Finish the Story!

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27 thoughts on “Finish the Story!”

  1. I agree with this. I used to do tons of reps throughout the whole story much to the dismay of my students. Now I know that by going back and reviewing occasionally, interacting with the actor now and again and ROA we get plenty of reps. I know I could do more and need to improve upon my questioning techniques, but I would rather keep their interest than bore myself and them to tears. If we are recycling vocabulary throughout the year anyway, they will get it when they are ready.

    1. So recycling throughout the year is a third reason to do this. And recycling vocabulary doesn’t have to be “another thing for us to think about”, because it happens naturally. Words in languages tend to repeat themselves. Thus, Krashen calls it the Natural Way. I am of the firm opinion that we teachers constantly fool ourselves every day, even CI teachers, because if we just let this approach to teaching be, if we could just get out of its face and stop planning and start a story with some interesting creature that some kid in the room made up, with all the other creatures drawn out on the portable white boards ready to jump into the story when needed (see the Invisibles post if this is new to you) then we can have fun and not worry about anything. But we MUST move faster through the story. We WILL get the reps anyway, and our stories won’t be so boring. We must get a plot going. The kids just want to know what is going to happen. And if what is happening is boring, then that defeats the entire TPRS process.

  2. An article on stories and their power: Bob Patrick posted this on Facebook. I think maybe it’s been linked in the PLC some time ago, because I had read it before. Good stuff!

    A quote related to this post:
    “The simple story is more successful than the complicated one

    When we think of stories, it is often easy to convince ourselves that they have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is however, that the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick. Using simple language as well as low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story.”

    1. Thank you for sharing that article. I find the last bit about avoiding overused phrases and opting for “simple, yet heartfelt language” very powerful.
      I like that simple stories are non-threatening… but they can be just as compelling.

  3. Thought provoking post. The fact that our new kids know our game after several months, even as their processor is revved up and their vocabulary pumped and expanded, may eliminate the need for all those mega reps that we employed in our first few stories. The more novice the level, the more reps; the more experienced/seasoned the listeners, perhaps fewer reps are required. And yes, if they tell us in so many ways that they want less dilly-dallying and more story, we oughtta go with it, knowing that we have a zillion other tricks up our sleeves to get reps later. There’s a moving target/sweet spot of how many reps are right to maximize input but avoid boredom…

    1. I agree about the more novice the level, the more reps. To get those reps without being repetitive and predictable is an art. A ramble prompted by that thought:

      My upper level group this year still needs reps on words that are new, but fewer; I think it’s the network of language now getting fairly solid helping them add new stuff. Plus they are incredible listeners and responders. The input they receive is overwhelmingly taken in.

      By contrast, the third year class is like 2 years behind that fourth year group, though one year less in time. At this point, the 2nd year and 3rd year groups could be combined without much difficulty (they know different stuff, but overall feel similar in comprehension and beginning production). The third year group doesn’t take in nearly as much as they are offered during class – mentally distracted, not doing their part very well. I find they need as much in terms of reps as the level one group does, but the level one group really does their part quite consistently, so they get more from our interaction. The level three group doesn’t fully get how to play the Chinese game; they have a bit of that sense that I’m a TV show they’re there to watch and comment on, not a person guiding a whole class discussion that will be in Chinese that they must add to if it’s going to interest them deeply. They have their better days, but it’s so evident what happens when the students are less able/willing to listen with the intent to understand and respond at every opportunity.

      I’ve more or less accepted this situation, though that class has picked up that the other classes are not like them. Ex: seen fluency writing from the year after them & thought it was from the year ahead of them. Yet, it still has to be fun. We’re doing MovieTalk with a full film (a very entertaining one, and as with every previous class, they love it). I think it’s helping with the mental flow in the language. They find it so compelling a story that they listen & want to understand.

  4. What is the strategy when we “forget” a detail, or mistell the story during a review of events? The kids stop and correct us, then get more reps when we appear confused, then ask AND verify the true details again.

  5. Another skill that plays into this is “Believe it”. Any time our circling or questioning becomes mechanical, the energy level falls to zero. I have to have (or fake really, really well) genuine interest in hearing the answer, even if I already know the answer.

    Today in my afternoon first-year class, I taught a term I normally would not and engaged a student who is often less than present mentally because I genuinely wanted to know what was going on. He arrived in class with a shaved head and made a comment about another student needing to shave his hair (in English). I put “raisiert = shaves” on the board and asked why the other student needed to shave his hair, why the student who made the comment had shaved his hair, who had shaved his hair for him, and a whole lot more. The second student was saying he didn’t want to shave his hair, so I suggested that someone could shave just the middle strip of hair, and then he would have to shave the rest of it. It turns out that these students had lost a bet about who would win the Super Bowl, and the payment was shaving their hair. When the conversation naturally ran its course, we moved on, but it went as far as it did in German because I genuinely wanted to know what the shaved head was all about.

