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#iFLT18: We Are Storytellers…Wooly and Toth, a Powerhouse Duo!

Honestly, I was soooooo excited for this session because both of these presenters (Jim Wooldridge and Carrie Toth) are royalty of creating compelling and comprehensible input! Jim told us that as language teachers, our most important job is to be storytellers. This relates to something I recently heard Martina Bex say. She said, “Our brains are wired for stories” and “Stories inspire empathy. And doesn’t our world need more empathy?”

At the beginning of the session Jim shared his story which is something that MANY teachers on their path to CI can identify with. He was a traditional teacher during his first few years. In fact, his first video was simply about verb conjugations. His next video was putting his textbook lessons to a beat of a song. Eventually he moved onto throwing all his traditional curriculum out and embracing a story. He did not worry about a thematic unit nor grammar. He said, “Let me find the thing that either excites me, makes me laugh or is scary.” Next he searched for simple language to tell that story.

Jim went over some misconceptions about how to use his songs. He clarified for anyone using his songs that you do NOT need a grammatical focus. Students do not need to know ALL of the vocabulary in a song. (As a wise person tweeted at the conference, “There is NO grammar on the AP exam.”) Finally Jim reminded us that there IS enough time in your curriculum to use his music and stories if you plan wisely using Carrie’s idea of the chuck-it-bucket.

Carrie Toth is a storyteller just like Jim but her stories are comprehension-based readers instead of videos. She began writing these readers because there was a lack of reading materials to prepare students for authentic texts like novels in a college course. Now students have readers full of cultural content that have a great story in which students want to read before they head off to college and dive deep into authentic novels. In fact I have used almost all of her readers in class and each one was full of culture but also had a compelling storyline that hooked my students.

Jim and Carrie explained that it is easy to take something that you are working on like a novel or a film and do it to DEATH. However even if you have found the most magical resource, three weeks of anything can just be TOO MUCH. Jim recommends having multiple stories in different mediums which you can interweave simultaneously. Interest in one of these stories can pull student interest into ALL of them.

Carrie made some really cool connections in her curriculum between comprehension-based readers and Señor Wooly. She connected one of Wooly’s latest videos, “Encerrada en la escuela” with her comprehension-based reader “La calaca alegre” and it fit beautifully into her supernatural unit.

Many language teachers have the misconception that with the Wooly curriculum you have to use a video like, “¿Puedo ir al baño?” with a level 1 and “Encerrada en la escuela” with upper levels. However Carrie and Jim said that this is not true! You can use Wooly’s higher level videos in a level 1 and vice versa. They suggested to ignore the lyrics entirely. The song can be a motivator to get your class excited or interested. Carrie uses “Encerrada en la escuela” at the end of level 2. Since the song is really fast she can’t expect her students to do a cloze with all of the lyrics. Therefore she does little chunks of the song. An example is that she uses the chorus with an activity that she coins ‘chunky monkey.’ Using the chorus in “Encerrada en la escuela” works really well because the chorus is a little different in each part. What a great idea!

Carrie reminded us that we as the teachers choose what we want to pull from the video and it does not have to be every lyric of the song. Choose what connects to what you are studying. Use her idea of the chuck-it-bucket. There is not that much room in our students’ brains for “take aways” that they can keep for the rest of their lives. This is why her idea of the chuck-it-bucket is essential while designing a unit.

Here is a peek into Carrie’s supernatural unit. She began with a Movie Talk created by Cynthia Hitz called Vampire’s Crown. She chose this because she could compare and contrast this dentist with that of Sr. Wooly’s “La dentista” video. These two stories become parallel stories.

I loved Jim’s idea of blending the images from the 2 stories to create a new story too! The possibilities are endless. Using these two videos is allowing Carrie’s students to make comparisons. This is a great skill for students to develop as they move toward AP. Wooly’s dentist in “La dentista” is viewed by the class as a supernatural creature. This way she is pre-teaching key vocabulary she will need later in her supernatural unit through these compelling stories.

After using the parallel stories of the two dentists, Carrie can move into the novel “La calaca alegre” which is the story of a boy who feels his mom who has disappeared is trying to communicate with him. She compares and contrasts this novel to the film “El orfanato” which is the story of a mom whose son disappears. At the end of the unit Carrie wants her students to produce great language but she also wants them to think they have choice. Although she has the same goal, she differentiates the products they can produce to it. Here are some ideas:

  • Write to her about which resource was their favorite during the unit
  • Tell all you know about supernatural creatures
  • Compare and contrast supernatural creatures
  • Introduce two characters from the stories to each other
  • Identify conflicts or problems in the stories
  • Nominate a resource/story they used for a prize, name the prize and why

Such great ideas!

Another tip from Jim was that screenshots are your friend! Pretend you found some interesting images on Google and you and the class are going to make a story about them. Use structures from the lyrics of the song or those you need to hit in your curriculum. It is really up to you. Now students are connecting to the video before seeing it or hearing it. Next you can play the song with a word cloud. Students will underline the words they hear in the song.

Thank you Carrie and Jim for an excellent session! I am inspired to create many parallel and connected stories this year and I hope you are too!

Arianne Dowd has been a Spanish Teacher at South Brunswick High School for the past 18 years. She is committed to lifelong learning. She holds dual BAs in Spanish and Psychology with a minor in International Studies from Montclair State University. She has two Master’s degrees, an MA in Spanish Literature from Montclair State University and a MAT in Italian from Rutgers University. She is passionate about delivering Comprehensible Input in order to engage and interact with all learners. Arianne enjoys collaborating with colleagues through social media to create compelling and comprehensible units comprised of cultural knowledge. She has begun documenting these activities on her blog.

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