First Day

This year I am starting out at yet another new school teaching Spanish to grades 5-8. I have come up with a new set of structures and a very basic story script that I will be using in all of my classes, as they have never had TPRS before. The structures that I have chosen to focus on are: se llama, tiene, and es. This will allow me to better assess the students’ individual levels before we move into the next story. I have backwards planned 4 different TPRS novels and hope to actually post some of my planning/resources this year, so check back again soon!

To start the year off, I had each of the students make name tags. I am teaching 10 different classes with 25-27 students in each class, so these will be necessary! I went over some of the basics of TPRS and then we launched into some PQA. I had one volunteer come up to the front and I started circling using the target structures. I used this as an opportunity to teach the class a few TPRS skills, like signaling when they don’t understand, saying “Ahhhh…”, and hitting the desk when I say “Es ridiculo!” When I ran out of things to say about the first student, I brought up another one to compare and contrast.

Some of the phrases I circled included:

  • Ella es una chica.
  • Se llama Jessica. (I suggested a few times that the volunteer was named Taylor Swift or some other celebrity and the students loved it. They seem to think it’s even funnier when it’s someone they don’t particularly like, like Justin Bieber.)
  • Jessica tiene dos hermanos. (I whispered with the student to find out and told the class the answer in Spanish. You could also ask the kids in Spanish if they had enough language ability to answer you. Whispering seems to make them more curious though.)
  • Jessica tiene un gato. (This was a fun one to contrast “tiene” with “es”. I asked “Jessica ES un gato?” and got lots of laughs.)
  • Jessica tiene pelo largo.
  • Jessica es atlética. (Once again, I got this information from the student.)

When I started talking about penguins and elephants, a few students naturally started making up fake pets. I encouraged this by asking them detailed questions about the colour, size, and name of these pets and then sharing the details with the class.

Our next class will involve more PQA and descriptions like those above, though I might let them start using my celebrity masks if they get bored hearing about each other. Eventually we will work our way up to asking a story based on the script below. I’ve included some practice sentences and questions to ask students as well.


  1. La chica se llama Cristina.
  2. Manuel tiene un gato.
  3. El gato se llama Fluffy.
  4. Fluffy es muy gordo.
  5. Señor Deis es muy alto.
  6. Justin Bieber no tiene un iPod.
  7. La profesora de español tiene tres hermanas.
  8. Jennifer Lawrence tiene pelo largo.
  9. Señor Pittman no tiene pelo.


  1. ¿Cómo te llamas?
  2. ¿Quién tiene un animal doméstico?
  3. ¿Quién tiene un perro?
  4. ¿Cuántos animales domésticos tienes?
  5. ¿Cuántos hermanos tienes?
  6. ¿Quién tiene pelo largo/corto?
  7. ¿Cuántos años tienes?
  8. ¿Quién es atlético/artístico/inteligente/simpático?


Ella es una chica. La chica se llama Gabriella. Ella es inteligente. Ella es guapa y atlética. Ella tiene un gato. El gato se llama Whiskers. Él es rojo. Él no es inteligente. Él es muy gordo. Gabriella tiene un problema. Ella no tiene un elefante. Gabriella tiene un gato, pero no tiene un elefante. Gabriella está triste porque Whiskers no es un elefante. Gabriella tiene un amigo. Su amigo se llama Jacob. Jacob tiene un elefante. Gabriella exclama, “Mamá, ¡no es justo! ¡No tengo un elefante!” Su mamá le responde, “Gabriella, un elefante no es un animal doméstico. ¡Es ridículo!”