  6. This post makes feel me better. Over the last 4 years my stories have shrunk in length, and I almost always finish them.* I can usually get massive reps during PQA with little mini stories or “situations” or “scenes,” and when I do full stories the next day, I just want everyone to enjoy the story. I don’t focus much on getting reps. Especially because some of the Tripp and Matava scripts have punch lines I want to get to.

    * – There are rare days when it’s a homerun class/story and it’s too funny to get to the end. There is not a need to finish the story because interest is so crazy high. A few days ago the class came up with a student who was on fire and searching for Smokey the bear. My sides hurt from laughing so much, as she waited for the bus to get to Jellystone.

  7. I also enjoyed this post because I’ve always felt the same way about reps. In fact, getting in reps and doing the PQAs are exactly what have kept me from using TPRS to better advantage. I guess there’s a fear factor there for me. However, I plan on using CI if I get to teach French Exploratory next year. I know the legacy method doesn’t work for many, but with it I was at least always able to get at least three different activities in a class period to keep my middle school students’ attention. I feel that a lot of reps on one thing would unnecessarily prolong that part of the story and turn many students off. These posts helped me relax and put things into perspective.

    1. Agreed on the attention thing with middle schoolers I used to teach. I aimed for 15 minutes at a time, which meant short scenes instead of longer stories. It also means more concrete help for their comprehension: pictures, objects, props are not just fun, but truly helpful in their comprehension and retention.

      You might enjoy “Special Chair,” which is Jody Noble’s wonderful idea. You bring a student up to the front to sit in a special chair. I used my teacher chair when at middle school. Then you make up stuff about whomever the student is (with the student getting to veto anything uncomfortable) and use whatever language you’re aiming to introduce. Then, 10 minutes or so later, stop & switch students. I had a group of 7th graders who loved that.

  8. YES. This falls out of our intention to “teach something” or “communicate.”

    You can teach something under the guise of communicating (what we’ve been doing for a while). But I’ve also been thinking lately about the related value of “authenticity” to the communication. The more similar to how we actually converse in real life, then the more believability and buy-in and the more attention to meaning. In real life, do we drill someone with a multitude of yes/no and either/or questions?

    Of course, in order to successfully communicate, especially at the beginning, you will have to severely limit new sounds. The result is reps. Thus, reps are a byproduct of communication, just like acquisition is a byproduct of comprehension! The beauty of language is it’s generative property – how a finite set of words can be used to create infinite combinations and infinite meanings. That means you can keep using that same language to create new stories and all the while you are getting reps in a more authentic manner and more natural (spaced).

    Death to circling! Don’t ask questions if the goal is to get reps and teach/practice language. That’s not “authentic” – it’s fake. Circling is only good as a concept that helps a teacher see all the question possibilities, like Segal’s 4 levels of questioning (one word (yes/no, name), one word (in the question), part of answer not in the question, new sentence). Ask questions to add to the story, move the story forward, and to check comprehension.

    1. But circling builds confidence, no? I’m not talking about working through the enire template, but when you circle a question by comparing students, or verifying details, that feels good to understand.

    2. Death to circling. I’m on board. I think we have more fun in class when we just are in the target language and the kids understand. In stories, I get reps by adding details and reviewing after each paragraph of my Anne Matava-like stories. I’ve have naturally gone away from circling and I have received much better feedback from the kids.

      Also, my first year teaching (only 2 years ago!), I would circling like CRAZY. I also had structure counters. I would get 120+ reps in a 50 minute class! I thought I was doing well, but I realized that the kids weren’t retaining the words. Now, I know for a fact that I get WAY less reps with the verbs, but I also have noticed that the kids retain the vocab SO much better. Circling is boring. My philosophy is to add more details, get new characters, or just move on the in the story to get more reps.

        1. Ha, I didn’t even notice any. This is a reason my proofreader/editor husband asks me questions about what I meant. Plus, now sometimes I see that I don’t conjugate my English verbs entirely without realizing I didn’t type it — Chinese influence right there. I kind of like it.

  9. I think finishing the story quicker, as Diane alluded to, is more important the younger the kids are. With high schoolers, I don’t find it as necessary. In fact, sometimes I find the opposite, that if I’m only interested in getting the fact of my story figured out, without developing some of the back story or character. Some stories lend themselves to more back story/character creation of course.

