Exchange student/embedded stories

We’re still working on the holiday hero unit in the advanced class. I could not find the easy reading I thought I had about Baba Yaga. I asked an exchange student to simplify with repetitive language any interesting text that she could find about Baba Yaga. She turned a four-page story into a four-paragraph one. It was still complex, so I duplicated her text and took out a bunch of the extraneous details as a step-two text. Then I duplicated that and took out all but the most essential parts for the first reading.

In class, I asked a story that paralleled the first text: a one-legged salmon had a cousin and an uncle. The uncle died when a bear ran over him in the forest. Then the salmon had to swim to San Francisco, where people loved him. Meanwhile, his new uncle didn’t like his cousin and sent him off to the witch Baba Yaga, who wanted to eat the cousin. He escaped and ran home to tell his father (who had returned) the truth about the new uncle.

The first-step story was basically the same, except that of course it was when a man’s wife died that his new wife took the first opportunity to send her step-daughter off to the witch’s hut. The girl escaped, and she ran home to tell her father, who sent the new wife packing.

We did the readings after having told the salmon story. I could have easily spread them out over about four days, but instead we read all three levels immediately.

What always amazes me with embedded stories is that the kids are hooked by the story that relates to theirs (Darn! I just realized I forgot to ask parallel questions) and then as they read the following levels, they enjoy getting “more” of the story. In this case, there was extra cultural information in the story–the witch heated up the sauna in order to wash her meal before eating it–as well as fairy-tale details about a forest springing up from a comb and a river from a towel that protect the girl from the witch.

We ran out of time. First, we’re going to do group re-tells of either the salmon story or the Russian tale, after they answer some questions about them and put the sentences in order (we have our second day of the semester in the computer lab tomorrow, and I have been frantically trying to figure out how to make it CI). Then I’m going to type up our salmon story and let kids enlarge on it. Then students get to write their own simple stories that must include cultural information about the hero that they were studying.

6 responses to “Exchange student/embedded stories

  1. Thanks for the details here! I haven’t yet done a pre-parallel story yet, and this is a great method for trying that. My upper level stories are balking at a novel we’re reading (but enjoying the film version that I’m showing in parallel with it), so I think I’ll introduce some parallel stories to the reading to add another layer.


    • Small ironies…when we went to the lab to do the questions I spent an hour uploading to the computer, the kids re-read the stories and the newly-typed Salmon story and answered the questions in only fifteen minutes. I have to re-think my methods.


  2. Why is it that prepared activities in the computer lab always seem to go so fast?

    As a result, I’ve made it into a rule of thumb for myself that every time I have my upper level students in the lab, they need to turn in a writing for me. Sometimes this is generating stories out of key words, sometimes it is completing a story left hanging, or whatever else I can think of. My students like this because a) they can be in a different setting and b) I let them use an online dictionary to augment their word selection.

    The thing I like about this is that then I have a bunch of student writings already typed up that I can then use in class (after I clean up the grammar a bit). Sometimes we just read the stories and guess who wrote what. Sometimes I’ll use this a means to get another day out of our target structures (when extending a story, etc.). Sometimes I’ll give them the new structures for the first time before the computer lab, and then this will be the base of student generated stories. Sometimes when I want a grammar focus, I’ll hand out individual copies of what they originally typed up and my cleaned up version on print-outs and have each student notice patterns of where their mistakes were.

    This usually takes about 15 minutes on average, more for some students, less for others, and is a win-win. I have my kids always start with the writing so they get it out of the way for the usually more fun stuff I do later in the period. They understand the logic of “eating your vegetables” first, and this always gives me a resource for a day or two following our visit.


  3. This is a great idea Nathan! I think that the only thing I’d add to it might be to ask them, once they’re finished (focus on finished), to find or generate a picture to go with it. I did have some vocabulary lists on Quizlet for review, and they really got into trying to beat one another’s time on those.

    I’m probably going to go back to the Blaine books for some sample pictures for prompts for my finals, though I think I should probably remember one of the topics here and from yesterday’s coaching session–using familiar pictures, from familiar stories–as prompts for writing and speaking on the final so that kids can show what they know, rather than have to be creative AND come up with language.


    • I like the picture expansion idea. This also reminds me that I really haven’t asked for any pictures up to this point this year, and my upper level group has really excelled at that in the past.

      To a degree, the pictures could be part of the reason for the computer lab trip, and generate enough resources to justify the time spent there. Pictures could be nice discussion starters on vocab items, of course, but I think I could even do that in conjunction with the reading we are doing. Something along the lines of “Find something that would help Emil track down Mr. Grundeis” or “Provide two pictures that show how you could solve this problem.” We could spend a good day or two just riffing through the responses.


  4. We did another extended story today in the advanced group (about Father Frost this time). This time I could do it faster, because I had done a better job prepping my native speaker about using repetition. It’s amazing how much less traumatic it is for the lower-level kids to read an advanced piece when they understand the underlying structure of the story. I suspect doing it this way may help teach them to scan for the important stuff and not to worry so much about the details. We had another home-run parallel pre-story about a pen, a pencil and a marker who were involved in a love triangle. The marker died of a broken leg, and the handsome green Italian pencil got the pen.


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