Leveling Up with Roving Paragraph Frames

One of the things I have been missing most in virtual classes–and now in hybrid classes with restrictions on movement–is the active interaction between students as we go about our work of collaborating and growing our language skills. Roving paragraph frames is a strategy that I learned about from Sally Barnes at ACTFL 2020, and is based on work in Anna Matis’ book 7 Steps to a Language Rich Foreign Language Classroom. I love this activity framework because it promotes reading, speaking, listening, and writing while scaffolding growth for all learners AND giving us a chance to move.

Roving paragraph frames are a low prep, high yield strategy that can be used in any unit, class, or level. They combine sentence starters as scaffolds and end in a student-written paragraph. The general outline goes like this:

  1. Students are partnered up
  2. Teacher provides a sentence starter connected to a class topic–on a handout or projected and students copy it down
  3. Pairs collaborate to finish the sentence and write it on their paper
  4. Find a new partner
  5. Each partner reads out loud the sentence they wrote with partner #1. It’s important to read all previously written content with each new partner.
  6. Teacher provides a new stem to continue the paragraph. Pairs collaborate to make a new sentence without repeating any content from their original sentence.
  7. Repeat steps 4-7 as many times as teacher desires. I would use 4-6 total rotations for lower levels, but perhaps increase that number for upper levels.
  8. Send students to their seats to edit/wordsmith their paragraphs that they have now created with their sentences created during this process. This should be a smooth process due to the injection of structure and academic language provided by the sentence stems.

A sample frame for a lower level class might take shape like this:

  • It’s important to travel because…
  • Also…
  • And in addition…
  • I would most like to visit…
  • However…
  • Most of all…

There is no one set formula–the sentence starters can and will change according to the topic and complexity of the content. Here are my top 10 favorites to mix and match:

Using sentence stems gives all students a helping hand by giving them ideas to get started–an often overlooked part of the learning process. It also adds in a layer of more sophisticated language that starts to approximate the gap between their ideas and their target language production.

So… reading, writing, speaking, listening, interacting, and building confidence and language skills… what’s not to love? Not much, but I couldn’t figure out how to do the activity within our social distancing guidelines. Until I saw this tweet and realized that Google Slides could be our answer:

… and an adaptation was born.

I used Google Slides to make a template to convert this framework into a small group review assignment for one of my upper level classes. (Find the template here) Update 4/28/21: here’s a template all in English

The general idea is the same, but without the movement & change in partners. The steps went like this:

  1. Students were placed in groups of 3-4 and were provided a copy of the slide deck. One person opened the file and shared it with the others so that they could work simultaneously. The slide deck is currently set up for groups of 4, and no real adjustment is needed to have smaller groups–just skip the additional individual slides.
  2. Students reviewed the assigned content, then completed all 10 sentence starters on an individual slide in the slide deck (slides 3-6).
  3. At the designated time, they “met” as a group at slide 7. They took turns sharing their individual sentences and as a group they selected the strongest option and recorded it into the frame on slide 7.
  4. After working through slide 7, they were then tasked with reworking their sentences into a cohesive paragraph on slide 8 that summarized their views. Each group submitted one collaborative paragraph for review.

I really liked this activity for many reasons:

  • It’s versatile and very easy to set up
  • The students are doing the work and it is a confidence builder.
  • It promotes collaboration and language skills.
  • I heard students saying things like “we need to add more connectors” and coaching one another through improving their writing.
  • It allowed me to circulate through the room and offer timely feedback.
  • It was easy to execute in a hybrid environment with some students in person and others at home.
  • It was an effective way to review recent content and extend it by writing about it.
  • It complements other strategies that we’ve used in class like our level up framework.

All in all, it’s a keeper!

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