Student Output (sometimes) Makes Decent Input: recycling kids’ stories = win!

Terry Waltz has called peer-to-peer communication “the McDonalds of language teaching” (Krashen agrees) and so do I. The inevitably junky output of the kids is a terrible source of input. BUT…we can sometimes use this output.

A couple of weeks ago I was handing 40-min post-story relaxed writes back and there was Abbas’ story, which concerned a certain male Spanish teacher’s (failed) quest to get a girlfriend, and a certain Spanish student’s similar, successful quest.

The story was funny but Abbas is not much of a student. I have to work my butt off to get him to focus. (Now that I have him in 10th grade English, I can also see that he has majorly low reading skills, and he can barely write in English). He also misses about a day a week of class because of enabling parents. He’s also in my homeroom, and when I handed out report cards, I saw that he does poorly in all his classes. But he had written a funny story.

More or less on a whim, I told the class that Abbas had written a funny story. “Read it,” they said, and I did. I read it aloud, making exaggerated voices, fixing the grammar (without saying anything), going s.l.o.w.l.y., pausing and circling the occasional sentence, etc.

The kids liked the story– especially where Señor fails to get Angelina Jolie to be his girlfriend– and Abbas was grinning ear to ear. This kid, for whom school is tough, just basically hit the jackpot. I bet he doesn’t get celebrated for his work much in other classes. Afterward a few kids said “great story” to him.

So this is now a regular part of class. I will read two stories aloud after every writing assigment. The kids love it, the writer feels proud, the kids get good interesting comprehensible input, and I have ten minutes of lesson that requires zero planning. Homerun!


  1. This makes a lot of sense. When I was in college, we had a professor who would take snippets of student papers and have us discuss them in an encouraging environment. We were then more engaged with the class and more motivated with our own work because we felt like it had more meaning.

  2. So Abbas did the output, you intercepted it and provided student-centered properly-structured input and everybody wins. I did that a few times last year, on a whim one day. However, I did not make it a regular habit as you have. Thanks, Chris.

    “McDonald’s of language teaching.” That is worth pondering.

      1. You may already know that this is how Embedded Reading came about. The whole class had written a retell of a class story, and Laurie Clarq posted the best one, an average one and a very short and simple one, having edited all three for grammar. I often use students’ texts with other students. They get the essentials and are not tempted to use complex structures.

      2. Yeah it was the happiest of accidents. All of my stories are now embedded– I’m rewriting Adriana’s books into fully unsheltered grammar and embedded readings

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