This is my Intermediate low class (Chinese 2). We are in the mid of Kittens’ series, book 4, and story 3 – the Mandarin Class. Today, we spontaneously created a mini-story. The teenager’s mind in this particular class has turned our mini-stories to be quite dark this year. However, we are having such hearty good laughs in class, therefore, the happy Disney feel-good stories are not always necessary.
Here is what happens.
First, I put students into groups to read the Mandarin Class on their own. Since this is the first time they are reading it, there are lots of pauses, checking for understanding with each other, if no one can figure it out in their groups, they come to me to ask for clarification. As they read along, I jet down the vocabulary which they are not familiar with. Here is the list:
上数学课 – take math class， 国家 – countries， 兴奋 – excited，浪漫 – romantic，来到 – come over, arrive at，打开 – turn on, open
As the vocabulary list is generating, a quick story idea pops into my head. Which if we create a story about someone who has a crush on another person in math? Once I get a story idea, the rest is easy.
I begin to ask: class, who should be our main character in the story? A male, a female, an animal, or a thing?
Students choose the main character to be a girl whose name is Alex. We purposefully choose a gender-neutral name for our main characters. “What is her last name?” I ask. “Moe!” One student yells. “M – O – E or M-O-O?” I ask again. They immediately burst into laughter. “Oh, yeah, it is M-O-O, Mooooooo!” We all laugh harder. “Sure, how old is she and where she lives?” As it turns out, Alex is 16 years old and lives in Budapest. “What kind of personalities does she have?” I press on.
“She is smart….” “Great, I like girls to be smart.”
“She is friendly…” “Okay, smart and friendly, that’s a great combination!”
“She is also very calm…” another student suggests.
Now, we have a quite full main character. It’s time to set up the stage.
“Guess what happens in the story?” I ask. “What?” All of my students are wide-eyed and they all want to know.
“One day in the math class, there is a new student. Alex has a crush on the new student. By the way, is that new student a female or male?” I always offer choices to students. Just in case someone might want to create a same-gender romantic story. But this time, they choose a male. His name is Sam.
“What is his last name?” I ask. “Meow! Sam Meow!” Two students without thinking throw out the same suggestion, the whole class laughs. Some stump their feet, some wipe their tears. I could barely keep my sentences and composure together.
“What kind of personalities does Sam Meow have?”
“He is smart.” “No, make him stupid.” Another argues. “Well, a smart girl has a crush on a boy, it is less likely to have a crush on a stupid boy.” “Okay, he is smart.” “What else?”
“He is not brave.” One giggles. “He is NOT brave?” I want to confirm. “NO, he is NOT brave. Nor he is optimistic.”
“Oh, my! What kind of person we just create!” I make a joke and we all laugh more. “If Sam is smart, but not brave and optimistic… Why does Alex have a crush on him?” I lower my head, shrunk my shoulders to make me look small and timid while pretending to be Sam.
“Because he is romantic.” One yells. “Romantic?!” I shake my head and know deeply that being romantic can be a killer.
“Well, guys! I know a Sam’s secrete!” I use a dramatic pause to create some suspense.
“What’s the secrete?” “Sam only loves himself. Sam is romantic because every day he carries flowers in his hand. But Sam only loves himself, the flower is for him.” I walk to my flower props and take out a bunch in my hand.
My students could barely stay in their seats. What I come up with is so unexpected. “But girls don’t know. They are all excited and want to know who Sam would give the flower to.”
“That’s deep!” One student wipes her tears and comments.
“Well, Alex doesn’t know Sam’s secret. She has a crush on Sam and she wants Sam to like her back. Guess what she does?”
One day in math, she keeps looking at him, but he doesn’t look back. Therefore, she gets up and walks romantically to Sam…
Here we pause again and solicit three boys in class to walk “romantically” and we rate their performance… Another good laugh point.
“She says ‘hi’ to Sam and touches Sam’s flower romantically… Guess what happens next?”
“What?” Now everyone holds their breath and they really want to know.
“Well, suddenly, Sam turns on music, he holds the flower to his heart and begins to dance…”
“Does he give the flower to Alex?…” One asks. “NO, no, does he dance with Alex?”
“No, he dances away and he leaves the math class. The end!”
While we are creating the story, I have a class writer to take notes for me. After class, I turn the notes into an embedded reading. A good feeling is that I have intentionally worked in the vocabulary which students feel not as familiar with during the reading.
If you haven’t done collaborative story-asking for a while, give it a try. It is fun and engaging.