OWI at the Elementary Level

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



36 thoughts on “OWI at the Elementary Level”

  1. I think third grade and up I can have the artist be very successful in drawing the character. Second and below I have also drawn the character for them to show them OR have them all draw the character afterwards and pick the best to be THE character for the class.

    I have some kids that are amazing artists even in 1st grade, but they lack the patience to wait for what the class comes up with or they take too long to follow. Then again I have had a similar situation with my 4th graders and I drew one of the characters for them just to show them again how it works.

    The story as a whole is a little more guided by me. I take their ideas but I also lead them in a direction where they don’t solve the problem right away or where everyone dies in the first sentence. (my 4th grade boys’ club)

    In one very successful story we didn’t even start out with the character, but it came out of the “hey how are you, what do you want to do? are you happy/sad/…” One student told us that he was playing soccer with Saturn (the planet) and all of a sudden we talked about Saturn having a problem with the ghost Kitty Cat, a character they had come up with beforehand. It lead to Saturn calling the Ghostbuster, but he had the wrong number and insted Ms. Ghostbuster came flying in her car and ended up dancing romantically with the ghost while Saturn was really upset. She even had the nerve to park on Saturn!!

    I love that they throw in suggestions from the director’s cues that I have hanging up (from the list Ben supplies) and from TPR, those made the story for sure. That’s how the old woman Ms. Ghostbuster came to be.

    My third graders LOVE their characters. They are so attached to Sixten, a cat that is an incredible swimmer that one boy kept bringing a little stuffed animal to class that looks like Sixten. He is always part of the conversation. It’s adorable. I personally am in love with Suko, the sushi. It has wings and is super sad.

    For me the story listening has fueled the invisibles. They get ideas from the stories and have already suggested things that came directly from the stories they listened to. (I dare anyone again to say story listening is NOT engaging…). It’s a beautiful give and take. When there are not enough books for FVR or the kids can’t read, I find story listening to be a wonderful for engaging, compelling input.

    This absolutely works with elementary, just a little different…

    1. Kathrin can I put some of this on elementary in the book? By the way, Tina and I were talking about the “moment” when you connected the Invisibles and OWI. And also the moment you offered to draw an OWI in that classroom 2 in Agen. And then the shoe and the duck and those other drawings. Fine times to look back on as winter brings its cold cloak to both our countries. Like sitting out there eating that outrageously French dinner – how do they do that? – on that street that goes to the train station and then sprinting down the street for our War Room. Fun times!

      1. Sure you can, Ben. Fond memories of last summer for sure! Being the artist in those sessions was amazing and that coupled with being a student in Sabrina’s class gave me such insides into the psychology of why this works so beautifully. A MUST for every language teacher!
        I think we sprinted back to the war room every night. I was just looking at the chicken that was riding on the cow and thought about how much fun that was. Looking forward to repeating this in Erlangen this summer, except with outrageously German food! Excited to welcome you into my home country!

    2. Responding to Kathrin I wanted to add that after I have my 2nd-5th graders illustrate the story as a class exercise (I retell the story they’ve invented in very simple language and w/lots of TPR), I collect their illustrations and cut and paste the clearest, best pictures and then blow it up for them on the smartboard. They love seeing which ones I picked and how I put them together.

      Also, I wanted to say that I am also doing CI/TPRS in K and 1st grade.. I started with Craig Klein Dexemple’s great book El Ratón Pablito. If you haven’t read this book it’s brilliant. Mouse comes upon a house w/three doors… he opens each one – behind first door there’s a rock, nah, not interesting to Pablito, he shuts the door. Door no. 2 has a pencil behind it. Boring. Goes to door #3 and opens it and sees a tomato reading a book sitting on a toilet. Let me tell you, the kids are completely in hysterics every single time I show them. Even knowing the surprise. We’ve acted the story out and now I gave them a picture of a house w/3 doors and they get to decide what objects go behind the door. I put a picture of a house over it w/doors that open and close and they get to get up and show/tell their story to the class. I help them w/vocabulary but it’s basically ball, pencil, girl, boy and of course many redraw the tomato. Highly recommend it! Ben let me know if you want pictures of their drawings. Even the ks can do it!!

