In any comprehensible input (CI) language class, students do lots of reading. This year in my French 1 class, I am using an CI-based online program that is chock full of stories called Notre Histoire (see this post for more information). In addition, as part of a number of strategies I use in class, like Special Person Interviews, Storyasking, and Movie Talks, I create texts with my students using the Write and Discuss strategy that I talked about in this post.
Last year, I started doing an activity that I call “Extending the Text.” Basically, I take a text that students are very familiar with (either one from Notre Histoire that we have reviewed extensively or a Write and Discuss text that the class has created together) and I ask them follow-up questions designed to elicit more details from them. Then I add those details to my original text, resulting in a piece of writing that has more complexity but still retains comprehensibility. With any luck, exposure to these more complex texts will help students increase their level of proficiency.
Here is an example. Let’s say that your class is in the middle of a TPRS story. You have established the main character and his problem. You have added parallel characters and have established a few details about them too. You do a Write and Discuss activity and end up with a text like the one below:
There is a boy. The boy is John. John lives in Memphis, Tennessee in a house with Madison. Madison is a girl. There is another boy. The boy is Jack. Jack lives in an apartment in Santa Fe, New Mexico with John Cena.
Now it is time to extend the text, which I will do by asking questions. Maybe I feel that my students need more practice using adjectives. In that case I might ask, “What is John like?” Maybe they need practice talking about how old people are. In that case, the logical question is, “How old is Jack?” Maybe I want to reinforce structures students need to express likes and dislikes, so in that case I’ll ask, “What does Madison like to do?” Then I’ll add those answers to my original text, thus extending it. My new text might look like this below (new additions are in italics):
There is a boy. The boy is John. John is tall. He is 21 years old. He has brown hair and blue eyes. He is shy but friendly. He likes to read and play soccer. John lives in Memphis, Tennessee in a small, blue house with Madison. Madison is a girl. She is eighteen years old. She is medium height. She has red hair and green eyes. She is very smart. She likes to study chemistry. There is another boy. The boy is Jack. Jack is very friendly and generous. He is 22 years old. He likes to draw and paint. Jack lives in an old apartment in Santa Fe, New Mexico with John Cena.
Like any good CI strategy, the higher the level, the more complex the structures. In an upper level class, my original text would be in a past tense, and my questions designed to elicit more information and subsequent sentences I added to the original text would be more complex. So that original text above about John might look like this below in an advanced class after doing some TPRS:
There was a boy who was named John. John lived in Memphis, Tennessee in a house with Madison. Madison was a girl. There was another boy. The boy’s name was Jack. Jack lived in an apartment in Santa Fe, New Mexico with John Cena.
After asking questions to elicit more information, my new text in the advanced class might look like this one below (new additions are in italics):
There was a boy whose name was John. John was 21 years old. John was tall with brown curly hair and blue eyes. He had a small mole on his cheek. He liked to read and play soccer. He started playing soccer when he was five years old. John lived in Memphis, Tennessee in a house with Madison. John moved to Memphis when he was fifteen. Before that, he lived in Nashville. John met Madison in high school. Madison was a girl. She was also 21 years old. She had lived in Memphis her whole life. She was studying to be a doctor. There was another boy. The boy’s name was Jack. Jack was very friendly and generous. He was 22 years old. He started drawing and painting when he was in middle school. He wanted to become an artist. Jack lived in an old apartment in Santa Fe, New Mexico with John Cena.
At the Novice level, I find that fictional texts are the easiest to stretch, since it gives students more freedom when trying to stretch out the text. Non-fiction texts are too restrictive and require more specific vocabulary, so I would save those for upper-levels.
I started using this technique when teaching face-to-face, but it is very easy to adapt to remote teaching. While on Zoom or Google Meet, all teachers need to do is paste the original text into a shared document, share the screen, and ask students for details, which they can share by unmuting themselves or typing suggestions in the chat. Then teachers would just type any additional details into the document. They can even add italics or highlighting to separate the original text from the additions if they want to.
And the absolute best thing about this particular strategy is that it takes almost no prep. All you need is a text that students are familiar with and you’re good to go. If you decide to try this, let me know how it goes!