Matava Scripts are the Bridge to Comfortable Story-Asking

Matava scripts are story skeletons that make it very easy for teachers to learn to “story-ask”.

I was once a younger teacher nervous about being the center of attention in the classroom. While having a seemingly relaxed conversation, any teacher is simultaneously attending to dozens of subtle classroom management decisions that looks easy when an experienced educator is running the class. I learned to become comfortable with having true conversations with my students by relying on the scaffolding of Matava scripts.

Nowadays I worry that there are so many thoroughly-scripted materials being offered to CI teachers that new CI teachers are essentially learning to give comprehensible presentations to their students rather than honing the skills of story-asking and interpersonal communication. I also give presentations in class, but being able to guide a real conversation in which neither party truly knows the outcome of the dialogue is a valuable part of any communicative classroom.

The original Matava scripts were written by Anne Matava and feature situations that are genuinely compelling. I encourage you to purchase her book of scripts, in eBook form from Ben Slavic’s website or in paperback from Teacher’s Discovery. I do not earn anything from this; these scripts are well worth the purchase.

The Matava scripts come written in English and the teacher adapts it to their target language. In my case I copied the scripts onto large index cards and actually held the card in front of the students so that I did not forget what was coming next. You might want to translate the script before class so that you don’t find yourself unexpectedly confused in front of your students.

There are usually three scenes, 2-3 target structures that you want your students to acquire, and a few variables that your students fill in like a mad lib. The variables are bolded and underlined. If no student ‘plays the game’ with you, then you could always just tell the story written on the card. But it is a lot more engaging when students see their suggestions take life within the story, so I would strongly suggest that you ask leading questions to get students to respond in any language. You, the teacher, recast their responses into the target language.

Here is an example of a Matava-style script that I wrote to give my students plenty of exposure to three phrases: wanted to eatwent, and there was:

Any phrase that is bolded and underlined is replaced with student suggestions.

As I start our session, I might announce that we are going to create a fictitious story but we need a real person to be the star of our story. Any volunteers? I do find it more engaging to have a student sitting on a stool in the front of the classroom that I can gesture to, occasionally talk to and verify information as we make up our story. However, you need to have already established a class of trust. This is not a first day of school activity because often the characters are doing bizarre things in these stories.

When you do bring someone up to be the main character, make sure to verify the information before accepting it as part of the story line. For instance, in this story part of the humor derives from the idea that the character wants to eat something gross. That is what I would be listening for when soliciting student suggestions. Verify to make sure your student volunteer is comfortable with the suggestion you want to accept.

So let’s imagine I bring up a student named Susy. I already have the target structures written on the board, so I simply say “Susy… quería comer algo, something, ella quería comer algo pero… ¿qué quería comer?”

The class looks at me bewildered. “IMAGINACIÓN”, I say to them. “VAMOS A IMAGINAR… let’s imagine. Ustedes pueden decir algo en inglés. DOS PALABRAS en inglés . Yo hablo español. Ustedes hablan español y inglés. Dos palabras. How many words in English can you use?

Class responds, “two”.

I continue: “Susy… quería comer algo, something, ella quería comer algo ASQUEROSO  pero… ¿qué quería comer? ¿Ideas?”

At this point someone may suggest something too gross to contemplate, at which point I would say in English, “oh that might be too gross even in fiction. Susy, ¿querías comer XXX? You can say no.” Susy shakes her head and immediately we are looking for other ideas. I would then reinforce that this is FICTION, not the real Susy, so that hopefully when we come up with something disgusting she will agree. However keep in mind that some adolescents will think it is funny to suggest something phallic and even Susy might not be quick enough to recognize that she should reject the eggplant idea, so keep on your toes. Don’t let a few wily adolescents ruin the fun, though. This activity is very fun once your students are trained to play the game.

Eventually we get an idea like ‘snails’ and I’ll endorse it saying, “yes, sophisticated people like myself actually eat snails for dinner! Susy, ¿querías comer … ¿querías comer caracoles?”

Susy: Sí

Then I say to the class, “Bueno clase, Susy quería comer caracoles. Quería comer caracoles. Quería comer un frasco grande de caracoles… pero había , había un problema: no había ni un caracol en su casa. Susy quería comer un frasco grande de caracoles pero no había caracoles en casa.”

We continue building our story in that way, soliciting student ideas for anything that is underlined until we have developed an original story based on the script. Occasionally review the story in progress by asking whole class comprehension questions. After each paragraph you might even ask students to summarize what has happened thus far in pairs, in the target language. Don’t let that go on too long, just long enough for them to play a little with the language.

Sometimes students develop great ideas and their creativity unites the class in a culture of goodwill. Sometimes students remain passive and the teacher relies on the script more than they might like. But in any case, the students get tons of experience with the target structures and they are developing the creative skills that make activities like One Word Images so captivating.

Ultimately it is through activities like this, where students learn to interact and contribute in a safe, guided framework, that a student-centered classroom blossoms.