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by Erica Fischer on Nov 9, 2012

Reading in World Language Classrooms

Last week’s #LangChat participants discussed ways to help their students get the most out of reading in world language classrooms. As @muchachitaMJ pointed out, target language reading skills are an extremely important part of building proficiency; however, it can be difficult to get students interested in reading in L2 if they already dislike reading in L1.

@dlfulton reminded us that exposure to print from the very first days of class are key for students to build a foundation for reading in world language settings. Our discussion proved that there are plenty of ways to get students of all proficiency levels engaged with TL reading.

Types of Reading Materials

Participants agreed that any and all reading materials – long or short – can help students build skills of reading in world language classrooms. Novels, short stories, news articles, songs, and even print advertisements can provide students with comprehensible input and opportunities for output. @dlfulton reminded us that it is important to modify the task and not the text: even complex texts can be used with students of lower proficiency levels if the assigned task is appropriate.

Short texts can provide students with just as much comprehensible TL input as a novel. As @akilcoyne21 put it, the text doesn’t have to be long, and novels don’t even have to be finished to be valuable. Several participants shared how they use shorter texts in the classroom:

  • @SraTaylor10 suggested using magazine ads as an authentic warm-up to start class.
  • @CoLeeSensei is using classified ads as part of her “work” unit. She asks her students to prep a resume and do an interview for the positions advertised.
  • @KGallsEduSvcs plans to use an illustrated book of sayings in the TL. Students will translate and determine the English equivalent for each phrase.
  • @klafrench finds that newspaper articles with lots of specialized vocabulary can be too difficult for her students. Instead, she uses photojournalism slideshows with captions.
  • @sonrisadelcampo uses for short, accessible news articles in Spanish:
  • @Traciepod uses “People” magazine in Spanish with her students; it may not be hard news, but the articles are simple and accessible to the students. Similarly, @lclarcq’s students love reading “Sports Illustrated” magazine in Spanish.
  • @crwmsteach and @klafrench both noted that songs can serve as reading as well as listening activities when students are provided with a printout of the lyrics. Students can identify vocabulary, grammar, etc.
  • @spanishplans recommends using authentic comic strips from the TL.

Several participants shared their experiences using popular young adult novels, translated into the TL. @CalicoTeach recommends using a book like Harry Potter that students are already familiar with; the class can focus on passages instead of the whole book. @sonrisadelcampo had her students read books from The Hunger Games series; @fravan’s level 2 students enjoy reading books from the Junie B. Jones series. Reading in world language translations of popular books can also provide an opportunity to pick up on cultural differences between the two versions. @dlfulton reminded us of the importance of balancing “known” (translation from TL) and “unknown” (authentic) texts, as each serves a different purpose for reading comprehension.

@Catherineku1972 recommended these sites as great online resources for French reading materials:

@dr_dmd also suggested that teachers consider writing their own stories for their students, making sure to include a clear cultural context.

Pre-Reading Activities

Pre-reading in world language classrooms is an important way to prepare students for challenges they may face in the text, and to activate their interest. Participants shared the variety of pre-reading activities that they use to get their students ready to take on unfamiliar text.

  • @klhellerman will select lines from the reading and have students act them out as a pre-reading activity. The class has to guess which line they are acting out.
  • For more difficult texts, @akilcoyne21 uses Wordle to get the students talking and making predictions about what they are going to read.
  • @Catherineku1972 has students make pre-reading charts that involves scanning and investigation of cognates and known words, as well as unfamiliar terms.

Approaches to In-Class Reading in World Language

In-class reading doesn’t always have to be a solitary activity. There are many ways that teachers can support student comprehension as they read in class, whether through the use of technology or reading aloud. Here are some suggestions that participants made:

  • @dlfulton suggested that world language teachers take more cues from their ELA colleagues, like the idea of progressing from “Read aloud” to “Read Along” to “Read Alone.”
  • Similarly, @LauraJaneBarber starts out by reading with her students, modeling and discussing how to work around unfamiliar. Students can then progress to reading in partners, and then reading on their own.
  • @Catherineku1972 uses CLE International French books with CDs; she uploads the audio to iPods so that students can listen and reflect individually. Reading can be supported by listening.
  • For an engaging way to read in class, @CarolGaab assigns visuals and gestures to unfamiliar words in the text; students are asked to show their visual/gesture as their word is read.
  • @KGallsEduSvcs recommends keeping an in-class library for student use. Teachers can then assign each student a book (or they can choose their own), create their own glossary, write out a “test,” and answer their own questions.
  • Since getting iPads for her classroom, @klafrench has been doing a lot of work with PDFs. She uses the PDF Notes Free app, which lets her students use highlighters, pens, markers, and sticky notes to mark the text on the screen. This makes in-class reading more engaging for the students.
  • @sonrisadelcampo reminded us that students of all ages enjoy being read to. She even bought carpet squares for her students to sit on during reading time!
  • @dlfulton brought up an important point: teachers shouldn’t always assume that one read-through is enough for students; students (especially slower readers) need multiple encounters with a text.

Post-Reading Activities

Post-reading activities can be an important way to ensure comprehension and engage critical thinking skills. Participants shared the activities that they like to use with their students to keep students thinking and talking about the text.

  • @LauraJaneBarber likes to ask students, “What do we know about the person that isn’t explicitly stated?”
  • @CalicoTeach suggested having students create a Wordle from a web article on a topic of interest; students can present to the class using the Worlde as a prompt.
  • @Marishawkins and @alenord agreed that sometimes asking questions about the reading in English (instead of the TL) can be a good way to ensure actual comprehension (and verify that students aren’t just copying sentences from the text as answers.
  • @dr_dmd recommended having students create questions in small groups for the other small groups to answer. @akilcoyne21 likes the idea of having students ask the comprehension questions instead of the teacher.
  • @CoLeeSensei has her students do post-reading discussion in groups of 4, and then has students self-evaluate. Her students just did a 30-minute post-reading discussion and loved talking confidently about the story. She describes it in her blog post here:
  • Instead of just answering questions, @alenord recommends having students read and respond in a personal way, in the style of an online comment or tweet.

Many participants have their students draw after reading a text. @dlfulton rightly pointed out that drawing can be important comprehension strategy, especially for students at low levels of proficiency who can’t express their ideas in the TL yet. @klafrench has had her students draw out the story in cartoons/comic strips form. @sonrisadelcampo recommends assigning each student one sentence from the reading to sketch; the other students have to guess which sentence the sketch represents. This gets them to re-read some of the text. It is important, however, to set time limits on drawing activities so that they do not take up too much class time.

Thank you to all of our participants for sharing your excellent ideas! And a special thanks to @dr_dmd and @CalicoTeach for moderating the evening’s discussion.

Next week is the ACTFL 2012 conference in Philadelphia, and many #LangChat participants will be in attendance! Join us for a “tweet-up” on Thursday evening at 7pm. There will also be a #LangChat session at 2pm on Saturday in Room 104 A.

#LangChat will also be held from the conference this week, so even if you can’t attend in-person, you can join us virtually!

#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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