Posted by: Michel Baker | December 31, 2010

Content Related Instruction and Topic Words: A Jason Fritze Interview Series

Recently, I again interviewed CI Based Methods Trainer and Practitioner Jason Fritze (, who reminded me that TPRS is just a small part of what is found beneath the broader umbrella of Comprehensible Input Based Methodologies.  Not all of what he does is TPRS, but all that he does is Comprehensible Input Based.

Over the next few days, I will be posting a series based upon this interview.  It will address the issues of Content Related Instruction and How to Ensure that all Topic Words are “Circled in.”

It is my belief that TPRS is the missing skeleton within the thematic instruction that we have already been doing for so many years in Elementary World Language instruction.  We should simply insert the skeleton of TPRS, around which “good teaching (Carol Gaab)” will then revolve like a well-oiled machine.

QUESTION 1: Within elementary L2 instruction, I have found that three things are being targeted: HF Structures, Topic Words and Content/Culture.  I understand how to target HF Structures via TPRS, but I am not sure how to make sure and target all of the Topic Words and all of the Content/Culture that can potentially be packed into a curriculum.

Before TPRS, my students were “Learning” a lot more but not conversant, “Acquiring” very little, with an Affective Filter that was medium to high, pending the moment.  I was having a wonderful time teaching, but students could only say they enjoyed it sometimes and sometimes were also glad to get out of class.  No matter how much I shoved into them via games and worksheets that I slaved to make communicative, the worksheets died a silent death within their folders, which were thrown away at the end of the year.  They did learn all of the words, they could not communicate with them.

Now, my students are truly Acquiring language via TPRS and a low Affective Filter, but they are not “Learning” as much as they did before.  [The older ones have already had instruction in the Topic Words, but my younger ones are just not getting it all Circled in!]  Not all Topic Words seem to get acquired in Elementary solely through Circling and spontaneous PQA.  I think that there must be a plan in place to ensure that each Topic Word gets targeted, otherwise when each of the 25 classes takes its story into its own different direction, I don’t know what Topic Words I have been able to target in each class.  How can I make sure that they all know all of their numbers, colors, calendar, weather, etc.?

ANSWER: For teaching Topic Words, Jason advised “…[go ahead and] infuse bits of LEARNING into all the ACQUISITION that you are doing; Direct Instruction has its place…With kids, you can’t just do stories and get away with that.  You have to do lots more [around them]…” To ensure that Topic Words get acquired, we must “stop and do massive amounts of TPR here and there…Teach massive amounts of TPR to give them massive amounts of vocabulary. Do TPR here, do stories, do a song…Sometimes, we must be sure to first stop and teach a bunch of vocabulary through TPR, which then makes the subsequent TPRStories richer.”

” Like we said this summer, in addition to TPRStories, we can then do Songs, Brain Break Games and Books (sometimes even simplified Content Related Books) that recycle the words and structures that we just TPR’d/TPRS’d.  In other words, with our limited time sometimes ‘circling it all in’ just doesn’t cut it, we’ve got to TPR it, first, although he never TPR’s numbers, they seem to just ‘get those’ through Circling.”

He usually runs his instruction through the following cycle, Backwards Designing it from the C.R. Reading down to TPR:

TPR => TPR Storyasking => Song => Content Related Reading

Jason said, “You can [also] make a checklist to show what you touched on each day.  Don’t teach all of any one [Topic Word list] at once, just TPR them as needed [for each story].  This way, it’s spiraling across the year because in week 1, they know one color, for example, and in week 10, they know a few more until finally by end of year they know them all.”

He also talked about Contextualized TPR: “We read LRRHood in TL today, and we did one word via TPR before we began reading.  The word was vuelve…one [student] went out of the room, we set up a ‘vuelve’ picture with an actor on his way to the beach and then the teacher begging ‘¡Vuelve!,’ but the student doesn’t come back.  [Teacher beckons,] ‘¿Adónde vas?’  ‘A la playa.’  ‘¡Vuelve!  Siéntate!’  Class, what does ‘vuelve’ mean?’  And points at it on the board.  This puts it in a context.  Then, he does a bunch of TPR with the whole class and the word ‘vuelve’…España, México, Perú (Jason’s 3 class small-groupings) the beach, etc.  TPR should not be decontextualized too much.”

For Colors, they “make themselves a color chart dictionary, super fast,” by coloring in a grid.  Then, when describing animals in a story, he circles with color swatches in hand.  That is all it takes!

For Body Parts, they draw in a Body Part Grid.  Then, he asks a story about a monster, how many stomachs it has, if it has big or little heads, etc.  Body Parts is biology.

Weather is Science.  More on Content below…

He doesn’t teach the Numbers, just uses the numbers in stories and in general. He spends time counting things with them in context.  He has them count with them, show him the amount of fingers and he writes that numeral on the board, along with the word, and stands there and Points at it.  He just uses them in stories, and it can be tied to Content.

For example, when they are reading the Los Pollitos book, the culmination of a Backwards Designed Thematic Unit, he opens a book and says, “¿Cuántos pollitos hay? Cuatro.  ¿Cuántos pollitos de color café?  Cuatro más uno son cinco.  ¿Cuántos pollitos grandes hay?  4.” [“How many chicks are there?  Four.  How many brown chicks are there?  Four plus one is five.  How many big chicks are there?  4.”]  Whenever they count something, they must show him the amount of fingers, and he writes that number on the board, numeral and word.  See below in Content for the math problem he did next…

So for Numbers, he advises, “Don’t preteach all the numbers…just review all of them together at the end.”     Outsiders were aware that his students knew the numbers more thoroughly than anyone else’s students, so when they came to visit him, they asked how he did it.  He said that he always writes the number on the board that they need for a story…he just writes the word next to it and stands there and points at it.  He says, “…Every time you’re doing a story, you hit the hard numbers…use the hardest numbers a lot in your stories, not the simple numbers…use quince, treinta y uno, etc.  If you want to do millones, make it 26 millones.  Then, later add 26 millones 400.”  He never teaches all the numbers all at once…he teaches a few of them every day.  And only the harder ones, this way they get the rest by default.

He cautions, “Don’t put abstract things early in the grade levels…put it at the end,” like in older grades only.  He teaches the tangibles, things that can be seen in the material world, such as colors, shapes, etc., in the younger grades but reserves the intangibles, such as the Calendar, for older grades, i.e. fifth grade, and starts class occasionally by saying, ”¿Qué día/fecha es hoy?” and writes it on the board: “Hoy es ______, el ______ de _______.”  Jason states, “They see how the date works and eventually they can see it in a story.” After that much has been acquired, he eventually, he adds “Mañana será _____,” and even later, “Ayer fue____.”  He only puts the days of the week in the 5th grade curriculum, not in the 4th grade curriculum.

Stay tuned for one more segment from this interview, about Content Related Instruction v. Content Based Instruction.


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