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by Erica Fischer on Apr 22, 2013

Best Texts for Teaching Communicative Proficiency

book shelf by seo_gun, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  seo_gun 

Among #langchat participants on Thursday night, it proved to be difficult to come to a consensus on which texts best help students meet communication proficiency goals. Each teacher had their own way of looking at texts, although using authentic resources, leveled reading and communication reading activities seemed to be common themes in many world language classrooms.

Are Authentic Materials the Best Texts for Comprehension?

Many #langchat teachers highly praised the use of authentic materials to help students read for communication proficiency. The problem is deciding what resources are truly authentic. It seemed that each participant had their own interpretation of exactly what is meant by the phrase ‘authentic resources.’ @jennahacker said, “Authentic texts – stories, news articles, tweets, product labels, recipes, traffic signs, store flyers, etc. things they can use.”

Some participants held the idea that authentic resources are only truly authentic if they have not been modified in any way. @dr_dmd said, “Good text should be authentic resources – written in target language for a target language audience – REAL language not tailored for L2 learners, but real life communication.”0 @textivate said, “Personally I can’t see the point in authentic resources if all it’s about is simplifying a comprehension task….”

Other Ideas About Using Authentic Resources

Choose Authentic Resources with Purpose. If you are using authentic resources, make sure that you have a specific goal in mind. @SraHoopes said, “Authentic texts are written at all levels. They can work if selected with purpose.” Some teachers spoke of choosing authentic resources at lower levels to peak interest, while others spoke of using authentic resources to help students learn to glean information from context.

Texts Designed for Second Language Learners. A number of participants spoke about the value of using texts specifically designed for students learning a second language. @placido said, “Texts geared to second language learners can bridge the gap to higher level literature, while providing high-interest reading at a low frustration level.”

Focus On Comprehension. Some teachers mentioned the idea that authentic resources may not provide the most communication for students, as they often incorporate language that students are not ready for. @placido said, “Authentic resources are cool, but have very shallow levels of comprehension. I use them but don’t spend tons of time on them.”

Use Authentic Resources Wisely. On the other hand, some teachers felt that authentic resources can be excellent ways to spark student comprehension through engagement, regardless of what level they are at. @jennahacker said, “I think you can make a text work for any level. Change the task, not the text.” @MmeNero said, “Students feel that they have ownership over their learning when they can read authentic documents. They are so proud!”

Interesting is the Same in Every Language

@SraHoopes shared, “Authentic text or not, all that matters is whether it’s comprehensible to students and whether they find it interesting.”

This idea was supported by many of the langchat teachers: as long as students think it is interesting, they are willing to read it. @placido said, “Krashen told me that the higher the interest in the text, the more ambiguity the reader can tolerate. I find it to be true!” @dr_dmd expressed his disinterest in textbook-only reading:  “SO dead and dry! Only meant to teach a structure. We can find LOTS of text online that can be accessible, fiction and non-fiction, poems, songs, Karaoke, manga, comics – choices!”

The best ways of keeping students interested? Humor, memes and teacher-produced stories that are specific to the classroom. @sonrisadelcampo said, “Authentic resources are great, but don’t forget your own creativity to write texts; You can personalize it 2 your class.” Through writing vocabulary-rich stories personalized for your classroom, students become more engaged and active in the learning process.

Best Practices for Reading World Language Texts

A number of other best practices were shared in the #langchat forum:

Modeling. Students will become more involved in reading if they see their teacher enjoying it as well. @mme_henderson said, “I really think the teacher should show a love of learning and reading. I want them to love reading too!” @sraoconnor said, “I agree.  If I am reading, my kids seem to take the time more seriously and read more intently.”

Images. Incorporating images into reading is not only good for visual learners, but can provide vital context clues and spark interest in the reading selection. @SraStephanie said, “I like lots of pictures and/or captions for novice texts! Kids feel like they are getting away with something ;).” @jennahacker said, “Infographics are great too! Fun, useful info about all different topics. Authentic, but easier to decipher for novice.” Other great image web sites mentioned were Google Images, Pinterest and Flickr.

Variety. @placido said, “When choosing or creating texts, I try to balance silly and serious, high interest and high value.” Keeping reading selections varied increases students’ motivation to participate. Teachers shared many different types of readings that students can participate in such as songs, recipes, menus, ads, news articles, tweets and instruction manuals.

Pre-Teaching. Especially when using authentic resources, it is vital to pre-teach important concepts, cultural elements and vocabulary so that students don’t become frustrated. @MmeNero said, “Use authentic texts, but it is so important that students are prepped. Cognates and familiar word searches to then answer questions.” @dr_dmd said, “Agreed – frontloading text with comprehensible input is essential – stories are more meaningful with oral language input and comprehension checks.”

Leveled Reading. A number of teachers spoke highly about using leveled readers, both for second language learners and those designed for native early language learners. @CarolGaab said, “I think it helps accelerate acquisition if you add comprehensive input through level-appropriate texts that provide repetitions of target language structures.” One highly recommended leveled system was the embedded text system that was shared by @sonrisadelcampo.

Daily Reading Practice. Regardless of what type of text a world language teacher chooses, it is imperative that reading is done on a daily basis. Just a little reading in the target language each day can have long-term value. @mme_henderson shared her daily routine:  “I do a short daily reading segment daily with tweets, Facebook articles, proverbs, etc. I teach a word of the day in context also. They are so proud to be able to read the latest news stories by themselves at level I.”

Thinking Outside of the Text Box

The most effective component of making world language reading communicative and engaging is by being creative in lesson planning. Students are more likely to want to read if they know that their reading time is going to be fun, varied and innovative. Here were some of the most interesting reading ideas of the evening:

  • @SrtaTeresa said, “I like having them scan newspapers for headlines. There are typically plenty of cognates which help with comprehension.”
  • @abbrugiati said, “Last week I made a scavenger hunt using QR codes. All the clues where in target language.”
  • @SenoraDunkin said, “I’ve seen teachers that have students black out the words they don’t know/can’t guess the meaning of and then use what remains.”
  • @SrtaTeresa said, “The @ZJonesSpanish Twiccionario exercises are great for Spanish teachers. The students love analyzing real tweets. Fun and culture-filled.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I use RSS feeds and subscribe to magazines and newspapers – they come to me.”
  • @placido said, “Tweeting and blogging have really helped me build a network of teachers that I go to for ideas!”
  • @tbcaudill said, “Current movie summaries on theater websites. Can also talk about movie poster, movie times, show trailers… All in one place!”
  • @suarez712002 said, “our 5th graders are “shopping” in Chile using H & M website”
  • @abbrugiati said, “Sometimes I use teenager website that are talking about famous people in target language. One direction:)”
  • @suarez712002 said, “I use e-mails text message from native speakers. Students love them!”

Thank You!

Thank you so much for your participation in this amazing #langchat! We love hearing your opinions on our weekly topics. If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

Again, thank you to our wonderful moderators, @placido and @CoLeeSensei. We are glad to a place to talk about what is working (or not working) in the world language classroom. There are always so many great ideas, we don’t have room to write them all. For a complete transcript of this session, please visit our online archive.

Additional Resources
@ZJonesSpanish menus from target culture
Spanish TV Series El Internado
Newspapers for Spanish PRENSA ESCRITA
Google+ FL Teachers group:
texts – comics in Español:
Project Based Learning on-line

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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