Kelly Ferguson

Kelly doesn’t look old enough to have been doing TPRS for twenty years, but she was one of the early enthusiasts and had the wonderful opportunity of being trained by Blaine Ray, Susan Gross and Joe Nielson. She has been to NTPRS fourteen times and has been a coach there almost as long. I remember meeting her in 2009 in Minneapolis. She will be coaching at iFLT for the fourth time this year. She is a National Board Certified teacher and mentors candidates going through certification. She is the author of the embedded readings on the popular Senor Wooly website for Spanish teachers and she has a blog at

Kelly has presented at state, regional and national conferences. In Agen she will be giving two presentations as well as helping with the coaching. She wishes to help teachers give their students Comprehensible Cultural Input in order to develop a better understanding of the culture of native speakers, even at the beginner levels. She will also present on a battery of reading activities at all levels to help students understand and respond to texts. Her sessions are fun and engaging and we are proud to have her with us.

We sincerely hope this will be the first of many visits to Agen.

Pre-conference Training about Comprehensible Input methods for New Comers

Kirstin Plante has run teacher training programs in the States and in the Netherlands for many years. We all realize that New Comers who are just discovering TPRS and Comprehensible Input methods can be a bit overwhelmed at the beginning. Eventually it all fits together, but it can take a while to figure things out. Kirstin wanted to offer a program that would let New Comers get the most out of the Agen Workshop, that would let them hit the ground running, so to speak.

She has planned two and a half days, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning, July 21st to July 23rd, just before the conference. The training will take place in Agen, right in the Lycée Saint Caprais. Trainees will receive documentation to read before the training and have all their questions answered, as well as practical, hands on training. In this way we hope that they will get full benefit from the conference and have a wonderful time.

For information about Kirstin’s offer go to :

Adriana Ramirez

Adriana Ramirez works in Canada, in the province of British Columbia as a Spanish teacher. She has been a language teacher for more than 12 years. She is a well-known CI author and presenter. She has published several books with stories (in Spanish and French), to teach through storytelling and comprehensible input. She constantly presents at workshops in both Canada and the US. She trains and coaches teachers on applying CI techniques in the classroom, and welcomes guests to her classroom so they can see the power of TPRS first hand. You can watch a video of Adriana in her classroom on her youtube channel:

Liam Printer

Liam Printer is Irish and possesses 11 years experience teaching Spanish, French and English to both secondary students and adults. He currently teaches Spanish to students aged 11-18 in the International School of Lausanne in in Switzerland. Previously he worked as a consultant for a group of secondary schools in Finland. He has embraced Comprehensible Input methods and has presented at teachers’ conferences in the Netherlands and in Ireland. Currently he is completing work on a doctorate in Education at the University of Bath. His research is focused on the motivational pull of teaching languages through storytelling. He has an interesting blog at

This summer in Agen he will give a presentation on using storytelling to increase student buy in and participation. His goal is to give teachers tools that “they can take away and immediately try in their classes with little or no preparation.”

Max meets Kevin – part two of The Mighty

In the following scenes Max learns that they have new neighbors and then he sees Kevin for the first time.

If we begin when Max is lying under his bed, I ask the class “Where is he?” At first, if they’re not paying attention, they think he is on the bed. I rewind and let them follow the camera, so that they realize his refuge is under the bed. I’ve never had anyone laugh or scoff at this. They seem to realize how miserable he is, even though his face shows no emotion. We read/decode the subtitles together. I furnish the words they don’t know as soon as they hesitate. Then I go back and replay the scene. (I use the VLC program because it lets me replay as often as I wish, at the speed I want and I can choose the exact second I want to stop at. Other programs that I’ve tried are not as easy to manipulate.)

On the second replay I don’t stop or question or intervene at all. I just let the input, which is now comprehensible, soak in. It won’t all be acquired of course, but it’s a beginning.

Then we hear Gram chatting about going to the market and the price of pot roast. She mentions there are new neighbors. I usually translate this myself for the students because it’s mostly low frequency vocabulary. When she says “Her name is Gwendolyn,” I ask if Gwendolyn is a girl or a boy. This is not obvious to most of my students, so I point out that “her name” means “son nom à elle”. I do this tiny pop-up to help them with the difference between His and Her which gives them a lot of trouble. If I have more advanced students, I might ask what we can understand when she says “She’d be just about your mother’s age.” I do NOT ask the trick question “Is it “She had” or “She would”. I tell them that it means “She would be just about your mother’s age” and I translate “Elle serait un peu près l’age de ta mère.” Then I ask what this tells us about the boy’s mother and help them to realize that the boy’s mother is probably dead. My intention is to help them grasp the meaningful difference between “She is” and “She would be”. Grammar is only relevant when it gives us information about the characters and their situation.

