Anyone who has children (or who has worked with them closely) knows that when a kid finds a favorite book, they like to hear the same story approximately 1,356 times. There is some research that shows that hearing repeat stories is comforting and helps children learn new words. Which is a bonus when you are helping students acquire a second language. However, we also know that brains crave novelty. How do we take advantage of these two seemingly contradictory pieces of information about how students acquire language and what maintains interest? This year I tried to marry these two different strategies together with Repeating Interactive Stories with a Twist.
What are RISTs (a new acronym!!) ? Repeating Interactive Stories with a Twist are just what they sound like, stories that repeat, include student interaction for all students, and have a different twist at the end (to keep everyone tuned in); an added bonus is that all of these stories are low teacher prep. As I went over in a previous post, we can't be our best selves for our students if we are not taking care of ourselves!
Below are some of my favorite RISTs, if you have any ideas for a new RIST or have tried this strategy in your classroom please share in the comments so we can all learn together.
Can I go to the Bathroom? This is a fun way to ease into RISTs , and a fun way to start the school year. If you are a Spanish teacher, it ties in perfectly with SrWooly's ¿Puedo ir al baño?(see above videos for the original and a re-make by my first graders). The set up for the story, is that one student plays the teacher, and another student comes and asks the 'teacher' if they can go to the bathroom. The class watches as they ask, and give a thumbs up or down (very dramatically, gladiator style) to decide if they think the kid should be allowed to go. The ultimate decision (thus the mini twist) is with the teacher, who says 'yes you can' or 'no' and passes or denies the bathroom pass accordingly. Whoever played the student asking to go to the bathroom in the first round, becomes the teacher in the second round. The story repeats with a new student asking to go to the bathroom.
If students are not ready to produce the language, they act and move their mouths, and I say the words for them. If the students are more advanced they can add reasons about why they need to go to the bathroom (it is an emergency, my stomach hurst, etc) to differentiate the language. Depending on the level of your students you could also describe what the "teacher" is doing (i.e. on the computer, on the phone, drinking coffee, looks mad, looks happy, etc. as well as the student). I recommend this game for the start of the year as an icebreaker when establishing classroom routines.
The House: The next RIST has a slightly scarier slant, I use it with my 1st graders near the middle of the year when we are learning some house vocabulary. While you can include whatever words you like in your RIST, words I include in this RIST include: sleeping, night, suddenly, a noise, bedroom, walk, window, look, hall, listen, door, open, run, jump, cover, and blanket. Again, feel free to include whatever words work for your class in this or any RIST.
This story the entire class acts out at the same time. I tell students they are sleeping in their bedroom at night. When I say the words sleeping all students close their eyes (many snore), when I say 'night' students make night sounds (bugs, wind in the trees, etc). After all the eyes are closed I make some sort of noise (it may be a snake hissing, a growl, a scratching noise, a sound of hooves, whatever sound I want to connect to the end of the story).
I then say, 'suddenly you hear a noise' (students sit up). Next I say, you stand up slowly and you walk to your window (students act out as I speak, walking slowly to an invisible window and making their arms into a square window shape so they can look through it). I say ' you see nothing.' Next I tell students 'you walk slowly down the hall', and 'you listen at the door' (students act out both of these narrations). I tell students 'you open the door slowly'. At this point I have some sort of prop there that matches the noise I made that 'woke them up'. If I made a hissing noise, I have a giant snake, if I made a scratching noise a monster puppet or a spider, the sound of hooves? A unicorn (that looks nice at first, but turns out to be mean). I then yell 'There is a (fill in the blank with appropriate creature), instruct the students to shut the door quickly (they slam the door), run down the hall (they run in place), jump in their bed, cover themselves with their blanket, and sleep (students act accordingly).
My students LOVE this one, and acquire several words from this story very quickly. We could play it over and over for an entire class, but I try to keep it to 3 to 4 rounds at a time so it doesn't get old. With enough repetition fast processors can narrate, low students can also help 'choose the story' by secretly selecting whatever will make the noise before you begin your story.
It hurts me... This next RIST was inspired by Sr. Wooly's Me Duele (It Hurts Me) for non-Spanish teachers, and my favorite Shel Silverstein poem as a kid: Sick. The premise is someone is sick (or pretending to be sick) and wants to go home. Words that I focus on include: sick, it hurts me, body parts, home, school, go, and action words. The set up for this RIST is very similar to the set up for the 'Can I go to the bathroom?' story. In it, one student plays the secretary or school nurse (the gatekeeper to leaving the school) another student plays the 'sick' kid. Everyone else in the class weighs in (gladiator style with a thumbs up or thumbs down) on whether or not the 'sick' kid gets to go home, or has to go back to class. The sick student walks into the office (a third student can play the door to the office if needed) and walks up to the secretary/nurse. They greet the secretary/nurse and use their best acting skills to convince them that they are sick and need to go home. The audience (rest of the class) recommends they go home (thumbs up) or back to class (thumbs down) based on their performance. The secretary or nurse gets to make the ultimate decision and sends them back to class, or home. Whoever was the student becomes the secretary/nurse. The former secretary/nurse rejoins the class audience.
