Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

February 13, 2016
by leesensei
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The “Class Reads A Story” Process

white-rabbit-varietyIn a bid for more authentic reading I’ve begun to expand my use of stories with my classes. There are many ways to use them and this post highlights one way to use/support reading in your target language.

This post focuses on one way that I use the Japanese Graded Readers as a class story read by  the students (in pairs) at their own pace. I started this journey with the Yr4 novel unit last year and learned a lot while trying to implement it. Student feedback was helpful and many said “we should do more of these”.  So this year I am…

When I Use Them For “The Class Story – I typically start the year with this kind of story activity. For my Yr 3’s I use Momotaro and my Yr 4’s I use Urashima Taro.  Later in the semester my Yr 3’s also read KasaJizou  and my Yr4’s read The Restaurant of Many Orders . My Year 2’s read Hachiko as a class story as well.

The Goal? It’s my goal that students will read a story with their partner and use supports/partnership to work to understand meaning. It’s my goal that we don’t read ‘all together’ but that they read as a pair at a pace that works for them.

How Long? For these stories we are reading for 40-45 minutes of the class but you could read for shorter periods (over a longer period) as well.  Generally this entire reading process – from first pre-reading to final recap takes 3-4 class days.

It’s All About the Pre-Reading Activities!

Initial Vocabulary via images – I hadn’t thought of how easy it was to introduce key vocabulary from the first few pages of the story via images until I was reminded to by John Cadena. My favourite site for these is Irasutoya (Japanese specific). I project the key images (all 8 of them) and preview as a class prior to the first day’s reading.

Target Structure Reminders – In the case of my Yr3’s reading Momotaro, I wanted to remind them of all of the different ways that they were going to see the TE form used in the story. grab key images from the first few pages of the story

Vocabulary Support – I provide an extra vocabulary list and verb list for students. The vocabulary is provided on a page-by-page basis for the story and the verb as part of an overall list. Vocabulary is provided as it is in the story – that is words in kanji are in kanji on the list (with furigana) with their English meaning.

Audio Support – I learned last year that the audio to the story is key. But because I want students to read at their own pace I had to find a way that they could have the audio with them. A couple of days before the read I post a private link of the audio that students can put on their phones. They listen as pairs (sharing headphones)  and are asked to remove the audio once reading is done.

During the Read – Independent ‘Pair’ Reading

Read as a pair – Students opt to either in the classroom or in a quiet place in the hall. They typically listen to the page first. Then they read it aloud with their partner using what we call ‘Two and Talk’. That means that they each read a sentence (or two) then stop and talk about meaning. They understand that they don’t need to ‘translate’ 100% of the words but rather figure out ‘what’s going on’.

Read until… – I don’t set out reading goals prior to the time but rather base it on ‘checking in’ with each pair during reading time. I then ask all pairs to be at a specified page by the end of reading time. All groups are typically within 1 page of this point. If you are past it – that’s fine.

During the Read – Capturing Meaning/Summarizing the Tale

Prior to Reading Time Each Day – Generally at the start of the class we do a Q/A summary of the story via the images. I project an image from each page that we have read and we explore – orally – the story so far using ‘who, what, where, when, why…’. It’s a great way recap the story so far and remind everyone of where we are.

After Reading Time That Day – Students work on that ‘summarizes’ their reading so far. I pull key images from the story pages for this and ask them to ‘tell me what’s going on’ related to the picture. I stress that they are to write their 1-2 sentence summary as if they were talking to someone who had missed reading that page. They are not to ‘translate’ or ‘copy’ but rather to provide the basic details as they unfolded.  This is “marked” holistically on a ‘minimal’ or ‘meets’ the expectation of being a general story summary in Japanese.

Summing It Up – After We Have Read The Story

Retelling With Partners – After we are done the story the students retell the story in pairs – using a set of all the images from the story. They are to ‘talk’ about what has happened and use their story reading summary as support. What is key for me is that they are talking about the story rather than reading their summary to their partner.

Story Plot Graphic Organizer – My students complete a 1-page graphic organizer in English to show understanding of the story. This is a typical character & plot diagram sheet that they are used to doing for stories in their English class. Again it is marked holistically at ‘minimally’ or ‘meeting’ the expectations of plotting out the story (from start to finish).

Yellow Brick Road Recap – After all this work I like to have my students find a new partner for the Yellow Brick Road review. This is such great fun and I am grateful to Carrie Toth‘s post on this wonderful idea she came up with. My only twist is that, instead of key words, I again use the images from the story laid out around the room. Because they start their recap at different points in the story it really works at their ability to recall and discuss. It’s fabulous. We debrief via the ‘how did that go’ rubric.

I really like this process for the group read. My students like the readers because they are written for people learning Japanese and not just ‘children or baby’ stories.  And they feel great when they ‘actually read something and understand it!’ they say!




May 19, 2015
by leesensei

The New Story Unit Part 2: Independent Story Reading – The Process & Reviews


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I’ve introduced a new story unit to the Year 4’s. This grew out of a need to replace a unit I disliked and also wanting to make use of the large collection of Japanese-language graded readers that I have – but never did anything with!  I learned a lot as I went through this process – some of it went well and some needs refinement for next time!

Pick Your Partner (or not) – We read our class story in partners but for this I wanted to offer options. Students could choose to read solo (about 4 did) or with a partner (the rest of the 26 picked this method). I even had group of 4 develop as 2 groups of boys banded together to work through the reading.

Pick Your Book – The first story we read, as a group, was from  “level 3” and designed for those reading with a 2500-5000 word vocabulary. So for the “pick your own story” option there were choices at level 2 (1500-2500), level 3 and level 4 (5,000-10,000). I laid out all the options and allowed students 20 minutes to look at the story books. Not one group dropped down a level – all choose stories at level 3 or above. (To me this meant that the group read process had made them confident to continue!) They received a ‘copy’ of the story as I didn’t have class sets of originals. The stories on offer were varied and the most popular choices were – at Level 3 – かぐや姫、魔獣、かげのこいびと and at Level 4 – 雪女、はしれメロス. What I will do next time: On the back of these books is a brief blurb – which I hadn’t initially noticed. For next time I will copy these and offer them up to help choice – as many students chose based upon the pictures or the title with little info beyond that to inform them.

Pick Your Reading Pace/Location – This is a new unit so we discussed, as a class, how long they should have to read. Most of the stories were 20-30 pages – not terribly text dense though  – and with pictures to support reading. However, unlike the previous story, they would have no provided grammar/vocabulary information – they would have to look up/figure out what they encountered. We decided on 5 class periods with the understanding that we could adjust as we went along. In the end that turned out to be the perfect time  – the majority finished on day 5. In their ‘reflection’ many students said that they liked that they could read at their own ‘pace’ – and didn’t feel pressured to skimp on reading for details in a rush to finish more quickly. Students who were done did not go into the project right away but had a day to work on other academic items while they waited for their peers to finish.  Students also chose where they read – some read in the hall (quieter with so much reading aloud!), in our class and even in nearby empty classrooms. This contributed to a more relaxed reading atmosphere.

Pick Your Supports for Reading – It became clear as they went along that four items were essential to aid in reading. One was an electronic dictionary – which was faster and offered more choices than a traditional paper one. The second was the audio of the story – I only offered this up on day 3 of reading and, as it turns out, should have offered it sooner. The third was the teacher who took on the role of grammar coach – frequently putting key ‘bits’ of language up on the board to assist in meaning. The fourth was in attitude. There are a lot of Chinese characters in these books (with furigana reading) and in the class story I provided the definitions. So in their own stories they had to look up via the reading what they didn’t know – and relax about all the kanji on the page. For next time I will offer up the audio sooner than day 3.

Pick Up Your Reading Log – They used the first page of the log to note key vocabulary that kept coming up over and over again in the story – and would become part of their project on the story. Students also filled in a reading log at the end of each day responding to key questions in both the TL and English (TL questions/answers & Eng questions/answers). I would post the questions on the screen so that it allowed us to come together at the end of reading time as a group. Next time I may alter the TL and English question balance to more TL.

Pick Your Project to Show Understanding – I wanted to offer up a couple of ways for students to show their understanding of the stories. So I pulled from the group story project – a graphic organizer –  and offered a video review project as well (info and rubric here). In both cases the criteria reflected the need to show complete understanding of the story. Students had 3 days to complete the project in class. (Although the video pairs took an extra day). We didn’t show the videos in class unless the students’ involved said ‘okay’ (one group did/one didn’t) For next time I think I will ask for a couple of the ‘beyond the page’ questions to be in the TL instead of just English.

Pick Your Retelling Day Partners – Students engaged in a 1 hour class of ‘telling about their story’. They had a day with their partner to prepare for this and many used the pictures from their stories to do so (see the Carrie Toth idea in my previous post). Then on story day they circulated among themselves giving a summary of their story and recommending it to others (or not). Note that I did no evaluation on this day – to me this was a day to share only – and celebrate the accomplishment! For next time I will provide key pictures from each story for this instead of asking them to talk without support.

The reviews on doing this from students were so positive and enthusiastic about reading. Many spoke of their pride in reading actual stories, as well as in the freedom that they were given to learn in their own way. Others said that they never really knew they were learning to communicate in another language until this accomplished this. Still others said “do this in earlier grades with less difficult readers!” (and I will). What a fantastic unit it turned out to be for my students’ confidence in using the TL. More to come – more reading for this group – and more of a chance to read at the lower levels!



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