Collaborative Storytelling Strategies

Mike Peto is so great at painting a picture of his teaching through writing. Here’s a collection of strategies inspired by his post on One Word Images (OWI) that come in handy during any collaborative storytelling (e.g. TPRS, OWI, and other activities without names):

Back of the Room
Unless a discussion about suggestions is compelling, stop wasting time voting for, choosing, or eliciting details. Pretend someone says something:

Allow your students to make suggestions and wait until you hear an idea that you like, or alternatively point vaguely towards the back and say your own suggestion as if you were repeating something said by a quiet student. “Cucumber, yes! Our character is a cucumber!”

Empty Chair/Stool
A physical focus fosters focused students. Even gesturing to an empty space helps draw language out one’s mind. Student actors are also excellent focal points.

Suspend Disbelief
I’ve written about challenges I’ve had unlocking imagination and creativity. It’s possible that I’ve forgotten about something I, myself have complete control over. This “theater,” as Mike put it, is a magical way to do that. Now that I think about it, there’s nothing magical about asking a flat out open-ended “what was there?” question with unwavering intonation. Parlor tricks; performances. Those could be just as compelling as the target language messages themselves!

Ask students if they can see the pepino. Offer to reseat students in the back so that they can get a good view. The purpose of this theater, conducted in either English or the target language as long as they can understand, is to encourage students to suspend disbelief. 

Petulance: “Can you see?”
Engage students by inviting them into the magic. Still, a few might need additional help.

Turn to a student who is not expressing marvel and ask, “Bobby, can you see the cucumber?”

If Bobby says no, move him to the front so he can get a better view. If he says yes, ask him what color the pepino is…You don’t need a response. Wait a beat and then turn to the whole class and repeat the question. If Bobby does not answer yes or no, go to the board and write the word ¿ves? followed by do you see? and ask the question again.

If, in the end, they’re still not playing along, make it all look part of of your plan.

If a student is being petulant and refusing to answer, smile and act as if you are assuming that he simply does not understand. You are there to make sure everyone understands. Thank him for helping you.

20 Minute OWI
Mike doesn’t stress over getting through all the traits. Sometimes the class skips over ones they don’t find compelling. He also leaves time for Write & Discuss. The artwork (i.e. one student black line art, another student color in with crayons, no text) is presented the next day, and a story can be spun. Sometimes the character is never featured in a story at all!

White Space
While presenting the artwork the next day, fill in the white space with some descriptions of the OWI. This gives students language to process visually in addition to what they’re listening to. If sharing with other classes, or even just having them posted, this, too, allows students to continue processing language at their own pace by reading descriptions.

Time Keeper
In the event of a story, Mike limits most stories to four parts:

1) Who? Where? With Whom?
2) Problem
3) Fail to Solve
4) Solution

He spends just five minutes on each. Amazing. No more bogged down details. Short, and comprehensible is key.

If we do create a story, then the story created the next day is very short. There are four parts to each story and I ask a student to play the role of time keeper so that we spend no more than five minutes on each part.

Short & Sweet
During collaborative storytelling, there’s no need to write novella-length stories of thousands of words.

A completed story is typically anywhere from five to ten sentences long. Students copy these texts into their notebooks.

“What about older students/AP?”
It’s simply a myth that collaborative storytelling leads to “baby Latin” or childish thinking. Something similar to what Mike does with AP themes could be helpful in higher levels:

Another way to encourage complexity is to simply project either the entire set of AP themes against the white board and ask students to contemplate these themes just before they turn in small groups and develop a problem (in English), or project only one subset of the themes for students to contemplate. This is like priming the pump; we have had wonderful stories that incorporate themes based on gender identity, environmental issues and such after students took a few minutes to consider the possible problems their OWIs could face in the real world.

Capture
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