Alchemy II

If you feel intimidated about PQA, don’t do it. You don’t have to do PQA, and you don’t even have to do stories. It’s not about PQA and it’s not about stories. It’s about comprehensible input.
Test the waters of TPRS first before worrying about PQA and stories. It’s easy! Just get little scenes of a few minutes of comprehensible input going on first in your classroom. Here’s what you do:

First, teach (translate and gesture) three phrases:

dessine – sketches
un dessin – a drawing
montre – shows

Then connect the phrases to a student in the following simple way:
Class, [a kid in the class] sketches!
THE KEY IS IN THE CIRCLING. It is in the circling that new details emerge. You may wish to start by circling the subject of your sentence:

Class, Jerome sketches! (ohh!)
Class, does Jerome sketch? (yes)
Class, does Micky Mouse sketch? (no)
Correct, class, Mickey Mouse doesn’t sketch, Jerome sketches. (ohh!)
Class, who sketches? (Jerome)
Or you may wish to circle the verb:
Does Jerome sketch? (yes)
Does Jerome sketch or sleep? (sketch)
Does Jerome sleep? (no)
That’s right, class, Jerome doesn’t sleep. Jerome sketches! (ohh!)
Class, does Jerome vomit? (no)
No, class! Jerome doesn’t vomit! He sketches!
Just remember to change up the circling when you sense that the class understands or you will bore the kids with needless circling.
So far, all you did was teach the kids a few words and circle one sentence consisting of a subject and verb. Not that challenging!
Now you could stop here or you could go to the next level – adding another sentence! In so doing, you are not committing yourself to a story and all that that entails. You can bail out at anytime!  Just add any sentence that might naturally follow the one just circled. Example:
Class, Jerome has a drawing!
Blaine has made it clear that every sentence should be circled to some degree, so you circle it, choosing perhaps to circle the subject first:
Class, does Jerome have a drawing? (yes)
Class, does Jerome or Anthony have a drawing? (Jerome)
Class, does Anthony have a drawing? (no)
That’s right, class, Anthony doesn’t have a drawing. Jerome has a drawing! (ohh)
Or you may wish to circle the verb:
Class, does Jerome have a drawing? (yes)
Class, does Jerome have or eat a drawing? (have)
Class, does Jerome eat a drawing? (no)
That’s right, class, Jerome doesn’t eat a drawing. Jerome has a drawing! (ohh)
Or, since this second sentence has an object, you might want to circle it as well:
Class, does Jerome have a drawing? (yes)
Class, does Jerome have a drawing or a pencil? (drawing)
Class, does Jerome have a pencil? (no)
That’s right, class, Jerome doesn’t have a pencil. Jerome has a drawing! (ohh)
Class, what does Jerome have? (drawing)
Who has a drawing? (Jerome)
Again, remember to circle enough to get a lot of repetitions but not so much that you bore the kids.
By this time, if you have circled just two sentences as suggested above, you will have shared a lot of the target language with your kids. They will have understood and responded to twenty five sentences. You will have gotten twenty five sentences from two. 

So, if you are intimidated by the whole idea of doing a story, don’t! If PQA intimidates you, wait and do it later! But you certainly can circle a sentence or two as per the above.

You don’t have to get all bogged down with telling the kids you are using a new method. They don’t care. Just tell the kids that you want them to hear some French and start circling. Then, after the two sentences, go teach some grammar or whatever you used to do.
In time, you will find more and more cute little details merging into and transforming the sentences you started with. Two sentences will become three. The sentences will be cute because that is the domain of kids. It is what they were designed to do – provide cute answers and laugh at how clever they are.

Each time you act astonished at how clever they are, they create more cute answers. In a flash, once they know what their job is in the game, they become masters of transferring your old boring adult questions into marvelous new things.

They can transform Jerome’s drawing into a drawing on the whiteboard of Michael Jackson’s face in seconds! They can do anything! And then you will see the alchemy of TPRS, without even doing any PQA or stories. 


One Response to “Alchemy II”

  1. Robert Harrell Says:

    Ben posted his article to the moreTPRS list, and I posted a reply. Today Ben asked me if I would post to the blog, and I’m honored to do so. I think Ben is one of the stars of TPRS, and I just keep plugging along doing the best I can. If the anecdote helps anyone connect with what’s happening in TPRS, then it has served its purpose:

    Ben Slavic stated:
    And then you will see the alchemy of TPRS, without even doing any PQA or

    Ben is so right (as usual). A couple of days ago I had done everything I intended to do in preparation for finals and had literally 10 minutes of class time to “kill”, so I picked a couple of random items from our vocabulary. In no time we had three girls with their pet leopard, lion and Cheshire cat going to buy different kinds of jewelry (necklace, Chinese earrings, 57 tail rings) for them before feeding Ruprecht, Thorsten and Gustav (3 guys in the class) to the cats – all in the subjunctive (“if I were, if I had, I would . . .”) Things went
    no further than that because the bell rang, but everyone was contributing cute and clever items (the guys were happy to be eaten theoretically) and engaged.

    The magic is not in the PQA or in the stories, it’s in the relationship with the students and in their understanding on several levels (what’s expected of them, what’s being said – CI, what constitutes a good reply, what active participation looks like, etc.)

    TPRS is the Philosopher’s Stone that transmutes the lead of grammar into the gold of communication. (Just sticking with the Alchemy theme)

    Robert Harrell
    Pacifica High School
    Garden Grove, CA

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