Pop-Up Grammar SWIFTLY Archived Post 8.13.11

Originally posted 8/13/11)

Think of the acronym SWIFTLY for identifying the different kinds of “pop-up” grammar statements/questions we can use with our students:

See/Hear Pop-ups

These are the first pop-ups I heard….and in the early stages storytelling. the most frequent.

(do you) See the English word in the French word?
(do you) See the “r” on the end of bailar? That makes it “to dance”.
(do you) Hear the English word in that?
(do you) Hear the “o” on the end?

These “pop-up-points” that will help students better comprehend what they see and hear as well as introduce them to, and give them practice in identifying and understanding cognates.
What if ? Pop-ups

This was the second group I noticed. These were based on the fact that the students were “getting” the See/Hear pop-up questions right.

What if I added an “r” to baila? What would it mean?
What if I wanted to say he dances instead of I dance?

These moved the students up “Bloom’s taxonomy”, required students to be familiar with a “pop-up-point” and required them to manipulate the language in order to change the meaning of the word/phrase.
Individual Pop-ups

This is when we ask an individual a pop-up question rather than the group. This is ideal for checking in with barometers, pulling in a daydreamer, challenging a “superstar” or giving a little extra love to anyone.
Find the word/phrase that says…..in French

I identified these when Susie was reading with the students. Susie read a sentence or two aloud in French and then asked them to
Find a certain word/phrase.
Sometimes it is a familiar word/structure….but often this was aimed at the “superstars”….chose a phrase that they are able to find using their upper level abilities or more expansive vocabularies. The barometers can not always identify it on their own, but they are able to recognize once it is pointed out.
Timing Pop-Ups

Obviously when and how often to do pop-ups is a tough skill to master….and if you are a master…please share your pointers with us!!

This is what I have observed/experimented with that seem to work:

*no more than one pop-up per sentence when reading
*no fewer than every 5 sentences when reading
*more frequently when a “pop-up point” is being introduced.
*fewer when we are reading a story for the joy and excitement of it (like the choking scene in casi se muere!)
*focus on only one or two “pop-up-points” per class period for best results …especially with beginners!
Love Pop-ups

These are done purely to connect with a student. If a barometer suddenly “gets it”…and you see the eyes light up…it is time for a Love pop-up.
Hey Martin….I saw that sentence show right up on your face …tell us what it means!

A student comes in after school for help and you work ahead on the next day’s phrase. Call on him early on in class for a pop-up!
A student “owns” a particular word or phrase…
You Still Got It Baby!! Pop-ups

These are when we go back and pop up a point we know.,…or we hope…that they have already mastered…just for the confirmation (hey…maybe they still need it!!) or the sheer joy (ours and theirs!) of it.

with love,

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Anticipate Joy!! Archived Post 4.10.13

(Originally posted 4/10/13)

Because it’s coming. Oh yes it is. And sometimes when we least expect it. As TPRS teachers,in our department, direct grammatical instruction is “postponed” until year three or four. By this time students have acquired a good base of language. They only need grammar if they want to be successful in a college program that will, most likely, be grammar-centric.

So, since it was coming up on the last marking period of the senior year, I thought I’d give them their first “grammar-driven” unit. I started with the subjunctive, including formal commands (positive and negative) along with the negative informal commands….and just for fun the nosotros too. Oh…making sure to add in the use and placement of direct, indirect and reflexive pronouns. (no, they don’t know the linguistic terms for those but that didn’t seem to be a problem) We’ll finish the direct study and guided practice tomorrow. They have been doing online independent practice and Friday, when half of them are on a field trip, the rest of us will head off to the computer lab for a little more time.

Where’s the joy? Well……they’re enjoying it for one. All of them, even the ones who are not college-bound or have no desire to take a college-level language course. In fact, those kids may be enjoying it more than their classmates who, after years of indoctrination, worry a little too much about getting everything right. Today I got to spend a good twenty minutes standing in the back of the computer lab watching them cheer and high-five each other when they successfully took on a number of Quia challenges on commands and the subjunctive.

