More on PLC Gold/Blue Chip Ideas – 2

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



20 thoughts on “More on PLC Gold/Blue Chip Ideas – 2”

  1. For the past 3 weeks I have been working on New Houdini with my Spanish kids, while my Latin classes have been doing normal story work.

    It is amazing the difference in my stress level. With my Spanish classes I hardly have to prep at all – look over the chapter we are reading in any given class, look over some of the teachers guide materials and boom – we spend the class predicting what is going to happen, reading, or discussing what we read. Great stuff in target language with little work or stress.

    My Latin classes are like pulling teeth. I decided I couldn’t use actors in one class because they just get out of control. So today we made up a story about a girl who loves different animals that don’t love her back. It was awful. They didn’t respond. They didn’t care. I felt like I was pushing a boulder up the hill with no end in sight. If only we had books in Latin! I have been bailing and using written stories more often because it is easier, and depends less on their active participation and cooperation. But the stories are 100-200 words and not nearly as interesting as a novel (not to mention all the work involved in creating them!).

    I don´t know that I would want to do only novels with my kids. I am looking forward to getting back to making stories in Spanish, but that is after this 3-plus week break. Without the break offered by the novel I would certainly be feeling more burned out.

  2. I am really divided, internally, on this. Hopefully more discussion will help me/us resolve some of the difficulties that I see. Perhaps it is because I teach two years at middle school, and so much of what Robert describes in his rWT must be adapted, e.g. how Bob Patrick is using it. But Bob’s version doesn’t seem to have that accountability built into the beginning writing exercises. And for one of my first year classes which simply can’t handle the story asking process, they not only need the rigid structure of a mad-lib writing assignment in order to create a story, but they need an academic test component in order to keep them on track.

    But I don’t know whether using a novel would solve my problem, and this goes back to the idea that any pre-made piece of reading will not be compelling enough to hold their attention. Also, we Latin teachers would have to write our own novels. Better to continue with embedded versions of our textbooks, if we’re talking about minimizing our unproductive efforts.

    Just thinking out loud, because I feel that you are on to something, Ben, but it also means breaking with (giving up on? re-assessing?) much of what we have been prioritizing on this PLC for the past 2 years. Maybe it’s a way of compromising when we are facing pressure from all sides (parental, administrative, emotionally internally), and have a resistant group of kids to boot.

  3. I love this idea. I know that I work much better with a specific script in mind, and I get more out of the kids as well. For example, I will take a story from LICT or Realidades, reduce it to a 5 sentence dictado, and circle those five sentences for 30 or 40 minutes, with the kids adding details. There’s no pressure on me or any of them to be wacky or out-there, but they still find the story compelling. I also like to put my dictado-style story in individual PowerPoint slides and just read and discuss and add to each of those, taking away the dictado element, or tell a predetermined story (again, just 5-6 sentences planned out) and draw pictures as I go. No teeth-pulling required, and jGR has been a lifesaver when it comes to holding students accountable for their performance.

    For Spanish teachers looking to experiment with novel-type teaching, I would recommend using the TPR Episodios from the Realidades text. I’m using them in a beginner-level high school class, and though the vocabulary is not difficult and is very (so very) repetitive, my kids love it. It’s 10 stories about this boy who likes a girl but can’t ever talk to her, even though he tries to do it in every story. I am seeing the episodic nature of novels play out in class without having to commit to a novel, and I’m seeing a lot of success with it.

  4. I think you are on to something too, but I had more success with a straight up story when I followed David’s technique that he posted in December (?). I gave out the script in English and the kids filled in the variables. It was so much easier and much less stressful.

