The following day I attended Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido’s excellent session on building a story with the students. They started off by telling us that questions are the key to storybuilding. This is partly based on Eric Jensen’s book, Brain-Based Learning, in which he says that asking questions elicits deeper thinking. This is because when we answer yes or no questions, the brain continues to unconsciously process alternatives. And better yet, questions help to camouflage repetition so that students don’t get bored.
The content of a story can come from many different places. For example, you could use a cultural legend, a previously-planned “hook” to get students’ attention, or students’ answers given during PQA. Remember that while students can guess the details of the story, the teacher is the one who chooses the detail to include. When you are rejecting a student’s answer, avoid making them feel bad by conveying that although their answer was a great idea, that is just not how it happened in the story.
Once you have selected the content, plan your story by selecting 1-3 structures, depending on the age of the students. Focus on what is cognitively possibly. In other words, keep in mind how much new info students can actually handle. Next, create and select a character. You can use students, celebrities, animals, or even students’ family members. As a guideline, try to use 1-2 characters or more as the story/grammar requires.
Always keep in mind the purpose of the story – to teach the structure(s). Use them right from the beginning of the story. Remember that while details are fun and interesting, and they allow you to move the story forward and keep the students’ interest, you should ensure that you don’t go off on a tangent. Only continue adding details if the students are still engaged and are still getting repetitions. Don’t forget to go slowly and deliberately. The goal is not to finish, it is to engage students and get repetitions of the structures. By getting students to listen, they are able to acquire the language.
When co-building a story with students, it is important to LISTEN to them. Start by acknowledging their response – smile, nod, repeat it to the class, shake hands, laugh, or ask the class to give them a round of applause. Reiterate the information and attempt to encourage more responses. You can do this by asking the question, then selecting students to answer. Tell the class that so-and-so “thinks it’s possible that…” Always ask for input from students even if you have the detail already planned out. After several students have responded, select the best answer or give your own. Try to make it a NOVEL idea – something that is perhaps the opposite of what is expected. As you continue to ask the story, designate a different space in the classroom for each location in the story. Get the students up to act out the different parts and coach them to act so that they can act to the best of their ability.
Some miscellaneous tips that Carol and Kristy offered were also very helpful. They suggested using previous knowledge that you have gained about the students in stories. This adds personalization and thus creates interest on the part of the students. Only write down enrichment words on the board which are going to be used a lot in a story. If you write down every new word, it gets confusing for the students. When writing structures on the board, save the use of subjects for students in higher levels and underline the ending and the subject to show the relationship. Try to use one prop that has some sort of emotional tie to the students (ie. a well-known local person). One of my favourite tips was to use a “dialogue of the day”. Plan it in advance and have it written on the board so that it is ready for students to use.
Most importantly of all, remember that if you don’t make the story COMPLETELY COMPREHENSIBLE, half the students will simply check out.
Source: Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido, NTPRS 2011, Handout