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Ben Slavic

The Case for Stories Early On

I know I just posted this a few days ago but I want to post it here again. I think it is important:
Energetic classes with high talent of about 25 kids (less is too few and more – above 30 – is too many), could conceivably spend all year on circled PQA. When classes lack energy, however, it may be a good idea to start stories earlier.
It’s not like all that PQA is necessary for the students to understand a story. They can understand a story done slowly enough from the first day of class. I use the PQA cards and one word images and all that other stuff to personalize and set norms/rules, not to make it so that they can understand a story.
In order to keep the personalization going, and in order to avoid leaving any kids out of the mix of the discussion and the bestowing of names and identities, of course start class with one kid’s card and then if it flies, keep it flying, but, if not, just go to a story.
If you do go with stories early on, hire your first PQA target structure counter and take the first structure from the story script and PQA it for all it’s worth. I have a personal goal this year that I will not even present the second story script structure until my counter has reached at least 75 repetitions of the first structure, and I stay in very close contact with the structure counter all along through the process.
Note, very importantly, that it is not difficult to PQA a structure with a class. This has been described all over the place on this site over the years, but the main thing to keep in mind is the very simple idea that you create weird ideas based on the reciprocated energy you get back from the kids. What does this mean?
If the structure is “is afraid of” and you want to PQA it for at least a half hour, just don’t get all bent out of shape about that. Ask a kid if they afraid of George Bush or whatever question involving the target structure comes to mind. Is the kid afraid of the teacher? Is the kid afraid of George Bush or the teacher? Who is afraid of George Bush? Always compare and contrast the information you get for more reps.
The record for consecutive hours of PQA was established by Dr. Michael Wallingford of Schrapnel, Idaho, who PQA’d five structures with a group of adults for fifty four hours. Just kidding.
Just make them respond. Power up to it. Don’t be afraid it won’t fly. Make them play. Watch it develop. Ask if the kid who is not paying attention is afraid of girls. All of a sudden he is paying attention because the entire class is giggling about him and he doesn’t know what is going on. Then, patiently, stand near him and go back over the entire lesson, getting even more reps, repeating what went on to lead up to the current sentence, “Class, Oscar is afraid of girls!”
Unless, of course, the structure doesn’t lend itself to PQA, in which case I either choose another story script or ignore it in favor of the other two or, if I really like the script but the structures are weak, I’ll just PQA the one strongest structure. If the story contains no strong structures, then I don’t do it.
In theory, just setting up a story, doing enough PQA on each structureto get all the way up to 75 repetitions or even more, will certainly require an entire 50 minute class period, especially if you are speaking slowly enough. If you haven’t been able to PQA one structure for an entire class, try it anyway. It’s the key to everything in TPRStorytelling.
Besides, it’s not really the entire period. I personally teach those five vocabulary words from my word wall to start every class (not part of the three steps but a nice routine to start a class), so it takes at least five minutes to get those five words’ meaning established with gestures, and a little goofiness etc.
Then, the quick quiz automatically removes five or seven minutes – even ten minutes – at the end of class. If your classes are 50 minutes long, counting calling roll, you may only end up with  35-40 minutes for the PQA work with the single targeted structure.
Why is taking the entire period to PQA only one target structure important? Because if you err on the side of only getting about 20 or 30 repetitions on a structure, the way we used to do it, which in my own opinion is a major error, then the story will be much more difficult for the kids to understand.
I like to think that my high rep count on target structures sets the kids up to just enjoy the story so that the rebar rods of the story, the structures, sound as if they are English to the supremely confident kids, such is the value of all those reps before the story.
P.S. I am not saying that we should in any way play down the importance of getting to know our students at this time of year. Whether stories work depends entirely on the work we do now in getting to know our kids as people or as the imagined people they would be in our classes. The kids are the important thing now, not how much language we can “get taught”. You are picking your actors for stories right now and the kids don’t even know that. So keep the PQA alive all year, seize every opportunity to get to know them and make up funny stuff about them. They are just sitting there, waiting for that to happen, in spite of any bored look they may be sending you. You can start stories and keep the personalization process going strong at the same time, is my point.


  • chill
    October 2, 2011

    On the questionnaires I asked them to invent. One girl told me she had six brothers and sisters which turned out to be invention. She also said she had a one-eyed cat – not a two-eyed cat with one eye not functioning, but a cat with one eye. My horrible rendering on the board of a one-eyed cat led to a great hilarity and a good first highly personalized story. It was pure serendipity. I have made an embedded reading out of it and can’t wait to try it on Tuesday. I am almost three weeks in. It’s like you always say, Ben, it’s organic. It just happened. Going slowly let me be quiet enough within myself to recognize the opportunity and run with it. In level one, I am feeling very empowered. Things have a way of getting better every year.


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