Good Story Script

This is from James:

Hi Ben –

If others are like me they are looking for a way to fill up these days before Christmas with something useful. Here is a script I’ll be running the next couple of weeks. I thought others might find some use for it. I made it to get at “is able to/can,” a word which I have woefully forgotten in all my levels. Of course in upper levels a lot more details can be added. What follows is as bare-bones as it gets. It works really well with actors, too, which is nice given the time of year.

was able, could
immediately fell down
jealous, envious

Trent was able to dance in Kolbe’s. But there was a problem. Trent wasn’t in Kolbe’s. Trent was in school. Trent wasn’t able to dance in school. Joel was able to dance in school. Joel stood up and danced very well. Everyone cheered.

Trent was jealous. Trent stood up, but he immediately fell down because he wasn’t able to dance in school. Everyone booed. Trent said, “School is stupid. I am able to dance in Kolbe’s. Can you dance in Kolbe’s?”

 Joel and Trent and all the students went to Kolbe’s. Trent danced very well and everyone cheered. Joel was jealous. Joel wanted to dance, but he immediately fell down. Joel hit Trent and everyone laughed.



35 thoughts on “Good Story Script”

  1. We should notice something. James is, in his words, going “to be be running […this script…] the next couple of weeks”. That is, he will teach for two weeks based on:

    was able, could
    immediately fell down
    jealous, envious

    This is what we do for success in CI. James knows that his kids are very weak on “to be able to”, so he is giving them some repetitive weight lifting exercises as their personal trainer and coach. They will be lifting the “to be able to” rebar barbells in different weight categories in December before break.

    I wouldn’t try to explain that to anyone who hasn’t been reading here for awhile, except to refer them to the “Rebar – 1 through 6” articles here:

    Also on the topic of choosing what you want to teach, I would refer the new reader here to these two articles from early December of 2012:

  2. I love the juxtaposition of the problem: He is able to dance in one place, but not in another. Bazinga!!! Double whammy right off the bat! Oh the possibilities..

    He is able to dance with 1 partner but is not able to dance with 3 partners.
    He is able to dance to accordion music but not able to dance to rap music.
    He is able to dance in his hunting boots, but not in his sneakers.


    Fun Fun Fun!

    with love,

  3. This is great. I was just noticing myself that I never targeted “can”. I will be using this soon!

    The script writing process is deceptively difficult, so I thank all the teachers who have shared scripts that work for them!

  4. I have had to supply my level 1 students with some suggestions (pre-written on the board in the infinitive form in English and Latin) for what the actors are ABLE TO do. Good ones are “to sing, to dance, to jump, to fight.” If they pick “to fight” it’s fun because then the two people in the story fight each other and one wins and the other loses/falls down immediately. My classes (mostly boys) like that kind of thing.

  5. Nice ideas James! And thanks for expanding Laurie… this is great exercise for our improv CI minds.

    A script I like to use for “can” is a person goes to a restaurant and “buys” a few things, but “can’t eat” X item because he needs a “insert strange illogical item (e.g. a pink hat, Chuck Norris)”. Then, he can’t eat Y item because he needs another strange illogical item. Of course, if you’re 100% stuck on common core’s requirement of logical story elements, then you shouldn’t use this, but if you’re willing to let that slide for some compelling CI (I certainly am!), it’s a pretty good one.

    Some good PQA with “can” will involve someone with glasses, they “can or can’t see” something in the room when they take off their glasses. Something new on this thread I just thought of… maybe you or someone else writes them a message on the board, but alas they don’t have their glasses, so they “can’t see/read” it. They take a couple steps, then a couple more. “Can you see it now? Can you see it John? Oh, John can see it, because John has perfect eyes.” Or maybe the person goes on a hunt for some glasses, and then they “can see” it, and it says something super mundane and therefore kind of comical. I suppose this doesn’t have to be a fictional story situation, but can be a real life situation. You might have to get them to leave their glasses off for it of course. I like to constantly use “can you see it?” in my class, not only to reinforce the structure, but also to make sure some kids can actually see what’s written on the board, because quite a few kids have bad eyes and don’t wear their glasses.

    Funny how we can just plain leave out some items from our instruction. Like James and Carly have with “can”. We talk around the word, because we want to stay in bounds, and we get really good at talking around it, so then we keep doing it. I’m guessing James and Carly teach their kids how to say the idea (e.g. it’s possible for Jane to…), but the actual structure “can” doesn’t get in. I’m certainly guilty of this with a high-frequency verb or two each year too.

    1. So I found this script that I was talking about above. It’s not in my book yet. Needs a bit of amending. You can probably figure out the underlined variables (didn’t transfer when I copied and pasted). And modify and adapt to make it more accessible to your students if needed.

