I am concerned that the term “One Word Image” is being redefined, on other CI sites and at workshops. This eight-part series from A Natural Approach to Stories defines the term in the way I originally intended:
We can begin to collect compelling portraits via a shared classroom strategy called One Word Images. The class has so much fun generating these images together that, after a period of one to two weeks setting up each new academic year using student questionnaires (Chapter 5), we can easily build a handful of unique and compelling characters using the One Word Images strategy so that, by the end of the second week of school, we are ready to select the star of our first story and begin!
One Word Images is a simple strategy that trains the class in working together to produce compelling visual images. It trains students to use their imaginations to build imaginary characters as a group. The desired pedagogical by-product of this activity, of which the students are not consciously aware, is the delivery of large amounts of engaging comprehensible input including many high-frequency words and structures.
The language is easily retained when we do this because to the students it seems that the right word or phrase showed up just in the nick of time to help them express a shared vision. The new language is attached to that happy emotion and therefore “sticks” in their minds far better. It’s not even close.
To start building a One Word Image, we tell the class in L1 that we are going to work together using our imaginations to create an invisible character as a group and that we will create it out of thin air right here in front of the class. The character could be anything—a car or a house, a cloud or a starfish, a sandwich or a cat, a pencil or a watermelon.
We ask the class to suggest some random object in L1, asking them to call out various suggestions in L1 for a minute or so. Students vie for the honor of having their object chosen. We wait for the “right” suggestion. We don’t translate any of the suggestions into the target language at this point. We just listen to what the kids suggest, weighing each suggestion for potential fun.
Sometimes the suggestions are hilarious. Sometimes they are adorable. Eventually we hit on something that seems to strike an emotional chord in the group mind. We know when that happens because it is obvious—the overall group wants that object. We then write the word on the board with its translation.
Why do we start in this way? It is because we want to begin with an image in L1 that we feel the class identifies with in a strong emotional way. We do not want to start with an object to which the class has a tepid reaction. Our work will fall at in that case, as many of us know who have tried storytelling in the past.
It is worth a minute or so of L1 to hit upon an object that gets people interested—including us! Especially us! Is it not important that we choose a subject that we will enjoy talking about as well as our students?
Of course, we ourselves should never pick the image. Anything from a teacher is suspicious, could be on a test or related to a grade. We blew the students’ trust a hundred years ago when we first started making ourselves into judges and test-givers and know-it-alls in our profession.