Quirky Scripts: An Easy Way to Teach “Hard” Language

Is there a Quirky Script inside there?

Is there a Quirky Script inside there?

Quirky Scripts is a lesson requiring almost no prep that can be used repeatedly all year, at every level. It’s also a way for students to acquire “advanced” language really early on with minimal effort. Skim the how-to or scroll down for a dozen reasons these Quirky Scripts are so useful.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Give students a super short story script (examples below) in the school language (as opposed to the target language) and have them fill in the blanks. This takes two minutes and can be done in class or at home. Collect the completed scripts.

Sample 1:

______ and ______ were afraid because they were stuck in ____________.

They decided to call ______ for help.

The phone rang ______ times and then exploded.

So they decided just to ________________________.

Sample 2:

______ bought a book about ______ because s/he wanted to impress ______.

The book cost ____ dollars, even though it __________________.

The book was…

…amazing and [person 2] gave [person 1] a big _________ /

…terrible and [person 2] punched [person 1] in the _________. (pick one)

Sample 3: (from David Maust)

______ and ______ went on a trip to ____________.

because they wanted to ________________________.

When they got there, they said, “________________________.”

They said this because ______________________________.

Then they began to ______________________________.

(You can find more scripts like this here.)

Step 2: Between sets of the long daily workout you consistently do–or just during a commercial break–skim the completed scripts and pick the one that would be easiest for your students to understand in the target language.

Step 3: Translate the easiest completed script into the target language.

Step 4: Create a simple slideshow that adds the sentences from the translated script one at a time. Add some sweet pictures if you feel like it. I often start by projecting a pertinent picture and talking about with students before revealing the first line.

Step 5: In class, reveal the sentences one at a time, pausing to establish meaning when necessary, Circle, have the class invent extra details, ask the 6 questions, or do whatever else you like to do with stories. Follow up on the same day or another day with post-reading activities, retells, or timed writes.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 3-5 whenever you want (ideally pretty often) using the next-easiest script you collected, and so on.

That’s it.

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Here’s why these Quirky Scripts are so amazing:

  • They’re short. It’s pretty much impossible for students to lose attention.
  • They’re short. Creating the target language version goes really fast.
  • They’re short. You can do a lot with the day’s script or you can just use it as a warmup or transition once students have gotten really used to a particular script outline.
  • Because students have seen the script outline in English, they pretty much know what it means when they see it in the TL. By the time they’ve seen the 10th version, they know really well.
  • Because students made up the details themselves, they’re interested in what happens.
  • Students look forward to their scripts being used. (You don’t have to reveal whose it is. I don’t, but students usually take credit.)
  • You can make Quirky Scripts as short or as long as you want. I recommend no fewer than two lines and no more than five.
  • You can make them as “easy” or as “hard” as you want. I find them a great way to incorporate language that textbooks consider “advanced” or that come up more often in writing than in speech. Quirky Scripts have helped students in Month 1 of Year 1 become comfortable with language that many traditional programs consider “3rd-year” or “4th-year” content.
  • You can translate the same script different ways for different groups. For instance, your target language may have variations on “when they got there” (Sample 3), just as English has “after they had arrived,” “upon arriving,” etc.
  • You can carefully plan when to use the completed Quirky Scripts in class, or you can simply keep the stack of completed scripts handy for when you’re especially busy or drained, or for when you have second thoughts about another plan.
  • If you teach with TPRS® and a group of students isn’t taking to Storyasking, or has “too much energy” during Storyasking, this use of scripts can channel the energy, boost buy-in, and function as training in Storyasking for both you and your students.
  • Once students have interacted with everyone’s version of a particular Quirky Script (this could take months–that’s fine), all the versions of that script can be combined into a booklet for students to read.
  • For some Quirky Scripts, such as Sample 3 above, different students’ versions can be combined and edited to create a longer, multi-location story script such as those that often feature in TPRS®. (I got this idea from David Maust, who wrote Sample 3 and sometimes uses it when he’s too busy or drained to plan a story from scratch.)

Have fun!

Note: This use of scripts–having students fill them out in advance and using different students’ versions of the same script as reading material throughout the year–seems so simple that someone else must have written about it already, but I’ve never come across it. My apologies to anyone who has already shared something like this! 

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  1. The phone exploded! I would love to see that acted out in slo-mo.

    Yes Justin, the mad-lib script format you are using is what Anne Matava started doing several years back for TPRS teachers. She has two books of scripts (TPRS Story Scripts Vol 1 and 2) and they are classics in the TPRS world. Information gap activities for us that encourage personalization and, as you aptly put it, quirkiness.

    Myself and others write scripts based off of Matava’s simplified format. More recent developments in script-writing includes less focus on fixed targets in order to illustrate and encourage adaptation/sheltering of vocabulary. This came about thanks to some great discussions initiated by Eric Herman and Ben Slavic recently on Targeting vs Sheltering.

    Here’s a sample of my latest formatting of scripts:

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Jim!

      I love your and Anne’s scripts and have benefited from them and ones like them for several years.

