Saturday, January 14, 2012

How to use OCTOPUS (pulpo) in a Story

My focus when I started this blog was using TPRS with my Spanish 1 class. I knew that upper levels also benefit from TPRS, but I thought it was more useful for the lower levels. However, I found out differently this week when I recycled a story I used in Spanish 1 with my Spanish 4 class. The success of the story proved to me that ALL students, even in those in levels 3 and 4, will learn much better with comprehensible input.

On Wednesday, after reading about embedded stories on Michele Whaley's website, I realized that lately when I write stories for class, I wasn't leaving enough freedom for the students to choose the direction of the story. So, I chose the focus words gana, pierde, manda; asked questions using the new vocabulary, and for Spanish 1 I started with the following skeleton of a story:

1. There is a (boy or girl).
2. S/he needs money.
3. S/he writes to Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
4. S/he writes to Minute to Win it.
5. S/he writes to Fear Factor.
6. S/he ____.

For statement #1, I asked: Is it a boy or girl? What is his/her name? Where does s/he live?, hobbies, friends, etc.
#2 - Why does s/he need money? + more questions
#3 - Is s/he accepted on the show? Does s/he go to the show? if no, why not? If yes, how does s/he go to the show? Does s/he go alone? How long did it take to go to the show? How does s/he feel? Does she win or lose?
#4 & #5 are similar to #3.
#6 What does s/he do after the game? How does s/he feel?

The students helped develop the story with their suggestions. At statement #5, I was prepared with a surprise for the student that was playing the role of the main character in the story. The task the character had to do on Fear Factor was to eat Octopus, which I bought at the supermarket and was, coincidentally, from Spain! I asked the student playing the role if she wanted to eat the octopus to "win the money" in the story. Her response was "Ewwww", which became part of the story of course. (I explain how Spanish 4 benefited from the student NOT eating the octopus later.)

The following day, the students worked in triads and received a packet of papers with the following photos: a large home in Ireland (the girl in the story needs money because she wants to buy a house in Ireland); the logos for the 3 game shows, a blank sheet of paper, and a pack of Post-It notes. The students wrote 1 sentence per Post-It note about the events in the story, sticking the notes on the page to which it related. On the blank sheet, they wrote the end of the story. When finished, the groups switched their packets with another group and read the story in English to their group. (Another task is to have them remove the Post-It notes before they exchange with another group, give the notes and the photos to another group, and that group has to put the notes on the correct sheet.)

Now...onto Spanish 4 and the octopus. Since Spanish 1 did not make use of the canned octopus, I decided to recycle the story for Spanish 4, but to use more advanced grammar and additional vocabulary. Their story went in a totally different direction; their character wrote 3 letters but one was to a famous person asking for help. I was even able to weave in some cultural facts about Barcelona and El Parque Güell (another teaching moment!). When we came to the 3rd task on Fear Factory, they suggested that "Juan" eat something. That was when I pulled out the octopus and this time the student in the role said yes, much to the delight of the other students. I popped open the lid and 'whew....', canned octopus has quite a strong smell. "Juan" tried it but didn't swallow it - which of course meant he didn't win the money in
the class story.

Others wanted to try the octopus so I obliged. In fact, I even ate some octopus for the first time. I can assure you my students will not forget that "pulpo" means "octopus". As they retold the story, I noticed significant improvement on their use of the different tenses and their overall grammar - sound evidence that TPRS helps even level 4.

Here is the story from Spanish 1:


  1. I love the story frame and REALLY love the idea of having pulpo for students to try! I'll definitely do this story when I come back from maternity leave!! The post-it note activity is great too. Did you have a requirement for the number of post-its that must be written per page?

  2. Hola Martina! I didn't have a # requirement for the post-its but I did give them a set time to write the sentences. I think it was around 20 minutes and some asked for more time after the 20 minutes.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I love this. Is the story available? For me, the box is empty (mac user).

    1. I uploaded the story to another online site so the box should have the story in it now. Or, you can find the document by clicking on the title that follows: Guadalupe va a Fear Factor

      Let me know if you have any problems and can't access it.