      1. Hi Mindee,

        I just bought El Ratón Pablito (along with a few others by CKD) and I agree that the three door idea is brilliant. He also uses it with three doors of a limousine, I believe (my copy is at home).

      2. … Ben let me know if you want pictures of their drawings….

        Yes, if anyone has pics of what the kids draw, I would like to share them here. If you go to Mike Peto’s blog today, you can see a picture and video story of a character his class made up about Wafflina, a pink waffle that lives in IHOP and laughs at all of the pancakes that get eaten there but does not realize that humans eat waffles too. We should share more of the characters that we create with our kids!


  2. Jeanette Borich

    Hi Everyone–I am pretty envious about that Agen, France War Room after the French dinner. Just saying…

    Just today I had some fun with OWI with kindergarten. Boy oh boy are they ever the perfect customers for what Alisa suggested for “how to do” OWI with the younger ones. I used both the humming while drawing and the drum roll for the revelation of my drawing. By the second class, I had them in the palm of my hand, and they were enjoying Spanish immensely. Please ask me more questions about this if you would like. I am sending OWI à la kinder to Ben now.

  3. The drum roll is a must even in Middle School, I won’t have it any other way. 🙂

    For some other ideas:

    When I am drawing for the kids, I like going back to where the OWI is standing to check again if I am drawing it right. It’s just part of making it real. Similar to this I walk in between the kids to point to the OWI and watch it with them from their perspective or pretend to knock it over or shy away from it if it’s dangerous or mad.
    I pretend to not be sure about a fact about the OWI and then say something completely wrong. The kids love this part, it’s a no fail way to produce unforced output. They pretty much shout at you “NEIN, blau! (NO, blue)” I say so much stuff wrong on purpose, it’s always fun and I get repetitions in without it being boring to the little ones.
    I think with the little ones telling any kind of story or making them up with them lives from making it very theatrical. They can see it so well when you form something with your hands and they are used to having things presented with many changes in tone, volume, voice and underlined with many gestures.
    I often ask some students to show me what exactly something looks like, for example they tell me they are angry and tired, so I have them stand up and show me in one position what that looks like together. Great also for involving the kids who need to get up and move and be silly.
    Little interspersed TPR commands in the midst of everything. Similar to what others do with dividing the class into countries for group names, I use German sweets for names (Gummibärchen, Schokolade und Marzipan) and Annabelle Allen’s arbitrary points.

    I have been home for the last three days with my daughter, who got sick. After writing all this, I am actually really excited to make up something else when I get back tomorrow. So I hope this helps others as well, but if not, just writing it down has helped me get me excited about making things up tomorrow.

  4. Thank you to all you who are sharing your OWI ideas. I am so jazzed by what my 4th graders accomplished today, and it was only their first day of doing this. I’ve been using TPRS, targeted stories and songs and novels for 5 years now, but just last week I stepped into the waters of untargeted, OWI, Invisibles. So much fun! Thank you Tina, for your extremely helpful videos and Ben, for the book!
    Just reading last night’s comments opened up my mind to how to help the kids visualize it. I told my 4th graders that we were going to be drawing this, eventually, so I needed to ask them some questions so I could imagine it exactly right. After finally deciding to do a grape, I asked them about the size. Now yesterday, I struggled with devoting too much time on honoring everyone’s ideas before going to the Profe Dos, and it felt bogged down. Today, when I asked what size it was, these guys showed me with their arms. One kid had his arms stretched as wide as they would go, and I just took off from there! We all had to look at this wonderful kid (inserting training on the word “look at”), then clarify that this was ENORME, and having them all show me enorme with their arms vs. grande, muy grande, and grandísimo (because we had just talked about how extremely cold it was today (zero degrees here in Denver) and had learned -ísimo.

    It just all came together. Now I know instead of hemming and hawing forever about the size, I am going to have them all get up, if necessary, and demonstrate physically the size of the invisible, and them I am going to point to the various ones and get repetitions that way. I will immediately be able to see which size seems to have the most interest.

