Reflections on storytelling (part 1)

Here at East Butler, we’re wrapping up the third quarter and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the storytelling techniques that I’ve picked up and used over the last year. I started using TPRS-like elements this time last year, but this school year was the first that I made the complete switch to using comprehensible input strategies as my main focus. As a whole, I think using storytelling has been a major success in my classroom, but there are still some things that could use some work.

The original post ended up being a behemoth, so I will split this into two parts: successes and stuff to work on.


1) My students have acquired way, way, way more at this time of year than my previous students. The difference isn’t so noticible in Spanish 1, but my 2s and 3s are clearly ahead of the game. A huge amount of this has to do with the amount of input students are receiving. I plan to do a much more in-depth post on this in the near future but basically, I feel that my first few rounds of students had lower abilities because they spent more time doing activities to try to artificially push along their acquisition, rather than doing activities to increase input – which will increase acquisition naturally. That’s how I ended up with students who could reproduce vocabulary flawlessly on a discrete word translation quiz, or correctly conjugate the forms of tener in present perfect… but couldn’t actually read or write them in context.

2) Speaking of acquisition, certain forms that used to be my bane are now easy. Instead of explaining ‘le’ (and how indirect objects work) and ‘dice’ (and how e-i conjugations work), I just teach them ‘le dice  = h/she says to him/her’. Done. Acquired. Same thing with reflexives. Since I no longer explain how conjugations work before the students see and hear them a million times, I also no longer get weird things like ‘yo tieno’ or ‘él poda.’ The kids just know it. They also are much faster at answering questions because they have acquired question words much, much earlier.

3) Instead of wasting my students’ time on taking notes (which again, loses valuable input time) I can do grammar pop-ups to speed acquisition. When students are ready, then they will ask more in-depth questions. Today I had a Spanish 2 student ask me why my story said ‘buena comida’ and not ‘comida buena’. Which is awesome because it shows that he acquired that adjectives have to match, and generally go behind the thing they’re describing. I’m actually going to do a bit of conjugation practice on Friday with my Spanish 1s because we’re far enough into the year that even my average processors are asking me how the whole matching pronoun-verb thing works (not in that wording, of course).

4) I don’t have to follow ‘the script’. You know, the one that says in Spanish 1 you teach present tense (and if you’re really fancy, one of the past tenses). Spanish 2 is all the other main tenses. Spanish 3 is subjunctive. Spanish 4 is review of everything. I personally prefer to stay mostly in present tense for Spanish 1, and Spanish 2 focuses on the past tenses for the first semester. But right now we’re hitting present perfect because our stories call for it, and I even threw in past subjunctive the other day. So for those who are hesitating, I implore you: do not underestimate your students. If your students know that  ‘toma la medicina = he takes the medicine’ and ‘tomó la medicina = he took the medicine’, they can understand ‘tomara la medicina’ with no trouble.

5) For the most part, my students are far more willing to participate. I still get the occasional ‘I don’t want to do this’ or ‘Do we really have to tell another story?’ but it’s few and far between. Since I’m a department of one, I can see the differences between class levels. I recently asked this year’s Spanish 3 do a very simple task (read an authentic blog post with lots of infographics and summarize what they read in English). Last year, the students had an outright meltdown when I asked them to do it. This year, they said ‘okay’ and got to work. It was no big deal, because they’ve spent a goodly portion of their Spanish experience reading lengthier Spanish passages.

6) Storytelling is highly customizable. I mean, that’s part of the whole appeal to students! Although I do have the Blaine Ray book, I stopped using it after the first month. The Look, I Can Talk curriculum is based entirely on input of high-frequency verbs and not much on thematic units. Since I still much prefer to have units to work within (and especially as I create my AP Spanish course, which is required to hit on certain themes), I don’t find it as useful as other teachers might. However, it provides a good framework for the beginning TPRS teacher and is even more invaluable for beginning-teaching teachers because it gives sentence-by-sentence directions on how to do everything. But once I figured out how to pattern a story, it became easy to create one that hits the vocabulary and grammatical concepts I want to cover at a specific point in my program. It is also very easy to differentiate for different levels of learners through different difficulties of readings or verbal questions.

Stay tuned for part 2 (stuff to work on) in a few days!


2 thoughts on “Reflections on storytelling (part 1)

  1. Thanks for your post! I have had similar experiences with my classes (I started storytelling about when you did and started doing it exclusively this year). I have higher engagement, which is great, but now the kids are getting tired of the stories. I have Blaine Ray’s book, too, but like you, I have started going outside of the book for stories. I mostly try to make up my own that are more tailored to my students (their interests and grade levels-I teach k-8). I look forward to reading part 2, because I have encountered some issues of my own and I am curious to see if they are similar to yours. Thanks again and keep writing your awesome blog posts!

  2. Pingback: Reflections on storytelling (part 2) | Making Good Mistakes

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