Believe It

What if we can do PQA, but we don’t feel comfortable getting a story going? That’s easy. All we have to do is start circling the first sentence of our script (see the sample stories in TPRS in a Year! for how to do that), establish the problem, and get the actor up and going somewhere.
Many of us have, by now, noticed that the word “where” is a very powerful word in moving things forward. We get answers from the North Pole to Antarctica and every place in between. All we have to do is choose one, and then believe in our minds that the Junction City Mall is over there in the right corner of our classroom near the door.
Who is to say that it isn’t? And then, after asking “where”, we say (I say it in English to make it quick) “I need a little boy and a mother”. Who is to say that Dennis (sitting there with his hand up with that look on his face that he wants to act) isn’t a little boy who wants to go with his mother (sitting there in the middle row directly in front of us with her hand up applying for the mother job) to the mall? Everything we need is there for the story, and all we have to do is believe it to implement it.
We believe that  the mall is over there in the corner. We believe that the little boy and his mother get up and go to the mall. We see it in our minds. I say in English, “C’mon!” and make a motion with my arm to get those two actors to come up in front of the room.
Then I stand next to them and put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, and point to the mall over there in the corner and ask the class how they get there (left out if time is a factor – otherwise the source of great travel vocabulary and bizarre moments) and then off they go to the mall because I believe that it is all real. They end up failing to solve the problem and then off they go to the third location, with me guiding them along, and my script guiding me if the need arises.
So, what I am trying to express here is how easy it is to get a story going. Just get the kids standing in front of the class, ask questions to solve the problem, and, mainly, believe that it is happening.
Credit: Susan Gross



4 thoughts on “Believe It”