(FYI, the formation and use of the subjunctive is a fairly difficult grammatical concept to teach, and the rules for creating the different kinds of commands are complex. And of course there are a slew of exceptions and irregulars)

Okay, that’s a geeky kind of joy, but it is joy nonetheless. It makes me very, very happy to see good ole farmboys and girls from our school on the hill rocking a grammar quiz.

Then, one of them turned around to me and said, “You know what’s weird Profe? None of the people who designed these games seem to care if we have any idea what these words mean. They only want to know if we put the right letters in the right places. How weird is that? Makes no sense.

Luckily we already know what they mean.”

Dance. of. joy. :o)

Lesson learned. Anticipate joy. You never know when it will show up.

with love,


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Shelter Vocab Not Grammar Archived Post 10.20.10

One of the challenges we face as teachers is finding ways to help students use their language to express themselves fluently. The best thing that we can do for them is to show them how to communicate with fluency with the language that THEY have acquired…to model for them what it might look and sound like. Susie Gross has often said….Shelter vocabulary, not grammar.

But what does that mean? In the past few years I have really practiced this…and I wish that I had “gotten it” earlier because it is an incredibly powerful change in my teaching. But what is it that I have been practicing? Let me try to explain….

In the book that we are working on in, the phrases “brings him/brings her/brings them” show up repeatedly. What I would like to do is to create opportunities to use these phrases over and over and over and over and over again.

It will work because these are high-frequency. It will work if I keep them in front of me…cognitively and physically. It will work if, every time I use them with students, they are comprehensible AND contribute to some sort of interesting interaction. Some opportunities…

Daily Routines:

1. We start the class with a message on the Smartboard. Here are some ideas …..phrases I could put on the opening message:

The teacher is ready to accept your homework. Bring it to her.

The miners brought rocks home from the mine. Why should, or shouldn’t, they bring them?

The students from France are arriving tomorrow! Our students will be bringing them to school.

2. We use signals to integrate vocabulary and structures and to refocus students on activities. Here are some phrases we could use:

I’m bringing them….to the party!
Bring them…with you

3. Instead of collecting papers from the first person in each row I can ask them to “bring them to my desk.’

Personalized Conversations (aka PQA)/Writing Prompts

I frequently start a conversation with students (or ask them to write a paragraph) that uses a particular structure…with this one I might try…

1. I just received an email from The New York Yankees. They want to come to watch their biggest fan (Dan) play soccer this Thursday. They will need a ride from the train station in Syracuse…..who in class can (will, would, should) bring them to school?

2. Our French visitors have a free afternoon on Friday and we are taking them around the area. They can leave school at noon and must be back for the football game at 7pm. You get to decide where we go….where should we bring them?

3. Silly Bandz is sponsoring a local contest. You can win $500 if you can write a letter that convinces our principal to put on 500 Silly Bandz and wear them to school every day for a week. What would you write in your letter?

4. Start a campaign to convince parents that they should no longer bring their children with them to every family function. What is a function that teens do NOT want to attend and why shouldn’t parents bring them?

5. School policy says “no coffee, no soda” in classes. Should students be allowed to bring them to class? Why or why not?


1. Day of the Dead….a great opportunity to talk about the ofrendas, the people who are honored and what families bring to the ofrenda.

2. Three Kings’ Day…another great opportunity to talk about a Hispanic holiday, who the Kings were/are and what children hope that they bring …


1. Headlines…a quick “Google”ing of the phrase “brings (or brought or will bring etc) them” in
Spanish brought me these headlines:

· Alejandro les lleva al paraíso (Alejandro Sanz concert…)

· Ronald McDonald visita a niños cusqueños y les lleva alegría (RM visits kids in Cusco, Peru and brings them happiness)

· The Cranberries, reunión y gira mundial que los llevará a España (The Cranberries reunion and world tour that will bring them to Spain)

And my favorite….

· ¿Es necesario que los escolares lleven el celular al colegio? (Do students really have to bring cell phones to school? …..)

