Everyone has a story. I've always believed that but it was never more evident to me than a few weeks ago when I subbed for a fourth-grade class where the teacher had left no lesson plans. And to make matters worse, it was on of those planning days when the entire grade level was sequestered somewhere and every class was staffed by a sub. I had nowhere to turn, except to my own resources.
I checked the class roster and saw that almost all the kids were ESOL students. Now what? I thought. I figured they could always use practice speaking English, so what could get them to talk about?
I got it! I happened to know that their science teacher has a snake named Copernicus. We could talk about him.
"Does everyone know Copernicus?" I asked. "What can you tell me about him?"
The stories started out short and sweet.
"He is black and white."
"He is pretty."
I recorded their adjectives on the board for kids who didn't speak as well.
I then expanded the assignment to include any snake. The kids shared stories about friends with snakes, snakes in their backyard and snakes in movies. They were all starting to loosen up and feel more comfortable talking in English.
Then a young man with a big grin started waving his hand in the air. This looks good, I thought.
"When I live in Mexico, I ride in car with my cousin. We go fast on road and see a snake, all big and long, all across road. My cousin, he can't stop and we ride over snake. We look back and snake, he is all squished in road."
With that, everyone squealed in unison the universally understood "Eeeew!"
The young man from Mexico flashed a universally understood grin.
After a short pause, a young lady raised her hand. She put her hand to her mouth as if a little hesitant and then told her story.
"My country is Guatemala and there we have snakes as long as this room," she said, motioning with her hands. "They climb up trees and hang down and like to scare people."
I'm not sure the Guatemalan Tourist Bureau would appreciate that, but the other kids' wide-eyed stares let her know she told her story very well.
Then a young man very shyly raised his hand.
"I am from Guatemala, too. One time I see a snake, very long. He go up, up, like this," he said, moving his hands in an upward undulating manner.
"He keep going up and up and then he walk around like this," he went on, pointing his finger downward in a hopping motion.
Eyebrows furled, noses scrunched, hands went up in a "What the ?" gesture.
As the young man's lips broke out in a smirk and I saw a twinkle in his eyes, I thought, hey, this kid can tell a story no matter what language he's telling it in.
Susan Larson is a writer who lives in Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.