Storytelling in Practice #1: What do you do before you start a story in early elementary?

TPRS/Story asking in early elementary

I got an email recently from a teacher who was using one of my stories (Roberto no tiene papas fritas). The teacher pointed out that this post has a breakdown of how I tell the story over several days, which is helpful for a teacher who is new to TPRS, but it doesn’t have something that is arguably more important: what do you do before, during, and after the storytelling?

After reading this, I looked back at my posts and realized that over the time I’ve been sharing my observations and reflections about language teaching on this blog, I have posted several story scripts, but I haven’t posted any ideas on how to present them or how I assess the students’ understanding of them (other than story re-writes or comic-drawing activities, which are more of an “older-kid” thing and not super helpful to other early elementary teachers).

There are lots and lots and lots of different ideas and strategies for pre- and post-teaching. I could list them all here, but I don’t think wordpress has servers big enough to hold so much content. So, seeing as there is so much that can be used, I have decided to narrow down the strategies to what I have found successful in the classroom.

The last thing to say before we get started is that I do not claim ownership of any of these ideas. These are all things that I have found in books and other blogs that have worked well for me in my classes. If you are reading this and one of these ideas is yours, thank you so much for sharing it because it worked super-well for me!
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Class-Developed Stories

I love developing stories with my students. I have written about this before. In the older activity, I would write half the story with the students and then they would finish it on their own. This was very successful last year and gave the students a great amount of ownership of their work. This year, I will continue to do that activity with the older students, but I have a different twist on the activity for the younger grades (4,5, maybe 6): I complete the story with them and then make the story that each class came up with an extra embedded reading assignment for a different grade or homeroom.

The reason that this works across grade levels is that the objectives for different grades are very similar in the beginning of the year—the older students review things that the younger students are just getting into. This allows me to recycle some of the same stories between the grades. This makes for great marketing with the younger kids (“We’re reading an 8th grade story in 4th grade? That’s so cool!”) and makes the older kids nostalgic for when they first spent a lot of time learning about the structures that they are reviewing. Some of them even bring up plots of stories that they heard at the end of the year 2 years ago (when I started experimenting with TPRS and before I delved deeply into using it exclusively, which was last school year), “We have already talked about people who want things—Remember when we talked about Ed who wanted the pizza and went to all those places to get it?”

I love that they remember the plot lines of the stories. They never remembered grammar instruction that was over a year old. That’s the power of storytelling!


Today, I used a story that 5th Grade wrote with the 8th Grade. Their objective is “I can talk about what I need and what others need in Spanish” (not an exact I Can statement from the list, but one that covers a lot of ground, linguistically).

The first picture below is a shot of the story itself for you to read. After that, I have posted some of the students’ work – their assignment was to draw a comic of the story. They definitely took it in a great direction. The comics are mostly simple, but they show the students’ understanding of what they read. I always let them read and then we act it out together and go over any difficult vocab and then they show me their comprehension.

This activity went so well that I felt I just had to share some of them:



This is why I do what I do. If you have never tried a madlib story, check out my link above to the previous post about it. If you’re interested, you can also look at Blaine Ray and Contee Seely’s book, Fluency Through TPR Storytelling. In the 6th Edition, the authors talk about “Developing a Mini-Story Through Questioning” (Chapter 5) and also “The Class Invents a New Story” (a heading in Chapter 6, on pg 101). My activity was adapted from that activity and I adapted the assessment to fit my needs, too (I wish I came up with this activity on my own!). Ray and Seely recommend taking a quiz on the class-created story. While a quiz can be a great way to assess the kids, I only have them for class 2 days a week and I like to keep class as interactive as possible. Instead of a quiz, I assign a comic drawing or story re-writing/summary activity as homework that we begin in the last 10 or so minutes of class.


The most powerful part of TPRS is the amount of ownership that it gives the kids. I can use the same script all day long with kids ranging from 7-15 and get completely different and personalized stories. They are allowed to be totally individual in their work and they get to express themselves in their own ways.

And on top of all of that, they get lots of input in the tl that is tailored just for them. They get the “boring words” (wants, needs, has, etc) that they need over and over, but the words are presented in an activity with compelling input. Instead of focusing on the words themselves, I get to use them in all their fun and interesting ways so that the students are engaged. And as you can see, the kids definitely put their own stamp on each activity and have lots of fun. Something that has been boring for me and for the kids in the past has been given a new life.

Compare the story below to the one above. On the surface, they seem very different, but the story is (in other ways) exactly the same.

I’ll update soon to show some of the great comics that classes come up with for this story!

FLES TPRS Story – Opuestos (Opposites), Pt. 4 – The Final Part of the Story

This is the final part of the story that I began at the beginning of January with my first and second graders (part 1; part 2; part 3). The target vocabulary terms are opposite adjectives – tall/short, fast/slow, nice/mean. It has been super fun in class. The other terms in today’s story were

Necesita ayuda – needs help
Va a – goes to
Le dice – says to him/her

Up to this point, I have reviewed the adjective vocabulary with TPR actions and the kids can do the actions when I say the words. I have found that the best way to practice this is to play Simon says with the TPR actions.

One problem that I encountered today was confusion with nice/ happy and mean/angry. In the future, I will have to differentiate the TPR actions and the words much more so that they are completely different to avoid confusion.

