How to Create Twisted Embedded Readings

In 9 Ways to Happify Your Class, I claim that every activity has a “funner version.” Well, every Embedded Reading has a “twisted version,” or at least a version with a twist. Here are some simple ways to add a delicious twist, even if you’re not Agatha Christie, O. Henry, or those deviants who dreamed up El Internado.

Anthropologie's twist on Embedded Reading (Photo by Barbara Dunbar)

Anthropologie’s twist on Embedded Reading
(Photo by Barbara Dunbar)

(If you’re not familiar with Embedded Readings, a way of scaffolding texts developed by the mind-bendingly magnificent Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley, I encourage you to cancel your next workout, manicure, or DMV appointment to thoroughly explore Actually, you should be able to do so while you wait your turn at the DMV. I recommend starting with “Creating from the Top Down,” proceeding with “The Practical Question: How Do I Use an Embedded Reading?” and “The Philosophical Question: How Do I Use an Embedded Reading?“, and then checking out the categories at the bottom of the sidebar.)

Many teachers withhold a key detail from early versions of an Embedded Reading so as to give students a good reason to keep reading as the versions expand. But what if your target text doesn’t have a juicy detail or a piece of information that could really change the interpretation? What if you are creating a Bottom-Up Embedded Reading and just don’t know how to twist it? What if, like me, you’re lazy and don’t want to put much thought into twistedness?


The twists

Fortunately, for me, twistedness comes naturally. Usually, all it takes is a single sentence to change the interpretation of a text, or at least to create some sort of ambiguity that students can have fun pondering and discussing. Consider the twisting potential of these sentences, inserted at a key place in a story:

“But this was only half true.”

“She turned and smiled to herself.”

“He had no idea how wrong he was.”

“Lying had never been hard for Armand.”

“The truth had never been good enough for Carla.”

“The well-dressed stranger watching from the café put out his cigarette.”

“This was the beginning of the end.”

“But it wasn’t.”

“But it was.”

“He didn’t let him see the tears forming in his eyes.”

“That moment sealed her fate.”

“Juliet would never be the same again.”

“Then, for the first time in her life, she lied to him.”

“In a plush office across town, a look of triumph crossed the face of Don Cornelio.”


Now try it

For fun, and to see the potential of the twists, try inserting a few into this little fragment of a story, which I invented at great cognitive cost. You may need or want to change names or pronouns from the above twists:


“Do you think you could help me?” she asked.

“No problem,” he said.


Crazy what the twists add, huh? Now imagine the power of the twists in a more extended story, one for which students had developed some attachments to or expectations about.


If the twist fits–or doesn’t

Sure, some twists won’t fit the tone of your text. But part of their power may lie in changing the tone or even the genre. Even in their ambiguity, they’ll give rise to great follow-up questions, detail-inventing, and discussion with your students. The twist can serve not just to spice up the story on its own, but also to inspire other details or plot elements: If you want, you can add further details, before or after discussion with students, that align with the twist. But remember that you don’t really have to explain everything. Use the opportunity to let students invent!


A twist on twists

Instead of inserting a twist yourself, give a few of the twists to students who have read a text and let them decide where in the text the twist would be most interesting to add. Or let students make up a twist of their own. Enjoy whatever conversation comes from this activity and steal the best ideas for use with other classes!


Happy twisty-twisty!
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  1. Great stuff Justin!!!! I love twists and they aren’t always easy to come up with….you’ve reminded us that with just the right key or combination we can unlock all kinds of possibilities!!!!!!

    with love,

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Laurie! I’ve gotten so many good keys and combinations from and!

  2. I suppose I’m not in the most peaceful and creative mood, reading this after school, but I can see that I would need to be gentle with myself in developing this idea. Still, you cross paths with an idea of mine; for years I have worked with my 7th grade Italian class to write metaphors to give them a greater sense of the power of language. I always tell them that a successful metaphor needs some kind of twist to give the comparison power, which means that your technique should help us all prepare for writing metaphors.

    • Gerry, I’m always impressed with how well you know yourself and your students. You’re right: there’s no rush and no pressure with this, or with any other activity.

      I’d love to learn more about how the twisty idea in this post relates to your metaphor-writing activity, which sounds like it involves much more thought and inventiveness than what I’ve suggested. All I’m really talking about is how, with minimal time or creativity, you can get the interpretive juices flowing by adding a single line to a story you’ve found or written. I wonder if the specific English examples I’ve given suggest that this is a more advanced or more literary activity than I think of it as being!

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Gerry.

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