Category Archives: Reading

Class books

Reading, Preschool, Kindergarten, School

I am loving teaching Spanish classes. We are not moving very fast through the curriculum. In fact, we are kind of stuck on the first lesson in every class. But we are speaking Spanish, and we are having fun.

That said, one of the things I love doing is making books for classes. When I find out something new about kids, it’s hard not to rush out and use the story right away.


Luckily for my kids, who might be inundated, I make mistakes even in simple Spanish, and have to get the books corrected. (As you might guess, though, sometimes three different Spanish speakers have three different opinions. That’s the case in Russian, too.)

So – here is a kindergarten book about our animals.

Here is a book that will grow as we learn about families.

Here’s a book about what the children think a missing student might be doing.

We made up a story about my whale. I wanted them to learn my name: Señora Ballena. It didn’t work, but we had a story.

As you can see, they’re not high-quality, but the families can read them (they’re posted on a public blog site), and I print them out and bind them for the various classrooms.

We’re going to have a series of books about families as we do an interview for La Persona Especial every day in most classes.



Picture credit:


Keith’s blog

Someone just shared Todally Comprehensible with me. In case I’m not the last person in the CI world to find it, I am marking this post with its complete list of pre, during, and post reading strategies so that I can find it forever more. Wow, Keith!

The rest of the blog is similarly awesome.

Working with a song

I’m going to go back to at least occasionally recording what I did in class.

I was satisfied with work with a song today. Tom Garza, at U Texas, prepared an awesome site for Russian students and teachers, called “Rocking Russian.” It has recordings, song lyrics as subtitles or not, and exercises.

I created a cloze for the song with only about 15 words missing, since I’ve realized it’s hard and frustrating to be still writing down one missing word when the next blank comes up, even if we do listen to a song several times. Because the song I picked has a lot of unfamiliar words for the lower level kids, I put the English translation in a separate column. I put blanks for the same missing words.

We listened to the song twice to begin with: first, just to hear it. The second time, I asked kids to randomly write down any words they heard clearly, without trying to go for volume.

Then I handed out the cloze exercise. Before the kids listened to the song, I wanted them to find direct translations of words from one column to the next, so I asked them to circle one word in each Russian line and the corresponding word or phrase in the English line. That was just to get them to work through the meaning of the entire song and see how much they already understood.

Then we listened to the song again and filled in the missing words in Russian. With partners, they filled in the translations of those words on the English side.

Next, we watched the song with Russian subtitles, so that they could see whether they were right. I was pleased that there was really only one word that caused trouble.

Someone asked about an infinitive, playing into my hand. The grammar point I have in my head right now (because some of the most advanced kids haven’t acquired it, while others have) is infinitives after modals, in subjunctive phrases, and after other verbs. I explained the first infinitive, and asked kids to find and explain all the other ones. It was five grammar minutes for the AP level kids. It was aimed at meaning, more than at grammar, but gave us an excuse to read through the song again.

After that, we talked about the song in the more advanced group. Some kids really didn’t like it, because they couldn’t understand it, so the more advanced speakers got to try to start explaining the song. Every time I find ways to motivate re-reading of a text, I am impressed anew by the power re-reading gives students. The less-advanced kids understood the conversation, but the more advanced ones finally had a chance to talk about the text, and because it was in front of everyone, with translation, the conversation felt real. It probably didn’t hurt that I didn’t understand the song at all, and so the questions I asked were genuine. Why is she singing? Is it a happy song? What makes you think that? Why is she burning ships? How can she do that if her matches are all soaked? More to come!

Martina’s QAR

We had our regular Second Friday meeting last week, with Martina Bex as presenter. Martina is awesome. She takes what seems like it could be an interesting idea and crafts it to become a connection device for all lessons. Then she reports on it, as though she weren’t the lead, here!

I have had QAR sessions before, but I must not have been paying attention, or maybe it’s the repetition that is helping. The first thing that I (re?)learned was that the meaning is “Question-Answer Relationship.” (I always thought it was something else that I won’t say here or it will confuse others.) QAR was created to help students with testing, so that they know by the form of the question how to answer it. Wow. QAR can be linked as a support directly to Common Core, to Danielson, and any other number of requirements our schools are heaping on us, but this one actually works, helps engage students better, differentiates for students, and can help us teach better. Talk about Big Bang for the Buck!

As I thought I already knew, there are four levels of questions: Right there, Think and search, Author and Me, and On my own. A big takeaway for me was how to pose the “Author and Me” questions. If they are yes/no questions, we have to add “explain,” or “why?” to the questions as tags. I have missed that step! Martina pointed out that the “On my own” questions are great for finding out more about students. I think that sometimes I’ve glossed over those, feeling that I already do a lot with kids to get to know them.

Another critical step that I’ve missed is to make the practice text with kids very short. I have used longer texts than would fit on a screen with my kids. As Martina demonstrated, it’s very effective to show how much a person can get out of a short text. My poor students!

(Tangent: I was talking about coaching with Laurie this week. She was telling me how she set up the coaching at Skip’s Maine conference to require coaches to give only positive feedback to teachers. When a teacher got to see someone else praised for something that first teacher had not done or needed to have done, it stuck more firmly in the first teacher’s mind, according to the participants. Laurie reported that teachers would have an ah-hah moment and then ask for a re-do to get that right. What I had on Friday was an eighty-minute ah-hah moment.)

Teachers out there who are going to Martina’s upcoming presentations at conferences or workshops in their own districts, you are in for a treat!

Martina followed up by sharing a couple of follow-up activities to extend work on the reading: “Fan N Pick” and “Grab and Go.” Hmm. Another ah-hah for me. I typically move on too quickly after a reading, even though every time I manage to milk something for a long time, I realize how powerful extension activities can be. But these aren’t just any follow-up activities. They require kids to re-read the material, to re-think the questions, and they have a game-like atmosphere.

At the end, we got to learn one last little activity with a Wordle picture, one that Martina evidently has blogged about. I’m going to hike right over there now and read about it.

I did record the session, and at some point will post about fifteen minutes of it. I was participating in the session, and we were moving around a lot, so sometimes the video was pointing at a space with no one in it. We need professionals!

Happy ACTFL week!! EEEK. I’d better call my co-presenter!! See some of you there, I hope.

Another Ppt tweak for storytelling

We’ve been working with the storytelling dictation/writing with pictures again, and I discovered just one more tool.

If you set up pictures with the story, you can make the transitions work so that the last click of the story makes the words disappear, so that the students can be challenged to re-tell the story!!

Take a look at our stories from today (you have to set the presentation in motion, and then just click through our first few slides). As you click, the pictures will appear and then the paragraph will disappear. I can’t wait to try this tomorrow.


I think I mentioned that I had pasted our story into a table of one column on Word so that it could be cut out neatly, sentence by sentence. I knew the kids could read it really well, in both present and past tense, so I handed pairs the sentences. First we read the sentences out loud, then everyone got scissors and cut up the sentences. They mixed them up and put them back into order. As kids got them into order, I told them to cut out the white space and cut every sentence into at least two parts. Then they had to cut them into individual words to re-write the story.

This worked really well to practice reading! Some groups were still working on the first step when others were starting the word piece, but putting the whole story back together with individual words was a challenge. They read the same story (in two tenses) over and over for half an hour–making this a worthwhile expenditure of our time!

photo 1photo 2

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:


Improved reading with “Stand and Deliver”

Yesterday my advanced class was returning to part of our Pushkin story. We’ve read the whole thing, and now I want to do a variety of activities to think about it.

Having listened to a Paul Sandrock keynote about using authentic assessments, I wanted kids to make comments about the story that they might say if they were having a real talk about it with their friends. It’s a little above their heads though, so I scaffolded the discussion. First we recalled all the ways to express an opinion. Then we would look at one page at a time together. We took a limited time to jot down as many comments as possible about the characters and their motivation or what they thought of the characters’ behavior. Then we all stood (I did take part), and read what we’d written to the whole class, unless someone else had already said virtually the same thing, as I’d learned in last week’s class with Sarah (the “Stand and Deliver” technique).

The first time, almost everyone but me wrote only one sentence. I had two. Then the sentences and their length, as well as their complexity, started growing. I couldn’t believe all the different ideas kids had. It was a bit humbling to work with them; after the first time, I was never standing for long, because my ideas were always used before the circle got to me. In fact, once I didn’t get to say a thing. I started the readers at different points so that everyone got a chance to be near the beginning of the group. I enjoyed the activity on many levels: the re-reading was a natural process, the discussion required some true analysis, and the students had to listen to one another so as not to repeat.

Now I’m working to figure out what activity I can do tomorrow that requires re-reading and thinking at the same level. I’d love to do the same activity, but think it might be better to come back later.

Yesterday we had our second methods class. Sarah started us with ciphers–an interesting way to get kids thinking in the language. I’m hopeless at those, so I might never have thought about them. Then we started in on essential and focus questions for a unit. As we’re in the middle of learning about famous characters right now in Russian, I asked the kids to each write  one question they’d like answered about the famous figures today. I was able to answer at least one set before the next class started. Sarah says that her students seem to acquire the question words faster by using this technique in the early part of thematic units. She said that it also pushes her to answer questions from students, rather than always pursuing her own interests on a topic.

I talked with another TPRS teacher about how to combine the thematic approach with TPRS/CI methodology, and her idea was that we use TPRS/CI to teach the necessary structures for the unit, and then follow the kids’ interests as we delve into the content.

More on reading

Nathan and I started a thread here a while ago about how to get students to re-read a text. Yesterday I attended a class with the wonderful Sarah and Laurel. Sarah was the teacher who convinced my daughter to go to Argentina, where she interned in a music studio a few years ago!

Sarah shared two techniques with us that made us re-read and re-think about texts.

The first was to write a 30-word summary of a two-three paragraph piece we’d read. It had to be 30 words, no more, no less. (Honesty requires that I admit to not having followed the instructions. I thought I knew what to do, and did it my way. It was a little embarrassing to find out I hadn’t…oh well. Now I understand how my kids can miss things.) After we wrote our summary, which was on one of several different pieces on 21st-Century Education, we stood in double lines to share with a rotation of other students. All of us had similar pieces that made us think about what this new world of education is.

I’ve done something like this in class: often I have kids look for the ten lines in a story or three sentences in a text piece that sum it up, and I usually have them share with a partner. I haven’t had them write a summary, but I’ll try that to change things up a bit. I also had them share only with one person, not several.

The next exercise Sarah had us do was something she called “Stand and Deliver.” We had to jot down a list of aspects of 21st-Century Education that we considered important. When the time was up, we had to stand and share one each. If anyone said the same thing we had written, we checked it off. (We could also add ideas that we wanted on our list.) Once there was nothing on our list that had not already been shared, we sat down. I can imagine using this with interesting ideas from the text, questions we could ask about a text, proof from a text to support a claim, and so on. “Stand and Deliver” lets weaker students hear more ideas, and gives stronger students the props they need without putting down others. They’re just going to be standing longer.

In the end, Sarah typed up our group definition of 21st Century Education. We each contributed an idea that we thought was the most important. It was okay if we had the same one someone else had mentioned. That way, we got to hear ideas one last time, and we also got to watch Sarah put them into parallel form.

It was great to be learning with colleagues again.

Lab day/Embedded reading

It was lab day in Russian 1 as well as in the intermediate class yesterday. The beginners had four different tasks on their Edmodo class site.

The first two were to click on links in the “Beginners” column of my class website page, just to explore what they might be able to do there, and report back to me about what they liked and didn’t like.

Then they had to re-read two of our class stories and send me ideas for tweaking the stories. One of the stories was the cat and mice story.

The suggestions were lots of fun: the mice tease the cat, the mom takes too long to see the cat, the mom and the cat go to Taco Bell, it’s a snake instead of a cat, the cat eats the mice, the mice get revenge, and so on.

I wrote about five different, increasingly lengthy, versions of the story, expanding slowly with some new adjectives and verb structures that I wanted them to have while incorporating more and more of their ideas.

Ordinarily, we put some time and different activities between story versions. I did have them read, answer my questions, translate by groups and pairs. I didn’t have them act anything out. That’s for tomorrow: they’ll read and gesture each word possible in groups of three.

Instead of putting days or at least major activities in between the versions, we pretty much read straight through, because once they saw some classmates’ ideas in the text, they wanted to find out whether I used all of their ideas (couldn’t, quite honestly!) and pressured me to keep reading.

Since when does that happen?!