Writing Scripts

I am happy to say that I am finally at the point in my TPRS career where I feel like I can write a story script! Surprisingly, it was not as hard as I thought it would be. Up until now, I have mostly been using Anne Matava and Jim Tripp scripts with my class. While there are some hilarious scripts, I started to feel like I was using a random collection of stories as my curriculum, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to have some sort of reason for choosing the structures I do. Of course I choose a lot of high frequency structures, but that didn’t narrow it down enough for me. After some emails back and forth with Martina Bex and some tweeting with Carrie Toth and Kristy Placido, I realized that I could backwards plan my lessons from the novel I want to study with my students. So this semester, I want to do Mira Canion’s La France en Danger et les secrets de Picasso with my French 10/20/30 split class. I started planning by going through the novel and picking out high-frequency structures or structures that were repeated throughout the novel that I thought my students would not already know. Sometimes I thought they would know “he/she wants” but not “they want” so I wrote down “they want” as a structure. They would likely recognize it, but I want them to be able to produce it so that when we read the novel, they can easily write about it and talk about it. Then when I had my list of structures, I looked it over and started picking phrases that I thought would go together well. It was partly random, but I was also trying to see which structures I could put together to create a story. Since it is getting close to Halloween, these are the structures I chose for the story we started today.

  • s/he is no longer
  • s/he is disguised as
  • they want
  • s/he does not see well

They may seem random, but 3/4 of them are very high-frequency structures. The other one (s/he is disguised as) adds some humour to the story, is relevant to the kids, and appears multiple times in the novel! Then I tried to think about how I could make this into a story. I also kept in mind structures that we had studied recently and thought about whether I could work them in somehow (ie. takes, gives, fortunately/unfortunately). This is is (somewhat boring) script I came up with. The great thing is, it doesn’t matter how bad your story is, because the students will change it into another story altogether! Here is what I came up with (in English). Email me if you would like a copy of the French version! I have written the script with all of the specific details are underlined – these are the things that your students can change when you “ask” the story. I generally write scripts and ask stories in the present tense and do readings in the past tense.

Jamie and Juliana want a cat. So they go to the pet store. But the salesman does not see well. He takes a shark and gives it to the girls. Jamie and Juliana do not want a shark. They are depressed. Fortunately, it is not a real shark, it is Chuck Norris disguised as a shark. Jamie and Juliana are no longer depressed.

Monica and Vahbiz want a unicorn. So they go to Disneyland. But Mickey Mouse does not see well. He takes a horse and it gives it to the girls. Vahbiz and Monica do not want a horse. They are angry. Fortunately, it is not a real horse, it is a penguin disguised as a horse. Monica and Vahbiz are no longer angry.

Jaemin and Alex want a leprechaun. So they go to the Lucky Charms factory. But the factory worker does not see well. He takes a pot of gold and gives it to the boys. Jaemin and Alex want a pot of gold. They are delighted. Unfortunately, it is not a real pot of gold. It is chocolate disguised as a pot of gold. Jaemin and Alex are no longer delighted.

The students never saw the original script, I just asked questions to get the answers I wanted. I started with, “There was a person. Who was it?” At first they were general. One person said, “A boy.” I asked for a name and we decided on Max. Sometimes I let the students decide, sometimes I decided arbitrarily, and sometimes I just picked the funniest answer. Then I asked if Max was tall or short. They said short and one girl suggested that he was a dwarf. I hadn’t done much circling at this point as these were all known structures and not what I was focusing on. I wanted there to be two people in the story, so next I said, “I have a secret!” When I say that, they all cup their ears, stomp a foot on the ground, and lean forward simultaneously. I told them he has a brother, and one kid called out that it was Shaquille O’Neal! We couldn’t go wrong from there. Here is the whole first location of the story that we came up with in the end. We still have lots left to create today!

There was a boy named Max . Max was a dwarf. He was charming , rich, and good-looking. His brother was Shaquille O’Neal. Max and Shaq wanted a dog. They did not want a normal dog , they wanted the dog Barack Obama. They wanted his dog because his dog was an amazing chihuahua. His dog was a big rainbow-coloured chihuahua. It was as big as a horse. So they went to the White House by magic carpet . Barack Obama was at the White House , but Miley Cyrus was also there. Miley Cyrus could not see well. She was nearly blind and she needed glasses. She had no glasses because a wrecking ball struck her glasses and now they are broken into pieces. So, because Miley Cyrus could not see well , she took Barack Obama’s cat and gave it to the boys. Max and Shaq did not want a cat. They were sad, but they did not cry . Instead of crying , they took Barack Obama’s big chihuahua secretly . Unfortunately, it was not a real dog , but Michelle Obama disguised as a dog. Max and Shaq were no longer sad, they were completely depressed.

