Category Archives: Embedded Readings

Positive thinking

I wasn’t active here for a while thanks to a series of negative emails. I thought of what we teach our kids when they face a bully. The steps start with saying, “Stop now.”  ‘Nuff said, except that I realized what happens when an environment gets toxic. Positive strokes work best. See Laurie Clarcq’s new coaching method as an example!

I would like to share a couple of Eureka moments.

Eureka #1: Another Embedded Reading idea.

Advanced students were finishing testing. I gave them links to passages I wanted to use later in a unit. I asked them to copy/paste a paragraph at a time, then read and cut out whatever they didn’t understand. Instead, one student highlighted. What a huge help! I used the resulting color-coded text as a baseline from which to start scaffolding. My kids rock.

Eureka #2, the power of being positive.

I was learning Salish with a group of Salish teachers in the Kalispel Tribe northeast of Spokane, trying not to be intimidated by greeting and using names in Salish, but it was obvious that my pronunciation left a lot to be desired. Then, after a 20-30 minute coaching session during which all we did was discuss who wanted coffee and tea, I could suddenly say several sentences in a row. The group vigorously applauded me. After that, all I wanted to do was use my limited Salish. A little bit of positive goes a long way, as does realizing you’re taking steps on the journey.

Another Eureka: the assembled teachers understood the power of meaning-based circling. Students acquire language!


Embedded Reading SCORE

A reading aimed at Level 1 turned out to have vocabulary in it that Level 4 kids wouldn’t know. I was crazy and started doing it in one big piece with a group of mostly level 1 kids this morning after spring break. All eyes, including the level 2/3, glazed over almost immediately. It wasn’t accessible, comprehensible, or compelling.

Take two: During my prep period, I copied, pasted, and cut the text down to the core in five successive pieces. I made lists of all the new structures in each one. (This is not how I usually do reading, but they need to be able to read this soon for a competition.) By the time I got to the second group of mostly level 1 kids, I was ready with TPR and ASL signs and mini stories for all the words in the first two sections, partly because I practiced on the level 2-3-4 kids. I gave them a pre-test, meaning that I told them I’d read the first version aloud and ask for their level of understanding. I got fists: nearly nothing. Then we played with the first set of structures for much of the period, and after I felt pretty confident, we read the first piece again. They weren’t to say anything, just do the signs. I could tell that the whole class understood it, almost triumphantly!

In another class, we got “off task” with the first part of an embedded reading on Pushkin, because kids wanted to discuss whether the USA is the only country that doesn’t value its writers, or whether Russia is more proud of her writers than other countries. They also wondered whether Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are in the same firmament as Pushkin. It was fun to have them coming up with the big questions and wanting to talk about them.

Last of all, we’re back on March Madness, or The Best Thing contest. I cut down the brackets this year to only 16 total teams, and each class gets to contribute four ideas. So far, tea, coffee, sleep, family, flamingos, hands, football, and music are up. We’ll finish the brackets tomorrow and start with the competition. I have a little basketball and basket, and the kids get to take as many shots as their side has made strong points about a topic. That is, if tea and coffee are up against each other tomorrow, the class will divide into two sides. They get to brainstorm, then everyone on the team must contribute for up to two minutes to explain why their thing is the best. If they give twelve recognizable, reasonably logical support statements for their topic, they get twelve shots. Things get very hot.

Thank goodness for Laurie and Embedded Readings and Nathan, who got me started here on March Madness. If you haven’t begun it and want to, just try out a half-bracket set. My kids remember and ask for it every year.


Jason Fritze rocks!

I tried the Jason Fritze idea of having kids sit in quiet groups of four, glued to their New Houdini books, writing questions and answers. Each had two half pieces of paper, and they began the activity by simply writing two questions on two different pieces of paper. When they were finished with writing a question, they signed it and put it into the middle of the group. When they finished writing questions, they picked up a paper and wrote an answer to the question, signing their names. Then they’d write another question on the same paper, sign that, and put it into the middle.

A couple of the kids had very devious questions, and they brought them up to show me! “Who drove Brandon’s car,” for example.

I was able to hold a meeting with a student while they all worked, and aside from shushing them a few times, it was really a fun activity. I will do that in every class!

I also was able to remember another trick: I had an Embedded Reading for my advanced kids, but I realized that I’d made the first version simple enough for the intermediates. We did the first version of that reading today, complete with acting, in the lower-level class. It was nice to be able to use something in a number of groups. I think I should even be able to use it with the beginners, if I cut it down and add pictures to make a “pre-first-version” copy.

The two biggest pieces for me to remember in these ER activities (after having picked a piece that I think is valuable and cutting it down appropriately so that there are some interesting tweaks to learn in successive versions) are that the different readings should look different in some way (maybe add pictures or change the text) and that the activities for each one are different: act the first one, translate the second, and focus on grammar popups or questions on the third.

