Waaaaay back in October, I had the great pleasure of attending TCI Maine, New England, and Beyond (I’ll be there this October, too–come join me!). One of the reasons that I was particularly excited about this conference was because Anne Matava was going to be presenting. Anne Matava–aka the inventor/author of Matava scripts (she has published three volumes to date)! When I first made the switch to TPRS–back when it was JUST TPRS–I lived and breathed her story scripts. The only reason that I was able to make a successful transition out of textbook teaching was because I had her first volume of story scripts to choose from when planning lessons for my classes. So if Michele Whaley is my CI mama, Anne Matava is my CI fairy godmother!

Truly, Anne’s session did not disappoint. I left with two big takeaways and one GIANT takeaway.

Big Takeaway #1: It is okay necessary to draw a hard line on discipline.

DON’T permit disrespect. Anne is fun loving and personable, and she is very clear about her expectations. Asking stories with your students does not mean that you need to loosen up your class rules; in fact, it is quite the opposite. If you want your class storyasking experiences to be positive and fruitful, you must tighten up your classroom management. (Of course–aiming to do so is one thing; implementation is quite another! Bryce Hedstrom trainings have been most helpful to me in learning how to manage interactive classes.)

Big Takeaway #2: Never stop learning.

Anne is a long-time member of Ben Slavic’s PLC, and although she has been doing this TPRS thing for a long time and literally wrote the book on story scripts, she is still stretching herself. Instead of demonstrating a traditional TPRS story (working from one of her scripts, a character looking to solve a problem and going to multiple locations to that end), she tried out a One Word Image with us! Can you believe it?? In her workshop–where she was the teacher–she tried something new! I thought that that was just the best thing ever. Yes, we want to see teachers doing demonstrations of things that they already do well–we like to see good examples of what we are aiming for. But isn’t it also a wonderful idea to see leaders in our profession doing risky things? Of course, Anne has mastered many of the transferrable CI skills that allow her to deliver any kind of input comprehensibly and successfully. Teachers that are new to this way of teaching won’t have that, but I think that her humility and risk-taking did much to empower us participants! “Yes I can!” was the overwhelming sentiment that we felt leaving her session. We will never “master” this thing we call language teaching, but man it feels good to keep moving in that direction anyway!

Giant Takeaway #3: Don’t give up on stories.

There was this moment during the create of our One Word Image in which the actor was trying to demonstrate big lips like Angelina Jolie while frowning at the same time. Try it!! It is IMPOSSIBLE to do it without laughing!! In an instant, I was connected forever in that eruption of laughter with the 40-odd participants in that room and with Anne. In that moment, I felt like a shooting star left my brain and flew off into the universe. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for co created stories–NONE!! I love storytelling forms of input as much as the next guy–news stories, classic fairytales, cultural content, MovieTalk, Picture Talk–but none of them come anywhere close to achieving the same level of connection between you and your students and your students and each other as creating a story will. Whether you spin a story out of a personalized question, create a One Word Image, work from a Matava Style script, or spin a story from some other starting point–don’t give up on storyasking. Yes–classroom management is more difficult with the interaction and idea sharing (and possibly acting) that accompanies storyasking. Yes–it’s a different skill and it’s uncomfortable and you’ll probably fail a lot at first. And it is worth it to figure it out. Miriam wrote today about #failingforward, and that is a high frequency vocab in the Bex family. We talk about failing forward in our businesses, in our parenting, in our relationships. Fail forward with your storyasking–it is worth it.

So…what’s your plan? How are you going to get better at creating stories with your students? You’re going to fail…how are you going to #failforward?

8 replies on “There is no substitute for stories.

  1. I agree– no doubt story-asking is a powerful tool to facilitate language acquisition. Although my students and I have had great fun with stories, the most profound connections we’ve made have actually been when we are simply communicating. IMO, the key is NOT the “activity” (MovieTalk, Storytelling, Story-asking, reading, etc.) but how one uses the activity as an opportunity to interact in the Target Language in a meaningful way. My ESL students and my young learners (K-3) enjoyed listening / interacting with a story much more than creating a story. My Spanish students enjoyed both. IMO, each group’s preferences were a result of “nurture” and life experiences/knowledge. Students who were encouraged to (or who had enough time to learn to) be creative, think outside the box, take risks, develop strong literacy skills, general knowledge about the world, etc. enjoyed story-asking much more. The less knowledge my students had about the world (least educated due to age and/or life circumstances) did not actually enjoy creating stories. Storyasking is a skill that develops over time– for both teachers and students. Some take more time to become proficient enough to feel comfortable. For some it will never feel completely comfortable… It’s OK! We have ALL acquired language, and very few of us did it through story-asking. If you want to keep trying, Martina is right… Scaffolded story asking is a great way to “practice.” (i.e.: Story scripts, reading action chains, ‘story skeletons’)

    1. Thanks for sharing all of those reflections, Carol! And thank you for mentioning Reading Action Chains, that is such an easy way to create a story together with your students! We had so much fun at your presentation in Maine!!

  2. Hi Martina! Thank you so much for posting this! The timing was just right, because I failed miserably yesterday with storyasking…I was doing unit 5, level 1 while being observed/evaluated by my principal!!! I haven’t yet had a follow-up meeting with him-I’m actually dreading it! However, I’m going to read that last part to him about classroom management & failing forward! I really needed that pep talk! Thank you!

  3. What perfect timing for this post. I had a terribly unsuccessful story today in French 2 and felt myself rather terrible about my ability to lead the students in an active story. I tend to want things to be great, for my students to leave my class with “Wow! that was AWESOME!” Today, they just left. However, tomorrow……..we can finish the story of Jerry the giant pineapple and his friend Kiki the pink banana from Unalaska, Alaska. And maybe it’ll be better than today.

  4. Hi Martina! I love your blog!
    I discovered TPRS through a fellow teacher and have fallen absolutely in love with it! I’m still learning and making a lot of mistakes. My district just bought brand-new books for everyone and I feel obligated to use them. This of course means I am adapting the textbooks to TPRS rather than using scripts that already exist. It’s a lot of work, but I’m worried that my kids won’t acquire the vocab necessary to pass end of semester testing that every language class has to take. Do you have any advice? Do you have to coordinate with other language teachers on exams? How do you prepare your kids for that?
    Thank you!

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