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How to ask your first story

December 5, 2019

My students and I made strong, lasting connections as we co-created stories. Whether it was TPRS® (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) or OWIs (One Word Images), we had so much fun being creative together. It was through storyasking that I first experienced the power of acquisition-driven instruction. As I helped my students to understand the stories and vignettes that we created together, they acquired language.

Connect through stories

This month, Elicia and I are encouraging teachers to Connect through Stories. Follow #storiesconnect on IG and Facebook (in particular, in the SOMOS Collaboration Group). Share your responses to the daily prompts, and at the end of the month you will have a chance to win some of our favorite story-based resources (including a Complete SOMOS Curriculum!).

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What is storyasking?

Storyasking, typically synonymous with TPRS®, is the process of co-creating a story with your students. Often, the teacher has a general idea for what will happen during the story (a loosely scripted plot). Sometimes, the teacher has nothing planned.

During storyasking, the teacher acts as a guide. The teacher asks questions about what happens next in the story, and the students offer suggestions. Ultimately, it is up to the teacher to choose from among their suggestions to determine the next step in the plot.

How do I ask my first story?

Especially if you have never participated as a student in a storyasking session, trying it out in class can be really intimidating. The first story is definitely the hardest, and so I am going to walk you through exactly what to do. Follow my instructions exactly, and you will have successfully asked your first story!

For now, we are not going to focus on the techniques that you can and should use to help your students understand the target language as you are asking the story. We are going to use a really simple story, so even if you are not familiar with strategies like circling or sheltering vocabulary, your students will be able to understand. Stick to the plan, and you'll do great!

First, get prepared:

Because this is your first story and because you may not be comfortable with Comprehension-based™ techniques, I have put together some tools to help you along the way.

You will need to print out (and possibly laminate):

  • adjective cards
  • character cards

You will also need to print out the Ask a Story instructions and read them several times.

If you do not teach Spanish, you will need to adapt these resources for your language of instruction. I'm happy to create the cards for you if you send me the translations– just drop it into our contact form!

Here is the script that we are going to work with. You will want to translate it into your own target language (a Spanish-language script is included in the Ask a Story Guide):

The students will never see this script! ONLY YOU, the teacher, see the script. All of the underlined words will end up being different when your class finishes creating their version of the story because the underlined words are variable details. The teacher does not tell these details to the class; instead, the teacher asks a leading question to the class to determine what detail will be used. The class will choose a detail that is different than the one in the script.

If that seems super confusing, don't worry– just keep reading! I'm going to walk you through the whole process! You've totally got this!!

Introduce storyasking to your students

Before you begin, you'll want to explain to your students what is about to happen. Keep it simple! Say something like this:

"Today, we are going to create a story together. I am going to be asking you for suggestions about who should be in the story and what they do. All you need to do is listen to me while I'm talking, try to understand what I'm saying, and answer my questions whenever you can. Cool?"

Note: Usually, I would add something about how I want students to let me know if they don't understand something that I say. Because I want you to keep this first story process as simple for you as possible and because I'm giving you tools to all-but-guarantee that your students will understand throughout, you can skip this step if you'd like!

Start asking the story

Yikes!! It's time!!! Put your adjective and character cards printed and within arm's reach, pop your Ask a Story instructions on a clipboard to hold onto for dear life, and go for it! You've totally got this!

Establish meaning for Core Vocabulary

In this story, you're going to use four Core Vocabulary words. You want to make sure that your students understand what they mean, so define them.

Tell your students, "These are the main words that we are going to use in the story."

Write the words on the board, in the target language. Beside each one, write the meaning in English. For example:

Say each word out loud in the target language while you point to and/or say the English translation. Repeat the word in the target language several times, and maybe even create a gesture to go along with it! If you create a gesture, do that gesture every time you say the word in the target language.

Co-create your first character

The first section of the story script establishes who and what the first character is, and what it is like. 


Will your first character be a person? an animal? a monster? It's up to your students to decide. Grab your pile of printed Character Cards, and hold them up one at a time. As you do, ask if that is the type of character that your students want to create as their first character. In the target language, ask,

"What is there?"

  • … is there a person?
  • … is there a zombie?
  • … is there an insect? etc.
  • What is there??

Your class must make the decision! Once they agree, you've got your first detail. Your character is a ZOMBIE/HUMAN/BUG/MONSTER/ETC!


Referencing students in your class or familiar personalities (people from school or famous people/characters), offer your students possible names for the character. They should respond with "yes" or "no". If someone wants to offer their own suggestion... great! You could consider that as an option, too.

Ask, "What is the (person/zombie/etc.) named?"

  • … is the (person/zombie/etc) named Savanya?
  • … is the (person/zombie/etc) named Kobe Bryant?
  • … is the (person/zombie/etc) named Marshaun?
  • etc.

Your class must make the decision! Once they agree, you've got your next detail. Your character is a ZOMBIE/HUMAN/BUG/MONSTER/ETC. named Penelope/George/Pa.


Grab your pile of adjective cards! Just as you did with the character cards, hold each one up for your students to read while you ask yes/no questions about it. All of the cards in our pack are in Spanish and are cognates. When you make your own for a different target language, choosing adjectives that are cognates if possible will help your students to understand this first story!

Ask, "What is (Penelope/George/Pa) like?"

  • …is (name) smart?
  • …is (name) funny?
  • …is (name) sporty?
  • etc.

Your class must make the decision! Once they agree, your first character description is complete. Your character is a strange/shy/smart/generous ZOMBIE/HUMAN/BUG/MONSTER/ETC. named Penelope/George/Pa.

Again, notice that in the story script, the words in bold print are Core Vocabulary words that you will be using often. The words that are underlined are the details that you are deciding with your class!

Co-create your second character

This part is easy! Setting aside your first character (figuratively speaking; unless you are using student actors– then literally speaking!). Simply repeat the steps that you just went through to create your first character. Using the character cards and the adjective cards to help your students understand, decide what the second character is, what their name is, and what they are like.

Note: If you are feeling super confident, you could try asking circling questions while you create the new character to compare and contrast their identity with the identity of the first character. These questions might include:

  • Is George an animal or is Bernie an animal?
  • Is George kind? No; Bernie is kind!
  • What is Bernie: an animal or an insect?

If you're not ready for this– don't worry! Stick to what you can handle with confidence.

Decide who sees who

The first portion of the script described the characters. The second portion of the script narrates the story, and it begins by telling whether the characters see or don't see each other.

In the target language, ask your students, "Does (character 1) see (character 2)?" When you say the word for "see", point to the translation on the board to remind students what the word means.

Wait for your students' answer, then affirm it, with either "Yes! (Character 1) sees (Character 2)", or "No, (Character 1) does not see (Character 2)."

NOTE: I would usually ask some more clarifying questions right now, but you don't need to! This story is very simple. You've already told your students what the Core Vocabulary mean in English, and you're going nice and slow to make sure that they understand. If you want to ask some clarifying/circling questions– great! If not, don't worry. You've totally got this!

Does (character 2) see (character 1)?

Based on what your class decides here, your story now might look like this:


Now, it’s time for the characters to interact… or not! If at least one of them saw the other, create an interaction. If neither of them saw the other one, you’ll need to choose a non-interaction action!

NOTE: This is the most challenging part of the process because you will be asking your students to come up with a completely original suggestion: without choosing from a list of options or using Core Vocabulary words. Be VERY judicious about what idea you choose to incorporate into the story! Make sure you can help students understand it with ease.

STOP and say in English:

“We are going to decide together how the story ends. I am going to ask you a question, and you are going to give me ideas for what happens. You can say your ideas in English or Spanish, and I will pick one that I know you will be able to understand if I add it to the story in Spanish. Got it?”

Ask your students, in the target language, “What does (character 1) do?” (ex: ¿Qué hace Peter?”) NOTE: You might need to write the translate of this question on the board so that your students understand what you're asking!

Listen to ideas from your students, and then YOU pick one that is easy to say in the target language. For example…

  • (Character 1) says, “Hi!”.
  • (Character 1) attacks (Character 2)
  • (Character 1) eats (Character 2)
  • (Character 1) hugs (Character 2)
  • (Character 1) runs to his mom.

Write translations of the question and the accepted idea on the board to support understanding. If the first character hugs the second character, write on the board (for example):

abraza - hugs

Voilà ! You have just asked your first story.


...but now what?

What to do with a story

You don't have to do anything– you can bask in your awesomeness, knowing that the experience of co-creating the story was enough. You provided your students with a flood of input that they likely understood, and you're feeling confident to try a new story, maybe even focusing on techniques to support comprehension and create connection.

If, however, you are not ready to let go of this newborn baby story that you just created with your students, there are many things that you CAN do. Here are some ideas:

Write and Discuss

Begin with a Write and Discuss. This will get the story in written form, and through the process you will read the story again and maybe even embellish it.

Simultaneous Acting

Put students in pairs, and have them act out the story while you re-tell it! This plot was simple, and so you can do this activity with minimal potential for chaos.

Pencil Grab

You can throw together a Pencil Grab activity on the fly, no prep needed! If you're feeling ready for something a little more active, try Run!! instead– also a T/F game, but a liiiiiiitle (okay, a lot) more movement is involved.


Was storyasking too much for your students and they are now wild and crazy? Re-set the class by using your co-created story as a dictation (just don't grade it!)

Blind Retell

Once you've revisited the story in a few different ways, try a Blind Retell! It's one of my favorite activities, and to maximize chances for success, students should have read through the story at least a couple times.

Give yourself a break

Phew! Storyasking was exhausting. You just did something that was new to you, and it probably felt really hard! You did amazing, but your brain needs a break. Keep the input flowing by giving your students parallel stories to read– stories that maybe follow the same plot line, or maybe have vocabulary or content connections. Find stories that pair with your first TPRS story in the Core15 path on Garbanzo!

Still looking for more ideas? Check out this post!

Share your success!

We'd love to hear how it went. Share your experience using #STORIESCONNECT, or type up and share your class-created story in the SOMOS Collaboration Drive, which is accessible via our facebook group.

Try, try again!

When you're ready to try your next story, consider using the script from SOMOS or Nous sommes 1 Unit 1 (they're free!). They are slightly different versions of this story, and so I know that you will be able to tackle them with confidence.

If you want to try something else, check out a story that I have used in student workshops– in French and Spanish! It's linked at the beginning of this post.

Get some more tools

Elicia's blog is filled with practical tips and solutions to help you experience continued success with storyasking, and we have shared videos and more in the SOMOS Collab group for the same purpose.

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Storyasking? You've totally got this!

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