The beauty of the spontaneous moment

Monsieur Triangle and Emma I spent half a period the other day leading an activity that was totally unplanned.  How was I able to deviate without stress?  Thanks to the TPRS (teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling) methodology, I have freedom to maneuver and take advantage of what pops up naturally in my French classes.

Emma, pictured above, is one of my cheeriest 8th grade French students.  I love her enthusiasm and spontaneity.  About 10 days earlier, she had drawn a triangle on the back board and given him the name of ‘Monsieur Triangle’.  She provided one piece of intriguing information in French: He likes circles.

When the French 6 and French 7 students (middle school grade levels) came into class, I pointed out Monsieur Triangle and asked them to formulate 2 questions in French about Monsieur Triangle.  I wrote them on the board and we waited to see how Emma would respond.  The next day, the younger students were eager to read her answers and learn more about Monsieur Triangle.  The back and forth questioning and answering continued until my back whiteboard was full.

At that point I took a photo of the drawings and details, forwarded it to Emma and asked her to draw a finished product in a small section of the front board.

That was a Friday and on the following Wednesday morning, Emma spontaneously took up a dry erase marker and and started to recreate Monsieur Triangle.  As my 8th grade French class came in, one student asked me what she was doing.  That question prompted my quick change of plans.

I turned to Emma, once I had the attention of the class and asked her in French: Who is that? She responded in French and I asked one more basic question myself before turning to the class. I invited them to ask Emma questions about Monsieur Triangle.  An eager participant quickly jumped into the game, followed by more.  When the volunteers looked like they were petering out, I informed the class that EVERYONE had to offer a question.

Formulating questions is tricky in French, so this was good practice. Plus it taught ME some French.  One boy wanted to know if Monsieur Triangle was an isosceles triangle. Truly forgetting my high school geometry, I asked someone to explain IN FRENCH what that was.  This kind of higher level reaching for and combining French they ‘have inside of them’ gives my bright students challenging practice.

By the time everyone had ventured a question, we knew quite a bit about Monsieur Triangle.  Most important of all the details were the following:

  • His buddy was named Cirkie
  • And his girlfriend was named Circie, with a soft C.

That little diversion lasted about 20 minutes and was fun for me and for the students. Most importantly, it highlighted Emma as the source of information about Monsieur Triangle, her creation.  I couldn’t have followed this rich detour if it weren’t for the freedom and techniques offered in TPRS.  Thank you Blaine Ray and all the practitioners who share their valuable ideas.


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