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by Erica Fischer on May 25, 2012

Preparing Students for Authentic Listening and Reading Materials

On May 24th, our LangChat participants tackled an important topic: What pre-reading/listening strategies help students better comprehend authentic materials? Everyone had a lot to share!

Setting the Stage

Participants shared a variety of tools that they have found helpful in setting the stage for their students before tackling authentic materials. @CoLeeSensei tries to provide context when introducing an authentic material, starting with a discussion explaining where, when, and why the text was produced and used. @msfrenchteach seeks to engage students’ prior knowledge using videos, short target language discussion, and photos. @DiegoOjeda66 reminded us that is important to make sure the students are able to identify any unfamiliar grammar elements they might encounter in their reading.

One of the great challenges of presenting authentic materials to students is preparing them for unfamiliar cultural elements in the text/audio. It is these cultural elements that make authentic materials authentic! Often, understanding these cultural elements is imperative for understanding the text itself, thus preparing for these unfamiliar cultural elements should be factored into pre-reading/listening class time.

Using Visuals

Participants had many creative ideas for using visuals to prepare students for the reading, especially for teaching them new vocabulary ahead of time.

  • @SraSpanglish likes to make a simple powerpoint for new vocabulary, including clipart to illustrate.
  • @dr_dmd recommended showing videos related to the topic, using Pinterest and infographics.
  • @dr_dmd likes making digital stories with relevant pictures from his travels abroad.
  • @dr_dmd and @SraSpanglish have used Wordle to introduce new vocabulary and to help encourage students to start making predictions about what will happen in the story. @SraSpanglish has even given students the Wordle and then had them predict the upcoming article’s title using Wordle words!
  • @mweelin reminded us that in the case of news articles, teachers can use features of the text, like headlines, bylines, graphics to guess about the article’s content ahead of time.
  • @yya2 recommends Wallwisher to create a collaborative glossary of important words; the site is something like an online sticky note board. @SECottrell prefers for the same purpose.
  • @SECottrell reminded us that Google Images can serve as a “visual dictionary” for students if they encounter an unfamiliar word in the text.

By introducing vocabulary and cultural elements before approaching the text/audio, students are able to start making predictions about what will happen. Participants suggested having students share these predictions with the class as a great way to start up a lively discussion in the target language!

Approaching Novels

For longer texts, like novels, participants had more specific advice for how to prepare students to best understand the many plot details and more complex prose that they are about to encounter.

  • @msfrenchteach gives a vocabulary list for each chapter before her students begin reading. She often has her students work in groups to answer comprehension questions as they move through the text.
  • @SECottrell has had her students draw out plot developments, which helped them keep track of the progression of the story.
  • @dwphotoski admits that he sometimes skips over a chapter, summarizing and/or acting it out with his students instead. This keeps up the pace, and avoids any passages that might be excessively difficult or inappropriate.

Embedded Reading

Students are not always ready for a long, complex text, even with preparation. Too many details in a first-read/listen can distract students from the main plot points and the larger significance of the text/audio. To avoid confusion and focus on the basics, @dwphotoski shared his experience using embedded reading. He has students read multiple versions of a text, with each version increasing in difficulty, adding details to the initial “skeleton text.”

Prepping for Authentic Audio

Participants all agreed that one of their students’ greatest challenges was understanding authentic audio materials – even with preparation. The challenges of authentic audio are different from those of authentic text: students have to worry about the speaker’s accent, and the speed at which he or she speaks.

@SraSpanglish offered us some perspective: there will always be words that students miss, and possibly always sentences. @trescolumnae reminded us that it’s important to reassure students that this is okay – sometimes even native speakers have trouble listening in their own language! The key is to teach students strategies to extract meaning from context.

Participants shared a wealth of great ideas for how to make students more comfortable with listening activities and how to better prepare them for authentic audio materials.

  • Some of the activities used to prepare for authentic text can also be used to prepare for authentic audio. Giving students pre-listening background information, vocab lists, and encouraging them to make predictions can help them get a lot more out of their first listen.
  • @jackimorris23 shared that her students do best on listening “lab days” when they are asked to bring headphones from home and listen to audio individually. She finds that this lowers their affective filters.
  • Conversely, @yya2 recommended collaborative listening: having students listen together, with different groups listening for different kinds of information, before getting together to discuss the audio as a whole.
  • @SrtaLisa sometimes posts a transcript of in-class audio on her blog so that if students get upset that they didn’t understand the audio in class, they can read it later.
  • @yya2 recommended the book Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action as good source for listening strategies.
  • @DiegoOjeda66 found and shared some great resources, as well:
    • A slideshow on “Listening, Pre-Listening & Post-Listening” :
    • An article titled “Listening in Foreign Language Classrooms: A Few Recipes” :
    • A study that asks “How Does Varying Pre-Listening Activities Affect Second Language Listening Comprehension?” :

While all these pre-reading and pre-listening strategies can build up students’ confidence and enthusiasm prior to tackling authentic materials, @pamwesely wisely cautioned against over-preparation: if too much time is spent working towards a text, students will be bored when the time comes to actually read/listen.

Many thanks to all who participated for sharing their great ideas! And special thanks to our moderators, @dr_dmd and @SECottrell. Join us this coming Thursday, 8pmEST/5pmPST for another exciting LangChat!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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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