“Sheltering vocabulary while unsheltering grammar” refers to using ANY grammar necessary to express ideas while limiting words. This mantra has been instrumental in the design of our latest Latin novellas since it simultaneously reduces cognitive demand while casting a broad net of input, exposing students to different verb forms as they attend to fewer “big content word” meanings. Despite this unsheltering, sometimes we have to make a decision about when our story takes place! This establishes a focus—perhaps unwanted—on one tense or another.
If we, indeed, want to expose students to that broad net of input, we can respond appropriately without sacrificing any communicative value. Here are some very practical ways to conceptualize the use of different tenses in stories, and what to do in order to add variety to the verb forms used in stories and readings:
Also from Von Ray’s recent TPRS workshop, his German demo sheltered (i.e. limited) vocabulary so well that it focused on 3 verbs (e.g. is, has, wants) of those top 5 (+ likes & goes). I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of a Day 1 cold opening story, though many skilled TPRS teachers find it to be the most engaging way to start the year, so this script might just be what I was looking for! With no need for any character to travel to the standard 3 locations, the questions and details concern one or two parallel characters—an essential Storyasking skill to begin building.
The conflict to resolve in Von’s story was “is in jail, because doesn’t have.” Here’s the plot outline:
- there’s a character
- character is in jail because s/he doesn’t have something
- parallel character is somewhere, but not in jail
- character’s mother is in the hospital, and has what the character doesn’t have
- character laments (e.g. “Ooh noo, mother! I’m in jail! I’m in jail because…I want…”)
- mother laments (e.g. “Ooh, [character], I’m in the hospital because I’m sick…”)
- character says s/he wants what the mother has
- mother says that it’s not her problem (lol!)
- parallel character(s) has/have what the character wants
- parallel character(s) may, or may not give the character what s/he wants
- story resolves, or doesn’t
If a parallel character gives the item to the main character, add “gives,” or the command “have!” if your language can do that, limiting the verbs to just “is, has, wants,” and “says.”
**Updated 12.13 with this clue tracking sheet for teams**
Every Latin program has that perfunctory “Roman house” unit in which students memorize the layout and names of various rooms in a vīlla or domus, and then read (or translate) a narrative loosely connected to those rooms. This got me thinking; is there a more meaningful way to learn about the Roman house through a game? To be clear, gamification usually sucks (e.g. playing a board game to teach prepositions), so the key is to align the game objective with a communicative task in Latin. On Episode 42 of Tea with BVP, Bill stated that “we communicate in order to learn, build, create, entertain, and socialize,” so what better task covering at least 3 of those purposes than a “whodunit” based on Clue™?
Hypermiling to add packets of text to the FVR shelf regularly!
Mike Peto had great things to say about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) and Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) on Episode 6 of Teachers That Teach.
How could it possibly be easy? Mike recommends building your FVR library by first making booklets of known class stories that are 100% comprehensible.
THAT’S SO SIMPLE!
This is obvious, yet doesn’t seem to be a common practice, especially for Latin teachers lamenting over the legitimate lack of understandable reading material! If you think about it, the typical Latin teacher engaged in collaborative storytelling/storyasking probably has 10 stories by the holiday/winter break, and maybe even twice, or thrice that! Unless the class has been reviewing old stories as part of a detail-adding, or story-improving activity (which is great, BTW), there’s a good chance that students have forgotten details from the earliest of stories and wouldn’t mind a gentle walk down memory lane. Oh, and students should be able to read them fluently (speed + accuracy), which is a great confidence booster!
So, with everything you need to build an FVR library before more hideously easy books are published and you get funding for several copies, go format those typed-up class stories for booklets, print ’em out, and start setting aside class time for reading!
How? How much time?
An FVR program is simple to begin. Remember, this is FREE reading, so it’s best to avoid assessments and accountability. If all students are reading the same book, it’s known as Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), although Mike said that he calls it that anyway just so students don’t say something snarky like “well if it’s voluntary I’m gonna just sit here.” Once you have a few materials, be sure to hold FVR consistently. If you can’t do it daily, start weekly. As far as time goes, Mike says “if students can read for 7 minutes, give them 5—you don’t want them to get bored with it.” This is good advice. I’ve been doing 15 minutes every few days, but I’ve noticed that a murmur develops towards the end…looks like I’ll drop down to 12min or so and see what happens.
This is probably the most effective no-prep activity you should become familiar with:
1) Say or ask for one(1) word.
2) Draw it on the board (or have the Class Artist draw it).
3) Ask about it, and add details to the image.
I’m never at a loss for what to add because I rely on my Question Word Posters as reference to drive the image. Looking at the posters around my board, I usually just ask questions in order and get corresponding supporting details without planning a single thing. Here’s an example that began with a single word, fūr (thief)…
Where? = The thief is in Starbucks
From Where? = Lived in Spain
To Where? = Wants to go to Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley, not Cambridge
What? = Has a gladius (Roman sword)
Who? = The thief’s name is Tom
Whose? = The gladius is actually the Starbucks barista’s gladius
When? = It’s night time
Whom? = The thief sees someone with a better, bigger gladius
With Whom? = Donald Trump (obviously!)
To Whom? = The Starbucks barista gives a coffee to Donald Trump
How? = The thief has the gladius because he stole it from the Starbucks barista
How many? = Actually, the Tom the Thief has 7 gladiī—one from each Starbucks in Starbucksville
What sort of? = Tom is actually a bad thief…the Starbucks barista saw him steal the gladius
Why? = Donald Trump is there because he wants to buy all the Starbucks’
Note how some of the details don’t connect (e.g. there is another person with a sword but doesn’t get mentioned again), but realize that they don’t have to. We’re just creating an image, not any kind of plot. Also note, however, how easily this COULD turn into a prompt for a Timed Write, or a Storyasking session, especially given the image we’ve established as a class.
OK, so you’ve taken the first step of switching gears because NO ONE wants to suffer through a stale story retell between storyasking days or between brain breaks, but what if that story was pretty good? Should you scrap it and move on? Here’s one strategy to save a stale story retell…
We started a story towards the end of class on Friday because, well, because it was Friday and compelling diversions can often be better than anything we had planned. Monday arrived. Unsurprisingly, the class was a bit hazy on details over the weekend. N.B. no, it doesn’t matter that one or two kids remembered every little thing—teaching with CI is about including ALL students. After a retell that produced even better details (as well as a longer-than-usual brain break), we ran out of time to finish the story, which was nowhere close to being done. I don’t blame anything—it was only the second class story of the year so students have been in that phase of getting comfortable with what nearly complete control over co-creating a story feels like. In addition to being heavy on details, and light on plot with virtually no time left to class, 5 students were absent. Was I really going to start the next class by retelling, or having students retell what we had so far? Nope.
Class Story Intro/Background Info
I’ve written about the importance of parallel stories, but we can get some mileage out of reading the actual class story provided that we don’t beat it to death by reading the whole thing. Reports from the field suggest that stories start to wane, and a big reason is because things start to feel routine right down to reading the same story (which is where most of our power comes from).
Instead of asking/telling a story and then reading all of it verbatim, I pre-loaded my retell by typing up the beginning details and background information, but that’s it. We began class with a choral translation before finishing the story during the rest of class. You could bet that there were questions from the absent kids (which is great because that means they’re buying into DEA), and that meant even more input for the other students.
This was enough of a change up to not feel like the “same old same old” we had been doing for three days, and allowed me the opportunity to assist those absent students a little more directly while keeping the interest of the others who had been there all three days. Give it a try!
The latest Tea with BVP episode was “Teaching Without Textbooks.” Whether you’ve already ditched the textbook, or still work alongside one, parallel stories are important. Parallel stories include the same language found in a narrative, but the details (maybe plot) change. This year, I’ll be using a mix of parallel stories that compliment a textbook’s narrative, and co-created stories via TPRS.
For years I used TPRS story scripts to ask a story and then type up and read the exact story as a class. I’m now sold on parallel readings that include all the language found in the class story during acting, but now in a new context with details unknown to the students. Following Michele Whaley’s current practices on Embedded Readings, each of our stories will have at least three versions—this builds interest along the way by withholding information (vs. knowing exactly how the class story ends).
There will be more on how I adapt a textbook’s narrative later, but for now, here’s a link to our Latin 1 parallel stories (updated throughout the year in this single document).
It’s good that my goal wasn’t to summarize and respond to every point made on each Tea with BVP show. Why? Of all the shows, the recent Season 1 Finale had treasure troves of gold to respond to. Several of those nuggets stand out for me…
VERBA is an Apples to Apples clone game for language learners designed by the great folks who brought us the Picturae database. Aside from playing the game as-is following original rules (during which I monitor groups and deliver CI by asking students about their choices, etc.), I now use the white noun cards during storyasking/storytelling (e.g. “Once upon a time, there was a ______<reveal card>”).
What makes this different from TPRS? Vocabulary is limited to what’s on the cards, which is already in the target language along with a super clear image. You’re less likely to go out of bounds with infrequent target language vocabulary, or have to accept English details from students. On the other hand, you might WANT to accept English details from students (especially if they’re compelling). In that case, use the VERBA cards as non-examples for your students to reject, and then take their cute/hilarious/dark suggestion, etc.
What makes this different from using Rory’s Story Cubes? Story cubes contain images ONLY, no target language, so using VERBA might help keep your story more “on rails.” For an interesting storyasking/storytelling hybrid, use the white VERBA noun cards for details AND Rory’s Story Cubes: Actions set for verbs.