Planning Lessons & Breaking Down a Novel

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If you follow other CI teacher’s blogs you know that there is some great information out there about how to teach a novel. The very skilled are said to be able to teach a novel from day one. Sadly, I don’t possess that particular talent. My approach is rather methodical but it has proven effective (for me). I know many teachers are having great success with Untargeted lessons but I’m not there yet. I do my best to backward plan using the novel as an anchor while tying the novel’s theme and cultural information to one of the Spanish AP Themes. Once I have the overarching theme established I borrow some Big Ideas, Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions from Arlington Public Schools because 1) they have the good stuff, 2) I’m always pressed for time, and 3) people smarter and more experienced than me took the time to make this awesome, exhaustive resource (and hopefully meant to share it).

I then set the assessments to reflect my students’ expected language gains. By the end of the first semester my students can (usually): describe their physical appearance and personality; say from where they hail; give their age and phone number; describe their family as small, large or “normal” (the number of people not their girth!); talk about various relatives (in a limited capacity-relationship, name, a few adjectives about personality and appearance); their pets or lack thereof; and of course describe their preferences. By this time they’ve also acquired several high-frequency verbs from Terry Waltz’s list called The Super Seven and are on their way to acquiring more high-frequency verbs like the Sweet 16 from Mike Peto’s list. They can also write summaries of the novel, answer questions about the main character and his/her experience and retell parts of the story.

Because the novels are written using high-frequency vocabulary you can hit a lot of these terms through various activities. You can look at the glossary section of a leveled reader and determine which words can be “chunked” together. For lessons and activities building up to the novel I like to put the vocabulary into the following categories:

  • DAILYWords and phrases that I know I’ll hit throughout the day or week such as: greetings, date related words (numbers, days, months), listen, write, book, talk, please, thank you.
  •  Total Physical Response: A magnitude of verbs can be taught using TPR and you can easily incorporate various nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  I try to use movement as much as possible with my Middles by making it part of the lesson. Use during transitions, as brain breaks, or warm-ups. Try the 3-Ring Circus when your kiddos need lots of movement.
  • TPRSword chunks that I can make into stories. I like to use Martina Bex’s SOMOS for this. This is the meat and potatoes of my lessons. 
  • EMBEDDED READINGSthe use of a series of three or more readings of increasing difficulty, created from the same outline. Students are exposed to repeated versions of the text and engage in a variety of activities with the text in order to build language and gain a deeper understanding of it.
  • PQAUse targeted vocabulary and phrases to talk to your students in the TL. Fish for details! This is a great way to get to know your students and show interest in their lives. Use the information you learn to make stories for your classes.
  • Special Person Interview: One of my favorite activities is conducting Special Person Interviews. Bryce Hedstrom (with the help of many teachers) has generously made posters available for free on his site in the following languages: SpanishFrench,  Japanese, RussianLatin, German, and Hebrew.  The teacher asks a series of questions, the student responds, and the teacher reports back to the class. Great way to get reps of different conjugations. Make a big deal out of your students! Use celebrity guests if a student is too shy. 
  • MOVIE TALK: “A technique developed by Dr. Ashley Hastings for language learning. It was first used as part of a FOCAL skills program for teaching ESL.” Read Martina’s post here: Movie Talk
  • COROSUse #authres like music to teach vocabulary! Find a popular song or a classic. Listen to the song. Make a cloze activity. Learn the chorus and sing together. Learn more here and here.
  • PASSWORDSUse fun phrases or questions as a password! Each student must whisper the password phrase to you in order to enter the classroom. Examples:

    How gross!          No way!

You’re kidding!       I beg your pardon?

Be careful.      How’s it going?

Very nice.      Good luck.

  • MISCELLANEOUS: For words that only appear once or twice you can either let your students make meaning from context, provide the meaning yourself or let them look the word up in the glossary.

I really enjoy doing a whole-class novel study with my Middles. Especially for our first time reading. There’s a lot of hand-holding through this process but many of my students have expressed that they like the extra support. Sometimes my 2s like to do Literary Circles. We take a vote after the first novel during their second year about which titles are available and how they’ll read them (whole class, small group, lit circles, mixed title lit circles, Free Voluntary Reading).

Check out these posts for some awesome ideas once you start reading the novel:

Martina Bex  Kristy Placido-Kinesthetic Activities  Kristy Placido-Audio Books

Some very generous educators have openly shared their Puentes and I’ve become a better teacher because of their guidance and insights. Pay it forward and find, cross and build your own Puentes to CI.

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