Sentence race

I’m beginning to feel like a broken happy record. I love this mix of SL and TPRS. I think it’s what we need to get kids to the transition to continuing language education. Today my little class of advanced kids got down on hands and knees and put our current sentence into place. We had cut all the morphemes off, and they were saying aloud the words to be able to spell them. (I got the book, and found the bits I’d forgotten, so we couldn’t do writing just yet. That will be tomorrow.) Every kid had the right grammar as they said the words; every kid was saying the words correctly, and they were happy as little clams to be manipulating these words and their endings. Even the level 2 kid who is in there by a scheduling problem was helping put the jigsaw together. These are high schoolers, all down on a terribly grubby brown rug that is so old it is disintegrating.

Warning…SL doesn’t really have kids putting the sentences together anywhere I can see. I wanted to do “transformations,” during which you either rearrange the sentence and/or take out words to discuss the effect that those rearrangements have on the meaning. It’s pretty cool.  If a person had a sentence-strip holder and proper sentence strips to write on (or a SmartBoard), she wouldn’t be taping sentences to the board or having to lay them out on the floor. But I needed the sentences to be in shape for arranging, so the kids got to do it.

We started with FVR today, did the sentence thing, went to reading our difficult story (in which they were responding to subjunctive like nobody’s business), and then they discussed whether the journalist had been being polite to open a locked door in a stranger’s house and whether they’d do that in another house.

We followed by creating a quick skeleton story around some song vocabulary and then reading the four levels that I’d created for the other class (in which the little girl got lost in the woods and ate the wolf before finally taking the flowers to her grandmother)

So now I’ve got the embedded story that they created and the other class will be able to read theirs, and we can expand on all of this…

Another random thing that happened today was that after we finished FVR, we were talking about what was interesting to them. One boy was reading about Strauss-Kahn and his visit to the IMF in a newspaper, and the specific word for “visit” was new to him. Another girl had the same word that she picked up in “The Blue Carbuncle” (sp?) and she told us that it was curious they both had that word. Then the same word turned up in our reading! HF vocabulary. . . I guess maybe I should add it to the list.

Darn. My English word collector had 36 words by the end of class.


8 responses to “Sentence race

  1. Hiya, we use the floor in my room too. It works fine. I don’t have a sentence holder or even enough wall space. MJ, can you tell me what you mean by ’embedded story’ or point me to a definition somewhere. I take it you mean a story that you or the students have made using the target language??


  2. Oh Megan, I’m glad to hear it! How many kids do you have on the floor though? We had a little trouble with 13 crowded around, so I’m wondering what to do with my class of 29.

    (Laurie and I taught the basics of embedded stories over 1.5 hours, realizing that we really needed 3, or even 6, so a couple of minutes here is not going to do it. But you’re good at this reading stuff, and I’ll look for some other pieces to send you this weekend. Here’s a super short version.)

    Embedded stories are readings in three or more versions that start with the skeleton outline of the story and expand with details to support readers who might otherwise think the text is too challenging. (Laurie has a better description, but that is for later too!)

    Sometimes we expand the skeleton either with details we get out of the kids, or make them up ourselves. Other times we take a tough text and cut it down progressively, so that it is reduced to its essentials.

    Laurie has a lot on embedded readings in February 2010

    But the one that I love to share of hers, is here:

    I use this with a lot of different texts. We revisit the same reading this way over several days, making up the next version, getting ready to read it…

    For those on (you can join for free), there are sample embedded readings in the “Embedded Readings” section, way at the bottom of the “files” section, in Spanish, French, and Russian. I’m not sure whether German is there yet.


  3. Ah now I am understanding how SL and TPRS might benefit each other more. This is very useful for me to know about. Thank you MJ. Mainstream teachers like me have plenty to learn.

    I have only just re-joined mainstream teaching as I spent some years teaching English as an additional language here in oz. I wish I had come across all your resources a whole lot sooner. In my classes I have noticed some of the things that come up in your and other discussions but not known how to use them for greater effect: for instance the power of songs in language learning which provided a lot of learning opportunities. In my current class I still have many students learning English who would benefit from this embedded reading/writing approach. I would be thrilled to see them using target structures something like this and it gives a great way for discussing the new, but limited vocabulary that is introduced. Thanks a lot for your reply.

    PS I have had about 18 children (9-10 year olds) standing and sitting around sentences being cut up. I made the whole thing quite large which is a tip I picked up in a SL lecture.


  4. And this helps me…as I keep finding, I’m often a very “concrete” thinker. Now I can see that I could just use long pieces of butcher paper to write the sentences very large, and then the kids could cut them up for me. I do really love having the cut-up sentences in big zip-lock baggies, hanging from the side of the board where kids go to take them out and try to put them together. But making the writing big…well, that’s something I’m glad you shared. I might never have thought of it!!


  5. Do both.

    I have only done the transformations thing in class twice now and to assess understandings I have had ‘the sentence’ copied many times on one A4 photocopy. After a group cutting / modelling session I have asked the students to make their own cuts on the smaller version and write about the changes ie what don’t we know when this word is removed?, what is emphasised now? This really draws attention to the word on the page. I’m not worried if some students work on 3 sentences and others work on 8. This allows for students to work at their own pace. If those getting 3 done are doing them well I am happy.


  6. Just so that I can find this later…I answered a question on another blog…

    Embedded Reading is not a part of the Australian Scaffolding Literacy method, though I definitely use it with SL. SL is not a personalized method of CI, though the teacher does work to connect the vocabulary to the kids. The teacher assumes almost no background knowledge of new vocabulary in an a section of authentic text (as short as a paragraph), and makes that comprehensible to kids to begin with (often easiest to do through ER). The text piece itself is chosen for its quality and function/meaning in the piece as a whole. For example, when I was teaching (English students) how to write essays, we used SL to examine several introductions, as a way of seeing how the intro sets up the reader to continue.

    This “function” part is why it’s easier to use SL at the higher levels. You pick a piece that you admire, and explain to the kids something like, “This paragraph shows how Russians support an opinion.” Then you do something resembling circling, making sure that the kids are going to be able to answer correctly. You say, “The phrase X introduces the topic of the paragraph. Underline the phrase X in your copy. Now, class, which phrase introduces the topic of the paragraph?” Then, “The phrase T explains why the writer wants to give her opinion. Please highlight the phrase T that explains why the writer wants to give her opinion. Which phrase explains why the writer wants to give her opinion?” And so on. You can also ask, “What don’t we know if we take this phrase out?” You want them to hear and end up saying the phrases over and over. You work with just one little part of whatever you’re reading, and then go back to whatever you’d ordinarily be doing.

    The next lesson, you come back and focus on words. “The word Y helps you understand how strongly the author feels. Circle the word Y. Which word helps you understand…?” Or, “The word V makes the paragraph flow more smoothly. It shows us what happened next. Put a box around the word V. Which word tells us what happened next?” Then you can ask what difference changing or taking out words makes.

    This process can take several days, and it goes from broad to narrow in reading (you can even go to grammar and punctuation as they affect meaning). The cool thing is that you’re not dealing with grammar and punctuation rules. You’re looking at how those endings and commas make a difference to the reader.

    We have a visual (which, if you don’t use Cyrillic, you can do on a SmartBoard) of the piece that keeps getting cut up, first into phrases, later into words, and finally into parts of words and pieces of punctuation. We can remove or move things around, and in the end, all the pieces go into a ziplock baggie, and the kids come in early at lunch to have races to find out who can put “used” sentences together fastest. When they started doing that (and especially when kids started coming in to do pieces from classes they weren’t even in), I knew I had a winning method on my hands.

    The process now follows from narrow to broad in writing. The kids do a model of the piece (this is where I always have a hard time remembering that this is not a grammar lesson), and then they include their new paragraph in a longer fast write.

    I have been focusing on learning MovieTalk this year, so haven’t done as much with the writing end of SL, but next year, I intend to try to pull everything together for my upper levels. I went through an entire cycle of SL only four times last year, and only twice this year, and what I noticed was that the reading and writing skills shot up, because kids had a depth of understanding from the focus that I’d never known how to get to before in reading.

    SL essentially gave me the tools to have meaningful discussion about reading with my language classes.


  7. This was so helpful for me to read amiga!!!!!!!!

    with love,


    • I’m so glad! It helps me to look over old posts, strangely enough. At this point, I fear that everything I do is just a repeat…oh well…I need repetition!!


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