We can’t forget the beauty of the three locations. What do they provide? First, continuity – they keep the story from getting too wide, too big. The argument against stories that are too big is that, even if CI is happening, it can be overhwhelming and so is best avoided. We want to have stories that are simple.
The human mind loves order. Many fairy tales occur in threes, notably the Three Little Pigs, in which language is repeated brilliantly through three locations for young children. Each time the familiar phrase is repeated in a new location, there is a moment of happy recognition of the returning phrase, and so there is no overwhelming language activity and the message is easy to remain focused on.
Just once, try doing a story through three locations with extremely simple vocabulary when you are first learning how to do stories. Pare each location down. Limit the vocabulary activity. Watch how much more your students are able to follow along. Have the actor go through all three locations using very simple language. You will learn something when you do that.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
15 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Three Locations”
Ben, you know I’ve been kind of getting away from the 3 locations the last year or so. I don’t regret it. That being said, I’m going to take you up on that challenge and teach my next story through the 3 locations in one class. Strangely, I’m kind of nervous thinking about going back to that sort of “structure” with the locations. I look forward to the experiment.
We were told both things, Jim:
1. to let the story unfold naturally (which usually meant not getting more than three or four lines into the first location in a class period), but also
2. to take the story through three locations
I write the above because many of us in this group are new enough to benefit from the simplicity afforded by staying very much in bounds and within the most simple and streamlined series of the same events, with different variables of course, three times. I would predict that when you go to experiment with this you will find more focus in the story as it unfolds.
More focus from the kids is also something that all teachers must experience, to have that feeling of flying so that they can get the confidence of those first few stories making it off the ground, as it were, because of the simplicity of what is being created. Those first few stories that work are great days indeed. That story of Bubhakeameier, recently posted here as a video, is, of course, as far from the kind of simplicity suggested above as can be imagined.
It’s definitely a tightrope act and I’m always on the verge of toppling over. I’m working on Matava’s “talks too much” and “refrigerator” in my two levels, and the students want to linger on one situation, and come up with all kinds of crazy details. This is great because they are excited about it, but it forces me to go out of bounds too often. But I sense that the kids will lose some interest if I wrap something up too quickly and artificially in order simply to move on. Any thoughts about keeping the pace going, but keeping them engaged?
Thanks for the reminder. I, too, get stuck on one location too often (mostly with my more advanced kids) and then all that “out of bounds” stuff happens.
Hi John, it’s Matava. In “Talks Too Much”, your man gets kicked out of wherever he is, sending him by default to the next location. Let’s say he’s at the movies, talking in Laotian about nuclear waste to Britney Spears. (By the way, with first-year students, I wouldn’t have picked nuclear waste from the pool of suggestions, as it is cumbersome to say in German, My guy would more likely be talking in Italian about Pop-Tarts. Somewhere in one of Ben’s books he writes about the use of an English word to give the brain some relief. I find it also helps the students to keep the focus on the new structures. But that’s just me.)
Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, at the movies. So you want to move your story along, you just introduce the conflict. The manager shows up. In my classes, when the manager/parent/principal/police shows up, it shifts the energy. Now we don’t want to add details. We want to see what is going to happen to our man. In fact, being the sadistic little cretins that we are, we can’t wait to kick his ass out. “Get out!” is so fun to say. Now our man is happily moving along to the next location, and with any luck some kid will suggest the library, which is a perfect location for this story.
You’re right, the kids will lose interest if you move it along too quickly. It is a tightrope act. What I have to do is to allow those wacky details in judiciously. Use them sparingly, like dried herbs. I was testing a new script yesterday, and it was dull as hell. It had our man trying to buy a shirt for the prom, and every place he went the shirt didn’t fit. Ho-hum. When I asked the kids where he went for the 3rd location, someone said “the stone age.” Bingo! We found a time machine, our man went to the stone age, and the story came back to life. Before that I was guilty of no herbs at all in the soup. In my defense, it was the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, and the day before a massive snowstorm.
My stories end up pretty sparse, but usually with one or two ridiculously-described items or characters. A boy can fly, and he flies to the Lady Gaga concert, big deal, right? Except that he flies with rainbow elephant ears. (What’s not to like about Regenbogenelefantenohren?) The kids hear “flies to” about a gazillion times, with not much else to clutter up the minds, except that from time to time they get to joyfully answer the question, what kind of ears does our man have?
Ben is right when he says, less is best. A sparse script can be brought to life by enthusiastic but compliant actors. Dialog adds interest as well. In my experience, allowing the class to load up the story with a bunch of admittedly funny but hard to incorporate details wins me cool points with the students, but doesn’t really facilitate acquisition.
Parent: Susie, how was school today?
Susie: It was great! In German class we made the coolest story! Justin Bieber went to the moon in a solar-powered submarine made out of marshmallows. On the way he picked up Dick Cheney hitchhiking, and Mr. Cheney peed his pants while reciting the Bill of Rights backwards in Dutch!
Parent: How do you say all of that in German?
Susie: Beats me.
It’s not easy to strike that perfect balance. For me, it’s just that challenge that keeps me interested in my work, after all these decades.
Hah! You are so funny, Anne. I bet your students love you and your class. I like how you talk about fun details as the herbs in a story. I agree that keeping it simple works the best-too many details and they can’t retell it anyway.
I’ve finally returned to stories with my 7th grade classes after 3 weeks of sucky grammar. I used 3 very simple structures the other day that lent themselves well to 3 locations-wants to go, it’s closed, it’s open. And when I had them draw a 4 panel illustration the next day, the three locations provided structure that they could remember and made it simpler to retell in Spanish. I find that the less choice and the more structure with these 2 classes the better. For example, I had the 3 locations set from the start-so the only variable was who they were with at each location and what they did with them. It still was entertaining (went to Paris and it was closed, so went to cemetery and danced with Michal Jackson-a bit predictable but better than grammar!)
I’ve also been using “cold calling” with these 2 classes and it worked really well. I have a stack of index cards of students’ names and for each question I ask a different student. After I did this the first time, I realized that I had been calling on the same students before because they were the ones that kept raising their hands (One of my students actually brought this to my attention during our class discussion on how to make it possible to get back to stories.) I made it through the pile of 25 index cards twice in one class. Now, I still had them do the choral responses, but for the variables and some more specific questions I used the index cards. This has limited the blurting and talking to friends significantly. I’ve also implemented a reward system that helps.
Anyway, thanks to all that gave me some advice about my 7th grade class. It has encouraged me to think STRUCTURE and SIMPLE.
Ooh! Great tips for herding the jackalopes 😉 Can you tell me how you balance the choral response vs. individual? I am having trouble with it, because I’m unclear and then the kids are unclear. Do you use choral for yes/no and either/or and individual responses (index cards) for the rest?
Also what are you doing for a reward system? Just curious. I feel like I need something like that.
Thanks all for this thread. I suck at stories. I think because I am still not good at circling. But not beating myself up because I am a beginner. I definitely allow too much random detail, which ends up being just noise. This will help me keep the boundaries clearer.
Thanks for the coldcalling tip…I love the index card idea!
Any time I want a choral response, I use both hands and beckon them so that they know they can response aloud together. When I want them to raise their hand I raise my hand as I’m asking the question. And I just say the students name after I ask a question if I’m using the cold call. I’ve got my 7th graders terrified of me in a good way right now so they don’t blurt at all.
As far as the reward system, I used something last year with them that involved putting small stickers up the side of a drawn mountain and when we reached the top of the “montaña” we had a party. During a class discussion the other day, the students thought it would be a good idea to have some kind of point/reward system, so I decided to bring back the mountain. However, this year I’m in control of the points. The three behaviors I’ve targeted with them are raising hands (instead of blurting out), staying in their seats (instead of getting up without asg to sharpen their pencil or get a tissue) and not talking to their friends (instead of chatting with their neighbor.) They get three points at the start of the class to represent the three behaviors. If anyone does one of the negative behaviors, I erase one of the points. They get a sticker for each point they’re left with at the end of the class. Like I said before, I normally wouldn’t use a point/behavior system, but this class was begging for it. I hope this helps.
Rejecting answers– When getting “cute” answers from students, do you sometimes reject an answer you really like because you don’t know how to say it in the language and you don’t want to admit it to the students? And how do you reject answers? Just keep saying “no”, “no”, “no” until you get a good one that you know how to say?
One reason to reject cute answers is to sneak in reps, obviously. But, if the first answer offered is wonderful and feels right, accept it. I really do believe, having seen this a lot, that the class has a kind of invisible mindset and will agree on the “right” cute answer. Sometimes I try to “sell” an answer and they all get these “yuck!” looks on their faces. That is sign to leave that answer alone or they will get pissy about the story. I usually wait for the one that they all “agree” on by looking at the expressions of happiness and approval on their faces when the right cute answer is offered.
If I don’t get a decent suggestion after the fourth one, at most, I accept any answer and move things right along. Matava was talking about that in her comment about how to move a story along through three locations – it’s the same idea of keeping things moving. I will make that into a post for ease of reference. You need to move things along.
If I don’t know how to say a word (we can’t be expected to know every word – langauges are infinitely complex even for native speakers), I do a combination of what you suggested above, Chris. If it is a kind of lame answer anyway, I reject it. If it is a good one and I want to use it I ask the kid whose job it is to be the “Word Looker Upper” to jump on the internet and find it while I get more reps. That doesn’t happen very often.
I do believe that suggesting answers in English is o.k. for first year students, but, by the second year and definitely beyond, with their big vocabularies and the word wall up there, they can suggest answers mainly in L2. I would think that upper level experts like Bryce would agree with that but I never really asked him that question.
Please report back on how this is working for you next week. It is a big topic that we have never really talked about much, if at all. Rejecting answers in the interest of the best CI possible is a major skill.
Of course, the big answer to the question is simple – is the word fun and does it feel right? That’s what I do.
When I don’t know something in Spanish, I usually just say that I don’t know and move on. If the “answer that I don’t know” is actually really cute, I might find out how to say it in Spanish. In my classes, kids have to ask permission to speak English. They say, “¿Inglés, por favor?” Our joke is that I always say, “NO”, and then I frown and say, “OK, just one word, just one word (delivered in the TL, of course.) They struggle with this because, of course, they want to let her rip with a whole stream of English. If they do that, my eyes glaze over neutrally and I look over their head to someone else and choose the next person. All that said, I get very little English because I actively discourage it this way. I really want them to work on the “say what you know” principle for the most part. All of my kids fall into the first year category.
When it comes to me/us choosing answers to move the story along, I have found that taking too long to do this is really counterproductive to keeping them focused on the message/content of the story. They get emotionally sidetracked and overly invested in whether their own answer will be chosen or not (I work with 9-13 year olds). These are a few things I do which seem to help:
1. Write answers on the board (no more than three or so) and then decide. Sometimes I just add all of the answers together to make something very unique and funny. I write it on the board and do “pause and point” every time I say it–usually with some kind of vocal or visual exaggeration shtick (which will probably be 20 times). They laugh every time and start chorally saying it with me in the exaggerated way. Good fun.
2. Rarely outright reject answers unless they are in English, off-topic, mean, etc. I often have to pay attention to “who” gives the answer. For instance, the question is: Where did the dog go after this? Someone says: to the pet store. Nice, logical, and boring. However, the kid who said it hardly ever speaks up in class because he is kind of low academically and lack self confidence. The kid chose to speak today; he obviously understood the question; he has enough language to speak up in class. What to do? I don’t want to stomp on his effort. I take his answer, thank him for his great answer, and have the next question, directed to the class, get at elaborating on what “kind” of pet store it is or something like that.
If the “kinda dumb answer” is given by the smartest kid in your class as a way to see if you’re paying attention (you know what I’m talking about), you’ll know what to do. I can say a million things, but I might say, “Oh, no. The dog didn’t go to the pet store. He’s much smarter than that. Where did he go?”
Give the kid a chance to change their answer.
3. For sensitive souls, instead of rejecting the answer, make theirs the answer for the character’s sister, cousin, or someone famous or make it happen at another time.
Example: Who went to the I Hate Dogs Pet Store with the dog?
Student answer: the cat.
My answer to them could be: Yes, he went to the I Hate Dogs Pet Store with the cat–but, he went yesterday, not today. (Repeat the question for the class.)
Or, “Oh, no. The CAT didn’t go to the the I Hate Dogs Pet Store with the dog. The cat went to Las Vegas with the dog’s brother or the cat went Justin Bieber or whoever. Sometimes, that darn cat makes its way into the story later on. Or the next location ends up being Las Vegas and uh-oh, there’s that darn cat!
(Repeat the question for the class.)
These are just off the top of my head. There are many more. Just keep it light hearted. Don’t get caught in the trap of beating a question to death and taking a million answers. The whole process loses its meaning, and kids are no longer emotionally involved in the language. They are involved in winning. I agree with Ben. Is the word/concept fun? Does it feel right?
Sometimes it doesn’t matter so much. I teach younger kids. Believe me, their answers can be brutally boring and yet, as the process of the story goes on, their brains warm up’; the juices start flowing and things can really get interesting. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, and we take a few minutes during the next class to talk about how a good story works and what kind of thinking we could do the next time to improve our stories. Sometimes, they think stories are GREAT that I think are boring and vice versa. I don’t worry about it so much anymore. If they are feeling a personal connection to the story and it is interesting to them, it’s working to provide a good language acquisition. My job is to keep a safe emotional atmosphere going on in the classroom.
Since I have my kids over several years, I get to know a lot about what’s going on socially under the surface of classroom interaction. Popular kids have their ways of subtly bullying weirdo students in our classes around things like “answers”. Some of my less socially adept kids often give “less than stellar” answers. I’ll see subtle eye rolling, tiny smirking, knowing glances between friends, etc. among the socially higher-ranking kids–all meant to put down the student who answered–very subtle, however. Sometimes, it is so engrained in their behavior, I don’t think they are even aware they are doing it. This is the time to take that kid’s mediocre or weird answer and make it the BEST answer that was ever given. Make the story revolve around that answer. Make it work.
Because our classes are so much more open ended. and we do not permit kids to hide in their textbooks and behind the “right answer”, all of them are more vulnerable–especially the unpopular kids. As we search for the cute answer, it is time to really key into those kids who could use some help “learning” HOW to give cute answers–not just having their dumb answer rejected. For kids with a lot of self confidence, it may be no big deal. I think it’s different for less secure students.
I read here that Jody reacts at a highly intuitive level to suggested answers, and for the emotional security of all. This is très Vygotsky, in that she helps her kids grasp meaning through the tool of loving social interaction which instills in the child not just language but also social and other forms of cognition, self-reflection, and, I would imagine, especially in Jody’s classroom, a kind of positive self talk.
Jody reacts differently to suggeted cute answers depending on who the kid is. Reading what Jody wrote above casts an entirely new hue on to our business of teaching. It suggests the possibility of creating a kind of glow in the hearts of our kids and in our own hearts as we build the story together.
Glowing hearts in children because their answers were accepted, not rejected, by the maestra. They took a chance and it paid off. They got to contribute something for the good of the group because of the way the maestra handled it. She didn’t reject a cute answer unless it was done with love or humor – she accepted the right thing at the right time.
The glow of teaching. The web of interconnectedness because of the way we handle their answers. It’s an art form, for sure. It takes our classes to higher places. Maybe even to the Pure Land, which is a term I haven’t even used in years and years – I forgot it in the insanity of these past years in the TPRS Wars. Thank you for reminding me about this, Jody. When you say
…my job is to keep a safe emotional atmosphere going on in the classroom….
you are saying a lot more than words. You are talking about so much that has to do with elevating kids, if just for 45 minutes a day, out of the unsafe worlds that most of them now inhabit.
This thread has helped me so much to begin to grasp the extent to which the “simple” process of asking a story can tap into those essential elements of true human interaction–and gives us the opportunity to steer the interactions toward the positive. How we decide to choose answers is so crucial here. It can be so damn subtle, the way in which students in MS and HS begin to assert their dominance and reinforce their position in the social hierarchy. This is natural, but also a stark reminder that is is up to us, the teachers, to set limits and try as best we can to make our classrooms safe. I think your post, Ben expresses that we need to remember that it’s not about the language, and it’s not about the story. It’s about safe and positive emotional interactions with ALL of the students. We want students to be unconscious of the language learning, but ideally we will be unconscious as well–of our learning goals, but hyper conscious of the quality of the emotional interactions among us and our students.
…it’s not about the language, and it’s not about the story. It’s about safe and positive emotional interactions with ALL of the students….
This speaks to the enormity of the change we are involved in, given the impersonal settings that classrooms have been ever since I can remember. This is big change, unprecedented change.