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by Erica Fischer on Mar 30, 2016

Bring Reading Back to Life in Your World Language Classroom!

Last week, world language teachers from across the country dug in for a rapid-fire chat in order to share and discuss various strategies for how to effectively teach novels and short stories in the target language in class, and still maintain student interest while increasing their proficiency. Langchatters talked about the purpose of (and logistics for) reading novels and short stories in class, as well as ways to use discussion to see what your students are reading. Participants ended the hour talking about ways to make sure that students are actually getting meaning from their reading, along with ideas for how to assess what students are actually learning and retaining from it.

Thank you Amy (@alenord) and Kris (@KrisClimer), for hosting the super-fast Thursday #langchat this week, as well as John (@CadenaSensei) and Wendy (@MmeFarab) for leading the charge for the #SaturdaySequel. And thanks to everyone who joined in for either super informative hour of #langchat!

Question 1: What are your purposes for having students read longer text like novels & short stories?

For a lot of langchatters using novels and short stories in their curriculum comes from a personal connection to specific books and material, or simply their own love of reading. Several shared that their preference for using longer texts stems from the fact that it’s an easier task to get students excited about authentic resources and extended projects when the subject is something they themselves are excited about. @IndwellingLang summed up this perspective best when they said, “Long texts let [students] get lost in the language–in the best of ways!”

Langchatters purposes varied from giving students a sense of accomplishment in being able to read something more extensive, to seeing it as an opportunity for students to expand their vocabulary and understanding of the ways that words and phrases work together in real world content. Other reasoning included the thought that long texts with coherent plot, themes, or style often allows students to encounter the same words and phrases repeatedly without getting bored, and the fact reading teaches good writing skills in the target language as well. Similarly, @MCanion felt that, “When longer texts [are] used, readers can derive more meaning because they don’t use word for word translation techniques.”

One very popular idea that summed up the overall sentiment of participants’ answer for Q1 was @MademoiselleRoe when she said, “[Students] also feel so proud when they can read a longer text. We all support literacy!” Because at the end of the day, literacy and understanding of the target language is what the world language classroom is all about.

Question 2: What do the logistics of reading novels, long text look like in your classroom?

Seeing as every classroom is run differently depending on proficiency level, teaching style, school philosophy, etc., the suggested logistics ranged far and wide across the various ways that teachers have to structure their classes to incorporate reading longer texts into their particular classrooms. Some were advocates for a flipped classroom approach (having students read at home and only discussing the materials in class) while others felt that reading as a group or individually in class and then discussing is the best way to approach it.

A much re-tweeted idea came from @maestartsai when she said that she prefers to, “…front load and circle vocabulary needed for each day’s chapter. I try to vary how we read and respond to the novel each day.” Ideas for hands-on structuring the reading of long texts in class included @KrisClimer’s popular suggestion that the text be, “Broken up into chapters, episodes, punctuated with discussion, activities, interpersonal, form assessments.” Another much-liked suggestion was simply to utilize a variety of ways to incorporate reading and not try to make it a “one size fits all” type of situation for every class. Suggestions were to have students read as a class, read as homework, read to a partner, listen to the teacher read, read and act out, and much more.

Participants made sure to promote the use of activities such as comprehension questions, cultural activities, short writing, readers theater, and the like to make sure that students are really involved with the reading and understanding it. Similarly, @RabeloMaggie proposed that as much as possible, “Reading [should be] done in class. [We] want to model expectations – not [have them] knowing and/or looking up every word. [It should] not always [be] comfortable for them.” Which makes a lot of sense since every activity should be designed to challenge students to go grow their proficiency as much as possible.

Question 3: How do you employ discussion as a way to process what students are reading?

Langchatters agreed that discussion is a huge piece of the learning puzzle when it comes to reading texts in class and suggestions to facilitate it. @SraWienhold had a popular idea to, “…have [a] slideshow of pre/during/post questions that are posted, so as we read it reminds me to stop, discuss & personalize.” Similarly, @MadamesoilleRoe suggested, “When reading together, pause often to ask questions – just like when reading to a small child. Is he happy? Why? What next? Etc.”

Additional ideas on how to use discussion ranged from having students do individual and then group recaps to see if everyone reached the same conclusion, as well as making activity questions more thought provoking to make sure that they’re understanding and relating to the material and not just comprehending it. Chatters pointed out that all of these suggestions depend on making sure what you’re doing is appropriate for the age group, since you need to have different focuses for different proficiency levels. To demonstrate, @SrMedina_NNHS said, “Novice – intermediate low= connection to self, connections to world… IM to IH= student led, adding a provocateur.”

Another popular suggestion was to make the discussion portion as student-focused as possible by having them come up with things to talk about, topics to present from the material, things that they identified with, etc. @AHSblaz had some great ideas for ways to have students do that such as having them, “…choose [a] character and make: a meme, a texting conversation, a playlist, a wanted poster, an avatar w. Explanation. Etc.”

Question 4: What strategies do you use to ensure your students are really reading & making meaning?

Participants were fans of simple strategies when it came to talking about ways to make sure that their students are truly making meaning from what they read. Suggestions included straightforward reading checks, simply drawing what they remember, spontaneous retelling of the plot, acting out what they remember, organizing sentences that describe scenes, discussions cards, formative assessment quizzes, and more of the like.

More ideas included having students write summaries, having them identify themselves as one of the characters and explain what they are thinking and feeling in the last chapter read, or even having students gather into groups to talk through their perspectives and what they thought they understood. For lower levels, a really popular idea was to read to the class constantly as student feedback indicates they like it best because they understand better with the teacher’s inflection and questions imbued into the story.

Question 5: How do you assess what your students learn from reading novels & other text?

Langchatters generally agreed that the length of the text often determines what they do to assess student’s learning, but for many it is often interpersonal in pairs & presentational writing in class to see what students are actually retaining. @MadameMykietyn was an advocate for, “Prompts. Students must use the new vocab and story details in context.” Similarly, storyboards assessments were presented as a great tactic, alongside figuring out ways to get students to actually apply their knowledge of text while assessing in the three modes to really helps students feel accomplished and successful with the reading.

Another less structured way to assess student’s progress came from @senoraCMT idea that she loves to see, “Lots and lots of connections to self! Love reading more for pleasure than pain so any time we can do something fun is a plus!”


Last week, Langchatters talked about all the ways that novels and long texts can be worked into their regular class structure. So many different perspectives and ideas were shared and the takeaways varied just as much! One was that incorporating more (and longer) texts in the target language is a great thing to integrate, another was that longer texts help students concentrate less on the urge to translate word for word and make “absorbing” the content and new vocabulary much easier.

@profe_robbins summed up quite a few chatters takeaway statements when she said, “ Don’t think I’ve liked so many ideas/thoughts on #langchat before. Super excited to try some new ideas next month.”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat and shared their ideas for how to incorporate long texts like novels and short stories into the world language classroom. We hope that you continue to join #langchat whenever you are able – if the regular chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

This was an especiallyrapid-fire chat and due to space limitations, this summary focuses on the main themes and takeaways from this week’s conversation, and many tweets had to be omitted. To read the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

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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