Backwards Design + Skeleton Stories + Embedded Readings

I took the following from a couple of comments I made on the blog today about the entire discussion about how backwards design may fit with student generated stories (Michele calls them skeleton stories), and how those fit with embedded readings as per Laurie Clarcq.
Below I explain how I did those things today, on a Monday. I can add to this later, but the effort here is to keep the blog searchable, which it isn’t when in comment form.
So, today, I targeted three structures from a song (Françoise Hardy’s Tous Les Garçons et Les Filles) that I was focusing on as a backwards design project.
These were the target structures:
tous les garçons et les filles – all the boys and the girls
se promènent dans la rue – stroll down the street
savent bien ce que c’est d’être heureux – know well what it is to be happy
Step One went well. I just PQA’d those three structures. The first two structures stuck together made for good general discussion. I asked if all the boys and the girls went down the street of if they went down the sidewalk, with a million variations on that – questions like were the penguins or kids going down the street – the usual reps via circling process. The last of the three expressions was hard for level one kids but they handled it nicely and all I had to do was change the word happy to some other emotion, along with changing the subject, for plenty of reps on that one. (I find it harder to circle the verb in PQA than the subject and the object.) Anyway, after five or seven minutes of that (which is a lot more CI than one would think as long as one is staying in the target language), I went to the SGS.
This was the SGS (student generated script/skeleton story) that I chose from among the five offered by the kids from their groups It was written in under three minutes by a group of six kids in English right after I explained what the words meant and right before the PQA:
All the penguins of the Arctic chase all the boys and girls down the street. A penguin’s life is a hard life filled with fish and cold water. So when they chase the boys and girls down the street they know what it is to be happy.
This became the story, along with a lot of discussion about where Denver was relative to North and South America, etc. that we did and which took up most of the class period (the story we created was written by a student in English so that I could later remember what happened and write the story as a reading for class tomorrow):
There were eight penguins in Patagonia. It is very cold there because it is close to the Antarctica. The eight penguins were citizens of Patagonia. There were also eight boys and girls who were citizens of Patagonia. There was a problem! The penguins were chasing the teens. The penguins are mad at the teens because the teens know what it is to be happy and they only know what it is to be stupid catch fish all the time. They want to go down the street together and be happy like the boys and girls.
The Quick Quiz at the end of the period, exactly as it was written by another student in English with yes or no answers, was:
1. Are there eight penguins? (yes)
2. Is the USA in South America (no)
3. Are there ten citizens in Patagonia? (no)
4. Are there only two girl penguins (no)
5. Did the penguins chase the people? (yes)
6. Did the people chase the penguins? (no)
7. Did the penguins chase the people because they were happy?
8. Did the penguins chase the people because they weren’t happy? (yes)
9. Did the penguins know what love was? (no)
10. Did the people know what love was? (no)

After school I wrote a simple story from this, we will read it tomorrow, expanding it into a bigger story, which tomorrow after class will turn into a bigger reading, with, of course, the base part from today embedded in there. I will share this same story with all my classes (the vocab, not the story, is the real target here to set up that song), and see how that expands into a bigger and bigger reading in each class. I need everything clearly in my mind, and I like to describe in detail all the steps here so that I can understand clearly what the process of doing skeleton stories and turning them into embedded readings in a backwards design setting really means.
There are two principle directions that the story that was created in class today about the penguins could go (of course it was lions in another class and the Village People in another). Since I only have time to write one reading for all my classes – as the Denver p.m. traffic is piling up on me as I write this – I wrote the one about the penguins.
Now, Laurie told us to just play around with the entire thing of embedded readings and so that is what I am doing. What I have decided to do now that the Monday class is just over, and the quick quizzes are done, is to take the generic reading (a student wrote it) and use it as the reading tomorrow.
I think that all the classes will be able to read it easily because I stayed in L2 all day as each class created these stories – got massive reps on the three target structures – so they know the terms cold.
And, when the readings are over, if they read as easily as I anticipate, I will be able to just leave those three structures and go to three new ones. Remember, the stories are only vehicles for teaching the language. Now, if the reading is faulty and I am overating how easy it will be for them, then I will do more read and discuss around those terms, adding in details and making a fatter story.
But I don’t think I will need to do that. I will see tomorrow. Expanding on the base reading will be necessary or not.
If it does not, and the kids know the stuff as I think they will, I then want to move forward in doing the same process as I did today with three NEW structures from the song which I am backwards designing.
Again, the stories are only vehicles for teaching the language, and I have a lot of structures to teach to get this song ready (although this song is a lot more simple than “L’Amoureuse” of ten days ago, which was way too long and complex for my level ones, and so I learned something there – to keep the songs at a level reflecting the level of the kids’ French).
Anyway, those are the two directions that the story (here it is below) will take. Either the kids will read it easily or not. And I will react by either expanding the story or by moving to the next three structures that I want the kids to learn in the song.
Notice again that the story is written in French (obviously in English below for clarity). If I give them the L1 with the L2, obviously, then they won’t try to decode the L2, so they only get the story in L2. Notice also how top heavy it is with the three original structures:
All the penguins of Chile (there are eight of them) aren’t happy. They don’t know what it is to be happy. It is a big problem for them. But it is not a problem for all the boys and the girls – the true citizens – (there are eight of them) of Chile, because they know very well what it means to be happy.
So, all the boys and girls know what it is to be happy, but all the penguins don’t know it. Therefore, the penguins are jealous of the eight citizens. They are jealous because they want to know what it is to be happy, but they cannot be happy because they are penguins. And their jealousy forces them to attack the eight citizens of Chile. The scene is not good.
Now, I can make that last sentence into something new, a new story using the structures that are next in line from the song. I can glue, or tag, or connect, the first story with the second. I’m going to use:
hand in hand
looking in each other’s eyes
walk in love without fear of tomorrow

and I’m guessing, knowing my kids, that they will have the penguins quickly really pissed off about that and attack the eight good citizens of Chile. That’s probably what will happen tomorrow. Those eight penguins will see those girls and boys so in love and lose it.



2 thoughts on “Backwards Design + Skeleton Stories + Embedded Readings”

  1. Ben,
    thanks for sharing the details of your work with this song. It is helpful to see how you broke it down and worked with the structures. I appreciate your generosity and your time!

  2. no problem. i feel like Michele and I are walking down the same road of discovery right now. the student generated stories, the backward design, the embedded readings that result from those things, all together they are giving me a confidence with this stuff that I never had before. it feels like safe ground.

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