My favorite bailout moves

This post is a reflection on technique with no resources attached

Almost everyday I am in the middle of telling a story, or in the middle of PQA, and something just is not working that requires my attention. Perhaps I do not have students attention like I want, perhaps the PQA is going nowhere or I just simply need a moment to myself to think about where we are going, or look at a list of words to recycle from previous stories. Perhaps I am just exhausted and need to sit down for a moment. These are some of my favorite bailout moves that I use on at least a weekly basis:

(a) recap writing on board (10 minutes): this is what I often do when I know that I am moving too fast. I erase all three white boards in the front of the room (including the daily target structures) and ask if anyone can give me the first line of our story. It is almost always Hay un chico, so I write Hay un chico que and we continue retelling the story. The great thing about this is that, while students suggest what we write next, I model complex sentence structure by adding their suggestions as it makes sense. Hay un chico que tiene tres perros y un problema serio: no le gusta el pelo de sus perros que siempre está en la sopa. Once everything is written on the board I ask them to translate it into English, silently, on their own… which is one more opportunity to get everyone to reread the summary. This bailout move occasionally replaces the end of the period quick quiz.

(b) freeze frame (30 seconds to 2 minutes): this comes from a Carol Gaab presentation. Choose one scene, or even a line from the text, and students work in pairs to quickly arrange themselves as if they were in a photo of that scene. Sometimes I tell them that they are taking a selfie in that scene and one of them holds an invisible camera while caught in the scene. Super-important note: this is not to be confused with acting out the scene; students should be still. Let them take five seconds to arrange themselves (not even enough time to discuss it, just spontaneously do it) and then I recognize the best selfies. We can do 5 selfies in less than a minute.

(c) student retells in pairs (30 to 60 seconds): this is a classic TPRS bailout move that I use less frequently simply because I want to be the one providing input in class. Nonetheless, a thirty second break in which all students are retelling the story in pairs can be invaluable. I never let this run longer than 60 seconds.

(d) unexpected endings (less than 30 seconds): This morphed from observing Jason Fritze teach at iFLT in San Diego. When he was running out of time telling a story about a kid that wanted to eat some cheese he suddenly ended the story by declaring: and then the cheese ate the kid! It was such an illogical, bizarre ending that made me laugh that I have made it a trademark bailout ending. Hay una chica que vive sólo en el bosque…bla, bla, bla… y el bosque comió a la chica. El fin. Hay un vampiro que tiene una caries… bla, bla, bla… y la caries comió al vampiro. El fin. I think it is the repetition that makes this ending acceptable, even when I announce the next day that the cavity did not eat the vampire after all and we continue the story from where we left off.

aunque me llores(e) matching audio activity online (3 to 6 minutes): This should be filed under **crazy stuff that no teacher has time to create**. Over the years I have put a lot of thought into how I present music in class. I dislike fill in the blank activities that require printing beforehand and that students quickly throw away; there is not enough repetition for students to really become familiar with the lyrics, unless you are printing a new cloze every time, the constant photocopying irks me, and taking time to even pass out the lyrics transforms this from a bailout activity to a full-fledged part of the lesson. And it feels like work. So here is my crazy solution: I have created online matching activities for some of my favorite songs that expose students to the song in 2 second increments. Here is an example: Aunque me llores . When you follow the link the activity will be extremely small (the original code was written many years ago and has degraded over time as the internet has evolved); you will have to enlarge your webpage around 400% so that it is normal size. I often have one of these open on my computer just waiting for me to need a bailout, then we take a music break. At first it is hard, but by the third time much of the class is shouting out the correct answer when it is played. That repetition is exactly what I want before I play a song for the first time. I want kids to understand the lyrics! If you are a tech-oriented teacher who is curious about how I did this, and you have the time to put this together, then I would be happy to guide you through the process… just leave me a message below.

I am sure that you have favorite bailout moves… what do you do when you need a moment?


  1. I love the listening-matching game for songs. This year I have taught a couple songs and this will really assist with the listening angle – kids are used to hearing me speak but not others.
    1. How do you teach songs? I have been pulling out key vocab and doing a story with the vocab the week before introducing the song, but it still bugs me that the song may still not be 100% comprehensible.
    2. I would like to learn how to make a matching game too if you would give me directions, when you have time.

    • I try to identify the best singing part of the song and then try to make sure THAT part is very comprehensible. Often there is a part of the song that I kind of hum through so that we can get to the chorus… but I do that in English too! Many songs have a story too, so telling a simplified version of the story before hearing the song certainly helps.

      I´ll send a zip file with instructions on how to make the matching game to your email.


      • Great news on both fronts! I find as a new teacher one of the biggest challenges is knowing what my expectations should be for my students and my assignments. I’ll dial it down a little on the songs. Thanks! Laura in Beaufort, SC

  2. I have all students write down their prediction about the story (what happens next, why the boy is rich, what does the girl have in her package….etc….). Then I collect their answers and type them up for the next day’s lesson. They next day we go through most of the predictions from all classes of the same level. It is such compelling reading (because it is ALL student generate it), that the entire class pays attention and we read and read and laugh and laugh for the entire period.

  3. A favorite “bailout move” is vocabulary review. Often I do this with my red/green sign…show red (think, don’t talk) and ask a vocabulary structure then flip to green (students say the answer together). I really think kids appreciate this slowing down ….and it is a great opportunity for students to feel success. I generally use this at the last 3 minutes of class.

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