Tag Archives: Ben Slavic

Hit one out of the park

He's got that crazy gleam again.
Image by A-Wix via Flickr

Ben Slavic wrote:

Then, one day, we may hit one out of the park, and then overhear a kid walk out of class and say, “French is cool!” and we realize that all of the struggle is worth it, that we are doing things in our classrooms that we have never been able to do before, and then that carries over to our private lives, as I wanted to say above, and things just change overall for us.

That reminded me of something that happened on Friday. I’ve been doing my own, untutored, version of TPRS for just over a month, now, but only with my freshmen classes. On Friday, I tried it out with a 2nd-year class in which I have been doing something quite different. Each week, I’ve been giving them a number of different activities: 5 minutes’ free writing, 10 minutes reading, 10 minutes listening, a grammar worksheet, a vocab quiz, etc. They can choose their own reading and listening material from our self-access library. On Friday, I spent 20 minutes or so before class reading their 5-minute-writing pieces, and picking out the more egregious errors and listed them on a card. I walked into class with that card and began PQA about what time they got up, did they have breakfast, what they had, what they liked, what they didn’t like, etc., until I had covered all the errors listed on my card. I did not tell students what I was doing (correcting their errors), and I was writing things on the board constantly as I discovered that, though they knew the words, many students could not recognize the words when they came out of my mouth.

I had intended to do this for just 45 minutes, leaving the remaining 45 minutes for the regular “self-access” activities. One student walked in late and after greeting him, I asked him (as I’d been asking students every 10 minutes to practice telling the time), “What time is it?” As he hadn’t had the practice, he was slow off the bat, but a girl in the front row said, 9.55. The girl sitting next to her then said, “What? You mean we’ve been going for an hour, already?”

Chuffed I was.

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A month on TPRS

Well, almost a month. Time to take stock. What’s happened?

Today, I taught two classes of EFL, both without a textbook and in one I used a song. For the rest of the time, it was just me talking and asking simple questions, using information supplied by the students themselves. TPRS works.

And I haven’t even really started telling stories yet! Just today, I made up a story using student input and used it as dictation. Some students were volunteering interesting alternative versions, but I did not feel comfortable using them, as the main character in the story was one of the students. Shame! Their suggestions were more vivid than mine.

I’ve noticed a few things:

  1. I need a backup plan, in case I dry up and run out of ideas during the class. Having a backup plan – some non-TPRS material – helps me relax and so far I’ve only had to use it once.
  2. I need input from students, and a good way to get it is to ask them to write freely (on any topic) for a fixed amount of time: usually 5 minutes.
  3. How to use the students’ input? I’ve been doing the simple and obvious: making simple statements, then asking questions about it, then personalizing the questions, e.g. “Ms A gave her father a birthday present. What (do you think) she gave him? [Then…] Do you give your father a birthday present? What?” etc
  4. The key to TPRS is personalization. In fact, I’m starting to think that personalization is the key to good/successful teaching.
  5. In one class today, I did a 15-minute spiel on pronunciation, because  a colleague who co-teaches that class had asked me to (and she said students had asked her). It was boring. I completely lost a key “barometer” student (who actually may not be that low in ability, but he’s only interested in drawing manga): he just slept through the whole thing, and I could not really draw him back in successfully even after I reverted to TPRS after the pronunciation lecture and practice.
  6. Trying to teach pronunciation, or a grammar point does not work well because it’s hard to get students interested in it. If they are not interested, they do not respond, and that gives me less input to work with; plus I don’t know if they understand or not.
  7. Talking about students themselves works well. Referring to things they did or said works well.
  8. I teach two different levels of freshmen. The higher level need (obviously) more challenging input, and at first that was difficult for me: I could not think on my feet quickly enough to come up with only slightly more complex sentence structures. After a while they got a bit bored with the “yes/no” questions or the easy choices.  It took me a while before I was able to spontaneously create complex (i.e. with subordinate clauses) questions. Even now, it’s hard for me to “change gears”.
  9. Class prep time is waaaaay down: 5-10 mins, usually just before class, skimming through their free writing for tidbits of personal information I can use. This in itself is a godsend.
  10. Ben Slavic’s books and blog have been a great help. I highly recommend them. Them and Blaine Ray’s Fluency through TPR Storytelling.
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