NTPRS 2017 Takeaways

Before having the opportunity to present a couple workshops, my mind was blown quite sufficiently during the week. Overall, the Advanced Track with Alina Filipescu and Jason Fritze got me thinking about aaaaaaaall the things I’ve forgotten to do, or stopped doing (for no good reason) over the years. Thankfully, most of them are going to be soooooo easy to [re]implement. As for the others, I’ll pick 2 at a time to add—not replace—until they become automatic. This will probably take the entire year; there’s no rush!

Jason referred to high-leverage strategies—those yielding amazing results with minimal effort (i.e. juice vs. squeeze), and I’m grateful that he called our attention to everything Alina was doing while teaching us Romanian. ce excelent! I’ll indicate some high-leverage strategies, and will go as far as to classify them as “non-negotiable” for my own teaching, using the letters “NN.” I’ll also indicate strategies to update or re-implement with the word “Update!” and those I’d like to try for the first time with the word “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways organized by presenter:

Alina Filipescu

  • Shelter Vocabulary. (NN) Aside from question words, rejoinder cards, and a few cognates, Alina focused on just 11 words over three days to do Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) and ask a story (i.e. wants, likes, says, drinks, laughs, dances, falls, goes, but, and, or). “Goes” didn’t even appear until day 2.
  • Questions. (NN) The mastery of limiting vocabulary was made possible by asking a significant number of questions. I wish someone kept tally! I might begin to look at questions asked as a metric to strive for instead of just % in target language (e.g. “I asked 400 questions during that class period, engaging students in thinking 400 times”). Alina’s questions were not predictable or mechanical; they were comprehensible and I could answer them confidently. There was a flow to her teaching that kept the target language slooooooow, but also moving along with energy to the questions. Masterful.
  • Deskless(NN) Alina says that going deskless pushed her to use the TL more and not rely on writing activities. Sounds good to me!
  • Gestures. (Update!Use gestures judiciously at first, then let them dissipate over time. Remind students of the routine every time you see one not do a gesture. Invite students to gesture with you, but DON’T FORCE them to do it! These were incredibly useful in engaging us learners during the Romanian demo by providing processing time, and making rejoinders fun to do. Alina’s commitment to her routines was incredible, and I never felt forced to do anything.
  • Student Jobs – Posters. (Update!) Give students question word posters and rejoinders as jobs, holding up questions when you say them, and rejoinders whenever it feels appropriate! Alina had to remind students at times, and even had a great moment seeing who would act first: the student on their own, or she pointing and reminding to hold up the poster. Make a race out of it—see if the student can beat you to it before you remind them! I handed out posters last year, but lost steam at some point. I’m thinking about NOT posting my question words on the wall at the start of the year so I’m FORCED to give students them to hold up as I ask questions. Once students know the questions well, then I’ll start posting them on the wall. **Updated 10.18.17** I have duplicates in front of, or nearby the posters. Whenever ask a question, or use a top 8 verb, I then assign the duplicate poster to a student to hold up if (when?) it repeats. This reminds me to involve students, but not in a planned or forced way. 
  • First Reading Retell & Draw. (Update!) Although I’ve done Read/Draw/Pass activities, I’ve never done one immediately following a story (same or next day) as the first interaction with the text. Students were given a storyboard template, they co-retold the story with Alina (driven by questions), and watched Jason on the projector draw the scenes and write the story sentences. During this time, students drew their own scenes and copied the sentences onto their own paper. Follow up would be to project and discuss student drawings. PQA opportunity! A parallel story (written beforehand with targeted structures, or after class) could be printed and distributed after this first reading.
  • Silent Volleyball Reading(Update!) Instead of Person A reading TL aloud, and Person B translating into English, just have Person B translate into English while Person A reads silently. The roles alternate for each sentence, just like before. This avoids poor pronunciation as “McDonald’s-like nutritional input,” and keeps the flow going of interacting with the text.
  • Silent Question Reading. (New!) Person A reads silently while Person B writes a question (English, or TL). Person B finishes, and passes paper to Person A who answers question while Person B begins/continues reading. Roles alternate.
  • Silent T/F Reading. (New!) Both partners read silently for X minutes, then draw just 2 pics: one True, one False. Swap, then partner chooses correct. Pass to other groups, and partners choose correct. Show a few on document cam. Keep it going until it looses novelty!
  • Parallel Scenes(New! Instead of a single plot with one set of actors, Alina created parallel scenes with other students by interspersing PQA during the main story. Some of these characters entered the main story, and others were just moments that went nowhere, but that’s OK! This created a break from the main story, but not from the CI. Each time we went back to the main story, we returned with more energy to see how the story would unfold, and afforded opportunities to rewind and act out previous scenes again, or with variation given new information from the parallel scenes. Any scene can take over as the main story. Read the room!
  • TPR Teams. (New!) Designate 2+ areas in the room labeled with culturally significant names/places to refer to groups of students. Also us for any left side/right side activity (e.g. “Rome, say ‘what a shame!'” or “Go to Greece and jump 3x!”).
  • Safe Comp Check(New!) Do your comprehension check on the kid NEXT TO the one giving you a signal/showing signs of not comprehending. The one who didn’t understand will have meaning clarified without being called out. Respect the barometer student!
  • Sound Effect/Gesture Reading. Alina read story while we showed comprehension by doing gestures and sounds during corresponding words.
  • Teach Reading. Are there unknown words during extensive FVR/SSR reading? Teach students to a) skip, b) guess, c) look up, then d) ask teacher.
  • Wait Time. Instead of counting to 3 in the TL before students respond, Alina trains students to respond ONLY once she leans forward. Routines!
  • Sounds as Comp Check. Check comprehension with sounds (e.g. “Class, what does a cow say? Moooo” or “what does a car sound like? vroooom” etc.)
  • Challenging Comp Check. During reading, instead of simple “yes/no,” ask the longer, more complex “does this mean that ____?” which exposes students to more unsheltered grammar (you might have to deliberately think of doing this!).
  • Permission to Use English. Aside from establishing meaning with English, Alina keeps class in the Target Language (TL). Students ask permission to speak English, but Alina asks students if what they want to say is an emergency, idea, or compliment (all posted in the TL in the room). This adds more CI, and interaction (e.g. “Class, Tim has an idea, should/could he say it in English? Do you want to know?”).
  • Tapping/Refocus Brain Break. Stand up. Tap sternum for energy. Extend arm, give a thumbs-up, then move in an infinity pattern while tracking your thumb (with eyes, NOT head).
  • Speech Bubbles. Laminated speech bubbles you can write story dialogue into. Have a student hold up speech bubble during acting out story to be part of the dramatization.


