Reading Action Chain provides comprehensible input & opportunity for critical thinking

Posted by

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending TCI Maine, New England, and Beyond in Lewiston, Maine. This conference is one of the longest-standing conferences that provides training for comprehension based methods: it is organized by Skip & Beth Crosby and has been described as New England’s ‘best kept secret’. Contacting Skip about registering for the conference was one of the very first things that I did after learning that I would be moving to Vermont this summer! The conference exceeded my very high expectations, and I cannot wait to return next year. The mood was contagiously positive, the session offerings were diverse, and the food was superb (far and above the best conference food that I have ever enjoyed…I know it would be crazy to attend a conference just for the food….but you could totally justify attending this conference just for the food!). I am excited to become a regular now that I am ‘in the area’. I hope that you will join me next October in Maine (October 11-12, 2018 in Lewiston)!

As time allows, I will be sharing some takeaways from the conference.

I first saw Carol Gaab present on the “Reading Action Chain” at iFLT in 2016. With her permission, I planned to write a blog post about it, but I couldn’t immediately think of a set of sentences to work with and so I sidelined the post. I was so happy to hear that she would be presenting an expanded version of that session here at TCI Maine so that I could revisit my notes from iFLT! (Side note–I’ll be at iFLT 2018 in Cincinnati! Registration isn’t open yet but you can check out details here.)

What is an Action Chain?

As understood in the field of language charts, an ACTION CHAIN is a series of simple, related events that occur in sequence. Action chains work best when there is some flexibility in the order: when there is more than one way to arrange the events in a logical order when you see them as an out-of-context list of events. For example, here is a simple action chain that I took from Brandon Brown quiere un perro:

  1. The boy wants a dog.
  2. The boy goes to a park.
  3. The boy sees a dog.
  4. The boy wants the dog.
  5. The boy takes the dog.

What can I do with an Action Chain?

SO MUCH. Carol shared a series of 10 activities plus several bonus activities (okay, so more like 13 total) that you could work through with a single action chain. Here is a basic series of activities that you can work through with just about any action chain:

  1. Establish meaning for key vocabulary; perhaps personalize it with PQA.
  2. Show all five sentences to the class in the target language, out of order (project them if possible). Read each one and clarify meaning. Make sure that students understand what each event means!
  3. Find five volunteers. Secretly assign each event from the action chain to a different student—no one else should know which event they have! Give them time to think about how they will act out their event (à la charades).
  4. One at a time, have student volunteers mime their event while the class guesses which of the five events projected on the screen is being depicted. Once the class guesses correctly, have the next student volunteer act out his or her event.
  5. Divide the class into small groups. As a group, have students determine the most logical order of the events. You could use a Kagan structure like Team Windows, or you could have them discuss freely.
  6. Once each group has determined a logical order, call on one group and have them share the first event in their sequence. Ask which other groups began their sequence with the same event. Ask which groups DID NOT begin their sequence with that event, and have them say which event they chose instead.
    • To help students visualize the sequences and add a little fun to the sequencing, consider calling on student volunteers to create a “freeze frame” series of the most popular sequences.
  7. Once each group has determined a logical order, call on one group and have them share the first event in their sequence. Ask which other groups began their sequence with the same event. Ask which groups DID NOT begin their sequence with that event, and have them say which event they chose instead.
  8. Once all of the logical sequences have been shared, determine the ONE sequence that is most logical.
  9. Optional: create a story using the five events in that sequence by filling in details.
  10. Give students a teacher-created reading that includes the five events. This should have been prepared before class. Read it together with students.
  11. Separate out the five events from the teacher created reading. Compare the order of the five events in the teacher created story to the sequence deemed as most logical by the students (whether or not you contextualized it).
  12. Now, you have a reading to work with! Continue working with this sequence of events with typical story activities.

I worked with my amiga Dawn Durkin to come up with five events that we could work with. Since it is often easier for me to think about an existing text or topic when I first try out ideas that I learn in workshops, I thought that Correcaca (Madame Courtcaca) would be a great fit for this activity! Here are the events that Dawn and I came up with (they would be listed in Spanish or French or whatever your target language is):

  1. a woman runs
  2. children see a woman
  3. children see poop
  4. a woman sees poop
  5. children say, “there is poop!”

If you haven’t yet used Correcaca in your classes, why not try out this Action Chain as a pre-reading activity?

First, do Steps 1-9 with the class

Then, read the Correcaca story together.

When you compare the order of events that the class selected as most logical to the Correcaca story, keep in mind that the order of events in the Correcaca story is also ambiguous. It could be:

  •  A woman (the Correcaca) runs > Children see a woman > children see poop > children say “there is poop!” > a woman (the mom) sees poop OR
  • Children see a woman > children see poop > children say “there is poop!” > a woman (the mom) sees poop > a woman (the Correcaca) runs OR
  • Children see a woman > children see poop > children say “there is poop!” > a woman (the mom) runs (to the garden) > a woman (the mom) sees poop

Carol did her series of activities using some simple sentences in Hebrew, and by the end of the workshop I could interpret the five events with ease even in new contexts, and I even felt comfortable producing the language. Now, a few days later, I can still remember 4/5 events. I think that a Reading Action Chain is a great way to give students repeated exposure to a structure or several structures in a short period of time, building a solid foundation for acquisition of the structures. Of course, students will need continued exposure to the structures in ever-new contexts over time in order to truly acquire them. This—like many strategies for delivering comprehensible input—sets students up for success in being able to access longer, more interesting texts as it quickly gives them a functional ability to interpret a set of discrete language items.

Dawn and Elsie hanging out! They're besties.
Dawn and Elsie hanging out! They’re besties.

8 comments

  1. I did this exact sequence in class today followed by your reading on la Correcaca – it was SO.MUCH.FUN!!!
    Thanks for the ideas at the conference, Carol & Martina!

    Like

  2. I used the action chain today. We added the part where they acted out their sequences and the class chose the best one. They got into the action. I can’t wait to see their reaction when they read the Correcaca story.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s