AP listening reflections

TPRS and TCI with advanced students

Enough people come to this blog looking at my AP syllabus that I think it might be valuable to share how I move through that syllabus, maintaining a comprehensible classroom while tackling the content expected by AP. Terry Thatcher Waltz recently pointed out on the moretprs yahoo list that TPRS is best at fostering the acquisition of the basic grammatical structures of a language, while there are other TCI strategies that can develop breadth of vocabulary more efficiently.* That is what I would like to address in this post.

I still use TPRS in AP classes (for example, see this great lesson by Bryce Hedstrom that helped me understand how TPRS can be used effectively in upper levels). One of my great concerns for the AP class, however, is developing the listening abilities of my non-native students so that they can understand the authentic audio clips on the AP exam. My students need lots of listening practice.

The way that I do not want to approach this problem is by forcing my students to listen to incomprehensible audio clips. Instead we do an activity that I call Radio Talk, following after Movie Talk and Picture Talk. The idea is to comment on and explain the radio program while we are listening to it. It is not about playing a 2 minute clip and then asking questions but rather listening to 5 seconds, explaining it and listening to it again. It can be incredibly slow, especially at first.

The great thing, however, is that when I am teaching well my students understand 100% of what they are hearing. In the long run everyone develops a great ear for authentic spoken language while also expanding their vocabulary tremendously. Here is a thirty minute video of me teaching an AP theme to a Spanish 3 class. I do not have an AP class this year, so the class seen in the video is not as advanced as I would normally have with this lesson. In a normal AP class we would do this activity for 10-15 minutes, nearly every day, following the themes of the AP unit.

Clicking here will bring you to my vimeo account where I upload my videos. The volume is horrible, you will probably have to plug in some headphones and turn the volume up as high as possible.
pic video lesson

* Let me be super clear: just because I mention the name of a TPRS practitioner that I admire does not mean that she endorses what I am presenting here. I do think that following the moretprs yahoo list is a tremendously useful way to develop a stronger understanding of TPRS in particular and TCI in general.


  1. Thank you so much for posting an explanation of this innovative CI activity! Can you describe a follow-up activity or “exit tickets” you have with a radio talk?

    1. All of my exit quizzes are pretty easy, created off the top of my head in the last few minutes of class and based on the class conversation. The exact questions depend on the class conversation and thus cannot be anticipated, even if I have several sections of the same course throughout the day. Nothing tricky; the quizzes are simply an incentive to process the class conversation. Often times when we are talking about something with lots of details/new information I will leave the words on the board that I write during the class conversation so that students do not feel like they have to memorize the new vocabulary.

  2. Thank you for sharing your videos. I am in my 1st year of teaching AP Spanish and never really had direction about HOW to teach radio talk. Today we watched a video about child beauty pageants and I wanted them to “take notes” on words they heard while listening and it was such a frustrating experience – because I can do it and they can’t. Well duh! I’m the teacher! I think it will be good prep to do RadioTalk to build their skills.

  3. Hola, Mike! I really enjoyed learning about how to Radio Talk. May I ask what kind of equipment is needed to amplify the radio broadcast? I am not certain what my new school will have when I start in the fall. Thank you so much for your inspiring work.

    1. That was something that I was able to download as an .mp3, back in the day when internet radio stations often offered that choice. From there I use VLC player, which allows you to boost the sound well above 100%. I also bought a moderately priced pair of speakers designed to hitch up to the computer for about $50-60.

      One source for longer radio talks that you can download is Radio Ambulante (I blogged about it here: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/radio-ambulante/ ). One of their first shows was about a man thinking back to how he was smuggled into this country many decades ago, good show. A FANTASTIC source for shorter audio files is http://www.audio-lingua.eu/spip.php?rubrique4 and another that I have not tried yet but want to is https://spanishobsessed.com/audio/

      1. Thank you so much for your time! Do you personally prefer Radio Talk or Movie Talk? What about your students generally? I saw somewhere else, I think, mention of Picture Talk. Have you blogged about that or do you have a recommendation about where I could go to research that? Thank you again. I am so excited to plan all summer and implement next year!!

      2. Movie talk is a lot easier, I only use radio talk with my most advanced classes. I like that is makes me explain the complex language used in the audio, rather than me narrating a film, but that is the kind of skill that I save for last quarter of Spanish 3 and level 4 classes. Picture talk was something presented by Ben Slavic (he has another name for it), and it is really great for all levels. It is also great for TPRS teachers learning how to ask stories because it forces the teacher to stop on one image and go deep on that one image.

      1. Yes… well, there are heritage speakers and maybe three actual native speakers, but it is taught as a non-heritage section. All of the writing samples came from non-heritage speakers.

  4. Do you intentionally NOT give students a transcript? At earlier levels would you always/often/occasionally/never provide an transcript?

    1. I often transcribe videos so that they see the words on the screen as the person says them. It takes time, and there certainly is not enough time for me to provide a transcript for all things. You notice that I do write a lot on the board… not the same as a transcript, but I think the written word is awesomely powerful.

    1. Thank you! It is always nerve-wracking posting a video of oneself teaching because, of course, what I see are many lost opportunities… why didn´t I circle X phrase more, why didn´t I pursue X tangent of student interest. I am glad you found it useful to watch. I will continue to post whenever I feel like I have something polished to present, but it is a growing process. If you look at the rest of my video feed (on vimeo) you´ll see that I was making grammar videos only 5 years ago, so I am proof that even our most recalcitrant colleagues can change! 🙂

      1. Independent reading, of course. People often point out that vocabulary is expanded through reading, but there is also a lot of repetition of high-frequency structures… by definition those high-frequency structures are going to pop up whether I targeted them or not!

  5. Reblogged this on Optimizing Immersion and commented:
    Thank you Mike Peto for sharing so much with others about using TPRS and Comprehensible Input with advanced students. It is NOT easy following a grammar syllabus with students that already have been exposed to such much grammar, the trick is to get these students processing and using the language faster and more accurately. Check out Mike’s AP syllabus and lessons that he shares.

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