  1. Re: Believe It
    This post will contain not only what Ben/Susie are stating here, but will also incorporate many of the “issues” that teachers have in a classroom.
    My department head was coming to my German I, Period 3-4 class for an observation. It is significant because it had been my weaker German I class. I wrote an earlier post about “Billy”, who is in this class.
    Instead of a “dog and pony show”, I threw caution to the wind; the “theme” was transportation. I had a vision of how the story would work, but I had no ending in mind. As the “Believe It” post states, it is a matter of getting actors up there.
    I also told my department head: I am going to tell this story in the past tense; I have these three structures; I think the story will work, but I have no idea. You will see the story unfold as I do. My ultimate goal was to use a variety of means of transportation.
    I had three structures (and a bit of explanation why):
    _(Name)__was traveling by_(transportation)_ to __(place)___
    __(Name)___ had a breakdown
    _(Name) was traveling by and picked him up
    Did I explain all of the grammatical concepts to them? Absolutely not. However, there are some key concepts:
    • To travel: “fahren” =go, travel, drive is the verb used with transportation; “gehen” is to
    go, often by foot.
    • Transportation uses “mit” a dative preposition. So, the three noun gender articles, “der,
    die, das” will change after “mit” to “dem” or “der” (“den” if plural)
    • “to”: When traveling to a city, town, state, country or continent, one uses “nach”. In
    German going to a specific, “small” location uses “zu”=to, which mirrors English
    (and which beginning student naturally want to say when using “to”)
    • The past tense itself: In German, the present perfect tense is the “conversational past
    tense”. This tense also uses two distinct helping verbs” “haben” or “sein”. Verbs of
    motion use “sein”. In the third person singular, especially with “fahren”, the verb
    will be “ist”, which by itself in the present tense means “is”.
    • Word order: In German, the order is time (when), manner (how you get there), place
    Now, can you imagine trying to explain all of this to German I students? “Nein”!!!(No!!!)
    I simply told the students that my DH would be coming in because he has to observe all of the teachers in our department, but I did not “prep” them. He came in. I always start in German with the day, date, and weather ( a very good way to teach those things without “officially” studying them!). Then I wrote the structures on the board with the English meanings. I asked some questions using the structures. Then, we began the story; all of what is below was in German (L2).
    Looking at their faces, what I saw was “no energy”, that look of “the lights are on but nobody’s home”…I asked for an actor. No hands. So, (and I do this every time), I just waited. Then, Jim (fake name), raised his hand. I was glad because he is a ham, and it he who started us off. I asked, “What’s his name?”…”Jim”. We all laughed because it was unoriginal but somehow funny. I think I asked something like, “Jim, is your name Jim?”
    “Ja”. “Hmmm…That’s a good name.”
    By asking the story, the energy level rose. Jim was traveling to France by jet-ski to see “Fifi”. Then, he had a breakdown (Class: “Ohhhhhh, nein!)…and _________was traveling by. I asked for another volunteer. Volunteer 2 was traveling to Austrailia by helicopter because he loves kangaroos (someone said, “pink ones”), so we went with it. Number 2 picked up “Jim”, and they began to travel together.
    I will stop about he story here. When I saw my department head later, he said, “Wow. I was amazed that it was all in German”. He also praised the circling of the structures and the “engagement” of the class.
    What were all of the dynamics?
    Believe It: Even though the students were traveling to places all over the world, they “believed” that each student was traveling to his/her destination by any means. At one point a student did ask something like “ How could all of those people fit on one skateboard?” We know it’s TPRS, but all you have to say is “It’s a BIGGGG skateboard” and keep going. At one point a kid asked why a train wouldn’t fall into the sea. A girl spoke up, “It’s frozen.” Of course it is!
    Ask the story: I had the structures but had no idea who would travel where, or how they would get there. They provided all the details.
    Discipline: This was a tougher German I class in the beginning couple of months. It is very mixed and has many young boys. I think of them as “little monkeys”. But, because they were too chatty, I created a seating chart and manipulated it to my liking. There is now little to no “chatter”.
    TPRS is inclusive: I would have “lost” at least seven of these students with a grammar-based, “open you text to page…” method. By using TPRS, I have seen so many kids blossom. “Billy”, about whom I wrote a few weeks ago, is only one example. He continues to do well.
    Don’t give up on a class: I didn’t think this Per 3-4 class would come close to my other German I class, which is one of the best I have had in years in terms of learning and homogeneity. However, the 3-4 class is great. It took a lot more of teaching skills to get there, but persistence and patience pay off.
    Almost all German: One of our big debates on this blog has been the use of English. Personally, I try not to obsess about it. I think about intent: Is the use laziness or expediency? In this class at times, I have dealt with discipline: definitely in English. Pep talks, if needed, are often in English. But, I am please at the percentage of German that we use in class.
    Motivation doesn’t have to be just in class: When I see students in the hall, I always greet them in German or wish them a good day or a good weekend in German on their way out.
    I also “talk” with students one-on-one a lot, either to praise them or to give a “pep” talk.
    The personality of a class will emerge: Some emerge quickly, some take time. This class has emerged and has evolved, all positively. Through stories, individual personalities emerge too.
    The reward: After 34 years, I still love to teach. I notice that when you meet someone new and they ask, “What do you do?”, and you answer “I teach high school students”, their eyes get bigger. They wonder how anyone can teach today’s teenagers. To be honest, at heart I believe that kids are the same as always. What they are exposed to has changed dramatically. I still find that teaching “keeps me young”.
    Mike Walker

  2. Love your list of key concepts covered in the lesson. That was not learning. That was acquisition. Congrats on that. I laugh at the idea that such concepts could be acquired in any other way but than by your using them in speech, so that the concepts are experienced by the whole brain and not just observed and then forgotten.
    BTW Mike – just curious, did she say the ocean was frozen in English two words? Paul and I really are getting ready to get rid of the two words. I know it works but I don’t have the discipline you have and I am thinking that those two words I have allowed for years not may be messing me up overall. On verra.

  3. Ben,
    She said it in English. We had not learned “frozen” in any story that I have done (I could certainly incorporate it in the weather that I do at the beginning of class). At the time, there were about six actors in front of the room and the story was rolling.
    The “big picture” aspect: The story started off slowly but built into a homerun of Ci, L2, creativity (they did 95% of the input in the story), and energy.

  4. It also cleared the park because you were willing to stay in there and trust that what looked like a foul ball could, eventually, if you just kept in the moment and kept asking questions, clear the fences. Not bailing when being observed is a courageous act. Nice pitching.

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