Q'n'AThere's so many stories out there. How do you know which ones will go over well in class?
If you have a story and you wonder if your students will enjoy it, simply tell it to an empty room and imagine your students sitting right there and listening to you. You'll know in your gut if it's going to work or not. By the way, there are very few good stories. You'll be lucky to come across one every once in a while. You can also ruin a perfectly good story in a number of ways: with a clumsy opening, by letting it meander, or through too much new vocabulary. You will be able to pinpoint and then remove all of these problems by play-acting the hell out of it beforehand.
So you pick a story and that's it, you just tell it in class?
Hell no. I also spend a lot of time editing these stories and rehearsing them. I add things and I trim a lot of fat in order to make sure there are no weak spots and no confusing elements. I rephrase passages that are way too simple to teach the students new phrases. At the same time, I try not to overload a story with challenging language. It needs to strike just the right balance between too simple and too complicated.
But a good story is a good story, right? I mean, if it's good, you can go ahead and use it.
Not really. Plenty of fine stories don't make the cut. Others end up being significantly altered. I have read hundreds of wonderful stories that for some reason or another just wouldn't work in class or don't carry enough language heft to be worth my time. Choosing the right story is a science. So is making it fit your students' needs. So is presenting it right.
Doesn't it feel funny to be pretending someone you're not? In telling the story, I mean.
It does. I used to feel slightly embarrassed at first doing this, but it turns out that most students (all, actually, in my experience) are willing to suspend their disbelief and play along. Or maybe I'm just that good of a teacher.
Do I need to be a natural storyteller to pull this off?
Probably. Then again, I don't think I am much of a storyteller so... You can get good at it with practice, I guess. It's definitely worth a shot.
Isn't that too much work to put into a single story? It absolutely is. And it totally isn't worth it unless you spend at least three or four lessons on each story, plus preferably use it in multiple classes.
I have a small quibble with this particular story (Amelia and John) in that it probably wouldn't fly with a bunch of twelve-year-olds. It wouldn't, no. But hey, here's a solution! How about you do a DIFFERENT story?
Inquiry/Recall seems really hard. It's really not. Don't think of it as an exercise. Pretend like you actually want to know every single detail of the story. Don't interrupt the flow. Each question should build off the previous answer. Before you know it you have covered the whole story. I struggled with this activity at first, but once I got a handle on it, it became second nature. By now I thoroughly enjoy it and don't make any preparation at all.
Do your point-outs work in every language? I'm afraid not. They do work in Czech and they'll probably work in other Slavic languages. (Czech speakers grapple with a very specific set of problems when it comes to English. I focus on those and those only.) However, when teaching German or French speakers, you may need to drop many lines as they don't present much of a challenge.
So will this exact same sequence of activities work for me? Most likely it won't. Different strokes for different folks and all that. But it's a good starting point. Getting to where you want to be takes constant tinkering and modifications based on the feedback/response you get back from your students. Also, some things work in some classes and not in others. The same activity may work one day and not the next in the very same class. Sometimes you just need to adjust one little thing for a failed activity to suddenly work.
Don't be afraid to experiment. If something bombs twice, drop it and replace it with something else. Make sure you notice what does work and under what circumstances. Make this method your own—it needs to feel natural. If it feels like you're constantly following somebody else's rules, it won't be fun for you or your students. If necessary, scrap everything and rebuild it. In each class alternate between different types of activity. You should not explain vocabulary and then tell the story right after that. That's too much talking and explaining on your part and your students' interest will flag. Instead, it's a good idea to tell the story right after testing your students (on a totally non-related text, if possible). Switching between different kinds of activity will keep students on their toes.
My classes are usually structured kind of like this:
A. test-type activity, such as point out (5min.)
B. explaining/storytelling (5min)
C. conversation among students, aka 'a breather' (5-10min)
--> Back to A and the cycle begins anew.
Now, my students might be a little different from yours. I teach my own private classes for groups of 8-10 people—I'll explain why this is the best class size elsewhere—and my students are a mix of bright high school students and ambitious intelligent adults. Yes, it's a dream setup. No, I don't take it for granted.
So are your ideas in any way applicable to classes of bored teenagers? I honestly don't know and I hope to never have to find out.
On a totally different note: what do you think of other teaching materials available on the web? They suck. Every single one of them. I mean, ugh.
How exactly do they suck? I don't even know where to start.
Take your time. Ok. They're too academical, too smarty-pants, too precious for their own good, too marginal where they need to be practical. Need I continue?
Examples? Oh I don't know, the meaning of imflammable, the difference between comprise and compose, shall and whom and nor and needn't, murders of crows and schools of fish, the past participle of spin, boring resumes and ticket ordering scenarios, you name it.
I see. And yours is the only one that doesn't suck. Correct.
All right. No further questions. Good.