  5. Each of us must create our own plan that works best for us. I’m certainly not claiming that there is one way to high quality CI – I want all our choices clearly laid out here on a hardlink with video, eventually, but our choices will depend on us. Some could never relate to Realidades but Erin does and that is important. I don’t mean to open up a can of worms here. I just want more options than TPRS. I think stories are too stressful for most of us. We have needed the right novels for a long time, Carol has started the process, we are still in it, so this thing will just have to keep evolving. Specifically, the use of RT and Textivate (I think David brought us that) does represent a compromise with the system. Whenever I use Textivate – which bring conscious analysis in – there is a palpable feel from the kids that now they are “doing” something. Schools are forcing us to do that. Just yesterday in my big meeting with my AP about the CO Leap process, he said that he needs to see more tech infused into my teaching. He used the word infused. That means part of what I do every day. That scares me bc tech is mostly conscious analysis and CI is or should be complete unconscious absorption by getting the kids focused on meaning. The writing piece also has to be addressed and brought in earlier than we know is best if we are to keep our jobs. So that is one of the things I am thinking about in suggesting a number of different templates from which we can choose. Let’s not let this discussion get too diffuse. I truly value the comments above. More grist for the mill. We’re growing. It’s tough. It’s January. People are going nuts all over. Just do CI. Breathe. Relax. Love the kids. Do more CI. Like jen said, changes are happening and we aren’t aware of them. It may never get more difficult for us than it is now. Reading what jen said was really a pick me up for me. We don’t have to be great. We don’t have to be the best. We just keep on trucking. That’s my mantra.

  6. I was so happy to see this thread, because I’ve been feeling uneasy about my level one class and the fact that we have only done 2 stories and a couple of OWI all year. It is a very tiny class of eighth graders, and so far they cannot handle stories. It is not for lack of interest, but for over-exuberance. They get going and cannot control themselves, so it turns into chaos very quickly with lots of English.

    I am actually on my third novel with them. Well, that isn’t totally true–I messed up the flow of reading with Pauvre Anne and everyone finished the book in their SSR time except for one kid who was only on chapter 6. I got too far behind on the all-class R&D. I can’t remember why this happened, but it did, and so I started them all together with Houdini on Monday and so far it is going really well. I’m still using PA as compare & contrast, though, so I’m sneaking that in here and there, looking at random scenes that I am fairly certain they glossed over. I’m so happy I just started them fresh. The old me would have hammered through PA come hell or high water. It’s really important to pay attention to the energy. Yes, theirs, but mine too!

    I’m doing a combo of SSR and R&D. A few weeks ago I needed to start them on the SSR practice, but didn’t have enough novels for everyone so I said to them we’ll have a couple weeks of “free reading” FVR, where they can read anything from the class library. But the new twist was using Bryce’s dual entry reading logs! It was just what my kids needed to be able to focus on the reading. I said this to them up front. “This is to keep you focused on what you’re reading.” So they read for like 5-7 mins, then they write in the 2 columns: left side is a summary / couple sentences about what they read; right side is a comment, question, connection. In upper levels they do it all in TL but in level 1-2 I said left side is TL and right side they can choose. The writing is super short and sweet. Maybe 1-3 mins.

    It was a bit wonky when they were reading random things, but still worthwhile bc I could tell what they were understanding and more importantly THEY could tell / reflect “That was too hard” etc. Now that everyone is in a novel it is easy to have them summarize the next part of the chapter or whatever and lots of kids are speculating, asking great interpretive questions on the right side, and I can read them quickly and write a short response to them, or encouragement or whatever. I understand that this is not “pure” FVR because they are accountable to jot something down, but it’s so informal that I don’t think it causes them any stress and the fact that everyone is reading and responding more than makes up for the lame FVR I used to do where lots of kids were just spacing out.

    Anyway, I agree with Ben about figuring out what works for us and for our specific groups. I wouldn’t have imagined this level 1 group to be so challenging and thank goodness they enjoy the novels (the process anyway). I am not throwing in the towel on stories. I think alternating might end up working best for me. We’ll see. I love the templates, though. I need that balance of structure and flexibility.

  7. I don’t believe reading novels should replace creating stories with the class. Some of the reasons for that have been stated by others in the thread. Chief among them is the amount of personalization when stories are done right. (Of course, doing them right is tough.)

    Instead, I see class stories and chapter books (“novels”) working in tandem. Of course, the chapter books have to be engaging. (More on this later.)

    My first year students are finishing Arme Anna. I did it totally differently this year. There was a lot of silent reading (5-10 minutes at the start of class each day), then Read and Discuss as a class one or two days a week. After we had gotten through several chapters, I started working on my colleague’s summary project. Both classes did very well with this. There were a few students who really understood what was happening, and everyone had to write the answers as I put them on the board – so under the guise of “this is what the class came up with”, the slower processors were copying down the information. Students were more engaged in the book than in years past, and I have been able to point out more clearly important steps in Anna’s awakened understanding of her life. (Though it still is not nearly as compelling for her to go to Switzerland as it is for “Pobre Ana” to go to Guatemala) This is what my classes came up with on their own – with very little guidance from me:
    1. The book is about Anna, a sixteen-year-old girl from Poquoson, Virginia.
    2. The story takes place “today”. The story starts in Poquoson, Virgina. Then Anna flies to Switzerland.
    3. The main problem is that Anna is unhappy with her life. [I was really happy to seem the get past the surface “problems” to the understanding that it’s about attitude.]
    For the first semester final, they will do the Essential Sentences for chapters 1-6 instead of writing a paragraph about how the problem is solved. Each student has a copy of the text and a 12-panel (six on a side) sheet. On the lines beneath each panel they write an Essential Sentence (copied from the book); in the box they draw an illustration that shows they understand the Essential Sentence in the context of the story. They may choose one or two Essential Sentences from each chapter, so they will have between six and twelve sentences and illustrations.

    Excursus on pre-written texts
    I know we have trash talked the textbooks that “personalize” the grammar by presenting “Ricardo” and “María” (or “Yves” and “Solange” / “Franz” and “Katja”) and their activities. What do students care about them? Yet, the problem isn’t really with having characters not from the class. After all, thousands (millions?) of people care passionately about “the boy who lived” and a certain “hobbit who lived in a hole in the ground” and other fictitious characters that they didn’t create. What’s the difference? I think it’s the fact that Ricardo et al. never become “real” because 1) they never do anything except generic, bland “stuff” that allows the publisher to use that long list of vocabulary words and 2) they have no personality, no quirks.

    On the other hand, a well-written chapter book
    1. has enough substance to “flesh out” the main characters
    2. actually has a plot
    3. creates memorable situations
    4. uses limited vocabulary* enough that by the end of the book, students are generally truly reading, not just decoding
    Arme Anna works because we can identify Anna as a spoiled whiner who doesn’t realize how well off she is – and we know people like that; because her character actually develops; because she actually does something other than the same old – same old; because the vocabulary is so repetitive that students stop having to think about what it means, they just know it.
    El nuevo Houdini works for essentially the same reasons: we have a “real” person who acts like many students; he changes along the way; he does something (and gets in trouble); the vocabulary is limited. And it is more interesting than (the German version of) Arme Anna.
    So, we need to choose our chapter books on the basis of not only readability but plot, character development and all of the other things that draw to a good book in the first place. That’s a tall order, and I’m glad to see that there are more books coming out. (I hope to continue to contribute to the market – anyone interested in Proofreading and/or Piloting the Spanish and French versions of my pirate story? It’s level (2-)3.)

    *”Limited vocabulary?!” I hear you cry. How can 300 words be considered “limited vocabulary” when 20 words are not? It’s the size of the text sample and the incorporation into the story. 20 new words on a single page is a high percentage of the text. 300 words in a 30-page book (and Anna is longer than that) would only 10 new words per page – but we aren’t even talking about 300 new words, because only a percentage of those 300 words will be new. Then add to that the fact that these words get massive amounts of repetition (impossible on a textbook page), and by the time the book is over the students have begun to acquire the words and truly read rather than merely decode. The chapter books allow us to go narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow.

    1. I would love to pilot both Spanish and French versions. I have level 2 classes of both of those languages. I especially need something cool for the French class to read 🙂

      Also, I love the Essential Sentences! I have not used this as an exam yet, but plan to do this for sure. I actually used it as a sub activity. So great! It is an excellent tool for the teacher to determine how deeply the students are reading and thinking. You can really tell a lot from this in terms of who is still decoding and who is going beyond the text. I think it’s also compelling to students to hone in and think and choose what they think is most essential to the story.

    1. Sabrina Sebban-Janczak

      Gladly. I’d be happy to help you Robert. It is all about helping our friends and collaborating. Wow! Does that mean we’ll have another book to use with our kids? That is awesome, can’t wait. I’m sure it s a great book.

  8. The uninformed opinion of this novice is that asking stories will always be necessary at lower levels, for two reasons: 1) They don’t have the vocabulary to enjoy novels and 2) They don’t care enough to enjoy stories written by others.

    1. That is certainly true James, but I still want to explore this topic of the value of stories relative to the value of novels, what Robert more accurately calls chapter books. There are so many drawbacks to stories with newer teachers, so many skills to learn so fast, etc. And we have the CWB. OWI, Wall Zoo options to build up to reading. We can turn novels into RT scenes and parallel novels. I’m not saying no stories, certainly. I want this thread to stay here, because I do feel that we are going to grow more into novels, at whatever level. It’s just happening. But yes, stories aren’t going away anytime soon. Good point. I learn by talking and writing, so much of what I say is just to get discussion going. Actually, novels ultimately get more boring more quickly than stories, as I am finding out right now. It’s a big topic, for sure.

      1. Of course the discussion is great. I DO think that we need viable alternatives for level 1 classes, either for teachers to use every-now-and-then to get out of stories, or for teachers to use exclusively in non-participatory classes. Also alternatives are great for newbies. For example, a one-word-image is a great starting point; and dare I say a NECESSARY precursor to stories? I’ve noticed several posts on moreTPRS of teacher getting discouraged, and always my suggestion is to go back and start with a one-word-image.

  9. Dude I think that one direction I’m going with all of this thinking about novels is in the direction of the TRUE SIMPLICITY that R and D provides. Like, no matter what, no matter how overwhelmed I get by all the new ideas, the discussion, here in this PLC, I now know that with R and D of a novel I can just choose in any class to open up a book to a chapter, tell the kids to read a few paragraphs or pages, then we translate it, then we discuss it, then we get to play and draw comparisons between kids in the class, then we quiz the class on it, and the class goes by in what seems like 20 minutes, and I didn’t plan a thing, because I was working from a template, and all the confusion and introspection of what the hell to do with this TPRS/CI fireball is muted and I can just roll smoothly on through the class and believe that teaching really was meant to be an easy, happy experience. Like, you guys have been so intense lately with all your new ideas I feel kind of as if I am running next to a train and trying to keep up, wishing that the train would just go slower. It’s the Too-Many-New-Ideas-Too-Fast Choo-Choo. And I have twelve years of experience with TPRS. The change right now is a firestorm! But then with R and D my simplicity angel flies in – so fast and unexpected! – through the window of my classroom, right on time (He’s An On Time God, Yes He Is!) and whispers, so my students can’t hear, “Just do some R and D!”, and voilà – freaked out little Benny gets to have an EASY and SIMPLE class in the form of R and D of a chapter book (Robert’s term is more accurate than the term novel), whichever one the class is working on at the time. How easy! R and D is a powerful template. A bail out move par excellence. A back up plan when January is beating me over the head with bags full of bricks of ideas not to mention the stuff I have to do for school outside of the classroom and all of the other crazy ass stuff that comes with being a human being on this whacky ass planet right now. R and D is a remedy, is what it is. A reminder to keep it simple. I need that.


  10. When I say novels could replace stories I want to qualify:

    1. when stories aren’t working for teachers because they need more training.
    2. in schools where the kids lack the social skills to make stories happen.
    3. in schools where the teacher trying to learn storytelling is henpecked.

    Those are big drawbacks and my thought in this thread was to simply point out that we have to know when to fold ’em if there is too much energy against us in our buildings, which is true for many of us now. The point of going to the novels to replace stories is that the “guided reading” we get in novels is more palatable to the kids and to more traditional colleagues, and easier to do for us, as per:

  11. i’m so glad to see this post about alternate models for TCI, and i want to ask for some guidance.

    i’ve struggled with my chinese 1 class all year, a class of only four boys. one is an excellent student, and the other three a mix of short attention spans, fidgeting, need for posturing and attention, etc.

    i’ve made some progress with them since the beginning of the year, but none like the days when they’ve gotten into arguments with each other in chinese. silly arguments, like “why don’t your parents like to watch movies?” and “why don’t know you; they’re your parents?”, followed closely by “you’re in love with emma,” “no, i’m not,” “in gym class, you told me that were,” “i never said that,” “then why…” etc.

    they were so excited to be using the language, and i would stop and rephrase things and add some circling questions, and they were SO INTO IT. this one student who tends to do things like adjust his socks and relace his shoes during stories was like wide-eyed with excitement during this exchange.

    and it occurred to me that these sorts of arguments are naturally repetitive, and you get the positive and negative forms (no, you didn’t! yes i did!) for contrast.

    has anyone else experimented with the argument/challenge as framework for providing CI? it’s really not my style, but my students were so engaged that i feel like i should consider it.

  12. I wouldn’t do it with “real” kids, but I’ve sure done it with fake ones. Example: A Chuck Norris face and a Robert Pattinson face on tongue depressors or fly swatters (a cheap way to make puppets) can be held by “real” students, and an argument or challenge framework can really work “in character”.

    Doing it with real kids with real agendas is asking for trouble in my opinion. They carry this stuff out of class with them and it can really gather steam.

  13. Hello people

    I teach private English classes freelance now – and have done small classes for language schools. I use graded readers because I love them for all the reasons Ben mentions. For me the graded reader is a far more interesting – and easy – alternative to a text book. It keeps me on track and in bounds.

    To decide what book to go with, I show the student a variety of difft stories – they read the blurb on the back and the first page. And I draw a graph (easy -v- interesting) and get them to plot where each story is for them on the graph.

    For English learners there are 1000s of graded readers – and some are really good while others are naff/ corny. Obviously they’re too hard for absolute beginners and they really get good and with a lot of choice at intermediate level.

    Macmillan Readers level 1 Starter has about 300 headwords. I like Around the World in eighty days, and Gulliver’s Travels. These are both told in cartoon format. Some is the narrator speaking, and some is speech bubbles of the characters. many like these are classic stories and various versions are available at different language levels from competing publishers.

    For a level 2 story I recommend Phantom of the Opera. Macmillan readers has 600 core words. The story is great and there are pictures. What’s more a competing publisher Oxford Bookworms has the same story – but complementary (it tells it differently) – and uses 400 headwords. I have given my student the 2nd graded reader and we will do that in class. So this should be easier for her and she should widen her vocab easily.

    For me the graded reader creates a mini-world we can inhabit. My student is going to France on holiday tomorrow so she is totally rapt by Phantom … I have got plans of the opera house off the internet … there is a movie trailer, which I found brilliant for Movie Talk. Since it’s a musical there are loads of videos on Youtube – and some songs are easier to understand. (my student doesn’t like the songs much, sadly). And the 2004 Movie is a visual extravaganza. So we are planning to cover this through Movie Talk in lessons.

    I have written to both Macmillan and Oxford Bookworms about their e-books offering to review the lower levels since they don’t have reviews yet. The replies have been encouraging and I’m waiting to hear back – this would be a way to get free sample copies. I will keep the group posted if I get more news.

    Could it be possible for teachers to translate one of these English graded readers into L2? Or get a higher level class to work in gr0ups translating it into L2 and then using that to teach a lower level class? Or even set up a free reading scheme for the more advanced students and get them to write reviews and pin them to the books? This way you can see which ones go down well and choose the popular ones to do in class with the lower levels?

    Spanish graded readers – for my own learning I loved the Lola Lago detective series from Difusión in Barcelona. It makes me smile. And the audio is acted out with sound effects – although it’s too fast for me. I have run out of good easy Spanish stories….. so if anyone has any ideas I’m all ears.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben