The site is organized into ten units, with each unit subdivided into three parts. Within each part, learners work through small cycles of the ongoing story line (titled variously depending on the development of the plot) followed by comprehension and vocabulary practice in the section Вы всё поняли? and then instruction in grammar and language structure in the section Немного о языке. Each unit part ends with a related cultural learning activity in the section titled. Факты. Люди. События. Learning about contemporary Russia occurs through links to authentic cultural materials. Some authentic materials have been adapted for early learners or highlight certain features of the language at the same time as learners find out about the culture.
Между нами is built on a continuing narrative of the adventures of four students in Russia; the authors find that the use of this kind of continuing story line (in other words, a soap opera) engages learners’ curiosity and helps motivate them to use the target language in class. Learners want to speculate about what twists and turns the plot will take; they want to complain about characters they dislike and “root for” ones they like; they want to approve or disapprove of choices made and agree or disagree with the views characters express.
A crucial aspect of having a continuing narrative is that it allows for copious use of referential activities across all sections of the book. Essentially, the facts of the plot create a “universe” of contextualized information; instructors can check and build on learners’ developing knowledge of that plot, and use the learners’ sense of the characters’ nature and behavior as a form of content that in turn underlies and “grounds” work on both vocabulary and grammar. It is for this reason that nearly all of the textbook’s activities “live” in the universe of the soap opera. The story line also helps engage students in narrating, role-play and other activities.
Having learners engage with the narrative arc of the story does not mean always requiring them to accept the story only as given. We encourage users of the website to have their students write or perform parodies of the characters’ adventures, since these activities will require students to learn and recycle the language of the narrative in expressing their own ideas. Furthermore, the format of the ongoing narrative provides plenty of exposure to dialogic and monologic language use that learners can then take as models and adapt to talk about themselves, their backgrounds and interests.
In this edition of Между нами the ongoing narrative is laid out in the format of a graphic novel. The drawings should help students make sense of the story line, and they can also be reused by instructors to have students reassemble facts and events from the narrative in class or on exams. The visuals on the site are important supports that help learners to understand the overall context, plot developments, and the relations between characters.
This website is intended to provide all the materials that would be needed for a comprehensive introductory-level college course for Russian, where there are approximately 150 contact hours of instruction. The text and its approaches to language teaching are grounded in recent findings in research in second language acquisition and incorporate principles of communicative language teaching, task-based teaching and content-based learning.
The authors of this website have organized the materials to encourage an inductive approach to learning Russian. We envision that instructors and learners will start with the ongoing story line. Learners listen to the text, read along, check the meaning of words that they don’t know, and listen to the text again, before they turn to the Вы всё поняли? section to verify their understanding of the text and to start working on learning the vocabulary of the text. That vocabulary will figure not only as individual words, but also as words embedded in sentence-level and discourse-level texts. The Вы всё поняли? section prepares the students to do work on the morphology and structures that will be explained in the Немного о языке section. We encourage teachers to spend instructional time on the vocabulary work, since the better students know the words, the more they will be able to attend to their forms when students get to the grammar explanations.
Teachers should give high priority to having students make sense of the language of the narrative (the “input” in SLA terms) and attend to how words and specific forms of words contribute to the meaning of the sentence and text. Much of our approach to the grammar instruction has incorporated facets of Input Processing, a theory of language learning that prioritizes having learners develop ways of correctly mapping form to meaning. Teachers interested in learning more about how this theory and its corresponding approach to instruction are encouraged to read Processing Instruction: Theory, Research, and Commentary (Ed. Bill VanPatten, Routledge, 2003) and also William Comer and Lynne deBenedette’s "Processing Instruction and Russian: Further Evidence is IN" (Foreign Language Annals 44.4 : 646-673; doi: 10.1111/j.1944-9720.2011.01155.x).
We prioritize having learners first show comprehension of the narrative and then map words and forms used in the story line to the meanings they convey; the learners’ initial work with the input is structured and active, even if they are not creating new grammar forms in output-based practice immediately. The input-based activities lay the groundwork for the output-based activities that follow: these encourage learners to use the forms, words, and sentences they have encountered and understood. Output-based work allows students to expand their abilities to express their own meanings, and to exchange information and opinions with others, both in class and in written work. We strongly encourage instructors not to bypass the initial input comprehension activities and not to jump immediately to output-based exercises. Learners who do the input-based work first have had a chance to get familiar with the new vocabulary and map its forms to the correct meanings before they are asked to deploy these in their own speech.
In addition to the publically available materials, we will make available to teachers a companion site that has lesson plans for the online text, classroom handouts for student pair/small group work (including classroom information, reasoning and opinion gap activities) and sample tests.