It’s a question I often get from students. Where/How do I come up with the structures, stories and readings that we use in class? I do my best to assure them that although things may get pretty silly in class and seem random, there is a purpose to all that we do, and a lot of thought goes into each lesson. This post will be my first of a few that explore my process of developing class content.
First, a quick note on why I usually create my own content. When I started with TPRS, I used pre-made resources. They were good, but I moved away from them for a few reasons. 1. It was hard to stay relevant with material that was printed. I’ve found it much easier to keep things personal and interesting when I create and update them. 2. My language goals are constantly being adapted. Language evolves and I become more aware of what content is most valuable. 3. I love to create. Story scripts, readings, activities. I enjoy creating them, and I hope by doing so that I can foster creativity (a sometimes absent characteristic) among students.
As with any method of teaching any content, backward planning is best. For TPRS, it can be starting from a reading and deciding which structures need to be internalized to make it comprehensible. It can be starting from a performance assessment and determining which skills and language are necessary. I wish I could say that every one of my units is planned backwards, but sometimes I do build from the bottom up.
Sometimes the story determines the structures (certain content is needed to make a story flow), and sometime the structures determine the story (a story is created from structures that are important/valuable). For a structure to be used, it must fit into at least one of the following categories:
1. high-frequency – Probably the most important. I want to equip students with the ability to use the words, phrases and grammatical structures that are most often used.
2. story mover – Some structures may not be high-frequency, but they help move a story and get more meaningful reps for the high-frequency structures. These are often funny, random terms.
3. grammatical focus – I don’t teach grammar with lists, rules and textbooks, but I do teach grammar – in meaningful, contextual situations. Often, structures are used because they are a strong example of a grammatical focus.
Tips and ideas for structures
1. Keep an idea notepad. In the same way a songwriter keeps a notepad (literal or virtual) to record ideas whenever and wherever they occur, I keep notes on my phone of structures that should be incorporated into class. Sometimes inspiration hits while I am watching or listening to materials in the TL, and sometimes it hits at random inexplicable times. Either way, I am ready for it.
2. Understand the value of quotes. I often use quote structures as a way to practice first and second person dialogue and to mix tenses. For example, I can work the future tense along with the past if I include the quote, “I will be an astronaut” into a story that occurred in the past.
3. Don’t try to do too much with each structure. Long structures are fine. Sentences even. But it’s best not to try to incorporate too many new ideas in one structure. If I use the structure, “His mother-in-law will be an astronaut” and “mother-in-law”, “will be” and “astronaut” are all new, it will be difficult to get plenty of meaningful reps on all of them. Much depends on the other structures and how much time will be spent on the story or reading.
Sometimes the most difficult task is grouping structures and creating story ideas. Usually, I take my list of structures I’d like to use (based on my final activity) and start to put them into groups of three based on rough ideas for a story. As I do this and stories begin to form, I realize that I may need to adapt or add new structures. Ideally, I end up with chunks of structures and a quick description of how a story might go. For example;
used to play the guitar, she took from him, he was blind: A boy used to play the guitar. His mom took it from him. He took a guitar from a blind man.
I try to come up with quick ideas that would include a problem and a solution. At this point, I also try to order the groups of structures in a way that one would lead into another. For example, “he behaved badly” might come in a story before “his mom took his phone from him” so that I could connect the two stories. Again, this task can be tedious and can take some time, but I love creating and wondering how each story will turn out in class.
The next step would be to plan out each story in more detail and create PQA questions and possibilities for input before the story. More on that later.