Thursday, July 31, 2014

NTPRS--Movie Talk

As promised, today I'm going to talk about the workshop on Movie Talk. It was one that I was really looking forward to, and with Laurie Clarq and Michelle Whaley leading it, I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.

The session began with a short history. Movie Talk as an idea was developed by Dr. Ashley Hastings as a way for his students to ready themselves for college (once again, the download is available on The idea is that the students acquire listening skills quickly through teacher description of high impact visual input.  Once said, it became very clear through examples.

The idea of Movie Talk is that you let the students see a film with you providing the narration.  It's basically one minute of video to every three or more minutes of discussion.  It's important that you show a little of the movie first (but not the whole movie) so the students won't be concentrating on the video instead of you.  It's important that the movie is interesting with a gripping character or theme.  You should familiarize yourself well with the movie so that you can lead a good discussion that will keep the students' interest.  Prepare them as well--the idea of movie talk should never be confused with movie night. It's important that you have no subtitles or spoken language in the film. You are the language.  If there is anything that is incomprehensible, you have to write it on the board and make it comprehensible. Remember that the intent is not to enjoy the movie, it's to learn language. If the movie is good enough, the enjoyment will be a side benefit.

The first example was a film about a girl who writes her name on a wall across from a doll shop. The short is called "Alma", and it's terrifying.  To tell you how much input I absorbed, it wasn't until this moment that I remembered that I was hearing the input in Russian! No, I don't remember the words now, but I certainly did then.  The movie itself kept my attention, but Michelle made it better by rewinding and then helping us go through it again, piece by piece.  It started tamely enough, with a little girl playing in the street, skipping and jumping on curbs as she went.  We talked about the town, the houses, the snow, playing, and so on. Of course, few of us were familiar with Russian, but we all knew the words because the were on the board and constantly pointed to.

By the way, that was one of my biggest "ah ha" moments. It's not enough to gesture back.  You need to actually go to the word and physically point to it.  I'm going to get a laser pointer before Monday :).

As we continued in the movie, it turned from a carefree little thing to a horror story. As we became more involved, she would show us smaller segments and do more discussion.  We discussed this 5-minute clip (available on youtube) for at least half an hour, maybe longer.  I didn't feel bored or unhappy at all. The combination of the clip and the skilled teaching made that impossible.

Movie Talk is definitely something  I'm going to try this year.  There is more available at under

Happy teaching!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Learning Romanian with Alina and Bryce

Wednesday was the day I had been waiting for. Our landlords are Romanian, and I thought I would have a week of language training and then really wow them when I came home. Uh, that's how it was in 2006. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until nearly time for the conference that things had changed. Instead, Alina Filipescu taught us on Wednesday and Bryce Hedstrom interrupted the teaching with things that we were to think about--how could her teaching impact our teaching?

Well, I know that Bryce's section was all kinds of valuable, but I'm going to concentrate on Alina's.  I was SO excited to see the things she taught us.

First thing to talk about is simply the way she teaches. She does it all at the same time. She intermixes TPRS, TPR, and lots of techniques to get us where she wants us to be.  She notices when we need a "brain break" and will give us TPR to help.  She has various signals that she expects us to always use--one for "of course", one for "How sad," and so on. The one that we all waited for was "ridiculous," which gave us a chance to slap our knee and get up--but only if she did it first.

Another thing I loved (TOTALLY ABSOLUTELY TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH) was how she demonstrated PQA.  She did not make us tell her about ourselves. Instead, she got the reps by talking about famous people or things that were interested-like a cat with an interesting face.  I have always felt that PQA was my hardest thing, but between Alina and Karen Rowan, I feel that I can achieve success.

When we got to the story, there was absolutely nothing to fear, even though students are now expected to answer questions in complete sentences (at least the actors). Alina had little posters with everything we needed, and it was all at eye level for the actors.  For example, she had "he was", "you are" and "I am" together on a poster. Then when she said "He is a boy" and then came to the boy and asked "Are you a boy?" it was easy to respond "I am a boy."

