There have been many responses and questions about the recent CCFLT Google Hangout. Here is one from Kristen:

Thanks for your wonderful ideas during the Google Hangout! I was wondering, how do you teach grammar topics in the target language? Or do you teach them in English? Also, any ideas on ways to improve questioning techniques?

Lastly, how do you start your Spanish I kids out with the “persona especial” strategy? How does this work at first when they have limited vocabulary? I would really love to implement this technique, but am feeling overwhelmed with the idea of starting it.


Hi Kristen,

Thanks for your kind comments.

I tend to teach grammar on an as-needed basis and I rarely use precious class time to explain grammar in English. It is more effective to give real life examples with short, tightly focused micro lessons that help students to communicate clearly with the sentence we are using at that moment.

I do this because the “Skill Building” approach to language learning is so ineffective with the majority of students. That approach takes as a given that people learn languages by learning grammar rules and then practicing them. But I am convinced that people acquire language by comprehensible input–they will unconsciously absorb almost all of what they need when they understand messages in a language and use further messages to incrementally increase their understanding.

I find that 5-10 second grammar lessons work best, and a lot can be accomplished during that brief time by asking tiered grammar-type questions about the sentence I have just said.

To a low level student: “What did I just say?” (just checks comprehension in the context of the narrative)
To a mid level student: “What does ____ mean?” (a part of the whole sentence that has a complex grammar component)
To a high level student: “Why did I say ____ instead of ____? (contrasting the grammar between the subjunctive and indicative, between the imperfect and preterit, or between specialized vocabulary)

Try those questions for grammar points, as to improving questioning techniques, a lot of it just comes by practice, but one thing that will help will be to get away from mechanical circling as soon as possible. We teach circling as a skill in conferences to newbies, but using it all of the time in class can get old in a hurry. Instead, I try to use a new structure in a natural, conversational way in class. And this overlaps nicely with the ongoing “Persona Especial” classroom activity.

I start level I students with the Persona Especial on day one. I ask their name and grade because those are important to kids and those are finite answer sets. There are posters of those questions and answers on opposing walls of the classroom and all I have to do is point my trusty laser pointer to get the point across. Here is link to them:

Keep at it and keep in touch.

We’re all in this together,