Thursday, July 31, 2014

Embedded Reading, part 2

This is part 2 of a series on Embedded Reading.

An earlier post ended with a dilemma regarding Embedded Reading. During the 6th week of 1st semester, in one of my Latin III classes, we had just finished reading version #1 of a story from the textbook and now I was ready for the class to read version #2 of that embedded reading, a slightly more difficult version but still readable and comprehensible. When I told the class this, one of my students yelled out, "Again? It really was not that interesting the first time we read it!'

And he was 100% correct. Though the reading was comprehensible and understandable, one incredibly necessary factor had been left out: the story itself was not compelling, i.e. the plot was not interesting enough to keep students' attention. Noted CI/TPRS writer and presenter Carol Gaab says, "COMPELLING input is just as important as COMPREHENSIBLE input." So I found myself in a dilemma: I wanted students to read in a scaffolded manner, but what to do since, even though the stories were now easier to read, students found the stories themselves boring? 

Meanwhile, at the same time, I found that students really liked the short stories which I had written as dictationes (I will admit, I have a weird sense of humor. And since in a dictatio, I am trying to force rather random vocabulary words in a story for the purpose of previewing those words in a context, the story itself seems rather random yet compelling). A number of students truly began to ask for the "back story" and wanted me to "fill in the gaps" about some of the characters and plot, and quite honestly, I had never thought of doing anything further with the plots in dictationes. Plus, with a dictatio, I was bound by keeoing the plot to 8-9 sentences - what if I were to expand the dictatio into a form of embedded reading?

So there began my own experiment with embedded readings - what if the dictatio itself served as version #1 of the story, and version #2 expanded upon the dictatio, with the actual sentences of the dictatio embedded in it, and the final version had version #2 embedded in it? if this were the case, then the compelling factor would have to be the new parts of the plot which students hopefully were anticipating?

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, what I was wanting to do was actually part of what Embedded Readings are! New details are added in subsequent versions, because 
  1. students are ready to read longer versions after reading shorter versions and 
  2. the new information is what keeps the various versions compelling. 
Even though I had come to this conclusion on my own, I felt so much better when I learned this and that I was not going "rogue" by doing this experiment. So Laurie Clarcq and Michelle Whaley (co-developers of this strategy), embedded readings have been verified by an outside independent source!

Essentially, there are two different types of Embedded Reading: 

From the Top Down - this is taking a longer, more complex reading and "whittling" it down to a base version, which is easier to read (grammatically, number of sentences, superfluous details are left out), and then building from that base version to a more complex version and so on until students are ready to read the original unadapted version.

From the Bottom Up - this is creating a base story of a few sentences or so and then building upon that version by adding more details and language structures and so on until students come to the final version of the story.

My first attempts at embedded readings were From the Top Down, and my students did not seem to enjoy those because of the lack of compelling plot. What I began to do instead were From the Bottom Up, which allowed for me to control the structures and to create a compelling plot.

Here is an excerpt of a From the Bottom Up embedded reading which I created:

Version #1
olim Abby pessimum morbum habebat, sed non remedium habebat. Abby nunc maximos oculos et maximas aures habebat. Merlena erat crudelis puella et semper Abbyem deridebat. 

Version #2
olim Abby pessimum morbum habebat sed non remedium habebat. Abby non pecuniam habebat. Abby nunc maximos oculos et maximas aures habebat. Abby temptavit celare suos maximos oculos et maximas aures. Merlena, quae erat crudelis puella, semper Abbyem deridebat. Merlena Abbyem derisit, dicens, “tuae aures sunt maximae, sicut aures elephanti! tui oculi sunt maximae."

Version #3
olim Abby pessimum habebat, sed non remedium habebat. Abby non multam pecuniam habebat, quod autoraedam emerat. propter pessimum morbum, Abby nunc maximos oculos et maximas aures habebat. propter maximas aures, Abby temptavit gerere petasum, sed aures erant maximi. propter maximos oculos, Abby temptavit gerere perspicilla, sed oculi erant maximi. propter maximas aures et oculos, Abby discedere domum noluit. Merlena, quae erat crudelis puella, semper Abbyem deridebat. Merlena Abbyem deridere solebat, dicens, “tuae aures sunt maximae, sicut aures elephanti, sicut Dumbo! tui oculi sunt maximi, sicut plena luna! nemo te amat!"

  1. The addition of new bits of the plot and personalizing the story by making students the characters for each version definitely made it more compelling for students to read.
  2. Because the original versions were embedded in the final version, the final version was much easier to read, and students read it at a much faster pace. Even though the story appeared to be longer, the length of the story due to its apparent "ease" did not deter students.
  3. Even though my stories were embedded, I need to do a MUCH better job at limiting the amount of vocabulary in the stories. Although the reading is embedded, in many ways, it is still an intensive reading (too much vocabulary and language structures) instead of an extensive reading (limited vocabulary and language structures with much repetition)
  4. The embedding allowed for more meaningful repetitions of the language
So how does one create a From the Bottom Up embedded reading? As Laurie Clarcq and Michelle Whaley presented last week in their workshop:
  1. Pick 3 language structures/vocabulary words on which you want to focus.
  2. Write a short story of 3-4 sentences involving them - that will serve as your base story
  3. Now WITHIN your base story, add 3-4 more sentences with new details. Do not just add the new details to the very end, because then students will not read the beginning, and the purpose is for students to re-read the story in order to get in more repetitions of the language. Try to repeat those language structures. Also, change the wording some of your first sentence so that students think it is a new version/story.
  4. Now with the new version, add 3-4 more sentences with new details. You can start combining sentences/varying up the already existing sentences with new structures, as students are already familiar with the vocabulary, but again try to repeat those 3 language structures in the new details.
  5. Continue until you feel the version which you have is complete. In my opinion, four versions are enough.
So give embedded readings a try - they actually do work! So what are some ways to get students to read them? I'll save that for future posts.


  1. Thanks for all your work on this blog. I'm using WAYK myself but CI/TPRS is also very interesting and I'm always on the lookout for new ideas...

  2. Salve, Keith! My question is, once you've embedded the "interesting" story in 3 or 4 versions, do you then give them the "less interesting" textbook story? Does it need embedding, too? Seems like you could spend weeks on that story ... Gratias ago!

  3. Anna,

    Thanks for the comment. To answer your question, if I have students read a CLC story, then I will use a "From the Top Down" whittled-down embedded reading approach and build students up to the point where they can read the original version easily. BUT I am finding that the CLC stories beginning with Unit 2 start to get really long, are overloaded with way too much vocabulary, start getting really difficult and most importantly, they just are not that interesting for the majority of my students. So...I have been writing my own stories, using a "From the Bottom Up" embedded reading approach. I still use CLC as a guide, and I follow the "spirit" of the book, where I will cover the language structure and a number of vocabulary words from that particular stage.

    I do not do both one of my stories and a CLC story in a stage, because that gets a lot for students. I do use the CLC stories for a reading comprehension passage on a test or a quiz.

  4. Hi, Keith,

    Do you still have copies of those embedded versions of Cambridge levels 2 and 3. One of my jobs this summer was going to be making embedded versions of those, but I'd love to get a head start.