Archive for the ‘story scripts’ Category

Fatal Bazooka

February 3, 2008

We get kids up and acting, but what are they acting about? We make the story all about them and their worlds. Even if we were skilled magicians at TPRS, the story will not really be interesting to them without good personalized content.

In my own experience taking my kids into a fifteenth century world of forested creatures provides good content. Stories around rock stars and teen celebrities always work really well – it is a staple of content choice in TPRS. Stories based on Sponge Bob characters or the Simpsons also work wonderfully, because most of the kids are experts in this area.

A huge leap forward in the choice of content for stories in my classroom 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. French rap is a good place to go for a good story.

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

The French rapper named Fatal Bazooka 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 intéréssée”) and then the next day 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 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 the next day, 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 French 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. I found later that out that the guys and half the kids in the class had downloaded the “Parle à Ma Main” video the night before and had studied it, hence the acting surge the next day.

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.


Jessica Biel

January 27, 2008

Note: use circling to replace [information in brackets] with new, class-generated information.

wants to dance

[male heartthrob celebrity] wants to dance.
He goes to school where [female student] is from.  He sees [female student] Jessica Biel. He says, “Do you want to dance with me?” [female student] says, “Yes, [celebrity]. I want to dance with you…. The couple goes to [local club].  He dances like a [ sheep, imbecile, etc.]. Student dances with [other male celebrity] in club. 

Rejected [first male celebrity] goes to school where [another female student] is from. He sees [female student] Eva Longoria. He says, “Do you want to dance with me?” Eva says, “No, Mark. I want to [eat tacos, take a walk, hug, etc.] with you….

Extending PQA into Stories

January 27, 2008

Throughout the year, I like to update the kids’ names. If I give a kid a French name, they are just as boring and de-personalized as American names, and they are hard to recognize in the middle of spoken French.

But outlandish names that are connected to something about the kid, some activity they do, etc. tend to lighten everything up and increase interest.

One of my students went to a Hanna Montana concert here in Denver last month. She came dragging into my classroom in the morning. Her old name was dropped and she became Hanna Colorado.

A kid named Joe snowboards. He went to the Winter X Games in Aspen last weekend. So we changed his previous name to Halfpipe Joe.

Whenever I find out something new about a kid, if they go to a concert or to a boarding competition in the mountains, I PQA it. I don’t forget that I have a story lined up, but, because my class is about the kids first and the language second, I spend some time talking to Joe about his boarding.

“Class, Joe snowboards!”, circled for ten minutes becomes “Class, Joe snowboards fast down the mountain without a shirt on with a big parachute attached to his back and a mini-parachute attached to his board!”

I just talk to Joe and the class about Joe’s snowboarding, fudging it into a weird little scene, extending PQA out into a scene, thinking in the back of my mind that I might later be able to connect this new information to a story at some point.

If that scene about Joe’s snowboarding turns into a full blown story, great – I have a more personalized story. If not, great – PQA, which is at the heart of the method, is occurring. I can always ask my other story on another day. 

What is better than just talking with a kid and with the class about his or her life, with a smile on your face, loving their answers?

If you feel that you can’t reach the kid in such a setting, you probably aren’t going slowly enough, circling enough, and pausing and pointing at every new word that comes up during the PQA.

What have you done so far? You gave Joe a cool name that is important to him. You have talked slowly in the target language about a cool thing that he does. You have created a personalized imagined scene in the classroom about him. You have been laying down some serious comprehensible input.
And Joe has never left his seat. If you want, when the discussion about Joe wanes, you leave him there and do something else with another student. 

Debbie has a large yellow dog named Chance. Talk about Chance! When you do this, you are learning to see beyond mere students sitting in a classroom into a more imagination-filled world. You build on each little detail you get from a student.

In your inner teaching vision, you might see Chance knocking the guy down on the slopes up at Aspen. So you set that up. But it rarely goes where you think. That doesn’t matter. Comprehensible input and personalization matter, and you are doing both.

So you go back to Chance’s owner and you give her a funny name (just circle it with the class, the students come up with the cute answers) and one of them says something like “Chance’s Mom” or something personal which gives her an identity in your class.

How important this is! You are honoring what Joe and Chance’s owner, your students, have chosen to share with the group. Thus you give those students a meaningful place in the class.

You are always alert to where the circling might could go, straight into a collision between Joe and Chance on a mountain slope, or maybe Joe gets stuck in a tree because he gets so much air out of the halfpipe (your students are always the best in the world at what they do) and Chance saves him because he has the loudest bark in the world. Just go easy and see where the circling takes it.
Giving the kids funny names and circling normal information into weird stuff while they sit in their seats in your class is the object of the PQA process.

If these are raw beginners, just extending the PQA may be a good place to stop. But you may want to go on into a story! You have a couple of characters, so why not?

Starting a story is no more complex than having Joe stand up. Describe him again to the group (recycling previous  information). Recycle some more. Keep circling, and getting new details, reminding your students that their only job is to give you cute answers. Just see where it goes!

The story will go on, twisting and turning, and you just keep circling. Always remind the students that they bear 50% of the responsibility for the success of the class. Don’t forget to pause and point each time you use a question word or write a new word on the board, giving the students SLOW time to process.

You don’t need a lot of bizarre details. They confuse everyone. Just a few. In my opinion, the best PQA and stories are usually built around normal every day things with just one or two bizarre details.
Look how a normal person in your class who snowboards has been sparkled into someting a little more than normal, and in some way the circling and the individualized name have lifted their status in the room into a special, more interesting person.

Joe was transformed by your questioning into something more than he was when he came into your class, which is the essence of all great storytelling.

We can call the kind of personalization described above authentic, because it involves real activities acted out in class by the people who actually do them, as opposed to actors becoming animals or fictitious creatures. When the person doing the things in the story is allowed to be who they are in real life, interest in the story can be greater.
Personalizing stories in this way, building from PQA, is an advanced skill. Even stories with no such personalization as described above can be very interesting. Both ways produce success.

Guy in Coffee Shop

January 25, 2008

boit – drinks
fume – smokes
vient de monter – just got into

Guy [male student] in coffee shop. Smokes and drinks coffee. Looks out window into parking lot. Sees beautiful [celebrity] get in his Lamborghini. Says to himself that a beautiful woman just got into his car.

Goes to car. Tells her to get out of his car. Beautiful celebrity tells him, in a romantic voice, to get in the car. He refuses, is very upset.

She drives off or he gets in and they hug or whatever.

I like this script because it is chock full of the really basic elements that make stories work – connections to the daily lives of teens. There is not one sentence in the script that lacks kind of a “forbidden fruit” element to teens.

The opening scene in the coffee shop allows for all sorts of cultural details – the whole thing about coffee in Europe, cigarettes, makes of cars, etc. – all are easily compared and contrasted with U.S.A.

My classes typically produced stories like this one:

There is a kid in a Dunkin’ Donuts smoking four Gauloises cigarettes, drinking un express, casually looking out the huge picture window of the store. He sees, in a parking lot with 7,707 cars in it, a striking woman getting into his extremely small orange Lamborghini.

He smashes through the glass of the coffee shop on a huge horse, itself smoking an incredibly large cigarette in an incredible large mouth. The two take off across the parking lot. The boy angrily confronts the celebrity who responds lovingly in romantic tones, etc. etc. The confrontation between the two makes for extremely rich and humorous dialogue.

We never really ever got past the ensuing love scene in the car, or fistfight, or whatever happened there. You don’t have to “milk” scenes like that – the kids do it for you.

The story teaches at least two grammar points of note: 1) “to have just” done something, and 2) the verbs that describe getting in and out of cars. Moreover, using dialogue in the encounter between the two is great stuff because there is real emotion here, anger from the boy and romance from the celebrity.

It’s just a strong script. I have always agreed with those in TPRS who say that choosing a script or writing one’s own that is relevant to the fears and foibles of American teens makes the asking of the story that much easier. I plan to post other strong scripts on this page. Click on the blog category “story scripts”. They will be useful to you especially if you are not prepared on a certain day with a decent script – all you have to do is just print it and start the story – there is fun in every line.