Cute Answers

For every circled question in a story, there are a number of cute answers, but only one can be chosen. The kids have these kinds of “inner score cards” during class. They know who said what, and sometimes they talk about it after class. What is a cute answer?

Most cute answers aren’t that cute. They are the ones that don’t get into the story. They may be cute in the eyes of the kids who say them, but they usually get rejected. What kind of cute answers get accepted into a story?

First, by definition, any answer suggested by the teacher is not cute. It just doesn’t work that way. A good cute answer comes from a kid and stays connected to the kid throughout the story.

Getting a cute answer to be accepted into a story and become, perhaps, a major factor in driving a story forward builds that kid’s self-esteem and desire to listen to an extent that we as adults could only guess.

In one story, Richard suggested that an actor take the bus across town. His answer was accepted.

Next, I got a couple of kids up to be the bus. The kids stood close together, shoulder to shoulder. Richard then said, with his two allowed words of English, “Short bus!”

Everybody cracked up. Richard was now a player in the game. Of course he was going to listen to the rest of the story – his short bus was in it!

As the kids left the classroom after the story, Richard basked in the acclaim of being the one who not only suggested the bus, but also made the joke about it. He “owned” the bus part of the story that day – the bus was his stamp on the story. This was personalizing the story.

Cute answers that are connected to the kid who suggested them are the life blood of stories. Such answers are vastly superior to any other kind of cute answer, because they have that quality of connectedness with an individual kid.

There is another kind of cute answer, one that is unexpected. Unexpected cute answers are so wonderful. How can you get these gems from your students during circling?

The most important thing is to clearly teach the kids that the “game” consists in exactly that –  their suggesting unexpected cute answers. I tell them that anyone can suggest a cute answer, and that a lot of them are really not well thought out, and that it takes a really creative mind to come up with a cute answer that throws everybody for a loop.

I make it sound like a rare and special thing to come up with a cute answer that is unexpected. It gets the kids’ minds working and listening intently to the target language.

When my story script had a girl in a very stinky house, it in no way crossed my mind or the minds of the students as the story unfolded that the girl was herself stinky, as suggested totally unexpectedly by Angel.

Angel’s unexpected answer brought a laugh from the whole class, while it brought Angel into the class as a player, and blasted the story off in a new and unexpected direction, in which the story was not about a girl in a stinky house but a stinky girl in a house. It was just funnier.

Who is doing the work here? The kids! You are just asking questions and making those minute to minute decisions about whom to stand up to act and when, at what point to lead the questioning to another location, etc.

Bernard Rizotto, commenting in an email to me on the role of the teacher in the drawing out of cute answers from the kids, said (perhaps recalling Rimbaud’s Bateau Ivre):

“We drifted like floating wood to some unknown places. [It was] exciting, really, when all minds contribute to the journey, and scary also when I allowed myself to loosen control of the ship.”
  
It reminded Bernard of a little joke:

Le capitaine aux rameurs d’une galère/The captain to the oarsman on a slave ship:
  
“J’ai deux nouvelles; une bonne et une mauvaise. D’abord la bonne: double ration de rhum pour tout le monde/I have good news and bad news. First, the good news: double ration of rum for everyone.”

“Hourra, super…/Yea, that’s great…”

“Et maintenant la mauvaise: votre capitaine a décidé de faire du ski nautique/And now the bad news: your captain has decided to take up water skiing…..”

Bernard went on: “I almost felt like the captain this week, on an enjoyable ride behind my hard working students!”

That is the way circling should be! Accepting not just the cute answers, but the unexpected cute answers that connect the student to the story. Then you can feel, when asking a story, more like the captain of a ship than a cabin boy who in some strange way seems unable to take charge of a story.

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