Alina explained her technique as she went.  For example, she watched the class before asking the story. The ones who smiled were called on. The ones who were a little "busy" were actors.  She made sure that everyone felt comfortable, and due to the afore-mentioned brain breaks and class involvement, we were all participating.

After the story, Alina did 2 embedded readings based on the story. She did them volleyball style (see the earlier post on Carol Gaab's reading), and they were based on the story. She put them on the board and we read them together. They had blanks so we could put the names and places that our class had come up with. Everyone got to read the story at least once.

After the class, I thought about my experience.  Even a week after the conference, I can still remember some words, and I can read all the readings. I felt comfortable, even when I was one of the "students" chosen to come up.  I left feeling good about my experience, and I even want to learn more! To me, that's the sign of an outstanding teacher. Alina, I'm so glad I came! You rock!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 2: Reading with Carol Gaab

How do I begin? Carol is probably the most unique presenter that TPRS has. She is simply amazing: she has a story to tell, and she prefaces it by saying that she really doesn't have a story to tell.  She fell into TPRS in a search for good teaching, and it has led her to be a publisher, a presenter, a coach, and a teacher to the MBL.  She works with the San Francisco Giants, and she has the world series rings to prove it.  But when she speaks, her humility shines through. She talks about being caught by surprise, being in the right place at the right time. More than anything, she talks about grace.  A higher power led her here, and that higher power blesses her with what she has. As she speaks, you realize that she never forgets that, not for one minute.  I'm glad to count her among my friends.

Carol gave a session on reading. I thought that this was going to be another review of a subject I knew super well. Reading is my forte. I write stories, and my students read more or less effortlessly. I thought I would know everything that was going to be said. (By the way, that is something really great about NTPRS--you do happen on workshops where you already know the material presented. Believe it or not, that is a great feeling. It's called affirmation, and we teachers need it.)

Well, I was right. I knew reading. I knew the basics. I was comfortable in what I did. But Carol took us from the basics and far beyond.  I was grateful at the end of the session for what I had learned.

Now I have to start with a reminder: this was an all-day workshop. I can't possibly show you everything I learned. I can only show you a few things. For more, go to the website.

Carol began with reminding us of the five C's:  communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities.  Right away I realized that I have been good at some of this (communication and cultures) but sadly lacking in the others.  She illustrated different ways to make reading workable for our students. One of those ways was also demonstrated by Blaine and Von on Monday--I think it's called "volleyball reading". You seat your classes in groups of two (a class of 30 would be split up like this:
ONE           TWO         THREE
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x
x x              x x             x x

I have individual desks, so that's not hard to do. When you start, you read to the students in Spanish and then the students read to each other. The first student reads a sentence in Spanish. The second student reads the same sentence in English and then reads the next sentence in Spanish. This continue for (I think) two minutes, at which time, the students make a change. The "outside students" (for me, the ones on the left) move forward while the other students stay where they are.  You tell the first students that they are moving to the back of the next row, so the first student in row one will go to the back of row two, the first student in row two will go to the back of row three, and the third student will go to the back of row one.  That way everyone sits with someone new.

Now up to that, I'd already done. What I hadn't done was this next bit. You find out where each person had left off, and you start where the person who had read less finished. This assures that everyone will read everything, and it also provides extra review for the person who read faster. What a simple and effective idea! You get the students up and moving around, you keep them both focused, and you give everyone a chance to read with everyone.  From time to time you ask if both partners had finished both stories, and you stop when everyone has read them both through at least once.

Carol also showed us how to use culture and comparisons together. This is one of those times when I really wish I took notes (we were told that it wasn't really necessary--that there were handouts available online.  There are--go to and you can find them all). Unfortunately, that meant that I didn't bother to write down exactly what I learned. So I'm going to give an example from my sieve-like memory, and I invite anyone who remembers differently to write a comment so it can be cleared up.

Culture and connection is actually pretty simple if you stop and think about it. I did it without knowing that was what I was doing on the Pobre Ana PowerPoint (available through both Blaine and Carol's websites, and soon to be available on!).  I showed the house that Ana lived in--a normal house in Tepic--and then I showed a house a little distance away--quite different, a hut with no electricity and a 3-stone fire.  It's the same concept here.  You take something from the reading--John's dad is a doctor--and then you compare a doctor in the US to a curandero in Mexico. You can do this most effectively through photos.  You can talk about how they are similar and how they are different.  This lends itself to pretty much everything you read. For example, a boy wants a dog. Why would a boy in the US want a dog? As a pet (picture). Why would a shepherd boy in the Basque Country want a dog? To work with the sheep (picture). Why would a boy living on the street in Guatemala want a dog? For comfort and for protection (picture). The students are immediately given understanding of the way dogs are treated in different cultures within the L2 countries.

Now, this next lesson didn't come from Carol. It came from a Coaching for Coaches workshop that I attended on Sunday. But the lesson is important, and it falls under "cultural nuances".

At this workshop, there was a group of military teachers from Turkey. As the day progressed, I noticed that one of the teachers was becoming more and more irritated. Finally, someone asked him what he thought of the coaching so far.  I don't remember the exact words, but the meaning was very clear:  we were being offensive to him because of the way that we were offering advice (we meaning the various coaches). In his culture, you never offered up criticism to an elder or someone in charge in a group. You did it person to person, and with respect.

I know, you're thinking 'When will we ever have Turkish military in our classes?' Let me ask you this: do you have students from the Middle East in your class?  Do you have students with Hispanic or Eastern culture, even if those students don't speak those languages? If you do, you need to watch--you might be in danger of treading on culture there.

An example:  I used to teach in Bakersfield, CA, and I had a friend who taught in Wasco. Wasco's school system is so heavily made up of migrant workers that they take a month off for Christmas to allow the students time to return from Mexico. This teacher was a sub in primary, and one of the students was misbehaving. She called him over and started to talk to him. He stood in front of her, head down. She was used to respect meaning looking the teacher in the eye, so she called him on it. He said, "But Teacher..." "My name is Mrs. B-----!  Call me by my name!" So the student looked her in the eye and called her by name. He did it through tears.

My friend knew that I was a bilingual teacher, and she was still disappointed in the lack of respect shown her, so she told me about it that night. I told her what had happened:  the student comes from a culture where you show respect by looking down when you're being chastised.  You call a professional by his title because that is more respectful than his name. So in essence, she was telling that student to treat her with disrespect.  To her credit, she sought him out the next day and apologized.

So anyway, these are my ah-ha moments in Carol's class.  I really suggest you go to the website and look at her download. It's worth a read.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014


It's been so long! The last time I was at NTPRS (the national TPRS convention) was in 2006.  I wasn't able to go until this year, when my school graciously agreed to pay my way.  When I first came, I was kind of in a culture shock. So much had changed, and here I was, not knowing what that meant for me.

It is now Tuesday, and the week so far has  been a pleasant surprise.  I'm discovering that my own path with TPRS has pretty much changed in tandem with the group as a whole.  The things that are different--most significantly staying with the 7 most commonly used verbs until they're mastered--make good sense to me.  I am getting more and more motivated every day.  I am thrilled to be among friends.                                

You may wonder how I consider myself among friends if I came by myself.  Nobody else from my school was able to make it.  But I stand by what I say.  We all know and love each other for a variety of different reasons.  Here are just a few:
  • We all love teaching language
  • We all know that TPRS works better than anything else we've tried
  • We realize that like any other good method, TPRS "breathes".  It doesn't stay stagnant. It is aware of the needs of our students, and it changes as we discover better and more logical ways to meet those students' needs.
  • Many, if not most of us know each other by name, if not by sight.  We know each other through the Morelist, though the blogs, through the websites, or through Facebook. 
  • Many of us (not all, though) are united in a struggle to bring the best teaching we can, even though there are others in our lives who would rather we didn't.  And even though some of us, like me, are no longer in that situation, we can certainly relate, either through earlier experiences or through listening empathetically to their stories.
I am extremely fortunate.  I know that I am. I had the full support of my administration when I started teaching using LICT and LICTM, and that lasted for about four years.  I don't think I could have stuck it out if my administration hadn't approved.  By the time the administration changed, I was thoroughly convinced that TPRS was the way to go--so much so that I fought for the right to teach it.  I won that fight, though I later lost the war at my school and knew that I had to leave a bad situation. When I moved, I moved to a TPRS department.  I realize my good fortune in that.

