(My first idea was to call this post “TPRfleS, but I thought that might be too corny…Not that its corniness has kept me from writing it anyway 🙂 )
Elementary school in Florida is not the place where one would expect to find foreign language instruction. It’s not a requirement in any of the districts that I have lived or worked in. The only place it seems to happen is in private schools (religious and secular). I wish that there were more schools that had it, but that’s beside the point.
In my school system, there are a lot of songs and chants and introduction to culture and mechanics of language, but not much actual communication. The teachers, while well meaning, are of the old-school, grammar-based methodology and because of that, the students aren’t able to speak at a functional level of proficiency. Elementary programs tend to be seen as a stepping stone for middle school Spanish (a Big Deal), which is a stepping stone for high school (a BIGGER Deal), which is…I don’t know…that’s where the narrative ends. One can extend the story into college, but the result is the same. The end game is success in classes at the next level. For some subjects, this might be enough, but for something as practical as a language, to be able to describe grammar and use it in a classroom outside the target culture is not intrinsically motivating or a particularly useful goal.
As most CI teachers have found, learning about language isn’t really interesting to students. Learning how to use the language in unique and real-life situations is much more engaging and useful.
I am blessed to have an administration that sees things differently from the more grammar-based or traditional methodological view. I have been free to experiment with different methods and practices to see which ones fit our students the best. TPRS and storytelling in general seem to be where I have landed.
Storytelling in the FLES Classroom
I know that most of the people reading this already know about TPRS and CI methods, but I also know that a lot of those same people don’t teach the youngins. Most teach middle school and high school and use comprehensible input methods, like TPRS and others, with great success. Let me tell you here and now: it works great for the little kids, too!
When I was in my classroom back in July and August for pre-planning days, I considered using tprs with the early grades and came to the conclusion that there was too much time between classes and that students wouldn’t be able to retain what was happening in class from meeting to meeting. But I saw the results I was having with the older students. The level of engagement and participation was through the roof, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was blown away. I wrote a sample story that I could use to experiment with story-asking in 1,2,3 grades. It was incredible. They retained so much of the first story that they can still tell me all the details (in English) and tell me which student was which character.
They are definitely novice-low in their production, but they are amazingly receptive to the CI we have done in class. They have class for 30 mins, once a week and they retain the details of the story very well over several weeks.
First Long Story
Here is the first story I did with them:
Day 1: Hay una chica. La chica se llama Roberta. A Roberta le gustan las papas fritas. Roberta tiene un problema. Roberta no tiene las papas fritas. Roberta tiene hambre y Roberta esta triste
Day 2: review part 1; Roberta tiene bananas. A Roberta no le gustan las bananas. Roberta tiene hamburguesas. A Roberta no le gustan las hamburguesas. Roberta tiene manzanas. A Roberta no le gustan las manzanas. A Roberta le gustan las papas fritas y Roberta no tiene papas fritas.
Day 3: review pt 1&2; Roberta va a McDonalds. Hay un chico que se llama Ronald McDonald. Roberta le pregunta, ” tienes papas fritas?”
Ronald McDonald le dice: “no”
(Continue in the same way with as many restaurants and students as I can in the class time, all say no)
Day 4: review pt. 1,2,&3; Roberta va a escuela. Roberta va a la cafetería. Hay un hombre en la cafetería. Se llama Señor Boom (our lunch chef’s actual name, which might be the best name ever for anyone who works at an elementary school). Señor Boom tiene papas fritas. Le da las papas fritas a Roberta. Roberta esta feliz. Roberta no tiene hambre.
Storytelling has a lot to offer lower grade-level students. Instead of learning vocabulary through songs or lists, the students learn through contextualized stories just like older students, but they are engaged at a level that is much higher than with regular methods. They retain the input and they are able to follow along with almost no use of English. Luckily for me, it also suits my personality very well: I get to use silly voices and props and puppets and I get to run around and be generally silly…what more could I ask for?