2. Matching…I like to create short matching activities to use in little contests, extra credit opportunities etc…they are always easy, interesting, structure-focused. Here’s a sample:

1. My cat threw up three times. ____A. Bring them to a recycling container!

2. My Mountain Dew cans are empty. ____B. Bring them to school!

3. My clothes are dirty. ____C. Don’t bring them to your mother!

4. My Mercedes Benz needs a new owner. ____D. Bring it to the vet!!

5. My cousins are the Jonas brothers. ____E. Bring it to me!

Listening Songs….Again….I googled lleva+letra (Spanish for lyrics) and found….

Llevan por Raphael http://www.letras.com/r/raphael/hacia_el_exito/llevan.html

Mil Calles Llevan Hacia Ti por La Guardia http://www.quedeletras.com/letra-cancion-mil-calles-llevan-hacia-ti-bajar-89218/disco-vamonos/la-guardia-mil-calles-llevan-hacia-ti.html

Me Llevaras en Ti por Alejandro Fernandez http://www.quedeletras.com/letra-cancion-me-llevaras-en-ti-bajar-44250/disco-muy-dentro-de-mi-corazon/alejandro-fernandez-me-llevaras-en-ti.html

Imagine how powerful this kind of repetition could be with idiomatic expressions that just don’t “click” easily? It takes some practice to start “thinking” this way, but I promise you…once you get started it is a little like playing around with puns…you start to see them everywhere!!!

With love,

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I’m Not Adding That Archived Post 9.12.10

(Originally posted 9/12/10)

Last night I got very wound up over a post on Ben Slavic’s blog (http://www.benslavic.com/blog/ sorry…my hyper link feature is a bit off today…) . Anne Matava, an incredible teacher, received a letter from a former student and shared it. It was the kind of thing that I have heard before from my own students and it hit hard. Our students leave our rooms, head off to college, score well on placement tests, end up in upper-level language classes and feel completely unprepared for the grammar-based instruction and texts that they now face. Here is my response this morning…

This post has been in my head all night. Why? Well…I’ve been in the same place as Anne with this…and my students in the same place as hers. So in level 4 I have built in additional time devoted only to strategies on how to attack these grammar assignments. Even with additional exposure and explanation, my students still struggle. Here’s why:

These exercises make no sense.

I know, I’m talking heresy here..but go ahead and get out the stake. Have you looked at them lately? They are completely out of context. Try translating a few to English. What native speaker of English do you know is capable of answering this: Mark_____________(to find/3rd person singular future tense) the book. ??? And what would a native speaker of English learn about his/her own language by filling that in correctly. There are better ways to identify and work with language structures.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the lessons are taught so that students focus on the rules. And then at least one third of the work/test is focused on the exceptions to the rules. It is simply poor pedagogy.

The first four semesters of college study are marketed for students who will go no farther in their language studies…yet…they are designed for students who will major in the study of the language. Native speakers who “test” into the upper levels of these classes face the same struggles as our students. Why? Because they are designed for someone else. For someone who speaks “linguistics” as well as the language of study. The type of practice demonstrated above has no bearing on level of fluency….nor does it even promote a deeper understanding of the structure and beauty of a language.

So, frankly, I’m tired of hearing that /feeling like TPRS is to blame for students’ inability to do well on these types of assignments. The truth is that very few students will do well. That is how they are designed. Even fewer will enjoy any of it.

What hurts our kids the most is that they are not familiar with the feeling that language class is supposed to be painful. When they write to us and let us know that they wish that we had “done more grammar” they don’t understand that that would mean “cause more discomfort and pain” in high school language classes.

Because we DO “do grammar”. From the very first day, in level 1. But it is so much a natural and logical part of the instruction that it is comfortable, logical and supportive. What we don’t do is give them practice in feeling stupid. That is what other kids are used to that our kids aren’t. And I’m not about to add that to my curriculum.

Not sure if I feel better or if I’m even more fired up now. :o)

with love,

All content of this website ©Hearts For Teaching and/ or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to he site and original authors is clearly established.