Supply Teaching in Canada

Shortly before I graduated with my teaching degree in December 2009, I applied to work for Edmonton Public Schools. I was one of the lucky few who had an interview while I was still completing my final teaching practicum, and as soon as all of the paperwork was completed, I was able to start teaching. From March until the end of June 2010 I worked as a supply teacher in various schools all over Edmonton. A supply teacher is the same thing as what many people would call a substitute teacher. For some reason we use both terms in Alberta. Most teachers and people that work in education use the term “supply teacher” while students and other members of the community tend to use the term “substitute teacher”.

When I began working as a supply teacher I had no real idea what to expect. I figured that the students would behave badly and that I would have to be really strong in the area of classroom management, but other than that I didn’t really know how the system worked. In Alberta, to get on the list of available supply teachers you have to pass the first round of interviews by the district. If you are considered acceptable and you have a subject that they need, you get put on the list. People on that list are then the ones who can be considered for contract positions. Once you are available for work, you are put on the available list, which is maintained by the school district, and you can start getting jobs. The larger school districts like Edmonton Public Schools and Calgary Board of Education have a computer-automated systems, while in the smaller school districts it is someone’s job to make the phone calls personally.

As a supply teacher, I would wake up most mornings to my phone ringing. Groggily, I would answer the phone and try to enter in my personal teacher code and pin number in order to access the system. Then a computer recording would read aloud a job that was available and I would have to hit one button to accept or another to reject. These jobs were either for a half-day or a full-day of teaching, and though I didn’t get a call every morning, the work was consistent enough. This was probably because as a language teacher, and more specifically a French teacher, I was more in demand than many other supply teachers would have been.

Though I only worked as a supply teacher for 4 months before securing a position teaching French and Spanish, I found that I enjoyed it. The students were not so badly behaved and the staff members were always very supportive and willing to help out in any way. Teachers in Alberta must leave full lesson plans if they are away, so there was always something planned for the students to do. Generally any materials they needed for the class were set out neatly and everything was very organized and easy to figure out. As a new teacher, I found it quite helpful to see how other classrooms were set up and what kinds of things the teachers did in terms of class work, discipline, etc. But the best part of supply teaching was definitely not having to make my own lesson plans or take home any marking!

I would love to hear from people in the comments about what it’s like to be a supply teacher or substitute teacher elsewhere in the world. How is it similar to or different from your own experiences? I plan to follow up with a blog post about supply teaching in England as well.

Unexpected Details

A while ago I went to The Comic Strip to see Jon Dore perform.  He was very entertaining and I was quite impressed overall.  I am always in awe when I see comedians perform so successfully for a crowd, and this night was no exception. I have always thought that being a comedian must be terrifying, especially when you see those comedians that just flop completely.  You can’t help but feel sorry for them, while at the same time being thankful that it’s not you that is up there.  Over the course of the night however, I started to think that there were actually a lot of similarities between being a teacher and a comedian – both of us are up on a “stage” trying to reach out to a room full of people. Comedians try to entertain the crowd while teachers try to engage students.

As I was thinking along these lines, I began to notice that Dore’s best jokes were the ones with the unexpected punch lines.  This is not a surprise for most people interested in comedy.  As the Wikipedia article on punch lines says: “Punch lines generally derive their humor from being unexpected.”  And Blaine Ray has always said that you don’t necessarily have to be a certain personality type to be an effective TPRS teacher, and that using unexpected details is the key to being able to tell funnier and more interesting stories. I think after watching this comedian and paying close attention to what was funny and why, I finally understand what he means by this!