I just reviewed a recording of my class, but this time, the camera was focused on my kids, my wiggliest, silliest, most talkative bunch of frolicking first graders! Ever had a similar class?
As I reviewed this clip, I was reminded of the transition period I often experience when starting a story. It’s when I’m working hard to relay the story with Supplementation but the hook hasn’t come yet or I haven’t hooked them yet, or maybe their heads are stuck in a previous class, or anticipating a future one, or they just aren’t fully present yet or maybe … ALL OF THE ABOVE!
Sometimes it takes a while to find your groove; when the story is flowing and the kids are engaged and it just feels good! Here is what I try and remind myself during those moments when I feel like I am failing miserably.
1. Breathe, deeply and intentionally.
2. Stop and smile at your students.
3. Don’t panic. Stay positive.
4. Focus on the story and on the kids that are engaging.
5. Slow your pace. Breathe again. Smile again.
Setting up for success with “brain breaths”
I did not set my kids up for success in this video and it shows. It’s not until minute 2 or 3 that they are somewhat engaged. I pleaded, “I hope I can tell my story because it’s really a good one.” Ay, yay, yay! If I had to do it again this is NOT how I would go about it.
Take the time before the story to set yourself and your students up for success! Quick mindfulness breathing activities prepare students to listen, be present and engage. Plus, it has the added bonus of helping you too! (I now depend on it!) We’re all familiar with Brain Breaks, but these are more like “brain breaths.” More on this to come in a future post.
Elementary Tips & Tricks
Add simple gestures to connecting words. I add gestures to pero (wiggle pointer finger), de repente (clap twice), and entonces (circle open hand twice and lay palm up). I’ve found this to be helpful, especially for my younger learners. It gives them something to hold onto and anchors them throughout the story. Also, and maybe its the old TPR’er in me, it provides kinestetic learning.
Incorporate simple chants or melodies. (9:00) ¿Cómo te llamas? ¿Cómo te llamas?…What is your name? This is another way to add depth and movement. For me, it serves as a tiny brain break, provides repetition and sparks interest. Also, it is an easy way to extend the story. When you are finished, stand up, repeat the chant, add movement, change your voice, etc.
Choral repetition (4:19) with numbers and days of the week, give students a chance to chime in with low accountability. It also provides repeated exposure without deviating too much from the story.
Proximity and stance. I vary my proximity to students during a story. If I really want them to listen, I lean in, crouch down, or sit down. A quick change in proximity or body language can send a signal like, this is important.
Voice. We all know how to project our voice, but toning it down and speaking softly can be just as powerful. Especially when used sparingly and strategically.
How do you know they are engaging?
Although my little squirrels were super squirrelly during this story, (especially during the beginning) my conclusion is that they did engage. Here are a few examples that demonstrate engagement.
- Emily (10:43) uses her limited Spanish to say, “Feliz, no triste y no enojado.”
- Ahmed makes several predictions throughout the story and provides feedback in Spanish (11:16), “tres amigos.”
- Kaiden (13:40) recognizes patterns in the story and tries to produce, “¿Cómo te llamas?”
- Students make guesses, “Ursula” .. “They are going to say Hola”
- They react, “a cute little grape”
- They comment with personal connections, “I get food from Kroger. They have the best Mac and Cheese” .. “I like IKEA” .. “They have a Halloween aisle” .. “They need to ‘escucha'”
- They try to repeat what I say
- They relate the current story to past stories, “They are going to play soccer again?”
Does that mean that they don’t move or fidget? Does that mean that they don’t act like kids? Does that mean that they don’t mess around with each other? Does that mean they sit like robots? Obviously not! After all, they are 5 & 6 years old!
Measuring engagement can be tricky. It’s important to recognize how young learners engage during Story Listening and important to recognize what realistically to expect. My friend Cécile Lainé talks more about how we know when our students are listening in this post.