Equity of Voice: a NOVEL way to “storyask”

In my recent presentation for the Spanish Teacher’s Success Academy, I spoke about equity of voice. It is something that I’ve always struggled with when we are trying to create a story together through TPRS or after we’ve created a One Word Image. I always seem to have the same outgoing class leaders offer suggestions. I know many of my quietest students have awesome ideas to share too but speaking up and taking that risk in front of the class can feel incredibly daunting. For this reason, the last few years I’ve been trying to find systems to create equity of voice during these story-asking classes. One of the first ways I did this was through story cubes.

Another, is through an alternate form of chalk talk. I learned about chalk talk in a school wide PD 4 years ago and I immediately thought, THIS IS A PERFECT way to get EVERYONE’s input and ideas out there! Many of you have heard me talk about this at conferences. There are two ways to start. If your school can afford to pay for those special white giant sticky notes, then YAY, you can use those! If NOT, then go to your nearest teacher lounge and find the butcher paper. My favorite way to collect this paper is to grab the end of it, and twirl around and around wrapping the paper around me as I go… it turns me into a giant burrito, at which point I can waddle down the hall (much to the amusement of all the students) to my classroom. When I get there, I just roll myself out on the ground and BOOM, I am prepped and ready for class!

Bitmoji ImageThe next step is to write your categories on the paper. These should be written big and bold at the top of the paper (if you’re using butcher paper, spread these out. Here are some of the categories I like:

  • Characters (not just people… elephants, scarves, a recent OWI character, whatever/whomever they want to be the protagonist of the story)
  • Names
  • Cities
  • Transportation
  • Colors
  • Food
  • Restaurants/Stores
  • Things 
  • Animals
  • Sports
  • Problems (for the more advanced classes)
  • Phrases or Idioms

Once you have your categories up, it is important to MODEL for the students what you want them to do. ALWAYS model. Everything. After the first couple of months of school I can model in simple Spanish for my novice classes and check for understanding in a quick pair share in English. Then triple check with one student (that student clarifies for the rest of the class what the expectations are) and then I can set them to the task. 

To model: I go around with my students watching, and kneel at every poster (since I am deskless, kids do this on the floor but you could tape the posters to the wall… that just takes more prep time which none of us have) and I think out loud in the target language as I write (I am writing in English for blog). “hmmmm… names,  Memphis, Isla, Paul, Annabelle, Billy Bob, Cardi B,then I move along to another poster  “ooooooo, transportation!,car, bike, unicorn…… “food… that’s hard…. I don’t know….” …move to the next “Restaurants… Chipotle, Taco Bell, Red Lobster…” It is SUPER important that you model that it is OK to write proper nouns in English and it is also important that you model it is OK not to write on every poster. If a poster is too challenging to think of anything to write in the TL, students should SKIP it. There shouldn’t be any ENGLISH on these except for proper nouns. 


This brings me to the color coding of the categories. This is scaffolded already for you! The BLUE categories are easiest for students to answer and generally have the most ideas written. The next step up are the PURPLE categories. These are ones that (in Spanish and French at least) have a lot of cognates and students have an easier time remembering these. Next, are the GREEN categories, these are things that students have acquired during class time with you or through their FVR input. It requires recall and output. Phrases is purple because they are usually rejoinders that the kiddos are VERY familiar with, and idioms are our “dicho of the week” which can be more challenging to acquire some times. Finally, ORANGE is the most challenging because it requires students to “create” with the language they know. I wait to add this category until late in the year if I have novices. You know your kids, don’t add it until you know that some of them need the challenge and will feel successful… Don’t share the category difficulty with students. They’ll naturally gravitate to what they know they can do. I just wanted to write it out for you. Do I care about spelling? ABSOLUTELY NOT…. Grammar!? NO WAY! I care that the students are taking risks and sharing their ideas in the TL. 

