailey is a longtime learner and teacher of Latin and other languages. When he’s not combing the planet for compelling, comprehensible content, he operates Indwelling Language, a collection of resources and habits for boosting joy and success in language learning and teaching. Justin trains and mentors teachers and learners worldwide while helping schools, publishers, software developers, and nonprofits be even better. He also serves on the board and faculty of the North American Institute for Living Latin Studies and is the adapter of the forthcoming Latin edition of Brandon Brown Quiere Un Perro….

    1. These past few months, Justin has written a slew of blog posts on CI in a well-informed, yet accessible and fun way. I don’t know if he’s been out there doing so for years, but I just found out since last summer. Really some great stuff.

  4. As a “recovering grammar-translation” Latinist myself, I can tell you that it’s going to be delightful to see the transition in Latin teaching over the next few years. It will take time, but eventually all Latin classrooms will be alive with communication and joy. Here’s my favorite part though: with no native speakers, an organic re-discovery of Latin will take place in which all Latin teachers from across the world contribute to the enrichment of a language that is considered by many to be dead. What a beautiful thing. We just need to get working on more comprehensible and compelling readers for the lower levels!

  5. Ben, this is really resonating with me this morning. I had two Come-to-Jesus talks with my 8th grade classes yesterday about the importance of staying in the language during our too-short 40 minute classes. They are so distractible, and doing stories with them is a pain because any little thing that crosses their mind come out of their mouth in English, and I have to stop class to address it.

    But we read Patricia va a California last semester, and they actually enjoyed it and are looking forward to a new novel. I thought I would do some stories to front-load vocabulary, but now I’m thinking I’ll just plunge in with SSR and discussion and all of that easy CI.

    On the plus side, I’m teaching honors III and IV for high school this semester, and it has been truly refreshing to be able to do stories and R&D the way it’s supposed to be done, with students who are listening and responding in the language and staying with me on little PQA sidetracks from the text about annoying behaviors in movie theaters and stealing their parents’ cars.

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