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!


Getting students comfortable with #tl90plus


In my last post, I mentioned that I had used my first story of the year to explain why I wouldn’t be speaking any English in the classroom. I have updated the stories section with that story, so you can read it for yourself and check it out. I used a lot of pantomime and I had to draw several portions of it on the board (especially the part when the rock comes from Saturn and hits me in the head). If you decide to use the story yourself, you can use the drawings at your own discretion, I just found that it worked for me.

Teach them German the First Day

(It’s a little bit late for the first day, but this can be done at any time that you feel like you want to restart your 90% plus TL use in the classroom.)

My first day slideshow has all the regular first day information – procedures, about me, rules and consequences, a slide about TPRS, and a slide stating that I will be using 90% Spanish during our lessons. This last slide is usually the one that gets the kids all freaked out. They hear that and they think, “Oh no, I’ll never do well in here because I don’t speak Spanish! I’m going to fail!”

This year, I found a video of Stephen Krashen that I found on Youtube has helped me to build up the students’ confidence to understand the TL. (I only showed the first minute and thirty seconds; after that, he talks about the cigarettes in his pockets and I decided to not even bother with that portion of the video so that I could avoid the questions and comments that it would inevitably bring up).

Before showing the video, I ask the students, “Who in here speaks German?” A few always raise their hands because they know the numbers or Guten Tag or other similar phrases, but almost no one uses German every day and/or has any proficiency in it. I show them the video. In the video, Dr. Krashen teaches a lesson in German in a conversational tone and speed. I don’t speak German, so the whole thing is pretty incomprehensible to me. I ask the kids if they understood anything and they usually say “no,” or “ there were some words that sounded kinda English, but not really.”

Dr. Krashen goes on to teach some vocabulary in the second lesson using a more comprehensible tone, speed, and with visual aids – he teaches some of the body parts (hand, ears, eyes, face) and he points them out as he says them. He doesn’t speak any English, but after he presents each one, I pause the movie and ask the students what they think he said. They all get it right, every time – That’s the power of comprehensible input. Even though he uses no English, he uses little tricks  that we can all learn from (showing us what he’s talking about, repeating again with the same actions) to make his language easy to understand. It looks so easy. The fastest language processors in the class will usually be able to try to pronounce some of the words and maybe even say them to me later, but they all can understand, regardless of whether they can speak the new words.

The main thing about this video that made it great for me is that it Dr. Krashen gives his lesson in German, not in Spanish. My students have had Spanish instruction their whole time in school and very few have ever been exposed to another language in an academic setting. German is almost completely foreign to them and they can understand it almost perfectly with one viewing of the video.

After I end the video (at 1:30), I tell them, “My Spanish will be like the German in lesson number 2. I will do my best to make myself understood and you guys have to meet me half-way to be able to understand.” This usually puts the students at ease. Their confidence is high because they have just understood a language that the vast majority of them have never even heard before outside of a movie. My goal now is to keep that high level of confidence and TL momentum throughout the rest of the year.