After checking for comprehension, I set them to work for 2-3 minutes (more time if they’re all still writing and excited. While they work I play music in the background because it discourages talking. You’ll notice in this video in the animal category, kiddos are trying to add “ito” onto the end of the animal names to make them baby animals! I had just taught them that kitten was gatito! I love that they’re naturally transferring this grammar rule! So cute!

  • My favorite way to step this up is to give every student a different color marker. I intentionally note what color I give (or what color they grab if I am having them choose their own) three different students… (no you don’t need to memorize what every child has….)
    • The child who has a tendency to have borderline inappropriate (or straight up INAPPROPRIATE suggestions) let’s say they have bright green
    • The child who always takes the easy way out and is capable of SO much more with a little push in the right direction. Let’s say they have orange
    • The child who you never hear from in whole class discussion, but who is full of ideas
    • ORRRR
    • The child who has been having a really rough week and could use a “happy moment”  Let’s say they have purple

Now… DURING the three minutes you have three important jobs.

  1. Circulate and praise students for their rockin’ ideas and make sure they’re writing in the TL
  2. Look for that bright green and make sure that student is being appropriate. If you notice something INAPPROPRIATE, quickly scratch it out, walk over to them right away and let them know you know, and remind them of the instructions and purpose of the activity. This redirection SHOULD get them on track, especially because they’ll be SHOCKED (maybe even defensive) that you knew what they did, because of course you don’t announce to them that you’re memorizing the colors they take.
  3. Look for that orange color, which is probably writing in the “blue category” posters… hover for a second and then whisper check in with that student that you’ve noticed their great suggestions and that you’re hoping they push themselves to write on some of the more challenging posters too…. 

Once the three minutes is up, instruct all students to dance back to their seats like penguins (sneak a brain break in there) after they put their marker away.

Next you tell the story! The best part is, you have TONS of student input right in front of you! No more arguing or wasting time voting, and this way, EVERYONE’s voices can be heard! You just make sure you take the time to use different colored suggestions, taking special time to use an “orange” suggestion from a more challenging poster to value that student for taking your feedback and pushing themselves, and EXTRA special care to choose a purple suggestion. Now, look at that student’s face. Watch them light up with shock and surprise. Then watch them fill with pride as they realize you picked THEIR answer and it wasn’t on accident. Observe as they turn and look at their classmates who are excited about the suggestion and they realize that everyone thinks its a great idea! I have had students come to me after class to tell me “that was MY idea, Maestra” beaming with pride! I’ve had others come to me crying later in the day to tell me “I really needed that today, I don’t know if you know but you chose MY idea in class today”. This is such a simple but POWERFUL way to brighten a student’s day! 

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There you have it! I know that if you try this you’ll be pleased with how you feel about the equity of voice in your classroom. Everyone’s input matters, especially in building that sense of community in your classroom.

PHEW! I’ve been waiting to write this one for years! It only took a 13 hour car ride to Myrtle Beach to get it done!!!  We are headed to SCOLT and we are SO excited!

Until next time,


La Maestra Loca


P.S. (I am LOVING my mailing list and Tina Hargaden helped me think of the many ways I can make it very different from my blog and get y’all more valuable, inspiring, and helpful information! Without bombarding you too much! If you haven’t signed up yet, you still can and if you do it before March 31st, 2019 you’ll be entered into a drawing! YAYYY!)


  1. This is a wonderful idea. As I teach grades 1-8, kids are devastated when their ideas aren’t honoured. Do you keep these posters up for reference for future stories? Or do you just use them for the present story you’re creating? I’m thinking I would bring them out a month or two later to recycle the ideas but use several strategies for other stories in the meantime…?

    1. I am glad you like the idea too! I always read through all their ideas because it definitely teaches me about trends and what kids like at the time, but then I recycle and do new ones each time since kids change so much from month to much and so do those trends! But honestly, it is totally up to you!!! Sorry for the seriously delayed response! Doing all the things and finally catching up this summer!

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