Storylistening – Maestra Loca Style

In many of my recent blogs I have explained how in the past two years I have moved away from using TPRS every day and rather do an enormous mix of anything and everything CI that I can think of. This year I have done a lot of experimenting with Story-listening.

My students are VERY used to me telling stories. I love to talk and they say that I must love the sound of my own voice. They also know that they learn through input because I don’t hide the reason why I teach the way I do. I love that on any given day, a random person could walk into my room for an observation and any one of my students could explain to that guest what “comprehensible input” is and why I teach with it.


My friend Tina Hargaden and I were talking a couple of weeks ago, and I realized I haven’t blogged about how I use Story Listening in my classes.  She has been using Story Listening in her classes a lot this year. Beniko Mason is the leading expert on story listening from what I can tell. Both of these women are also experts at illustrating their stories as they tell them. I, like many of my students say,  am one of the world’s best “terrible stick figure”artists. My mom is an artist on Jackson Square, and she specializes in portraits. I however,  draw a simple person on my white board and am told it looks more like a deformed marshmallow on a stick. I think that much like there are many different ways to do TPRS, there are many different ways to “do” story listening. I will talk about two of my favorite approaches here and write about more on another day. Unfortunately, all of the videos I had of this are on my old phone that bit the dust and absolutely nothing is on cloud! 🙁 Oh well… live and learn…


This first one, I started experimenting with in October, and it mimics the Chalk Talk  I did the first week of school with my language scholars. I get a giant sheet of butcher paper and I spread it out across my awesome, deskless classroom floor. Next, I write categories on the paper. The first time I did it, I pre-wrote them. In some of my more advanced classes since, I have them come up with the categories for the paper (which is nice because it means even LESS prep time). When students enter the room, rather than receiving the usual domino, they instead receive a marker for saying the “dicho” of the week. I then briefly explain the “categories”that I have written on the paper, and students are then set to write. The rules of chalk talk are simple, they are allowed to write as much or as little as they want under any category that they want, but they may NOT speak. I always have them write in Spanish (no I could care less about spelling) especially because when I go to create the story later, I don’t have to worry so much about them not knowing some of the words.


(this was the other chalk talk but it give you an idea of what it looks like)

The first time you do this your categories may be something like:

  • Character (Person, Unicorn, Animal, Monster, Alien, etc)
  • Name
  • City
  • Method of transportation
  • Color
  • Animal
  • Food
  • Restaurant
  • Time of Day

When you notice students are slowing down in their writing, you should count down from 10 in your target language and do your transition (a noise or call response) indicating everyone should go back to their seat so you can move on. From here, you have options. What do you want students to be doing while you are telling the story? These are the different things I have done before:

  • Everybody just listens and I do periodic comprehension checks and give a short written exit quiz at the end
  • Most everyone listens, but there is someone writing the whole story as it is told, another person is drawing the whole story, and a third person is writing an exit quiz to be given at the end (these are the traditional “jobs” given during TPRS
  • Everybody draws the story on a piece of paper that they divide up into 4-6 squares for a storyboard look
  • Everybody takes important ‘bullet point notes’ on the story
  • Students choose between the following as the story is told:
    • Drawing
    • Bulleting important information
    • Writing questions
    • Writing the story in English as it is told

I really like the last option and it is most often what I choose because the students also enjoy it most. At the end of the story I can also have students turn their paper over and use whatever it was they were writing or drawing on as their exit quiz too! Sometimes I collect this at the end of class and sometimes I just have them keep them in their binders.

Next, I begin the story-telling. I walk around the giant paper and use all of the categories as my backbone. Since I have been very non-targeted this year, I know what each  of my individual classes knows and I can tailor what I am saying accordingly, but if I were teaching targeted it would be very easy to form a story around your target structures. There are several reasons I love this approach to story listening:

  • Time isn’t waisted having students raise their hands for suggestions for every single tiny detail of the story
  • I don’t waste time with students arguing over whether or not they like the suggestions that their classmates came up with
  • I don’t waste time voting over which name is best for the person in our story
  • EVERY student has a voice because EVERY student was writing. The reason I like this, is it doesn’t waste time waiting for students to suggest things for a story but they have already written all of their suggestions out. In fact, it is important to take note of which “suggestions” your more quiet or shy students are writing because when you use them in the actual story they BEAM with secret pride that you chose THEIR idea!
  • Students FEEL as though they’ve created the story without them having to do much speaking at all. It allows you to just feed them input input input.


I am very fortunate because the school where I work received an enormous donation last year and with it, constructed a brand new building of innovation and design. My favorite space in this building is the entrance which is called the idea lab and it has 30 foot high ceilings and every wall is painted, top to bottom, in idea paint. If you don’t know what that is, you should, because it is the coolest thing ever and in my dream mansion every square inch is covered in the stuff. Students can write on the walls with dry erase marker and with one swipe of a cloth it is gone. I love to do story listening in the Idea Lab. If you don’t have an idea lab you can do this style of story-listening using:

  • mini-individual dry-erase boards
  • You can buy enormous slabs of dry erase board from Home Depot for $16. If you bought two or three of these it would be enough to spread out on the floor or up against your walls and every student would have a space.


Once each of my students has their own “space”in front of the wall or in front of their white board, I begin to tell a story. They have options for what they need to do while I am telling the story. Same as above, they can:

  • draw it
  • write it in English
  • Take down the important notes in bullet form (Spanish or English)
  • Write questions down that could be asked ABOUT the story I am telling

As I tell the story, if any students are choosing to write in Spanish, I can casually walk by them and correct any grammar or spelling mistakes (if I want to) and at the end of the story telling time we can do a gallery walk to observe everyone’s take on the story.

As I tell the story, if there are any parts where I want details, I ask the students for them but rather than just asking for the detail and having the students raise their hands, I allow them to shout their ideas out at me all at once and I choose my favorite idea. This is also brilliant because let’s say you didn’t hear a suggestion that you really wanted, you can PRETEND you did and they will never ever know any better. For example, if you ask for what car this person drives to Walmart, and everyone yells at once but no one yells “brown 1980 Plymouth Champ” you can just do your transition or call response so everyone gets quiet and say “BRILLIANT! PERFECT, They drive a brown 1980 Plymouth Champ!” Everyone was yelling at once! They have no idea if you actually heard that or not!  Works like a charm!


I like this style of story listening because:

  • I don’t have to waste time calling on individuals for suggestions
  • Students are jealous or annoyed or bitter when they aren’t selected for their idea
  • Students who wouldn’t normally want their voice heard are yelling ideas
  • Students FEEL like they are controlling the story but really YOU are in total control
  • It allows for lots of input input input

So! There you have it! Two of the ways I have incorporated some story-listening into my classes this year!

Here is a video of a Mannequin Challenge Brain Break while we were story listening in the Idea Lab.

Until next time,

Happy Teaching!


La Maestra Loca



  1. Annabelle, check out Sunni Brown and her book the doodle revolution, it may help with your “terrible stick people”!!
    Google her TED talk as well.

  2. This is REALLY helpful. I haven’t been able to read much on story listening but a lot of what you are doing affirms what I’m doing and gives me even better ideas. Thank you for sharing. I used to feel guilty not doing TPRS stories all the time but the kids actually really like when we do storylistening on films, etc…so I’m going to try these two ideas you presented. Also great idea with dichos!

    1. YAY this makes me happy! 🙂 Thanks for the feed back. We are all rock stars really! We vary so much teacher to teacher because our students vary so much! I am glad this blog was helpful!

  3. I came back and read this post for the second time and it is so helpful. I have been doing full CI for this entire school year, and story asking was working for a while but it has gotten increasingly harder to get cute answers from some classes. In the waiting for someone to give cute answers, much engagement is lost and I have to call attention back to the story many, many times. It’s no fun for me and I think they are not gaining as much as they could be. I am so looking forward to trying this! Do you totally make up all your stories, or have you tried a simpler version of some fairy tales? I am looking for some resources for pre-written stories that are easy enough for my level 1s. Any ideas?

    1. I love making mine up but I also use a TON of personal stories…. that is another blog coming up. Fairy tales are really fun and since I am not good at drawing I love using pictures off the internet. Are you on Facebook? The CI Lift Off Group has tons of posts on their site with actual story telling (more scripted) ideas, that might help! We are doing a conference on non-targeted CI and storytelling in Portland in June and I may get more ideas from there too to post on here. If you are interested it should be awesome for learning storytelling techniques! 🙂

      1. Thank you so much!! I love reading your blog and frequently check to see if a new post is up 🙂 I am really hoping to come to Portland and meet all you non-targeted CI greats (and BENIKO!!!) in person! Thanks again!

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