Category Archives: Poor Anna

First-year reading

After a wildly successful evening with adult students to whom I’d never given Cyrillic reading, I decided to mimic the lesson on Poor Anna with my first years.

I used the Scaffolding Literacy and TPRS reading ideas for the most part: I talked through the vocabulary, interviewing kids, described Anna and set up an “Anna” at the front of the room, set up a parallel figure (Anton), let them try to tell me about Anna, finally read a paragraph to them, then let them follow the reading with me, had little races to repeat to their neighbors, and repeated. I didn’t tell them that this was also an underhanded way of getting them to do first person reporting, but that was part of it. I did use the chance to bring in cultural ideas. The kid playing Anton was funny: he inserted facts about himself into the poem that we’d learned.

Maybe I used to expect too much too fast? Or didn’t make it comprehensible to everyone?

Essentially, I’ve put off reading this book until second year lately because it’s difficult in Russian, but since I have second-year kids in with upper levels, it’s hard to use it at all unless we do it in first year. Maybe because we’re having more fun with it and making fun of some of the ideas?

In other notes, I saw that Terry Thatcher Waltz gave the “Super 7” ideas that everyone needs in basic language classes. I liked her list because it’s not specific vocabulary, but concepts:


Adults are so easy!

Hmm…I guess that title could come across really wrong. I’ll only know if there’s a sudden spike in readers.

I love teaching adults after a day of teaching high school kids. (I love teaching high school kids any day of the week. Don’t get me wrong.)

You barely have to open your mouth and they laugh. They sit quietly and try to do every little thing you ask. They are responsive. They are open to telling stories or to just talking with you. I am amazed and loving them all over again.

Tonight I started the beginners with “She/he has many problems,” “Do you have many problems?” and “I have many problems.” I gave them all nametags and asked them to put down a light-hearted problem or a lie on their nametags. We started with one boy whose problem was the fact that he is too tall for his mother. (We had three or four teenagers in the adult class.) Then another one walked in sporting a cast, so that was an obvious problem. It took 45 minutes to go through those problems! Part-way through, I stopped to do some TPR, and managed to work in a few more structures that I know we’ll need. Then I pulled up a young woman and had her be “Anna,” asking questions about her (is she Russian/American, young/old, does she have long/short hair, is she tall, does she have problems). We compared her with the boys and their problems, and in the last two minutes, I read the group the first paragraph of Poor Anna (a lot trickier in Russian than in some other languages), and it sure looked as though they understood it!! So crazy! I am just delighted by the results.

In case it’s not clear, I ended up choosing to do Ben’s Circling with Balls, using Blaine’s new technique of interviewing and reporting back to the class. The only thing I didn’t do was put the report into past tense. That still feels really unnatural to me, unless you’re doing a story. I think I could have done it with Anna, but I forgot. And I already had a bunch of stuff on the board and didn’t want to erase it. I had the bad feeling that I would forget it if I did.

Time for sleep. I will post this in the morning!

Plugging through Poor Anna

I need to look at Bryce’s Poor Anna suggestions. They’re on the TPRS collection page (in the sidebar). And I’m considering that maybe I should buy his book, even if it’s in Spanish, to help me teach Poor Anna. I had a talk with my first-year kids today, telling them I know all the stuff that is not positive about this book, and then really revving them up about how reading is the best way to learn vocabulary and grammar. They perked up and had a MUCH better attitude about getting out the books.

Then we started reading, and about every paragraph, I would have them draw a picture and put everything possible into it. Then I’d read it again, and they’d raise their hands if they had put various details into their picture. That meant that they got more small pieces, and paid better attention. I asked about things not mentioned–is there a dog on the street there? Is Anna smiling? Are the pies meat or potato? Are there three bananas or two? It was my Blaine-style answer to my desire to keep moving on through this book. I really don’t want it hanging over my head later!!

We finished a whole chapter, and almost everyone looked a lot happier than they had the last time we were reading.

Poor Anna

A couple of kids in my first-year class are lagging, so I am trying to make sure they have certain phrases down cold, as well as varying the activities so that our 85-minute periods don’t drag. I forgot that we’d started to talk about everyone’s NY resolutions and their superpower wishes. So we started with a dictation, brought people to the front of the room to talk about their powers and resolutions, took a quiz on the information,  read from Poor Anna, and played a game. That’s about 17 minutes average per activity, just about right if you add in transition time. It keeps kids moving. I can start doing something in class, forget that the kids need to move and stick with a given activity way too long.

What I’m proud of is that I managed to work common phrases into every activity, to compare the kids who came to sit up in front of the class with one another and with Anna, that we reused “wants” a lot (to control people’s minds, to teleport–honest, there’s a Russian word!), and that when we did the eyes-closed, thumbs-up/down T/F quiz, only two kids missed any of the answers. Then, when we did the reading, because we were doing a game afterward, kids were very focused. The game was simple…Scott’s adaptation of “Around the World” –I gave them words and phrases from Poor Anna to translate. It’s really easy to differentiate by giving kids different words that I expect they’ll know.

Now I’ve just finished with my advanced class, in which I had superstars leading one group, a native speaker in another, a university grad in a third and myself in a fourth. I gave everyone about 25 minutes of reading and talking. I could hear the university guy talking with the kids about the “necessary” form of subjunctive, while the native speaker discovered she didn’t really know how to translate a lot of things that the kids figured out, and the superstars in the third group did an awesome job of reading together. In my group, I was taking baby-easy reading, and making the kids re-read it from different perspective because otherwise they could have just read on their own. I read in Russian out loud until we hit a word or phrase that needed to change, and the student would say that one correctly. It was fun! It’s highly comprehensible and they like the success. I could take that same reading passage and make the more advanced group put it into past tense, and with the most advanced groups, I could ask them to change it to subjunctive.

Everyone was nicely focused and reading happily the whole time. Lovely! I gave them all five minutes to draw a six-picture storystrip of what they’d read, and after that they did a ten-minute fastwrite. Then I had a song with some blanks for them to fill in for the last five minutes of class. Whoo hoo! It doesn’t feel like I taught at all–just facilitated acquisition!


And later…I went to Laurie’s blog to ask a question, and she had explained why she does TPRS, starting with a link to this page.

Poor Anna

One group of kids acted as though I was pulling their teeth today to get them to read Poor Anna. “You ask too many questions! It takes us weeks to read just one chapter! We could write a better story than this! Please don’t make us read it!” Finally I corralled them into a circle, having promised I wouldn’t ask a single question. I read in Russian. I “directed” them as they translated in a group, word for word (see Ben’s blog recently for his directing technique). Then, one kid asked a grammar question. I told her the answer, and said, “Your Russian is getting better, or you wouldn’t have noticed that.” She perked up a bit. Another kid (who’s been suspended twice already this year) was doing an awesome job filling in for words others didn’t know. I caught his eye and gave him an impressed look. He grinned at me. It took just a few of those moments, and everyone was pressing ahead. Then I turned them over to Jason’s question game in written format (because a visitor came in and we had to call Russia right then to discuss a Russian-American cooperative environmental project). When the bell rang, though I was still on the phone, they all bounced out, acting pleased as punch. The grammar kid was saying, “My Russian has improved.” The boy came over to high-five me.

I guess I need to change the way we read Poor Anna.