The story is below:

DV es antipático. DV necesita un amigo. DV no tiene un amigo. DV va a el chico bajo. DV le dice, “Necesito un amigo.” Chico bajo le dice “No. Eres antipático.”
DV va a el Chico alto. DV le dice “(same statement)” el Chico bajo le dice, “(same answer).”
DV va a la chica rápida. DV le dice, “(same question)” La chica rápido le dice, “(same answer)”
DV va a la chica lenta. DV le dice, “(same question)” La chica lenta le dice, “(same answer)”
DV va a la chica simpática (student number six from the first day). DV le dice “Necesito una Amiga.” La chica simpática le dice “sí sí ven aquí!” (chica simpática and DV give each other a high five)

Darth Vader is mean. DV needs a friend. DV doesn’t have a friend. DV goes to the short boy. DV says, “I need a friend.” The short boy says, “no. You’re mean.”
DV goes to the tall boy (same statement and same answer)
DV goes to the fast girl (same statement and same answer)
DV goes to the slow girl (same statement and same answer
DV goes to the nice girl. (Same statement). The nice girl says, “yes yes! Come over here!”
They give each other a high five.

I made sure to give an extra special round of applause for the students who played Darth Vader because I wanted them to feel loved by their class. I didn’t want them to think that no one wants to be their friend.

Reflection on the Entire Story Unit
I think that the story presentation was great overall, but there were some things that could be improved:

1. Fewer vocabulary structures–the kids had trouble keeping track of the words. I think that if all of the parts of here story were as repetitive as the final part and only focused on those few terms, the kids would be able to acquire them better.

2. Better TPR actions–the actions for alto and bajo and rápido and lento were easy for the students to understand, but, as I stated before, the actions for nice and mean where too similar to previous actions we have done for happy and angry and this caused some confusion.

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FLES TPRS Story – Opuestos (Opposites), Pt. 3

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This is the third part of the story that I began at the beginning of January with my first and second graders (part 1; part 2). The first week, we introduced characters and described them. Last week, we discussed a problem that Character 1 (tall) helped Character 2 (short) to solve.

In today’s story, Character 3 is fast and Character 4 is slow.

Words on the board to help with comprehension:

  • Ayuda-help
  • Necesita-needs
  • Traer-to bring

The rest of the new/unfamiliar words I could either model or show them the actual object to establish meaning.

Then I told the story:

4 es lenta. 4 necesita traer un libro a Señor Fernández, pero 4 no tiene mucho tiempo. Pide ayuda al 3. 3 es rápida.“Necesito ayuda! Soy lenta y tengo un libro para senor Fernandez. Sr. F necesita el libro en 2 segundos!No problema.” 3 ayuda a 4. 3 le trae el libro a senor Fernandez.Sr. F tiene el libro. Sr. F está feliz. 3 está feliz. 4 está feliz.

4 is slow. 4 needs to bring a book to Mr. Fernandez, but 4 doesn’t have time. He asks 3 for help. 3 is fast.

“I need help! I am slow and I have a book for Señor Fernandez. Sr. F. needs the book in 2 seconds!

“No problem.” 3 helps 4. 3 brings the book to Sr. F.

Sr. F. has the book. Sr. F is happy. 3 is happy. 4 is happy

Using CI in Elementary School pt. 2-Translation of the Story

The story in the Using CI in Elememtary School is a simple one. The forms that I was focusing on when we did it in class were:

Le gusta-likes
Hay-there is

The story itself owes a lot to Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk text. I based the structure of the story on the stories that I have used from this book.

Day 1: Hay una chica. La chica se llama Roberta. A Roberta le gustan las papas fritas. Roberta tiene un problema. Roberta no tiene las papas fritas. Roberta tiene hambre y Roberta esta triste

There is a girl. The girl is named Roberta. Roberta likes French Fries. Roberta has a problem. Roberta doesn’t have French Fries. Roberta is hungry and Roberta is sad.

Day 2: review part 1; Roberta tiene bananas. A Roberta no le gustan las bananas. Roberta tiene hamburguesas. A Roberta no le gustan las hamburguesas. Roberta tiene manzanas. A Roberta no le gustan las manzanas. A Roberta le gustan las papas fritas y Roberta no tiene papas fritas.

Roberta has bananas. Roberta doesn’t like bananas. Roberta has hamburgers. Roberta doesn’t like hamburgers. Roberta has apples. Roberta doesn’t like apples. Roberta likes French Fries and doesn’t have any.

Day 3: review pt 1&2; Roberta va a McDonalds. Hay un chico que se llama Ronald McDonald. Roberta le pregunta, ” tienes papas fritas?”
Ronald McDonald le dice: “no”
(Continue in the same way with as many restaurants and students as I can in the class time, all say no)

Robert goes McDonalds. There is a boy named Ronald McDonald. Roberta asks him, “do you have French Fries?” Ronald says to her, “no.”

Day 4: review pt. 1,2,&3; Roberta va a escuela. Roberta va a la cafetería. Hay un hombre en la cafetería. Se llama Señor Boom (our lunch chef’s actual name, which might be the best name ever for anyone who works at an elementary school). Señor Boom tiene papas fritas. Le da las papas fritas a Roberta. Roberta esta feliz. Roberta no tiene hambre.

Roberta goes to school. Roberta goes to the cafeteria. There is a man in the cafeteria. His name is Mr. Boom. Mr. Boom has French Fries. He gives the French Fries to Roberta. Roberta is happy. Roberta is not hungry.