Then we see the boy in his backyard and we see Kevin for the first time. The boy does what most people are tempted to do when they see a person who is handicapped. He stares. Gwen, played by Sharon Stone, appears and talks to her son. We learn immediately that Kevin is very intelligent. We see him fly his “ornithopter”, which his mother says is a big word for a mechanical bird. Kevin explains that he’s trying to take advantage of what looks like ideal flight conditions this evening. The subtitles shrink his statement, so I ask the students if they hear the missing words. We listen again and again, until they do hear that he’s saying more than is written on the screen and are proud when they can hear “this evening”. I use the “what’s missing” technique with students often. It gives them confidence and gets them to really listen to the audio rather than relying completely on the subtitles. Often they are the ones who point out that there are missing words.

Kevin realizes that he is being watched and confronts the boy. “What’s the matter? Have you never seen a robot before?” Sometimes I ask, “where is the robot? Is it the mechanical bird? Or is it Kevin?”

Then we go to the boy’s gym class. We meet his gym teacher and see that he is not above making fun of the boy in order to get a laugh from the other students. It’s rather sad to see that my students are never shocked by his behavior. We skim through the scene, until Blade says that Max threw the ball at Kevin. The students have no trouble understanding what is happening. I ask about Kevin’s feelings and we agree that he is angry.

Then we see the boy on the weekend, helping Grim repair the house and going to LD Reading class. Again, we translate the subtitles to get the idea, but we don’t linger. We do learn the boy’s name when the teacher calls him Max.

The scene between Max and his new tutor, who turns out to be Kevin, sets the tone for much of the film. I like to stop the film when on Kevin’s expression and ask, “What is he thinking? Is he remembering that Max threw a ball at him?” “Why is he so upset? Has he ever been in a special school ‘Where kids can’t even say their own names’?” Kevin is teaching Max to read, and since Max didn’t bring a book, Kevin uses his, King Arthur and his Knights. Kevin explains that “Every word is part of a picture, and every sentence is a picture.” I tell my students that this is true in English too. That when they read a sentence in English, they should be able to see a picture.

We usually end with “Freak was patient. He told me that dinosaurs had brains the size of walnuts. And they ruled the earth for sixty million years.” And we can talk about the name of the chapter: Dinosaur brain.

Finally I give them a summary of the beginning of the film. I use Comic sans MS to print the documents I give to students because it is said to be easier to read for dyslexic students. You may notice that in the readings I repeatedly contrast “tell” with “say”. My francophone students have problems with these words because they are both translated as dire.
The summary is presented as an Embedded Reading, but I sometimes tell weaker students to read only the first version, or the first and second version. Of course, they usually return and let me know that they read all three versions. And I give them my “cat who got in the cream” smile.

Reading 1
Max Kane lives with his grandparents, Gram and Grim. He is in the seventh grade but he is thirteen years old because he is not a good student.

The Doghouse Boys are Blade’s gang. They make fun of Max because he looks like Godzilla. They sing “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Blade wants to be friends with Max, because he could use his muscles. Max has no friends.

Kevin Dillon lives next to Max. He is handicapped and he looks like a robot. His mother’s name is Gwen. Kevin is very intelligent. He built a mechanical bird. Max watched Kevin with his bird, but Kevin saw Max. He asked, “Have you never seen a robot before?” Max ran away.

In gym class Blade threw a basketball at Kevin. He fell down. Blade told the teacher it was Max. He said, “It was Kane, sir.” The teacher told Max to help Kevin up. Kevin was angry and refused Max’s help.

On Saturdays Max went to Reading Class. Kevin was his new tutor. Kevin told Max to close his eyes and listen to the story. He said, “Every sentence is a picture.” He told Max to read “King Arthur and his knights”. Max told Kevin that he didn’t throw the ball at him. He said, “It was Blade, not me.”

Kevin asked, “What’s the matter with you?” Max said, “I don’t like to cause trouble.”

