The story behind the image

Here’s another trick to get more reps.

We’ve been using this story (un accidente de autobús), which is based on the structures crashed, broke his ankle and “that’s life”.  It’s a home run story that always goes over well because there is a lot of action.  After a lot of personalized questions and asking the story in class, I projected this image.


It fits well because we also spent time recently talking about cowboys.  With a partner, students take turns talking about the image in Spanish.  I set a timer for 2 minutes and tell students to go back and forth saying whatever they can about the image.  They must take turns, and they cannot stop talking.  It is impossible to be finished because there are an infinite amount of statements that could be made about the poor cowboy.  Students are encouraged to talk about the story behind the image.  Tell your partner how he broke his arm.  Why is he smiling?  What is his name?  What happened to his tooth?

After the two minutes, I lead a class discussion about the cowboy.  This discussion can lead to the class building a story together.  One student could write as you construct the story.

Another option is to use the image for a freewrite.  The same idea but in writing.  Students write for a given amount of time about the story behind the image.

The key is finding a good image.  The cowboy was perfect for me in this unit.  We’re not always so lucky . . . but we do have cameras and pens.  We can always create an image if we need.

Posted in Story activities, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The jealous sister

Here is a story I’ve been using.  It’s a good story for early in the year because the focus is all high frequency verbs (there was, had, wanted, was).  It is similar to another story on my script list, but I had to change this up a bit because I have a few students mixed into my classes who were with me last year.

Spanish story script: Wendy tenía celos

PQA presentation: Wendy tenía celos PQA

For non-Spanish teachers, the story is about a woman named Wendy who was jealous of her sister.  Wendy was ugly, poor and not popular.  Her sister was rich, beautiful and very popular.  Wendy wanted to be rich, beautiful and popular.  She was jealous of her sister.  After watching her sister’s success in several endeavors, Wendy could do nothing but sit in the street and cry because she was so jealous.  In the street, a magic mouse met Wendy and decided to help her.  He went to the sister’s house, stole her money and gave it to Wendy.  Wendy was rich.  The mouse went back, cut off the sister’s hair and gave it to Wendy.  Wendy was beautiful . . . etc.  At the end, Wendy was all the things she wanted to be, but there was a problem.  The mouse was jealous of Wendy.

Posted in Stories/Storytelling, Story Scripts | 3 Comments

The revenge of the shellfish

I am teaching a dual credit class this year, which forces me to do something that no one ever wants to do – adapt a textbook.  As I’m working through the process of converting dead chapters into relevant CI units, I’m reminded of how wonderful it is when you have freedom to focus on compelling input (as I do in my 5 other classes).

The following three resources were created for a chapter in the text about cooking/eating.  Even if you are not using a text or working on a cooking unit, they may be interesting to your students and useful for you.

Aquí se sirven los mariscos: A story to be asked in class about a man who is searching for a new seafood restaurant after his favorite place is destroyed by an earthquake.

La propina especialAn embedded reading about a waitress, a cruel customer and a tip left on the table that contains a secret message.

El Mar de MarioAn extended (quite long) reading about a chef who falls in love with a waitress.  He takes her to a romantic dinner at his restaurant, but things go awry when the shellfish, led by a talking lobster, decide to take revenge on the chef.

Posted in Stories/Storytelling, Story Scripts | Leave a comment

Who threw it at him?

We’ve been using the phrase “se lo trajo” (brought it to him/her) in class.  Even after a story about a waitress bringing food to clients, I felt that I needed more reps on the concept of double pronouns.  I put a student in a chair at the front of the room and said we were going to play a game called, ¿Quién te la tiró? (Who threw it at you?).  I showed the student that I had a soft nerf ball and had him close his eyes.  I asked for a volunteer, gave her the ball, and she threw it at the student with his eyes closed.  I asked the student to open his eyes and began questioning in Spanish something like this:

– Juan, Who threw it at you?    

-Pedro threw it at me.

-Class, did Pedro throw it at him?

-No, Pedro didn’t throw it at you.  Who threw it at you? . . . etc.

It’s a simple (dumb?) idea that I thought might flop, but the students loved it and were quite engaged.  I participated and tried to guess who threw it at me, and it was even more exciting for them to throw something at their teacher. Let me be very clear that we used a very soft nerf ball, and no one participated who didn’t volunteer.

You may not be currently working on similar structures, but there is a key idea here that I’ve discovered over the last few years.  The personalization of structures does not have to always be question-answer, question-answer, question-answer.  Throw in some off-the-wall activity, preferably with action/movement, and be sure to surround it with input.

Posted in Classroom activities, PQA, Reflections | Leave a comment

Think outside the bus

Want to tell better stories? Remember The Wheels on the Bus.  My daughter and I sing it often.  We start with the traditional . . . 

  • The wheels on the bus go round and round
  • The baby on the bus says “wah, wah, wah”
  • The doors on the bus go open and close . . . etc.

Then, we start to add our own variations.

  • The dog on the bus says “ruff, ruff, ruff”
  • The grandma on the bus says, “quiet please”

She is pretty engaged through all of this (because she’s 3), but her engagement reaches a new level when we loose our creativity and stop being restricted by what could actually be on a bus.  

How about the hippopotamus on the bus?

But, a hippopotamus can’t be on a bus.

Sure he can.  The hippopotamus on the bus says “Where’s my lunch?  Where’s my lunch?  Where’s my lunch?”

The airplane on the bus?

The penguins on the bus?

The jell-o monsters (monsters made out of jell-o) on the bus?

I hope you can see the connection.  When we open up the possibilities, my daughter giggles and begins suggesting her own wild ideas.  The same old song has become brand new and much more engaging.  In our classes, we may not be singing silly songs or even telling silly stories with animals and jell-o monsters, but we can apply this same idea.  We can look at our stories and find places where we are being restricted by reality or habit.  

She wanted a boyfriend who was tall and strong?  No, she wanted a fella with no teeth who could play the accordion with his toes.  His mother was angry because he came home late last night?  No.  She was angry because he washed his socks in the kitchen sink, AGAIN.  





Posted in Reflections, Stories/Storytelling | 1 Comment

NTPRS 2014

I met many people during the week at NTPRS who mentioned that they enjoy reading this site.  Thanks for the encouraging comments.  The comments also made me realize that people ACTUALLY read this stuff, so I better get it together.  I know that some of you asked me to blog often to share all I was learning during the week.  I would have loved to have done that, but I was also staying with and visiting good friends in the area and didn’t have much free time.

With this post, I’m going to list and briefly describe some of my highlights from the conference.  This list is as much a gathering of thoughts for myself as for anyone else.  I’m going to describe ideas and strategies that were new for me.  This is in no way  a complete list of all the incredible presentations I saw.  I will give more thorough descriptions of some of these ideas in later posts.

Ping pong/Volleyball translations: Many people seem to be already doing this, but it was new to me.  Partners go back and forth reading a line and translating.  It works well with rotating partners.

Incentives for completing novels outside of class: Offer a reward for those who read novels (exemption from an exam, PAT time, ice cream).  Another similar idea was to require the completion of at least one novel in order to get an A.

Double entry journal: Again, this seems popular among many but was new to me.  Students copy a passage and then write a reaction.

Events: I had begun to see the value of this last year, but Blaine and Von Ray described it well and helped me see how to utilize “events.”  An event is any quick break in a story that uses dialogue and action (not much circling) to show why the story is as it is.

Three chairs: Michelle Whaley demonstrated this activity, and the potential is endless.  Students choose a situation in which three characters would converse.  Three volunteers sit in the chairs and each volunteer has a support team of students behind him/her to help.

Classroom teams: Use teams (country names) for different sections of students in each class to easily divide into groups for any activity.

The power of improv: I’ve always believed that there was a connection between good TPRS storytelling and improv comedy.  In Von Ray’s session, several of us experienced it.  We discussed the way an improv comic must LISTEN and not force comedy.  We also practiced a few activities that helped us improve our skills.  I will write about this more in the future and how it could benefit any TPRS teacher.

Pancho Camacho: A game in which students hold cards with recent vocabulary terms.  A base phrase is projected (i.e. Henry is going to buy).  One student starts by finishing the phrase with the term on another’s card (Henry is going to buy fruit).  The other must reply: (No, Henry is not going to buy fruit.  He is going to buy fish), which leads to another student.  The player speaking when the timer goes off is out and the game continues.

Tips for the storytelling process: 

  1. Make paint stick heads for family members not just celebrities.
  2. Don’t teach new structures with cultural stories
  3. Use TPR for brain breaks
  4. Quick partner talks to come up with story details
  5. Require actors to answer in complete sentences
  6. Look for the subtext or story “under the Spanish” when creating stories
  7. Ask a story before PQA from time to time

And so much more . . . What a great week!

Posted in Professional Development, Stories/Storytelling, Story activities, Uncategorized | 8 Comments


Next week, I will be attending the NTPRS conference in Chicago.  It will be my first time at NTPRS, and I am super excited.  I will also be a presenter at the conference.  My session called, “Student-driven curriculum” is on Wednesday at 3:45 in the Krupa room.  Check it out if you are there and have a chance.  

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments for video subtitles

We listen to music nearly everyday in class, usually one new song per week.  At some point during the week, I like to show a video for the song.  And on some days, we watch videos of songs from past weeks.  There have always been two options:

  1. a lyrics video, which allows for connecting native voice to written text and for singing along
  2. the actual music video, which is way more interesting to watch.

Thanks to, we can now do both.   With amara, I can add subtitles to any youtube video.  It takes a bit of time to create the first time, but once a video is created, it provides optimum engagement for any future use.

I had to play around a bit before I got comfortable using the site.  If you try it and need help, let me know.  Here is the video I created for “Tengo tu love” by Sie7e.

Tengo tu love

*Unfortunately, amara does not show the subtitles in full screen mode, so in order to project the video and see it as large as possible, you need to zoom in (ctr +).

*Below the video, change the language to “Spanish” to see the subtitles.

*Of course, not all music videos are appropriate for class, so some songs remain “lyrics only” when we watch.


Posted in Listening, Music, Technology | 2 Comments

Story-based Speaking Assessment

I’ve used several methods for evaluating speaking over the years.  I tried something new recently, and I was pleased with the results.  It is similar to a homework assignment that students completed earlier in the year.  The level of student intimidation was rather low, and reading was integrated.

1. I distributed stories to each student.  I used readings that I had created from previous years from my Readings Database.  The stories were new to the students, but I believe this activity would work even if the students were given stories they had read earlier in the year.  It also works with novels/readers.   This is a great step for differentiation.  Give more challenging stories to stronger students.

2. Students had a few days to read their stories.  They could ask me questions on any day BEFORE the assessment day.

3. We went to the library on the assessment day(s).  The class was working on computer tasks while students came to me for one-on-one interviews.  I asked them comprehension questions and extended the conversation where possible.  They were scored according to their fluency (how quickly and smoothly they could respond), content (knowing the answers) and accuracy (using the right words when responding).

It’s a pretty simple activity, but I found it an effective way to spend some Target Language time with each student.

Posted in Assessment, Speaking | 4 Comments

If I were your boyfriend . . .

I’ve been utilizing great materials that I received from Nelly Hughes at the OFLA conference based around the song jueves by La Oreja de Van Gogh.   Within the song and readings that Nelly provided, there are many good examples of conditional situations (If I were prettier, he would look at me.  If I were smarter, I would . . .)  We’ve spent much time on the song and the terrorist bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004 that inspired it.  It’s a sad song and a pretty heavy topic.  In order to get some more input with conditional situations, I created the following story.  Unlike most of what we’ve done in this unit, the story gets a bit silly.  Of course, when you start thinking about “If I . . . ” sentences, your mind immediately drifts to Justin Bieber.  At least mine does.

This story script is to be asked in class.  I use a paper plate mask with Justin’s face on it for one actor.  I use it after spending some time with the song, but this story could also be used on its own.

For non Spanish speakers: The story is pretty simple.  A girl has a boyfriend who does not treat her right.  He steals from her, laughs at her haircut, forgets her birthday, kisses her sister . . . etc.  Every time he lets her down, Justin Bieber shows up/calls and says, “If I were your boyfriend, I wouldn’t do that.  I would . . . ”  The girl continuously rejects Justin and remains with her boyfriend.

Here it is in Spanish:

Si fuera tu novio Story Script


Posted in Stories/Storytelling, Story Scripts | 5 Comments