When do you do Step 1?


I think the issue many people are having of late about “establishing meaning” and whether it can or cannot be done via gesture comes from numbering the “steps” of TPRS. Most people aren’t actually establishing meaning solely using gestures (it’s inefficient, imprecise and unneeded in most cases), but gesturing really should be just an adjunct, a mnemonic aid, not a means of communication in whole sentences, any more than Pinyin is intended as a tool to read long Chinese texts. It isn’t, and they aren’t. Similarly, comprehension checks need to be done sufficiently close to the use of the word or phrase so that it is still in auditory memory — otherwise the “linkage” between word/phrase and meaning cannot be made. TPRS does both these things  consistently, and if a teacher is not doing those two things consistently, then I would submit that what that teacher is doing is not TPRS. Find another acronym.

The “3 steps” of TPRS are not necessarily performed in that order — at least with regard to having the entirety of step 1 complete before step 2 is started. So “establishing meaning”, in COIN, doesn’t always lead off. In fact, I advise teachers not to lead off with it as a “let’s learn these words” activity. Using a “let’s review these words by having you do the gestures as I say them” is a reasonable, input-focused thing to do, because there’s already meaning attached at that point. We’re just freshening up those connections.

So, step 1, “establish meaning” can really happen at any moment up to and simultaneous to the introduction of a new word/phrase. I personally do not introduce “all the words” before class because a) I’m not smart enough to guarantee I can get more than 1 or maybe 2 items into a story while still taking into account the progress and reaction of my students; and b) I lose the element of surprise.

In my COIN practice (Comprehended Optimized Input through Narrative — which includes slightly modified-for-Chinese classic targeted TPRS, CCR and text-referenced writing) the flow is like this:

1. Use new words, establishing their meaning using English as each comes up [Establishing Meaning = write up on the board with English and Pinyin; attach a directional gesture (contains both semantic and tonal information); if applicable, pop-up a mnemonic story].

2. Read new words/phrases in characters as a long, whole-class CCR session.

3. Read new words/phrases in characters using more “typical” modalities of reading, using shorter texts, embedding, etc.

4. Write new words/phrases in characters in a composition of some sort by referring back to reading texts for mechanical issues.

“2” and “4” are probably Chinese- (or Japanese-) specific, and would also be useful for alphabetic languages without a Roman alphabet at the very beginning stages.

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