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#iFLT17 How to Teach a Novel with Darcy Pippins

#iFLT17 How to Teach a Novel with Darcy Pippins

Darcy Pippins

Darcy’s Intermediate session was all about adapting novels to our classroom.  She teaches levels 3, 4 and 5AP without a textbook and ENTIRELY WITH comprehensible input.  She reiterated that using novels as the foundation of your curriculum gives compelling input and for that reason, they are a staple in her classroom.   She uses about 4 per year, one per marking period.  Darcy reminded that you must choose a novel that parallels your students level of proficiency and match your student’s interest so it can be compelling to them!

The first thing that Darcy recognizes as key to any L2 classroom is building community.  She said that magic can not happen in your classroom if you do not have a rapport with your students.  Students must feel safe in your classroom environment in order to take risks and create with language.  Another key to student engagement is hooks!  Darcy explained the hook she uses from the TG of La Guerra Sucia.  It reminded me of the hook I used this year from the “La hija del sastre” TG which was also an incredibly powerful tool to get students into the mindset of the era.

Next Darcy led us through a Fluency Matters novel.  We as participants organized the words into different categories.  They were TPR, TPRS/PQA, Cognates and Other (which referred to low frequency vocabulary).  TPR words are those that you can use with obvious gestures. TPRS/PQA words are more abstract and can be used in personalized question and answer.  They might have a gesture but it can be ambiguous.  Cognates are obvious.  Finally the “other” category is to refer to low frequency vocabulary such as blacksmith.  This was very useful to help guide us on our path to backwards planning our units.  We now know what vocab from the each chapter to  use with TPR or with PQA.  The PQA we create does not have to be about the theme of the novel.  I remember Carol Gaab once saying that we need to use these words in as many contexts as we can so that students have a deeper understanding of their meaning. I really like this strategy because it does not only have to be used with novels, but Movie Talk, music and embedded readings!

Darcy also gave a wealth of very useful information that has been working in her classroom.  One is Readers Theater.  She has a unique twist that I have not  tried.  She he chooses one or two of the best chapters to act out in the novel.  Then she writes up her own script with lighting, props and dialogue that is a bit different from the novel, perhaps even a little silly.  Then she gives students different roles.  Some are on lighting crew or sound crew, some are in charge of props, another is a narrator while others are actors.  EVERYONE has a role.  She gives her students 10 minutes to prepare the scene.  They are all reading and preparing.  After the 10 minutes are up, Darcy records her students.  Later they watch it.  Therefore students are getting at least 3 different repetitions of the chapter while also activating their schema.

Some reading strategies she highlighted are:

-Never ask novices to read aloud. She reads aloud to her students so that she can control the enthusiasm and voices of the characters.

-Have students engage in pair reading with jobs.  One student is reader and the other student is the writer.  Writer writes questions.

-Use the audio books that come with the TG.  They are done by a native speaker and have fun sound effects.

-Use sentence strips when you finish a chapter.  Write sentences about the book and put in order

-Illustrate the story.  Students draw what they are reading as the teacher reads to them.

-Tweet the book.  Use a platform such as Today’s Meet where students can write 3 tweets with a hashtag for the week.  They also need to respond to one classmate’s tweet and retweet another with a comment.

Darcy shared some writing activities while reminding that output in writing will be minimal at the novice level.

-Minimal at the novice level


-Love letters from character perspective  (Frida, Diego)

-Recommendations (to sneak in the subjunctive).  She gave us some scenarios like “You see your best friend’s boyfriend at movies with another girl.  What do you recommend?”


-Describe illustrations

Another window into Darcy’s classroom was when she shared some successful projects her students have done.  She told us that students do not have to present in front of the class.  They can create a video at home and they decide if the class can see it or not.  I like this idea.

Here are her fun book project ideas:

-Cast the book with famous actors.

-Do a service project with something like to advocate to raise money for people in the world. Kristy Placido has a wonderful resource here.

-The Amazing Race where students must find important cultural things associated with the novel.

-Blogging a virtual trip of the characters in the novel.

-Art projects.  She showed us her student’s arpillera project that connected to the novel “La Guerra Sucia”. Students first explained one they found online and compared and contrasted it to one they created.  She also talked about Kristy Placido’s awesome selfie project that connects to her novel “Frida”.

Wow!  Darcy has inspired me with a ton of new ideas to incorporate in my classroom in September.  What an incredibly informative session!

Blog post by Arianne Dowd, our official blogger of #iFLT17!

Stay tuned for more updates from iFLT throughout the week!