Where would you go?

People often wonder what TPRS and TCI instructors do to expose students to advanced level structures.  I’d like to share how I started my year in Spanish 4 as an example but keep in mind… Advanced Low language users are able to use present/past/and future times with enough accuracy to be understood by natives not accustomed to language learners.  That means that I spend the MAJORITY of my time in all 4 levels being sure that my students can narrate a story and have a discussion about a wide variety of topics in these three times.  I expose them to things like subjunctive and conditional through pop-up grammar and the superstars always take note and produce those things… but I don’t expect that type of production from everyone, it just isn’t possible with so many different abilities in one classroom!

When my Spanish 4s came to class the first day, they found a folded piece of cardstock on their seat that said “If I were NAME, I would…” They sat in the spot with their own name but then traded cards with a friend.  After everyone had traded cards, I asked them (always in TL) to draw 3 things they would do if they were their friend.  We spent a full week discussing these cards.  Every day, I’d pick up a couple of cards and we would get reps of conditional and imperfect subjunctive… I didn’t go overboard and teach the whole imperfect subjunctive… I just used one structure “If I were”.  The conditional is so easy that they were comfortable by the end of the week saying all kinds of things they would do if they were in their friend’s shoes!

Knowing that I can teach ANY grammar concepts and important transitional phrases through units that they like, I had them vote on what they wanted to study this year.  Top choice (to my great joy) was traveling!  I used this unit to continue with a second structure.  “If I had a lot of money, I would travel to… and I would….”  I shared trips I had been on, we did some authentic infographics about how to pack a suitcase and talked about what we WOULD pack… We read about their English teacher’s study abroad in Spain and had a backchannel discussion about whether we would enjoy a trip like that or not.  Finally, they told me all about a place they would like to visit and what they would do if they had enough money and time to go there.

100% of them used conditional verbs to say what they would do in the final written presentation (the summative assessment).  Having that context wrapped around the verbs really made it stick!  We’ll revisit this construction often this year, adding more subjunctive chunks to accompany it… but we will spend most of our year sharpening our ability to narrate in the big three with transition words, rich vocabulary, and higher comprehensibility!

As you look at your units, how can you take what you must teach and wrap it in a context that engages and gives a real-world purpose to the language your students are producing?


  1. I would love to be able to do this successfully! It sounds like a dream. One question: did you have a menu of options from which students chose the topic “travel”?

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