listening Reading Video Writing

¿Qué está debajo de la cama?

Updated June 24, 2016

Thinking about genre when planning class stories

A still from the short film El monstruo del armario by Pablo Conde.
A still from the short film El monstruo del armario by Pablo Conde.

Students adore a popular sub-genre of horror film called the comedy horror. Horrible, horrible films such as  Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead or the popular Scary Movie franchise (1 through 5, as of this writing). I am not suggesting bringing any of these films into the classroom, but glancing through a Wikipedia page dedicated to this sub-genre certainly fires my inspiration.

Genre is important. If TPRS used to be characterized by silly stories about talking animals, nowadays the various publishers of TPRS readers are offering an interesting selection including teen drama, historical fiction and fantasy. This is beginning to reflect our student´s actual reading preferences.

Genre is clearly important to students when they make their own personal reading choices. As I write my own stories I focus on structures but rarely consider genre. It is like I am writing the same story over and over again: blah blah, wacky detail, blah blah, wacky twist.

The unit that follows is a first attempt at Comedy Horror. The horror is barely evoked through a movie poster, but I am hoping it is enough to add a little something to make this reading interesting. Designed for early in the year, it is also a primer for new students on how to twist a class story… presenting the possibilities of a TPRS story (oh gosh, here come those wacky details again). It eventually becomes an acceptable story, I think, but not before reworking it through several class stories and an experience with movie talk using Pablo Conde´s short film El monstruo del armario.

The lesson

I see my students five days a week for 55 minutes each day. Depending on group this will take between 1-2 weeks.

part 1: introduce vocab, PQA  and create a class story

Each day I introduce 2-3 structures. Some words (vocabulary that is not essential to acquire but necessary to understand in the moment, such as monstruo) are just written up when I first use them. The first day includes the most enduring, essential structures of the unit:

está debajo de la silla – PQA ideas: my classroom is all chairs, no desks, so it is easy to put things under student chairs. I have a lion puppet that will find its way under a chair; all students put their notebooks under their chairs.

puede ser algo bueno/malo

le pregunta

oye un ruido

tiene miedo

Click here to download an awesome cartoon to discuss that appeared in a post on the blog Teaching Comprehensible Input by Erin Bas. I inserted it into a power point so that the reveal is done slowly.

part 2: reading on power point   

Click here to download the power point reading  about a boy named Terry who hears something under his bed. Last year I had difficulty soliciting more than one idea from students while creating a class story, or teaching them to “play the game”. My students did not really get the playful competitive part of playing the game until I appointed a student who would decide whether a certain detail would be included in the story. I am going to teach the phrase  puede ser  early on (as it appears in this story) to help train them in the process of story-asking.

part 3: present the movie poster  

Click on the image to see the full size movie poster
Click on the image to see the full size movie poster

Click on the picture to get the full size version, which you will see is modified from one of the Scream movies to include our character Terry and two repeated phrases from the previous story. A hallmark of Comedy Horror films is to actually scare the audience while, at the same time, mocking the genre. It is time to draw some boundaries. Obviously in my classroom I do not want to scare students, nor do I want to include violent images. This is the point in which I channel Blaine Ray, who famously quips in his workshops: This is MY story!

I decided to use Scream as my model because the poster is immediately recognizable, yet includes no explicit gore or sexual images… kind of rare for a horror film. I want to evoke, not recreate. I now invite students to imagine what will happen in the movie “Grito 6“. Once again, I maintain a very tight control over this conversation.

part 4: movie talk with the short film El monstruo del armario  

Before showing the film I present and circle a few more key words:

dentro del armario

se despierta

Click here to open a window with the short film . The version of the film that I found on youtube has English subtitles, but that should not be of much concern. There is very little dialogue in the first place. Secondly, I am constantly stopping, describing and circling to verify understanding (I actually have a student volunteer be the computer person each day so that I can stand in a central position in the classroom).

part 5: reading   

Click here to download the last reading , which includes questions for assessment and a storyboard for retells. I think I will assign the reading in class as pair work and ask students to complete the storyboard for homework (that way I can photocopy two stories per piece of paper, cutting my photocopying in half). The following class we will use the storyboards for retells, and if I think they can handle it I´ll use the questions as an assessment.

Updated June 24, 2016
part 6: listening

I recorded a very short story (90 seconds) using this vocabulary. Listen to it twice and then play the questions. Be sure to press pause after each question because there is not enough time for students to scribble down their answers. I have a student volunteer do that for me so that I can be standing among students while they complete the quiz.

story: Omar no tiene miedo de nada



  1. Hola Mike. Thanks for sharing your awesome lessons. RE: my classroom is all chairs, no desks. How and when do you teach students to write?

    1. A TPRS class is mostly listening, reading and responding in the early levels… even in the upper levels I place most emphasis on listening because that is what drives language acquisition. I do a lot of writing on the board so that they can see it, but even when I taught AP there were few classes when students wrote for more than ten minutes at a time. When the AP kids wrote their formal essays then we would go down to the library. Here is a letter I sent home to parents that explains the thinking:

  2. With the phrase “esta llorando” is this something that is previously acquired or do you do a pop up on this structure?

    1. I might have mentioned previously that está —ando means is —ing, but I would repeat that anyways with a 2 second pop-up because it needs to be repeated often.

      Keep in mind that I never actually say está —ando, I always say está llorando or está vomitando or whatever verb so that they are not learning a rule, they are instead focusing on meaning. It does not take long for them to generalize this rule, even though it was not stated as a rule.

      1. Thanks Mike. In my early years of experience I still feel the tugg of the unnatural way of teaching and think we need to explicitly teach each concept

  3. We are absolutely LOVING this film! Thank you for sharing! You´ve saved our story telling at a very difficult time of the year to keep the kids´ attention. Mil gracias

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