A Suggested Reading Format That Might Also Work With Songs

Below is a suggested sequence of class activities for a reading class – I had mentioned it here a month or so ago, or maybe I presented it to the Maine group – I can’t remember. If there is anything I am missing in this reading or song sequence that would add to a good flow of reading and listening input, please let me know. Should I add anything in the sequence to address, perhaps for upper level classes, output? Here is what I have now:
1. They read the text (length will vary depending on the text and level of the class, but maybe ten minutes of reading would be the right amount for each class to get the class going). 
2. We chorally translate paragraph by paragraph. I make my right hand like a conductor to keep them together, going especially slowly and insisting that they all read loudly together.
3. At the end of each paragraph, we discuss that paragraph in the target language, mixing the discussion up with some PQA, or some theatre. (note: the discussion is best done paragraph by paragraph, although one can also discuss the entire reading after it has been fully translated. Jason Fritze does the former, going to and from each paragraph with translation and then discussion. I think that is the best way to do it, because it keeps target structures from each paragraph fresh in the students’ minds for better discussion and spin off PQA).
4. I read the entire passage to them in a sacred way.
5. Then (if time and if you need a grade), I do a dictee on part of the text and/or give a prewritten yes no quiz on the contents of the chapter.
I have also found that the sequence above is also a good way to treat a song. I think that there has been a lack of good pedagogical discussion over the years about how to present songs to students. If one applies the reading sequence described above to a song it makes the song quite transparent for the kids, which is the point. So here is what I normally do with songs, for those interested:
1. They read the song (I only use twexted versions of songs).
2. We all chorally translate the song as described above.
…(an option here is to teach a little grammar if anything needs it in the song)…
3. Play the song. This step is done only with songs, not readings, obviously. We play the song now because the kids don’t want to do a lot of PQA about a song they haven’t heard. They tend to tune out the PQA and just wait to get to the song. We thus play the song now and then again when it is easier for them to do PQA, after the PQA (step 4).
3. They read and discuss the song with PQA.
4. Play the song again. I have a good sound system in my classroom but I won’t use YouTube or an LCD. I think that the current interest in technology is at odds with the human side of real language sharing/co-creation/social/non-robotic elements of life. Moreover, since human beings process in such largely visual ways, I don’t see where showing to my students the image of a music video helps them – I think it just takes their auditory minds away from the real work of language learning, that of auditory decoding and working hard with the auditory input that the song is. As they walk out of my classroom I tell them that they can go home and work with the song on YouTube if they want.
Basically, this reading and song sequencing of a class can be described in a simplified version as:
1. They read silently (ten minutes).
2. We translate (five to ten minutes).
3. If a song, play it first now (about three minutes).
4. We read and discuss and PQA the reading or song in the target language (as long as possible).
5. They listen to me read the text again in a sacred way or they listen to the song (five minutes).
It’s a straightforward process that works for me.



19 thoughts on “A Suggested Reading Format That Might Also Work With Songs”

  1. “I only use twexted versions of songs.”
    I only just love that. But the problem I have when I just read that weird sounding guttural French without meanwhile hearing it is that I can’t help but try to apply my known English sounds to new foreign French words I’m reading.
    When reading songs, there’s almost always “out of bounds” vocab. I’m pretty fluid in Spanish, but every single song has new language to me. At least in Spanish I can guess the sound from the written word. But French?
    So I almost always listen before reading and listen while reading. I mimic when I listen because it really really helps me to hear the sounds. Mimic. To me, I feel like I can’t really hear a sound until I can make it.
    After I really connecting with the sounds, then reading without listening is less risky. I’m not gonna waste energy trying to imagine what it could sound like. Repeated listening prints the sound in my mind. Mimicking prints in my throat muscles.
    So when dealing with songs, it can be really really useful to have a native voice speak the words of the song really SLOW. With pauses after each phrase, so the listener can imitate the phrase. All acoustic. No meaning at first. Just imitation.
    Imitating sound alone helps me connect with it. It’s fun. I’m not afraid of saying something both wrong and with lousy pronunciation. I get to focus all my energy just on the sound. The more I do it, the more my vocal muscles get trained and sync up with my ear. I start to feel some success with the language. I like this. Fun early output can help meaningful Input get in.
    Jim says he’s tried this without great results. My guess is that he doesn’t believe in it, and his kids pick up on that. The only way I learned to believe in mimicking is by doing it to learn more of this new language called French. It works great and it’s fun and I can take it with me anywhere.
    If we’re looking for ways learners can connect with language and have more fun with it, mimicking is a good thing to try. What is the risk? Just playing with the sound is fun. I believe there are ways peers can mirror each other in this simple focused exercise, and am looking forward to testing it. Peers mirroring sounds. Owning the sounds. PWN
    2. re “choral translation”, you’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t get it. Are you all speaking English or French when chorally translating?
    3. I saw the “PQA” or “asking people how they feel about the song” work nice in your classroom. That was fun, thanks. Loved it. Maybe we’ll get another chance in early December?
    4. I’m on the fence about the visuals. Yes they can distract. But they can also provide seriously powerful mnemonic hooks, ie Cheb Kaled singing “regarde-mois” while gesturing to his eye. Then consider all the feeling transmitted by his performance. It’s so emotionally engaging. If I had to choose, I’d include the visuals to get emotional hooks set, then when focusing on the audio processing, eliminate everything but the audio.
    Audio only. It sounds like you’re doing that with the sacred reading. I love that. I’m finding that getting an additional pronunciation version is really helpful there, because then the listener can triangulate on the hearing the sound. “He says it this way, she says it that way, it’s almost the same but slightly different.”
    Once the audio is printed, then the meaning gets attached (twext), then the mimicry can emote (delryic), and that’s where the fun comes in. For me, anyways. But I should add that what I doing and recommending strongly is to go forth and *memorize *the songs you love. This makes a huge difference for anyone using songs to learn language.

  2. Ok…I have tried and tried to wrap my mind around what a twext looks like but just can’t seem to make it happen…do you know of one online that I could see?
    I’m sure that it is simple and obvious (I tend to overcomplicate things!!!!!!) and would LOVE to just see a sample…
    with love,

  3. Laurie, I sent you some samples that Ben is trying out. Happy to do so with anyone willing to A.) try learner response twexted lyrics, B.) tell us what works and what doesn’t. duke@twext.com
    re: “wonderful surprise” blog, Ben, Michele, Jim, and teachers who wanna *try* new ways to maybe work a little less and maybe get a little more done by trying to get learners to get into making learning materials.. no promises, we’re only researching, but maybe learners will like making twexts like Le Poisson Sourit.
    There’s a slight learning curve and some software issues as Jim’s students can tell you, but it’s basically working for anyone who wants to work it.

  4. “when dealing with songs, it can be really really useful to have a native voice speak the words of the song really SLOW”
    You can slow down a file with Audacity without changing the pitch at all. (I just figured this out a couple of weeks ago…) It’s really easy. I think it has the potential to make songs and videos way more accessible. You can also separate audio from a video with Super (and I might have gotten windows movie maker to do it too–can’t remember for sure…)

  5. You can slow down a file with Audacity without changing the pitch at all.
    Steve Kaufman has someone doing this at LINGQ. Jim Tripp has tried one version of a mimic file where the pitch was inadvertently changed down looooowww, and reports that the kids didn’t like it. Creepy, haha. On my task list is to figure out how to slow files in Audacity without changing the pitch.
    Carla, can you please post instructions? Thanks =)

  6. You start with an audacity file. Select the piece of audio you want to change. Then use the “change tempo” effect. I just tried it again with a vocab file, and it did affect the quality a little. But it didn’t affect the pitch at all.
    If you’re starting with an mp3 file, you have to import it first to audacity to work with it. When you’re finished you can export it to mp3 or wav.

  7. Duke we’ve gone round and round on this one (your first point above) about the gutteral pleasure of tasting, chewing, uggering, language first and I totally agree. It’s what babies do, after all. And it is so powerful.
    But asking a class to do that? This is what we ran into last month when I put myself out there trying to do just that. It was brutal, as we both agreed. The biggest term that can describe the invisible world in high school and middle school classrooms is “fear of looking stupid”. I know you do it in your escuela, but your clientele is vastly different. They all want to learn. Let’s just keep this topic open and yeah, let’s make another day of it when you’re up here in December. What I like about your being in my classroom is that for years now we have gotten up and tried stuff with classes like fools rushing in where angels fear to trod. What the hey, right? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I trust you and that is why we learn so much from each other.
    Now your second question is that they chorally translate the French text into English, all staying together and all speaking loudly. When we are doing this, I am aware of major synaptic activity. Reading – the magic road. I’ll show you that and you’ll see what I mean on the choral reading in December.

  8. I just wanted to add that I edited a change into the song format above, but not to the reading format. It was on the suggestion of my students today. They said that they would rather hear the song before doing the PQA. They said that it is hard for them to read and translate a twexted song and then have to delay hearing it while I go nutty trying to get PQA reps to set up their best decoding of the song. So, yes, I play the song after the PQA, but now, before it also. (It’s added in as step 3 in the main blog entry – the second half on song format – above).

  9. “Brutal” to me was poor you hanging up there as master of ceremonies. Brutal was that youngster teasing you about “are we gonna be entertained today, sir?” My respects, it doesn’t look not at all easy. But looking for ways peers can have fun with each other while messing with (and connecting with) la français ain’t brutal. It’s just a hunch that smells like “how do you spell relief?” How can Thugg get more than 50%? How did the whole class feel when the “wonderful surprise” girl got up and output her independently owned story? Like me I suspect you suspect there’s are ways to make the room 1.) plus français, 2.) plus amusant, 3.) plus appartenant à des apprenants. Ne vois-tu pas?

  10. “we have gotten up and tried stuff with classes like fools rushing in where angels fear to trod.”
    Yeah, I remember being on the sharp end of the stick there. That was brutal. That you do it and your readers do it daily is epic. The fact that you are looking at uncorking more wonderful surprises moreover. If after Thanksgiving you wanna try tag team on sonic peer mimicry for 10 minute semi brain break activity just for kicks, I’m ready, let’s rumble 🙂

  11. “then the mimicry can emote (delryic),”
    “sonic peer mimicry”
    I’m confused about the mimicry… can you describe what you were doing/trying to do?

  12. Mimicry is imitating out loud the sounds one hears, and it can happen with zero attention to meaning; in fact, it’s a great big huge gigantic exhaling relief not to be responsible for both screwing up the meaning *and* the sound. Try it with any language you are learning. Just focus on the sound you hear, mimic it, especially with a lung full of air and include some volume. What happens?
    What I’m trying to do me is learn le français, pour moi. What I’m finding, for me anyway, is forgetting meaning and focusing only on le sons is a great coeur; it helps me hear input, it helps Input get in, and it’s Meaningful to me, because I like it.
    I like playing with sounds. You know, avec la bouche. I imagine most of the kids in classrooms like it, too. So I’m asking if this might maybe possibly be an activity worth exploring in post industrial L2 classrooms; and wondering, if so, how peers can develop the activity and own it outright, so it’s not tainted by dinosaurs or prescribers. How can we describe what we feel?
    Me, I like using my voicebox to emote. From the belly or nose or wherever. Ewww! Who doesn’t? I love real full belly laughs out loud and don’t get nearly enough of them every day. Testing shows 96% of humans agree.
    Anyway, the delyric theory is A.) use songs, 1.) start with sounds, 2.) figure out what they mean, 3.) have fun using them in real life pour de communiquer avec les amis.

  13. But forcing mimicry? It’s like forcing speech. It’s forcing output all the same. This is where we disagree Duke, on this point. High school kids don’t have the same motivation as you. They won’t do it. They’re too worried about how they look. They need a teacher. The minute Thugg takes over the room, the English will cascade into the process.
    It brings up a huge topic, kind of the guerilla in the career – why are these kids really in my classroom, and is it even possible to honestly and truthfully “get them interested” in something that is so freely given? I think you have to be a public school teacher with large classes over many years to fully get that question. Not that it has an answer.
    Kids in American classes are trained that they cannot learn without a teacher. That is changing fast with the internet now, of course. I have heard of studies showing that teens are learning more from the ‘net than in schools even now. Maybe the future of teachers will increasingly have less to do with learning, which the kids will do on line, and more to do with their managerial capacity as petits fonctionnaires keeping a dying social institution alive.

  14. Well said Ben. Thomas has mentioned this on his bog recently, and the talk by Sir Robinson alludes to this problem also. It is huge, way bigger than how we might teach differently in my opinion. Petit fonctionnaires, yeah, everything standardized, managed, assessed… I sure hope not!
    I don’t know personally about the utility of mimicry yet, but I would say it CAN’T possibly be forced. I don’t think that is what Duke is after. That would ruin everything, desire and ability.
    I tried the choral translation of twexted song today, and I was surprised by how it went. Well! I hadn’t done it because I thought it was superfluous and a little silly, since the translations were right there in front of them. But it did seem to help. It worked better with me reading chunks instead of whole lines. I would agree with your students Ben, that it is better to listen once (or more) before translating. We had listened to Golpes en el Corazon (awesome Spanish song, Thanks Duke!) at least 8 times, then we just translated today. Not sure if that’s better or not, but I liked the idea of listening a few times with them taking from the song/lyrics what they want/need, and then translate/discuss. Still deciding on preference (as a teacher…) of this aspect though.

  15. Every once in a while, I use tongue twisters. The kids get into pairs and practice one that they choose off a multi-page list. They practice saying it together, then once they’ve got the pronunciation down, they practice saying it faster and faster. Eventually they perform in front of the class. They love this activity! Some care about the meaning, but most just like playing with the sounds.

  16. “…I liked the idea of listening a few times with them taking from the song/lyrics what they want/need, and then translate/discuss…”.
    Yes, Jim, doing this speaks loudly to my intuition. When Duke was up here last time he pointed out to me the different ways the kids would interact with the twexted songs while the song was playing. Some would curl up with the paper, eyes close to it to see the English, but would be fully locked on to the sound, others would have it far enough from their faces that they could only see the TL, etc. Just different styles. But I think Duke would agree with what you wrote above. It is in the playing with the song, the experiencing, the tasting of the beautiful sounds of the TL that he is about, and so listening a number of times before any PQA/Read and Discuss activity makes a lot of sense. Really, listening to the twexted version of the song is just another way to get reps on its main structures. The song, oddly and counterintuitively, sets up the discussion and vice versa. Thus, not only do songs appeal, tug at the kids’ heartstrings, they provide huge opportunities for repetition. Any many go home and listen to/watch the song on YouTube, put it in their ipods, etc. etc. It’s like we said, eventually they’ll learn languages online and by talking to each other in different countries online. They’re already doing that. It’s more interesting, I would imagine, than memorizing the pluperfect forms of some verb that they don’t really care about.

  17. When I have planned far enough ahead, I will play a song as “entrance music” for a few days prior to using it in class. For example, today my 4/APs heard “Sonderzug nach Pankow” as they came into class. The music was not overwhelmingly loud, but it was there. I’ll do the same thing on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We’re looking at Germany during the Cold War and currently reading what some young Germans have to say about the former East Germany – and by no means is all of it negative. On Friday – unless the emergency drill tomorrow takes up too much time – we will take a look at this song that is directed to the leader of the GDR and based on a popular song from shortly after WWII that was in turn based on “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. (Imagine Glen Miller set to a rock beat.) By the time we look at the lyrics, students will have heard the song at least 4-6 times (depending on how early they get to class each day).

  18. “When I have planned far enough ahead” 🙂
    Yeah, I hear you Robert. I do this too. It is a good idea for sure. Lately I have accelerated the amount of songs in class, so I have been playing them also during brain breaks, drink break time (block schedule), and some other little times during class. But the entrance music is awesome!

  19. “The kids get into pairs and practice [a cool song phrase they choose and can use with real life w/ friends.] They practice saying it together, then once they’ve got the pronunciation down, they practice saying it faster and faster. Eventually they perform in front of the class. They love this activity! Some care about the meaning, but most just like playing with the sounds.”
    Wow, Dianne. Merci! J’aime. (question: comment peut-on dire “i love it”?) This sounds like real clear easy way kids in class can practice owning new sounds and maybe owning 5% more of the class. Less Institution mirroring, more peer mirroring.
    Add pronunciation files, like Carla is making, into cell phone and anyone who likes can practice a sound/phrase outside of class (+30% ownership). These little practices need 90 seconds here and there. Easy and fun.
    Anyone who likes/wants can practice a useful phrase outside of class, then bring it to “perform in front of” the group. With practice, mimic muscles and throat muscles get needed training required to resonate with the new sound. Make the sound less “foreign”, more fun.
    As body/limbic system better resonate with the sound, more TL identity is established (“hey, that sound is me! i can hear it! i can even make it, better and better”). With practice, muscles get trained, pronunciation gets better, faster, fluider, friendlier. And more liked.
    All this is Pareto Principle theory. We focus 80% of our effort on 20% value. Flip it, ie put 20% effort into 80% value, get same result with less work. So ask if the cart is before the horse. Are we undervaluing celebratory output or fun early output? Moreover, what’s more important, a) CI ? or b) Affective Filter?
    Réponse: B. If you don’t care about some Input, who cares if you comprehend it? If you’re liking what you do and doing it and into it and caring about it and getting ownership and identity in it, there ain’t much Affective Filter. Au contraire, you’re liking what you do. C’est Si Bon. I love it.

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