      Also, I’d draw out the dialogue so that there is some back and forth between the server and the waiter. Leave the needed item out til the end to keep suspense. example: “I can’t eat these nachos.” “Why can’t you eat them?” “Because I can’t eat them without… jalapenos.”


      Can’t Eat Without It

      is hungry
      brings him
      I can’t eat without

      Lyle is hungry. The waiter brings him some nachos. Lyle can’t eat the nachos. He says to the waiter, “Excuse me, I can’t eat the nachos without jalapeños.”

      Lyle is still hungry. The waiter brings him spaghetti. Lyle can’t eat the spaghetti. He says to the waiter, “Excuse me, I can’t eat the spaghetti without a sombrero.”

      Lyle is still hungry. The waiter brings him 568 chocolate covered cockroaches. Lyle can’t eat them. He says to the waiter, “Excuse me, I can’t eat chocolate covered cockroaches without a spoon.”

      (Note: fork, spoon, and napkin are not in the top 5000 words, so I wouldn’t bother trying to teach them, but you could write them on the board somewhere for kids to see them. That way, when you ask students what the actor can’t eat without, they will inevitably give you different eating utensils as the obvious answer. To these suggestions consider responding “How ridiculous!” with a wink and a smile, and wait for the perfect answer. Or don’t write them at all, as it may overwhelm students with mid to low frequency items. Plate/plato-1836, glass/vaso-2107, and knife/cuchillo-2945 are more frequent and worth getting reps of during the story, if only to use as circling comparisons.)

  6. For the sake of full disclosure: I just had probably my worst ever go at a story in a level 1 class with this script. It has worked well the last couple days, but then this. The class is normally difficult, though. We’ve gotten over a lot of side-conversation-type stuff, but today it’s like they were looking right through me. We never got into a rhythm. So this may not be a good script to use in a challenging class.

    1. What’s your diagnosis James? I can’t imagine that it’s just the script itself necessarily. Or maybe it was the “dances” part that they resisted? Too cool for school? I personally have a hard time having a kid get up to dance, in high school, unless they are totally into it. How did you set it up? It appears you need some PQA to get the first detail established. Are you getting someone up and saying “Joel can what?”. Or are you going with dancing right away? Seems like this variable a teacher would want to have figured out ahead of time, given that the range of possibilities has the potential to change the story dramatically.

      Speaking of the script, humor this potential mix-up of your structures. Instead of having one of your students be jealous of another student, you could have one of your students dancing with someone famous (because they can dance really well or they can dance a certain type of dance that only this famous person wants to dance), someone who they find especially attractive (I’d have the famous person be a yard stick or something that your student dances with). Then, another famous person “is jealous” of your student. So they decide to start dancing, perhaps with someone else, perhaps solo, and they fall down. Maybe your student walks over to them and says “you can dance with her, but only for X seconds”. Just spitballing here. Kinda sucks when a story bombs. Been there done that, and probably will many more times to come.

      1. I like that change to the script. I wish I could go back and re-do it. I need to remember that for next year.

        After reflecting last evening on what happened–and it was great because I actually didn’t lose any sleep over it–I realize that I wasn’t picking up any defiance or disrespect from the kids. They were just having an off day, I think. And I was struggling my way through a new script that can be made better with your suggestions, Jim.

        But that’s not to say it was my fault. It was on them. I can say that sincerely and with complete peace. We will review the first part of the story tomorrow and then add an ending. Hopefully the hard work we did yesterday in setting it all up will let us fly tomorrow.

        And I didn’t use PQA to set it up. That might be something else to add in, but I didn’t feel like it at the time. I just wanted to start the story. So I grabbed an actor and asked, “Andrew is able… what?” and we went around and eventually got to “sings” in that particular class. I then mixed in some light PQA mid-story to get more reps on “is able/can.” It worked in every other class but this one.

        1. James, I like that you started the story right away. I was wondering how you handled that. I was just saying to someone yesterday how I really like the idea of us feeling liberal with the order of PQA and Storyasking if desired. Sometimes the story just needs to get started, and I for one have a horrible habit of getting sidetracked on PQA (ok, not a “horrible” habit) and not getting to the plot. You got right to it, and well-played by the sounds of it.

          So glad to hear you not losing sleep over it. I think Ben’s words are right on, and the fact that we have a homogenous (age-wise) group of developing kids in a sterile building during the daylight hours after a poor night’s sleep and maybe a real shitty home life and really trained to be in it for the letter grade, well, that really makes it hard for us. I wonder everyday that question that Ben asks us… Can this stuff really work in schools? So much of what we have to offer is resisted.

          Of course, what we’re doing is the best thing we could be doing, as I think we’d all agree, and if they don’t appreciate the fact that we’re trying to humanize the whole endeavor and level the playing field (which they probably won’t) and have joy instead of work, there’s not much we can do except remember we need to keep our jobs and pay our rent. And remember their situation too. It’s not easy for them either. I personally would try to not say they are boring the crap out of me, because I wouldn’t want them to say that to me (I’m sure I bore them sometimes too), but I understand the sentiment and situation 100% James. Hey, sounds like you had a bunch of success with the story overall! Did you go 7 for 8 with it! Damn, that’s a lot of classes!!

          1. lol thanks for the words, Jim

            I said the “boring the crap out of my line” because I like calling them out about stuff. I need to say what’s on my heart, what I think is the truth. So often they will think school is boring, when really they are the boring ones. I don’t want them complaining about a boring day without my voice in the back of their minds.

          2. “I was just saying to someone yesterday how I really like the idea of us feeling liberal with the order of PQA and Storyasking if desired.” credit Eric Herman for this idea

          3. I always establish meaning (Step 1) before asking a story by talking in English about what the words mean while referring to the target structures written in L1 and L2 on the board. I also normally do derivatives/word associations at this time.

            But, like you say, I DO NOT always do PQA as a part of Step 1. I like the flexibility of being about to use new, fresh, easy PQA in the middle of the story.

          4. James I will immediately go and add this to the new in-the-works version of Stepping Stones:

            …I DO NOT always do PQA as a part of Step 1. I like the flexibility of being about to use new, fresh, easy PQA in the middle of the story….

            There is nothing wrong with getting reps when we need them wherever we want to in response to our own internal sense of wha the kids need at any moment in class. In that sense even the Three Steps can be messed with. (But only a little, since the basic “major triad” of (1) establishing meaning of a few structures, then (2) building something with them and then (3) reading what was built still stands as the formula for the success of everything we do.)

          5. Well in my view that is very unfortunate. How can we get meaningful communication in the form of building a story together with our kids unless we get sufficient reps on the structures? My belief is that Blaine’s main idea with PQA was the P part. With the P part, we get the interest. Without it, we better be in a private school somewhere with really motivated kids who pick up things a lot quicker than the largely unmotivated students that describe the average American high school student of today, as per what Jim was talking about earlier today. The P brings the meaningful reps that make Step 2 work, in my opinion. To not mention PQA is a distortion of Blaine’s original intent, as I see it. Note in fact that James didn’t say he didn’t do PQA, but rather:

            … I like the flexibility of being about to use new, fresh, easy PQA in the middle of the story….

            Does this mean we have to do PQA all the time? Not at all. It does mean, however, that PQA as an accepted and proven component of Step 1 and is definitely a part of what we call the Three Steps of TPRS.

            I am very sorry to hear that this fine formula for success is now being distorted in the profession. I always knew it would happen, I guess. My belief is that we can mess with anything in comprehensible input, and do our thing with the term, but not when it comes to the Three Steps. The Three Steps represent a process that works unlike anything I personally have ever seen, and the credit there should go straight to Blaine and not be twisted as time goes by. Look what is happening with the term comprehensible input and the ACTFL folks.

            The mushroom cloud, the nuclear blast, is losing it’s form now in two key areas, the meaning of the term the Three Steps and of the term CI. With the loss of shape comes the loss of power. As others begin to define our work in different ways, the whole thing risks being circled down the toilet. Nice.

          6. I love PQA. I have realized how beneficial it can be to PQA to have structures that are conducive and naturally go together. P makes everything compelling, so kids want to listen. Thus, more input is comprehended. Plus, it builds community. And that community is necessary if we are going to communicate. I also believe that storyasking includes a lot of P as they shape the story and give details. Rather than say P is step 1, I think it is an essential part of the entire process!

          7. …we have a homogenous (age-wise) group of developing kids in a sterile building during the daylight hours after a poor night’s sleep and maybe a real shitty home life and really trained to be in it for the letter grade, well, that really makes it hard for us….

            This really gets close to the truth of what we do, Jim. It’s very clear. So next time somebody thinks they are a shitty teacher, they should read this to put it into perspective.

            I also like what you said here:

            …if they don’t appreciate the fact that we’re trying to humanize the whole endeavor and level the playing field (which they probably won’t) and have joy instead of work, there’s not much we can do except remember we need to keep our jobs and pay our rent….

            We chose this field and at least we do not get up each day and try to compete with and dominate others, which often involves hurting them, so in that sense our profession is a very honorable one and we at least try to live in service to others. Even if the external rewards are limited, the internal ones, that practice of opening our hearts on a daily basis to some people who are very hard to love, has an incalculable, even glorious return, one which we may not see in the day to day of it but which in fact makes teaching a truly great profession. I never thought I would get to retirement – it was just too hard, but I got here and I am beginning to see things I could not see before. There is a reason….


  7. My prayer is that teachers don’t immediately think that if a story bombs it’s always because of them. Some classes have this very delicate web thing going on between kids and if a certain kid approves then they all buy in and vice versa. It’s like the head fire ant telling the rest of the anthill wha to do in the invisible world.

    I learned over the years to react to bad classes with a kind of acceptance and an inner Zen kind of sneer that said, “Yeah, y’all think you’re all that but really you suck at cute answers and I’m not going to help you because you see my little darlings I have only one thing I gotta be doing right now and that is speaking French to your sorry asses and if you don’t want to have fun go right ahead. I am not here to entertain you. And I think I will be speeding up my quiz writer right now so I can give you TWO quizzes this period one in about five minutes and the other at the end of class. Right on. I love you too, kids, but not enough to do more than my 50%. Oh, and maybe I’ll fit in a third grade this period, a nice dictee on what we’ve done so far.”

    Or something like that. In other words, I never let them get inside my head, because I know how much I was getting paid for my efforts. I always kept that in mind when I felt I wasn’t on. And who can be on all the time, right? That would be a horrible thing to put on ourselves as teachers. And yet people do it!

    1. Eventually I just said “You guys are boring the crap out of me.” We then spent FOREVER getting the most boring reps in the world.But I didn’t care. I made them all respond. I would ask a question, crappy answer, ask it again. I think it was good battle on my part. In hindsight I am very thankful that in that moment I wasn’t feeling angry or personally offended. I just kept talking until I saw they understood what was going on–really, that’s the goal, it just took this class a LONG time to get there.

  8. Thanks, Ben, for this step-by-step guide on a possible reaction when a group might not be giving us much return on our energy on a particular day.

  9. Update: So far so good today with the second day of this script. We are really flying after the hard work last time. Say a prayer for me for my fourth hour today, which begins in 3.5 hours…

  10. Waiting out a class full of dullards is a high art. Not feeling personally offended is the secret to success with such a class. What are you doing today with them? Finishing the story?

    1. Yeah. Reviewing for 5 mins. or so then finishing in 10-15 min. or so. So 15-20 min. of auditory CI. So far it’s flying high like I was hoping it would, that is, helped out by our hard work last time. If I can get 4th hour through it like my first and second hours, I will be one happy man. If not, at least we started well today.

  11. My first-period class has become a class of dullards. I know that it is a combination of “that time of year”, coming back from a week and a day off, the weather, projects for other classes, and a number of other factors. Today I very consciously did not push at all. Of course, I wound up doing most of the talking, and the students did a lot of hand raising, nodding, and looking attentively. First we read for 10 minutes, then we had our opening conversation. The conversation meandered through the day of the week, the weather, projects due for other classes, the upcoming “Adopt-a-Child” project for seniors, colleges they want to go to, and life goals. (I learned that one of my football players wants to be a teacher but doesn’t know yet what subject.) Next we took a break and came back to begin “Cutting down a Christmas Tree”, deciding who we want to go caroling for, and finishing off the class by practicing a couple of Christmas carols. (We will go caroling the last Thursday before break.) It was by no means an exciting class, but it was conducted in 90%+ German, students were attentive and indicated understanding, and by the end of class some of them were obviously having a good time. I’m satisfied.

    We need to remember that human existence is cyclical, so every day, every endeavor, every course has its highs and lows. We cannot live on the adrenal rush all the time.

  12. You are a bad ass. What did you learn from this to tell us? I would say it is very much like what Robert said. Yes? Any other things that you learned? Honestly, if we just stay in the language and genuinely try to find out what our kids are thinking by asking what they are interested in, while staying in bounds (that’s the big one), but also speaking to them with a kind of interest and some cheerfulness in our voices in spite of how bored we are, we can get through it. Robert was not feeling the adrenaline rush and ended up staying in German anyway. It’s a good point. We keep at it, no matter what. We are not as bad as we think at this! A silent class that just stares at us is a clue that we are not making ourselves clear, of course, and that part of it is on us. But when we know we are being clear to them and that we are speaking slowly enough, and we still have these classes of kids with advanced degrees in being dull, we just keep talking and we are thus providing CI. Nobody said that the CI we provide has to be all sparkly and hilarious.

  13. Oh, this was just what I needed, when I needed it! This, along with the cutting down the Christmas tree story and some cloze lyric songs will be just what I need next week. I have them google-doc-ed and ready to go for class on Monday.


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