It was Mr. Rogers who said that we “don’t need to put on a funny hat to communicate with a child.”
I spent many years working hard trying to make sure that things got funny in stories. I would think outside of class of ways to bring in a certain celebrity, or some fact about a kid, so that, if it weren’t a home run story, it would be at least a single or double.
I once recommended to colleagues that they carry around with them during class a list of celebrities. Back then I was forcing my instruction. I was trying too hard. I think my students saw me as trying too hard. They never miss a thing.
Now the celebrities come from the students’ minds and hearts and they aren’t Hollywood celebrities at all, but their own creations that sometimes become famous throughout the entire school building. Certain drawings even become discussion topics at lunchtime conversations, continuing on sometimes to evening Instagram posts and fun discussions with their friends.
I therefore do not bring the pop culture into my classroom, unless it presents itself naturally. Who cares about the pop culture when more meaningful drawings are right there in front of us in what the students have created?
Now I see that all the worry about forcing the story to be funny was unnecessary, and that all I needed was a plan like the one outlined in Book 2 of the Ultimate CI books. The stress from all that worry was actually working against increased humor and interest, and making me a very nervous teacher at the same time. I always felt that I couldn’t “do” TPRS.
A truth that all teachers know is that students really do see through everything. If they sense that we are trying too hard for their approval, then their approval will always remain just out of reach. If, on the other hand, the class is working together to create a story based on their characters, and the focus is not on us and what we suggest but on the group and what it creates, then we find that students enjoy our classes in a very unforced and natural way.
Just using the students’ creations as a base, and the levels of questioning as your guide, and then just letting the conversation unfold naturally, instead of forcing things, that is the only way to really make a language class interesting.
Students are really funny, if we would just give them room to show it. The right funny and insightful student comment at the right time is truly a moment of beauty in a storytelling class. In a counterintuitive twist, the more we give up trying to control things in a story, the more humor there is, and with lots of humor come lots of language gains. We need to give up control and just ask the next logical question.
Hafiz says it best: “Trust what lifts the corners of the mouth to be true.” Trust those faint smiles on the faces of your students that frequently occur during stories. Their smiles are there to guide you and show you how much they are engaged. They point the way!