Saturday, July 30, 2016

Optimizing the use of the TPRS novels-Mike Coxon

Mike is a kindred soul, I feel like.  I can't remember if I've been to a session with him before or if I just remember him so clearly from the War Room last year...  He has a way of making anything interesting, and his session, which was on novels (and I've seen probably 10-15 sessions on novels at the past 6 NTPRS conferences), was full of interesting ideas presented in a way where every teacher there felt confident taking the skills back to the classroom.

The first tip he gave us what that changing clothing changes a character and changing the classroom structure changes the feel from typical to exciting.  He told us that in his classroom, when the kids are working on something, he'll sneak out into the hallway and change his shirt without saying anything.  The kids are so confused...but it's another way to make our classes the most exciting class of their day.  He also builds tents in his classroom under the desk as a prop and also for them to read in during the tent chapter of Brandon Wants a Dog.  Brilliant!

He shared some reasons for reading aloud to the students as they follow along in their book.  I always do this and I remind my students to follow along with their eyes because as they are hearing the language and seeing it at the same time, it makes connections in their brains between the way the words look and the way they are spelled.  Mike also adds that reading aloud builds vocabulary, shows how the language works, associates reading with pleasure, creates background knowledge, provides a reading role model (me), and plants the desire to read.

In this session, we learned 3 principles for optimizing novels: If it's a boring chapter, personalize.  If it's exciting, dramatize, and if it's cultural, YouTubize.  (He showed us a 3D video of Guernica to go with La France en Danger that was spellbinding)

Next, he showed us some ways to read a chapter.

First was a simultaneous read.  In this, he used 3 different sets of characters who all acted out the scene at the same time.  He "read" the chapter, adding details and actions not originally in the book to add interest and extra vocab.

In a Crime Scene Investigation, he puts on a detective hat after a chapter reading to "investigate" the scene.  We saw this with the poop scene in Brandon Brown.  Some example questions: What happened?  Was the poop perfect?  Was it big or small?  Why?

Fake Text Messages:  I have had this site pinned on my browser forever and I've never used it.  Mike showed us an example of text messages between Anne's "friends" mean girling her. "Did you see Anne's shirt today?  Where'd she get that?  Goodwill?  Ha Ha!"  Also, text messages between the dude dancer (can't remember his name from the book) and a friend not in the book. "There's a beautiful girl over there?  What should I do?  Go over and tell her you're an expert in dancing"

Mike has his teacher's aids highlight the dialogue in every copy, using a different color highlighter for each character.  I love this idea, especially in the French novels, where it is not always clear who is speaking.

Two other weird things Mike does that I would LOVE to figure out how to do is that he dresses up as a substitute teacher for a day and teaches the "sub plan" in character all day long.  Or he dresses up as a super hero to become Captain Grammar.  I love that idea for those long weeks in the spring when the kids think my class sucks (only because they are used to how awesome it is and they forget how good they have it).  I could become someone else so they appreciate me a little more when I come back the next day.

Back to reading the novels:  When reading aloud, stimulate the senses, have students read along, read slowly, quickly, in different voices, using different accents.  He also does Narcolepsy Reading, which is where he pretends to fall asleep and the kids have to yell the missing word.

After going to this session, I feel like I did a horrible job of pre-teaching the language... I just assumed (ridiculously) that the novels are repetitive enough that they'll just get it eventually.  DUMB!!  One of the things Mike showed us to pre-teach vocab is the 3-Ring Circus.  I have seen this before in other sessions, even saw it in my student teaching 10 years ago.  But I LOVED what I saw Mike do (well, actually me, because he used me as the teacher).  Pick one student and have them do a SERIES of actions (ex: open the window, climb out the window, close the window), then, have a second student do another series of actions.  This is amazing for repetition, because we will have to go back and coach our first actor to continue doing those actions.  Add a third person.  Ideally, at least one of the characters has makes a noise or has a line that they are repeating to add interest and rhythm.  Then, once the actors are well established, step out of the scene and circle.  "What seems like chaos to us is normal to them."  Think about that?  How awesome are our kids at multi-tasking?!  They thrive in this environment (unless they have stimulation issues...know your audience).

We can also bring in the thoughts of side characters to add subplot or invent scenes.  For example, in La France en Danger, we can create a scene where Pauline calls her dad to explain that she is in trouble and asks for help.  How awesome is that?!

Side note: Mike is awful at driving games, but pretty solid at killing aliens


  1. Hey Elisabeth. Ken from Canada here. Thanks Elisabeth for all this recap. I was at most of those sessions; it's great to have such a detailed review of what went on at them ;) I am going to bookmark this blog and will definitely use it to refresh my memory as the school year goes on. On big aha moment for me was when Mike pointed out that you have to save some novelty for Q4. I have always come out guns blazing at start of the year and then, inevitably, by class 60 I've run out of new things to do. This year I'm going to save things like and a video series for the final 6 weeks. Cheers!

  2. Hey thanks! It was so fun seeing you around (I'm Bess, but logged in as my school account). I feel the same way about trying every new thing in the first couple of weeks...and then we run out of steam for sure.