Storytelling in Practice #1: What do you do before you start a story in early elementary?

TPRS/Story asking in early elementary

I got an email recently from a teacher who was using one of my stories (Roberto no tiene papas fritas). The teacher pointed out that this post has a breakdown of how I tell the story over several days, which is helpful for a teacher who is new to TPRS, but it doesn’t have something that is arguably more important: what do you do before, during, and after the storytelling?

After reading this, I looked back at my posts and realized that over the time I’ve been sharing my observations and reflections about language teaching on this blog, I have posted several story scripts, but I haven’t posted any ideas on how to present them or how I assess the students’ understanding of them (other than story re-writes or comic-drawing activities, which are more of an “older-kid” thing and not super helpful to other early elementary teachers).

There are lots and lots and lots of different ideas and strategies for pre- and post-teaching. I could list them all here, but I don’t think wordpress has servers big enough to hold so much content. So, seeing as there is so much that can be used, I have decided to narrow down the strategies to what I have found successful in the classroom.

The last thing to say before we get started is that I do not claim ownership of any of these ideas. These are all things that I have found in books and other blogs that have worked well for me in my classes. If you are reading this and one of these ideas is yours, thank you so much for sharing it because it worked super-well for me!

Pre-Story Strategies

  • High-Frequency Vocab– In older grades, I have posters with several words and their translations (quiere-wants, tiene-has, va a-goes to, etc). Every time I use them, I point to them (I just got a laser pointer that has opened up the rest of the room for me, it’s awesome and I highly recommend it!) In the younger grades, I only use 1-2 per day/story. I write these on the board and point to them as I say them. I use the vocabulary to talk about things that they are interested in (do you want ___? Do you have __? Etc). This is called PQA (personalized question and answer). For pre-literate kids, I tell them what it means and use a TPR action to help them understand the meaning. Then, as we continue the story, I use the TPR action along with verbal comprehension checks (every once in a while, I put my hands in a T shape for time out from Spanish and say, “what does that mean again?” and students answer).
  • TPR– In early elementary, I use a lot of actions to relate the vocabulary to an action. This method is called Total Physical Response and shouldn’t be confused with TPRS, which is Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytellling. Connecting a new word to an action helps the kids to internalize the meaning of the word so that they don’t necessarily think about the translation, but rather the action. This also helps me not to use L1 because the students don’t need it once they know the action and the word in the TL.
    • TPR Games– I use the TPR actions for Simon Says. This helps them to comprehend the word when they hear it quickly and slowly and in different voices (I constantly try to trick them to get them out…I switch from Señor Fernie to Señor Tricky-tricky). A lot of the time I act out the movements with them and one of my favorite tricky things is to do say one thing and do another. (Every once in a while, I get a really competitive child who gets bent out of shape, but the majority of them know it’s all in good fun). Other games include Martina Bex’s Word Race (just the race part, as a pre-story activity; the story part is something I would save for students who have my class more than once a week) and telephone.
    • TPR Songs –I definitely like to use songs to introduce new vocabulary. For example, I have songs that I use with TPR actions that are just little tunes where I say the vocabulary that I’m teaching and students “dance” along with the TPR actions for the words. If you are musically inclined, you can use an instrument to play the song and if not, you can just sing it with them a Capella. It is super fun and engaging for the kids.
  • PowerPoint Picture Presentations– When introducing new vocabulary for the story (not high-frequency verbs, but the other things that I am targeting), I use pictures (a house for casa, a bird for pájaro, or whatever else). Then, I use those pictures and PowerPoint to illustrate my story. I use the actors to be the characters to help the kids to understand what is happening in the story, but the pictures help the kids to understand the incidental vocab. (Example: “Juan va a la escuela.” The student actor walks across the room to show the class that he “goes to” somewhere and the picture on the ppt of the house helps the students relate “casa” to house.)

Where to go from here?

In the next post, I’ll talk about the kids of things that I do during stories to keep students interested and on-task and I will follow that up with post-story activities that help the students to keep acquiring and to internalize the target structures and story plot lines (which comes in handy later on because we can add onto popular past stories…but I’m getting ahead of myself…)

Please feel free to try these strategies out yourself. Let us know how it went by leaving a comment. Do you know of other strategies that help to get students ready for a new story? Leave them in the comments, too!


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