For almost the past ten years I’ve found stories to be a fun and effective technique for teaching and learning language, but one aspect of it that I’ve struggled to reconcile is the teacher-centeredness of the technique. Even with students making suggestions for the story, the teacher is still at the front of the room talking, talking, asking display questions, and more talking while students listen and respond to the teacher’s questions. This practice is justified  with the explanation that in the foreign language classroom the teacher is the main source of comprehensible input (true, but…).

I know from my own experience as a language learner and from years of working with middle schoolers that learners want to do something. Listening is necessary, but watching someone ride a bike isn’t as fun as actually riding a bike and watching someone ride a bike isn’t going to make me a good bike rider.

Bill VanPatten’s definition of output involves the writer or speaker expressing his own idea (something like that, need to go back to a Fall 2016 podcast to more accurate paraphrase). So really a lot of the story-based activities I do with my students might at first be labelled as output because the students are speaking or writing, but those activities aren’t really output and are more like active input.

What do I mean by active input?

I mean using memorized chunks to express an idea. When students are retelling a story, their speech or writing isn’t original output and more like input.

Fluency circles with storyboards. A common story-based activity is drawing a storyboard to show comprehension of a story. Later students can use the storyboards to retell the story. The latter activity, I’ve combined with 3-2-1 fluency circles. In round 1, each student gets 3 minutes to use the storyboard to retell the story. In round 2, each student gets 2 minutes to use the storyboard to retell the story, and in round 3, each student gets 1 minute. (Could also be 90-60-30 if seconds make more sense than minutes). It’s fun to talk to a partner. With guide words written or posted to help with the retell, the task isn’t impossible. And most importantly, the students are listening and talking to each other instead of me.

A CLOZE Kahoot. I make a CLOZE Kahoot quiz based on a story. It’s mostly just reading practice, but it makes reading feel different and possibly more fun for reluctant readers. I also ask a few follow up questions before moving on to the next question (milk the resource). This is still a teacher-centered activity, but it’s more active than re-reading and circling a story.

Final note, the featured image for this post is a picture of two people sitting knee to knee. A few times this year, I’ve pushed the tables aside, just used chairs, and announced that it’s a no-writing day, no pencils needed. Kids rejoice. 🙂 Kids just talk and listen in their chairs. At an AMLE Institute last summer, I learned that having partners face each other and sit knee to knee (not necessarily touching) reduces a lot of distractions, so I tried it, and it does. Kids actually pay attention to each other.