Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Write a CI Story

Many teachers have asked me how to write a CI story so that they can do the same and use it with their own students in class. Quite honestly, my response is: I do not know. Maybe I should rephrase that. I know how to write a CI story, but I do not know how to write a good complelling CI story - that is what I am still working on.

I actually do enjoy writing. When I was in the 3rd grade, I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I remember my 3rd grade teacher had us write a short story about anything we wanted, but the only stipulation was that the main character had to be a potato. I do not know why my teacher chose a potato (it was not like it was an extension of something we were studying), but I wrote about the richest potato in the world who one day decided to go visit the Nile River but because it was so hot there, he dehydrated and became a potato chip. Yes, that was the entire story - and that was about how long it was too. There was no moral to the story, and I have no idea why my character had to be so rich, because it had nothing to do with the plot. We had to illustrate the story too, and my potato looked more like Mr. Peanut (complete with top hat and monocle) than a potato.

My school uses CLC, but I do not use those stories. Not that they are not interesting - oh, they are! My students always enjoyed reading the stores in Unit 1, especially anything involving Grumio. They loved the readability of the stories, plus they were light-hearted and somewhat humorous. The main issues, however, are that there is too much vocabulary in the stories (so at times it turns into decoding/translating instead of reading), too many language structures going on at the same time too quickly, and the stories themselves are just too long. 

Starting last year, I began to write my own CI stories but this year, I feel like I am doing a much better job at limiting vocabulary and getting in repetitions, but also personalizing the stories.

When crafting a CI story, one has to be incredibily deliberate, because there are so many factors involved: 

  • limited target vocabulary/language structures
  • repetition of target vocabulary, and in many ways, repetition of actual sentences
  • an actual plot itself, which needs to include all of the above but yet be comprehensible AND compelling
I have heard Blaine Ray say that stories must have the following:
  • a problem of some kind, and that you must incorporate the actual phrase "But there is a problem" in the target language in every story
  • a character must go somewhere to resolve the problem, as motion is important to a story
  • there must be an unsuccessful resolution the first time so that the character can go somewhere else, which is where the resolution will take place. 
According to Blaine, incorporating these elements will allow for natural repetitions of target vocabulary/language structures.

I will admit that I agree with Blaine to a degree, but I also feel like keeping to this strict pattern causes the stories to become predictable after awhile. Therefore, I tend to adhere to the principles, not necessarily the "rules" per se.

So how do I write a story?

  1. Pick target vocabulary/structures first, i.e. what do I want students to acquire? Take a look at the vocabulary list for your textbook or if the purpose of this story is to "preview vocabulary" for a future reading, then select words from that reading.
  2. Limit the target vocabulary/structures. I have found that 3-5 new vocabulary/structures is a good amount for students to learn per week.
  3. Pick vocabulary/structures that are a good fit for a story. For example, I found that videt, vult and capit work perfectly together in a CI story. Using those target words, I wrote a story about Kim Kardashian who wanted various things, and Yoda (who loved her) saw those things and took them so that she would love him (she did not).
  4. Keep the story comprehensible! Though you may want to recycle some previous vocabulary/structures, there is no need to overload your story with them; you can always create an embedded version which will use those words. Instead, focus on the your target vocabulary/structures.  
  5. Personalize the story. Include students, celebrities or events in students' lives as part of the story. Students will find that much more compelling than a story to which they cannot relate.
  6. The story needs to have a conflict/problem of some kind. This is true of any story.
  7. Repeat the target vocabulary and language structures as many times as possible. An unsuccessful attempt at the solution to the conflict with further attempts is a good way for natural repetitions. Dialogues also allow for repetitions.
  8. Keep the story short. Some folks will start with a version which is just 20-30 words and then expand from that. I have found that a story between 50-75 words is good for students, because it allows for a good number of repetitions. If the first draft of the story is longer than that, consider whittling it down to create two separate embedded readings.
  9. A unexpected plot twist at the end helps so that the story is not predictable. 
For me, this story will serve as the primary lesson by which I plan to teach these target vocabulary/structures. I usually spend 3-4 days on the story, having students review it in 6-7 different ways, each time with a different focus to preserve the novelty, but each time with the goal of getting in necessary repetitions and input. After 3-4 days, then I have the class read through version #2 (embedded reading) of the story, which I call the real version.

Latin 1 example - this was based upon my students' outrage that regular Poptarts were no longer being sold in the school vending machines due to Michelle Obama's initiatives. I figured that this would make for a personal, compelling story.

Target vocabulary
1) vendit
2) iratus
3) ego + volo

Version #1
Jack poptartem vult. schola poptartes non vendit. Jack est iratus. Jack clamat, "ego poptartem volo!"

Jack ad Publix it. Publix poptartes vendit. Publix poptartes non habet. Jack est iratus. Jack clamat, "ego poptartem volo!"

Jack ad Michelle Obamam it. Michelle Obama poptartes vendit. Jack est iratus. Jack clamat, "ego poptartem volo!"

Jack poptartem capit. Michelle Obama clamat, "ego poptartem volo!" Jack poptartem consumit, et non est iratus.

Version #2
Jack poptartem vult. Jack ad scholam it. sed schola poptartes non vendit. Jack dicit, "O Mr. Toda, cur schola poptartes non vendit?" Mr. Toda dicit, "Michelle Obama poptartes in schola non vult." Jack est iratus. Jack clamat, "ego poptartem volo." quod Jack est iratus, Jack fit (becomes) Hulk. Hulk Mr. Todam sumit. Hulk Mr. Todam iacit. Hulk non est iratus, et fit (becomes) Jack.

Jack ad Publix it. Jack dicit, "Publix poptartes vendit." sed Publix poptartes non habet. Michelle Obama poptartes in Publixe non vult. Jack est iratus. Jack clamat, "ego poptartem volo." quod Jack est iratus, Jack fit (becomes) Hulk. Hulk Publixem sumit. Hulk Publixem iacit. Hulk non est iratus, et fit (becomes) Jack.

Jack ad Michelle Obamam it. Michelle Obama dicit, "Haha - ego omnes (all) poptartes in America habeo. ego omnes (all) poptartes in America vendo." Jack est iratus. Jack clamat, "ego poptartem volo." quod Jack est iratus, Jack fit (becomes) Hulk. Hulk Michelle Obamam sumit. Hulk Michelle Obamam iacit.

Hulk poptartem capit. Michelle Obama clamat, "ego poptartem volo." Hulk poptartem consumit, et non est iratus. Hulk fit (becomes) Jack. Jack omnes (all) poptartes capit. Jack ad scholam it. Jack omnes (all) poptartes dat. Jack est hero! sed Michelle Obama est iratus et fit (becomes) Hulk, et displodit.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice set of principles for writing. I used to start with three structures and let the story sprout from there, but now I usually just start from one structure knowing that the rest will come as the story develops.

    If your students love the Grumio stories but there are two many new structures in those readings, then use those structures as you write your own stories so that your students can someday read the Grumio stories for pleasure reading!