Storytelling in Practice #3: I’ve finished the story. Now what?

This is the third part of a 3 part answer to a question that was sent to me by an elementary school teacher about using storytelling in the early elementary grades. Part 1 was about pre-story activities: How do I get students ready for a new story? What kinds of activities do we do to make all of the input from the story comprehensible? Part 2 was about activities that I do with the students during stories: What do I do to check comprehension during the story? 

As I stated in the last post, 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!

I have to start this post with a disclaimer: For all of the talk about using the TL 90%, you’ll notice that several of my post-story activities in early elementary don’t use the TL. Some of them make use of the 10% English allowance in class (and others make use of even more!) and the others don’t require any speaking at all. 

As important as #TL90plus is for acquisition in the classroom, I have found that letting students in early elementary use English for discussion/debriefing is a successful strategy for linking what they hear in the TL to their memory. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about using English in class to get quick results, like I’m shortchanging the students. But when I do these English activities, I see that they are acquiring so much. It builds their confidence, too. They are able to see, “Hey, I know what he said in that story, and not only that, I can tell it myself!”

Is it ideal? Not really. Does it work in 30 minute per week classes? Yes.

There are many things that I do expect them to be able to do in Spanish outside of the stories and most of them come from songs and songs and chants (Buenos días/buenas tardes; me llamo ___; cómo estás? Estoy ___; necesito un lápiz, papel, un crayón; numbers; colors; sí; no; and other basic words and short phrases) and they are really good at remembering.

Spoken Post-Story Activities 

These activities are usually quick and informal. I don’t really hold early elementary students accountable for their ability to speak at length about the things they acquire through stories. I focus on one or two targets in my summative assessments, but on a day-to-day and story-to-story basis, the spoken activities we do after stories are over are formative assessments and really just practice and confidence-building activities

  • Ask students to summarize in English– after finishing a story, the kids are energized because there have been students up and acting, there have been lots of questions about what is going on in the story that ALL the students are expected to answer together, and there have been lots of instances of me being silly to keep their attention. They are wired after we finish. The simplest thing I do at this point is I make my hands into a T for a timeout from the TL. I simply ask, “Raise your hand if can tell me the story I just told you in your own words.” Usually most will raise their hands because they understand a lot of what is happening. Then, I’ll simply call on one of them to start telling me the story. After about 1-2 sentences, I will stop that student and ask another to continue. This really gauges how well they understand on an individual level and it allows students who didn’t understand part of the story to hear what happened from another student, that is, in different words from my own.
  • Ask students story-comprehension questions in English – I have done this by itself and it has been successful, but I have found that it is really successful if I do it while students are summarizing the story for me. If they skip a detail that I wanted them to understand, I ask about it while they are summarizing (for example, “And how did he feel about that?” or “Did he take the fries or did the other character give him the fries?”)
  • Ask students story comprehension questions in Spanish – I realize that I spoke about using English for quicker assessment, but using Spanish for the questions and answers is also important. When I do this, I also incorporate PQA. I try to frame the questions in such a way that I will be able to ask them personal questions using the same forms from the story. For example, ¿A Juana le gustaban las papas fritas? Sí/no. ¿Y a ti te gustan la papas fritas? Sí/no. ¡Clase a Tommy le gustan las papas fritas! Clase, a Tommy le gustan las manzanas o las papas fritas? ¿A Carla le gustan las papas fritas? Etc….

Post-Story Reading and Interpretive Activities

Reading in any language can be tricky in early elementary, especially kindergarten and early first grade because not all the kids are very good at reading English yet. In these early grades, I find that reading together with them is the way to go. Some of our classrooms have document cameras and if you don’t have them, I recommend requesting one because they are great!

My reading activities for early elementary are basically the story that I told in class. Maybe a name or the places are changed, but overall, they are exactly the same. This is key because at this early stage in story-telling and reading ability, they need to have a 100% comprehensible story so that they can tie the words to their meaning.

I made a template for drawing comics (just a 3×2 table on a Word document.) For the early elementary grades, I break up the story into 6 parts and simplify it considerably, then I put those parts into the boxes. Here is an example of what I mean using the Roberto Quiere Papas Fritas story (see the stories tab at the top for the full story and translation)


This is where the document camera comes in. I show one box at a time and using a pencil, pen, or ruler, I read the words with the kids on the screen. One by one, I read aloud while they read along. Then, in the space above, they need to draw a picture of what is happening. Usually for the first 2-3 boxes, I will draw with them. After I know that they understand what to do, I let them draw on their own for the remaining boxes. But I always come back and read the next box with them, pointing out the individual words as I go. My favorite post-story activity is to have students draw what they heard. They will (almost) all tell you that Señor F may as well be Señor Draw-a-Comic-of-the-Story. It is something that I do a lot, but it is so effective in telling me just how much the kids understand of the story.

I hope that this series of posts has helped all you storytellers out there. I am still learning myself, but these are things that have been successful, fun, and engaging for students.

I’d like to thank the person who emailed me last week and inspired this post. I’d also like to thank all the teachers who write about what works in their classrooms. I get most of my ideas from these places and adapt them to fit my needs. I highly encourage everyone to cast a wide net over the world of language-teacher blogs and see what you find; there is so much out there that you can use! Check out the links in my blogroll and the blogs I follow on wordpress. There are so many great teachers who have so much to offer. And don’t forget to #langchat with us on Thursday nights 8PM et on Twitter. Just search for #langchat on Twitter and join the discussion!

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