Porcelain Unicorn

I am getting observed tomorrow, and elsewhere a post has gone up about starting a good story the day before your observation so that kids are ready for it.

I started the story based on the video that Nathan recommended.

I started this story in every class: There is a boy. The boy is in Germany. He hears a sound in the house. He opens the window and enters the house. He sees bread and tea. He hears a sound in the closet. He opens the closet. He sees a girl. The girl has a unicorn. She gives the boy the unicorn. The boy likes the unicorn. A soldier breaks the door and enters the house. He sees the tea and the bread. He hears a sound in the closet. He opens the closet. He sees the boy. He takes the unicorn. He breaks the unicorn. The boy cries.

Oops. Now that I’m done typing it, I realize I did it in past tense in every class. We didn’t get too far in Russian 1 or the intermediate class, but we finished it in the advanced class (with a few additions like the fact that this was in 1943, at the time of WWII.) In the intermediate class, we added the idea that he was a German “Pioneer.” I wasn’t ready with pictures of the Hitler Youth. We’ll get to that tomorrow, when I am being observed.

It doesn’t matter that the video is in German; the story is the thing. It also doesn’t matter that I have three levels, because it’s easy to ratchet it up or down, depending on the kids in the class.

Probably I’ll show the first minute (from the part with the window opening) to my Russian 1 students so that they get the picture in their head. We acted it out, but they didn’t really get that it’s a story.

The other thing I did today was follow someone else’s idea for a timer counting how long we are able to stay in Russian. In the intermediate class, we got to ten minutes once, and five minutes several other times, but I’ve really forgotten that rule myself lately, and I haven’t been making the kids stick to it enough. It’s critical to stay in the language.

By the way, the kids really liked the video. Thank you very much, Nathan!


13 responses to “Porcelain Unicorn

  1. Here you plan things in advance and I am ditching mine at the last moment. Got to do a story about Russia’s new president (and I almost forgot about the whole election thing going on past weekend:)! Thank goodness for “news for children” web site that I absolutely love http://1jour1actu.com. Articles about everything in simple French language with awesome pictures. I do have a long range plan: when the time comes a bit later for French presidential elections and then American, the kids are somewhat familiar with the topic.

    Will certainly have to go back to the Unicorn…


  2. Wow, great lesson plan around the unicorn. I just showed the video and asked “How much did you understand without the subtitles?” (Most of it; Unicorn is among every classes’ most frequent words). So great development; I like how much mileage you get out of everything.


    • How were you able to get rid of the subtitles? I’ve tried everything, though unsuccessfully.


      • I didn’t try to get rid of them. I told the kids about how every filmmaker had to use those same seven lines for their film. We talked about that in Russian. Since we don’t know German, the subtitles were fine. Guess you could put something in the way of the subtitles…or maybe someone else is tech-ier than I am.


      • I didn’t try to get rid of them either. They wouldn’t have known “Verschwinde!” anyways. Basically just used the video as a confidence builder “Hey, I already knew that” type bit. Actually, I used this as a follow up that I did to comparing the “Struwwelpeter” story about the matches, comparing and contrasting it with Rammstein’s “Hilf mir.” That was interesting, but pretty heavy going (not my taste in music, certainly), so I wanted to leave a better taste in everybody’s mouth and did it with this video.


  3. You two are so funny, not to mention kind! Here I teach Russian, and did nothing about Putin. And it’s not so much that I get mileage, but that I’m trying to get mileage (does the word “lazy” come into your mind at all?). I wanted to get this story ready, at a point that it will be interesting to tell in class today…By the way, I set it up on Notebook as I prepped for my parent class so that they would have something to read, which means that my intermediate kids will have something to read today after we finish telling it during class, before we actually watch it. I’m at home now, but if I think about it, I’ll go get the link later so you can see it. I’m not really using the interactive quality of Notebook here, just using it as a wonderfully easy way of making Power Points.

    Something else. It’s really fun to teach the same thing four times in a row! Today I’ll have only two of my Russian groups, but I learned a lot about how to tell the story yesterday. By the time I got my motivated group of parents, I was almost doing readers’ theater as we unfolded the story. They were spellbound by the time I turned on the video. A couple went over to capture the site on their smartphones.


    • Michele, I just sent you an e-mail attaching Smart Board lesson with pics that I have put together in hopes to save you time if you decide to talk about the elections. The file is quite large (4.5 MB) so I hope that it comes through and you’ll be able to view it. It’s in French but I think you can figure it out:)


      • Hi Natalia!
        Thank you so much!! Here’s my school e-mail, backwards, so that spammers won’t get it…reverse the order and put it together with an @ in the middle, and it will work. For some reason the address attached to this blog doesn’t work at all.



  4. This was a very powerful story. I thought about the amend making that was done years later. To me that was a great opportunity to teach about forgiveness and asking for forgivenss for wrongs committed when you were young and knew no better.

    I am so glad you got mileage on that story. Thanks for showing me how.


    • You are so welcome! It turns out to be a complex story for my students. I ended up doing this today with my intermediates:

      They wrote the first part of the story using guide words.
      We re-told the beginning and finished it in a big group.
      We retold it with chain-reaction questions in groups of eight a la Diana.
      I told it and they drew it.
      The whole group read the story through slides on the Notebook page.
      For each slide I showed, they told it with added details to their partner.
      We did a hands-in-the-air numbers of fingers to identify which picture I was telling out of order.
      We had a t/f quiz at the end of the day.

      My observing principal didn’t come in!

      Tomorrow we’ll do acting out in groups (they’re warmed up for this, since someone today played the part of the cabinet, and two others the house. They need a soldier, a girl, and a boy so far). Maybe we’ll have the groups tell a similar but different story…then act it out, then do another fast write, since today it was very difficult for them to write.

      This is beginning to look like “15 approaches to a story.” I guess that’s what I need, when it’s a little more complicated than I had intended.


      • That really stinks about the principal. If you’re going to invest like this, he deserves to show up to recognize what a gem he has on his hands. Grrr.

        That said, I’m really feeling increasingly guilty about using this now as a one-and-done video. Great modeling about how to spin something out into a larger production. I say that with respect, but not envy: don’t have the energy to sink into this much right now. Hopefully I can finish this darn dissertation out soon and be able to go this all-in again soon.


      • You’ve got to believe me. I am being lazy. I am able to keep spinning it because it’s good stuff, interesting, inter-disciplinary, and rich. I am not doing much real work here (except trying to convince you). My principal is actually a really good guy. He’s in charge of discipline, and he had a couple of “badly behaved children” today who got in the way of his visit. He’s the second principal in 27 years of teaching to actually come watch me. In 27 years, I have had a principal in my room during a lesson for an extended period twice (if you don’t count the one whom we invited because the story was about her). This one is coming for a second time, which will bring me up to an average of being observed once every nine years. Last time, he said that he liked the fact that I was mostly in the language and that the kids were paying attention and responding actively. He turned down having an interpreter, and seemed to understand what was going on. That was cool. I was sort of hoping to show him something new today, so we’ll see whether something new comes out tomorrow.


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