What is a Story Script?

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18 thoughts on “What is a Story Script?”

  1. Ben, I think you are bang-on here. The “free-wheelin’ CI” works great, better than having a set-in-stone script for novel warm-ups. However– and I did this a TON when I started– it is TOO EASY TO GET WAY OFF TRACK by adding new vocab etc and so scripts are basically a good way to anchor things. This year I have my plot twist and 2-3 structures very carefully planned, but wing the rest.

    With time I think any CI teacher can learn to improvise effectively, but it’s hard: building a narrative, staying in bounds AND throwing in a funny plot twist are hard to do on your feet. But when it works, man, it’s magic.

    I don’t think Blaine originally meant stories to be warm-ups. I think he started with stories only, wrote up his stuff (which became the LICT series) for ext readings, and when he realised the kids needed to do even more reading, he started writing those simple novels. The idea of “reverse engineering” stories from Pauvre Anne etc chapters came later. (You would have to ask Blaine)

    I did some reverse engineering last year and didn’t like it much– too restrictive. Now, I try to teach the 7 power verbs plus say 200 other items before starting Berto and then Pobre Ana about 2/3 of way thru Intro Spanish. If the kids don’t get a word, I just put on board or say meaning (or PQA it pre-reading): this is much faster than doing a story just for 3 things they will see only in that chapter a few times.

    1. I think you’re right about how Blaine started it all out. What concerns me is that over time people have come to think that this work is all about winging it freely when it is not. We have to carefully plan our vocabulary and always mix in limited new with voluminous old. This is not easy. I certainly dislike backwards planning. I call it “frontloading” for some reason. I don’t think it can really be done. So the story format itself is the formula for Coke. The novels and R and D are probably the high road to high test scores, but the stories are the high road to real auditory acquisition. But the stories have to be repetitive and in bounds.

  2. I have some questions about using story scripts and setting up for novel reading. I am planning to use a chapter book with my 7th graders in the spring. I’ve never used a book before (not like this anyway). What do you all recommend:

    – Do PQA and other work (ex, stories and alternatives) with new words from each chapter…
    Then read that chapter? Ex, go one chapter at a time interrupted by instruction with new words,


    – Do all the work with (nearly) all the new words introduced anywhere in the book, then read through the whole book with interruptions only for discussion, readers’ theater, etc.?

    It’s going to be a new thing for them to have a book for Chinese class. I don’t want it to feel like their English class. I don’t want it to be too reading-heavy all at once, which is why I consider breaking it up so much, but I also don’t want to frustrate them by breaking up the chapters so much that they forget the plot and characters.

  3. I would say, no novels until they have 80% of the vocab already mostly acquired (or at least they accurately recognise it). I would either directly translate when reading, or do a wee bit of PQA with what they don’t yet know before each chapter. I find it’s best with my beginners to not beat the novel vocab to death– reading is most enjoyable when people feel like things are “moving along” so to speak.

    Reading in a 2L classroom in my view is for “finishing off” or “polishing” acquisition, and not primarily for first acquiring words. Reading is where things get “put together” in people’s brains. I think the heavy acquisitive work– pqa, stories, retells, embedded readings of stories, or variants on stories– should get most of the “hard” work done and reading is how things end up getting mentally assembled into bigger and more meaningful long chunks of language.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the input. I would say my top students are already at 90% acquisition of this book’s vocabulary, and lowest are around 70% of the book (if you count aural recognition if read aloud to them – some would have more difficulty reading the characters without read-aloud help). I’m inclined first to work through the most important new vocab — the odd word like penguin and dogsled that come up later, we can translate on the spot — and then go at the novel with fewer interruptions.

      1. Sorry I had no idea you taught Chinese. I guess there’s diff issues there– no cognates, and you can’t “sound out” a character you don’t know. So you may well have to “frontload” everything. I wonder what other Chinese– or non-alphabetic-writing-languages– teachers have to say.

  4. Until this post I didn’t realize they were originally designed to set up novels. I’m still afraid to tackle a whole novel so I pick/or rarely write a script based on whatever holiday, event is near, or whatever story goes well with a popular topic/theme of the class. Then I use the two week schedule to work through that script.

  5. Erica please read above what Chris says about the original design. I think he’s right so let’s squelch what I said about them first being used to set up novels. That was really a big area of interest from about 2005 to 2010, esp. in DPS, but it has proven itself too unwieldy. Bottom line, keep doing what you’re doing.

    1. Hi Erica– I second Ben on this– if you are doing stories that are interesting for the kids, based on whatever works for you, and they are tuned in, the kids are learning. Ben said somewhere we get the most C.I. bang for our buck with in-class stories, because that is where we get reps and we are SURE that the kids are tuned in.

      I guess the question is, if you had limited resources, what would you do? I would say PQA and asking stories/scenes and reading variations of those stories or scenes, plus movietalk and picturetalk (L & D), would top my list.

      However reading is more and more important in upper levels, cos– and this is so criucial we cannot forget it– reading allows the reader to MOVE AT THEIR OWN PACE AND BACKTRCK, unlike speech. Reading is processing at the reader’s chosen (hence comfortable) speed. Plus, it’s visual reps (via writing) of what kids are hearing.

      C.I. comes down to one deceptively simple fact: if the kids are tuned into masses of compelling comprehensible input in the TL, they are learning.


      1. Yes Chris and if you think about what the natural emergent taxonomy of the four skills is, it starts with massive amounts of listening, which we do in CWB, OWI at the beginning of the first year, then in the middle of the first year we do stories (more listening but now adding in Step 3 reading), with in level one some limited writing only in the forms of free writes and dictees, and with in the spring lots of reading and discussion of novels. So that makes sense. Stories and reading then dominate level two and finally in level three reading and discussion come more into play. So we want the CI over our entire program to reflect the natural order of acquisition, that taxonomy that moves from listening to reading to writing and speaking, from input skills to output skills. I have a CI third year class this year, and stories are awkward. My kids would perk up and do a great job if observed to make me look good, but we all feel that stories are something we did in the past. My favorite thing to do with them now is to read the authentic text, Le Petit Prince. It takes a ton of circling to do that with a third year class, to read an authentic text and stay in French in the discussion, but it beats stories.

        1. What I’m feeling is that in levels 3 and 4 (and to SOME extent in level 2) the students are ready for “heavier” language. The beauty of TPRS/PQA-story-read is that everything is so light and sheltered and works great for those new to the language and with the psychological problems so prevalent in a level 1 class. Reading gives something heavier, though, as the students acquire more and more.

          As it happens, that’s how I understand Krashen says it should happen, too. We get most of our fluency–our deep fluency that let’s us write and read sentences like this one without really thinking about it–from reading.

      2. Very helpful! Thank you all!

        Ben, have you thought about writing out (or is it already written somewhere) a visual timeline of how to gradually add different things into CI instruction throughout the year. For example, CWB (Listening) -> Stories..etc. That way new teachers will know what topics they should focus on and in what order. I’ve noticed some newbies (I’m definitely pointing my finger at myself) say they get a little overwhelmed at times. Knowing the order we should read may take away some of that overwhelmed feeling..haha Kind of like a guide for newbies…Kind of like the book you wrote about focusing on a new skill each week but tied into the PLC page. Just a thought…

  6. Hoping not to be redundant of what has already been said, here’s a bit I wrote about scripts in the intro to my scripts book that illustrate the idea again:

    “The structures are the bones. The script gives us a way to arrange the bones, so that we are left with a solid skeleton that will hold up under the weight of thirty anxious teenagers. When we go into our class on a story day, we are asking our students to help us dress the skeleton, adding the hair, jewelry and clothing, etc., as it were.”

    1. And Jim I use a similar image – the rebar steel rods that hold the concrete together in floors of buildings – to describe the supreme importance of the structures. I consider those posts from a few years ago as key to an understanding of the basic workings of stories. To read those click on the Rebar category to the right of this page.

  7. Ben, I hear what you are saying about stories somehow feeling awkward in level 3 and 4. I have observed the same sort of thing with my students, especially those classes who were taught with CWB, PQA and stories in levels 1 and 2. (When I was experimenting with CI in my first years of doing it, any level loved doing stories because it was new for all of them; now though, I notice that students taught on them from the beginning seem to approach them differently when they get to the upper levels.)

    This year I have had 2 mixed classes of levels 2, 3 and 4, and this has caused me to think a lot about the topic of this thread.

    I agree that the progression of CWB, to PQA and Stories, then Embedded Readings, and finally to more extended readings / novels works well as students mature in the language. And this progression also fits well with their overall maturity as people too; after all, a freshman is at a different level of maturity than a senior. And when I observe my 2, 3, 4 combo classes, I see a big difference between my level 2s and the 3 / 4s. We do a combination of PQA / Stories, and a novel reading. I feel the 2s have a hard time focusing when we get to the reading (some do fine, usually 4 percenter types), but others struggle. They are more at home in the aural creation of stories, and this is appropriate for their age and level.

    Next year I don’t plan to have 2s, 3s, and 4s mixed like this. The 3s and 4s mix well in my experience and we do a good amount of reading (along with some PQA and Stories too, usually that have some vocab tie in with the readings). But I want the 2s to have their own class in which I can nurture and build their sheltered vocabularies more, before putting them into an environment with the amount of reading that they are experiencing in the combo class with 3s and 4s. I feel they are missing out on an important stage in their development in the language, going from the sheltered and safe world of level 1 too quickly into a level 3 world.


    In all this, I increasingly feel that building continuity in each level, and throughout the language acquisition experience happens best when we are tuned into the people and collective experience of the class, and characters in readings when students are ready for them. I think we would all agree that at the heart of what we do, its the people and experience of the class that make the language a real and living thing for our students, something that the brain senses is worthy to be remembered.

    My feeling is that the level 1 and 2 classes have a sense of continuity in the sheltered vocab, the personalities of the students of their own class, and the recurring characters and locations that appear in the stories. All these are uniquely owned by the class that created them and I feel that this identity over the course of the year is a powerful glue in helping all the hours of language stick together in a meaningful whole.

    I think this is why we can get away with the “rogue” stories that don’t seem to have any connectivity, especially in levels 1 and 2 (but I think it still works in 3 and 4 as well). Really, these “disconnected” stories do have connectivity, in that they are all created by the class and part of its collective consciousness and experience. Since the imagination is allowed to roam more freely than with novels, the effect of these stories is strong, and I would say that on a very deep, visceral level they are extremely well connected in the minds of everyone in that class. They are similar to a collection of experiences / stories we might have from a year spent abroad, at a camp, with a church, or some other close group of people. We may have a lot of different experiences during the time spent together, but all the events / stories were experienced by all the individuals in the group, and there in lies the connection and the lasting imprint they have on the mind and soul.

    And when kids mature more in their use of the language, and in general, I sense they are ready for more reading and able to appreciate the characters, settings and nuances of reading better than in levels 1 and 2. Ben and James, you both talk about this and I see it too. The students really are ready for the “heavier” stuff. I feel it is still important to have aural stories in these classes and PQA and CWB as well, but in addition to the characters of the class, we also get to experience characters (and really the writers) of novels / literature as well, especially when we explore some well chosen pieces (as with Ben’s Le Petit Prince).

  8. I feel like I’m missing something here, because I don’t see the difference between a story script and a mini-situation. Perhaps it’s an issue of semantics. For years I have taken novels and/or chapter stories, selected the high frequency vocab and structures my students had yet to acquire, and taught them via mini-situations. As a culminating activity, students read the novel. All these mini-situations (perhaps just another name for “story script”) were student driven, focusing on 2 or 3 structures.

    I’m guessing the story scripts for Houdini are story skeletons used to teach targeted vocabulary in the novel. The teacher and the students then “flesh out” the story skeleton. Am I on the right track?

    1. Susan, I think that if you did a reading of the mini-situation after you and your students created the mini-situation aurally it would fit the PQA – Story Asking – Reading sequence. It sounds like Ben and others allow a killer PQA session to extend into what otherwise might be called the Story Asking session. Perhaps that is what you are experiencing.

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