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Un chico que habla demasiado: a story for Spanish 1 and above

habla demasiadoI originally created this blog to share materials that I create for my classes. In that spirit, here is a simple reading that I wrote for the last semester of Spanish 1. The only new word that my students learn from this story is the word demasiado. I love that they are at the point that basically this is just free reading; it is so important that, rather than push forward, we take the time to read and chat using already acquired phrases. It just seems to consolidate everything better in their minds.

I started the class with three structures written on the board:

¡deja de hablar! stop talking!

sigue hablando keeps talking

habla demasiado talks too much

 After establishing meaning I started with a little PQA about strict teachers: ¿Hay profesores que gritan deja de hablar en clase? Looking at one student I asked her: No me digas los nombres, pero… ¿qué enseña el profesor estricto? In a TPRS meet-up group that I attend we were talking about PQA and one of the group members (urg, who was it?!) mentioned that it is so much more engaging when you drill down on one student rather than ask the same question to a handful of students in class. I tried this out, talking just to one student who I know is pretty talkative, and I delved into her story about talking in class. Then I did a quick poll for the whole class: ¿Cuántos de ustedes tienen profesores que gritan deja de hablar en clase? Returning back to the first student, I continued the PQA and easily hit all three phrases multiple times. And, well, of course it was more interesting than simply asking every student in turn a few superficial questions.

The take-home point is that, as obsessed as I am about gaining repetitions, PQA has to be first and foremost a meaningful conversation. Drilling down is a good skill to prevent your PQA from becoming a mechanical exercise. 
*** see note at bottom ***

After the PQA I passed out this story (download the .PDF here or, if you want to make changes, download a .DOCX here). It is about a boy who talks too much whenever he becomes nervous and, through a series of coincidences, he becomes a hero. There are references to the movie Snakes on a Plane as well as the Señor Wooly video about an evil dentist (in my story the kid never stops talking so the dentist cannot torture him). Finally the boy saves the day for president Obama. As it turns out, Obama has a secret fear of public speaking but saves face by the talking kid in the crowd who distracts everyone from a president paralyzed with fear. Hooray!

Like most of my stories, the very top section reviews key vocabulary that they already know… but I review it just in case. I let students read on their own for 15-20 minutes and if they finish early then there is a place for stick figure drawings. Before flipping the sheet to the questions I allow students to ask about phrases that confuse them. Grammar in my classes is unsheltered so many, but not all students, were able to piece together the phrase voy a pedir que salgas. They have seen everything expect for the word salgas, but once I pointed to the word sale on my verb wall they were able to put it together. In a 55 minute class most students finished the comprehension questions on their own and did the personal response questions at home to turn in the following day. A parent contacted me the next day to tell me that she thought my stories are hilarious! 🙂

The following day, after they passed in the completed story, we started with several paired retells. Then we added a few basic details to explain backstories, just as you would with any storyasking activity. When we built up a complex retell students did a five minute quick write including the new details and adding five more of their own choosing.

*** note 9/11/15: as I reread this blog post I realize that the advice to drill down was mentioned by Doug Stone, who was discussing advice given to him by Bryce Hedstrom

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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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The Advantages of Posting High Frequency Verbs

Lately I have been becoming more conscious of how much I use the high frequency verbs posted on my wall.

word walls

I originally posted them for students, and some of my students still do occasionally glance over at the wall. This is especially true during quick writes when someone is looking for inspiration, but it happens also while I am speaking if I point to the wall while speaking slowly.

More importantly, however, I use the posters while circling to keep my questions fresh and interesting while maintaining comprehensibility. For example the other day we were working on two phrases, pide una coca-cola and le ofrecen un pepsi. There was a guy who could not drink Pepsi because he was allergic to the secret ingredient in Pepsi, but the employees kept trying to give him a Pepsi instead of a Coke because there was no Coke in the store. As I was circling these phrases I went through the list of high-frequency verbs:

¿Puede beber un pepsi el hombre? No, no puede beber pepsi, por eso pide una coca-cola. ¿Los empleados salen para comprar coca-cola? No, le ofrecen un pepsi porque no quieren salir. ¿Por qué no quieren salir? Porque quieren ver su programa favorito en la tele. Entonces, ¿qué ve el hombre en las manos de los empleados? El ve latas de pepsi, pero no ve una lata de coca-cola. ¿Le ofrecen una lata de coca-cola? ¡Qué va! ¡Le ofrecen una lata de pepsi! ¿El hombre pone el pepsi en la boca? ¡Claro que no! Él puede morir si bebe Pepsi. El hombre pide una coca-cola. ¿Los empleados saben que el hombre quiere coca-cola? Sí, ellos saben. Saben muy bien, pero son flojos y quieren ver la tele…

I know that the strength of circling comes from the repetition of new structures, but circling gets very old very quickly if the teacher limits him or herself to just the new structures. Once those high frequency verbs have been acquired there is no reason to not continually sow them into your circling. For me, the posters really help me come up with questions during the heat of the moment, unscripted but perfectly comprehensible.

Here are my full basic verbs that my Spanish 1 students master by the end of first semester:



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Spanish 1 basic story: cómo hacer amigos

taylor y sus amigas

This is so simple that it might be useful as substitute plans

Here is a very short story that I wrote so that I could focus on the verb hacer for a few days. Look at how many friends Taylor Swift has made! Taylor knows how to make friends…

Conjugations of the verb hacer can be difficult for beginners to hear, so there really is nothing new here for my level 1 students… just a lot more practice of words they have already seen.

Today I spent the day with PQA asking my students what they did over the weekend and what they did over Winter Break.

Tomorrow I will more or less ask the story that you can download here.

On Friday they will read it (I am sure it will be different from the one we actually create as a class story) and, if I feel like they really need to reread it, I may ask them to create a cartoon version of the story over the weekend.

By the way, the story actually has a sweet ending. No vomit, no bathroom humor, no exploding heads. Brains crave novelty, right?

Update February 6, 2015:

Homework for a level one class is tricky; when I assign homework it is almost always reading that they can easily understand. Having students make cartoons from the story is one way to get students to reread the story at home. Here are a few examples of cartoons that students made (at home!) after reading this story. Click on each image to see a full size version, click again to see an enlarged version if you are really curious about details: