OWATS Instructions

Below is a writing activity by Bob Patrick (Atlanta) that I have chosen to include in the new star sequence book as one of its four “top quality” extension activities. Please look it over and provide comments in the comment fields below. Like Carly’s Carrot activity, it burns a few days at a time of year when that is a very good thing.

1. Print out a text that you would like your class to be able to read. This could include even authentic texts for strong upper level classes, as long as they have been trained with comprehensible input.

2. Select and highlight the words in the text that you feel would be essential to a successful reading of the text.

3. From the highlighted words, prepare a collection of 3 x 5 cards with one of the words on each card.

4. Spread the collection of cards out on a table.

5. Students form groups of no more than four.

6. Each group chooses a word from the table.

7. Working together on one sheet of paper with a scribe, the students start a story by writing one good sentence using that word .

8. When done, they call you over to “approve” the sentence. If there is a problem, explain it.

9. They fix the sentence.

10. Once their sentence receives final approval from you, they go get another word from the table from which to craft another sentence.

11. That next sentence has to link to the first one so that a story can take shape.

12. The process continues: they write a sentence, call you over, receive any grammar help, and then get a new word to further advance their story. 

13. If the table is emptied of words, they find their next word from another group and give them one of theirs. 

14. With 5 minutes left in class I tell them that with their next sentence or two, they should bring their story to a surprising end. (This last instruction about writing a surprise ending is a surprise itself which doesn’t allow time for overthinking.

15. I collect the stories and type them into a PowerPoint presentation.

16. The next day, we read the stories together. 

17. After all the stories are read and discussed, give the students – perhaps on the next day – time to create a drawing in color that illustrates their story. Then discuss each drawing just as you discussed the written story in Step 16 above. This adds interest, eats up even more time, and makes it more fun. [Step 17 credit: Bryan Whitney]



14 thoughts on “OWATS Instructions”

  1. Something interesting is the fact that we must “approve” their work could lead to kids having an affective response if they have to have all of their mistakes pointed out. Would it be better to instead correct any mistakes when we write up their stories to be read? I am not saying that we cannot approve their sentence, but not in a grammar sense. We could just make sure that the message they want to convey is being delivered. That way when we write it up to be read it would be true to the intent of the students.

    1. It’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde issue for sure, Russ. My Inner Grammar Man loves the idea of making the corrections. It looks like “school”. It sends the message that in this class yes in fact we do grammar, in spite of all the accusations from grammar-based colleagues down the hallway. It appeals to the 4%ers. It eats up minutes. There are all sorts of reasons to do it.

      However, not one reason, not all of them combined, can equal the validity of the point you make about raising affective filters. I can see where Bob did it this way, though, as a Latin teacher. I really should change it. Why don’t I want to?

      1. Well I am not suggesting necessarily that you need to change anything. I shared this activity with my colleagues and this was something that I thought was interesting:

        When I read over the steps of the activity, the idea really appealed to me. I like that students are writing collaboratively and it’s very open-ended, so students can be creative. I prefer, however, to tweak these and make them work best with the level I am teaching. I wouldn’t do any correcting in the middle of the activity. I would have them draw a card, go to their group and write and sentence, then go get a different card, etc, to build a story. At the end of the time you give them, I would collect the stories. I would then take SOME of the stories, fix them and make them comprehensible and read them with the class the next day (or whenever). In that way, students are writing collaboratively, but focusing on the message (our goal) and not on perfection (not appropriate at their levels). I would also, of course, customize the word bank to the level so that students could successfully complete it. I think it could work in level 1 at this point in the year or with any higher levels as well. This is how I would approach it.

        I thought my colleague’s idea was a good one because as she stresses it depends entirely on the level and the kids you are teaching. If this were upper level kids you would definitely want to start thinking about correcting because a lot of them want to be corrected and may be at a developmental level where that is appropriate. It always comes back to context.
        Who are you teaching?
        What do you want them to learn?

  2. This is great! Just what I needed since I finished the Free Choice Reading book project and kids are acting crazy.

    Most classes I can’t get to listen to a stream of CI for more than a minute due to all the Spring and Easter Breaks, fundraisers, end of the year pranks etc.

    1. I just forgot abou that project Greg. I had to change my class to explicit teaching and making kids do “active in their learning.” Ill probably still do the project as a “stories wrap up” piece. Cheers.

  3. I would also give them 10-15 minutes at the end to create a drawing in color that illustrates the story. This will add interest when reading the stories, eats up more time, and makes it a little more fun. I like the idea! Personally, I would keep the part where I make corrections so they feel like there is more accountability.