      My post (and my note at the bottom, which I’ve just edited for clarity) isn’t about a novel idea of mini-scripts, which has been around for a long time, but about a use of scripts that I haven’t seen described in Anne’s or your books: instead of the teacher Asking a Story, students fill out actual blanks in the script in advance, and the completed, translated scripts become reading material for the rest of the year. Many of the benefits are the same as with Storyasking; several benefits that are different are described in the bullet points in the last section of the post.

      Also, these Quirky Scripts often dispense with the multiple-location format because the idea is to have a super snappy story–almost an “anti-story”–with repetition coming not from the script itself, but from reading and discussing different student-completed versions of the same script throughout the year.

      I’m eager to see what other uses and adaptations of scripts people come up with!

  2. My apologies for the misunderstanding Justin. I was not aware you were familiar with Matava scripts. I can better visualize what you are talking about now. This mad-lib approach is really a great way to get students reading. I think Michele Whaley in AK used to do something very similar. But even so, I’m glad you’re writing about this because it raises the point of and encourages personalization. When kids are writing their own stories (albeit with an appropriate amount of structure provided) they are going to be much more compelled to read what they and their classmates are writing.

    Re multiple locations… this is something that I’ve not been disciplined in accomplishing myself, despite formatting scripts in the past with 3 “locations”. I rarely storyask more than one location with my scripts in a single class period. Often I’ll storyask for a class period, and the next we’ll read what we came up with, and then add another location on to the reading, either in the way you’re talking about with the Quirky Scripts (individual mad-lib style) or as a class again.

    I love the idea of making a booklet of these stories… a great easy way to build up the classroom library. I also appreciate your suggestion to adapt the language in the scripts to fit the level/needs of the class.

  3. This sounds like a fantastic idea. My stories tend to run over multiple classes and after the initial excitement of a new story, it tends to bog down. But with middle school students at least – they LOVE details in which they give (writing an ending of the story, two truths and a lie). The difficulty is keeping it comprehensible and getting some kind of repetition when you receive lots of ideas from students (whether it was from writing an alternate ending or similar activities). THIS however solves exactly those two problems by keeping it focused – much easier to keep it comprehensible and get repetitions in a very compelling way (by getting key content from students).

    Have you posted a Latin version of the samples anywhere?

    • Hi, Matthew, I’m glad this variation seems like it will work for you! Let us know if you try it.

      I have multiple Latin version’s of David Maust’s script that I can share with you.

  4. This is a really efficient way to “ask” a story when you have a class that can’t handle the circling routine, or if the teacher is not yet comfortable with this process. I had students fill out a questionnaire in English much like this. Then I posted on the screen in English and Latin a basic script with blanks. Then, once I had collected student responses, I began the story, pulling a student response “at random” for each blank space. Talk about compelling! Students were on the edge of their seats because a) it was unpredictable/surprising, and b) the details were coming from them. I had a student writing the script as I went, which I then typed up as our next reading.

    Regarding the issue of compelling, I am reminded of a TED talk by Jane Mcgonical, who described the appeal of video games to young people: she boiled it down to 2 things: surprise and pride. When we involve students in the creation of content in this way, we can also provide students with unpredictability (surprise) and a sense of pride in both creating a story, and in knowing that they are beginning to master a new language.

    • John, Thanks for sharing your “random” variation! I’d like to try that. Good point about the role of surprise and pride in sustaining buy-in.

  5. great. I will break out into group classes soon, so this is a nice confidence builder.

    I have an unrelated question: Which is the ancient language (pre-500AD) with the greatest volume of (ancient) narrative writing available today?


    • Dear Charles, I hope this activity works well in your classes.

      I don’t know the answer to your question, but I would love to! Besides Greek and Latin, for which there are more ancient texts than a person with a job could read in a lifetime (to say nothing of post-antique Greek and Latin texts, which vastly outnumber the ancient ones), I would guess that Chinese and Sanskrit have the most preserved ancient texts. I may be missing an obvious contender, though.

  6. Great idea! Was looking for a way to help students feel more successful about writing. I think this will do the trick since they will see that their ideas can easily translate to a foreign language given the right framework.

  7. Hi Justin!

    A reader just shared this post; Jim is right that I had a similar idea, but mine was just to hand out a couple of structures and ask kids to come up with stories. (https://mjtprs.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/weekly-schedule/#comment-3648)
    Your twist makes the process much more manageable and explains so many more ideas. Thanks for sharing the idea! Just as I’ve immediately decided to use your gestures and ER twists, I’m going to use these more complete scripts for Quirky Stories.


  8. Justin,
    This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing! I was wondering if I could possibly get the sample scripts that David Maust crafted, so I can see how to use them in my own classroom in the near future. I will let you know how they activity goes! Thanks again and have a great day.

    • Hi, Levi, Thanks for sharing and commenting! I don’t know if David has created or used any scripts other than the one in this post, which he shared via email several years ago. I can get in touch with him to see.

      Eager to hear how the activity goes!

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