New techniques

I’m trying out two new ideas; first, the Scaffolding Literacy idea that you tell the kids what you’re going to read to them, then you read it to them, and then you read it together. It is amazing. It ends up taking less time to read because everyone understands.

The other is an attempt to use part of what I got from The Talent Code. Today we were talking about the events in Pakistan with my level 1 kids. I took a method Coyle reported on from the Spartak youth tennis club: the kids there were practicing their strokes without actually having tennis racquets in their hands. So I asked kids to make the phrases that I said repeat in their heads every time I said something. (This means going really slowly.) Then, once we got down the story about the invasion (just one very long sentence), I asked them to say chunks of it in their heads. After that, we circled some more, and then I asked them to tell the part I was saying with me, but only to move their lips; the sound had to be in their heads only. Finally, I told them they could tell their partners. They were amazingly fluid and had picked up three completely new words. I ran into one kid later, and she burst out the whole sentence at me. It went like this: Our president, Barack Obama, told us on Sunday, May first, that Osama bin Laden died in the town of A, in Pakistan, when American troops attacked him.

I told the kids it was just an experiment, and that I’m not interested in output. But I really want to have some kid try this for a two-week period at some point in the beginning of the year and see whether it could speed up learning. After all, if they hear it from me, then use their memory to re-hear it again correctly in their heads, it’s double the input. The kid I stopped in the hall said that’s how she memorizes her pieces for music: by humming them all the time.


10 responses to “New techniques

  1. I’m going to try out the scaffolding as well–I’m reading novels right now with levels I, II and III/IV– and I’ll post here how it went. However, we won’t likely get to it until next week as this week we are doing a field trip on Thursday to Minnesota for the Festival of Nations (our big splurge every other year). I’ll keep you posted on both levels.


  2. Michele,
    Can you clarify “you tell the kids what you’re going to read to them, then you read it to them, and then you read it together”?

    Do you tell them in English what the story is about, then read it in Russian (or whatever we are teaching) to them, then they read with you in the language?
    I’m sorry if I am slow to catch this but am struggling with one of Blaine’s books and looking for inspiration or something (anything to help me make it more comprehensible and interesting to them!)
    Thanks for all your inspiration and generosity. I am feeling a little burnt out at the moment but still trying to see the bright side of things! I appreciate you and all of the lovely folks who make this site an important part of every day!


    • It’s kind of weird. You tell it to them in the target language, heavily scaffolding everything. New words go up on the board, you act it out, use your voice and pictures–rather as you would for kindergarten day. Misty used a children’s book and pointed at the pictures to tell the story. She didn’t read it. She said that if you read the story, you’re taking your eyes off the kids and can’t read their response. I’ve been trying to memorize as much as I can of a given page, pushing kids around to have them act it out, re-running bits that are interesting or difficult, and really leaning into telling the story in advance. Before this, we’d always read it and act it at the same time, or read it first and act it the second time through, by which time the kids don’t care as much. At least as a change, it’s nice to use pictures or do acting the first time through, when they’re learning the story. Then you can read it to them, and the actors can act, or they can draw their idea of the progression of the story, and finally you can read it with them. The second reading goes well, and the third reading goes faster, but now you can discuss it with them. It doesn’t seem to bother them that they know what the ending of the section is.


  3. Thanks for sharing your adaptation of the Talent Code. What was the difference between phrases and chunks? Were they doing something different with them?

    Your reading process sounds interesting too. So, did you find that kids were more interested in the reading this way? or at least as interested?

    It’s almost the opposite of typical read and discuss, if I understand it right. Instead of reading first, you read last. Your first run through is like pqa/kindergarten day. 2nd run through is the teacher reading and the students listening and maybe drawing pictures. 3rd run through, they actually read what’s on the page. It makes sense… scaffolding literacy. By the time they get to the reading part, it’s easy.

    I’d love to see a demo of both of these techniques 🙂


    • No difference really between phrases and chunks, except that some longer phrases got broken into shorter chunks.

      You got the reading idea exactly. Now what I’m thinking about is taking a quality sentence, doing the “wordless” thing with it, and then continuing with the sentence-style breakdown from scaffolding literacy. I tried the sentence technique today with a sentence from our reading: “Brandon was mad at his sister, because she hadn’t come to live with him, and he was mad at his father, because he wouldn’t let him drive his car.” It took about ten minutes to explain the wordless system to the kids and to practice that sentence. Now if I break it down by meaning chunks tomorrow, and then by morphemes later, I think it will be burned into their heads.

      I had them try to first hear my voice repeating the pieces, and then basically shout it in their heads. I was pointing to our actors at the right moment and scowling at “mad;” I gestured to the “because” sign. Visuals are really important. I told them that the effort of making it loud in their heads would probably add to the learning. I forgot to tell them to go slowly. But the fluency with which they said that line after five minutes again amazed me. I want to try it with a complete story that the class writes sometime soon.

      Back to that question about level of interest in the reading: I had two of my most disengaged students acting through the “telling” section of the reading process. They both paid better attention then, as compared to when we are doing a story, and they both were translating when we later read. Honestly, I was amazed. One said that he wished I’d done this earlier, because he could understand the reading now. Night and day for both of us–I didn’t realize that I’d been leaving him behind.


      • This makes me want to experiment…

        Basic reading then act out next level up…
        Read next level in embedded reading then act out added details…
        then the next level and so on….
        Hmmm….looks like I have a lesson plan for the next few days….

        with love,


  4. Laurie,

    Are you thinking that the kids and you will come up with the added details for the next section as they act, or that you will already have put in the added details and they’re prepping for reading that section?

    Either way would be interesting.


    • My thought was to add some storytelling/acting in between the levels of embedded reading. :o) How simple!! Why didn’t I think of it before?!!! I started today by PREPPING for the reading first…I blogged and I’ll continue blogging how this story works out (it’s an Aztec legend). So far so good!!
      with love,


      • I LOVED your blog entry. Nuts and bolts of teaching are so helpful. All the philosophizing in the world can’t pave my road.


  5. These videos by the slow motion guys illustrate the power of “deep practice”/SLOW.


    I got the main story in the regular speed version. In the slow motion version, I caught all sorts of detail that was hidden when the pictures flew by. I think language is like that too… students catch the barest shell of meaning the first time and they they they have it until they catch it in slow motion. come to think of it, when I was learning to understand oral Spanish, it was as if the language would suddenly go in slowmo for a few seconds at a time so I could get it, and then speed back up into a steady downpour of sound.

    I think you could have a pretty good conversation in a foreign language about these 2 with the sound turned down using verbs like slow, balloon, egg, sits, smiles, looks, throws, breaks, jumps. contrast: what the man wants, what the cat wants. with the egg video, decorates would also be fun. (for Spanish teachers, breaks, decorates, and balloon are all in realidades 5A).

    I think they have real potential as little stories… there’s tension, emotion, and strangely enough there’s even suspense in the slowmo version, even though you already know what’s going to happen.

    (If anyone knows any other fun videos that work well with the sound turned down for CI, I’d love to hear about them.)


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