Content Choice in Stories

I’m seeing lately how much our choice of content affects stories. We all seem to be so focused on the skills of telling a story, which is a good thing, but I personally am just now beginning to see how much the content of a story can impact the quality of a class.

Of course, personalization is the key, which to me means getting kids up and acting. But what are they acting about? If we choose content that in some way does not in some way reflect the truest interests of kids, even if we were skilled magicians at TPRS, the story is very often simply not interesting to them.

I have found in my own experience that taking my kids into a fifteenth century world of forested creatures provides good content. Stories around rock stars and teen celebrities always work well. Stories based on Sponge Bob characters work wonderfully, because most of the kids are experts in this area.

This could be expected: if you study them, episodes in Sponge Bob have all the timeless qualities of true stories. The only drawback there is that you have to listen to Sponge Bob laugh in order to get story ideas.

A huge leap forward in the choice of content for stories has taken place lately in my classroom in the form of rap music. I have vastly underrated the influence, for better or worse, of rap artists on American kids, and French rap is awesome stuff.

So, if you want to avoid the hard work of finding interesting story content, and yet are ready to break away from boring canned materials, check out some rap music in the language you teach.

The commercial interests who produce these artists do a lot of content research for us, out of greed. No wonder rap music appeals so much to kids in their mid-teens – it is commercially aimed at them!

The French rapper named Yelle has a song out called “Speak to My Hand” (“Parle à Ma Main”). I taught some of the more recognizable terms to my kids (“Non, merci”, “Pas intéressé”) and then played the song, which was about a teen girl who has an argument with her dad and goes out on the street and is a guy-magnet, but rejects them all with catchy rapped phrases like those above. The theme of the song is “les mecs sont tous nuls” (“guys are all zeros”).

While we listened to the song, with the kids trying to pick out words they could understand, I asked three boys to lipsync the words. These “mecs” were soon dancing, strutting their stuff with amazingly accurate singing, and their accents were vastly improved in those moments of the song. The reaction of the girls in the class was electric. The whole class wanted to do a story right then and there featuring the characters in the song.

It showed me the importance of content. It made me conscious that, often, if a story wains, it is not so much because I am not doing the skills involved in asking a story as well as I could, but rather, that I just have boring subject matter.

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