    1. Thank you Bryan for that last step and I will put it in the book right away, since from past suggestions that you have allowed into past books I know that I have your permission. I like how the Invisible have expanded our scope of activities with CI. We no longer have to just provide all that input, or have them write occasionally, and all the things we did before – now we also have a new wrinkle in our bag of tricks – the delightful option at any time in class to get them happily drawing/coloring images to process as we wish. Our world is bigger, our options more numerous, and our sense of fun and community-building is helped along so much with things like your idea of having them color to finish up the OWATS activity. Plus, you yourself are in the unique position as a gifted visual artist of adding to the class an art/drawing class aspect that many of us can’t. I myself am the worst drawer on this side of the planet. I can’t even draw a stick figure without my teeth starting to itch.

  4. Notice what we are describing in this conversation. First, we say it’s fine (Russ’ spot-on point notwithstanding) to teach grammar during a CI class. Second, we say it’s fine to add on COLORING as an extension activity to the OWATS activity, as per Bryan’s suggestion above.

    These are important delineations/wrinkles in the CI cloth. Instead of going for the top scores – which we all know means nothing – and instead of trying to fill every waking minute of our classes with CI – we merely use it as a base and do whatever is best for for our own sense of order and mental health and that of our students by doing things that are not necessarily always in line w Krashen. He sent me an email after reading my reading options (he read the ANATS book and approved of it) and complained that many of the options were not research based. He told me his objections for each point. I responded to the lot of them by asking him if he had ever taught a high school language class. Didn’t get a response.

    This has been a long time coming for me (20 years). We are not CI teachers, we are language teachers who happen to use CI whenever we wish, w no compunction to use it all the time.

  5. I think I am going to try this activity! I have to teach grammar and vocabulary- this will be a great way to bring in that vocab (you know, the words actually on the test- not the entire list I am supposed to teach), movement, creativity, social time, and some great, engaging CI when we get to read all the stories! I may have them bring me their sentences at this point in the year for my Spanish 1 classes, but I’ll be picky about what I check – I tend to correct only one or two things at a time (in an oreo format with positives) because I find learners are ok and accept that easily. More than that and they just shut down.

  6. Jenny what you said here:

    …I tend to correct only one or two things at a time (in an oreo format with positives) because I find learners are ok and accept that easily. More than that and they just shut down….

    I would like to put this quote in my new book, so let me know. I am starting to notice how far away from the “TPRS Commando” mentality we have come in the past few years. We actually were thinking of making hats with that term on them and passing them out at conferences. That view toward CI is in my own mind now way too extreme. Much time has gone by since the old militaristic days of “our way or the highway”.

    It doesn’t matter how much we get taught. It matters how much the kids enjoy themselves in our classes. So that means it doesn’t matter how much we align with the pure research. Not in schools.

    Therefore, we can say that there are two entirely separate ways to learn a language. One is to mix in the society and let it happen naturally, as with our first language.. The other is to sit in a school classroom for 180 sessions lasting 45′ each. That would honestly take an eternity to get to any meaningful level of proficiency so we need to stop expecting that.

    It’s about time that we relinquish the idea of teaching them the language in our classrooms and embrace the reality of what we can do in the extremely limiting settings that we are actually in! So I really appreciate this that Jenny said above:

    ..I have to teach grammar and vocabulary – this [the OWATS activity] will be a great way to bring in that vocabulary [along with] movement, creativity, social time, and some great, engaging CI when we get to read all the stories!…

    This is practical. This is doable. Is it in pure alignment with the research? Not at all. Is it fun and social for the kids? Yes. Therefore we should do it. This is NOT how many of us in this venue used to think about CI instruction 10 or 15 years ago here in this space. I find that significant.

  7. Also Jenny said that she will give out OWATS words that are “actually on the test- not the entire list I am supposed to teach”.

    Traditional teachers would fault this, citing that all the words need to be “covered”. Untrue. When traditional teachers expect all the words to be learned, the memorization beast comes into play. The poor learners have no choice but to memorize them.

    But, by choosing only the words for the OWATS activity and only putting those on the test, after reading all those stories on top of that, Jenny guarantees her students’ success, which the last time I heard is the main point of our jobs. This is perceived success vs. them knowing all the words….

    I would rather my students perceive themselves as successful – the new way – more than my administrators being told they are successful because of some test – the old way.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,



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