Collaborative Storytelling

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Since I changed schools this year, I have been reluctant to record any of my own classes. However, I still think it is tremendously valuable to watch others.  There are so many layers to teaching in this way and I love that I keep on learning from what others do. Eric Herman of Edgartown, MA has shared a great video for us to learn from.

The first part of TPRS oral storytelling is developing background information.  A primary purpose of background information is to practice high-frequency language. “Practice” in this context means that the students hear the words in the form of a statement or question from the teacher (LICT 2015 p. 1). Eric demonstrates this characteristic in so many ways as he interacts with story.  I notice that Eric is focused on two things:

1) He is working on comprehension via repetitive statements and questions, and 2) he is developing storyline. Eric does not hesitate to write new words on the board or point to words that aid comprehension in both Spanish and English. This is crucial for fostering faster processing of the new language or for when students get stuck.

In Eric’s video it is obvious to me  that he understands that comprehension precedes output.  Through multiple characters (the student actor and himself) and plenty of questioning with controlled speech, Eric has high levels of student engagement. I hear students shouting out answers, giving suggestions, and laughing. For beginning students, TPRS circling or asking repetitive questions will require a lot intentionality in order for students to internalize the new language. I can see that Eric has been working with these students for while on this. They give all kinds of suggestions in Spanish. I love that when Eric circles, he is thoughtful with the words he uses.  He speaks slowly so that his students have high levels of comprehension. Eric interacts with his students so well that it might be hard to even see his intention for “practicing” the language, deliberately being repetitive, and allowing students to process Spanish at various paces.  He is masterful at hanging out in Spanish with these 7th grade students that he sees 3 times per week.

In my classes the ultimate goal is to have students speak with confidence, which means with without hesitancy and with accuracy (LICT p.1). I admire Eric for what he is doing in this video with his students.  I love how much his students want to contribute to the class story.

I also give props to Eric for providing his student with a great Princess voice!!! See more about what Eric is up to at


  • Eric repeats answers that students give and asks more questions to continue story line.
  • He incorporate student actors, elicits feedback, listens to feedback, incorporates surprise details.
  • Eric honors the suggestions his students make by acknowledging their responses.
  • He checks in with individuals, the class, and the student actor with English comprehension checks.
  • When student actor outputs language, he repeats or recasts those statements to provide more input for the students in room.
  • We see words on the board, words that he points to on the board, his use of gestures, and tons of dramatization on both the part of the teacher and the student actor.
  • The use of the puppets encourages dramatization, risk-taking, playfulness, and communication.
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  • First of all, I thank Mike for the article :) My whole hope is for teachers to view and learn something – what to do/not to do. For this video I just set up the camera and hoped I could capture a typical class during a communicative, collaborative storytelling activity. This is NOT the only thing I do in class, nor the only way I do it.

    I disagree with Mike’s video description.
    First, read how I described the video in the YouTube description. Words matter.

    Communication and practicing language are different. This is communication, not practice. There are DEFINITELY times in classes when I systematically and deliberately practice comprehension and practice fluency, but not in this video. This is not “practice” in the behaviorist sense – as drill and kill of language forms. In our field practice is often used to refer to the teaching of forms/rules and their thoughtful/conscious proceduralization and later practice to become automatized. The word “practice” is firmly rooted in that skill-building framework. My goal is to create a story, not to develop knowledge and skills. When parents talk to their kids, are they doing it to develop knowledge and skills of the language? There is a difference between “practice” and “communication.”

    There has been ZERO intention to teach specific language, high-frequency included. By definition, when you communicate it will contain those high-frequency words found in frequency dictionaries. Likewise, any repetition is a result of communication and not planned and intentional. And any recasts are unintentional. You see, we can end up doing what is necessary for acquisition and optimal CI when our goal is communication, NOT practicing language.

    Simply asking questions is not how I would define circling. Circling is an intentional technique of asking multiple questions about a known utterance in order to practice and target specific language. In this video, I am not circling by my definition (and what I understand to be the common TPRS definition).

    I may have multiple story characters, but I don’t ever create parallel characters.

    My purpose for this video was to show what communicative, collaborative storytelling can look like, how it can be spontaneous and unplanned, and show how engaging it is. Unfortunately, everyone wants to evaluate our classes by what students can say, but I consider the comprehension of students to be a more important measuring stick. In a future video I’ll capture the impressive production abilities of students who have been taught with a comprehension-based approach.

    Eric Herman 3 years ago Reply

    • Hi Eric. I was wondering if you have any videos of when you introduce new vocabulary/ story to a class. I would love to see how you build from that. Also, what’s your strategy for assessing students’ language acquisition. How often do you assess, and what kind of assessment do you give your students.
      Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!!

      Tanya Madrid-Campbell 3 years ago Reply

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