Category Archives: Storytelling tips

The Power of the Picture Dictionary

This year, I added another comprehensible input element to my classroom –The Picture Dictionary. I had heard about it for the last few years and considered it a great idea, I just never implemented it. Over the last few weeks, I have seen how useful this can be for acquisition as well as the overall atmosphere of the classroom.


  • Sets the tone that in this class we are here to work
  • The work is not always hard, but can even be therapeutic
  • Practices the expectation of working quietly
  • Promotes sharing, if students need a color that they don’t have


  • Students think about the word multiple times as they are writing it and designing a representation
  • Students get an initial feeling for how the word is spelled
  • Students are personalizing the vocabulary to bind it to their memory
  • The use of color makes the vocabulary come alive


  • Students make a table of contents [This is a list of the words with their definition]
  • Students construct the form of the dictionary [Simply just draw the lines on their paper]
  • Students write in the word and draw a picture

I have seen an improvement in recall as we start to play with the words.  The Picture Dictionary is yet another way to prepare the table for the meal that is to come when we tell the story and the students are blitzed with action and meaningful repetition. It seems that more I prepare them for the story time, the more opportunities there are for the language to be subconsciously imaged into the language acquisition device.  Plus, for many of the students the Picture Dictionary is just fun! They spend all day getting lectured and then they come to Spanish and it is creative and focused.


Filed under Classroom Management, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, teaching grammar

Ira Glass on Storytelling part 2 [youtube part 4]

Here is one more segment from Ira Glass that I found to be helpful on storytelling. Reflective moments in our stories make them more real and apart of life, rather than just some random story that we are telling as a class. Although in the interview he is approaching stories from more of a journalism perspective, I think that this idea that we are adding what we think and what our students think about what is going on in the story is an important aspect that is often overlooked in powerful storytelling. Check it out…

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Ira Glass on Storytelling

I found this link on Michel Bakers blog. [the link to her blog is above under more blogs] She has a lot of solid basic ideas for stortelling that really made sense. Check it out.


Filed under Storytelling tips

Level 2 Story

Here is a story that I told with my level 2. I don’t profess to be a native speaker of Spanish, so you may find things here and there. Also, the students were dressed up because it is homecoming and it was dress like a cowboy day. Any comments that you have would be great!


Filed under Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, Uncategorized

Free Form Stories with Middle Schoolers


Filed under Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, TPRS Basics

The 4 Gestures

At the beginning of the year I teach my students four gestures to communicate whether they understand or not. These are so vital to the students’ acquisition because they are taking charge of whether they understand or not. Here are the four gestures:

  • I don’t understand [hit their hand with a fist]
  • Slow down [two hands raised, palms out, moving downward]
  • Write it [a hand in the air writing]
  • Repeat [a finger in the air, pointed at me, going in a circle]

There are a few things that help to make these gestures more successful.

  1. I tell them that mistakes/not understanding are natural and expected at first. So they don’t have to worry about this class being embarrassing if they are wrong or if they don’t understand a word.
  2. I remind them that they will be way more successful in Spanish if they use the gestures.
  3. When someone does a gesture, I will have the whole class applaud.
  4. If they say they don’t know a word, in the moment I remind them to use the gesture that applies.

The gestures have been a cornerstone in my class time. At first I had a hard time getting the students to use them, but later it became something that was cool, the students started doing it more. It is also important that you have a good classroom atmosphere where it is okay it be wrong or not understand. A strong community will go a long way in acquisition regardless of the knowledge or talent of the teacher.


Filed under Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, TPRS Basics

Using Timed Writings in the Beginning of the Year

Each year I have the fantastic problem of not knowing exactly how to ease in with my level 2 class. They have already acquired a lot of vocabulary, so the TPR phase isn’t a good fit, but they are not advanced enough that I want to force conversational output on the first day of school. So this year I tried something that seemed to work pretty well.

The second day of class I had the students do a timed writing for about 8 minutes. They were nervous, so I just kept giving them genuine, positive reinforcement — especially after I had read them. It was encouraging to see what they wrote and how each of them had acquired a varied set vocabulary that was meaningful to them. I read the timed writings to see what they remembered from last year and I realized that it would make a good transition into the start of this year.

As I was glancing through the stories I put a handful toward the top that would make an interesting class story. Then I went into class with a stack of stories to start the year with, all provided by the students and reinforcing the vocabulary that they had each acquired last year. The best part is that I didn’t have to create any of it! I am just using their stories as a guide for the class story and we will add details as a class to make it more interesting. All I do is ask questions and circle vocabulary that needs more repetition.

Easiest way to start a year so far…


Filed under Storytelling tips, TPRS Basics

More Dialogue This Year

One of the many goals that I have for this year is to have more dialogue in the class stories. It’s through dialogue that the students get repeated exposure to the “yo” and “tú” [first and second person] forms as well as repeated practice in the present tense. It is especially important to use dialogue because our students are constantly bombarded with the 3rd person singular.

I used some dialogue last year, but it simply was not enough. I think that this is something that I always need to be conscious of. The goal this year is that through repeated use of dialogue and increasing the amount of Free Voluntary Reading, the students will develop a better feel for multiple points of view in different tenses. I guess we’ll see what happens.

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Filed under Storytelling tips, teaching grammar, TPRS Basics

Finding Ways Around Awkward Vocabulary

From time to time we have vocabulary that is…well, awkward. I ran into this one day when I was trying to use the word sweats. I quickly found out that most teenagers don’t like to be known for sweating because it’s not attractive. In cases like these we have to have to go in a different direction quickly or else class becomes weird and you lose credibility.

My solutions:

  1. Find a picture of a celebrity, athlete, or something from Pop Culture that is doing the word you are focusing on. In my case, I found a picture of Lebron James. The class could talk about the picture much easier because it didn’t focus totally on them, but still contained high interest.
  2. It is even more powerful to create the word. In my case I had to create sweat, so I did this with a spray bottle. This is not for all students, but for some it can be funny. Be careful not to spray too much, just a light mist. When we create the word, it becomes tangible and they can experience it. Which means we have a higher chance for acquisition.


Filed under PQA, Storytelling tips, TPRS Basics

Understanding Story a Little More

I continue to find so much in what Kendall Haven has written in his book, Story Proof: the science behind the startling power of story. This is so important to what we do because we invite our students to enter into story every day. If we don’t even know what we are getting in to, how can we effectively lead or facilitate others? We must deepen our understanding of what story is so that we can know what we are getting into when we invite our students to enter in. What Kendall Haven says will help us understand story a little more and take us to a new level. He states:

“Stories uniquely contain and present both our beliefs and our knowledge about the world…the similarity of store and story is not a coincidence…stories our universal storehouse of knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes, passions, dreams, imagination, and vision…we live in stories like fish live in water –breathing them in and out…taking from them or sustenance, but rarely conscious of the element in which we live.”

This says it all right here. I would add that if we are rarely conscious of the stories that are happening, then maybe story is the missing key to acquisition. I also find myself asking the question of how can we create more story in class and tap into the storehouse of our students? Maybe when we open the doors we will encounter a new level acquisition that inspires people. What a cool job we have!

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