Friday, February 5, 2016

Semester Goals for Story-Asking

There are teachers that are incredibly talented at story-asking. Susie Gross, Jason Fritze, and Carol Gaab have mastered this art form. They make it look easy, which is a sure sign that they're extremely talented or they've been kissed by the storytelling gods. But, I imagine they have honed their skills and grew into the great storyteller or "story-asker" that they are over time, from practice, from observing others, and from reflecting on the successes and failures of their past lessons. 

I have come a long way from when I first started using stories in class, but I see the road ahead, and the final destination isn't even in sight yet.  

Therefore, this semester, more than ever before, I am working on improving my story-asking skills with TPRS in my Spanish 2 classes. Some of the specific goals I set for myself are: 

1. Golden rule: GO  S---L---O---W, including Point and Pause
This sounds like an easy rule to follow, but don't be deceived.  Students need time to process what is being said. Their minds are working on grasping how the words sound, what the words mean, and how they are used in sentences. That's a lot of processing going on! Don't bother trying to rush through, it will not end well if you do. Slow down, both your speech, and the progression of the story. The fun and excitement is IN the story, not at the end of the story.

Confession: Often, I make the mistake of moving the story along too quickly because I fear that the students will become bored. When I am tempted to move too quickly, I need to remind myself how I feel every time I observe Linda Li teach Chinese: I need a lot of processing time and I appreciate it when she goes slowly and points to the structures on the board.
2. Provide endless repetitions of the 3 (or less) structures during story-asking
If I want students to acquire the language, I need to provide a large number of repetitions of the structures and, the more compelling it is, the better the chances that students will be so focused on the story they forget it is in Spanish. 

At times, I have assigned students to keep a tally of the number of times I use the structures in a story because I wanted to know how many times I used the word/s. The tally marks help me realize that I repeated the structures far less times than what I thought I had. 

3. Limit the information in the basic storyline; add additional facts after the story is established for additional reps
This one is not easy for me. I am always tempted to add too many details to the story. I have to discipline myself to stick to the basic story, and provide the reps of the structures without providing too many details that end up distracting from the new structures. Keep it simple, and leave the option open to go back and add more details if the student interest is high. 
4. Interview characters during the story
This.Is.Powerful! When creating a story with students, make a statement about what the main character does, or where is he, or how he feels, and then...This.Is.Powerful...turn to the character and ask him information about the statement. For example: "Clase, Hayden está en el hotel en Las Vegas"; then turn to Hayden and ask "Hayden, ¿dónde estás?".  Hayden will then respond, "Estoy en el hotel en Las Vegas." In this way, students hear his response in 1st person singular, as well as 2nd personal singular in my question, and it gives the student actor, in this case, Hayden, a great deal of opportunities to use that form and become comfortable with it. If the student hesitates, I write the correct response on the board for him, so both he and class can easily see it and refer to it. I want the student actors to feel comfortable and it's perfectly acceptable to write the structures on the board to help keep them at ease. 
5. Hold students accountable for their "50%" by expecting verbal responses such as: oohhh, aahhh, Oh-No, etc, and answering questions throughout the story
This takes energy and discipline on my part. I need to be diligent about expecting students to be active participants in the story process. When students realize that this is an non-negotiable expectation, they understand that their 50% is just as important as my 50%. 

Confession: Sometimes, when students don't verbally respond to a statement or when I get minimal response from students to a question, I want to accept it and move on and conserve my energy for the rest of the story. However, when I insist on their response, and they verbally respond to a statement or question, those responses actually energize me and add energy to the room

6. Eliminate distractions for students
Cell phones are distractions. 
A student calling out in English is a distraction.
A student mouthing something to another student across the room is a distraction.
Anything that steals the attention of the student needs to be dealt with gently but swiftly so all students are in a position to receive the input and process it. 

7. Teach to the Eyes
In the last three weeks, I've made much needed progress on this one and I've seen the difference it makes during the story. Consistency - that's my goal for this one.  

There are more goals, but Rome wasn't conquered in one day, right? ;-)


  1. Were you in my classroom recently?! THIS is the list that I am working on too, every single item. Story-asking is a hard set of skills to develop, and it is often so tempting to do a movie talk or read from a TPRS novel instead (both great sources of CI and great ways to develop some of the story-asking skills)... yet story-asking is THE power activity that ushers learners from listening to production in the most efficient, effective manner. I won´t give up on compelling activities like El Internado, but when I honestly reflect on where my students' writing and speaking comes from I have to recognize that much of the "wired-in automatic response fully-acquired" stuff comes from story-asking lessons. I think most of us still struggle with story-asking, but it is a necessary struggle.

    1. Wow, identical lists.
      That tells me I'm on the right track. :-)

      Ditto to everything you said above. Teaching with TPRS takes:
      more practice,
      more skills,
      more energy,
      and fast thinking from the teacher.
      It requires more risk on the teacher's part because there is no guarantee the students will connect with the story and the story will fall flat. But, the dividends that TPRS pays in language acquisition are greater.

      "It is a necessary struggle" - so true!