NOTE:  This is blog post #2 of an ongoing series of posts modeling and explaining how to focus on the present subjunctive with a story-based approach and compelling comprehensible input.

The example in from a Spanish 3 class, but the principles apply to any language and any level.

Introducing the Characters:

Focusing on the Student Actors

Clase, hay un muchacho de la clase de español que se llama Marcus.  

[Class, there is a boy in the Spanish class that is called Marcus.]

I chose this boy because he is bright but very easy going.  Most of us could imagine how he might wind up in a situation where he would not want to offend to girls that were fighting over him.

NOTE:  we are focusing on the structure, not on using a lot of new vocabulary.  The goal on the first story in a series of stories like this is for the students to get the new grammar, so this story does not contain many new vocabulary items.  Students will know virtually every word in it.  We will add more vocabulary to similar stories later, but for now, the focus is on hearing a new grammatical structure.  Students need to hear it used in the context of an engaging story without being bogged down with a lot of new vocabulary.

Pero, clase, ¡Marcus tiene un problema! 

[But, class, Marcus has a problem!]

This is the standard opening to a story.  No surprises here, but when I say something enthusiastically, the students are expected to react enthusiastically.  In this case, it being bad news, they need to respond with an “Oh no!” type of response.  If they do not, I will repeat it and give them another chance, or I will just out-and-out say “Clase, esto apesta” [Class, that stinks].  That usually gets them to react appropriately.

En realidad, Marcus tiene dos problemas. 

[In reality, Marcus has two problems.]

This adds a bit more interest.  Students are thinking: “Two problems?  Usually it is just one!  What is going on here?”

Sus problemas se llaman Haley y Kylee. 

[His problems are called Haley and Kylee.]

Everyone knows who I am talking about.  These were actual twins in the class.  They were both enthusiastic and personable and no one would consider them to be a problem.  I chose these two girls because they are actually twins.  It helps that they are also good-natured and smart.  This REALLY ups the interest because the problem in a class story is usually a situation, not a person, let alone two adorable ones like these two girls in our class. Some of the boys were probably thinking that they would have liked to have two problems like that.

Another big advantage of setting up a situation like this is the idea of a parallel story.  We will soon begin to tell the story two times.  We get twice the repetitions for the price of one story this way.  One girl wants one thing and another girl wants something different.  We get to compare and contrast and clarify details over and over while the two lovely young ladies and the lucky young man stand up front.  The student actors mainly serve as props and occasionally verify details as we go along.  They add energy and interest as we go through the story.

I don’t know why, but this type of story always seems to have more power when it is two girls fighting over a boy rather than the other way around.  Maybe it just goes against the stereotype in kids’ heads of the passive girl and the dominant boy so that the girls ham it up more.  I have tried different character combinations, but whatever the reason, it just seems to work better with this setup.

Sí, sus problemas son dos chicas. 

[Yes, his problems are two girls.]

Audible groan from the class here.  Some of the kids are starting to play the game with me at this point.  There are some side comments here (in Spanish, English is not permitted during a story unless totally on task to ask a clarifying question because we do not want to pop the Magic Spanish Bubble) from the boys like, “¡Sí, las chicas siempre son problemas!” [Yes, girls are always trouble!]

The “Magic Spanish Bubble” is the unseen envelope of Spanish that surrounds us in class.  It is delicate and takes several minutes to form.  It gets popped when someone blurts out in inappropriate English.  English ruins the magic.


Las dos chicas son gemelas que están en su clase. 

[The two girls are twins that are in his class.]

Everyone knows that they are twins, but I verify the detail for this story.


Clase, ¿Haley y Kylee son gemelas?  Sí, son gemelas y son similares, ¿pero son exactamente iguales, clase?

[Class, are Haley and Kylee twins?  Yes, they are twins and they are similar, but are they exactly the same, class?]

Hayley, ¿te gustan cosas diferentes que a Kylee?

[Haley, do you like different things than Kylee does?]

¿Te gusta hablar con diferentes personas? 

[Do you like to talk to different people?]

¿Te gusta hacer proyectos diferentes?

[Do you like to do different projects?]

Y Kylee, ¿a ti te gustan cosas diferentes que a Haley?

[And Kylee, do you like different things than Haley does?]

¿Te gusta leer cosas diferentes? 

[Do you like to read different things?]

¿Te gusta tomar diferentes clases?

[Do you like to take different classes?]

¿Ustedes las dos tienen diferentes amigos o los mismos amigos?

[Do you both have different friends or the same friends?]

Adolescents are trying to establish their own identity and I added this short line of questioning because most identical twin adolescents that I have met want people to know that they are different from one another.

Clase, ellas son gemelas, pero no son exactamente iguales.  Son  diferentes.  Generalmente, a ellas les gustan cosas diferentes, pero a las dos les cae bien alguien.

[Class, they are twins, but they are not exactly the same.  They are different.  Generally, they like different things, but they do both like someone.]

¿Quién es la persona a quién las dos les cae bien, clase?

[Who is the person whom they both like, class?]

¡Sí!  A ellas les cae bien Marcus.  ¿Por qué a ellas les cae bien Marcus?

[Yes!  They both like Marcus!  Why do they both like Marcus?]

We go on a bit here exploring why these two girls would both like Marcus so much—pumps up his ego and that of everyone else in the class because they know their time will come soon enough—they know that we do not say negative things about people in our class.  Eventually though, we get back to the story.

We take a short break here and have the students pair up to see if they can remember the introduction to story up to this point. 

A break like this serves several purposes for the student:          

• It gives all of the students time to process the story.

• It breaks up the class so that it is does not always look and feel the same.

• It gets the students up and out of their desks for a short physical break.

• It allows the stronger students to show how much they know.

• It lets weaker students get more input.

A break also helps the teacher:

• It serves as a check for understanding of the entire group.

• It gives the teacher a break from speaking and running the entire show.

• It gives the teacher time to think.

Resist the urge to keep on telling your wonderful story.  Give them a break.  Our students’ brains crave novelty.  We need to give them something to do besides simply listening to us talk all period.  They need a brain breaks and body breaks.  They need to be able to get up and move around.  They need time to process.  They need something to do.