Robert Harrell’s Virtual Move

We have started our virtual move to Moscow. The kids brought in their job descriptions from the job site today. Some had forgotten and therefore got the ones I’d picked out.

The students are so excited about this that it’s almost hard to run the class. They have many more ideas than I do, and they want to go with them. What I noticed is that taking on a persona is making what might have been a boring, repetitive conversation be interesting to them all: what is your job (“As whom do you work?”) and how much do you earn? It’s so funny…those two questions kept us busy for most of an hour today. I wouldn’t have known what to do if someone had told me I had to teach them. The kids figured out right away that those with the higher salaries were going to get to do more fun things in Moscow in their free time. I didn’t point out that higher salaries also demand more time. Might have to talk about that some other lesson! They’re already deciding who’s going to room with whom, and realizing they have to know what different areas of Moscow are like. We might need some guest speakers on the topic of “the city.” Whoo hoo!

I am grateful to Robert for this crazy, wonderful idea! It’s a reality story!


21 responses to “Robert Harrell’s Virtual Move

    • I forgot to explain that part.

      Robert also teaches either AP or IB students mixed in with his regular kids, like I do (can’t remember which). He does a virtual move to a city in Germany, and has developed a lot of plans, starting with jobs, and having various outings there. I couldn’t figure out how to carry this off in the old days, because I didn’t have enough realia or knowledge. With the Internet, I can easily get to the information, plan out sheltered excursions, and the kids can do some exploration on their own from home. I love this, because it’s kind of like having a flipped classroom. They have to go figure out the information, and then the class is going to be stories about what happened.

      We’re going to do back-stories for a couple of weeks now, while I get my act together. One of the kids came up with that idea. They can blend their real lives with a new one, most importantly how they got into these positions.

      I have the hostel units pretty ready, thanks to my DL class, and am finding songs and stories and blogs about Moscow. Today I gave out a little text on Moscow for them to read. They’ll do that and let me know what they didn’t already know in advance (most of them have done a lot of dry reading about Moscow in the past).


  1. Hi Michelle,
    You are so creative. I love following your blog.
    Could you post your unit for a virtual move to see how you’ve organized it?
    After they pick a job, you talk about it, create something that happened at work? How do you go into a story from there?
    Thank you,


    • Oh Laura, thank you for the compliment. I do best when I’m channeling others and adopting their ideas…as in this case! I don’t have the whole thing down. I’m kind of exploring as I go. (Bad news, eh?) One thing I can do is ask Robert for permission to post the explanation he sent me. I think he might be writing a book about this, and he at some point said that there is already a book out for Spanish teachers.

      My plan is to have them choose a hostel (and I will post some of the things that I’ve created for that pretty quickly here) for their first weeks in Moscow. While they’re “getting settled” (translate: giving me time to keep fleshing this out), they’ll present their back stories on a form that we will figure out in class. I’ll be able to do Ben Slavic’s “Circling with Balls” around the new information, which will involve where they went to college, what their majors were, and how they got their jobs. Then we’ll move to the hostels, and they’ll come in to report how their work days went, how they got to work, where they ate lunch, who they met at the hostels, and what they did on the weekends. Finally, they’ll move to apartments. By then they should know the city, and they’ll be able to go places. They’ll have to talk about where they shop for food, cell phone plans, furniture, and clothing. I am going to require them to keep a budget for expenditures and entertainment, including detailed food and necessity purchases. (That might actually help them when they get to college. We’ll see.) I want them to talk about plans on Fridays, and report them on Mondays, because that will get in both subjunctive and future tenses.

      Along the way, we’re going to learn songs about Moscow, watch a movie about Moscow, and read at least one short story about Moscow.

      The plan is for this to be our complete first semester. The kids will have to be doing research from home on a regular basis.


  2. Thank you Michelle. This is very helpful. I´m thinking of trying to develop something like this with some Latin American city of their choice. It seems like the teacher also has to do a lot of research.


    • It is kind of a lot. I recommend sticking to just one city. I’ve done the “multiple city” approach in the past, and it has always fallen apart, because I can’t keep that many places going. Also, this way I can have them move to a different city another year. If they’re all in the same city, they might go to one of four events. Then they could actually read about it in the paper and insert themselves into the action.

      I think it’s less work if you have the series of events planned out so that you can be a week ahead of them or so…thing is that the kids will end up changing things, if we’re going to let them write the story.

      Robert gave me permission to post what he’d sent me. I’ll do that later today after I get answers to a couple more questions.


      • I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m toying with the idea of doing this myself, but I’ll probably wait until second quarter (and watch you work out the kinks–nice of me huh?).


      • I don’t recommend a multiple city approach. The project is complicated enough with just one city. What you can do, though, is have students make occasional trips and excursions. When we do Vienna, it is close enough to Munich (4 hours by train) for students to go to Oktoberfest on a weekend and report about what they did. Usually at least one group reports that someone drank too much and threw up. (They are playing older versions of themselves, so drinking would be a legitimate action.) Then we talk about wise choices relating to alcohol. Role playing allows students to “try out” new roles and think about consequences before they go out and do it.


      • Michelle, what is the name of the Spanish book on the city project? Do the kids bring anything in as visual aids, or do they just report to the class? Do you collect their notes? If you posted some additional materials on this project on here, could you please do so again, I didn’t see them. Thank you SOO much!!!


  3. Michelle, What is the name of the book in Spanish about the city project? Did you post what Robert originally sent you? I am new on here and wanted to make sure I didn’t miss something. Thanks!!


  4. From Robert: The book that gave me ideas and help was “Move Your Students to a Virtual City” by Sue Fenton. It’s available from Teacher’s Discovery. The book is in English and is intended for teachers of any language.
    (I thought it was in Spanish! Phew! I can check it out now…or just follow Robert!)

    Melissa, all of the other notes I have from Robert are in this post. He was most generous!


  5. So how is the virtual move doing now?


    • It’s going well! I was at a theater production last week before the bug took over, and a former student taking my ticket was very wistful about missing my class, because she’s heard so much about the Move. I can’t say that I was great this week, but luckily it was the week that we had some guests from St. Petersburg, and they were highly entertained by hearing my kids tell their stories of living in the hostels and fending for themselves. They had great questions for the kids and there were roars of laughter from all parties as they heard the answers. Kids are finding all sorts of resources by assignment as well as on their own. They have to check the weather to find out how they’re going to be dressed. I have news for them…they have to go shopping for appropriate clothing this week at the same time that they need to go house hunting. I keep throwing down these little assignments, based on what I know they’d need to be doing, and they keep doing them. It’s the most logical “unplanned” semester I’ve ever taught, kind of like backward planning with TPRS. You know what they have to do in real life, and they have to go try to do it. Because they’re children of the Internet generation, they don’t think it’s amazing at all that they are doing their research on line. I find it a miracle, myself. Sometimes they’re even figuring out things on their smart phones during class (not my preferred time for resource use). This weekend, I was finding blogs for them to read about clubs as well as advice columns on apartment hunting. I ran into a great blog of “Cheap Eats in Moscow.” The cool thing is that the more they are reading, the more it turns out that they can understand without too much scaffolding from me. The blogs are written by educated young people who use standard language, meaning that most of the language they use is high frequency–thus highly accessible. I think this is the best project ever conceived. I wish I had more time to be noting everything that we do. Sometimes we’ve just done a re-run of who is earning what, working where, at what age, and so on. Other times we have read together. We’ve done some news reading, because they need to know what’s going on in town. We also do some regular group reading…soon they’re going to have to give tours of Moscow to friends from other Russian towns…and do their budgets…then plan a group New Year’s party…


  6. I want photo scrapbooks! They could easily do this with their knowledge of the internet. And that would give you a record of what they are up to as they eat out at some cheap eat or visit a museum on the weekend. This is a much more thrilling project than they will get any where else this semester. I think you are doing fabulous–I want to play!


    • OOH. You have just made a terrific suggestion! Since we keep forgetting things about what we’ve done (always my excuse to review), I’m going to ask kids to do exactly that…make some sort of on-line scrapbook that has all the facts, and all the pictures of where they’ve been, reviews, etc…

      WOW. Why didn’t I think of this? (Because I have you backing me up!) They can do a sort of portfolio-meets-scrapbook!!


  7. These are just fabulous! I loved the food on one of them: пирожки, хворост, беляши! Sounds like someone will need new clothing in a month or two. I a bigger size:)))

    Just to understand the technical aspect… They each create a Google doc presentation that they share with you, correct?

    You can also have them leave you voicemails about their recent escapades at the grocery store, new apartment, night out, etc. either with Google voice (I have not really used that one), by downloading it to the class Dropbox (not that difficult to do), or through my favorite – (I just broke down and subscribed to the paid version because I think I’ll be using it quite often).


    • Eek…hope you weren’t as horrified by the spelling as I was!! Yeah…I told them to be careful of calories, but we’ll see about that! There’s a Russian caterer in town who’s going to make us a meal… For now, they’re so excited and really focused on their neighborhoods.

      I love the idea of having them leave messages. Maybe we’ll do a Voice Thread. I like the Audio Dropbox at MSu Clear Ria too, but it really helps if I can just have a one-stop-shopping experience. That means that if I do have a dropbox or voicethread, we’ll link to it from that same page.

      Our school has google docs for students. They each created their own document, which they shared with anyone who had the link. Then I created a page that I shared with all of them, making them editors. They created links back to their own projects from that page. That way, they’re protected, but any of us can see any of their pages.

      Some of the kids in the class want to make real-world scrapbooks. Others want to put this project onto keynote. I told them they can, but all the pieces have to be in these too.


  8. Thank you so much for your ideas, Robert, Megan, Natalia, Kate, and Melissa! I am not sure we’d be getting so far without the ability to share and hear comments on our experience. Obviously would never be here at all without Robert, but now I have a real reason for lab days with this group on top of everything else, and more ideas for ways to vary everything on top of that. The next time I do this with a group, I’ll be even more prepared!

    Did I tell you all about the virtual tour of Moscow already? And the apartment and hostel presentations?I have to send you links to those, because they have helped me out a lot. Now I’ll have to make those for St. Petersburg as well.


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