As before, if the student is a fast processor or has acquired the language, I let them speak for themselves and elaborate on their excuses. If the student is a slow processor, they act and move their mouth, and I say the words for them. That way every student can shine in their own way.
Of course, you can make the vocabulary as rich (describe the nurse/secretary, describe the student opening the door, and their state of health, the weather etc) or as basic as needed to fit the needs of your learners.
coFor my birthday I want... This RIST is one I just started a few weeks ago, as I needed to cover 'birthday presents' as part of my curriculum before EOY testing and I had not covered that specifically during the year. The focus of this lesson for me were the words: present, wants, and doesn't want. You can also include animal words (or whatever 'presents' you throw in the circle), and descriptive words for the 'birthday student'.
I started by making up an elaborate story, but found after experimentation that keeping it simple worked best. Keeping it simple entailed:having all my students sit in a circle, and putting roughly 15 stuffed animals in the circle in front of them. Whichever student had the next birthday in class was 'it' and sat in my rocking chair. I talked the 'birthday' student up (is very kind, smart, creative, etc). I go on to explain that if you came to their birthday party I am sure they would be happy with whatever present you gave them and be grateful. However, for just today we are going to pretend that they only want ONE present, and will reject anything else that is given to them.) I write up info about the 'birthday student' on the board in the target language. For example: Emily's birthday is the 22nd of May. Emily wants ____________ (gives a chance for repetitions of the question word 'when' as you can ask each student when their birthday occurs). The 'birthday student' picks an item from the circle in their head (without telling anyone). Students in the class take turns picking the present they think the birthday student wants and offering it to them with the words "do you want' in the target language. The birthday student either 'keeps' the present and says 'Yes I want it thanks' or throws the present to the ground and says 'no I do not want it) in the target language. When a student guesses the correct present, they get to go next.
I haven't had much chance to experiment with this game, but I could see it being a nice lead in to circumlocution. When a student had a hard present to guess, I would ask them questions like: Is it big or small? Does it have 2 legs, 4 legs, 6, legs, or 8 legs? Is is an animal or a person? Is it pretend or real? Does it swim or fly? Etc. Using questions and descriptive words to help lead the class to guessing the correct present reveals a lot about what the class understands. In the future, I could see doing this game in a way that allows the teacher to know ahead of time what 'present' the student picks so more clues/comprehensible input can be used to reveal the correct answer. Students LOVE this one and everyone wants a turn to be 'it'.
The next few mini strategies. have the flavor of RISTs but don't quite fit the description above. These are strategies that double as brain breaks, and chances to practice direction words. In the video on the left, you see a virtual Wii U Obstacle Course (I find these on Youtube). The students run the course, as the mini player does. When the player walks, runs, jumps, falls, waits, dodges, etc. I give those words in the target language (Spanish for me) as the student does them. Inevitably I have students ask if we are really 'running' the obstacle course. I always say of course, even though it is just a video (which most of the kids know anyway). After we do this a few times, the students usually call out the actions in Spanish before I get to them.
The second video is a virtual roller coaster. For this I use words like hands up, hands down, high, fast, is scared, left, right, etc. As we 'ride' the roller coaster students put their hands up or down, scream 'I am scared' in Spanish, and lean to the left or right appropriately as I say the words.
Both of these activities serve as fun brain breaks, but the movement with the action helps tie the the meaning to the movement in their brains (which help them remember the meaning behind the words). The twist comes from varying the rollercoasters and obstacle courses (you can find many of both on Youtube). I've also done this with the Luge around the olympics. And the amazing Maestra Loca taught ME a new twist on the obstacle courses above that make them even more fun. On Youtube you can change the speed of most videos by clicking on the gear in the corner of the video. While I had used this feature in the past to slow down Spanish speaking videos for my kids, I had never thought of using it to speed things up. Doing the obstacle course or roller coaster at 1.5 or even 2 times normal speed is a whole new twist in and of itself. Thanks Annabelle!
I hope you find the above stories low prep, comprehensible input heavy, and loads of fun for yourself and your students. I know that my students ADORE these stories, and have acquired lots of new words from them in a fun and easy way, that doesn't feel like work. If you have any potential new RIST ideas please add them in the comments below so we can learn from each other!
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.