My first storytelling experience!

Whew. Today was a day of a lot of target language for me. This has me excited about the potential for storytelling in my classroom. Here are my immediate reflections:

  • I’m not very good at answering my own questions … maybe I should script fake answers?
  • Not sure on the best way to have students draw. Should they draw in frames, or on a whole sheet of paper with arrows?
  • Next time, they definitely need coloring supplies. I don’t know why I didn’t get them out today.
  • I need to review a list of cognates. Thinking of them on the spot is hard.
  • Today was a trial run, but I immediately see the need to have structures that are repetitive/new/intriguing for students.
  • How were kids STILL NOT paying attention to this?!

Okay! So the first story I told was with my French III class, who are more likely than not still novice high after two years of grammar-based instruction. We’re on a “Help Me!” unit about going to the doctor, etc. I want students to be able to narrate a story, in this case, what happened to you before you went to the doctor. So, Bob and his friend Jeff (who had no eyes or hair, btw) went to the movies with their friend Sylvestre who was a penguin. They ate tons of White Castle hamburgers, (apparently they sell those at the movie theatre in town?! GROSS!) getting sick, and throwing up, prompting a visit to the hospital. As was the pattern in most of my stories today, someone died.

In both of my novice French I classes, we’re in a “What do you like to do?!” unit. So we told a story about a guy named Pierre who didn’t like to go outside, was lazy, and only did inside activities. Then he met another girl and she loves to go outside! What should they do together?! In both stories, Pierre dies. In one story from being allergic to cats, in another for going outside to an amusement park. When he died in the second class, one of my kids who thinks my class is boring (see my last post) said “This is AWESOME.”

Things I learned from this experience:

  • I need to be clear that suggestions should be given in French
  • These kids, who think that they can’t understand anything spoken to them in French, did REALLY well.
  • Questioning is key. I don’t know what to do when there are lulls in the story, but questioning might fill those.
  • I definitely need to have a better outline in my head/drawn out before we go. It went much better with the second story that I did because I knew what should be coming next.

I’m still amazed by how many students talked to the person next to them, didn’t draw, stopped drawing and started reading, etc. How was telling a story where a guy dies STILL NOT ENGAGING for them? Is this my fault?

The last thing I’m really unsure about is how to stop extraneous talking during the story. It seems that everyone (ESPECIALLY my novices) needed to translate out loud, or say if they like that, or comment on my (terrible) drawing, or talk to their friend right now. How do I stop that? It’s probably my classroom management, working against me, once again.

Today was a scary day, but I didn’t chicken out, and my students seemed to respond well for the most part. This looks like it’s going to be the start of a great journey into storytelling. Plus, when I finalllllllllllllllllllly get my AppleTV for my classroom, I’ll be able to record my stories on an iPad app, so students that weren’t there can hear them fresh the first time, and I’ll be able to reflect and hear myself (bleck) and the things I needed to improve!

Do you have any advice for telling stories in class? What do you like to do for follow-up activities? How do you get those kids to stop commenting on everything, at least in English? I’d love to hear your input or advice … and I’ll be updating you on the storytelling process again soon.


5 thoughts on “My first storytelling experience!

  1. My quick impressions-
    1) Sounds like it was GREAT and you’ll get better at cognates, answers, etc. as you go along!
    2) It’s a defeating myth of education that a student’s behavior is ever your fault. I could smack every teacher trainer or administrator that perpetuates that. There are lots of things you can do to encourage student engagement, but a person’s behavior in any situation is ALWAYS their own responsibility. Believing otherwise isn’t helping them grow up.
    3) The more questions you ask, the more they listen.
    4) Pop an open-note quiz on them one to two days after the story. Always. If they know it’s coming, they will take better notes. And it gives you ammunition: “You can let yourself be distracted if you want, but you know there’s a quiz coming that’ll be an easy A depending on what notes you took.”
    5) Colored pencils was one of only 2 or 3 things on my required school supply list. 🙂
    6) The more you tell them, “en francais, svp” (ha!) the more they will respond in French – this part is a matter of building the environment.

  2. Totally agree with Sara-Elizabeth up there; student behavior is not always your fault.

    A couple things I do to get kids back on track and paying attention:

    1. When I notice someone is talking while I’m talking, I’ll immediately stop and look directly at them, and just smile. And wait. And smile. And wait. Eventually they catch on. It freaks ’em out that I’m smiling, too.
    2. I’ll make that person a part of the story, by either adding him/her as a character or incessantly repeating the question or detail they’re ignoring, while moving closer and closer and closer. There’s a linguistic benefit to this, too – more repetitions of the target structure! 🙂

    Bonne chance!

  3. I found that as I told a story that I wanted them to draw, it helped if I drew the story along with them on the board. They were confused at first at how to mural draw. I´ve been doing the mural draw on a whiteboard, put the story, simplified, on the board, vía the projector, then work withh a partner to retell the story. I tell them that this is to help the reader mostly, it takes some of the pressure off of the reteller. I walk around to listen and WOW, is it impressive!

  4. Congrats on your first storyasking day! It can certainly be exhausting but it gets easier!

    One thing I do is I have a Target Language Timer. They have their phone/iPod/watch out to time the amount of time we stay in the target language. If I hear any English, I say ‘alto’ or the French equivalent of ‘stop’. The TL timer restarts the timer back to 0. I bribe them with a variety of things if they can get to 45 minutes in all Spanish (this is very difficult).. Maybe smaller bribes for each 20 minutes.

    I also have a policía. They can say “alto” as well. But usually they serve the purpose of tracking how many págames I give out. This is Blaine Ray’s págame system.. students have 100 participation points a semester and they lose 5 every time they shout out. They can make up the págame by writing me a super cheesy card about how great of a teacher I am. (After 4 págames, they have to write me 100 words in Spanish.)

    Also, I direct them to the checklist I have in my room. If anyone is off task, I redirect them to the checklist. (The checklist came from this post:

    I give a 10-point True/False listening quiz after the end of a storyasking day. (You can outsource the quiz-writing to an advanced student.) The participation checklist is attached. Here is an editable version if you would like to use it! You can find a link to this document here: under #3. I took my ideas from this blog:

    In general, insist that EVERYONE answers EVERY question. With enthusiasm. And shows me their eyes. If they don’t, I just do it over and over until they do.

    I also like to give them movement breaks/brain breaks whenever they are fading.

    I look forward to hearing more about your journey! You are very brave for trying new things and being open to reflecting on your experience!

    -Lauren Tauchman

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