Civility Online

I agree that we absolutely need to support new teachers in their quest to become better practitioners of TPRS and deliverers of CI. I felt very badly that people were called bullies on this list serve, and it’s been sitting in my craw for a few days now–and I wondered why it was bothering me so much. Still working that out for myself. Not here to judge–just curious about the use of the term.

My thoughts:

I have seen zero evidence of bullying on this listserve. 

I have seen difference of opinion.

I have seen disagreement.

I have seen the usual human difficulty in interpreting people’s intentions when using the written word to communicate ideas in an online format.

I’m not even certain I’ve seen rudeness, much less bullying.

I have noticed very distinct communication styles between men and women on this list–that’s a whole other topic.

Perhaps clarifying the definitions of a some terms might help.

Here are some comments culled from an article on the subject of bullying by Inge Whitson, psychotherapist. The full article can be read here: Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying: Defining the Differences

Rude = inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. Incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone.

Mean =  involves “purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).” Unlike unthinking rudeness, “mean behavior very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone….Very often, mean behavior is motivated by angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down.”

Rudeness and meanness are different from bullying in important ways that should be understood and differentiated when it comes to intervention.

Bullying = “intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. People who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse — even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop.”  Here are some examples: social exclusion, hazing, or rumor spreading, and cyberbullying. The key aspect to all of them is the ongoing nature of the behavior, which leaves the victims feeling powerless and fearful.


Un Regalo Especial

Los Diablitos Amorosos

In a TPRS class, the teacher introduces a small core set of focus verb phrases to students. After making certain the student(s) understand(s) the meaning of the verb phrase (written translation, gesture, picture, etc.), the teacher asks customized or personalized questions of the students in the Target Language so that

  • the phrase is heard many times in context,
  • students understand the meaning more profoundly from being used in context,
  • ideas start to bubble up from the students’ comments during the questioning which can be incorporated in a story.

Continue reading “Un Regalo Especial”

Big Changes, Little Changes


I lived in San Francisco, CA in the United States all my life until January 1, 2014. Since then, I have lived in México. During that time, I have lived in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Mérida and now, for the last four months, in the state of Jalisco, México near Lake Chapala. After receiving permission from the Mexican government to work independently (no easy feat), I started my own business teaching language to private clients. As you know, I teach with comprehensible input techniques and specifically with TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storyasking).

I had always taught in a school setting and with large groups of children, young people or adults. Now, I work with individuals and small groups. This setting is making me a better TPRS teacher. I see immediately what works and what doesn’t. I have never been MORE convinced of the efficacy of using Comprehensible Input to help students acquire language.

This blog is changing.

  1. If you teach Spanish or any other language and want to learn more about CI and TPRS, this blog may help you out.
  2. If you are interested in Mexican culture, this blog may help you out.
  3. If you are interested in visiting México and becoming more fluent in Spanish, this blog may help you out.

So, here we go.

La Fuerza de Voluntad – Focus!

Good focus, for students in CI classrooms, is key to their successful acquisition of their new language. Not only is it a challenge for students to focus, it is a challenge for the teacher to help them focus without constantly nagging. What are good strategies to keep students focused on a language that is not always 100% comprehensible to them? How do we help them develop that exquisite attention they need to make the language gains we desire?

The mind naturally wanders–often. As an adult, I have enough awareness and mental discipline to regulate my attention toward things I judge important–bringing my attention back over and over to what it is I want to know. Kids, with poor attention regulation, don’t have that. What can we do?

An excellent psychology teacher from Stanford, *Dr. Kelly McGonigal, has written an article about children and focus. She has a simple idea we might try in our own classrooms with our students.  Do you agree that this could help?

When are times in a reading class where we might use this strategy? How could we keep it from becoming just another nag?

Mr. Willpower/Sr. Fuerza de Voluntad

*Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is the author of The Willpower Instinct (Penguin 2011) and Yoga for Pain Relief (New Harbinger 2009), a psychology lecturer at Stanford University, and a senior teacher for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

She’s Put Me Out of Business

Mira does it again!

Need I say more? I think everything you might need to help you with a novel is right here in this manual. I haven’t been working because of complications from hand surgery in April–but, when I get back, purchasing this will be the first thing I do. Can’t wait! Hope to post about using it with Agentes secretos y el mural de Picasso in the future.

Fun Prep for UNANNOUNCED Quiz

I was just reading something that Carol Gaab wrote about “mixing things up” in your classroom–always trying to provide Comprehensible Input for your students. It gave me an idea. When you want to find out whether kids are really ready for one of your “unannounced quizzes”, this might be a fun, informative way to prep them:

  1. Give the kids small pieces of scrap paper or post its. How many you give them depends on how many questions you have on your quiz. Jody suggests 5 or 6.
  2. Project a question on the board about the reading, or section of reading,  you just worked on or the story you just did in class making sure to focus on target/important structures you are working on or want to review.
  3. Kids each answer the question on their little piece of paper. They do NOT write a number on the paper, but do write their name on the back of the paper. When finished, they turn the little paper over and put it to the side of their desk.
  4. Project the second question and have the kids do the same as with the first question. Etc., etc.
  5. When you have finished projecting all the questions and the kids have finished writing all the answers, walk around, collecting the little papers and throw them in a grocery bag. Mix them up good. Kids put away all writing paraphernalia during the collection process. Desks are now clear.
  6. Project the first question on the board again. Ceremoniously, fish around in the bag and choose an answer. Read it aloud.
  7. Students give two thumbs up if it is correct or two thumbs down if it is not. If the answer is wrong, it may sound really silly. Encourage appropriate laughter. 😀 (If you can engineer your questions to go together in a way that mixed-up answers might be funny, even better.)
  8. If the answer is correct, read the name of the brilliant student and have the class applaud. If it is not correct, shake your head sadly,  and throw the answer back in the bag. Shake bag even more.
  9. Continue with the questions until all are correctly answered.
  10. Start with Question #1 again; have someone in the class say the answer aloud; write it on the overhead and read it again yourself aloud. Do this with all questions. Turn off the overhead. You’re done.

At the start of the next class, put the questions on the overhead again and ANNOUNCE that they are having a quiz. Have the kids answer all the questions. They turn their papers in for a quiz grade.

Some might ask:

  • Isn’t this prepping them too much? Prepping them is giving them tons of  Comprehensible Input.
  • Won’t everyone get 100%? Interestingly enough, not everyone will get 100%, but everyone will do well.

On a quiz like this, I will not find out whether they remember everything about the reading or story that we did. What I will find out is whether they are able to use the important target structures or not. This is more important to me as a language teacher and will inform the content of my future lessons.

A higher-level way you might do this activity would be to do the opposite. Instead of projecting the questions for them to answer, project the ANSWERS and have the students write the QUESTIONS that go with the answers from your story or reading. There would likely be many different questions one might ask, so this activity could definitely hit some higher-order thinking skills. On the quiz, I would have them answer MY questions. It’ll be a breeze by then.

More thoughts:

1)  When reading the questions aloud the first time, make sure the students comprehend them by:

  • having target structures w/translation on the board and do pause and point as you read the question
  • ask a student translate the question into English aloud

2)  What if a student says they can’t write the answer in the target language because they don’t have enough language? 

  • Have them write the answer in English (although if this is the case, this activity may be at an inappropriately high level for your class and you should wait).
  • If you should choose that student’s little paper out of the bag, just write down and say the answer in the target language (more CI for that student)

Capítulo 3 – It’s called La Invasión, but it’s much more than that!

Henry Morgan y sus bucaneros saquean el mercado. Capturan y torturan a la gente para forzarles a hablar.

Cruelty, chaos, intrigue, love and betrayal! This chapter’s got ’em all and begs to be acted out. So, I did not pass out the books.

Instead, I chose two names from the box. I told them that one was Henry and one was Carlos. They came to the front of the class. (Before we began, I reminded them–in English–that this chapter required skilled, active, acting with lots of vocal and physical expression–and to gracefully bow out before we began if they thought they weren’t up to the job. Works every time. Everyone wanted in.)

In the first scene, Felipe gets away, the pirates capture Carlos, and Henry tortures him until he tells who has the map. The scene has just the right tone of threat and humor. It never gets too dark. I won’t tell you what happens to Carlos, but it’s not good.

As I narrate the text, the two students act. I often repeat sentences, ask for brief translation from the class, include the class in extra dialogue. I don’t want to lose them.

I love the dialogue parts. At this point in the year, their tongues are loose and willing to mimic my speech. They are quite familiar with the structures and much of the vocabulary. I say part of a line. They say part of line, mimicking the volume, intonation, emotion, etc. Sometimes we do it again, repeating it together. If it’s a really good line, the whole class gets in on it. One of my Henry’s took on a Marlon Brando Godfather voice during the speaking parts. Big fun. If my students were not so facile of tongue, I would do the Gaab Dialogue Trick:  I stand behind the student and speak the dialogue while they just move their lips. It is always hilarious and relieves them of producing before it is really time.

When they speak, they don’t receive any CI (but, of course, they just got some the very moment before). What they get is an intense reason to listen and understand, so that they can sound “real” and get positive feedback from their peers–the most important thing in the universe. The dialogue in this book is cunningly repetitive. Hats off to the author one more time.

I chose two more actors and they came to the front. In this scene, we find Felipe with Antonio. Antonio realizes his life is in danger and that his girlfriend, Raquel, is in the market , trapped by the pirates, and doesn’t know where he is. Antonio comes up with a plan to use Felipe to find Raquel and get her to the arranged meeting place so that they can all flee Puerto del Príncipe. In this scene, we see that Antonio indeed appears to care for Raquel. We see his intelligence and strategic thinking. Felipe doesn’t show a lot of leadership qualities, but seems dutiful and loyal.

OR IS HE? I can’t tell you what happens next, but in the last scene, both Antonio and Raquel (another ticket from the box) end up with shattered hearts. My students watched, rapt during this part. The actors had little to actually do. However, I can guarantee the student audience received 100% comprehensible input as they SAW the action and emotions while I read the text–compelling content, for sure. (You’ll have to get the book!)

Their minds were abuzzin’ after that! Class was over and they wanted to make PREDICTIONS about where this story was going. Had to shoo them out. I wonder if they realize that the entire thing was in Spanish.  🙂

Capítulo 2 – Quick Comprehension Quiz Results

Five minute/15 item quiz based on the information/CI from this chapter which we used to play Todos para uno. Short answer and fill-in.

What I noticed:

  • They understood the Spanish sentences they were reading.
  • They remembered what happened in the chapter.
  • They used new words/structures from the chapter or wrote other answers in Spanish which conveyed the correct information. The new vocabulary was nowhere on the quiz.
  • This was a complex task that they did easily even though they hadn’t seen the book for several days.
  • All kids used verbs that made sense. However, many of them didn’t write all the verbs in the correct tense/correct subject agreement all the time. Many are still focused on the root meaning–not the details. (More comprehensible input needed, not verb drills.) My top kids really notice the little details and have better accuracy. The number of hours these kids have heard/read Spanish matches the kinds of developmental errors they make.
  • There was only one answer of all the answers that just didn’t make sense. The student obviously did not understand some key words in the question.
  • They applied new structures/vocabulary appropriately. This wasn’t a Spanish to English translation exercise.
  • Class averages: 90%

Cool. We can move on. They are ready.