A Picture is worth…

Just another classroom embedded reading story: we had been reading a piece about geography that grew every day in embedded reading style in Russian 1. One of my Russian Club volunteers dropped in to work on a project, so she made a Power Point of the geography piece. Up until now, we’ve been pointing at a map to explain what we’re talking about.

When I showed the Power Point, there was dead silence in the room. Suddenly the kids could visualize the places we were talking about. They want to go visit! I had forgotten that, to me, a map does it all. I can see the mountains, imagine the rivers, conjure the cities. A map is as dead as a piece of print to many kids, as it turns out.

Lesson 1 returns: use pictures!


Laurie’s MovieTalk/Embedded Reading combo

Laurie’s MovieTalk/Embedded Reading combo

I finally tracked down the “connection” that WordPress kept sending me, and found that all trails lead back, as usual, to Laurie Clarcq, my hero.

Martina and I were sharing Storytelling with a wonderful group of Alaskan Yu’pik Language instructors yesterday, and part-way through the day, I realized just how inseparable Embedded Reading is for me as a tool that I use with TPRS. Now Laurie is tying it to MovieTalk in a coherent way that explains them both.

Go read!

Embedding reading

Just a quick note, because things are changing again.

I asked my beginners to help out with an embedded reading. They were amazingly quick to understand what an embedded reading was, and they happily inserted the new structures for the week into the old story. Little groups were sitting around spewing out Russian phrases for their scribes to put into the story. I wondered the whole time whether they knew what they sounded like. They were suggesting entire sentences. Totally unforced output, with a real reason, and it came because I said they should just decorate and fill in the existing story. What a concept. I could not have planned it that way if I’d tried. My idea was that they would be suggesting single words to put into the middle of a given sentence. Had I made that clear, I would not know how much they could say.

Whoo hoo! I just got a note that this is my 500th post.

Picture-based Embedded Readings Reveal

Last week as part of introducing some past-tense modal verbs to my German II students (wanted, had to, was able to), I asked them to draw me pictures to illustrate them, and one student turned out this masterpiece:

We spent about five to ten minutes unpacking this picture in class (that’s the Pillsbury Doughboy fighting a chocolate chip cookie dough monster in Mordor), but for the past week, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get a little more burn for it. This morning, however, I realized it would make a great embedded story as long as I withheld enough details from the early drafts. As I result I ended up with something like this:

Draft One
The Pillsbury Doughboy wanted to eat chocolate chip cookies, but didn’t have an oven. He was sad, because without an oven he couldn’t bake anything. The Pillsbury Doughboy had to find a new oven and Mr. S. had a big oven. Mr. S. wanted to eat the cookies but couldn’t.

The emphasis in this draft was to try and make the story as normal as possible.  The picture is so over the top, I wanted to build up to the story slowly.  After reading this draft with the class I then had my students draw me a picture of something from this story, with an emphasis on speed over quality (3-5 minutes drawing time).  We then looked at the pictures on the document camera and discussed how well they matched the story.

Draft Two
The Pillsbury Doughboy wanted to eat chocolate chip cookies and made a lot of cookie dough. But the Pillsbury Doughboy didn’t have an oven. He was sad because he couldn’t bake anything without an oven. 

The Pillsbury Doughboy also had another problem: the chocolate chip cookie dough was angry at the Doughboy.  It didn’t want to become cookies. The Doughboy had to fight with the cookie dough AND find an oven.

Mr. S. had a big oven and the Pillsbury Doughboy brought the cookie dough to his house. But Mr. S. was a very bad man.  Mr. S. wanted to kill the Doughboy and eat the cookies, but he couldn’t do anything. He could only watch.

In this draft I started throwing out a few of the funky details such as the cookie dough monster, the fight and the evil Mr. S.  Again I had the students quickly sketch me something from this story, but because this story was longer, I asked them to caption their picture.  Some students gave me a couple words, some wrote out full sentences.  Again we debated how well the pictures matched the story, and sometimes went back and forth between the picture and the story several times to establish the links.

Then I showed them the original picture and said this is what we were working towards.  Comparing notes, we then read the final draft.

Draft Three
The Pillsbury Doughboy wanted to eat chocolate chip cookies, and made a lot of cookie dough. But the Pillsbury Doughboy only had a normal oven and needed a very big oven for his cookie dough. He was sad, because he couldn’t find such a big oven. He had to do something.

The Pillsbury Doughboy also had another problem. There was so much cookie dough that it became a monster. The chocolate chip cookie dough monster was angry at the Doughboy because it didn’t want to become cookies. The Pillsbury Doughboy had to fight with the monster, but the monster was much bigger than he.

Mister Sauron had a big oven and the Pillsbury Doughboy brought the cookie dough to his house. But Mr. Sauron was a very bad man. Mr. Sauron lived in Mordor, and Mt. Doom was his very big oven. Mr. Sauron wanted to kill the Doughboy but he didn’t have any hands. He wanted to eat the cookies but he didn’t have a mouth. Mr. Sauron only had an eye and could only watch. 

What I liked about this approach was the “reveal” that I was working towards.  I had a great over the top picture to end with, and the progressive reveal coupled with additional pictures made it a really fun day.  I teach two sections of German II, and even the class that worked with the original picture had only two people figure out that we were working towards this picture before the finish.

Back stories

In my advanced class, we had a few details to take care of. For one thing, I had to ask the kids whether they would mind it if a Russian tv journalist came in to video the class. That took a long time for some reason. A couple kids weren’t paying close attention, and they thought I was just making it up. When they figured out that there was something really happening here, I had to go back to the beginning and retell it.

Finally we got to one back story. I had the kids add something that they remember from five years ago (in their new persona), mostly because “remember” was a structure from last week and they didn’t know it on the weekly quiz. So when I saw that one kid had put that he remembers proposing to his girlfriend in a hot air balloon and that she turned him down, I had to follow that lead. It took the rest of the period to establish that this is the same girl that he was suspected of murdering, provoking his departure for Russia, where he is now working. Strangely enough, these are the kids who have been “raised” on Storytelling, and now, even though we are supposedly not doing stories, they still are.

It’s kind of like Ben Slavic’s Realm, where he would come up with an imaginary kingdom and people it with wood carvers and magicians and other people out of a sort of mythical past. But these kids are creating their own world inside the virtual reality. It’s easier for me because I can always step out and introduce some real information about Moscow, for instance, than it would have been to deal with the vocabulary for a mythical world. Instead, we have a real world in which stories go on as always, but they’re even more kid-directed than they used to be.

The only problem is that the kid with the dead ex-girlfriend is the same guy who was “on” for a whole day last week. At this rate, we’re going to take the entire year just to figure out the lives of these characters. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing…but I suspect we need to get on to the business of actually moving. Maybe I will impose a time limit on how much we talk about each person.

All I can say is, “Thank you, Robert Harrell!”

(Oh…and I had the intermediate group continuing their embedded reading. I took the very lowest group, and all the other groups worked with a leader at their own paces. I always love ER for the way that the kids relax into it; once they realize it isn’t all new stuff that we’re doing, they start enjoy reading. Thank you, Laurie Clarcq.)

Embedded Reading tweak

Yesterday in the first day of a workshop with the wonderful Cherise Montgomery, I watched a culturally-based power point that gave me yet another way to think about embedded readings.

Cherise started by telling the name of an artist and showing a picture of him. On the next slide, she showed a picture, asked his name, and added that he liked to paint. (All the words she used were also written on the slide.) 

In the next one, she asked his name, confirmed his name and what he liked to do, and explained that he liked to paint murals. And so on. The text kept growing.

Then she introduced a new artist and used the same kind of information, but added a painting of a girl. It turned out that the girl was sad. Why was she sad? We tried to figure it out. 

The next slide was another artist, who liked to paint yet other kinds of paintings, but it turned out that he was a friend of the girl in the picture, and she was no longer sad because she had a friend. 

This whole thing was beautifully thought out, and had lots of circling. The only thing it didn’t have was the TPRS personalization piece, but that would be easy to bring in, if you did comparisons.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t continue for the whole week with Cherise. Life sometimes interferes with plans. I’m just hoping that Betsy and Cara will take really good notes and share with me. Hey! Cara! If you get this, will you please let me post notes? 

Embedded Reading + writing

Just a note: today I handed out the three levels of the embedded reading that my intermediates are working on about Moscow. There were two copies: one with three levels on the same page, and one page front and back with the reading double-spaced. (There was an additional paragraph of very high-level information that the most advanced kids got.) They chose whichever level they wanted to work on, and we talked about how they could add phrases in like, “I want to tell you about…” “I would like to see …” “It seems to me that ….” “I know that…” “Therefore…” “I like …”

They thought, of course, that I was trying to get them to write. Nope. It was just another push to make them read it again and figure out where these phrases would come in most logically. I’m probably going to have them hear some volunteers read out loud (or I will do the reading) so that they can follow along (but actually so that they’ll hear it and re-read it a few more times).

Milking, milking…

Oh. I just remembered that we’re going to be in the lab on Friday, so what I plan to do is require that they put individual sentences onto Power point or Prezi and find pictures to go with each one. They won’t have to type. I’ll give them the document, so all they have to do is cut and paste. They’re going to have to set up the document first without the pictures, and add them later. Otherwise they get bogged down in doing the pictures. Then we can show a few on line.