Reading 2
There is a boy named Max Kane. He lives with his grandparents that he calls Gram and Grim. He is in the seventh grade but he is thirteen years old because he failed the seventh grade.

The Doghouse Boys are Blade’s gang. They make fun of Max because he doesn’t get good grades in school and he looks like Godzilla. They laugh and sing “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Blade tells Max he wants to be friends with him, because he could use his muscles. Max doesn’t answer. Max doesn’t talk to anyone at school.

Kevin Dillon is a new boy in the neighborhood. He lives next to Max. He is handicapped and he needs crutches to walk. He looks like a robot. His mother’s name is Gwen. She is proud of Kevin because he is very intelligent. He built a mechanical bird. Max watched Kevin with his bird, but Kevin saw Max. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Have you never seen a robot before?” Max ran away.

In gym class Blade saw Kevin and threw a basketball at him. Kevin fell down. The teacher asked who was responsible and Blade told the teacher it was Max. He said, “It was Kane, sir.” The teacher told Max to help Kevin up. Kevin was angry and refused Max’s help.

On Saturdays Max went to Learning Disabled Reading Class. Kevin was his new tutor. Kevin told Max to close his eyes and listen to the story. He said, “Every sentence is a picture.” He told Max to read chapter one of “King Arthur and his knights”. Max told Kevin that he didn’t throw the ball at him. He said, “It was Blade, not me.” Kevin didn’t understand why Max didn’t say anything in gym class. He asked, “What’s the matter with you?”

Reading 3
There was a boy named Max Kane. He lived with his grandparents that he called Gram and Grim. Although he was thirteen years old, he was in the seventh grade because he had failed the seventh grade.

Blade was a punk who had been in Juvenile Hall for three months. The Doghouse Boys were his gang. They made fun of Max because he was learning disabled and he looked like Godzilla. They laughed and sang “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Blade told Max he wanted to be friends with him, because he could use his muscles. Max didn’t answer. Max didn’t talk to anyone at school because he didn’t have any friends.

Kevin Dillon was a new boy in the neighborhood. He and his mother Gwen lived next to Max. He was handicapped and he needed crutches to walk. He looked like a robot. Gwen was proud of Kevin because he was very intelligent. He built a mechanical bird. Max watched Kevin fly his bird, but Kevin saw Max. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Have you never seen a robot before?” Max ran away.

In gym class Blade saw Kevin and threw a basketball at him. Kevin fell down and the Doghouse Boys laughed. The teacher asked who was responsible and Blade told the teacher it was Max. He said, “It was Kane, sir.” The teacher told Max to help Kevin up. Max said nothing and went to help Kevin get up, but Kevin was angry and refused Max’s help.

On Saturdays Max went to Learning Disabled Reading Class. Kevin was his new tutor. Kevin told Max to close his eyes and listen to the story. He said, “Every sentence is a picture.” He told Max to read “King Arthur and his knights”. Max said he couldn’t.

Kevin told Max that if he didn’t learn to read he would go to a special school. Max told Kevin that he didn’t throw the ball at him. He said, “It was Blade, not me.” Kevin didn’t understand why Max didn’t say anything in gym class. He asked, “What’s the matter?”

Max said he didn’t like to cause trouble. “So you’re a pacifist,” said Kevin.

The Mighty

“Don’t think of it as a friendship. Think of it as a partnership. You need a brain and I need legs.”

I want to share with you the documents that I use to exploit the film The Mighty. But before I begin I want to tell you the story of the boy who introduced me to the film. I don’t know where he is today or what he has become, but I think of him often, with gratitude. I think he was not very happy when I knew him, but he gave me a precious gift, and I suspect that for him coming to English class was a bright spot in a lot of grey days.

Over ten years ago I was in the process of discovering TPRS, mostly by long distance, reading posts on the moretprs list and the Green Bible. At the time I was teaching in a French lycée with a Première class of very good students. They were sixteen years old and taking the Science track which is considered responsible for France’s worldwide lead in mathematics. It’s a selective track; only the best students are allowed to take it. The students are usually bright, competitive over-achievers. And the only student that I clearly remember from the class was an under-achiever.

He was certainly bright, but not very competitive. He just didn’t seem to care about grades. I learned that his parents lived in Africa, so he was a boarder at the international lycée, the only local school that accepted boarders on weekends and during the holidays. I saw some of his misery, being away from his family for so long, with kids that he had very little in common with. My own children had known similar boarding schools.

On the day I tried my first TPRS story, we created a purple chimpanzee and the boy volunteered to be the chimpanzee. When I asked what the chimpanzee’s name was, someone said “Darwin” and we had a good laugh. The story didn’t really go too well since I was trying to work in too much low frequency vocabulary. But the kids played along, humoring me, and we muddled through. Being an American teacher in France has the advantage that the kids expected me to be a bit strange.

From then on, the boy signed all his papers “Darwin”. The story had given him a new identity in the class. He began hanging around at the end of class to talk to me. We were doing Shawshank Redemption and he liked the fact that we weren’t following the textbook. One day he asked me if I had seen the film The Mighty. I said no and he told me that it was the best film ever made. The next day he brought in a DVD so that I could see it.

I saw that it starred Sharon Stone and doubted that it was something I could use in school. But during the holidays I took time to watch it, so that I could honestly tell him I had looked at it.

Big surprise. It was a wonderful, very moving film that left me in tears. Sharon Stone had a relatively minor role and I’m convinced that the only reason she is in the film is because she believed in the story. Sting did the music, much for the same reason, I’m sure. The real stars are two young boys who should have won a joint Oscar for their acting in the film. Especially Eldon Henson who was always spot on. I ordered the book, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. It was even better than the film, but written with too many colloquial expressions to be easily comprehensible for my students. I learned that the story was inspired by a boy, a neighbor of Philbrick’s, who had Morquio Syndrome.

You can get a taste of the film by watching this video:

I began using the film and soon realized it was a sure fire thing. Who could help but identify with the two boys who “had no friends, had nobody”? The greatest fear of all teenagers, even the most popular ones in the class, is that of having no friends. I realized why “Darwin,” an intelligent misfit, considered it the best film ever made, There are scenes that could have been left out, the knights on horseback fail to capture the wonder of a boy’s imagination. They are just a bunch of men dressed up as knights. But the story comes across, we know that Max and Kevin are seeing real knights, and the magic works every time. It has become an indispensable tool in my teacher’s kit. I use it with groups and individual students, with all ages, including my classes of retired adults, and it always moves and touches them. When a class or group is not used to working with films, I like to use it as a starter. It seems accessible to all levels,

Over the years I’ve developed quite a few documents in order to exploit it as efficiently as possible. Today I want to share them with you.

First class: I show the class/student a picture of the painting, American Gothic. We describe the scene and the people in it. I give them the vocabulary they may need, such a pitchfork, and I tell them the painter’s name if they are interested. I explain that it’s in a museum in Chicago, that I’ve seen it and that it is very well-known. And I ask them if the people in the painting look happy.

When we have nothing more to say about the painting, I show them a few parodies of the painting. If you Google American Gothic parodies, you will find loads of them. Choose three or four that will make your students laugh, remembering that they may not share all your cultural references. There’s one that shows Donald Trump standing in front of the White House, holding a rather surprised Hilary Clinton on a pitchfork.

I don’t explain why I wanted them to look at the pictures. We then start watching the film with no other introduction. The opening scenes show the Ohio River, its bridges and the city of Cincinnatti. We simply talk about the images. At this point there’s no dialog, so I use Movie Talk techniques. I ask how many bridges there are, and most people say two and then I point out a third one in the background. These scenes simply set the when and where of the film. I ask my students if the river is bigger than the Garonne, and show them on a map where the Ohio River is.
Then a boy’s voice begins narrating the story. I point out that no mother would name her child Freak, that it is a nickname and not a very kind nickname. I tell them that it means “monster”. I pause all the time as we decode the subtitles and discuss the scene. Then we come to the first sight of Max’s grandparents and the students recognize the allusion to the American Gothic painting. And I ask them, “Do they look like they are happy?”

Soon we see Max in the school hallways and he’s saying “When you’re in the seventh grade and you look like Godzilla…” I explain that seventh grade corresponds to Cinquième in France and I ask them if they know who Godzilla is. In this way we continue watching the film, discussing the scenes, decoding the subtitles. I usually stop when Max is under his bed, talking about the place in his head where he goes sometimes, where he is nothing, nobody. Then I give the students an Embedded Reading* which is the summary of what we have seen. The first two versions are written in the third person and the last version is written in the first person, like the film narration.

How I use the Embedded Readings depends on the time I have and the level of the students. I may simply ask them to read them, or I may read the texts with the students, or read the first two together and ask them to read the last one at home on their own. Or, after having read the first couple of reading together, I ask them to read the last one silently and to ask if there are words that need explaining.

