When They Know It and Don’t Know They Know It

Haiyun teaches Chinese using TPRS and blogs about her experience at tprsforchinese.blogspot.fr.
Recently she discussed the fact that sometimes students know more than they think they do. In TPRS there are no thematic units, such as “Telling Time” – “Parts of the Body” – “Giving Directions”. Students who have learned all the body parts in one lesson tend to forget them completely once the test has been given. With TPRS the thematic vocabulary is introduced gradually, throughout the year, a bit at a time. Here is Haiyun’s post.

Giving Directions – Students Didn’t Even Know They Had It!
Posted: 03 Dec 2013 07:26 PM PST

In a TPRS classroom, one of the complaints I hear often from my kids is this: We have never learned xx, how could we do it?
I teach high schoolers, 9-12 grades. During these years, they are developing more and more abstract thinking, deviating away from being concrete thinkers. Still, it’s hard for everyone to make connections or applications between learning and real life situations.
Although, we’ve been including directions in our stories since Chinese II, during a recent story-asking, a girl blurred out this same complaint again, “We have never learned any directions yet, how am I supposed to give directions in Chinese?”
“Really? Is this what you think?” I stopped the class and asked, “Would you like to have an activity related to giving directions then?” They all cheered.
We reviewed all the directions we know from a Black Friday Shopping story, in which the kids sent Richie Ren to an underwater shopping center in South America, to Joey’s Road Test story in which he got lost on streets; then to a Sponge Bob’s Driving story; then a Prom story, lastly we landed on the most recent “Steve the Pirate”. We basically have covered just about every single word we need to give directions.
Students were excited. Except there are two phrases we haven’t covered yet.
I put: 从…出来, 向…拐 on the whiteboard, then we started. “Let’s go to a StarBucks first!” One suggested. We all did together. “Let’s go to BayShore then.” Language just flies out their mouths. The realization for something they thought they didn’t have was so much more powerful than any verbal assurance I could provide.

Then, we did a few other activities in class or as homework:
1. Writing: go to a favorite place from your home or school.
2. Google map practice: if you need to get to XX, how would you go?
3. Blind fold: we set up many barricades in our classroom, students have to give directions in Chinese to send a person to a hidden stuffed animal.
4. Mirror map: pair activity. Students create maps on their own, tell their partners in Chinese, partners draw out the same map to compare/contrast.
5. Listening activity. The teacher records a direction, students draws as an assessment.

It was not a unit on direction. We just took out two class periods and did it. However, the beauty of TPRS is building structures in depth, students need constant reminders from us of what they can do, which I probably don’t communicate enough with them. Otherwise, in a theme-related curriculum, since it is so different from traditional thematic units, kids at this age don’t form a clear picture easily of what they can do in a target language.

By Haiyun

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