One Way to Use Novels

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27 thoughts on “One Way to Use Novels”

  1. Yippie! What a brainstorm. I can’t believe I never thought of just not finishing the book. My students have a long tradition of hating Pauvre Anne, even though they start by loving it, and now I realize why.

  2. Melanie Bruyers

    You talked about preparing for a chapter for 18 days, then how long do you spend on one chapter? On a different post on this site, someone wrote about the steps for reading and I did that with a novel and it worked great and the difference for me was reading a few pages a day. I used to try to do a whole chapter in a day. When I switched to 3 pages it made it just right, at least in my upper level class. For a lot of the kids the novel is about 90% comprehensible already, so I didn’t have to spend the time preparing for them to read. We just had something to look for for each 3 page section, talked about what it would be about, I read it aloud to them. They read it silently, they translated it aloud with a partner. They did the little assignment I gave them at the beginning and then we discussed it a little. That worked great for many, many days, but then they got tired of it and I let them finish up the last 4 chapters of the book quickly on their own, just answering some questions for each chapter.

  3. I also read somewhere on this blog about “plowing” through a novel. Does that mean you read it to the class aloud, they read along silently, and then you just translate as necessary? Do I understand that concept correctly? I can see how that would go a lot quicker than doing all this front-loading and backwards planning. I am a bit on the fence about which method would be more beneficial to the kids.

  4. I just wrote a long answer, also swallowed up by the computer. Basically, I said in answer to Brigitte’s question that in the snowplow method the teacher reads and spins while the kids follow along and participate int the spin out discussions. Until last week, I only did readings from stories and the snowplow method.
    The readings based on stories are a random way to frontload vocabulary for the eventual reading of novels. When a number of stories has been read in that way, for a few years as in Melanie’s level 3 situation, the kids know the 300-500 base vocabulary and can read graded novels without much effort.
    This year I did readings based on stories until now so the kids now have that base of 300 words, and they can now read graded readers using the snowplow method and that can be very effective though boring, which is why I glommed on to the parallel novel idea here and wrote about that here recently. I know it’s confusing.
    Bottom line is whether you want to organize your level one classes around the 18 class periods to set up the reading of a chapter in a novel or use stories to get them that base vocabulary of 300 words. In the first example, the novel is the backbone of the year; in the second, the stories are the backbone of the curriculum.
    The frontloading of vocabulary for upper level classes is another topic. The general concept, however, is that in some way we need to pre-teach the words in the novel, either via stories or consciously choosing target vocabulary via the method described above. We make our own decisions based on what our needs are and what kinds of students we have. Others with experience should comment on this. There is no one way to do this stuff.

  5. Dear Ben and company,
    I have a slew of “outside” the box stuff that we have been doing with the novels but not sure that I will have time this week to post…I’ll see what I can find or what I might already have on my blog…maybe next weekend…
    with love,

  6. “On the first day, you PQA the structures, on the second, you ask a story using the structures without working from a pre-written story script* (you just PQA the structures into a story on the second day), and, on the third day, you do a reading from the structures”
    Any advice for how someone goes from using scripts to not using scripts? I was looking at a chapter in Piratas trying to think about what structures to choose — which ones might fit together for a story, which might be good springboards for PQA… etc… and it is a little daunting.
    Maybe this would be a good time to try student-generated stories? Pick three structures and have students put them together into a story? and then take parts of what they come up with in a class story?
    It seem like with all the teachers out there who are “backwards planning” from novels it would be great to have a way of sharing good story scripts based on the vocab from the books…
    Then I read Jody who says :
    I find that these novels are written in a way that makes it unnecessary to do tons of backward planning or using story script.
    This resonates, too.
    Backwards planning vs. reps through dramatizing, parallel characters, etc…?
    Thoughts on any of these ramblings?
    Curious about Laurie’s “out of the box” thoughts!

    1. Krashen’s Net Hypothesis I think supports what Jody said, because the novels are written with high-frequency structures, so any relevant CI teaching that we do should prepare them for the novels.
      Re story scripts transitioning, I kind of wonder if we all aren’t constantly moving through phases with them. I mean, right now I love them, they make my job so much easier, and I can work them so that the students aren’t saying “so where is he going now?” sarcastically (as happened to me when my storytelling was muy predictable.) So, what I’m saying I think, is that every teacher probably needs to move from the script phase to some other type of free-form stories or student-generated scripts, at least for a while, perhaps permanently if it suits the person. I think the transition is huge in our development as CI teachers.
      Thomas Young was working on a really cool idea a while back, a type of backward planning planner for novels. I don’t know what became of it, but he is pretty accessible through his blog (check the list in the right margin).

