Scripts Must Be Simple

When the story script we are using is too busy in the first location, time keeps us from getting to the other locations and we lose all that chance for lots of repetition of the target structures. Many people take this as a matter of course, but the second and third locations do for us what we can’t do ourselves – they keep us in bounds. By going straight to a second and maybe even a third location, there is a natural muzzling of our tendency to bring in too many new words and thereby go too wide, losing our audience.
We should be able to at least get to a second location. Our script, our questioning technique, our pacing, all of that should at least give us the possibility of a second location to happen around 20 minutes before the end of class at the latest.
The story below from Jim Tripp, published here in 2009, provides a good example of the simple kind of locations that I am talking about:

too expensive

Dakotah goes to Mankato for a college visit. He goes with his mom, aunt, two cousins, and dog. The president of the college presents him with the bill for tuition. It costs $5 each year. Dakotah exclaims, “College is too expensive!”

Later Dakotah goes to eat in a café. He orders 3 pizzas with carrots and spinach. The waiter presents him with the bill. The pizza costs $28.50 each. Dakotah exclaims, “This pizza is too expensive!”
Dakotah rides his dog to the bookstore. Dakotah buys 2 books called ________ and _________. Tom Hanks (in You’ve Got Mail) gives the dog the bill. The books don’t cost anything. The dog exclaims, “These books are too cheap!”
Here is the link if you want the variables:
In one of my classes, this story took the form of two simple locations, given below. Note the simple text. The story wasn’t extremely funny or personalized, but I don’t care – if my story is not comprehensible, then what do I care about funny and personalized?

(university tuition/fees)*
per year
that’s too expensive!

*I added a few extra target structures (in parantheses) because I knew that my students didn’t know them.
Ronald McDonald goes to Louisiana State University in a tiny airplane and meets the president who gives him a paper with the costs for college on it of $8.95 per year. He yells, “That’s too expensive!”
Then he goes to a Black Eyed Peas for lunch and eats five peas, six carrots and seven potatoes. The waiter gives him the bill. He yells, “That’s too expensive!”
We never got to a third location.
The questions I got from my Quiz Writer were:
1. Ronald McDonald goes to LSU? yes
2. Ronald McDonald goes to LSU by plane? yes
3. Ronald McDonald goes to LSU by foot? no
4. The president of LSU gives him a paper with the costs on it? yes
5. The costs for LSU are $8.95. yes
6. Ronald McDonald goes to a restaurant? yes
7. He eats four peas? no
8. He east five carrots? no
9. The bill gives him the waiter? no
10. Ronald McDonald is happy? no
(Speaking of quizzes, here is a quick quiz question for the group. Having tried to make the point about the value of a simple script keeping us from going out of bounds by allowing us to go to a second location for more reps, what did I do wrong above that could have easily derailed this story? People who get this wrong will be kicked off the blog. The second part of the quiz question is, “What does this tell us about planning stories in our classes?)



11 thoughts on “Scripts Must Be Simple”

  1. I’ll hazard a guess.
    You added structures just because your students didn’t know them. It takes away from the simplicity of the three target structures and getting enough repetition on them.
    In terms of planning stories it suggests not doing a story with out-of-bounds vocabulary.

  2. I’ll second what Drew said. And echoing Brigitte’s fear, and in spite of it, I’ll go for another possible answer: In the first location, the structure of the first sentence doesn’t really mesh with that of the second. The second location’s wording is cut and dry, while the first’s “meets the president who gives him a paper with the costs for college on it” is a little cumbersome compared to the simple “The waiter gives him the bill.” But maybe that was just a creative translation into English.

    1. What a gold mine of responses and some from the story’s author himself! Drew said exactly both things I had in mind in asking the questions. Indeed, five structures is ridiculous and would require a ton of PQA to make sure that the kids could understand the actual story.
      It would be fine to go ahead and PQA “meets” and “university fees” if the time were there. I actually started to do that, and found myself in a wonderful discussion about if any kids in my class ever met Kobe Bryant or other celebrities and I got to tell them – a big secret! – that I met Colonel Sanders in Venice/St. Mark’s years and years ago when in college (he had his little white suit on – true story).
      Same with “instructional fees”. Tuition at one local university, Denver University, is simply ridiculous and we got to talk about that for a long time, focusing on numbers like $30, $40K, $50K, etc. over and over and over, mentioning different universities and would they might cost. It was ironic doing that with these beautiful children whose minority status and poverty status are the only things that will deny them entry into college if the trillionaires continue to have their way.
      So, since this was the actual semester exam, I had to bite my tongue and stop PQAing those words just to get the exam in, but those two terms, since they had not been taught before and since my kids didn’t know them, were about to take the story out of bounds before it began, as Drew pointed out.
      Let’s say it clearly one more time – the stories must contain no new words except the three target structures according to the classic TPRS format which I agree with.
      That is why I am trying to get Amy Catania’s story scripts (for middle school, meticulously crafted for no new vocabulary as each story builds on the last) back on my site here for sale but she never answers my emails.
      And Jim your point about the usefulness of the underlinings of the variables is well made. They help immensely and that is why I have to carry the script around in my hand during the story, to keep me focused on the story.
      There are so many details, like the one just mentioned, to this craft that it is amazing that some of the newer teachers to this just don’t throw their hands up in the air and walk away. Many actually do. I can say, however, that new people to the method, were they to go back and read every post on this blog back to 2007, would find most of the details of TPRS clearly explained. That has been my meditation with this site, anyway.

  3. Another thing I noticed from this post and comparing with that in the link… how helpful the underlined variable is in making a script less intimidating to us teachers.

  4. I agree w/Jim.
    I didn’t notice much evidence of the target structures on the quiz. I wondered why that was–since that’s kind of the point, right?–to see if the students can start responding to new target structures and review the old?
    I know your kids draw up the quiz (I do it in my class), but might that mean there weren’t enough repetitions built into the story script itself? As odd as it sounds, my kids like the predictability of knowing that those irritating target structures are going to appear a thousand times in the story. They wait for it, predict it, jump on it, show off, feel confident–just what I’m looking for.
    I heard that this guy, Sen Blavik, is opening up his “Bulgarian for Dummies” blog to new subscribers, so I’m going to check it out right now (since my days are clearly numbered here).

  5. Jody, actually, no, your insight takes the entire discussion to the next level, as most of the things you say here do. You are correct that I did not hit the targets enough. I go around and say that each sentence we utter during the questioning process should contain at least one, maybe even two, or, in a great sentence, all three target structures. What a huge point that is, and yet, in the classroom, we often forget to do it. It brings back the question, maybe this method is just too fricking complicated! And the second, related point you made about the quiz not containing the targets is equally valid. Honestly, I think that the reason for that was that I didn’t have much time for this part of the exam and kind of shoved it through. So you helped me see that I
    a) didn’t repeat targets enough, and
    b) probably went too fast on this semester exam.
    By the way, about Sen Blavic, years ago there was actually an article in the sports pages (I ran track/cross country at Washington/St. Louis) about that guy Sen Blavik. They got my name wrong in the whole article. And there is another guy, Slavic Ben, who is a professional ballroom dancer in Russia. Names are funny.

  6. I had no idea this was connected to a semester exam. There it is. That pressure can affect our technique in such negative ways. I have perpetrated this same scenario countless times. Thanks for reminding us.
    No, the method’s not too fricking complicated. We put stuff in the way (time pressure to get things done, for instance).
    Names are funny. Yes, they are.

  7. I tied my exam format to what I actually did in class this year to focus on the how – the interpersonal/interpretive modes – as much as any gathering of content. We should test as we teach. I was generally happy as the kids mostly read and listened on the exam. It felt honest and honoring to them, and I got extra minutes for CI, and I could tell that they liked not having to answer 100 multiple choice questions, which is beyond absurd.

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