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Watching other teachers in class

Bring more CI voices into your classroom

I love watching other teachers teach. An absolutely-no-prep end-of-the-year activity that I enjoy is finding videos of other teachers and spending ten minutes watching and commenting on it with my students. I was telling my students, “es como el Matrix donde podemos entrar en (mimic opening a door) otra realidad“. One corrected me, saying, “actually Mr Peto it is more like Inception where 20 seconds of their time stretches into 10 minutes in our world”. I love how everyone gets a little punchy in the last month of school.

It all started one day with a video of Eric Herman doing a movie talk of a Volkswagen commercial. Unfortunately I cannot find the clip, but we got hung up on a portion in which Eric is asking one of his students if she has pets and she says no, so he starts listing the pets that she might want but does not have. I found this hilarious and, since only a few of my students agreed, I decided to pull one up to act out the ludicrous scene with dramatic relish.

Thus was born a segment that I call, “¡¿Qué está pasando en otras clases?!“.

Click on photo to see Alina’s video
At the beginning of the year my students are assigned seats which are placed within taped boxes, but by the end of the year kids are grabbing pillows and sprawling out on the floor. As long as they are paying attention, they own the classroom. So I thought it would be fun to watch one of Alina Filipescu’s videos that highlight her amazing classroom management skills. It took us seven minutes to watch about 30 seconds of video as I described the various gestos that her students were making, all in unison. The interesting thing for me was that I do not normally ask students to do gestures… okay, I never ask for gestures. Bringing Alina in through video taught my class the entonces gesture. Nice!

Click on photo to see the video of Jason
A few days later I pulled up a clip of Jason Fritze teaching younger kids using TPR. This was fun because not only did my students have to adjust to hearing a different voice, but they had to react quickly to the video. I told my students, “es un baile moderno…un baile supermoderno… y el coreógrafo es el señor Fritze… tenemos que hacerlo perfectamente“. Half of my late-May-fried-teaching-brain was freed up as I sat in the back with my students and simply obeyed his instructions, raising my hand whenever I observed students off-track. One of my students sitting at the computer rewound the video (at times cruelly to the beginning) so that we could perfect our performance.

Click on the photo to visit Pablo’s Youtube channel

A few days later we watched a video made by Pablo Pankun Román on his youtube channel “Dreaming Spanish”. This is a great end of the year activity because it moves students in the direction of finding their own comprehensible input. It is very much scaffolded by a native speaker, but it was almost entirely comprehensible to my students.

Cameron Taylor
I have also released several videos of myself doing story listening lessons. Last January on Tea with BVP Bill Van Patten suggested that hearing good comprehensible input on video can be as effective as live interaction. Cynthia Hitz wrote a blog post detailing how she uses these videos for substitute lesson plans (which in fact was the reason that I made several of those videos). Ironically, while I was absent, I had lunch with Cameron Taylor in Tokyo, one of the other teachers that Cynthia highlights in her blog post. It is a very small CI world! I definitely recommend that you check out both Cynthia´s blog as well as Cameron´s youtube channel and his blog where he explores teaching Spanish and also his experiences acquiring Japanese.

Here are links to several videos of me telling stories that I have on my vimeo site. There are also more, including longer ones when I am teaching with a class. Click on any of the images and you will be brought to the video:

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What does it look like to teach El Internado in a non-targeted manner with a Spanish 1 class?

Teachers often ask me about a list of target structures that I need my students to master before we can start El Internado. What do they need to know?

The legendary Susan Gross used to say that she could teach Pobre Ana on day 1, and there was no mention of target structures, just good TPRS skills that make each phrase comprehensible as students encounter them. I approach El Internado in the same way. I do start second semester when students have a firm grasp of the sweet 16 verbs and a few words that are high-frequency in El Internado, but for the most part we are just processing simple Spanish as we encounter it.

I have made videos of myself teaching but this post is going to be different. Every day, as I teach a little of El Internado, I am going to take a photo of the writing on the board at the end of the class and post it below. Some days (like yesterday) I spend much of the class on El Internado, but most days we only spend 20 minutes talking about one single scene. The writing will show you what students really have to understand in order to enjoy the show. These paragraphs are written quickly together at the end of a lot of oral conversation about a scene. Come back over the next few weeks and read new photos that I will post below. As you read each entry, ask yourself if you could lead your level 1 students through such a discussion. I bet that you could.

January 10, 2017
January 10, 2017
January 11, 2017
January 11, 2017
January 12, 2017
January 12, 2017
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Movie Talk: Hay cosas que nunca se olvidan

Updated 10/19, errors corrected in PPT


Start with this reading showing part of the video through a power point. Describe the pictures, read, translate, circle. After circling extensively watch the video, but only minutes 4:26 to 7:12. The video, by the way, is in Italian so this reading is crucial. Here is a link to the video.

Optional day 2: If you choose, you can watch the whole 13 minute video… but just a warning: the old lady dies. And there is some bad language. The kids get their revenge and then the first four and a half minutes makes sense. I think this is satisfying just watching the middle clip… you might even want to run this through movie maker or a similar video editing software to clip off the beginning and the ending. Or not.

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Are your Movie talks Step 2 or Step 3?

A few thoughts on pitfalls of a popular strategy

A few weeks ago a colleague confessed to me that she has been bypassing step 2 altogether.

“Oh, you mean you´ve been doing solid PQA instead of story-asking?”

“No, we have been going straight from establishing meaning to the reading…”


It is in step 2 that students acquire the target structures. Step 2 is the reason TPRS practitioners can say things like, “never, ever force output; always wait until the words fall out of the student’s mouth.” Step 2 is where we use the target structures until students can respond with confidence, accuracy and without hesitation. Yet step 2 is difficult exactly because remaining compelling, holding their attention and keeping them responding can be difficult. If the teacher is going to lose control of the class, if the class is going to stray from using the target language, if the educator is in any way unsure of her or himself, then step 2 can be a minefield. I understand the desire to move on to step 3. I do not agree, but I understand.

Yesterday Haiyun Lu from the moreTPRS yahoo group posted a wonderful comment about how she deals with students coming from traditional non-TPRS schools. Among them she mentioned that she has found students who appear to come from TPRS-like schools that have eliminated step 2 altogether. As a result the students have a passive understanding of the language, unable to actually speak and trained to tune out the spoken language.

I have long advocated for a step 2 approach to Movie Talk. Stop frequently, use target structures or already known high-frequency structures, but keep playing with the language until students respond with confidence, accuracy and without hesitation. Ask “what if” questions. Ask background questions. Move from asking about physical descriptions of things students can see on the screen to what they have to imagine. Expect a one minute video clip to last all class.

Kids often want to passively watch the whole video first, but what if that kills the creative, active process that is characteristic of step 2? What if Movie Talk becomes a way of giving more repetitions of target structures so that students can read our written stories, but we unwittingly unravel the process from which our students learn to speak and write?

Perhaps I am wrong on this one… Movie Talk was originally created solely to develop listening ability. I am surely wrong if you continue to story-ask and PQA in your class. However, if you realize that you are using Movie Talk to pole-vault over the messy step 2, then use the interest inherent in the videos to actively engage your students´ imaginations. Plan your questions ahead of time, turn on the lights when you pause the video and use the video to help develop your step 2 skills.

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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.

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Bear vs Shark: an animated movie talk for any language

A short video and two power points, one for teacher retell and one for student retells

11 Do you have an extra day and don´t want to start a new story? Here is a link to a video that is great for movie talk. Skip ahead until 52 seconds into the video and end at 4:19.

I also made two power point presentations with stills to talk about the video. The first one (download here) has key phrases in Spanish that I use to talk about the video. These are not necessarily target structures that I want my students to acquire but rather are there so that I can point at the picture and use the word to describe what is happening. For example, when the bear loses his fishing rod I have written the words la caña de pescar above the slide. In class with my Spanish 1 students I might be working to provide more reps between tiene and tenía so I point to the fishing rod and ask ¿Tiene una caña de pescar? Sí, claro, porque tiene hambre y quiere comer. Pero miren… (next slide when he loses the fishing pole), ahora no tiene la caña de pescar. Clase… ¿tenía una caña de pescar? Sí, tenía una caña de pescar… pero ahora no la tiene. So, to be clear, in this presentation the extra words provided on the slide are there so that I can continue to teach the main high-frequency words that are the real focus of my class.

The second power point presentation (download here) is a storyboard to use when students retell the story. They are going to be limited because there are all sorts of words that the teacher used to present the story that were not taught for acquisition. For that reason, I tell my students to describe the picture rather than retell the story, focusing on things they can say.

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El bruto (a serious theme presented through Movie Talk)

el brutoToday I am showing an animated movie talk video with a very serious theme of domestic abuse. As always, watch the video before showing it to your own classes. Although it is an animated video, I am not going to take this lightly and joke with my classes. On the other hand, I am not going to steer clear of difficult conversations and leave my students without the ability to converse about real issues that are important to them. It is not too far-fetched to imagine that this may be the type of topic that they will eventually have to discuss on their IB or AP exams.

My target structures are regresa, el almuerzo and prueba. I start the class with my target structures written on the board and I’ll do a little gesturing and PQA to get these words in their heads. I am doing this with Spanish 1 today, but I can easily imagine scaling up the narration for higher levels.

Before watching the video we will examine the pictures of the main characters  in this power point (click here to download) . We discuss what each one looks like and who we think they are before viewing the video. I am recycling the phrase sin pelo… I purposely did not write calvo because I want my students to hear the word sin more.

The video is located on youtube and does have one phrase written in English (“Out to lunch”), but otherwise it is language neutral. It will probably take us the rest of the period to narrate everything that happens in the video, slowly, writing any out of bounds vocabulary on the whiteboard.

The next day we will read this reading together in pairs and they will translate it. The reading describes the first third of the video. After they have completed the reading I will give them the choice to either write the rest of the story on the back of the paper or to create a new ending.

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Koi-Zora (movie talk for Span 1)

A video suitable for movie talk and a follow-up reading with comprehension and creative response questions

Koi-Zora 2Coming back from Thanksgiving Break next Monday I am going to start using past tenses regularly with my Spanish 1 students. At the beginning of this school year I had not taught level 1 for a few years and I wanted to limit the amount of new structures. After observing Blaine Ray earlier this month and watching videos of other TPRS teachers I started integrating past tenses into my circling in class and realized that it is much more important that my students hear and comprehend a more natural speech rather than a forced version in the present tense. During the next two weeks between now and midterm exam week I am going to focus on circling the principal foundation verbs that I have posted on the wall of my classroom in both present and past tenses. I am going to maintain the focus on meaning and I will not go out of my way to use conjugations that are lesser frequency (i.e. yo quería is higher frequency than quise, and I am not going to bend stories for the purpose of contrasting preterite and imperfect usage).

Starting on Monday I am going to work through this short video called Koi-Zora , combining the movie talk technique of carefully planned narration with questioning student actors à la Blaine Ray. Today I prepared by pre-watching the video and I wrote a script, which served as the basis for the class reading that follows. Also I am going to explain the process to my students: when I speak to my student actors I will use the present tense ( ¿Quieres ir al campo? ), but then speaking to the class I will speak using past tenses ( Sí clase, ella quería ir al campo ). This is going to be a fun activity for the student actor who plays the role of the fish.

Wanting, having and putting are the main foundational verbs that will be used over and over. I will introduce parallel characters in the middle of the movie to emphasize these three verbs so that quería, tenía, ponía and also puso are circled effectively. I am going to use subió instead of fue when she goes to the roof, because it is more natural and they already know subir, and also because there will be better opportunities to really nail fue later. In fact I am going to avoid mentioning that she goes anywhere so that I can simply focus on the four verbs quería, tenía, ponía and puso.

The video clip is only a minute and a half long. Nonetheless, with all of the student actors, the parallel characters, the new verb tenses and slowly pointing and saying the verb each time we say the new tenses, I suspect I will just barely have enough time to complete viewing that clip with my classes on Monday (we have 55 minute classes). On Tuesday we will read the following reading and students will translate it in pairs before we go over it together. Only after that is done will students be allowed to turn the reading over and complete  the questions on their own (which should be easy at that point). Click here to download the .pdf of the reading or, if you want to change it for your class, click here to download the .docx version (which may be oddly formatted because I used text boxes to position the pictures).

If you look at the reading you´ll see that there is quite a bit of vocabulary that will come up in the video that my students don´t yet know. Without the movie I would rewrite the story to make it more comprehensible, but with the movie I have found that I can include a lot of details into my narration and remain comprehensible, as long as the narration clearly refers back to what is projected on the screen. My objective is to teach those four verbs, so I have provided footnotes and embedded photos for the out-of-bounds words contained in the reading.

Even if it is engaging, is this a good idea to include so many out-of-bounds words? Well, first let me clarify that it is always comprehensible (all out-of-bounds words are written on the side boards). My students also know that the target structures are on the center board, and those are the only ones that I want them to write down. Anything else they might acquire is frosting on the cake… but frosting in large quantities is not really that good for you! As I improve my teaching in the years to come I expect to pair down my stories to the essentials so that there will be less out-of-bounds vocabulary, while improving my storytelling skills so that it remains highly engaging.  

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¿Qué está debajo de la cama?

Updated June 24, 2016

Thinking about genre when planning class stories

A still from the short film El monstruo del armario by Pablo Conde.
A still from the short film El monstruo del armario by Pablo Conde.

Students adore a popular sub-genre of horror film called the comedy horror. Horrible, horrible films such as  Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead or the popular Scary Movie franchise (1 through 5, as of this writing). I am not suggesting bringing any of these films into the classroom, but glancing through a Wikipedia page dedicated to this sub-genre certainly fires my inspiration.

Genre is important. If TPRS used to be characterized by silly stories about talking animals, nowadays the various publishers of TPRS readers are offering an interesting selection including teen drama, historical fiction and fantasy. This is beginning to reflect our student´s actual reading preferences.

Genre is clearly important to students when they make their own personal reading choices. As I write my own stories I focus on structures but rarely consider genre. It is like I am writing the same story over and over again: blah blah, wacky detail, blah blah, wacky twist.

The unit that follows is a first attempt at Comedy Horror. The horror is barely evoked through a movie poster, but I am hoping it is enough to add a little something to make this reading interesting. Designed for early in the year, it is also a primer for new students on how to twist a class story… presenting the possibilities of a TPRS story (oh gosh, here come those wacky details again). It eventually becomes an acceptable story, I think, but not before reworking it through several class stories and an experience with movie talk using Pablo Conde´s short film El monstruo del armario.

The lesson

I see my students five days a week for 55 minutes each day. Depending on group this will take between 1-2 weeks.

part 1: introduce vocab, PQA  and create a class story

Each day I introduce 2-3 structures. Some words (vocabulary that is not essential to acquire but necessary to understand in the moment, such as monstruo) are just written up when I first use them. The first day includes the most enduring, essential structures of the unit:

está debajo de la silla – PQA ideas: my classroom is all chairs, no desks, so it is easy to put things under student chairs. I have a lion puppet that will find its way under a chair; all students put their notebooks under their chairs.

puede ser algo bueno/malo

le pregunta

oye un ruido

tiene miedo

Click here to download an awesome cartoon to discuss that appeared in a post on the blog Teaching Comprehensible Input by Erin Bas. I inserted it into a power point so that the reveal is done slowly.

part 2: reading on power point   

Click here to download the power point reading  about a boy named Terry who hears something under his bed. Last year I had difficulty soliciting more than one idea from students while creating a class story, or teaching them to “play the game”. My students did not really get the playful competitive part of playing the game until I appointed a student who would decide whether a certain detail would be included in the story. I am going to teach the phrase  puede ser  early on (as it appears in this story) to help train them in the process of story-asking.

part 3: present the movie poster  

Click on the image to see the full size movie poster
Click on the image to see the full size movie poster

Click on the picture to get the full size version, which you will see is modified from one of the Scream movies to include our character Terry and two repeated phrases from the previous story. A hallmark of Comedy Horror films is to actually scare the audience while, at the same time, mocking the genre. It is time to draw some boundaries. Obviously in my classroom I do not want to scare students, nor do I want to include violent images. This is the point in which I channel Blaine Ray, who famously quips in his workshops: This is MY story!

I decided to use Scream as my model because the poster is immediately recognizable, yet includes no explicit gore or sexual images… kind of rare for a horror film. I want to evoke, not recreate. I now invite students to imagine what will happen in the movie “Grito 6“. Once again, I maintain a very tight control over this conversation.

part 4: movie talk with the short film El monstruo del armario  

Before showing the film I present and circle a few more key words:

dentro del armario

se despierta

Click here to open a window with the short film . The version of the film that I found on youtube has English subtitles, but that should not be of much concern. There is very little dialogue in the first place. Secondly, I am constantly stopping, describing and circling to verify understanding (I actually have a student volunteer be the computer person each day so that I can stand in a central position in the classroom).

part 5: reading   

Click here to download the last reading , which includes questions for assessment and a storyboard for retells. I think I will assign the reading in class as pair work and ask students to complete the storyboard for homework (that way I can photocopy two stories per piece of paper, cutting my photocopying in half). The following class we will use the storyboards for retells, and if I think they can handle it I´ll use the questions as an assessment.

Updated June 24, 2016
part 6: listening

I recorded a very short story (90 seconds) using this vocabulary. Listen to it twice and then play the questions. Be sure to press pause after each question because there is not enough time for students to scribble down their answers. I have a student volunteer do that for me so that I can be standing among students while they complete the quiz.

story: Omar no tiene miedo de nada


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Snow White in Seville


Watching the recent Spanish adaptation of Snow White (Blancanieves, 2012) I am certain that this will someday make an appearance in my classroom. The film would be perfect for Movie Talk because it is…

(1) nearly free of dialogue and thus ideal for a teacher´s accompanying narration.

(2) loaded with Spanish culture,

(3) a familiar story, making it a delight as students recognize parts of the classic story but are thrown off-balance just enough to keep it engaging. 

Here is a link to the trailer: