Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

The New “Story Unit” Part 1 – Establishing An Environment for Successful Reading


testI really hated the ‘clothing unit’ I used to do in Year4 – the one that I did it because it was in the text I used to use. And I just.couldn’ So what to add in. At the end of the course I used to do a 1 day story read. But….I wanted to incorporate it more into the course. So this year out with clothing and in with a story. The story is from a graded reader series in Japanese – and it’s a fun tale of a restaurant that (we learn in the end) eats the customers that visit there. Just enough ‘scary’ and ‘interesting’ to capture their attention and designed for readers with a vocabulary of 2,500-5,000 words.

I’ve taken lots of inspiration from my #langchat colleagues in setting this up…and I am pleased with the first pass

What Did They Read?  The story is called “注文の多い料理店” (The Restaurant of Many Orders) and is at the gold level of readers provided via White Rabbit Express in Japan.  The book contains a mix of text and key photos that aid in following the story. The text does not shy away from using Chinese characters with ‘furigana’ provided for each on how to read them.

How Were They Supported? This is was my students first foray into a text heavy ‘story’ and the key for me was to inspire confidence and spur them to want to read more. So ensuring success was my key ‘mandate’.

Grammar/Vocabulary Support: The story contains grammar and vocabulary students had not yet encountered. Because I wanted them to be successful and experience confidence in reading I provided a reading guide. It contained two key items – information on unknown vocabulary on a page by page basis as well as links to brief grammatical notes. In truth there wasn’t much on the grammar side they hadn’t seen and what they hadn’t was repeated enough to allow them to become familiar with it. Two key pieces of grammar were reinforced via a flipped lesson (read on!).

Pair Reading: I asked them to read with their seat partner – and to follow our typical “two and talk” practice – each reading a short amount and then stopping and talking about what they read.

Flipped Lessons for Two Key Grammar Areas: I first saw this in action during a visit with Catherine Ousselin in Mount Vernon – the combination of video and google forms to check understanding. I wanted to reinforce two grammar points that occurred over and over in the story. Students had also heard these items before but never looked at their technical construction. I am the first to admit that the videos (produced via screencasting program Snagit) are not anything but me annotating notes. Once uploaded to my YouTube channel students could view and then they were directed to a link to a google form ‘quiz’ that tested their understanding. The form was in turned tied to Flubaroo to provide instant feedback. My full post on this is here.

Graphic Organizer: Using a recurring item in the story, in this case “doors” the characters encountered. I created a large (11 x 17″ both sides) graphic organizer for the students. As they read  – and encountered the doors – they were asked to fill in ‘characters’, ‘setting’ and then the stages of the story. Students filled this in in the target language. I also added strategic questions – in English this round but I will TL them the next time I do this – asking them to go ‘beyond the page’ and show deeper understanding. The organizer was used after reading as the students used it to initially ‘recap’ the story.

Audio Support: I am lucky that these graded readers also come with audio of the story. So after finishing reading we read the story again as we listened along to the reading. A great way to re-hear the story.

Time to Read: Students were initially given 4 1/2 class periods to read the story (about 25 pages). They were not asked to meet any particular schedule other than finishing by the set date. As this was the first crew to do this, we all agreed to review the time requirements as we went along and indeed found that the time worked for them – this ensured that they would give themselves permission to read for understanding and not feel pressure to ‘finish’ that might compromise comprehension.

Teacher as Coach: I was not the reading leader during this process. Instead my job was to ‘float’ and ‘coach’ as needed. It worked well. I think it taught students to ask for help as needed and not to be concerned that they were checking something out that they felt they might not be understanding (and more often than not they were ‘getting it’!)

Oral Recap – a la Carrie Toth: I loved this idea when I first saw it and was determined to use it. Once students were done readingIMG_2292 (1) we had a ‘recap day’. Instead of ‘key words’ from the story, as Carrie did, I chose to use images from the book (there was almost one per every two pages of story).  I copied the images from the story and laid them out in the hall and my classroom (1 set/14 students). Then students had 90 seconds at each picture to talk about what was happening in the story at that point. It was really successful and a great way to recap what happened.

An Amazon Japan “Review”: What would be more natural these days then to ask for ‘reader reviews’ of the story. I did a mock-up of an Amazon Japan page for the book for this. Students were asked to provide a star-rating, a summary of the story, and their review – recommending that a person should/shouldn’t read the story.

This was great! Students were engaged in reading and their confidence grew daily during the process. It was the perfect setup to their own ‘independent’ read (new post on this to come!). Thanks again to my #langchat colleagues for their sharing of ideas, and input, as I developed this unit!



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