    But in general, I think when we have many ways to get creative reps on the same words throughout the course of the year, via so many different approaches (MT, storyasking, reading), there is little need to risk losing interest at the sake of reps. Good post Ben. While I don’t completely embrace the idea of plowing through the story so to speak, I do think it is better to err on the side of brevity vs the opposite.

  10. I kept this post in mind and tried to be more expeditious in my storyasking with first four classes today. We did “Come Here!” where a student goes to a different country and sees a beautiful girl/boy. And it plays out from there. I actually got to two locations in each story in a 45 min class, which isn’t too common for me. In one class I felt like I was begging a bit for details, so I backed up and just started asking simple already-established-detail questions and telling them the next details, PSA style. Made me feel better.

    I actually hadn’t asked a story in about two weeks before today, and the joy I witnessed in students faces today made me realize once again that… stories… are… powerful!

  11. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    We have 2-no student days (Thurs and Fri this week) due to conferencing, so the kids are kooky right now…some are already on vacay – so I tried something new along these lines, too. I had some sequencing cards – they’re a classic preschool material – a deck of colorful cards divided into 3-card mini stories: He takes out the bread; he spreads PB&J on it; He eats the sandwich. Anyways I took out a few simple sequences and laid em out and we kinda speed circled through them, then I modeled a story mixup, and asked them to help create some too. Immediately they were bent on mixing up the elements of different stories. They wanted the action, the plot development – whether it made sense or not- so my job was just to facilitate the narration options: Do the chicks come out of the eggs, or do the snowballs?

  12. Another way I’m getting reps in is by reviewing the story the next day and the day after that. That way, it “seems” fresh because they haven’t heard it for a day. I review it either by asking questions or by re-reading it aloud. Or, last week I had a student illustrate a particular line from the novel as soon as she came in. I showed the image and talked about it (Kevin had a bloody nose because he got hit in the head with a tennis ball). My students have a low attention span and things need to be constantly moving and changing. Nothing I can say is as interesting as the cell phones are though…

  13. I would have disagreed– in the beginning. Once 2nd semester hit, we have been going much quicker in favor of interest. Plus students and I have been co-creating the stories. I still do PQA — but only if the interest is there. Yeah for communication!

  14. This was an inspirational post for me. Today I used an awesome story that I think I got from Anne Matava. There’s a kid walking and is hungry, goes into different houses and eats stuff from the refrigerators. Awesome story and the kids really liked saying what is in the various fridges. I wanted to tell the whole story, because of what I read here, and I did, four times, in each class. By gum, we made it to three different houses and the hungry kid ate from three different fridges. It was fun and I appreciate this discussion because I must admit I get bogged down in the first location and the momentum gets lost. I let myself think, “OK, just get the reps in at location two and three” and it really helped.

    In my fourth period class, this helped me today as I work to get everyone back to Happyville.

    I loosened up on my Interpersonal Communication points, and dismissed my clipboard kids. I started a competition for Minutes We Spend in Spanish/French with a scoreboard where they can compare their standings daily. I also started a “game” called “Change Seats” which I blatantly ripped off from Grant Boulanger’s videos. It seems like the combination of these things has helped that class considerably. Today that class spent 19 minutes in Spanish and changed seats once. I think the changing of the seats is genius because it is A) conducted silently and quickly and B) gets them up out of their seats for a highly-structured break, and C) lets them change seats and get a new perspective on the class, especially since they are sitting and listening for such a long stretch.

    I have made time to talk with the boys who felt wronged with the points, and they are happier now and the class seems more lighthearted and I feel that we will be back on track. I am so happy that you guys had such quick, helpful, and kind feedback. Thanks to all of you and I hope that this happy trend continues. Beating the kids up with those points was getting me nowhere fast!

    I think that the concept of finishing the story is important too, as well as the above ideas. Maintaining interest is so important. Circling the first paragraph of the story to death is not going to help management, which is built on engagement and interest.

    However, I think it is important to clarify that even though the idea of finishing the story is important, the idea is to NOT treat it like a “lesson plan”. The idea is to finish the story to increase engagement, right? So, if we think of the mantra “run with compelling diversions” and there is something more diverting than getting to the end of the story, run with that…right? I just want to make sure I am getting this straight in my mind. Like, don’t let eagerness to get to the end of the story take away from staying in the moment with the kids. The pressure to “finish” something or “cover” something can put a wedge between me and the kids, in my experiences.

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