Cinematic embedded readings

I really like embedded stories.  Really do.  And this past week I discovered a new wrinkle on them that is really paying dividends: I am extending the stories not so much by moving to new locations, but by introducing parallel actions with different characters, like they do in the movies (focus on one character, cut to another parallel character, and then resolve the multiple storylines at the end).

I came to realize this because I am marching through my questionnaires with my German I class and getting to about 2-3 people per day.  Even though we are just going off of questionnaires as opposed to story scripts, I am still writing up readings for the day following a “Questionnaire-asking” session. This takes some time (as each class needs a separate story), but it’s been worth it for the buy-in.

Well last week I was on a reading day and just simply did not have time to write up a story.  Best intentions in the world, but it didn’t happen.  But as I was getting ready for school I remembered embedded readings and realized that I was going to be okay.  I started out the class by doing a Diktat–four sentences total with two sentences covering what what one person didn’t like and another two sentences covering another person’s dislikes.  After we processed those, I went ahead and said “Give me some more details.”  I had the core story up on the LCD screen in black from the Diktat and then changed the font color and added another sentence or two of additional details to each of my original sentences.

Then we did a third pass (in yet another color) and started extending the story: One person didn’t like a car driving behind him and had a bear sitting on his handlebars, but suddenly another student driving the car was on the phone with Justin Bieber.  That got instant energy, but I made them delay that by moving onto the next person who hated people biting their fingernails, especially when the fingernails became the toppings used on chocolate ice cream at Dairy Queen.

Then we bounced back to the bike/car story for a fourth pass (in still another color) and added more details, which included having the person on the bike drive to dairy queen and order some chocolate ice cream etc. etc.

In other words, we did an embedded reading that expanded a core story, but instead of taking one character to different adventures in different places, we developed two characters at the same time who only interacted at a later stage in the story.  While we were writing it up it felt like we were in a movie, swinging from back from one set of characters (Merry and Pippen fighting the orcs) to another (Frodo and Sam going up mount doom).  I only realized after the fact that movies sustain interest all the time by doing exactly this.  It was easy getting extra repetitions in that came from re-reading each developing mini-story over and over again because they had a cinematic quality to them (albeit with the same target structures).

My takewaway from this is that I now not only have a quick way to write a story if needed but that I can get more mileage out of the small “vignette” style stories that tend to crop up so frequently by simply cinematizing them.

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4 responses to “Cinematic embedded readings

  1. Nathan, I love your ideas…and I’m only commenting on one tiny aspect of this: that parallel stories amp up the reps and the interest. For some reason, I’m only now comprehending this. It’s what Blaine does so well–those parallel stories that get seemingly off track, but really just give you rep after rep. It also doubles the number of kids who are in the scene, wrapped around the story line. It also gives you the chance to improve the odds of more complex sentences as you compare those kids and situations.

    I have only discussed four kids in each of two classes. I don’t know whether to just call a screeching halt to everything else and focus on the kids, or let the flow of class continue to take us and come back when we need something to do. Any notions?

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  2. My first question would be how well are you doing at relating to your students? The questionnaires exist to let the students know the curriculum is about them while making the rules and procedures second nature. If you’re getting that right now, you don’t necessarily want to break up a good thing. At the same time, if you need to amp up the “group building” experience, I’d go for the questionnaires without a doubt. As noted, I tend to focus on 2-3 students a day, but each one of those generally needs some supporting actors to play out a situation with so in reality we are getting around 10 people a week featured in some particular role or another.

    The truth is, because I started doing the reading days in conjunction with the questionnaires, I don’t think my students are missing out on anything by not doing stories that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. They get reading, they get supercharged personalization, and I’m still getting a wide range of structures in (today’s structures for dream jobs was “works”, “earns”, “dream” and we were able to get a bunch of things in there (including a great application of numbers; all professions were paid in Trident layers or grapefruit [because I love the sound of the German word “Pampelmuse”] instead of dollars, so we negotiated salaries for each job).

    I also like the fact that I get to save my best story scripts for later so I don’t have to stretch them as far over the remainder of the school year. That’s the lazy part of me talking, but there you are.

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  3. Perfect explanation, Nathan. There’s really only one group that needs that kind of attention, and I’m going to go to those pages!! The reason we’re not getting stories going is that I don’t know those kids well enough to use their interests. I read the back of Anne Matava’s book the other day, and she explained how she makes up stories with a little bit of true and a little bit of magic each time. I’m going to try a mix of that with the way you’ve explained it.

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  4. Hi Nathan,
    The cinematic approach creates suspense, and opportunity for creativity. Fun! Thanks for sharing. I like the dictation/embedded reading combination too.

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