Here are the Embedded Readings which I use. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.
The speaker is a boy. Freak told him about King Arthur. Freak told him everything. He lives with his grandparents. He calls them Gram and Grim. They do not look like they are happy.
He is in the 7th grade. He looks like Godzilla. He gets the looks. He gets the whispers. People look like they have seen him on the TV program, “America’s Most Wanted Criminals.”
Blade is the leader of a gang. They like to make trouble. Blade was in juvenile hall for three months.


The speaker is a boy. Freak told him about King Arthur and his knights. Freak told him everything. He lives with his grandparents in a poor neighborhood of Cincinnatti, Ohio. He calls his mother’s parents Gram and Grim. They do not look happy. He lives in the basement of their house.
He is in the 7th grade. He looks like Godzilla. He is very big. He gets the looks. He gets the whispers. People look like they have seen him on the TV program, “America’s Most Wanted Criminals.” He wears headphones and he doesn’t talk to anyone.
Blade is the leader of a gang. They like to make trouble. Blade was in juvenile hall for three months. Blade sits next to the boy. He says he wants to be friends because they could use his muscle. Blade’s gang makes fun of the boy. They sing, “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” They think the boy is stupid.

I am a boy. Freak told me about King Arthur and his knights. Freak told me everything. I live with my grandparents in a poor neighborhood of Cincinnatti, Ohio. They are my mother’s people. I call them Gram and Grim. They do not look happy because they are stuck with me. I live in the basement of their house.
I am in the 7th grade. I look like Godzilla. I am very big and ugly. I get the looks. I get the whispers. People look at me like they have seen me on the TV program, “America’s Most Wanted Criminals.” I always wear headphones and I don’t talk to anyone. People look at me and laugh, or they run the other way.
Blade is the leader of a gang, the Doghouse Boys. They like to make trouble. Blade was in juvenile hall for three months. Blade sat next to me on the bus. He said he and his gang wanted to be friends because they could use my muscle. Blade’s gang made fun of me. They sang, “Killer Kane, Killer Kane, had a son who got no brain.” Killer Kane is my dad. I am the son who has no brain.

Who will be presenting in Agen in 2018?

Every year I try to get the best possible line-up of presenters for the Agen Workshop. This year we have a great team and I want to thank them for their generosity. There are some new faces and some familiar ones and some new faces with familiar names.

Susan Gross, a legend, a guide, a model

First of all, I’m proud to announce that our keynote speaker will be Susan Gross herself. Is it necessary to introduce Susie? She was in on TPRS from the very beginning and was instrumental in helping Blaine Ray develop it into a tool that all teachers could use. So many of the things that we do can be traced back to Susan Gross, but she modestly claims that she just put a name on what other people were doing.

Then we will have sessions with Bill Van Patten, former professor at Michigan State University. Bill has published eight books, written countless articles and book chapters and put on a weekly call in radio show, Tea with BVP, where he answered teachers’ questions about Second Language Acquisition. His latest book, While We’re On the Topic, will be available during the workshop.

I have long hoped to have Jason Fritze in Agen, and this year it worked out. He is a sensational presenter that draws large crowds and lots of laughter. He works with primary students and knows exactly how to win their hearts. Jason is also known for his skill at Readers’ Theater and I have asked him to present on that.

Laurie Clarq will be back for the third year in Agen. I admired her kindness and fair interventions on the moretprs list serve long before I met her. She will be presenting on Embedded Readings, Movie Talk and will be coaching in the Advanced English class.

Another familiar face is Diane Neubauer who will have a lot to tell us. Her students from last year wanted to continue their Mandarin adventure on-line, so she will be able to report on that. Diane is currently working on her Ph.d in Iowa and will share her insights in how students acquire a second language.

Sabrina Sebban-Janczak is back! Colorado’s Teacher of the Year 2016 will be teaching French in the morning and presenting on her Special Person Interviews.

Robert Harrell is another familiar face. He will be helping with coaching and sharing his vast knowledge of second language acquisition, but we will also hear from him about writing easy reader novels and developing empathy with students, parents and colleagues.

Jayne Cooke will once again explain how to reach and share with students who are different, who learn differently, helping us to realize that different is not necessarily a handicap, that it can be a gift.

