French Example of PQA

Example of Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA):  structure = avoir peur de (to be afraid of, lit. to have fear of)

The teacher writes “j’ai peur de (I have fear of)” on the board.  As the teacher says, “j’ai peur de,” s/he walks to the board and points to each word as it is pronounced.  The teacher draws a spider and writes the word, “araignée” next to it.  Again, the students hear “j’ai peur” and see the teacher point to the words.  Then the teacher says, “j’ai peur des araignées.”  As the teacher says the “s” sound of “des” s/he writes an “s” at the end of “de” and an “s” at the end of “araignée.”  S/he also draws at least one more spider.  The teacher says the entire phrase again, pointing as s/he says each word.

Under the original structure, the teacher writes, “as-tu peur de? (do you have fear of?).”  Choosing a student, the teacher says slowly, “Ashley, as-tu peur des araignées?” as s/he points to the words while saying them.  Before giving a chance for an answer, the teacher walks close to Ashley, leans in slight and looks her in the eye, then says again slowly, “Ashley, as-tu peur des araignées?”  This repetition gives Ashley some time to process what she has just been asked.

Ashley responds, “Oui.”  The teacher walks to the board and writes, “Ashley a peur des araignées,” and says to the class, “Classe, Ashley a peur des araignées.”

The teacher walks back to Ashley and establishes eye contact again, picks up a Math book from Ashley’s desk, and says slowly, “Ashley, as-tu peur des mathématiques?”  If Ashley’s eyes reveal that she doesn’t understand what the teacher has just asked her, the teacher needs to walk back to the board and point to the words, “as-tu peur des” and then write “mathématiques.”  Since this is a cognate, Ashley’s eyes will most likely show her comprehension without writing the meaning next to it.  However, the teacher should be prepared to write the meaning just in case.  Some words that are obvious cognates to most of us aren’t to everyone.

Ashley responds with, “Non.”  The teacher walks back to the board and inserts an n’ before the “a” in the previous sentence and pas after the “a” to read, “Ashley n’a pas peur des mathématiques.”  The teacher reads it while pointing to each word including the new additions/corrections.

The teacher turns to the class and asks, “Classe, est-ce qu’Ashley a peur des araignées ou est-ce qu’elle a peur des mathématiques?”  The conversation continues with other students, always coming back often to Ashley and the other students and comparing and contrasting their answers.

Back to Personalized Questions and Answers

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Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA)

After the basic meaning of a structure is established, a time of personalized questions and answers initiates the students into how the structure is used in real-life conversations.  (See an example of PQA.)

These types of questions are important for three reasons.  First, they establish a rapport with the teacher by connecting the student and teacher for a moment in an actual mini-conversation.  In a typical PQA time, the teacher will converse with three or four students this way, and over the course of a few weeks, the teacher gets the opportunity to connect with every student in their class like this.  As the year progresses, this rapport will pay off in improved classroom discipline and a more positive environment.

PQA also provides vital repetitions of the target structures and tunes the students’ ears to hear the slight changes that take place when that structure is used in both questions and answers (such as word order or change of endings on verbs).  Since the same basic questions are asked to three or four different students and then are compared with the responses other students gave, the students can focus more on the structures than on the details of a story.

When the teacher is asking different students the questions, each student’s circle of friends will be more highly engaged because of their interest in their friend.  The most interesting subject to a student is themselves, but the second most interesting is their friends.  If the teacher keeps moving among three to four students with constant comparison questions, three to four times more students will be engaged in the activity.

The most important reason for starting the lesson with PQA, however, is information.  PQA is not an isolated activity in the day’s lesson.  The best use of it is to make it the springboard for the story the class will create that day.  During PQA the TPRS® teacher is constantly listening for details and comments that s/he can weave together into an interesting story in the second part of the lesson.  Which student’s responses will give the best spark to a story?  Once the teacher has found an interesting or odd detail it’s an easy transition into a story.

3 Great Ways to Establish the Structure Meaning

While there are many ways to establish meaning for the structures you are going to use in a TPRS® lesson you are planning, three techniques have proven to be more effective over the years.

Structures that can be easily understood through movement (like the word “run” or “dance”) are perfect for James Asher’s TPR method.  When you combine your students’ muscles in the memory process, the repetition effect will be enhanced and their own bodies will work with you to retain that structure.  The physical activity also increases blood flow to the brain which can stimulate the language memory.

Some structures can also be conveyed by use of gestures or symbols.  Perhaps to improve the students’ retention of the structure “likes” the symbol of a heart or a gesture of your hands over your heart or a heart drawn in the air might serve the purpose.  In some TPRS® classes, students suggest the gestures they will use.  There are even teachers who know American Sign Language and who teach both the ASL signs and the target language at the same time.

If the structure doesn’t lend itself to movement (like “however” or “therefore”), a quick way to move past this part of establishing meaning is to post the target structures on the board along with the English translation of them.  As the lesson progresses, the teacher can ensure student comprehension by pointing to these translations.

Whichever method a TPRS® teacher choses for establishing meaning for the structures, it should move the student further along in the goal of using the structure in a grammatically accurate conversational context.

Next:  Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA)

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Planning a TPRS® Lesson: Designing the Learning Activities

Once a TPRS® teacher has chosen the focus structure or structures for the day’s lesson, they need to devise the learning activities that will move the students toward the goal of using those structures accurately in a conversational context.  Most current TPRS® materials suggest between 50 to 100 repetitions of a structure in context for it to be acquired by students.  This doesn’t mean the student has to merely hear the structure 50 to 100 times, but the structure has to be used in a meaningful way so the brain will see it as valuable to retain.

First, the teacher has to introduce the structure to their students.  This can be done in various ways, depending on the structure itself.  Since the introduction is the first encounter the students will have with this structure, a positive experience at this point will set the tone for the other parts of the lesson.  The TPRS® teacher can foster this by reducing ambiguity in the students’ minds.  Although some people enjoy figuring out puzzles and riddles, this can often cause many language students’ affective filters to rise.  If they’re not sure what the exact meaning of the structure is, students might begin to close their minds off to comprehending the activities to come.  Giving students a clear meaning, though, can set the stage for the rest of the lessons.

When the meaning has been clarified, the teacher can use that structure in various ways to begin the acquisition process.  At this point, students begin to hear the language used repetitiously in a conversational context through personalized questions and answers (PQA).

Many teachers ask how long the PQA portion of the lesson should last, but that’s difficult to say.  It depends on how comfortable the students appear to be with the new structures and how engaged the class is in the discussion.  In fact, some teachers continue the comparing and contrasting from the PQA through the story time.  This opens the door to even more repetitions of the target structures.

From there, the teacher plans a skeleton backup story in case no good story nugget emerges from the PQA time.  Rounding out the lesson, another story with the same target structures is written out for use during the reading time.

Next:  3 Great Ways to Establish the Structure Meaning

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Planning a TPRS® Lesson: Determining the Content

One of the first differences a teacher might find between the TPRS® method and using a textbook is how they prepare a lesson.

Traditional teachers often decide on their content by the arrangement in their textbooks.  What they cover in any particular lesson will depend on what concepts the text has joined together in a chapter.  The learning goals are often written in terms of the pages and grammatical concepts included during that day’s lesson.

While TPRS® teachers are definitely concerned about grammar, they view it as more of an outcome than a goal.  The goal in TPRS® is to get the students to use the language accurately in a conversational context.

Because of this, planning for a TPRS® lesson requires consideration of how the day’s material can come together in a contextual format.  A TPRS® teacher focuses on the structures they will need to engage the students in a comprehensible and meaningful dialogue.

The first part of planning in TPRS® is to decide on what the main focus structure (or structures) will be.  Many TPRS® lessons include three structures, but one or two is also very common.  A structure is an excerpt from the language that is foundational for using the language in a conversation.

As an example, let’s say the teacher decides to give the students practice in using the concept of “afraid.”  In both French and Spanish, this is translated by actually saying, “to have fear.”  This would be “avoir peur” in French.  This is a structure, but it is not really all of the structure that should be included in the lesson.  The full structure needs the word “of” (de) because to use the phrase “afraid” in a conversation, you will most likely want to say what you are afraid “of.”

When the TPRS® teacher writes their lesson plan, they would list “avoir peur de” as the content of the lesson.  The entire lesson is then built around this structure with the goal of finding various conversational contexts to repeatedly use “avoir peur de” in all of its different forms.  While it might appear that the lesson covers only one structure, in reality it will cover most of the various permutations of that structure including each form of the verb with the appropriate subject, how “avoir peur de” is used in questions, and a large variety of other vocabulary to support the main structure.

Next:  Planning a TPRS® Lesson:  Designing the Learning Activities

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TPRS® Overview

Maybe you’ve heard the term TPRS® at a conference or vaguely remember reading an article somewhere, but you don’t know much about it.  Here’s a quick overview to get you started.

Back in the 1990s, a Spanish teacher named Blaine Ray used his off-beat creativity to build on his basic TPR lessons.  When he used the physical responses his students were already doing in class and put those into stories, he discovered that both student-retention and student-interest increased substantially.

It makes sense.  Languages are used for communication so when we practice that language in a communicative context, our brains see it as useful and we tend to retain it easier.  Have you ever heard of a mother who refused to use anything but the present tense with her daughter until the girl mastered that concept?  Or how about a father who wouldn’t teach his son to say, “I have to go to the potty” until the boy could conjugate the verb “have” on request?  Of course not.  We use language in context.  That’s how it works.  That’s how we communicate.   In fact, if we take language out of context it’s no longer really language.  It’s merely a nonsensical set of phonemes until we string them together to communicate.

The concept behind TPRS® takes those individual phonemes and strings them together in a repetitious story format.  This unites these powerful techniques proven to lock in memories (the context of a story and repetition) and intensifies the result.  Add to that Stephen Krashen’s comprehensible input theories, and the outcome can be amazing.

Not only will the students acquire the language easier and more efficiently, but the stories meld the efforts of students and teachers together in a way that has a true gestalt quality, producing more than the sum of its parts.