      1. …Krashen’s Net Hypothesis I think supports what Jody said, because the novels are written with high-frequency structures, so any relevant CI teaching that we do should prepare them for the novels….
        Jim that is pefectly said and pretty much “it” in a nutshell for me. However, I really want to hear what the group thinks about this idea of working backwards from a novel, creating stories from scratch (no scripts) to get the reps in that leads to the reading. What really is the best way to do it?

        1. Yes, again and again, I fail to place my faith in the Net. The traditional teacher in me wants to control the what and when of my students’ acquisition, and their unconscious minds are so annoying because they do not obey the order of my textbook. TRUST THE NET, is what I think Jody and others are reminding us, and we 4%ers need to hear this, again and again.

    2. Yes Elissa, Michele gave us that a few years ago. Do a search on “student generated stories” or something like that here and see what she says. It’s kind of cool. Michele gives the kids like five minutes in groups to sketch out a story script from the three structures for the day and then you go through and pick the one you like, or combine them and get started. My opinion is that when you do this you get a slightly less “crafted” (i.e. interesting) story with less form to follow (I need the structure myself) but in return you get highest interest because the story is from them, plus you get the benefit of frontloading the novel accurately. When we work from just random story scripts, we aren’t targeting any particular novel. Personally, I like to depend on Circling with Balls (which Skip is still doing, I think!) to teach all the basic vocabulary for a level one class and which is why I vote for using this method of reading at levels two and above.

      1. Lately I have noticed exactly what you said about story quality when the kids are driving the story-car. I asked a story from Jenny and there was lots of laughter because of the silly repetition of a pair of glasses (or something else) breaking over and over. I’m beginning to think that one option might be to give them the punch line to work into a story three times. (By the way, I give them a max of three minutes, and usually only two, to write their story ideas. Otherwise it takes too long in class, and the stories get unwieldy. If they’re only two minutes’ worth of telling, I can combine them.)

  7. O.k., I am so new to this and it is probably presumptuous of me to “offer advice”. However, I have found that when I let the students drive the direction of a story, I get much better results than when I stick to a script. Most of the time, a story line develops naturally during PQA of the target structures. If somebody comes up with something really interesting (like today, when one of our structures in level 1 was “he needs”, and one boy said that he needs a rocket so he can fly to the moon and see if he can find a new sister there because he absolutely needs a new sister…….). Perfect! I was so tempted to go ahead and start asking the story right then and there but I stuck it out with SLOW and kept the PQA going. Once again, the bell rang when we felt like we were just getting started. So, maybe you could give it a try and just see where the students might take you.
    Of course, I have to admit that my days are not always blissful like that – Monday mornings with level 2 kids can be a downright drag. I told them today that their homework was to brew a gallon of extra strong coffee and gulp it down before they show up to class tomorrow (in L2, of course).

  8. Such a good description of how PQA can sometimes extend beautifully and with wonderful serendipity, while at other times can crap out. Being already a hopeless example of a right brain dominant hippy freak (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I don’t like that insecurity, and so have become a proponent of having a story script firmly in my hands whenever I am doing a story.

  9. Two things: 1) In my cluelessness about the stories and scripts, I have found that I forget to use the script! As in, I have it in front of me, but I don’t actually know how to transition from the PQA into the script. I have been watching the videos lately–super helpful–but I still dont’ get it. Like, I am theoretically “asking” the story, but how do I “ask” it to go with the script without forcing it? Sorry. I am really struggling with this. I realized recently that I have been using the structures and then not truly using the script, and so the stories tend not to wrap up so neatly.
    2) I am also hitting the wall with my upper level class. No, I hit it awhile ago. I am very confused as to what to do with them. It’s abundantly clear that they operate from their left brain. I was doing the reading steps with them last week on a quick story we had created based on some song lyrics. When we got to the accent part, where they simply repeat what I read…with the text right up on the wall, they actually read it “wrong”, inserting bizarre things that were not written up there, substituting verb infinitives, etc….truly weird. We also were singing a Sr. Wooly song (yes. totally silly, and even these older kids love this) at one point a couple weeks ago…and the same thing happened. Despite the fact that the song lyrics are repetitive and simple, they were singing it incorrectly. One line was “yo tengo mucha hambre” and they kept singing “mucho hambre.” I did not point out any of these errors; I was just observing. But I’m puzzled and don’t know what to do. My instinct tells me to slam through as many novels as I can. I just read Melanie’s suggestion about doing a few pages at a time and then having some group assignment, etc. I realize that I don’t give myself permission to read aloud much with this group, and that is the missing link it seems. I know they feel like they haven’t learned anything new, and reading aloud probably seems babyish to them and maybe they just are not buying into this at all. But I am not going to grammar them. I just can’t. I even tried grammaring last week…taking song lyrics and doing a perspective change, trying to get them to “retell as if you were the character” but this fell totally flat. I suspect they cannot focus because the seniors are smack in the middle of college apps AND a major senior project, and the juniors are a particularly stressed and suffering group in addition to their general overload. Junior English class is one of those classes where they have like 2hrs worth of stuff every night and they are always doing some “major” thing for that teacher. Ugh! Maybe I need to personalize more, get back into the circling with cards??? Desperately seeking suggestions!!!

    1. On the transitioning to the story from PQA, it’s easy. You’re close, jen, so don’t be too concerned. Basically, you have fun doing the PQA with the structures. You don’t even care about getting to the story. You just PQA the structures.
      If a structure is “wants to buy”, then, at a certain moment, your internal teaching mind recognizes that what you just said about Johnny wanting to buy a car just now in the PQA is similar to the first sentence of the story. Hmmm. You have to be aware of the first part of the story.
      Then, if the story script says that “there is a girl named Maria who wants to buy some new clothes, you get Johnny’s ass up there toot sweet and start working off the script. Voila – you’ve transitioned from PQA into a story. Those moments are always happening in PQA so just be aware of them.
      And jen here is another blog post from 2007 that may or may be up to date and help you on this topic:

  10. After I read the reading steps here a while back, it gave me permission to read aloud to my upper level class and they haven’t minded it a bit.
    There was something about the auditory part of hearing it before they have to read it on their own.
    I was struggling with my upper level class at the beginning of the year and I got some really good advice here, which you can look up under the post upper levels. But what changed for me, was I stopped doing circling and stories with them. Instead I just focus on reading and do the steps that are listed on this blog. Then I let them do more output, such as writing and writing dialogs to present. We just finished the novel My own car, then we learned some simple past forms, through reading some fairy tales. Yesterday, I brought them to the computer lab to find online news for kids articles (written in the simple past). They each had to choose an article from a few sites that I had and then choose 10 new vocabulary words or phrases and make a powerpoint to illustrate each phrase, so then the whole class will PQA those phrases a bit before we read the articles. I have 15 students, so that should keep us in reading for a while. After that, I plan to read another novel.

    1. …there was something about the auditory part of hearing it before they have to read it on their own….
      Melanie I believe you just stated what Diana taught me in adding the reading step in bold below:
      Option A for the W/Th classes:
      1. Write on the board, in L2: the title of the story, and the words who, where, what happens, what is the problem? Then tells the students very quickly, those things, in L2. (optional)
      *2. Instructor reads aloud in L2 – this allows the student to make the necessary connection between the sound of the story with, now for the first time, what those sounds look like on paper. (required)
      3. Silent reading, decoding of the first page of the three page prepared text (usually a generic version of five classes’ stories). (optional)
      4. Pair work to translate. (optional)
      [note: some classes can’t handle steps 3 and 4 above and should not be allowed those options]
      *5. Choral translation using laser pointer. (required)
      *6. Discussion of text in L2. (required)
      *7. Discussion of grammar in L1 (6 and 7 may interweave) (required)
      8. French choral and individual work on accent – this can be a very special time as we finally are able to hear, after a year and a half of constant input and relatively little verbal output, how our students’ brains have organized the language in the now emergent output. We notice how well they pronounce the language IF the output wasn’t too early. (optional)
      9. 5 minute write of the story, in which the students answer the questions: who, where, what happens, what is the problem. 5 minute write of the story, and he urges them to use the questions: who, where, what happens, what is the problem. (optional)
      *10. Sacred reading of the text – after 4 class periods of either listening or reading input, the students know the material. So, to conclude,
      read it to them with meaning, dramatic tone, artistry, in a quiet, sacred kind of setting. One teacher read it with such drama that the kids told her she should have been an actress. I generally do this step without the text in front of the students. They are really pleased when they can understand it. (highly recommended)
      *11. Translation quiz – pick any paragraph from the reading and have the students translate it into English for a quick and easy grade. (required)