Jason Fritze

  • Circumlocution(NN) Avoid long sentences, and shelter vocabulary with novice learners. Using “Tim likes X” then “Tim doesn’t have X” avoids a conjunction and entire verb in an otherwise longer sentence like “Tim wants X but doesn’t have X.” Novices process shorter sentences faster!
  • Underline TL. (Update!) OK, it seems nit picky, but adding an underline to your TL word/phrase with English equivalent below (in another color) makes it really, really, really easy to see. Yes, the two different colors help, but underlining draws even more attention to that TL instead of the English (used only to establish meaning).
  • Word Wall. (Update!) Instead of beginning the year with a list of words to refer to right away for TPR, instead, build that list as you go. Nest the lists under corresponding question posters (e.g. nouns under “Who/What?” adjectives under “What kind?” numbers under “How many/When?” motion verbs under “Where/To where/From where/How?” other verbs under “To whom/With whom/Why?”). Get creative on how to keep each class section’s words separate from the other class sections.
  • TPR Techniques(Update!) Use TPR techniques for non-TPR words after establish meaning. Gestures, folks!
  • Power of NOT. (Update!) Instead of introducing an option, negate the first one (e.g. “Does he have a shield, or does he not have a shield?” in place of “Does he have a shield or a sword?”). This also increases exposure to that sheltered vocabulary.
  • Backwards Design from a Novel. (New!Jason has his students for ~45min each week. He does NOT have the time for “noise” (i.e. Incomprehensible Input), so he plans backwards in order to expose students to the words they’ll need to read the novel. Personally, I feel that if the reading is level-appropriate, students will acquire enough language to read regardless of targeting, but this kind of planning can help fill any gaps in input we provide along the way. If we keep track of what is done each day as recording (i.e. “reverse” planning), we can take a look at what might be missing from the input. Besides, most schools require a scope and sequence, so we might as well give them one that’s simple to follow, like my adaptation of Jason’s template.
  • Objectives(New!) Instead of selecting content-specific objectives, consider using expectations of routines and role of students as daily lesson objectives. Woah, right?! An example might be “Students will use signals to clarify meaning during discourse.” Brilliant!
  • Extend Discourse. (New!) Don’t be in such a hurry to add details to the class story! PQA 2, or 3 statements before confirming story details with class.
  • Don’t Finish(New!Don’t be in such a hurry to finish a story! Stories can exist as scenes and events to return to later on, or bring back as PQA content (e.g. “How would you like the story to end?”).
  • Start with Why? (New!) Ask a “Why?” question and then immediately give two options. This trains students to begin answering those Higher Order Thinking (HOT) questions on their own.
  • Rewind/Vocal Variation/Slow-Mo. (New!) Instead of dramatizing actions just once, hit the “rewind” button, and have actors repeat what they just did while you narrate. Add “vocal variation” if speaking, or change the speed of the action with “slow-motion cam.”
  • Find Your Riri. Riri was one of Jason’s students who led the charge in classroom MGMT after connecting with and understanding that the teacher treats students with respect (Riri said something like “Ya’ll better listen to Mr. Fritze ‘cuz he’s the only teacher who cares about us!”).
  • Fishing Gesture. Establish a gesture that indicates to students you are fishing for details (i.e. students guess/suggest) as opposed to asking a question they already have the information for.
  • The Art of No Words. Jason said that “TPRS is basically the art of communicating using no words.” This is true. See Sheltering Vocabulary under Alina’s bullet points.
  • Wrong Questions. Jason said that “if you think knowing verb endings are the right answers, you’re asking the wrong questions.”
  • Feedback. Feedback looks different in a language classroom. We scaffold and elaborate responses to what students say, as well as invite them to clarify (e.g. “What did you mean by that? Tell me more. Did the cat fall OUT of the window or was already on the ground?”)
  • Backup Script. Have a story script as backup plan in order to sleep at night! Then, go to class, write the structures, and let kids create their own story (but there’s always that backup if Storyasking flops!).


Blaine Ray

  • Events as Variety/Novelty. (Update!) After class, look for possible events in EVERY story! Go into class the next day asking questions about a character’s backstory as way to add novel information to the class story everyone knows.

Bill VanPatten

  • Barcode. Bill said that a “barcode is to scanner as input is to acquisition.” They are necessary, and the only thing that works.
  • SLA Definitions. On explicit grammar instruction, and grammar “rules,” in general, Bill said that a “Even if we have our SLA definitions wrong, we know that what’s in the textbook doesn’t work.”
  • Interaction. When it comes to the misunderstanding that interacting means speaking, Bill said that “interaction with input simply means indicating comprehension.”
  • Intellectualizing Language. Bill said that “we have a problem in trying to intellectualize language learning” as the study of those “rules” that don’t exist in our minds anyway.
Adriana Ramirez
  • MovieTalk. (Update!I’ve mostly used MovieTalk (MT) only with words students have been exposed to. Adriana walked us through the other use of MT that extends the process over a few days. This makes the juice vs. squeeze of MT that higher of a yield. Fantastic!
    • Adriana BEGINS with a base Embedded Reading (ER), but one that is a longer paragraph, or more substantial than just some sentences. They read this together as a class during the last ~20min of class. There’s no movie.
    • On day 2, students are given the next version to read WHILE watching the clip as Adriana pauses and asks PQA.
    • Day 3 is a much longer final version that students read in pairs (Use any reading strategy you like!).
  • Natural Circling(Update!) PQA is natural Circling since words are recycled with each question. To increase flow, let go of mechanical/predictable Circling, and just PQA more!

Laurie Clarcq & Mira Canion

  • Safe Space(Update!Keep class SAFE for students to interact. Notice them! Don’t force those avoiding eye contact to be your actors. Consider the person, first, then what your purpose is, next.
  • Beyond Comprehensibility(New!) Notice students, listen to them, react to responses, extend discourse. These are ACTFL core practices. I can see the benefits of being vigilant like a spy. Notice who wears what (as representation of interests), who has new shoes, the same shoes, who brings in food, who’s texting as class begins. Let them know you see them. You can address rules/policies during PQA without calling a student out in a negative way (e.g. “Class, who has their phone out right now?”).
  • Control(New!Control unwanted/out of bounds details from students with an acknowledgement, then ask a related either/or question using known words (e.g. shower –> house):
    • Teacher: “Where do you talk on the phone?”
    • Student: “Shower”
    • Teacher: “Is the shower in your house or at the gym?”
    • Student: “House”
    • Teacher: “Ooh, you talk on the phone at your house.”
  • Hook/Intrigue(New!Mira got our attention by simply scanning the room for an unknown purpose. Laurie’s advice is to go to the kid who’s already hooked! If you bring in an object and place it at the front of the room, notice which kids are talking about it before class starts. Go to them first for PQA!


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