From story-telling to story-asking

I am reading TPRS with Chinese characteristics: making students fluent and literate through comprehensible input by Terry Waltz and I am learning a great deal! I definitely recommend this book if, like me, you want your learners to truly develop fluency and proficiency in another language and on the other hand you do not consider yourself advanced in TPRS and comprehensible input, as I do!

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

For example, I noticed that YES, I was getting kind of good at telling a story and circling the target structures I wanted my learners to acquire. However I was not asking a story, which is quite different from telling a story! In the past I always planned my story scripts and my learners didn’t have much ownership of what was going on in the story. As a negative consequence, my classes would soon get bored because they didn’t contribute enough, they were listening to comprehensible input which was good but they were not part of the story. Therefore, they were passive listeners when the point of this approach is to become active listeners, in other words to listen to input with the intent of understanding. This year, I started to move towards story asking with my individual French learners and as I was having them contribute to the ideas and details of the story, I was sensing much more interest from them. Terry Waltz wrote a whole chapter about story-asking and what I have taken from it is that: “the teacher contributes the correct target language sentences and paragraphs; the students contribute the content and ideas.” Therefore there is no need to think about a whole story and to write down a script before the lesson. All you need to think about is the target structure you want your learners to acquire. It is best to stick to one or two structures so that you don’t fall into the trap of planning a story like I used to do!

My other big new discovery is that instead of starting with an actual story which demands creativity from your learners (which is something they are not accustomed to at first, especially in a language classroom!), you can start off with a one word image. This wonderful trick comes from Ben Slavic (a massive TPRS and Comprehensible Input expert) and it is about picking a word from a word list and ask the learners a specific set of questions about it, such as its color, where it lives, if it has a super power…
Starting with a word image means that learners can imagine anything about a single noun. They see that as well as listening with the intent of understanding, they can also be creative and have fun. For not advanced teachers like me, the one word image is also not so complex as asking a whole story but I am still able to ask many questions and get many repetitions.

New photo by alice ayel / Google Photos

I have already used this technique twice and instead of having a list of words, I showed my finger puppets (which I found hidden in a drawer the other day!) and I asked my learners to choose one puppet and then invent a little story around it. One was the rabbit called ” Neige-Carotte ” who loves eating carrots but hates chocolate and frogs. The target structures were: ” Elle aime/ déteste manger …” with tons of repetitions. The other one was the mouse called ” Mouse “! Mouse has a super power because it can run very fast on its legs and tail! Needless to say that we were all having fun!

Watch out this demo with Ben Slavic where it all starts with a picture of a snail. The story gets funnier and watching it gave me the confidence to try it out.

What about you? Are you story-telling or story-asking or both?

 

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