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by Erica Fischer on Feb 24, 2016

Keep Reading Real: Improve Reading Skills with Authentic Texts!

Last week, Langchatters were ready for an action-packed chat on authentic resources for reading. Participants discussed their go-to reading sources and talked about when they introduce them. They also shared their strategies to scaffold texts in an attempt to make them more accessible for students. Langchatters then considered how students can use authentic resources to build their vocabulary and commented on ways to train students in effective reading strategies. Finally, instructors brainstormed post-reading tasks to promote student accountability. Participants were so engrossed in the conversation that the end of the hour snuck up on them, with @alenord exclaiming, “Cannot believe it! This is the fastest hour of my week!”

Thank you to all those who contributed to an active hour of #langchat! We also extend a special thanks to our dedicated moderators. Amy (@alenord) led the Thursday chat, with support from Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and Laura (@SraSpanglish), and John (@CadenaSensei) moderated the #SaturdaySequel!

Question 1: What authentic reading sources do you use, and how do you decide when to use them?

Langchatters had plenty of authentic reading sources to recommend! @LisaShepard2 suggested “Tweets, infographics, stories, articles, [and] anything comprehensible and relevant.” @Marishawkins echoed the suggestion for “news or magazines articles or infographics,” and @MlleSulewski encouraged a healthy dose of infographics: “Loooots of infographics!” Others recommended advertisements (@alenord) and song lyrics (@Frau_Cold and @alenord). Specific news sites were suggested by @MlleSulewski (“I love 1jour1actu articles”) for French and by @profepj3 (“I love using @20m for my classes. [The stories are easy to read, cover a] variety of topics, [and include] videos.”) for Spanish. The list of suggestions only continued to grow, expanding to include movie trailers, music videos, restaurant menus, and websites, such as airline pages or (@tbcaudill). @tbcaudill explained that on such sites, “[Students] know what things mean by context/icons/location on [the] page.” @AHSblaz proposed using another sort of website, specifically, one filled with reader contributions, such as “Quand j’étais petit” (When I was little). Additions to this growing list included cartoons (@MarciHarris), memes, and proverbs and sayings (@MundodePepita). @MundodePepita kindly shared her personal Pinterest collection of sayings. While resources abound for modern languages, @kballestrini pointed out that finding authentic texts for learners of Classical languages can be trickier: “[Well], it’s Latin… so, you know, [there are] lots of advanced [authentic resources, but sources are] very limited [for] lower level [learners and require] lots of scaffolding.” He added, “[Surviving] graffiti is fantastic; [it] requires some censoring, though 🙂 [It] often [contains the] same [grammatical] mistakes [that] students [make].”

Participants briefly commented on when they use these resources. Some use authentic readings to introduce a unit. For example, @Sra_NS wrote, “[I’m trying] to use [authentic resources] right from the start of a new [chapter] so [students] see the words in context. [I’m using] for [the] ropa unit.” Similarly, @tjeag said, “I like doing a lot of interpretive [work] at [the] beginning of a unit to build comprehension before getting [students] to speak a lot.” @LisaShepard2 likes to present these sources to “introduce [vocabulary or] structures, spark discussion, [or as a] prompt for writing.” @ProfeCochran noted that, when she uses an authentic text, she has students work with it for a good chunk of the class period: “I have [50-minute] classes, so I often have to devote [an] entire lesson (30 [minutes]) to scaffolding an interpretive reading selection.”

Question 2: How do you scaffold authentic reading sources to make them accessible to your students?

In order to make texts more accessible, Langchatters offered scaffolding tips. They commented on the importance of carefully selecting a text, taking time to pre-teach vocabulary, and breaking down a reading into digestible parts.

  • Carefully choose a text: @tbcaudill encouraged fellow instructors to “work from familiar sources so [they feel] very predictable.” @SraSpanglish agreed, writing, “Familiar schemas are awesome scaffolding! I like Wikipedia articles :).” @ProfeCochran suggested that teachers “[first] draw students’ attention to things they know and recognize [and build] their schema from there.” Aside from schematic considerations, others highlighted the role of familiar vocabulary. @LisaShepard2 said, “Start with texts that are very visual [and] have lots of cognates, or previously learned words.” @MundodePepita added, “[Too] much new [vocabulary] means a resource that needs to be put back on the shelf [in my honest opinion].”
  • Pre-teach vocabulary: @Marishawkins tries to “[pre-teach vocabulary and] be selective so [she doesn’t] have to scaffold too much and [can] ask questions [students] can answer.” @placido also encouraged pre-teaching vocabulary, but suggested selecting a text that requires minimal preparation and thus reduces students’ frustration. @AHSblaz added, “I like to give [students] paper [and a] highlighter [to] mark all familiar words. [This makes the] text less scary [and allows students to] focus on [the] frequency of unknown words, etc.”
  • Chunk it!: Many advised breaking texts down into chunks. @VTracy7 wrote, “I like to chunk the text so that’s it less intimidating [and] then we focus on what we know and cognates.” @natadel76 agreed, writing that this allows students to stop and react or reflect in groups, and @ADiazMora added that this strategy makes texts feel less overwhelming.

Question 3: How can students use authentic reading sources to build their vocabulary?

As @tbcaudill observed, exposure to new words through authentic reading can naturally expand students’ vocabulary. @alenord wrote that students can be trained in paying attention to context to discover meaning: “Sometimes [it’s] powerful to underline cool words [and] then work together to [use] context to make guesses.” Instructors shared some specific tips to help vocabulary grow and stick.

  • Word journals/blogs: @ProfeCochran suggested that students keep a word journal with new words of their selection. Similarly, @SraSpanglish said, “I have students pick 3-5 words to look up [and] include in summary blog.”
  • Personalized vocabulary: @ADiazMora wrote, “I have students choose words that they find important or relate to who they are…[this] usually sticks with them.” @MarisHawkins agreed that “students learn cognates and see words repeatedly that they want to know.” To help new words stick, @_scolby has students pick out words that matter to them and draw a picture to make them more memorable. @placido added that free reading can naturally expose students to vocabulary related to their interests.
  • Application activities: @alenord wrote, “[Vocabulary acquisition] comes with repetition, too, so what are YOU going to do with the words they gain from reading [authentic texts]?” @nicola_work recommended a “personalized post-reading activity (opinion, likes, dislikes, reenactment, etc.) [to help] with some [vocabulary] building.”

Question 4: What strategies train students to be more proficient readers in their L2?

Participants noted the importance of training students not to get hung up on every word and to interpret words in context.

  • Not sweating the small stuff: @MlleSulewski noted a key strategy, namely, “not getting bogged down trying to understand every word!” @LisaShepard2 wrote, “[Students] just need to understand that they don’t need to know every word. It takes [a while] to develop that trust in the classroom.” @tbcaudill echoed this point: “[They’ve] got to get over not knowing each word! So hard to do!”
  • Discussing and interpreting vocabulary in context: As @CoLeeSensei commented, “[You] can’t go right to the dictionary until you read, discuss and guess! [Help students think about a text’s] context [and] purpose – why are we reading this? who’s it for?” @nicola_work also encourages “guessing from context, using anything [students] know (picture, previous knowledge, cognates, simple words).” @MundodePepita added, “[Steal] techniques from early literacy: look for what you know, look at illustrations, skip [and] come back, [and] ask ‘what makes sense?’”

Question 5: What post-reading tasks hold students accountable for what they learned?

Language teachers advised including reading content in assessments and having students engage in creative follow-up activities.

  • Incorporate similar activities in assessments: @MrsCoblentz wrote, “[Definitely] incorporate similarly-themed activities in the next [performance] assessment to see retention,” and @placido commented, “My [authentic resource topics] have a funny way of resurfacing on pop quizzes!” @ProfeCochran expressed her view that it’s “[even] better if you can incorporate [the] same sources and information gained in the assessment.”
  • Use creative follow-up activities: Participants shared a variety of potential post-reading tasks. Here are some of their ideas! @profepj3 suggested having students create a summary tweet: “I love the ‘summary tweet’ idea for what my [students] have read [or] listened to. [It distills] their comprehension to 2, maybe 3 sentences.” @nicola_work offered some more tips: having students “reenact [a text]; draw [a] graphic; create [a] dialogue; write [an] alternate ending; give [a] personal opinion; interview someone.” Additionally, @JeanineMotta proposed that students could “create an alternative ending and illustrate it [as a] graphic novel.”

Finally, @alenord shared her view that “[a during-reading] activity is just as powerful as [a post-reading] activity [that informally] assesses [students’] understanding.”


Last week, Langchatters had plenty of tips on authentic reading to offer and read from fellow language instructors. They shared their authentic reading sources of choice and talked about when they use them. Participants also discussed scaffolding strategies, considered how students can build their vocabulary through authentic texts, and reflected on ways to train learners in effective reading techniques. Finally, instructors brainstormed post-reading tasks to promote accountability.

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who contributed resources and tips for engaging with authentic texts! We hope that you continue to join us on #langchat once or twice a week! If the Thursday at 8 p.m. ET chat feels too fast, consider returning for the slower #SaturdaySequel, 10 a.m. ET! Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have an 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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