    After class, one 4th grade kid told me that we should set the grape on a chair and not a stool so it doesn’t roll off. Another asked what shape it was…was it square, triangle shaped??? So now I have another category “shape” to add to my mental list of director’s cues. I can’t wait until I get to see them again in 3 days to keep going!

  5. Hey Bobbi as you get more insights please share them. This is very much a work in progress. I do know that the physical action of describing shapes and size with hands and arms is a major deal that we haven’t explored. I think of it as kind of shaping a sculpted image in our minds. Really powerful bc since it is at the kinesthetic level it gets the kids out of their minds, and when they are out of their minds they can learn the language. Thanks, Bobbi.

  6. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    My mind is exploding even as I must shut down this c’ter , leave work and go pick up my son. Kathrin, please tell me what platform you use to make those adorable computerized characters. And then you just record yourself retelling the story so that the kids can both read and listen for fluency. Totally brilliant. I can see having guest kid readers, too.

    Bobbi, I love the gesturing for concrete physical features. I have been working with shapes too because in Spanish at least, there are several exact/close cognates, so they’re easy to incorporate: (semi) circle, oval, triangle, diamond, rectangle, line. (I’d only use shape if the word were pretty close to L1). I also use the letter “x”.

    I haven’t been asking them to imagine it first – I’ve been drawing (they can’t see) while they tell me the details, and then the big reveal. Is this how you are doing it, or are you just asking, a la Tina and Ben, then drawing it later?

    Today the 3rd and 4th graders spent almost the whole 30 minute period learning about the 2nd graders 3 classes/OWI characters. We’ve begun knitting the 3 together into a silly story.
    Super fun!
    When the 2 father n son ice cream cones escaped by train to the arctic, the conductor (holding a hula hoop steering wheel and w/a train conductor hat on) guided them around the room, and the whole class did a chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga-CHOO_CHOO! till they made a whole revolution around the room.
    It was a thing of pure silliness and beauty. Thank goodness they didn’t get eaten by that 3-eyed enormous hungry purple sweet potato, wearing the swiss cheese hat.

    1. Alisa,
      the kids love reading the stories from the other classes. I have them printed out and in folder as well. They are excited to see new stories in there and it gives them ideas for their own characters and stories.
      I am assuming that you are talking about the story of Kitty Cat and Saturn with the computerized images. Believe it or not, I found the Saturn image online (what are the chances of it having the facial expression that you need???) and the rest as well and put them together in PPT with some animations which don’t play on my website. The other images are drawn by the kids.

  7. In the vids I’ve seen, Tina asks the details and gestures the image to give it dimensionality and help the kids imagine it, while the artist draws in the bckd.

  8. I eventually want to have an artist behind an easel, but I don’t know who my best artists are. So I’m telling them that we will all draw the character after we have created it, and I will pick the best one (if it is good enough) to display. Then I thought we’d do write and discuss, read and discuss, (simply writing up the description of the character) and then repeat the whole process a few more times before I begin stories with them. It will be interesting to see whether my second graders will draw well enough! Once they see a variety of good pictures on display, I look forward to trying the class artist idea with the big reveal.

    1. …I will pick the best one….

      Bobbi I am assuming that you don’t tell the kids it’s a competition to have their drawing picked as the best, correct? The way I find out my artists is to give each of them a chance to draw on the easel and day after day I am able, when they have all had a chance, to see who the best artist is without them even knowing that they were being “interviewed” for the job. Sometimes I also pick another child to help color in, etc., kind of a second artist, but only if the right kids are available who can work together. The big things is that the artists must be able to listen while they work and that can be a problem as well when you pick the artist.

    2. …it will be interesting to see whether my second graders will draw well enough!…

      Yes this is the question du jour. I think Kathrin said she has third graders drawing and Alisa just draws everything herself for the big reveal. This is a big question.

    3. Oh I misunderstood. You are having them draw at their desks during the creation of the OWI. That is actually a faster way then having them at the easel one kid per day and probably a requirement when you don’t even know if they can communicate the image as second graders. That makes sense.

  9. I’m also struggling with the kids wanting to make the Invisible more complicated than I think their vocabulary can handle. When I asked if the potato was happy or sad, some of my fifth graders wanted the smile to be half up and half down! We ended up having the potato “serious, like Mona Lisa.” I’m so used to keeping my vocabulary inbounds that I find I am unsure just how wild to let their ideas get! The second graders wanted their cake pop to be turquoise with transparent sprinkles!! I of course have no clue how to say sprinkles in Spanish, and it can’t be high frequency, so I just said sprinkles in English!

    1. …I’m so used to keeping my vocabulary inbounds that I find I am unsure just how wild to let their ideas get!…

      I would like to see what the group says about this. My response, given what Carmen said here a few days ago:

      …surviving on a diet of “main ideas” rather than understanding every single word does lead to excellent acquisition…..

      makes me think that allowing the half up and half down smile is just fine. I am no longer a big fan of complete transparency, which the TPRS commununity was all over about five years ago or so. For me, I am having to rethink a lot of what traditional TPRS taught me, even about staying in bounds. The in bounds “fences” in my language corral are widening out into the prairie a bit.

      1. Yeah I am with you Ben, I think that half-up, half-down would be perfectly fine with me to use in a OWI even on day one. And, you know what, the kids will remember those words so fast it will make your head spin. My kids only had to hear “text0” and “ex-novio” once or twice to remember them forever. It is because they first encounter the term in an exciting moment of seeing their idea come to life.

        1. This helps to hear that we can go crazy with the vocab sometimes, because I do see the excitement. Today, the third graders had sad butter, and we were doing Write and Discuss. During the Invisible creation class, I had stopped after the basic description of the butter, but during the writing, they saw the word “tonto” on my word list, and they had to add that the butter was dumb. I asked why, and they concluded that it had bumped its head when it had fallen off a piece of toast! I NEVER could have come up with that! So that definitely got inserted into the story. I spent a quick minute demonstrating “he fell” and the similarity of “toast” to “pan tostado” and off we went. It will be interesting to READ and DISCUSS next class and see if they remember what those two structures mean!

    2. …I of course have no clue how to say sprinkles in Spanish, and it can’t be high frequency, so I just said sprinkles in English….

      That is just what I do. I used to have a shot of adrenal right through my gut that said, “Oh crap now they are going to find out that I don’t speak French perfectly because I don’t know that word and I will be a failure.” I used to have a kid look it up but quickly realized that that was crazy because I am not teaching that word, I am teaching the language, not individual words. I came to realize that as a non-native speaker it is just fine that I don’t know the word. Saying it in L1 works fine for me. It also helps the kids because they are processing enough stuff in those moments.

      1. One other thing that sometimes worked when I didn’t know the word was that I would say in L1, “Oh they don’t have sprinkles in France. Their pastries are far too beautiful to mess up with those silly sprinkles in those silly little bottles.” And off we would slide down the slippery slope of L1, gathering speed until, 20 minutes later after a totally crazy conversation about French food, I would remember to get back into French. But that is what is beautiful about this work – the conversation about French food is part of my curriculum, provides a nice brain break while building good will bridges to my kids. Basing our instruction in L2 and then spending time in L1 is a fine thing to do. I used to look around my shoulder in such L1 brain breaks about culture because of the TPRS Police but I got over that.

  10. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    On-your-feet circumlocution is crucial here. The mouth is parte feliz/contento, y parte triste (half happy, half sad) or, for sprinkles, “decoraciones” (decorations). Use those cognates!

    Sometimes I stop and go to the pocket dictionary or google translate, just so they see that I do not know it all – I am still learning and growing! I remind them that I also don’t know many many English words, and that dictionaries are always growing (they didn’t have the verb, ‘to Google’ until like 18 years ago…when the company was born…)
    Part of staying in bounds or bringing language in bounds is rewording/simplifying/exploiting cognates and of course, artfully expunging outlier words….
    BTW some people say, “chispas” for cake sprinkles (it can also mean ‘sparks’).

    1. Thanks, Alisa. I have a feeling I am going to get a lot of practice with circumlocution now that I am wading into “non-targeted” waters. I’ll get the hang of it in time!

  11. Julie Quenneville

    This is an awesome thread. I have a question as we go about creating our characters: Is it okay for me to limit the kids’ ideas for sentences to the TPR gestures we’ve amassed so far? Every few days, we add to our list and by now we’ve got about 16 or so words (actions). This is our 3rd week in, and two of my classes have created stories. Wow!! the grade 2/3s impressed me so much with their story about Super Diaper Baby (I drew him during the questioning), and the 3/4 class came up with a 9-sentence story the other day!! I was only expecting about 4 or 5…they’re so engaged!

    Ben, I will send you these stories via email. I’m amazed at how “user friendly” this is, but I’m hoping I’m not limiting their creativity too much by setting the “already-introduced gestures” rule.

    1. No limiting gestures in my opinion. But the way you describe it, it sounds like it is working the way you are doing it. As teachers, we tend to think there is a right way and a wrong way. The TPRS people have reinforced that idea, which I think is false. There is no right way to do any of this work. So keep up that rule. I think it is pretty clever and may be of real benefit to your kids. We all decide individually.

    1. If four year old Cayce spends the weekend at Grandma’s, her parents don’t ask her when they pick her up if she “is having a good time with grandma?” They use the natural tense for the situation. No rules. Use the conditional if it comes up. Get really wild and throw in a pluperfect subjunctive just to spice up your day. The kids don’t care. They just want to understand. Their brains will sort it all as if by magic in their sleep – THAT IS WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS – as long as they don’t have to be chained to grammar terminology. All the grammar terms and accompanying worksheets about “Adverb Formation”, “Prepositions with the Infinitive” etc. are damaging because they go against the research that says the language acquisition process occurs at a completely unconscious level so that is what we must do if we are going to be successful at language teaching – teach (i.e. send understandable messages) to their unconscious minds and leave the poor weakling of the conscious mind alone. And since your job is to deliver understandable messages, you are always going to be doing the right thing with verb tenses when you do that. I have a good rule that works for me, one that, like so many other things in the past year and a half, has changed. Now I like to do the auditory input (OWI, story if you are using the Invisibles) in the present and the reading (the 21 reading options) in the past. Or, that can be reversed. So for me in my own CI world I have decided that mixing present and past in the daily auditory and reading input forms that characterize the Invisible Star Sequence is best for me.

  12. I don’t ‘know’ the answers to your questions but I have read and heard Dr. K on several occasions that the concrete ‘here and now’ is good for language beginners – without lots temporal variation. I (grades 1-4) tend to stick to the present tense in my stories and OWIs. I’ve only ventured into the preterite for very personal concrete info on weekends or vacations, and not with any regularity. I think more tense happens in 6th grade Spanish (they’ve had it since 1st grade) and in end of 6th or 7th in French (Our French program only starts in 6th).
    My big takeaway on tense is that if it feels cumbersome, frustrating or difficult, it’s prolly not a great idea. We want that lang to go down smoothly. If we put up the new form (say in passe compose) of the verb and it goes down easy – fits the context etc., great. If you start to see lotsa furrowed brows and observe new breakdown, ease up. Never should it be a focus of instruction (if avoidable) before the age of 14, according to the Linguistics gurus…
    By 8th grade many middle school Ts are trying to insure that their kids test into Spanish or French 2 in the HS, so the kids do need experience w/other tenses. Many Ts incorporate the others tenses into their OWI/Invisibles and stories in class, and some use the leveled novels that are written in these tenses. I feel fortunate to not have to think about tense or consider it much in my instruction…

    1. Julie take note of this from Alisa:

      …my big takeaway on tense is that if it feels cumbersome, frustrating or difficult, it’s prolly not a great idea….

      That is golden advice. I had forgotten you work with the younger ones. Don’t listen to me. I don’t know a really little kid from a fire hydrant, except that fire hydrants come in one or two colors and little kids come in many different colors. And they weigh less. And have slightly less water in them. Listen to Alisa on the verb tense thing. Listen to her on everything elementary and on everything CI. Having an expert like her in our group is a real blessing.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben