Going Off-Script and Getting In the Zone

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Improvisation

I love improvising in class. I have been doing it since I started storytelling in class. If some aspect catches the interest of a class or even of a group of students, I will do my best to follow that train of thought. This is not great for circling because I haven’t been able to pre-plan any questions, but it does wonders for creating engagement and I’d rather have students fully engaged in something interesting to them than ignore what they want to talk about because I haven’t scripted anything for it. That seems like a path to student disengagement.

Sometimes, a story really captures the students’ attention. It could be from a character name or a location where the characters go in the story. Since I encourage my students to suggest answers to these questions (it makes great practice for question words – quién, dónde, por qué, etc), the same story might take on a comepletely different character for different class groups.

For example, in one of my eighth grade classes, a student suggested the name Nemo. The story then slowly began to follow the plot of Finding Nemo.

There was a problem. Nemo got lost. Nemo wanted to go       home. Marlon wanted to find Nemo. Marlon went on a journey to find him. There was a girl-fish. Her name was Dorrie…

Other times, the stories develop not along the plot of a movie or well known story but it just kind of flows.

Flow, AKA Being In The Zone

There is a lot of interesting literature out there about flow, its impact in the classroom, and how teachers can foster it (just do a google search for “State of flow in classroom” and you’ll see). Basically, being in a state of flow is being in “The Zone.” It is being totally into what you are doing. It is rare for me that this can happen with a whole class, but when it does happen, it can be great. The whole class is interested in the story, everyone is answering circling questions, and everyone is having fun. Basically, when it happens, it’s like the kids have totally forgotten that they are hearing a story in another language. There is enough vocabulary support (keeping to words they know, using cognates whenever possible, and acting out or translating words they don’t know) that they can just get absorbed into the details of the story.

I want every class to be like this. It is my goal that the kids forget that they are in class and learning. I don’t want them to have the realization that what we are doing is planned or that I have standards to meet and objectives for each class period and target language structures to circle. They don’t need to know that to be in a state of flow. At this point in my teaching career, this is pretty infrequent. The goal is to have it happen more.

The class in a state of Flow most recently was the 4th Grade. I have transcribed the details of the story as best I can below. There are a few problems, the main one being that some of the things we wanted to say were above the level of the students’ understanding. There was a lot of translating in this story. But I got a lot of repetitions on the words that I was targeting, tiene, quiere ayudar/comprar, piensa. Here is the story we came up with:

Hay una chica. La chica se llama Carla. Carla tiene 19 años. Carla vive en San Francisco, CA. Carla es una cantante exitosa. Carla tiene mucho dinero. Tiene un montón de dinero. Carla tiene muchos amigos.

Un amigo de Carla se llama Tomás. Tomás tiene 20 años. Tomás vive en Tokio, Japón. Tomás es un cantante como Carla, pero Tomás no es exitoso. Tomás no tiene mucho dinero. No es pobre, pero no tiene mucho dinero. Tomás está triste porque no tiene éxito en su profesión de cantante.

Carla quiere ayudarle a Tomás. Quiere hacerle sentir mejor. Carla decide comprar un regalo a Tomás. Carla le dice:

                -Tomás ¿Qué quieres más que nada?

Tomás piensa mucho.

                -Quiero un carro. Quiero un carro rápido, grande, y fuerte. Quiero un Lamborghini Diablo.

Hay un problema. Carla es muy generosa y quiere comprar un regalo para Tomás, pero un Lamborghini Diablo es muy caro. ¡Un Lamborghini Diablo cuesta $250,000! Carla tiene dinero, pero no quiere gastar $250,000. Carla piensa mucho.

Carla decide comprar un carro más razonable. Carla compra un Ford Fiesta. Después, Carla va a Rockets-R-Us y compra un cohete (rocket). Ata el cohete al Ford Fiesta y se lo da a Tomás.

Tomás está feliz porque tiene un carro rápido y Carla está feliz porque su amigo está feliz.

Please let me know what you think!

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