We’re nearing the end of the year. 8th grade level 1 Spanish. I’m inspired by Chris Stolz (@srstolz), Mike Coxon (@coxon_mike), Mike Peto (@mike_peto) and others to #showumine. Search this hashtag on Twitter to find Chris’ #showumine challenge to other language teachers.

This week I gave my students part of their final assessment battery. Since Monday was Memorial Day, we didn’t have school. On Tuesday, I surprised them (I never announce tests) by presenting new vocabulary:

estaba caminando / was walking

sacó de la nevera / took out of the fridge

entró sin llamar / entered without knocking

tenía sueño / was sleepy

I reviewed the Interpersonal Communication Skills Rubric with them and said, OK, it’s time for our final Interpersonal assessment. I’m going to ask a story with these new words and you’re going to show me the skill level you’ve attained this year. I assess them in the same way I teach them. No surprise format changes, no 100 point multiple choice grammar questions. Instead, prove to me that you can interact with a real Spanish speaker in meaningful ways.

I need you to:

  • clear your lap of distractions
  • place your eyes on the speaker
  • demonstrate comprehension by responding with non-verbal, emotion or rejoinders to my statements
  • demonstrate comprehension by responding with single word or phrasal responses to my questions
  • demonstrate lack of comprehension non-verbally or in Spanish
  • dedicate your energy to listening to understand
  • answer questions in a way that promotes further communication

Then I grabbed a student actor I knew I could count on and began the story. The story, called the Refrigerator Story, is a story script written by Anne Matava of Maine. I use her scripts a lot. Click here to learn more about them. In this script a person is going somewhere when they suddenly get hungry. They enter a strange house, eat something and continue walking. They get thirsty. They enter another house, drink and continue. They get tired. They approach a third house, enter and something unexpected happens.

The version I used was simple and repetitive. I was introducing several past tense phrases that were completely new to the students. I was mixing preterite and imperfect. I had the feeling it would be too much.

But, as is the case when I use Anne’s scripts, it was a home run!

The next day I had intended to give a reading assessment. However, as I started class, I heard some students asking each other, “¿Tenías sueño ayer en la casa?” Were you sleepy last night? They were applying yesterday’s vocab structure without being asked! I knew my assessment wouldn’t take the whole hour, so I began class by asking who would be willing to retell the story. Retelling after just one exposure isn’t something I do. In fact, I usually do oral retells after several days of focused work on a vocab set and in large groups with volunteers offering one sentence or utterance at a time. To my surprise, four boys volunteered. As they worked together to retell, I got the idea to ask pairs of kids to retell in a private location. This is something I’ve never asked them to do before that day.

Speaking as a novice is such an anxiety-inducing event! I’m constantly seeking ways to minimize anxiety of speaking in front of others. Some may say that’s artificial. I believe it’s respectful and a huge part of why my students are eager to interact in Spanish as well as they are.

I quickly thought about the dynamics. Kids would choose their partner. They would choose their videographer. Talking with a partner would mitigate the problem of having a retell sound memorized or practiced. They would have to react and respond to the other person’s utterances. They would have to follow each other. There’s authenticity and spontaneity in chiming in at the right time with the right words. It’s harder to fake it.

A few kids volunteered, paired up and took the iPad. No prep, no review. Just go into the other room and retell yesterday’s story.

Here’s what I got.

I’m leaving comments open.

What do you see that you like?

What do you hear that impresses you?

What questions do you have about how these kids got to where they are?



Tag Team Retell – The Refrigerator Story

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