True stories

I’ve been experimenting more and more about finding ways to bring Wahre Geschichten or true stories into my class.  These are often “news of the weird” style stories where something strange but true happens, like the crocodile swallowing a cell phone or burglars getting trapped in an elevator and needing to call the police to free them out.  There’s a bunch of sites that generate this, my favorite being a German site called which gives not only gives me stories, but authentic texts to boot. (The archive for the past decade or so can be found at )

I once read a statement about learning preferences I agree with that states “Beginning learners seek out repetition and experienced learners seek out novelty.”  I’m sure it was much snappier in the original quote, but this is much the basis of introducing all the wierd varieties in stories.  Sometimes–especially for upper level classes, though–adding in all the weirdness day in day out feels a bit forced.  The truth is, however, that the world is much weirder than we give it credit for.  We often just can’t make this stuff up.

During the last week of school, my wife came across one of these true stories in the news that saved my bacon.  It was two days before school got out, it was a Monday and everybody came into class with a “you can’t seriously try and make me learn something today” attitude.  The story my wife pulled out of the newspaper involved Thessa, a German teenager from Hamburg that accidentally sent out a Facebook invitation to her sixteenth birth not JUST to her friends, but to all of German speaking Facebook.  15,000 people accepted the invitation and 1,500 people came.  (Link to the story is here )

So I play this cool by just rolling out the terms on the board send, invitation, and appear.  I lucked into some PQA gold on send by asking “What do you send a boy/girl that you like?”  We came up with all kinds of letters (and composed a couple), various cars, chocolates, and even Justin Bieber doing a singing telegram.  (How can I forget singing telegrams?)  None of the girls send things, though.  That’s the boys’ job.  In the first minute of this PQA people forgot why they were supposed to be grumpy at me for learning and just got into the discussion.  We also talked about different types of graduation invitations they received, what they look like, etc.  Often we even debated the merits of facebook vs. real invitations, because the students brought it up themselves.

The beauty of a real story, though, is that I can prove it’s true.  After PQA wound down, I then told them basically what happened to good old Thessa.  Some people just couldn’t believe it and thought I was making it up.  So then I just dropped down a couple YouTube videos recorded two days before about all of the crowds on Thessas front lawn.  I showed them another video about a song that somebody composed in Thessas honor that briefly went viral in Germany.

We then laughed a bit and discussed what people’s parents would do if this happened to them.  We discussed if they would have gone to the party, etc. etc.  The nice thing about building circling skills is that you simultaneously learn the art of developing a conversation so that you see the same story from a bunch of different angles.  Time flew and it was a great day.

I think next year I want to make “true stories” a more regular part of what I do, especially for my upper level classes that I’m trying to expand their vocabularies more on.  What I really love is that because these things actually happened, the activity has a way of organizing itself (you know where you are going with your PQA) and you aren’t given that “Oh come on now” look by some of your kids who are too cool for school.


8 responses to “True stories

  1. This is a truly great way to change thing up, for students AND for teachers. I would like to talk with you more about this Nathan. Are you going to St. Louis?


  2. I found a book on barnes and noble’s site called Stupid History. It would be another source of bizarre true stories. some of the stories are tragic but others read like a TPRS story: King Louis the XIV of France was short. So he added some height to his shoes so that he would not feel short. Pretty soon everyone was imitating him and once again he was short. So he added some more height to his shoe. And everyone followed suit. This continued until everyone was hobbling around in some very tall shoes. After a while, the men gave up. But the women persisted. Pretty soon, American women who wanted to be like the French started wearing French heels too, and that’s how we got high heels. I can see the potential for tprs spinoffs or lead ins… Someone else wants to be ugly but can’t. S/he puts 3 warts on his/her nose. Everyone else does too, etc.

    Also, did you know that French poodles were originally bred in Germany?


    • Wow. That has to be about the only way that high heels COULD come about. I love that as a story. Let’s see…some target structures there could be “wear”, “feels bad” and “imitate.” Some PQA along those lines could be “What do you wear when you feel bad?” “What do you eat when you feel bad?” “Whom does Mr. Black/Megan Fox/Justin Bieber/Chuck Norris/the school principal imitate when she’s/he’s alone?” (that might get a little personal for students, so we’ll put it on somebody else; I imitate Michael Jackson’s dance moves). “What does Mr. Black/Megan Fox, etc. wear to imitate that person?”

      You could have fun rolling through that PQA for a good chunk of the period, and the go ahead and then spin out a scenario–like the wants to be ugly but can’t, wants to imitate Michael Jackson but can’t’ and then move to the story. Maybe as some stealth vocabulary pre-teach you could throw out the word “High heels” when you say what Mr. Black wears to imitate Michael Jackson dancing, and then you’re set for the story. Oooh. This sounds like it would be fun.

      That said, although I can allow myself to be pictured in high heels dancing like Michael Jackson, I don’t know if I can cop to Germany originating the poodle. I’ve got some pride. 🙂

      Oooh. And the book is only $4.10 at Amazon. I just put it into my cart, and will pick it up whenever I next do an order there (I’m all about the free shipping). Thanks!


      • I’m going to move to Wisconsin and take German with you. Surely it would take only a few days. Or at least I would have fifty thousand four hundred three new ideas.


  3. Nathan, I love your story and PQA ideas! I forgot to mention that it’s a free nook book or kindle book, which I think anyone can read if they download the apps (even on a desktop).


  4. To connect these posts, did you notice that the girl in the story had a bit of a fatal flaw…


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