A New Twist on Embedded Readings

I have found Embedded Readings, as developed by Laurie Clarq and Michele Whaley, an excellent way to encourage students to read. The idea, like all great ideas, is quite simple. You make three or more versions of the same text which increase in difficulty. Students read the first text which is not difficult, then precede to the second which includes everything in the first and adds some new vocabulary and more elaborate structures but is still comprehensible to the student who feels reassured by the familiar words he’s already seen in the first version. The third version is slightly more complicated, but the student will feel comfortable because he’s building on structures which he has now seen three times. I was sold on the idea the day I finished going through the second version and handed the third to a class, telling them to read it at home. Seeing that I was giving them a full page of text as homework, they began to groan, but one boy glanced over it and said, “But it’s easy!” The others looked at it and decided that I wasn’t being as unreasonable as they had thought. For the next class they had all read it and we were able to discuss the content profitably.

The teacher may start out with a simple text created in class and make it more detailed, or she may choose to start with a difficult text and simplify it as many times as necessary until it’s easily comprehensible to students.

Most of my students are in the Intermediate range and I want to encourage them to read authentic texts in English. I actually consider this one of my two main goals with students. I believe that if they reach a point at which they can easily read authentic texts and watch films in English, they are autonomous and will continue to progress in their use of the language, whether or not they continue taking lessons with me.

So I like to take passages from novels as a starting point for my embedded readings. When we have read the third (or fourth) version of the text and the student understands it, I then tell them that they have just read the original text and congratulate them on their ability to handle authentic resources.

When I simplify an original authentic text, I usually replace unfamiliar vocabulary with a synonym that my students are likely to know. So when we read the text and the student asks for the meaning, instead of translating the word, I refer them to the previous version, where they find the synonym that they already know. I like the way they are able to figure out what the word means without relying on me or a dictionary.

Recently it occurred to me that I can make it easier for them to find the synonym they are looking for by putting the parts of the text that I have changed in a different color. I’m still trying it out, but so far it seems to simplify the task for my students as they decode the passage that was written for native speakers.

As an example, I am posting a passage from Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a great adventure story and I already have a student who is attempting to read it on his own. The book is definitely compelling. All I have to do is make it comprehensible, Dr. Krashen. I only made two versions because I didn’t feel my students needed any more simplifying.

I put in asteriks for words that I omitted in the first version, explaining to students that these were low frequency words that did not affect the meaning of the sentence and could easily be skipped.

If you try color coding your embedded readings in this way, let me know how it works for you.

 

The boy’s name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26th, 1917, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair*. His father, Anthony, had been living alone since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, laughing beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots.

From the moment he could walk, Louie didn’t like to be shut in. His brother and sisters would remember him running around, jumping over flowers, animals and furniture. The instant Louise put him in a chair and told him to be quiet, he vanished. If she didn’t have her hyperactive boy* in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was.

In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was sick with pneumonia, he climbed out of his bedroom window, went down one floor and ran down the street with no clothes on, with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on the doctor’s advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climate of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie escaped, ran the length of the train, and jumped from the last wagon. Standing with his hysterical mother as the train went backward to look for the lost boy, Louie’s older brother, Pete, saw Louie walking up the track in perfect serenity. *In his mother’s arms, Louie smiled. “I knew you’d come back,” he said in Italian.

 

The boy’s name was Louis Silvie Zamperini. The son of Italian immigrants, he had come into the world in Olean, New York, on January 26th, eleven and a half pounds of baby under black hair as coarse as barbed wire. His father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen, first as a coal miner and boxer, then as a construction worker. His mother, Louise, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen at marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. In their apartment, where only Italian was spoken, Louise and Anthony called their boy Toots.

From the moment he could walk, Louie couldn’t bear to be corralled. His siblings would recall him careening about, hurdling flora, fauna, and furniture. The instant Louise thumped him into a chair and told him to be still, he vanished. If she didn’t have her squirming boy clutched in her hands, she usually had no idea where he was.

In 1919, when two-year-old Louie was down with pneumonia, he climbed out of his bedroom window, descended one story, and went on a naked tear down the street with a policeman chasing him and a crowd watching in amazement. Soon after, on a pediatrician’s advice, Louise and Anthony decided to move their children to the warmer climes of California. Sometime after their train pulled out of Grand Central Station, Louie bolted, ran the length of the train, and leapt from the caboose. Standing with his frantic mother as the train rolled backward in search of the lost boy, Louie’s older brother, Pete, spotted Louie strolling up the track in perfect serenity. Swept up in his mother’s arms, Louie smiled. “I knew you’d come back,” he said in Italian.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

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