  11. Maybe that’s what I should be doing, too, with my level 2 classes. Story-asking has been such a disaster lately. On top of it, I was being observed by our building principal today and they completely froze up on me. They even asked me questions on how to say stuff in German, even though we had circled and PQAed those particular structures ad nauseum yesterday (and they were still on the board for their reference). Today was truly a low-point for me. So, I like your idea of focusing on the reading aspect for a while. I guess I will still PQA and circle but skip the story-asking part (is that terrible?) until we can gain momentum again. Some of it probably has to do with my lack of experience (although there is certainly no lack in enthusiasm for the method on my part), nonetheless, I absolutely refuse to give up and go back to my old ways .

    1. No one gets a pass on the freeze up events with observors, Brigitte. I have always felt that, with this kind of possible difficulty always a threat to our sanity, we have needed to find a safe option.
      I am now thinking that this kind of option may lie in the area of reading and in particular in the reading of parallel novels. For me, the new frontier is using novels as a base for CI, not as a target. Novels should be the bow, not the target. Perhaps.
      But back to my point Brigitte – you earned some rank today. Wear those stripes with pride. You earned them. And remember – this is something I heard Mary Anne Williamson (Course in Miracles) say years ago –
      “…some of your greatest failures you judged to be successes, and some of your greatest successes you judged to be failures….”
      So what if it was a low point? That principal didn’t know or much care what he was looking at, trust me on that one. And the kids, hey, they’re kids. They bounce!

      1. Ben, thanks for the pep talk. Unfortunately, the principal knew exactly what he was looking at since it was an announced observation and we had a pre-planning conference where I was singing the praises for the holy grail that is TCI. He is a social studies teacher by trade and loved the teaching with stories idea when I presented it to him. He even called my department chair after our meeting and told him how excited he was to have the opportunity to watch what was going to happen in my class. So, I feel like I totally let him down. I guess I will let you know what he really thought when we meet for the post-ob on Friday.
        Please know, though, how much your continued support and advice mean to me. Without it, I definitely wouldn’t feel like this is something I can do!

        1. Just be very honest in the meeting. If he is a teacher by trade, he’ll totally get it. This is helping me understand that I may just want to work with parallel novels for future observations in the way I described in recent posts.
          It’s like driving a mechanically superior car. It may not have the pizzazz of a sports car, but it gets there and shows the power of the method to the observer without any fear of it breaking down as is true with stories.

  12. Melanie Bruyers

    I think if you don’t do the story, you are still doing CI, so I don’t think it’s terrible. Maybe sometime a story will just evolve out of the PQA and you can go with it, if it doesn’t that’s okay.

    1. I agree. We see the power of the method to do great and wonderful things and then we put too many expectations on ourselves and our kids to make it work every day when that is impossible, clearly, in a 180 day grind like we have each year.
      My advice is to relax, let the energy flow, take what they give you, do the CI to the best of your ability knowing that it will get better and better over time, maybe opt for a reading class or something with spinning to show the auditory part, and relax.
      This is right before exam week in my school and I can just feel the energy to get all bent out of shape about just about anything. It’s not worth it. Search “Merton” in the search bar for more on that thought.

  13. It is also a natural reaction for our students to “freeze up” during “our” observation. We have worked so hard to create a supportive and relaxed atmosphere..and it works!! And then an administrator walks in.
    Even if we don’t freeze up, the kids often do.
    Rarely do the best moments happen when anyone else can see them.
    That is why it is so great to have a place to share them.
    with love,
    PS Brigette, I’ve contacted both of the German teachers I know, but they haven’t responded back yet! I also vote for Robert!

  14. Thanks so much, Laurie! That is really “lovely” of you and very much appreciated. Hopefully, he/she/they will come through for us. Also, I am sorry that I have been hounding you about this but I feel it is just too important to let it go.

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