“CI without stress” Elementary Adaptations

I attended Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden “Ci without Stress” workshop a few weeks ago in Atlanta. I had seen many of you who have attended their workshop this summer, and I was excited to see it for myself.

For those of you who have not read their book A Natural Approach to Stories I highly recommend it.  Whether you are adding tools to your teaching toolbox or adopting the whole program, I think all CI teachers can benefit from their book. It is a refresher in why we teach the way we do, and great CI activities.

Tina and Ben teach/taught middle school and high school language learners. So their methods are naturally targeted at those audiences.

On the second day, I was with some of my Chattanooga CI group and some elementary teachers are the workshop for lunch. We discussed how we could use the same methods we had learned in our own elementary classroom.

***If you live near Chattanooga and would like to join our PLC then email me. We would LOVE to have you!

Here are some of the things we discussed we would want to adapt for our elementary students.

Ben & Tina’s Classroom Rules

In the book and in the workshop Ben and Tina used 6 rules. I plan on using these rules in my room this year. They communicate exactly what I want students to understand about my expectations.  But as a group we felt that they needed a little “elementary make-over” to word the rules in a way our little language learners could understand. Here is what we came up with:




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Again you can get more information about this rules and the meaning behind them in Tina and Ben’s new book A Natural Approach to Stories.

Here is the PDF of the images above.

Questions to build imaginary characters

If you have seen Tina Hargaden’s posts and videos on her YouTube channel. Then you are familiar with the invisibles.

The invisibles start with a number of questions that choose between two opposite characteristic traits. Here is the traits they highlight below.


Tina and Ben chose these traits because they build characters with depth and purpose which make for compelling stories.

As a group of elementary teachers including the WONDERFULLY talented retired elementary teacher Jennifer Raulston, we discussed that these character traits are PERFECT for the middle and high school student, but elementary students might need some adaptations.

Our thought in changing some of the traits where in response to the emotional and mental development of our students. So we took the purpose of the traits along with some of the other things we learned from Tina and Ben and came up with a slightly different list. You will notice that the descriptions ABOVE the line DO NOT change, but the character traits BELOW the line are different.


What color?



Biggest Fear?

Favorite thing (to eat, to do, or object)



Student Jobs

Student jobs are an AWESOME way to give students responsibility in the classroom, reduce teacher workload, and give students ownership to a character and/or story. Ben and Tina have a list of important jobs for students during a story with detailed descriptions on what the student does and how to set up your room to use these jobs to their full potential. (read their book for more info)

When a student is doing their job then they are required to do at least 2 things at the same time: process the comprehensible input of the story or character AND complete their job responsibilities.

When we discussed student jobs as elementary teachers we felt that student jobs were difficult to pull off in the elementary setting especially the younger the student. We fear that students don’t have the mental ability to multitask in this way.

So what do you do? …

THE ARTIST- One idea that Elijah Barrera suggested was while creating an invisible character the teacher is the artist instead of a student.

  • You could turn the easel away from the students and as you are drawing you repeat the descriptions (maybe even getting it wrong sometimes so students can “correct” you.)
  • You could put on a beret and/or take on a different personality as “THE ARTIST”

This saves the REVEAL as a compelling activity. Students are invested and still excited.

VIDEOGRAPHER- I wonder if you could turn this into a PHOTOGRAPHER. Then as you retell the story. You pause and call on the photographer to take a picture. (Doesn’t every kid know how to use a camera on a phone or iPad?) This would solve three problems:

  • ONE – They don’t have to decide how to film a story.
  • TWO- You are pausing a story to let them do their job so they can pay attention because their job essentially stops when you are telling the story.
  • THREE- You still have visuals to use when retelling and reviewing the story


Professor #2 (Annabelle Allen had some interesting insights to what she does in her room with this job. She doesn’t use a Profesor #2 or second teacher as she calls it. See her post HERE.


Story Driver


So what are your thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions?

Do you plan to adapt Tina and Ben’s ideas for your classroom? In what way and why?



  1. Hi! I had a chance to incorporate Tina and Ben’s ideas last year too and found that the invisibles worked well with 3rd-5th grade. I had 3 kids be the artists so I could be sure to get a good picture. That was too many though. This year, I plan to have several free draw activities to help me determine who the artists are. Also, I may try the invisibles with the younger ones but I will be the artist. Though I am a terrible artist. After I establish drawings, perhaps I can re-tell the story or description while they each draw their own to show understanding. Thanks for the ideas!

    • Hey Marilee!! I do invisibles with 2nd grade. I draw the big picture after googling “how to draw ____ ” but I also have them draw too and some want to use the same video/post to draw that I find. It is can be a bonding experience plus I can ask more detailed questions if I want. I also do invisibles with 6th grade. By then there are some real artists in class that take care of the drawing.

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