Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

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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