Reading on Your Feet

The other day I talked about Human Digits, and today I’ll talk about a similar kind of activity for reading class, a sequencing exercise taken off the page into the middle of the room.

I often do this activity with groups of ABE instructors or literacy tutors; for them I choose a scene from Pride and Prejudice. I prepare by typing up the scene I have chosen, with lots of space between the paragraphs, and cut between the paragraphs. For every seven people in the session I’m planning, I need one set of paragraphs (see picture).

I divide them into groups of seven, give them the paragraphs, face down, and ask each person to choose one. I ask them to hang on to their paragraph and never give it to anyone else, and never lay it on the table. They can share with their group by reading their paragraph aloud, or by looking at another person’s paragraph, as long as that person continues to hang on to it.

Their task is to line themselves up in the order their paragraphs should be read.

It’s harder than you might expect. There are only six paragraphs of text; the seventh simply gives the name of the book and the author. Yet there is a lot of reading to do; paragraphs are read out many times, and there is lots of discussion before everyone is satisfied with the arrangement.

There is nearly always someone in the group who has read the book and seen the movie. That person with the background knowledge has something special to bring to the task, and I notice that some people, at a loss when they first see what they are dealing with, are relieved to find they have an expert to consult.

Groups often start by trying to figure out how many people are talking, and then they have to infer that Eliza and Elizabeth are the same person; further, that there are two different people with the last name of Bingley , and that “Bingley” must be a man, because, until very recently, no woman would be referred to by her last name alone. It would be possible to figure this out if you had never read a word of Jane Austen, but confirmation from the group member who is familiar with the characters in the book is often useful in assuring people they are on the right track.

With some of that sorted out, they go on to look at the paragraphs, and usually link the three paragraphs that contain the word “pleasure,” after which they figure out that the other three are connected because they talk about books, although that word is used only once.

After the groups have all finished (usually about ten minutes) they all want to know if they have done it right. Really, they are unwilling and unable to talk about anything else until they see the original and satisfy themselves that their order is correct.

Then I ask them what they said, did, thought, and felt that would be good for their students to experience as part of learning to read. Their replies go like this:

  • I liked to work in a team.
  • We could build on each other’s ideas. Someone would say something, and the rest of us would run with it.
  • It was good to be working with someone who had read the book–we would have been lost without her.
  • I couldn’t make heads or tails of it at first–I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one.
  • I got to read my little paragraph about six times. That would be very good practice for my students.
  • It was interesting to hear other people thinking out loud.
  • I got a chance to ask if anybody could give me a ride home later.

We often use sequencing activities with literacy/ABE students to check comprehension, or as a pre-reading exercise. Yet nearly always people do them by themselves, silently, and on paper, where the items are mixed and have to be marked A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. So hard when you’ve marked four items, then find you’ve missed one, and you have to erase them all and start again.

As a teacher, I can look at the groups and see who is having trouble and go to them immediately. And at the end, a prize for me: NO MARKING. I’d rather do prep than marking any day.

With any group of students, choose something that they could read easily, because the work of unscrambling is difficult. You can use a sequencing activity that you already have from a worksheet–just cut the items apart. Six to eight items is enough for a group; if you have a longer list of items to be sequenced (like the events leading up to a fire, and putting it out) then separate the first half for one group and the second half for another group; they can listen to each other when they are through sequencing their part.

If you are making your own, like I did for the teachers and tutors, a conversation works well, or a series of actions that flow one from another, or a text with lots of transition words, like “first,” “next,” “then,” and “finally.”

INSIST that they hang on to their paper; if you don’t, all the pieces will get put on a table, and two people will take over moving the papers around while the others stand and watch.

That is one way to make reading social, with all the benefits that go with it.

By the way, if you love Jane Austen, here’s an interesting blog: Jane Austen’s World.

6 thoughts on “Reading on Your Feet

  1. Pingback: A Restless Student Settles | Working in Adult Literacy

  2. Kate- thanks for sharing this sequencing strategy. I can see how it can be used in lots of ways during the reading process. It reminded me a bit of a jigsaw activity we use for students (and teachers in professional development activities) where you divide text into manageable bites for reading. Each person or team then reports back to the others about what they read and learned in their ‘piece’ of the text.

      • ah yes I soooo agree – i get irritated with approaches that are trade marked as if the ideas were all original – it seems to me the best ideas spark thinking and we build on each others inspiration and insight. Thanks for sharing your creativity and inspiring ideas so freely – i hope you’ll hear lots of ways people are weaving these ideas into their own practice and making them their own – i think that’s what i often do with your ideas Kate – glad you’re so open to us all learning from you!

  3. I watched this when you led it with teachers one time – i found it very interesting – wonderful to see how the group woke up and became totally energized – i also noticed that initially some of the teachers seemed quite frustrated – i think they didn’t expect something to be difficult – yet they too were clearly excited when they figured it out.

    I love this detailed description of the sort of activity you do Kate – as always i think it is a lovely example the sort of creative idea that works well for all students – might be a lifesaver for students who have experienced violence – they get to enjoy a safe but challenging situation – nobody is on the spot – and everyone has a place. And as a teacher we don’t need to know who has experienced violence and offer them something different, or send them somewhere else to get a good chance at learning more successfully.

    I think if i had done lots of working out loud like this and built a lot of trust in the group i might want to add some talk about what their self talk was – i know that many students, especially those who have been through violence – are likely to be talking to themselves about how stupid they are… being able to name that and see it is shared can be really empowering – in recognizing it is not “truth” just common feelings created out of difficult circumstances. Then it can lead on to the value in learning to interrupt that and add some more positive self talk and the power of that…. Doesn’t need to be heavy or big – just a quick in passing piece to affirm the ordinariness of impacts of violence/tough times on learning and suggest ways to interrupt the ongoing impact….

love to hear your ideas or experiences!

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