Storytelling Basics: Planning Block Schedules

In an earlier post I talked about a weekly structure to make lesson planning a cinch. Please refer back to that post for more details about each item. In this post I will outline how to adapt that weekly structure into a two-hour block schedule. If you implement some or all of this into your classroom, this may just become your favorite kind of class to teach.

Block classes of 2+ hours are not ideal for maximally efficient language acquisition. Languages are better acquired in little daily chunks spread out over a long, long period of time. However, and for whatever reason, the powers that be seem to think that the total amount of time in the classroom is the only thing that matters.

Because of this, many of us (myself included) have ended up in block classes lasting two hours or more. We’re in this situation, and we have to make the best of it. So what to do now? How can we base our class around telling stories with such long blocks of time?

Let’s dive into my solution based on the weekly structure I talked about in a earlier post. Some of the items below are defined in much grater detail in that post, so please refer back as necessary.

For the sake of example, let’s take my class that meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 530pm-740pm. I will walk through two weeks worth of lesson plans to show you how this all fits together.

Week A – Monday (130 minutes)

Starting Class and Co-Creating the Story (55-75 minutes)

  • Routine Items – 5 minutes
  • TPR New Phrases – 5 minutes
    • 3-6 phrases pulled from a story outline
  • Co-create a story by asking loads of questions – 40-60 minutes
    • Have a student write a true/false quiz based on the story
    • Have a student draw artwork on giant stickies (see below). This sticks to the board and provides a visual representation of the story.
    • Have student actors to liven up the class and provide an opportunity for 1st person and 2nd person interactions with you and each other.
    • Give yourself some flexibility as to when the story ends. It doesn’t need to take the whole 60 minutes, but it can. It can also take more time than that. As the class gets better at inventing stories and keeping things going, they will get better at extending the story. 
      • At the beginning of the quarter, the typical learner is exhausted after about an hour of storytelling. Learners tend to build endurance as the term goes along, often sustaining stories for closer to 90 minutes. Read the room! 
  • Listening Quiz – 5 minutes
    • A comprehension quiz based on the story – True/False, multiple choice, and fill in the blank listening quizzes are a good way to evaluate listening comprehension. There are lots of ways to do this, the important thing is to do it.
An example of student artwork drawn on a giant sticky note

Break – 10 minutes

I stay in the classroom and am available for questions. Think of this like a brief “office hour”. Students are also free to get a drink of water, stretch, or use the restroom. Two hours and ten minutes is too long to stay seated. They need this break.

Extended Stories/Miscellaneous Activities – 45-70 minutes

  • This is a good time to incorporate story listening, movie talk, picture talk (like movie talk, but with a still image), Free Voluntary Reading – FVR, short films, music, book activities, or anything else that you see fit.
    • These activities should be lighter in terms of brain-power required to complete them. Mentally processing a story is hard work, even though it looks like just fun and games. Behind the scenes, learners’ brains are doing a lot of work.
  • Storytelling fits in so well with a block class, even if you use  more traditional methods, because you can easily tell a long story and still have time to do other kinds of activities.

Week A – Wednesday (130 minutes)

Starting the Class and Reading the Story – 60-80 minutes

  • Routine Items – 5 minutes
  • Review TPR Phrases and do PQA – 5-15 minutes
    • Review the 3-6 gesture phrases. Here I might point out some differences between the phrases. That is, if the target phrase is “he runs”, I might ask how to express that for me – I Run (not that much, actually).
    • Give 1st person examples about yourself, as related to the target phrases. (e.g. he eats >>> Class, I eat a lot. What do I eat? I eat pizza. Do you eat pizza? Who eats pizza?). Even beginner-level classes can have long conversations about open-ended topics because the vocabulary is tightly controlled. Go deep and narrow instead of shallow and wide.
  • Retell the story with student artwork – 20-30 minutes
  • Read Version A of the story – 10 minutes
    • I have typed up three versions of the story we co-created. This is version A.
    • Learners read version A of the story silently, underlining words they don’t know and can’t figure out quickly.
    • We translate the story from L2 to L1 out loud as a class. (Note: We don’t translate because we think it makes them better at the language. Instead, this is a non-graded, self-assessment of reading comprehension).
    • As we translate, learners write the translation of the words below the words in the text. This gives them a personalized glossary of the text when they’re all done.
  • Read Version B of the story – 10 – 20 minutes
    • Here we do a volleyball translation of the story. Again, this is not translating as a means to acquisition. This is another comprehensible input activity with an element of self-assessment of reading comprehension.
    • I didn’t know how this would play with adults, but I’ve heard on numerous occasions that this is lots of students’ favorite activity.
    • Time them for 2 minutes per group and have them switch groups after that. 

Break – 10 minutes

Reading the Story Part I – 30 minutes

  • Read and Discuss the long version of the story
    • Read a little bit of the long version of the story in L2 and have students read along in their copy. Ask lots of questions about the text, and personalized questions about your students.

Finishing the Class with Exhausted Learners – 20 – 40 minutes

  • Miscellaneous Activities – 20 minutes – 40 minutes
    • After about an hour to 90 minutes of storytelling, students are typically exhausted (although they tend to build endurance as the quarter goes along, often sustaining longer stories). This is a good time to incorporate short films, music, book activities, or anything else that you see fit.

Week B – Monday (130 minutes)

Starting Class & Recap of Last Week’s Story – 40 minutes

  • Routine Items – 5 minutes
  • Review TPR Phrases and do PQA – 5 minutes
  • Retell the story with student artwork – 10 minutes
  • Quizizz – 10 – 15 minutes
    • Check out the ones I made for Las tres pruebas and La espía huérfana.
    • I love this quiz game. It’s the best one out there that I know, though they all have pros and cons. 
    • This is a calm game students can play on their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. If not everyone has a phone (not sure this is the case anymore…), they can share with a partner.
  • Timed Write – 5 minutes
    • Students read this in class, but in order to do well on it they will need to read it at home as well. More input = more acquisition. Re-reading the story they co-created is good for them.

Starting New Story – 55 minutes

  • TPR New Phrases – 5 minutes
  • Co-create a story by asking loads of questions – 50 minutes
    • Again, have a student make artwork, have student actors liven things up, and have a quiz writer.

Break – 10 minutes

Insert the break whenever, but this just seems to fit for me on this day.

Review – 25 minutes

  • Review for Chapter Quiz
    • My textbook has a great review section for the chapter. We just go rapid-fire through the exercises to keep it fresh.

Week B – Wednesday (130 minutes)

Starting Class and Retelling the Story – 40 minutes

  • Routine Items – 5 minutes
  • Review TPR Phrases and do PQA – 5-15 minutes
  • Retell the story with student artwork – 20 minutes

Reading the Story Part I – 20 minutes

  • Read Version A of the story – 10 minutes
  • Read Version B of the story – 10 minutes

Break – 10 minutes

Reading the Story Part II – 30 minutes

  • Read and Discuss the long version of the story – 30 minutes

Chapter Quiz – 30 minutes

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