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NTPRS 2015: my presentation on FVR

title page This is the power point that I presented at NTPRS 2015 in Reston, VA. If you missed my session or you could not make it to NTPRS this year then, as you open up the power point, look at the display mode called “notes page” and you will be able to read the transcript of what I said in the session.


I present an argument as to why FVR should be a part of TPRS classes for all students, not just high achievers. I also cover the essentials that you will need to create your own FVR program, some advice on how to be frugal and how to assess the effectiveness of the program. Within the presentation there are a lot of embedded links, so even if you came to the session you may want to download some of the materials mentioned. Click here to download the presentation.

Finally, on Twitter after the presentation, Steve Smith asked whether TPRS places more weight on reading than listening. While my FVR program is essential to my classes, the non-heritage speakers are only reading for 5-15 minutes while the majority of the class time is spent with story-asking and PQA.

Someone else asked if I read class novels and do FVR at the same time. I should have mentioned that I usually teach 2 class novels per year with my Spanish 3 kids in units that last no longer than 3 weeks; during that time FVR and other non-class-novel activities are suspended. With my level 1 kids I still read class novels as well (Pobre Ana can start as early as we want), but we do not start FVR until the 2nd semester.

Finally my heritage speakers read more; once they are accustomed we will spend as much as 20-30 minutes per class reading FVR… although 10 minutes is more typical for the beginning of the school year. FVR is suspended while we read whole class novels or on the days that I read a short story to them.

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Language Shyness among Heritage Speakers

Let´s talk about the widespread belief among native Spanish-speaking parents that what their heritage speaking children really need is to be corrected every time they make a mistake. This belief even shows up among some Spanish teachers!

As a non-native speaker (I did not start learning Spanish until I was in my mid-twenties), I have often felt slightly conflicted when I meet parents because of my refusal to correct the speech of my heritage speakers. It is not that I doubt my own language competence or that I am intimidated by the regional dialects of my students; whenever I have corrected heritage students in the past I have always had the feeling that I am employing a technique that “wins a minor battle while losing the war”.

If you teach heritage speakers, and especially if you have a separate class for heritage speakers, you really must read this article by Stephen Krashen on language shyness. Within the article there is great validation for FVR. This is the article that I would use to make a case for funding if I were writing a grant application to enlarge my FVR library.

photo credit: made available through a creative commons license:

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Movie Talk: Un hombre triste se pone feliz

Movie talk on the fly

Recently a teacher asked me to describe how I do movie talk with my classes. I believe that Movie talk is most effective when planned out so that target structures are recycled, but thinking about Krashen’s argument for non-targeted CI has led me to feel better about all of the Movie talks that I do on the fly. Nonetheless, even with my impromptu movie talks, I am still recycling target structures by relying on the super sixteen verbs that are posted on my wall. Here is an in-depth (perhaps tedious!) description of how I stretched a 44 second video into a 55 minute lesson with my level 1 students… and we could have kept going!!

(1) Talking through the video
triste When students came in today they saw the frame to the left. I asked them ¿Qué ven ustedes en la foto? (What do you all see in the photo) and we spent a few minutes commenting on everything we could think of, including asking if the man were happy or sad and guessing what might be in the photo. My favorite student response was: es una foto de una hamburguesa y el hombre está muy triste porque comió la hamburguesa. Then we watched the first few seconds of the video; click here to view the entire video on youtube .

The first time through I stop it as often as possible, simply describing what we see. I stand in front of the classroom at the screen and tap on the screen whenever I want my student, sitting at my computer, to press pause or play. Simply standing up front is very important to keep my students focused and engaged; when I am in back behind my computer they tend to be less engaged.

I rarely write anything on the board the first time through (unless a student explicitly asks); I want them to hear the language first. While teaching I am looking at the list of sweet sixteen verbs posted on the wall, so it is easy for me to improvise drawing from previous learned structures. When the man in the video puts the photo on his nightstand, of course I say Pone la foto sobre la mesita de noche and then circle that phrase (drawing a parallel between mesita and mesa and then defining that explicitly in English to make sure everyone understood). I can also say ¿Oye un ruido? ¿Quiere otra foto? ¿Sabe que hay algo debajo de su cama? because these all come from past target structures. In all we spend about five minutes with me mostly narrating and asking pointed questions to verify student comprehension.

(2) Paired retells
retellsEarlier in the year I would not place a retell so early in a lesson so as not to intimidate students, but at this point in the year some of my students are demanding the opportunity to talk. In fact, with a quieter or less confident class I would place a whole class retell here (see step 5). With such a short clip we have the luxury to watch it again, this time in pairs. I stopped it at three places and just asked them to speak in pairs and describe everything they could. I spend less time on this step than on the first step.

(3) Personalization
This is the most enjoyable part of the lesson. I ask a student: ¿Tienes una foto en la mesita de noche al lado de tu cama? ¿Es una foto de la clase de español? ¿Es una foto de tu perro? We build a word image for several students, comparing their bedrooms and using the vocabulary from the video. ¿Hay una ventana en tu dormitorio? ¿Te gusta abrir la ventana cuando llueve? (we are in inland California where it hardly ever rains). When we find something interesting we could follow it using the storyasking process until interest gradually dissipates, but today I cut this off after 15 minutes.

(4) Questions
I asked students to write nine questions about the video using all of our question words. After about five minutes I started to ask for student volunteers: they read their questions aloud and I wrote them on the board, corrected. It is funny, in a TPRS classroom they hear many questions everyday but once they sat down to write their own questions many made mistakes with word order. It was interesting to watch the recognition on their faces as I rewrote their questions and they were recognizing proper word order. One even said, “oh yeah, that sounds better”, which is an appropriate response for their level of acquisition. Once we had nine questions on the board I asked those same questions to nine other students, allowing us to reread the questions again. Altogether we spent around 12 minutes on this section.

(5) Whole class retell
I write on the board: Hay un hombre que… (there is a man that…) and then students add suggestions. It goes without saying that this and all other activities are conducted entirely in Spanish, with the exception of when I write words in Spanish with their English definitions on the board. With the class retell we are trying to fill all three whiteboards (my handwriting is fairly large) with long, complex sentences. Hay un hombre que / mira la foto / de su perro / y el hombre está triste / porque su perro está de vacaciones en México. What I like about this activity is that students add what they can but learn how easy it is to construct a more complex sentence. After 8-10 minutes we have a student-generated (but teacher corrected) summary on the board.

(6) Quick write
We just barely had enough time for a quick write, although we could have just as easily extended the personalization part of the lesson. As a prompt I wrote on the board: Yo tengo una foto en la mesita de noche al lado de mi cama. The responses varied from goofy stories about a girl who has a family of cows to a touching one about the photo of one of my student’s recently deceased grandmother. Reading these quick writes helps me build a relationship with my students, and also reminds me that I need to explicitly write the yo forms on the board more often.