I think that there is something else, something more important than anything I've mentioned before.  There is an attitude of love and respect for each other.  You can see it in the coaching classes, where the coaches remind us that we aren't here to criticize the person, just give help in their coaching style. You can see it in people in charge who constantly seek to make sure that the rest of us are doing well. I was grateful for that, especially on the first day of the convention, when my exhaustion and insecurity got the better of me, leaving me depressed. 

Some faces have gone, some faces have changed, but the mission stays the same; bring TPRS teachers the best and most comprehensive conference possible so that they can go home and share the wealth with the most important audience there is: our students.

Now that I've said all that, I am going to leave you with a story.  This is a true story; it happened to me in the conference in Vermont.

There was a girl named Meg.  She was at a TPRS conference in Burlingon, Vermont.  She was so excited to be there that she decided to try everything.  The first day of the conference, she was in a class that was learning German.  The teacher, Laurie Baird asked for volunteers to help demonstrate TPR.  Meg raised her hand and was chosen. She was so excited! She jumped out of her chair and ran down the aisle.

Meg had a problem.  She did not see the computer cord that was on the floor.  As she ran down the aisle, her foot caught on the cord and Meg fell flat on her face! Oh no, oh no!  She thought that she heard something snap, but decided that somebody broke a pencil.  She got up and sat in one of the chairs in front.

Later that night, Meg's big toe started throbbing.  She took some aspirin, but it still hurt.  She told her friend Lupe, and Lupe decided that the best thing to do was go for a walk. So Meg and Lupe went for a long walk.  Meg's toe didn't feel better, but she did get to try sweet potato fries for the very first time.  The next day was the immersion dinner. Meg decided to go to the German dinner, and she got to see the surviving Trapp Family Singers at their restaurant in Stowe, Vermont.  But Meg was too shy to ask for an autograph.

Meg had a great week, even though her big toe hurt all the time.  After she came home, she went to a doctor and--how terrible--Meg had broken her toe when she fell!  Even though she had a broken toe, Meg was still happy that she went.  She broke her toe, yes, but she also got to see the Trapp Family Lodge! She felt that the conference was truly wunderbar!


This is the first in a series of blogs about the wonderful experience known as NTPRS. It might be especially beneficial to those of you who are like me--I don't often get to go. The last time I went was in 2006, and MAN have things changed!

The first thing I'm going to talk about is the improved way in which we can get present and past in at the same time. It was presented by Blaine and Von Ray, and it's called "Events." Events can take place in the past, present or future, and they give you the opportunity to show the students rather than tell the students. Events are not to bring in new words; they give you a chance to get more reps on the words they already know. Anything new will be written on the board. I teach Spanish 1 and 2, so I will show you how I intend to use this with students in Spanish 2.

The idea of events is quite simple.  Let's say you start with a simple premise. There is a girl named Hailey. She used to live in Goose Gulch, Kentucky, but now she lives in Miami, Florida. An event will take us back to the past and let us understand why she moved.  So you could say, "Hailey, where do you live now?" She will answer, "In Miami, Florida." "Hailey, where did you used to live?" "I used to live in Goose Gulch, Kentucky."

"Class, why doesn't Hailey live in Goose Gulch Kentucky now?" You can get as many answers as you'd like. If you like one of the student answers, you can go with that. If you don't like the answer, you can go with one of your own. Let's say that a student said that there was a monster in Goose Gulch. I would say, "Almost.  Class, there was a giant goose in Goose Gulch!"

The difference between a normal story and acting out an event is that now you go back into the story and dramatize. You can bring up more students--townspeople, friends, relatives, and the giant goose--or maybe 2 or 3 giant geese. You can have the students talk to each other about the giant goose--where does it come from, what is its name, how big is it, etc. Of course, you bring in the info either by questioning or by introducing more info, then you feed it to the students.  Finally, Hailey and her family decide that they can't stay. They are going to leave.  Where do they decide to go? You can get as many answers as you like, but the final answer has to be Miami, since you've already introduced it. Your point in deciding is to explain why Miami instead of Lexington or Tucson or Bakersfield (It's obvious--the geese don't like Miami--it's too hot!).

Events, to me, do many things.  They give a story more interest, they give you lots of opportunity to use your students as actors, and they allow you a chance to use the present tense, to name just a few.  I'm planning to try this right away in my Spanish 2. In my Spanish 1, I might wait a few days, but I'll definitely use it in the first week.

Thanks, Blaine and Von, for your great workshop!

Next--reading with Carol Gaab.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sample of new 1st year book

Hi everyone! Again, it's been a long while since I've written. Sorry about that! But I have been busy! I'm writing a new PowerPoint (finally) for El viaje perdido, and I am almost finished with my level one SSR book.  Here's a sample of the latter.  I want to give a shout out to my artist, Sarah Kelly.  She's really good!

Hay un chico que quiere pasar la noche en una casa espantada.  Él va a la casa y se sienta en una silla.  No hay nadie.
There is a boy that wants to spend the night in a haunted house. He goes to the house and sits in a chair. Nobody is there.

El chico está sentado por quince minutos, y de repente un gato grande viene.  El gato es tan grande como un perro.  Él se sienta con el chico.  Tiene ojos grandotes y verdes.  No le dice nada.
The boy is sitting for 15 minutes, and suddenly a big cat comes in. The cat is as big as a dog. He sits with the boy. He has big green eyes. He doesn't say anything to him.

El chico y el gato están sentados por quince minutos.  Luego, alguien toca la puerta.  La puerta esta cerrada, así que el gato se levanta, va a la puerta y la abre con su cola.  Entra otro gato, aún más grande que el grande con los ojos verdes.  El gato es tan grande como un caballo.  Tiene ojos azules.  El chico mira la puerta, pero está cerrada de nuevo.
The boy and the cat are sitting for 15 minutes. Then, someone knocks on the door. The door is closed, so the cat gets up, goes to the door, and opens it with his tail. Another cat enters, even bigger than the green-eyed cat. The cat is as big as a horse. He has green eyes. The boy looks at the door, but it is closed again.

De repente, el gato grande le habla al otro gato. --¿Cuándo vamos a comer?--  El otro gato le responde—Martin no está.  Comemos cuando esté.—
Suddenly, the big cat talks to the other cat. "When will we eat?" The other cat responds to him, "Martin isn't here. We'll eat when he's here."

Los dos gatos se sientan con el chico.  No dicen nada, sólo lo miran con los ojos grandes. 
Luego, un grito: ¡Aquí estoy!  El gato corre a la puerta cerrada y la abre.  Un gato enorme entra. 
Es tan grande como un elefante y tiene ojos negros.  Se sienta con sus amigos y con el chico. 
         The two cats sit with the boy. They don't say anything, only look at him with their big eyes. The, a shout:  "Here I am!"  The cat runs to the closed door and opens it. An enormous cat enters. He is as big as an elephant and has black eyes. He sits with his friends and the boy.

Nadie le dice nada por unos minutos.  Luego el gato nuevo le dice--¿Cuándo comemos?  ¡Tengo hambre!--  Todos los gatos miran al chico.  –Martin no está.—
         Nobody says anything for a few minutes. then the new cat says, "When do we eat? I'm hungry!"  All the cats look at the boy. "Martin isn't here."

De repente, el chico se levanta y corre a la puerta.  La abre y les dice a los gatos –Lo siento.  No puedo esperar más.  ¡Adiós!—
El chico nunca regresa a una casa espantada.

        Suddenly, the boy gets up and runs to the door. He opens it and says to the cats, "Sorry, I can't wait any more. Goodbye!"  The boy never returns to the haunted house.