New Beginnings for Old Stories

They Figured it Out

The kids now know the formula for my stories. They have heard and read enough stories by now that they can predict what will happen in each story. On top of the predictions, I talked with them a few weeks ago about why the stories are all so similar. This helped a bit in engaging them, but in the weeks since then, I have been trying to think of novel ways to present the formulaic stories.

It’s been difficult because I can’t stray too far from the formula. If I do, I risk having the stories be incomprehensible. At the same time, if I continue to plow through the same old formulas over and over again, I lose the students’ interest.

Then it hit me: I can have the same core story, but put it into a new context with a preface or a “story-starter.” The content of this has nothing really to do with the story, but it helps to develop the main character. This way, I can make the stories feel novel while at the same time keeping them “in bounds” and keeping the scaffolding that comes from the similar beats of the stories. (there is a character, s/he doesn’t have something, s/he goes to get it, s/he meets several people who don’t have it but have lots of other stuff, s/he finally meets someone who has it, that person gives it to the character, everyone is happy).

An Example Story Starter with a few Circling Questions

Había un chico. ¡El chico tenía un secreto!

            ¿Cómo se llamaba el chico?

           ¿Cuántos años tenía el chico?

El chico se llamaba Pablo (just an example). Pablo tenía 4 años. Pablo tenía un secreto. ¡El secreto era que Pablo no era un humano! ¡Pablo era un extraterrestre!

              ¿De dónde era Pablo? ¿Era de la Tierra? ¿Era de nuestro Sistema solar? ¿De                  qué planeta era?

Pablo era de Plutón.

No había nada que hacer en Plutón. Pablo estaba aburrido.

             ¿Había actividades divertidas en Plutón? ¿Pablo podía jugar fútbol en Plutón?                   ¿béisbol/vóleibol/fútbol Americano/golf/hockey/etc? ¿Pablo podía mirar la tele/leer               libros/jugar videojuegos/jugar juegos de mesa/etc?

No había juegos, no había libros, no había televisión, no había deportes. No había nada en Plutón.

Un día, Pablo el extraterrestre decidió visitar un planeta Nuevo.

¿Qué planeta visitó? ¿A Pablo le gustaba Plutón? ¿Por qué o por qué no?

Pablo se subió a la nave espacial. Viajó en la nave por mucho tiempo. Llegó a la Tierra y aterrizó en __(I use a city in Florida because that is where my school is, but you can use any city in any region that you’d like)_.

¿Dónde aterrizó? ¿viajó por mucho tiempo? ¿Cuánto tiempo?

                ¿Aterrizó en un choque? ¿La nave especial explotó en el aterrizaje?

Aterrizó perfectamente. No chocó con nada. No explotó. Era un aterrizaje perfecto.

¿Adónde fue Pablo cuando aterrizó?

Pablo fue a …

And this is where you would start the story in the script. The events of the story have a bit more life now that there is a bit more variation in the script. Changing the main character to an alien (or an animal or making any other silly change) gives the kids the chance to act out the events in the story in a novel way.

I am all about fun in class. For this story-starter, there is a lot of vocabulary that the students haven’t heard yet, so I used a lot of visuals. I have an interactive white board, so I was able to take a picture of the final product of the story asking:


A New Context for Comfortably Formulaic Content

The alien story-starter breathed new life into the stories that I have been telling in class. I was also able to introduce a lot of new non-targeted vocabulary, like the names of the planets (and the word for planet itself 🙂 ), the word for space ship and rocket, the phrase “decided to visit,” the word for travel, the word for outer space, and more. I have been adding targeted vocabulary and details and flashbacks to my stories for weeks, but none of those things have worked to build engagement quite like the story starter. Other story starters could include:

  • The character is actually an animal
  • The character isn’t on Earth
  • The story is set in the distant future
  • The story is set in the distant past
  • In the preface, the main character becomes a werewolf/vampire/zombie

Those are just a few that I came up with in a few minutes.

Students seem to have become desensitized to the novelty of the storytelling method in my classroom, so I am trying to change up the stories without losing the core things that make it work so well – target structures, high-frequency vocabulary, circling, formulaic stories (that give students much-needed scaffolding to understand what the words mean–if they have an easy time understanding the events of the story, they can spend more time focusing on understanding the language in that story).

For example: Instead of a story where a boy needs an iPhone, the story becomes about a caveman who needs an iPhone. The possibilities of where to go in the story now open up immensely: When does he live? What is his world like? How does he know what an iPhone is? How will he get the phone? Will someone from the future travel to his time? Will he travel to the future somehow? Will he know what to do with the phone? Who would he call? Would he be able to get what he needs after getting an iPhone? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but they open up a whole new avenue of thought to follow through circling with the students about the story.

Anything is possible with storytelling, so let your sense of humor and your creativity fly free! Anything that will engage the kids and that will put a twist on the story is great because it breathes new life into the same old thing and puts it into a new context.

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