How to tell a story… let me count the ways

Way back in 2007, I was looking for a better way to teach a language. I, myself, had 6 years of language study with very little language ability to show for it. There had to be a better way. I won’t go through my entire journey as a teacher but let me suggest a large chunk of my last 10 years of teaching was about using stories to teach a language. So my ongoing goal as a teacher has been providing comprehensible and compelling stories for my students.

In the last 10 years new methods and ideas have entered into the conversation for providing COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT (theory by Stephen Krashen).

In my opinion, ALL of these methods and ideas are about telling a story. Each method does it a little differently. Each method has great advantages. In the end teachers have to analyze their own teaching style/personality, their students needs, their administrators’ requirements and second language acquisition research.

I made a table to express what I have seen in the last 10 years of my options in telling a story in class. ALL these options are wonderful. I have used or currently use all of them in my school. I have 9 grades which means 9 curriculums so each one of these methods has a place in my class. Click on the image below to get a better look.


Storytelling Comparisons - Mrs. Spanish Class



SALE & new(ish) stories!!


Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

If you teach little ones then enjoy the sugar rush. If you teach middle schoolers then… I’m sorry. (Love my middle schoolers but Valentine’s is a middle school teachers Kryptonite)

What is NEW? well…newish

I have 4 stories for you. It is actually 2 stories that with 2 different versions. They follow my first two units for Pre-K through 2nd grade which you can get HERE.

If you have already purchased these units then go to MY PURCHASES and download them again for the updated version that includes the new stories.

OR…if you want the stories individually then you can purchase them separately HERE.

Thumbnail SSR stories Unit 1.001          Thumbnail SSR stories Unit 2.001

And what a GREAT time to check it out because…

I’m having a SALE!!!




OK don’t start your email or comments…yet.

Hear me out. I am proposing not insisting.

For years I stared my younger classes with the days of the week, date, weather etc. My older classes started with a few questions reviewing what we did the class time before (translate the sentences, fill in the blank, answer these basic questions etc.)

Then I stopped… why?


I believe in the Comprehensible Input Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen which means I believe the only path to acquisition to language is providing comprehensible language and preparing my students to read comprehensible language.

“The Comprehension Hypothesis says that we acquire language when we understand what we hear or read. Our mastery of the individual components of language (“skills”) is the result of getting comprensible input.” (The Case for Comprehensible Input Stephen Krashen,,  Published in Language Magazine, July 2017. )

  • So the majority of my time with my students which is not as long as I would like to think should be used PROVIDING COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT through listening and reading.
  • RICH & COMPELLING comprehensible input is BETTER than DULL & SHALLOW comprehensible input. So just because it is comprehensible does not mean it is good use of your time.
  • Based on my observation, (working on tying it to research) the first 20 minutes of my class is the GOLDEN TIME that I do not have to fight (as hard) for my students attention. Would you agree?

So here is my question, is the CALENDAR or BELLRINGER time at the beginning the BEST use of my time?

I say NO.

BELL-RINGERS- short activities like fill in the blank, translate this sentence, write the answer to these questions etc. (grades 3-8)

Maybe I am doing them wrong. My “bellringers” can last 10-15 minutes when I count

  • students getting in the class
  • starting the activity
  • completing the activity
  • reviewing the activity

Maybe I should just be more time efficient. Have a timer. Use a shorter activity.  Well… there is an argument for that, but my question is  WHY? What is so great about these activities that I need to protect it this much?

What I could do with my students instead?

I have my older students that I see everyday read for 10 minutes. They read from my classroom library of novels, readings and current event articles from Martina Bex and stories from Amy Vanderdeen at Storyteller’s Corner.

My younger students, who are not ready to read independently, start a story or other CI activity with the goal of getting to the MEAT (a.k.a – RICH & COMPELLING input) as soon as possible. We might read a passage together instead of listening to a story.


CALENDAR routine- What is today? What was yesterday? What is tomorrow? Let’s do the days of the weeks. What is the weather today?

** I have seen other teachers use the calendar time to discuss the students’ schedules and interests. I am not really talking about that. I know Tina Hargaden has suggested Calendar Time at the beginning of the year for YEAR 1 students. This is more of a conversation discussing personal interests using the calendar as spring board to personalize content. I am NOT talking about that kind of activity.

I have twin 6 year old boys who started Kindergarten this year. They do the calendar in their classroom everyday. So I should do it in my classroom, right? Well… maybe but WHY do they do it in their classroom?

According to child development research, 5 & 6 year olds are on the edge of understanding time.

My boys ask all the time- What is today? Is it a school day? How many days till my birthday? Is that a long time? Is it tomorrow yet? When is Friday? Is 7 days a long time?

In the article linked above, it says “Weather provides a perfect observable (and changeable) event to mark the passage of days … A weather calendar and graph is a perfect way for children to experience yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

OK … so adding weather helps make CALENDAR more concrete, but if they are still learning the concept of time in their Kindergarten class, then I am taking a concept that they struggle with in their native language and then adding a language barrier. WHY?


I will restate “Just because it is comprehensible DOES NOT mean the activity is a good use of your time.” Can anyone really make an argument for the RIVETING calendar discussions you have had lately?

Being COMPREHENSIBLE does not automatically make it COMPELLING.

Yes the 5% of language nerds will LOVE anything you do in another language. (Hint- you are probably a language nerd.) But the rest of the 95% just want to have something interesting to talk/read about.

“It may be the case that input needs to be not just interesting but compelling. Compelling means that the input is so interesting you forget that it is in another language. It means you are in a state of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). In flow, the concerns of everyday life and even the sense of self disappear – our sense of time is altered and nothing but the activity itself seems to matter.” The Compelling (not just interesting) Input Hypothesis, Stephen Krashen, The English Connection (KOTESOL) in press

FLOW- Our goal is to have the students listen/read and forget they are communicating in another language. If the only thing compelling about the activity is that it is in another language then FLOW is nearly impossible.

If the activity is ONLY compelling because it is in another language, then it is not COMPELLING enough.

What do I do with my students instead? Stories, Discussion of Interests, Games that use language in context like Mafia


But my kids need to know this stuff?

Why? Is it high frequency?

You will probably use some higher frequency words when discussing the calendar and days of the week. But the vocabulary you are targeting IS NOT high on the frequency word lists according to Mark Davies Frequency Word Dictionary (Spanish), These are the calendar words ranking when the written and spoken language were analyzed.

  • Monday- 2187
  • Tuesday- 3490
  • Wednesday- 3431
  • Thursday- 2606
  • Friday- 2483
  • Saturday- 1816
  • Domingo- 1121

*** the #1 word would be the most used Spanish word in written and oral language (el/la is number 1). The words are then ranked by their use.

Seasons? The lowest number (meaning the most used) was for the word SUMMER (893)

Months? The lowest number was for the word AUGUST (1244)

If you look at the other more basic words used in conversation to discuss calendar, then yes, there are higher frequency words like DAY (71), YEAR (55), TIME (44), but isn’t there a better way to use these words in a richer and more compelling way?


If the word is important, then it will come up. My students know the word día and noche. How?… Stories. The colors, numbers, calendar, food and any other word can be told in a story. You can even come up with a story that targets some of the words if you want. I have started to move away from this because I want the STORY to drive my instruction and not a vocabulary/grammar list. I am not there yet, but I am headed in this direction.

But Anne Marie, I HAVE to teach these words. The parents expect it. My administration requires it. Their next teacher will DEMAND it.

Ok, so what about the end of class?

I have Kindergarten for 45 minutes. I strive to fill the first 20-30 minutes of rich, compelling comprehensible input activities. By the last 10-15 minutes, my students’ attention is starting to wane. Maybe you could use that time to do calendar and weather.

For older students, maybe the vocabulary lists or games you need to cover REQUIRED vocabulary could be the last thing you do.

CONCLUSION- I have my students for 45 minutes, some everyday and some 2X a week. There are so many more rich and compelling things to talk about. Why do I need to spend that time, especially at the beginning of my class, on the calendar or a traditional bellringer activity?

** Full disclosure-  Leslie Davison brought up the question of Calendar time not being a good use of time in an elementary classroom. The idea has stuck with me since NTPRS Chicago 2014. Thanks Leslie!


How do I teach a song? (elementary)

** This blog post was co-written with my AMAZING sister, Dr. Gaile Stephens, who is a Music Education Professor at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. (I went to a trained professional.)

Songs are fun, authentic and great for any foreign language classroom. As a new teacher I would hear a song and think, “I WANT TO TEACH THAT!!” So, I would put it in my plans. Then I went in to teach the song. That was one of the first lessons I learned about teaching.


How do I teach a song?

So I thought about it, and after WAY TOO LONG I realized DUH! I have a music education professional in the family. My sister is trained in teaching music. So I gave her a call. And here is the advice she gave me that I still use today.

NUMBER 1- Start at the very beginning…(a very good place to start.)

What song do you want to teach?

Here is my criteria for a song:

  • I have to like it. (GASP! – selfish party of one?) Not really. If I don’t at least like it, then my job at selling this to my students just got infinitely harder. It doesn’t have to be my ABSOLUTE favorite, but liking the song makes my job easier and more fun.
  • It needs at least ONE PART that is worth teaching. It can be SUPER catchy, repetitive lyrics are always helpful, maybe it uses high-frequency words or tells a story that you can make comprehensible.
  • It needs to be appropriate for school.- This one is pretty obvious, but I say it because while we all know we can’t teach “Despacito,” sometimes we differ on our opinions. “DOUBT means NO.” If it is a borderline for you, then I say “Don’t use it.” Your life is stressful enough without putting your neck out for a song. There are lots of good songs out there that won’t make your blood pressure rise when you open an email from a parent. You see another teacher using it? Great, but that doesn’t mean you are OK teaching it. It also doesn’t necessarily make them wrong for teaching it. Different strokes for different folks.
  • Find a good version with quality- This may be a personal preference but I like to have a good quality recording. (If you are going to use it in class, pay for it. Yes, you could just play it off youtube, but that artist worked hard. It is .99 cents to $2.00. It is less than what you tip a waitress.) My music education sister would say if it is an earlier elementary song, then choose a version that has actual children singing and not yelling. A man’s voice is fine, but watch out that it is not too low for younger kids. Younger kids have smaller vocal cords so their voices are higher and have less range.

NUMBER 2- YOU learn the song FIRST.

You need to know the song… DUH! right?

I don’t mean “know SOME of the words,” or “I listened to it…ONCE or TWICE”

If I am teaching a new song, I like to put it on repeat and listen to it while I work or in the car. How many times? I lose count. If there are a lot of words, then maybe you don’t memorize it but you will have the words posted on the board or a PowerPoint to reference. (I suggest not on a piece of paper because if it is posted your kids can see it, and it keeps your head up and not eyes on a paper.)

I have found that the more eye contact I can make with the students and NOT on the lyrics the better it goes for me.

NUMBER 3 – What are you going to teach?

It was mind-blowing when I realized “I don’t have to teach the WHOLE song.” and I definitely don’t have to teach the WHOLE song at one time.

Consider just teaching the chorus especially with authentic songs from the radio.

Break up a song if you are teaching the whole thing. Teach the chorus first then maybe next class time you teach the verse.

NUMBER 4 – Introduce it to your students

This is honestly the hardest part for me. I knew there were lots of activities to do with a song once they knew it, but how do I introduce it to them? Do I just play it over and over? Do I teach the motions after they know the words or before? Just how do they get the song in their head?

Again I went to the expert…

SPEAK (don’t sing) the lyrics in rhythm to the song while doing the motions in a call & response style.

  • The students respond by repeating the words AND motions after you. If they can’t repeat it, then you may be trying to say too many words at a time.
  • As you go EXPLAIN the translation of the song. They need to know what the song means. Students will repeat gibberish. You want your students to ACQUIRE the language not just repeat sounds.
  • Go line by line, verse by verse taking your time. You can break the song up into multiple little sessions. You don’t have to learn the WHOLE song in one sitting.
  • Each time you add a line or 2, then go back and add it to the previous verses of the verse/chunk of lyrics you are working on.

NUMBER 5 – What’s next? What about the music?

Now it is time for your students to hear the actual song.

You sing it without the music OR with the music doing the motions. Your students can try to sing along, OR they can do just the motions.

If you are learning the song over multiple days, then you could do this at the end of every mini-learning session.

** Side note- I don’t mind singing without the music. I like to review the chunk with just me singing because I can slow the song down as needed to help students learn, BUT you could play the music if you wanted.

NUMBER 6 – Practice, practice, practice

Now you can practice the song by singing it or playing the music while you sing and do motions.

Your students can…

  • just sing or lip-sync
  • just do the motions
  • sing/lip-sync and do the motions

They CANNOT just sit and listen.

NUMBER 7 – Now what?

You have lots of options for what to do with the song now. For example…

  • Make a video of your kids doing the song and send it home.
  • Have them illustrate parts of the song
  • Have a lip-sync contest
  • Students read lyrics and put them together
  • Tell a story with the song as the context
  • Listen and JUST do the motions
  • Sing it fast, slow, dramatic, goofy etc.

Here are SOME of my favorite songs for elementary:

ME GUSTA unit – Where are my students?

If you haven’t checked it out yet, my first unit ME GUSTA is available on Teachers Pay Teachers. I have been amazed by the interest, and I hope that all of you who have started the year with ME GUSTA, your year has started smoothly.

I started my new Kindergarteners in this unit and used it as a review for my 1st graders. I wanted to check in to let you know where I am in the unit. (NOTE- We started school AUGUST 3rd.)


It is funny how every year I forget how slow Kindergarten goes because of the NEWNESS of everything. So where am I with Kindergarten?

  • I finished LA CAJA MAGICA – name game the first day. (AWESOME!)
  • We finished the Comprehension Draw on Class 2 & sent it home with the first parent letter.
  • I changed ¿Qué hay en la bolsa? from Class 3 to further in the unit because I wanted it closer to the actual story. We just did that last week, and will look at the resulting bar graph this week.
  • We are still working through their drawings of what they like and don’t like. I do about 2-4 drawings a class time based on their attention span.
  • We looked at “I’m lovin’ it” commercials in English and Spanish. (Ba da ba da daaa ¡Me encanta!)
  • We have done both Simple Spanish videos. (BIG HIT!)

What did I change?

  • Considering I have had Kindergarten for 11 classes based on my unit you would think I was done. Nope! Why? delays like class field trips, fire drills, taking my time and reading the engagement of the room, class earned Spanish fun day, and this week as I write, I am out of school due to hurricane Irma. Do I wish we were further? NOPE because I paced it to them. They are still engaged and are learning. I am spending the time in class on compelling Comprehensible Input so NO REGRETS!

What is next?

  • Speaking of delays, besides the two days off for hurricane Irma, I am in charge of assembly this Friday. (an hour at the end of school on Fridays that the whole school gets together and watches a special presentation, celebrates weekly birthdays and reflects on the week) My Kindergarteners are doing the interactive dance. (Note- They are not memorizing the song. We are doing the motions and will have the words on the screen for everyone to see. Plus it is a song they know in English.)
  • This week I plan to look over the Starburst bar chart, finish the last name card drawings and practice the song below for assembly.
  • Then next week (after assembly- Whew!) we will start the story which I have made some changes. (see below in 1st grade) which is Class 6 (HA HA- I gotta figure out a different format so I don’t give the impression that these classes are true to the time I spend doing these activities- IDEAS? ANYONE?)


This unit was a review for 1st grade. I did simular activities and stories with them at the beginning of the year but I wanted to do this specific story. They know ¡Qué asco!, Me gusta, Me encanta, tengo hambre, and other words. So where am I with 1st grade?

**My Kindergarteners have lunch RIGHT after Spanish so one of the first phrases they learn is “Tengo hambre.” I usually teach it the first time a Kindergartener says that he/she is hungry (about the first 5 minutes of the first Spanish class.). We all stop, grab our stomachs and say “Tengo hambre.”

  • We didn’t do La Caja Mágica activity because I was using it to learn names. I already know all their names so the purpose behind it was lost on me. HOWEVER looking back I could have done it with them because 1st graders would have loved the game too.
  • I wasn’t planning to do ¿Qué hay en la bolsa? with Starbursts but the kids saw the Starburst wrapper chart and wanted to do it again. So I did ¿Qué hay en la bolsa? with Starbursts with them and added it to the chart for Kindergarten.
  • We did the story and IT WAS AWESOME!! I changed it a little as we got into it.
  • After completing the story, they videoed it with partners. I will upload the videos as unlisted to Youtube and send parents a link.
  • NOW I am working with them to tell the story in assembly tomorrow.
  • Here is the story in 1st grade in slideshow format.

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So where am I headed now?

  • Kindergarten will finish ME GUSTA then onto my next unit to write up which includes the activities from the blog post I wrote on “Soy una pizza.”
  • 1st grade will move on to TIENE MIEDO which is about what scares us and describing and creating different monsters (non-scary of course). The plan is to write this unit up also but that will be down the road.