Back stories

In my advanced class, we had a few details to take care of. For one thing, I had to ask the kids whether they would mind it if a Russian tv journalist came in to video the class. That took a long time for some reason. A couple kids weren’t paying close attention, and they thought I was just making it up. When they figured out that there was something really happening here, I had to go back to the beginning and retell it.

Finally we got to one back story. I had the kids add something that they remember from five years ago (in their new persona), mostly because “remember” was a structure from last week and they didn’t know it on the weekly quiz. So when I saw that one kid had put that he remembers proposing to his girlfriend in a hot air balloon and that she turned him down, I had to follow that lead. It took the rest of the period to establish that this is the same girl that he was suspected of murdering, provoking his departure for Russia, where he is now working. Strangely enough, these are the kids who have been “raised” on Storytelling, and now, even though we are supposedly not doing stories, they still are.

It’s kind of like Ben Slavic’s Realm, where he would come up with an imaginary kingdom and people it with wood carvers and magicians and other people out of a sort of mythical past. But these kids are creating their own world inside the virtual reality. It’s easier for me because I can always step out and introduce some real information about Moscow, for instance, than it would have been to deal with the vocabulary for a mythical world. Instead, we have a real world in which stories go on as always, but they’re even more kid-directed than they used to be.

The only problem is that the kid with the dead ex-girlfriend is the same guy who was “on” for a whole day last week. At this rate, we’re going to take the entire year just to figure out the lives of these characters. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing…but I suspect we need to get on to the business of actually moving. Maybe I will impose a time limit on how much we talk about each person.

All I can say is, “Thank you, Robert Harrell!”

(Oh…and I had the intermediate group continuing their embedded reading. I took the very lowest group, and all the other groups worked with a leader at their own paces. I always love ER for the way that the kids relax into it; once they realize it isn’t all new stuff that we’re doing, they start enjoy reading. Thank you, Laurie Clarcq.)

6 responses to “Back stories

  1. We just finished the first full week of school, and I am getting our virtual move to Berlin started. Instead of the doing the dice (as I do with Vienna), I let students choose their professions and backgrounds – and we will work on connecting everything. Today we learned that one student is a Hausfrau (housewife) in Berlin because she fled there after robbing a bank with her first husband – who is now in jail – and married a rich second husband. Of course she is in therapy with our resident therapist (who actually specializes in trees) and making her very rich. Then we have the exotic dancer turned priest who wound up in Berlin because the Russian Mafia kidnapped him and tossed him out of a car at the Brandenburg Gate, even though Berlin has been reunited for over 20 years. As they left class, a couple of girls were plotting intersections and twists and turns of relationships.

    Along the way we will get to know Berlin as we follow the ongoing soap opera of my students’ future lives. It helps that the class is small enough for us to sit in a circle and just talk to one another. As part of starting up the virtual move project, we had a discussion of what would be important to students at the age of about 25: Career? Nice things? Helping others? University degree? Money? Expensive Clothes? Meaning in LIfe? Marriage and Children? That got them thinking about possibilities for character creation. They didn’t understand the idea of creating a back story at first, but after discussion in class today, they agreed to re-think things as homework for the weekend. I didn’t have to assign any careers, though.


    • Darn! I wish I’d had that conversation in my class before starting this thing up. It’s a really nice way to get grounded. Maybe we could have it now though. Is that going into your book?

      I have 20 kids in the class that is doing this, so it’s just this side of being unwieldy. I’m not sure whether I could manage it with 30 or 35, but it sure would spin things out for a long time, as we got to know one another.


  2. Hello Michelle,
    I can’t quite fully understand how to begin with moving to a virtual city.
    From what I have read on your blog, from you and Robert, it seems to me that there are two basic
    ways: a. to begin with back stories in order to establish new identities, after having chosen who they are, and already are living at the city or b. to use the rolling of the dice to determine who is what, how much stipend, classes, etc. they will have.
    In the first case students can be many different people with backgrounds and income, do they already live in the city?, in the second they are all moving there for a specific purpose: mainly study and live in a different city.
    It seems that both scenarios could be just as good, but I am not sure if I understand this well.
    If Robert had his book I would get it right away. I am part of the group of very slow processors.
    Thank you


    • I think you have it down perfectly, Laura. And, like so many different things, I am not sure it matters which way one chooses. I might do it this way one time and the other way the next time, just to keep the kids guessing.

      I feel the same way about Robert’s book! There, Robert, you have two buyers already, and probably many more, to be honest!


  3. Thank you, thank you for your time and response.
    I am preparing myself to begin this journey and am full of doubts. You are very encouraging.


    • Starting the virtual move is very much like jumping into TPRS. You just have to have faith and a certain amount of flexibility! Like I told my intermediates today, even if all we do is speak Russian about what’s happening at school this week the whole hour, they are getting CI (if they are tuning in and being sure to understand). Even if you go slowly into this process, it’s going to be interesting and you’re going to learn a lot about the kids, and they can’t help but learn. Neither can you!


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