Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writing writing writing

I hope I haven't already blogged about this, but I tried something recently and it worked pretty well. I asked a story in two classes, obviously getting two very different stories using the key vocab. I then had the students draw pictures of each scene, so that we large pictures of the action. We used these for retells and to give the artists an outlet for a day. The next day, I took the pictures from the other class and posted them in the room. I asked the students to look at the pictures and draw the story that they thought the other class wrote. I had them write a story by themselves and then pair with another student to combine their ideas into a better story. Then that pair paired with another pair (for a group of 4) and combined all the stories into the best story. I had them share their stories and then the students voted on which story they thought was the best. It got my students writing, thinking and producing the language. And, it was a pretty easy day for me and my voice!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tutoring TPRS?

I have a tutor that comes during one of my hours for one-on-one help for my kids. I've never had a tutor before, so I haven't really been sure what to do with her...especially now that I'm using TPRS. I've had her do test re-takes and stuff, but I'm at a loss for uses beyond that. Does anyone have any ideas for how I can utilize this great resource??

Reading success!

Today, I didn't really know what I was going to do with my 2nd year kids and didn't have a whole lot of time to plan since I was working on details of our upcoming trip to Quebec (yeah!). I decided to do my first dictee with the kids and started writing up my little story. Well, I got way too into it and added a few new things, so I decided to make it a reading instead. I handed it out and then read aloud, asking them to follow me with their fingers. Most of the students actually laughed at the right parts, even without translation! They were enjoying a joke IN FRENCH! I almost peed my pants, I was so excited. Then, we translated chorally and it worked very well too. The few slower kids finally got the joke and we were all able to laugh together. Since it worked so well (and I find it hilarious), I'll put the story here, in case anyone else thinks they could use it or it could jump start another idea (sorry for the non-accents...) I put the new words in English behind the French so they could read it easily:

Il y a une fille. Elle s'appelle Lady Gaga. Elle est grande, blonde, et tres stupide. Elle a les yeux rouges et les grands pieds. Ses pieds sont grands comme un arbre (tree). Elle chante bien. Un jour, elle voudrait acheter un nouveau pantalon vert et orange. Elle va a Zona Rosa, a Forever 21. La vendeuse (saleslady) s'appelle Tyra Banks. Lady Gaga lui dit (tells her) "Je voudrais un pantalon vert et orange." Tyra crie "Un pantalon vert et orange??? Tu es laide. Tu as besoin d'etre "fierce" Un pantalon vert et orange?? C'est stupide!" Lady Gaga est fachee. Elle lui dit "Tu es grosse, Tyra!" Tyra crie "Donnez un baiser a ma grosse derriere!" Lady Gaga va a Aeropostale. Le vendeur (salesman) s'appelle Taylor Lautner. Il est grand, brun, et tres beau. Il regarde Lady Gaga est il tombe amoureux d'elle. Lady Gaga lui dit "Je voudrais un pantalon vert et orange." Taylor dit "Oui, ma cherie. Voila un pantalon vert et orange." Il lui donne (gives her) un pantalon bleu et violet. Lady Gaga est fachee. Elle crie "Tu est stupide! Je veux un pantalon vert et orange...pas un pantalon bleu et violet!" Taylor est fache et il devient (becomes) un loup. Il mange Lady Gaga et il est content.

There is a girl. Her name is Lady Gaga. She is tall, blonde and very stupid. She has red eyes and big feet. Her feet are as big as a tree. She sings well. One day, she would like to buy new green and orange pants. She goes to Zona Rosa, to Forever 21. The saleslady's name is Tyra Banks. Lady Gaga tells her "I would like green and orange pants." Tyra yells "Green and orange pants? You are ugly! You need to be fierce. Green and orange pants?? That's stupid!" Lady Gaga is mad. She tells her "You're fat, Tyra!" Tyra yells, "Kiss my fat butt!" Lady Gaga goes to Aeropostale. The salesman's name is Taylor Lautner. He is tall, brunette, and very handsome. He looks at Lady Gaga and falls in love with her. Lady Gaga tells him "I would like green and orange pants." Taylor says "Yes, my dear. Here are some green and orange pants." He gives her blue and purple pants. Lady Gaga is mad. She yells "You are stupid! I want green and orange pants, not blue and purple pants." Taylor is mad and becomes a wolf. He eats Lady Gaga and he is happy.


Friday, November 13, 2009

John Irving

John Irving is my favorite author, by far, and I had the pleasure of seeing him speak last night. His new book has an author as a central character, so he was explaining to us that he gave his character his process for writing and he explained to us how he writes his novels. It is amazing to me to hear authors talk about where their books and characters come from. Most often, the characters just ooze out of their minds or pop into their heads from nowhere. Mr. Irving said that he never starts a book until he has the last sentence in his mind...then he can go through and create the plot from there. He always waits until the end just pops into his head. From where?? Anyway, I could make the connection between Backwards Design and his writing process, but I don't really want to do that here. I think the connection is pretty obvious. I do want to share that, last night, I dreamt my lesson plan for today. It just popped into my head from nowhere. Really strange feeling to wake up in the morning and realize that your planning work was done while you slept. And I think the plan would have worked splendidly except we ran out of time. I"ll see on Monday, when I continue the lesson, if it was a success!

Excitement (like swine flu) is contagious

Yesterday I was in an action study team meeting (where we meet cross-curricularly and discuss different aspects of teaching) and it was my turn to share what I'm doing in regards to instructional design this year. I shared the Marcia Tate list of brain-based activities that I blogged about here a couple of weeks ago and then started in on what I'm doing with TPRS. I was the only language teacher there, but we had a really good discussion of what is working and why. At the end of my "presentation," one of the teachers looked at me and said "It sounds wonderful and you are obviously very excited about it." I AM! I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, there are still days where I sit there and think "What in the world am I doing?" But I am still just so excited on the days where everything falls in place. I want to share it with the world, but I don't want to cram it down anyone's throat. It's funny, but the teachers that I work with daily have caught some of my enthusiasm and have started asking me about what I'm I'm fixing this or that problem. While they might not be drinking the same Kool-Aid I am, I love sharing with them. I love the idea that they might try something...even one little their classes. It also makes it so much easier to ask for help in solving a problem if they know what's going on in my classes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Yikes, I don't think I'm very good at this. I read stories that other teachers have asked from their students and I have no idea how they got to that answer. I am pretty good at getting good characters and locations...but I struggle with bizarre descriptions and problems. How do I get my students to describe a character as having ears as big as a tortilla or a forehead as tall as two cell phones (I think I stole that description from Ben's blog)? What vocab has to be front-loaded to get to that? What primer questions? I saw on moretprs a list of potential problems the other day...I think that will help. I really like the idea of getting something to vomit or pee his pants. I think the kids would go crazy with that. Last week, I had a class go crazy because Chewbacca fell in love with Po (who was too fat and needed to lose weight) simply because he liked 'em big. They laughed about that for a long time. How do I facilitate more moments like that? They are what make me chuckle and enjoy walking into my classroom. I also have classes where the students are not willing to go there with me. Man, they are hard classes to teach...Ben says to wait in the moment and the cute answers will appear...but what if they aren't appearing?? I guess this goes back to the blog about sucking. It's okay to suck! I guess I should be thankful (it is November, after all, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner) that I am able to reach that one class. Especially since I have an administrator's child in there and he is gushing over what I've been able to about administrative support! My new mantra...focus on the good days...classes...minutes...seconds...whatever!


I'm just rambling here...trying to synthesize the "steps" to TPRS that Ben has written so fully and well about in his book TPRS in a Year ( He suggests that the first step to good TPRS is to sign and gesture the new vocabulary. I don't do this nearly as much as I should...with stories at least. It seems like some things just naturally lend themselves to gesturing. And then I get stuck with that. For example, my students in one class can't even say fachee (mad) without using a deep voice and doing the gesture that I have used. I know that it's stuck in their head for good, but is it harming them in any way? I'd like to think that it's really helping them because they will certainly never forget the meaning of fachee, but it doesn't sound very natural when we're talking in class. This is also my class that is obsessed with Muzzy (without even seeing it!) and uses a deep voice to say many things that they imagine Muzzy would say. That class is my main reason for teaching using TPRS. They really get it and are using what we are doing in class to have fun with the language. The affective filter that Krashen talks about is so low in that class that I had a student break-dance in front of the class while watching a Pigloo video. They (I really hope) are in love with French class. I hope that I can keep them excited for the rest of the year. And I also hope that they will adjust next year when I am no longer their teacher. Oh yikes...isn't that what we're all afraid of if we send our kids to other teachers?? What to do about it??

Back to gesturing. I really need to work with myself to do a better job at this. During our "TPR phase" at the beginning of the year, we gestured and played "Madame dit" all the time. I've seen what it can do for vocabulary why am I not doing it with all new vocab?? Laziness? Perhaps. I think it's probably plain old forgetfulness...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Classroom management

I have struggled and struggled and struggled with keeping my classes in control while allowing for them to talk. I've always thought that it was too hard to keep the talking on topic because I was afraid to discourage them to speak. But with TPRS, there is no other way. The class has to be under control or the method will not work. So this week, my only goal was to work on the classroom management. I printed off the rules (available at and took an entire class period (well, almost) talking to the students about the rules, why they are there, what it looks like, what it doesn't look like, etc. Then we practiced while we talked about their weekends. The next day in class, we told a story, and I focused on the classroom management instead of spending all my time working on the story. If a student broke a rule, I would stand and point to the rule. Eventually, they understood and stopped the behavior. I still waited a few extra beats before continuing on with the story. If it was the whole class, I waited. If it was one person, I pointed to them and the rule at the same time. I don't want to say that it worked perfectly, but it worked wonders for me. I was so much happier at the end of the day and I feel like we accomplished just as much as we would have if I hadn't taken the time to control my class before teaching them. Everyone always says that, but I'm really seeing it in action for the first time. It's awesome. I think the switch is that I decided I would focus on it...head-on for a full week. I will nit-pick every utterance until the students understand what is appropriate in class. Now I just have to keep on them and follow-through every class. Hopefully they will get used to it quickly so I won't have to remind them so often.

Professional Development

I got a handout at a professional development workshop last week. It's from M. Tate, an author and lecturer who talks about brain-based learning. I did not see her speak, but was given a handout of the top 20 strategies to take advantage of how the brain learns best. Let's see...
1. writing
2. storytelling
3. mnemonic devices
4. visuals
5. movement
6. role play
7. visualization
8. metaphor, analogy
9. reciprocal teaching
10. music
11. graphic organizers
12. drawing
13. humor
14. discussion
15. games
16. project-based instruction
17. field trips
18. work-study
19. technology
20. manipulatives

I was blown away by how many of these are used in a TPRS based classroom and how few are used in other classes. Where are worksheets in this? Hmmm...