During collaborative storytelling, I’ve often told students that their job is to suggest and/or guess details in the story. That is, sometimes I know the story and they need to guess, and other times they get to influence it. StoryGuessing is a more structured version of this process.
StoryGuessing eliminates any voting, which means you can tell a short story quick, and I mean real quick, like in the first 5 minutes of class (e.g. Darvin is sad because he doesn’t have coffee. Darvin leaves class and gets coffee from Principal HD. Darvin is happy). When you get a particular detail—perhaps from something a student says as they enter the room, like what they want, or how they’re feeling (e.g. “Darvin is sad, but why?”)—ask students to guess on a piece of paper (Do Now/Weekly Sheet, notebook, etc.). Then, tell them what the detail is (e.g. “Darvin is sadbecause he doesn’t have coffee.“), ask who guessed correctly, then continue the story.
Here’s the rub…
Fish for a detail, asking a student or two what they guessed, and go with that (e.g. “yep, you got it!”). N.B. Be sure to limit the fishing to just once or twice! The point is for students to guess your story. If you keep asking students what their guesses were for each detail, that starts to become classic Storyasking, and will take much, much longer, and it will become obvious that you have absolutely no story in mind. StoryGuessing, then, could be one way to prepare students for Storyasking.
All you need is a simple 3-sentence script in mind, and go from there. End by typing story in a projected Google Doc as students copy (i.e. Write & Discuss). Here was my first script:
Mr P is sad because he has a bad tooth.
Mr P goes to Mr E (the Bio teacher), not the dentist.
Mr P doesn’t go to the dentist because he has bad insurance. (This was the one detail I fished for that a student provided.)
This is a lot like Latin Clue!, which was a fun way to end exploring Roman housing, but really only a one-off activity. The Gladiator Game, however, is much simpler, has faster game play, and is more likely to be repeatable. My students did this 2-3 different days over a couple weeks while exploring the topic of Roman gladiators, and reading Rūfus et arma ātra, as well as Rūfus et gladiātōrēs. The basic idea is for students to choose a gladiator’s actions during a fight. In this game, you can take on more of a GM (Game Master) role for no-prep, and maximum flexibility, or set up some things during your planning period beforehand and run it during class.
Either way, you’ll need to determine some details. I’ve found that VERBA cards serve this purpose nicely. Otherwise, determine a list using basic storyasking strategies (e.g. “should there be a lion, or giraffe?”), write them on the board, assign a number to each, and anytime you’d “draw,” instead just roll dice and choose from the list. Perhaps this is best to do after a few times when students have a better sense of the game. How many details? Try 5 for each category and see how long you can play the game. You’ll need…
– gladiator type & name – opponents – wounds – health – attacks
Having turned my focus to One Word Image (OWI) for the rest of the year, I’m noticing little tweaks that make all the difference. The first tweak is that the entire OWI process works best when limited to 20 minutes. Even storyasking the following day after artwork is presented limited to 20 minutes (e.g. 5 minutes per section in the pic below) keeps everything more comprehensible, compelling, and novel. You might think shorter stories lack input, but that’s not true. Since so many stories can be created, exposure to frequent vocabulary are found in many new contexts, rather than one monster of a story that takes an entire class (or more!) to co-create.
That tweak now a part of my M.O., here’s another one that adds 5 minutes to the storyasking process, but has really helped my students reawaken their imagination, not to mention something that gets X new parallel stories…
Would you believe that fūr, Latin for “thief,” is among the most compelling words used in class? The moment a student spontaneously yells out that word, there’s an immediate conflict—a problem to solve. This is gold for comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT), especially for collaborative storytelling/storyasking!
One thing that can bog down a great story is spending too long on many small details. At least that was my experience when taking 2-3 days to ask a story, finding that kids got bored with all that lack of action and stopped caring where the story went. Still, there’s something great about a vivid scene that’s often lost in otherwise simple, action-packed stories. Thus, I present Most Vivid Scene (MVS)…
Back in 2016, I wrote about five follow up activities based on one story. I’ve certainly been thinking differently since then, though I haven’t so much as changed my tune as I have changed keys. I’m now cautious of doing many activities over and over using just one story. Despite any novelty, the context remains the same. Surely, that can’t be ideal for acquisition, right? After a while, the student is probably just working with an understanding of the story from memory. Similarly, I’ve been highly critical of Latin teachers for remembering English translations they’ve studied and/or taught over the years instead of actually processing the target language itself. Because of that KEY change, I’ve been looking into creating new contexts with minimal planning effort. Here’s a workflow to hypermile your input:
1) Get a text
2) Read that text
3) Do a new activity that gets you a) more texts, b) drawings, or c) both
4) a) Read those new texts, b) Picture Talk the drawings, or c) both
5) Compile texts, drawings, and glossary into FVR packet
I’ve been experimenting with more structure to storyasking. No doubt, I’m a bit rusty after a year teaching classes just 1x/wk, and for which I asked the first and only story on the final day of classes! Prior to that, it had been over a year and a half since I regularly asked stories, which itself wasn’t frequent given the oppressive teaching environment—ēheu! Here are supports that have proved quite useful in helping me get back into the swing of things. But first, what makes good storyasking?
Choice, not Chaos!
A lot of teachers try asking too many open-ended questions that leave students at a loss. The easiest stories to ask include some choice, but not so much that everything feels off the rails. Teachers who attempt the latter, bail quickly. The key is finding the right balance between personalization and control. Experienced storyaskers can release a lot of control over to students, mostly because they have a higher chance of being comprehensible, and the students are more mature, knowing what to expect. Less-experienced storyaskers, or those in particular creativity-resistant contexts, like mine, would benefit from having more structure. The following supports have been helpful in reawakening imagination, something all great stories benefit from, and which most grade students have forgotten about/lost by the time they get to high school, sadly. Give them a try…