First Stories

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16 thoughts on “First Stories”

  1. I, too, am encountering problems with asking stories. I just started TPRS this year, and so far the students are loving it! But I always do it with a story script in my mind, and tell the story, while pointing and pausing. This serves well, but I really want to learn how to facilitate answers from them to create a story on the spot.

    The limited vocabulary is one problem, and also my part being inexperienced in asking story. I tried asking my Chinese I students story, and they got very excited and blurting out English everywhere, while I try to remember to circle their cute answers, at the same time directing acting, and managing their answers. Chaos. Chinese 2 students were so different from Chinese I. They were reluctant to contribute cute answers. They were worried whether or not their cute answers were contributing to an interesting story no matter how much I encouraged them.

    1. I’m feeling a freedom this year to make extremely simple scenes with my Circling with Balls Cards. Last year I think I tried to develop the cards into larger stories that the some of the kids weren’t quite ready for yet and I think I started losing some of them early on. It also took a LONG time to get through all the cards and that wasn’t a problem, but I could tell that some fatigue would set in when I was trying too hard to pull out a story when quite a few kids weren’t ready for that intensity of focus on one story and it wasn’t interesting enough (because I was “pulling” the story out and it wasn’t growing organically from the students cute answers).

      So this year I’m trying to rest more on cute answers and just let stories (or scenes) rather end before developing a full blown story and certainly not with 3 locations and too many details yet. So I guess this is a way of saying I’m just “extending PQA.”

      Two examples of scenes that developed in my first level classes in the first week and I envision more like these that will: 1. establish the personalities of my kids for the year; 2. norm the class and the rules; 3. give them the experience of acquisition early on and a base of vocabulary to build stories on in a few weeks.

      Example 1: This is Ana Johnson. Ana plays basketball. Ana plays basketball in the Staples Center (where the Lakers in LA play). Ana plays basketball with Cthulhu (a 1920s sci-fi sea monster a kid suggested that has been on Southpark and the kids thought was hilarious, esp. in the drawings that the artists made).

      Example 2: This is Brian. Brian plays football. Brian plays football in Jack in the Box. Brian plays football better than Tim Tebow. (Note: a kid suggested Jack in the Box and everyone loved it. I suggested Tim Tebow and although they accepted it, it was definitely more awkward and didn’t “feel” like the right answer somehow – hard to explain, but that’s how it felt.)

      Example 3: This is Jack. Jack plays the guitar. Jack plays the guitar in a dark alley in Rome (even though “dark alley in Rome” was given in English from the kid, the other students LOVED this cute answer. And the kid was beaming with pride and got a fist bump from me – so of course I took it. It really was THE RIGHT ANSWER because since I teach Latin I have lots of pictures and posters of Rome up and the kid was pointing to those when he said it. We turned the lights out and “entered” the dark alley). Slash (from Guns N’ Roses) is in the dark alley. Jack plays “Crazy Train” better than Slash. Slash is not happy. Jack is happy. (I had actors up for this one and the Slash kid wore a Zoro hat and we practiced synchronizing actions with words.)

      So each of these stories took about 20-30 min. to create, had a minimum of vocab and most importantly were totally driven by the cute answers from the kids. I think the story itself not only goes into the subconscious in these early days of class, but also the MEMORY OF WHO SUGGESTED THE ANSWER, and this is huge for getting the kids to buy into “playing the game” for the rest of the year. I didn’t get this early on last year – maybe because I had a flatter class, but probably more likely because I was forcing stories, not keeping things simple enough and not waiting long enough for cute answers; or maybe because I just didn’t move on when a story had obviously lost steam and rather forced it to keep developing when it was already dead.

      Thanks, David

      1. …freedom this year to make extremely simple scenes with my Circling with Balls Cards….

        So huge. We often get confused in allowing too many responses, too many ideas into the mix of the conversation. I have learned to say, “No, but thank you for playing!” in English in a joking way until I get the answer I want. I have to wait it out until the funny and cute answer appears. So by rejecting all the details (I think when we are new we always let in too many details and it gets confusing to us and the kids. Fine, add details, but make sure they are the right ones and make sure the overall scene and action are extremely simple like David does. David I am assuming that you are going with one verb and maybe three adjectives in those little extended scenes?

        …it also took a LONG time to get through all the cards….

        Yeah I am now doing one or two cards every few days. I don’t care when I get to all of them. We can’t force knowing the kids. It must happen organically and the emergence of extended PQA must emerge in the same way. David really addresses this in the first paragraph above. It is really well described and really important.

        …I’m trying to rest more on cute answers and just let stories (or scenes) rather end before developing a full blown story….

        Another major point – PQA in the form of Circling with Balls is not meant to develop into stories. It can, but that rarely happens. We have been too slack on that point in the past. We have all been under the impression that if a scene that grew from a card or some fact about a kid had energy, then, by continuing the questioning, we could get a good story going. But it is like a fireworks burst that then loses its power quickly. Why? It doesn’t have three structures that have been PQA’d to hang on. Stories work bc of the three structures that each location hangs on. We can’t get that from CWB cards and David points out why that is true. It’s a great point and thank you David.

        Just to say it again, bc it is such a huge point for us – when we try to float an entire story from one bit of information from a kid, we lack a script. Scripts make stories work, not PQA. That is why they are separate things and when David decided to pull back on creating a story in PQA he made a very good decision, as he expresses here:

        …I could tell that some fatigue would set in when I was trying too hard to pull out a story when quite a few kids weren’t ready for that intensity of focus on one story and it wasn’t interesting enough (because I was “pulling” the story out and it wasn’t growing organically from the students cute answers)….

      2. …the story itself not only goes into the subconscious in these early days of class, but also the MEMORY OF WHO SUGGESTED THE ANSWER….

        And so everytime you say:

        …dark alley in Rome…

        in the discussion, don’t forget to look at the kid approvingly, as if you are grateful for how his answer has made the discussion significantly more interesting, and how the fact that THEY are in your class is really a big deal, because it is and you should be grateful. That one little cute answer there, David, will do more to guarantee that that kid stays right with you into your fourth or fifth level Latin class than all the A’s in the world. [An aside: in the end, it won’t be the arguments with other teachers that turn the tide for comprehension based instruction, it will be the class enrollments, the fourth year classes filled with 35 people in them.]

        Who cares if the cute answer is suggested in English? People are too rigid with those rules. As long as only a few sporadic suggestions are in English it is fine. This is a really fine point here, y’all. If you allow all the answers in English, which I used to allow as one of the classroom rules (two words only), you set yourself up for being barraged in English and it doesn’t work. But if you tell them no cute answers in English, most of the time they do that, and so when the occasional cute answer in English comes in, nobody even notices it happening. Do it that way.

      3. Right on to this David. I think the little scenes at the beginning of the year are what can work best, for me anyways. But I usually spend at least one whole class period (that’s 90 minutes for me) or two on just one kid, and my only issue is trying to squeeze in all the students in one semester and not leave anyone out. I seriously work from the cards in this way for the entire semester, and pulling from questionnaires when it seems I need some more Pers. ammo.

        I do only a few stories from scripts in Spanish one, like “The Telephone Call” and “Brrr” and “Hunting Season” and “St. Patty’s Day Pinch” and/or a few others. A total of 5 maybe all semester (remember though that I teach block classes). The rest are just little scenes as you describe here.

        1. I love the PQA and circling with balls as well. It is organic and just goes where ever the energy of the class takes it. There is something definitely powerful in it.

          My question, as a newbie, is how to work in the past tense right from the beginning without using stories. I have B level students, and my main focus for the year is getting them comfortable hearing and understanding (and perhaps producing) stories in the past. I have put some of that in the PQA but it is not as easy or natural as telling a story in the past. How are other people handling this? The workshop that I attended this year really encouraged us to heavily use the past tense from the start so that the students hear it as often as the present and don’t automatically go to the present tense when asked to produce. That makes a lot of sense to me.

          1. …my main focus for the year is getting them comfortable hearing and understanding (and perhaps producing) stories in the past….

            This is really good. But how to do it if you are doing present tense PQA? Hmmm. I guess one way would be to extend your PQA out into little scenes (done in the present) and then do a retell of the scene in the past.

            When you do the retell don’t forget to throw your thumb over your shoulder so that they get used to seeing that big motion of your arm over your shoulder and thereby start that unconscious process of idenfying the past with a certain sound pattern, depending on the language. I really don’t know. I agree with the premise. It’s solid. Last year with my ones I didn’t start the past right away and now as twos they are not as strong on the past forms as I want them to be. Maybe others have ideas.

            Another one would be to just start stories. It used to be we thought of PQA in the first months of the year as a necessary buildup to stories, but now I am seeing that PQA is just something that people want to stay with just bc they want to.

            So this caution is well-timed. We do need to address this in the group. How do we get both present and past forms cranked up now, like next week?

          2. I find it happening naturally….. One day I asked a student if she plays soccer like julie and she said “I used to” so i went there…. (in L2 – always in L2) oh you “used to play” and then asked who else “used” to…

            We did the same thing with several other verbs (sing, etc)

            I found that we referenced those all year…

    2. This is hard to answer bc so much is involved. I think you need to enforce the rules more with that Chinese 1 class. Do what Laurie suggested here today in her response to Sarah’s question. Post some low grades in the book that are based on jen’s Great Rubric (highest grade possible with English is a C on that scale). Do it now before it is too late and they don’t change. That goes for anybody in our group who foolishly allowed English (except for a very few cute answers) last week. Pls. keep us posted on this May Lee, how it’s going and all that. It’s a big deal and we need to keep on this topic.

      1. The reason I let them blurted out English everywhere was because I worked so hard for the first few days to activate their creativity in story-making. They were very good students, and they hardly ever did anything like TPRS classroom in their entire middle school lives. I could still remember how shocked they were on the first day I told them not to take notes. So when we finally came to the point they were able to be the story master, it was like a sleeping volcano erupting. But you are right. I still need be in control. I did use your Participation Grade handout for my students to grade themselves each week, and then I graded them with feedback. I am going to continue doing this to get the classroom atmosphere I want.
        I am scared to let go of my script. But I will go for it tomorrow to practice. The scarier is the place the more I should enter. I will use wait time. I will LISTEN to them. On Thursday I will have my first evaluation by principal. We will see how it goes.

        1. We must ask why are the kids erupting with answers? If we can answer that, we will have found one of the big keys to one of the big doors to this approach in teaching. Are they erupting because they can’t contain themselves? Or because they don’t see anyone stopping them?

          Take a deep breath on each question. Bring balance to the class by your calm presence. Don’t fight their energy, guide it into the discussion. Do this by laser pointing to Rule #2.

          Do all of this while smiling. You are the breath and calm presence who will remind their youthful energy that we cannot learn unless one person speaks and the others listen. Be happy with them. Ask the questions.

          Each question generates an answer in the minds of many of the children. They just need a calm presence to remind them that one person speaks and the others listen. They need a teacher who is calm.

          This is the art of teaching. You invite them to suggest cute answers, but you constantly – in the first weeks with new classes who are not trained in the rules – gently remind them, via the laser pointer, of the rules.

          Those rules (resources page of this site/posters) are designed exactly for the eruptions. Work on teaching them in every moment of every noisy eruption what is expected in your classroom. Deep breath, smile, and laser point to the rule. They will calm down.

          When we go racing through the answers, accepting too many mediocre ones, allowing too much noise, we go to their level of childhood. But we cannot, for we are adults now.

          We need the repetitions that Circling gives to be heard! So stay in the moment generated by each question and make sure that everyone can hear and understand each thing that comes up.

          Work with individual kids. Ask a question, and if there is noise laser point to the rule they are breaking (in your case above it is Rule #2) and then turn back and look at only that one kid and listen to the answer and say yes or no.

          It’s your story. You already know the correct cute answer (or so they think) and you are waiting to hear it from someone. They are trying to guess what you are thinking. It’s not true, of course, but they don’t know that.

          Then, some answer is offered that feels right to you, about the 3rd or 4th or 5th one usually, and you say how obvious it was and how intelligent that kid is and say, “Applaudissez, classe!”

          Now for the rest of the story whenever that newly accepted answer is mentioned in the course of the discussion you remember to look approvingly at the kid who offered it and she beams with happiness.

          Make sure that the details come from the kids and the town you live in, or from the popular culture that they live in, or Hollywood, or anything that fires their imaginations. Make sure that everything you say is connected to the lives of your students.

          Of course, this involves going against so much of what we have all been taught as teachers, which is be in charge, drive the story, say the right thing at the right time, be funny, etc. The fact is that if the teacher is the one driving everything forward, there is no “space” for the kids to join in the game.

          If the details of the story are not provided by the students, they will not be interested in the story. The instructor must create spaces via artful questioning that allow for those spaces to be filled by students’ answers that are interesting to them.

          How important are cute answers that are personalized to their interests as children? They will totally drive a story forward. If a story is boring and you experience the opposite of a volcano of answers erupting, which happens often (we call it the deer-in-the-headlights look), then, again, you have to wait it out until you get the right answer. Right answers can only be provided in calm moments.

          As soon as you get the right answer, one that is personalized to people or places in their lives, the deer-in-the-headlights look will be gone. A few chuckles will be heard. The mood in the classroom will completely change. Nobody will be nervous any more. The “look” will be replaced by smiles and laughter. The student who suggested the funny answer will be pleased with herself beyond words. The right detail does all of this for you, and more.

          But if there is too much noise, if the rules are not being followed, you won’t be able to hear the right cute answer. And if you don’t wait out those uncomfortable and nervous silences that make most people quit storytelling when they are right on the verge of gaining command over it, then you will never get the cute answers.

          By silencing the noise (by laser pointing to the rules when things are too noisy), and by staying in the moment of the story until a cute answer is suggested, the story will be saved. The kids will have been given their voice in the story because you had the courage to quiet them down with the rules if they were too noisy, or because you were able to stay in the moment of fear if they were too quiet.

          If you react to the noise or the silence by taking everything over, jumping out of the moment of fear into something you can control, thus reacting to the fear of teaching which only teachers who take risks can possibly know, the resultant disenfranchisement of the kids will drag the story to a halt.

          How do you know it’s the right detail? You just feel it. Sometimes the class provides a kind of Mind Meld answer where they insist together on a certain answer. Go with that one. It happens more often than you think. The class really does start thinking as a unit in story creation sometimes. It is kind of a magical thing when that happens. They unify.

          Resist the impulse to tell the kids the answer. This ruins the story. Hang out in the moment, in the discomfort, and don’t be afraid of the discomfort. When the right answer is offered, the class may even erupt in laughter, and your student will have one of those big “wall to wall” smiles on her face.

          When that happens, you immediately tell her that this was exactly the answer. It was obvious! She was correct! Express true amazement that she knew that. Tell her how proud you are of her perfect suggestion at the perfect time in the story and heap the praise on.

          Nothing motivates like success. And what brings success? The personalized answers, those answers that come from their worlds. Your answers are uninteresting, because they are provided by a teacher. What could be more boring than what a teacher says?

          What if you don’t know about their worlds? What I do is find about five kids in each class whom I trust and who have superstar qualities and I catch them in the hallway and I tell them my dilemna, that I need these answers about their worlds but I don’t know anything about their worlds so could they please just throw out some answers in class from their worlds, the worlds of teens, the pop culture they are in?

          All it takes is one kid and one cute answer. As soon as you get that first cute answer and the class bursts out with approval and laughter, you will have made a great leap forward into the method, May Lee, and you are much closer to that moment than you think.

          Will the laughter happen a lot? No, the method is not one big laugh fest and those who think it is are going to be sadly mistaken. Your only job is to keep the comprehension based instruction going. You don’t have to be funny and the cute answers are not required.

          But, when they happen, it’s awesome. Take what they give you. Do your best to

          1. stop the noise or
          2. stay in the moments of silence

          until the right answers appear – doing so will lead you deeper into the method, and each day the fear will lessen, and you will learn about trust.

          This is hard work and cannot be mastered in a few days. This work never ends. We never figure it out. But, at least, our days as teachers can be fun when we do it this way.

  2. oh gosh, my first story this year in French 1 turned out to be one of those that non CI teachers would not believe. I’d had a poor (my own assessment) start to the year on August 20, but had talked about what several students like to do and had discussed rules etc. Last Monday, August 27, I asked “what did you do this weekend?” Usual stuff, then Beth said “I repaired the freezer!” A story waiting to happen. So a large cardboard box became a fridge/freezer and using toy animals and lots of active tpr type verbs -as many cognates as possible – we spent a few days making a story, bringing in what two quiet girls like to do too! Janie was a hero, because she likes to write and her technical instructions on Google saved the day. I typed it up and we read it yesterday together after I quizzed them for comprehension of the content.
    Reading posts on this blog really helped me get over the tough start. Now to continue talking about what the rest of them like to do.
    In case any French teachers are interested, here is the finished story.

    Ce weekend Beth a essayé de réparer le congélateur.
    Dans le frigo il y avait du chocolat. Dans le congélateur il y avait un ours. Le papa de Beth avait attrapé l’ours vendredi, et il l’avait porté au congélateur. Sur le congélateur il y avait un chien. Le chien regardait « Scoobydoo » à la télévision.
    ?e weekend, Alex est monté à cheval. Quelquefois elle monte à un grand cheval, quelquefois à un petit. Ça dépend.
    Janie écrit de la poésie. Elle écrit de la main gauche. (Elle écrivait de la main droite, mais elle a changé et maintenant, elle écrit de la main gauche.) Elle écrit aussi des instructions industrielles. Samedi elle a écrit des instructions sur l’internet.
    Samedi, il y avait un très grand cheval dans la maison de Beth. Le cheval courrait comme Usain Bolt et sautait comme Gabby Douglas.
    Tout à coup, le cheval a sauté sur le congélateur et le chien. Le chien a crié : «aïe» et le congélateur s’est explosé ! Pauvre Beth. Dimanche elle a essayé de réparer le congélateur. Elle essayait et essayait. Tout à coup une excellente idée a sauté dans sa tête. Elle a cherché sur Google. Yippee skippee ! Sur Google il y avait une poste de Janie : « Comment réparer les congélateurs ! »

    1. I find it noteworthy that “first stories” is followed by a couple of posts on spinning PQA.

      I also find that the more references I hear to “stories” the more Michael
      Miller’s words from the 2011 NTPRS reverberate in my ears… He says that “the better you become at PQA the less you will need to or want to do stories.”

      Once I saw the powerful video of him doing nothing but PQA (compelling CI) I was a believer and that is now my goal… The Circling with Balls (Props) is one way I have moved in that direction….

      I think stories have a role but sometimes it feels to me that there is SO much pressure (on other lists primarily) to DO stories that the emphasis becomes stories over CI….

      It is just in keeping with Susie’s admonition to “talk to the kids”.

      I REALLY appreciate the “spinning PAQ” post and find them very helpful.



  3. If Anne hadn’t written her unique scripts, which appeal so much to the twists and vagueries of the teenage mind, I would fully agree. But with her scripts, I feel more secure. It’s like “Which car do I want to drive today, the Jaguar (PQA) or the Mercedes (stories)?” I appreciate Michael’s comment, but it does depend on the person. I find it less effort to work from a Matava script than be hanging out there in L2 with the class, but that is just another area where this method is so high octane it allows us to choose what is best for us depending on our own personalities. I visited Michael’s room in 2001 and boy it was just PQA bullets all in the walls and like that. A PQA party. The reason I personally like stories more is that the vocabulary is so surely inbounds, and, especially after the summer conferences I have learned one thing to be the key to it all, to stay in bounds and ask millions of yes/no questions to check for understanding. Not that we can’t do that with PQA, however, so there ya’ go, it’s a win-win with both.

    P.S. Skip I think I’ll go to the Sat./Sun days off later. Too much going on. Start calling me on weekend posts in like October. OK?

    1. Actually, It is VERY strange, but I don’t think of the story scripts as “stories”
      Those can be so personalized to the class that I think of those more as PQA…

      We use the story scripts a lot… In fact, when we are not doing stories we are doing story scripts….

      And regarding honoring weekends for family, perhaps you can just cut back until October?


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