Scott Benedict has been around the TPRS universe some time. I’m delighted to welcome him to Agen where he will be presenting on classroom management and helping with coaching.

Margarita Perez Garcia taught our morning Spanish class before moving to New Zealand and was replaced last year by Rosana Navarro. Together they have written an easy reader in Spanish, Juliana. Margarita will again be teaching Spanish and will participate in Robert’s presentation on writing easy readers.

I myself, Judy Dubois, will be teaching Advanced English for adults. And I will present on Fluency Writing and Very Narrow Listening.

There will be morning classes in Breton, Spanish, French, English I (A2) and English II (B2), Mandarin and Japanese. Teachers may choose to be students in one of the classes or may observe. Observers can stay with one teacher or move around during the week.

There will be afternoon and evening coaching sessions run by Laurie Clarcq, Trish Moller, Robert Harrell, Kirstin Plante and Scott Benedict.

From Gibberish to … Wow!

Download (PDF, 157KB)

We all agree that students need comprehensible input but how do you make oral input comprehensible? I believe this is a challenge that many teachers prefer to ignore. Being able to understand spoken language is the foundation of all language acquisition, yet it seems to be the one we focus on the least.

Why? You may have found a great video but when you put it on, your students complain that the speakers don’t articulate, they speak too fast and their accents are frightful! It’s gibberish to them. I always tell them that they’re listening too slowly, which gets a laugh, but is the actual truth. Our students are trying to decode what they hear and while they’re figuring out one word, the speaker has uttered twenty more. They have the same problem with native speakers who are not teachers. We teachers of English know that in order to be comprehensible, we need to speak slowly and articulate and use high frequency vocabulary. Few non-teachers know how to make themselves understood and many end up shouting, as if language learners were deaf.

Making oral input comprehensible is the elephant in the CI room. Teachers who try to use Comprehensible Input methods know the importance of reading and of encouraging their students to read. We give them class stories to read. We have developed easy readers for A2 and even A1 levels. Our students can and do read. But what do we do to help them to understand the spoken language?

Well, duh, we speak to them. If TPRS has had the success it’s known since the 1990’s, we must have been doing something right. Actually we have been giving our studets oral comprehensible input throughout the lessons as we co-create a story with them. Even when administrators complained about “too much teacher talk” and “sage on a stage”, we went on talking to our students. And it showed when language started “falling out of their mouths”. By carrying on a genuine conversation with them while doing everything possible to be comprehensible, we help our students to acquire language.

And I think it’s important to note that we speak to them in a particular way. We help our students understand by using the (much abused) technique called Circling. Yes, I know, it is now the fashion to denigrate circling, but I’m afraid some people are throwing the baby out with the bath. True, some teachers never learned to do it correctly and as a result their students were bored and resistant to the technique. Yet, when it is done well, it can be what it has always been in the hands of good teachers, an engaging conversation with students.

Circling is the art of asking more than one question about something that has been established. It’s actually something that we all do all the time, when we want to be sure we’ve understood.

“Trump said what?” “When did Trump say that?” “Where was he?” “Did he really say that?” “Who was he talking to?” “Do you have any idea why he said that?”

That’s circling. Is it boring? It only becomes boring when teachers forget that they are having a conversation with their students and start counting repetitions.

How does Circling make oral input more comprehensible? How does it help students to hear and understand spoken English? By giving them more than one chance to grasp what is being said. Let me say that again. Students get a second, even a third or fourth chance to comprehend. The initial statement that is being circled gets repeated, so students who didn’t get it the first time may get it the next time and be reassured that they have understood correctly. I believe that it is vital that teachers help beginners gain confidence in their ability to comprehend the spoken language by circling tricky new structures. Don’t circle everything. Don’t circle if you’re sure that your students have perfectly understood what is being said. But if you see a glimmer of doubt in their eyes, give them another chance to hear the phrase and to show that they have understood it. Laurie Clarcq compared Circling to sanding a piece of wood. A good workman gently sands the rough spots and moves on. If he stays in one place too long, he’ll create a dent in the surface. I truly believe that skilled circling is one of a teacher’s greatest assets when working with beginners. Of course, teachers who are just starting to use it will need some practice, but it’s not a difficult skill to learn as long as teachers remember that the real conversation is more important than counting repetitions.

Another way of developing beginner students’ ability to hear and understand the target language is Story Listening as it has been developed by Beniko Mason Nanki. It is very effective and is now being used by many CI teachers. I’ve discussed it before on this blog. If you are interested in learning more, go to Dr. Mason’s website at

When students have moved beyond the A2 level, they will need less circling and should be listening to other speakers than their teacher. They need to get used to hearing a variety of competent speakers. Films are a rather inexpensive way to let them hear many different voices and accents. A good film can be very compelling. The question is how to make film dialog comprehensible when our students are hearing “gibberish”.

I do this in several steps. First I let them watch a short scene, no more than four minutes long, with no subtitles. Most of them will say they don’t understand what’s being said. “They’re talking too fast, etc.” But we can talk about the actions, the setting, the situation, what we think is being said, the characters’ emotions and thoughts.

Then I put on the English subtitles. (I teach English.) I use the pause button and we decode the subtitles, shot by shot. That is, we read and translate them. I let them know that I’m not asking for a literary translation, simply comprehension of what is being said. Once the students have grasped what the actors are saying, I go back and play the scene to them again, without stopping. At this point they are hearing the dialog and they understand what is being said, even though they may be focusing more on what they see written than on the spoken words. Have no fear, the oral comprehensible input is being processed in the back of their brains.

Now, sometimes you may notice that the written subtitles don’t exactly match what you can hear. This is a great opportunity. Point it out to the students and ask them if they can hear what is not written. Don’t tell them what the extra word or words are, or where they occur. Play the bit for them several times until they can hear it too. (You can explain that for technical reasons the subtitles have to fit into a certain number of characters, so the subtitle writers have to shorten the dialog where they can.) Your students will soon be able to pick out the shortcuts with little help from you.

When I have an interesting scene that is mostly discussion I transform it into a Very Narrow Listening exercise. This means typing up the script and putting in blanks every line or two. The words that become blanks are high frequency words that I’m absolutely sure my students have acquired. (There are manuals that use this type of exercise to review new vocabulary. We shouldn’t expect our students to recognize words they have not yet acquired.)

When I have prepared my Very Narrow Listening exercise, I show the scene to my students without the subtitles. We talk about what they have understood about the situation. Then I hand out the script and we listen while following the dialog. I insist on them following with a finger. No pens are allowed at this point. If they start trying to write in words while the scene is playing, they won’t be able to hear what is being said.

They have now heard the scene twice. I ask if there are any vocabulary words they don’t understand. They read through the script, identifying words that are unfamiliar and I explain them, letting them write in definitions in the margins. I do not hold them responsible for learning these words. If they are high frequency, they’ll pop up again and again and be acquired. If they are low frequency, why waste time on them?

We then listen to the first few lines of the scene. Again, I do not allow them to hold their pens. They cannot be writing and listening at the same time. At this point I want them to concentrate on what they are hearing. After a line or two, I stop the film and give them an opportunity to write in the missing word. If no one has grasped it, we go back and listen again, as many times as necessary. While I have chosen words that I expect them to be able to hear, often they will have more difficulty than I anticipated. They will ask me to play the bit of dialog again and again. (I feel as smug as Tom Sawyer getting his fence painted. They are asking me to play it again.) We gradually move through the scene until they have filled in all the blanks. This may take most of an hour. It’s an hour of attentive, fully engaged listening to comprehensible input.

When all the blanks have been filled in, I play the entire scene again and they follow with their scripts. Then I ask them to turn over their pages and I play the scene again, so they are hearing it with no written support. This is when they realize that they can now understand most of what is being said. I’ve had students exclaim, “Wow! It’s magic!”

Very Narrow Listening exercises enable students to hear and understand authentic resources which can be challenging even for advanced students. Do them often and your students will be amazed by the progress they make, not only in oral comprehension, but also in reading, speaking and writing. Oral comprehension is the foundation for everything else we do.

Registration for the Agen Workshop 2018

Register here for the Agen Workshop 2018. It will be held in the Lycée Saint Caprais, Agen, France. The dates are July 23rd to July 28th. The price is 475 euros.

In order to register, answer the questions on the form below. If you wish to benefit from the special offer to those living outside the eurozone of Two for One, mention your friend’s name in the last line. Then when they register, they should put your name in response to the question about payment.

You may pay through Paypal by clicking on the button. If you do not use Paypal you may contact Judy Dubois ( for information about a bank transfer. Those who live in France may pay by check. We are looking forward to seeing you in July.


Registration for the Agen Workshop 2018