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by Erica Fischer on Dec 9, 2014

Strategies to help learners at any level get the overall meaning of a text

Last week, Langchatters met online to discuss strategies to help learners get the overall meaning of a text. Memories of ACTFL were still fresh in the heads of many, who now had faces to link to Twitter aliases. @SECottrell wrote, “Hey, great to ‘see’ you on #langchat after meeting you at #actfl14,” and @KrisClimer said, “I’m thrilled to read words and actually HEAR many of your voices in my head.” In an action-packed hour, participants reflected on four questions related to facilitating reading comprehension. In case you missed the conversation or your Internet browser crashed from tab overload, your #langchat summary has got you covered.

Question 1: What reading skills should we focus on for different proficiency levels?

Participants began by commenting on important skills for particular proficiency levels. They generally agreed with @placido, who wrote, “[At] all levels I strive for high levels of comprehension.” Most of the specific advice participants offered was relevant for the novice level. @espanolsrs encouraged instructors to focus on the gist: “I think that gisting is an important skill for novice learners.” @CoLeeSensei stated this in different terms, describing the gist in 5 basic questions: “With [level 1] students I focus on the 5 [questions]: Who? What? Where? When? Why? It helps them for communication too :).” @SenoraWienhold observed that having students follow along in the text with their finger as they read makes them slow down and process content. Other instructors pointed out the importance of teaching students to identify familiar vocabulary. @ShaneBraverman said, “[Students] being able to [identify] root words is super helpful. Since roots hold most meaning – they can get more from text.” @SenoritaBasom noted that students should become comfortable with high frequency words: “With lower levels, I like students to focus on identifying and understanding high frequency words so they can feel successful.”

Finally, participants offered suggestions for fellow instructors. @Marishawkins reminded instructors to ask level-appropriate questions about texts: “I think the questions can also frame the reading skills that help [students] to feel successful. More advanced levels have harder [questions].” @MmeMurphy suggested instructors “try to pre-teach key vocab through stories and other contextualized/comprehensible input.” For ideas on effective pre-teaching strategies, check out a previous #langchat summary. @SraKuonen recognized that texts can intimidate students, and she encourages them to dive in: “I’m always telling them to not give up before they try! They see a Spanish reading and assume they can’t read it.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS also noted that students are uncomfortable with the element of the unknown, but she added that it is common to all levels: “High ability students HATE IT but ambiguity is part of the process. How many words do WE not know in our [languages]?”

Question 2: What types of texts are accessible for students at different levels?

Some participants encouraged keeping texts simple with novice level students. For example, @magisterb480 uses simple texts for beginners, noting that “even in Latin there are some authentic texts (mainly inscriptions) that a first-year can read.” @MWfrancais also looks for simple texts from everyday life: “I love using food wrappers or shampoo bottle directions with beginners.” For intermediate levels, @SrtaJohnsonEBHS suggested “more [authentic resources], websites, newspaper articles, short stories (may need scaffolding).” Alternatively, other instructors observed that texts can work for multiple levels if activities and expectations are adapted. @tiesamgraf wrote, “[So] many texts can work for many different levels – the task/goal needs to change for each [level] (edit [the] task not [the] text).”

Participants then began to think outside the book. They suggested a variety of text types, which you might consider using in your classroom!

  • Advertisements: @SECottrell advocated for use of advertisements, which she values as “a good example of a type of text our students need: [one that is] highly contextualized.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS shared a link to “anuncios in Spanish for those of us doing shopping/presents 🙂”
  • Infografics: This was possibly the most popular text type suggested. @MmeFarab wrote, “I’ll be the first to say that infographics are my favorite at EVERY level,” and many others readily agreed. @CadenaSensei added, “[Infographics] are amazing. [They are] great for [teachers with] many preps.” @SECottrell collects infographics on Google (“‘TL word + ‘infografía’ is one of my most frequent Google searches!”), while @MmeFarab has more luck searching on Pinterest (“I find more on [Pinterest] than I usually do on [Google]. Strange, but I like it”).
  • Memes: @senoraCMT wrote, “[Memes] are great for all levels [because] they can teach awesome figurative language!!” @IndwellingLang agreed, adding, “Yep, memes! and other captioned images, cartoons, etc.”
  • Social Media: Many participants suggested social media as a source of texts. @IndwellingLang proposed using “Facebook and other social networking sites, with language (“Like,” “Add a picture,” etc.) set to [the] target language.” @espanolsrs, one of many participants who advocated for use of Twitter, wrote, “A Tweet of the day in the [target language] can be a motivating way to start class. I look for current events, vocab/structures in [target language], etc.” @carmenscoggins also regularly uses tweets in the classroom: “I use tweets all the time with my students. It’s a fast way to make a point to students that they can understand.” @SraSpanglish suggested that instructors can also ask students to make inferences, presenting them with a series of tweets and asking them to draw conclusions: “[In Spanish 2/3] I collected tweets on a current event, [and] had [students] figure out what was going on”
  • Student-Authored Stories: @MmeMurphy offered an alternative source of texts, students from other classes: “My students love reading the other classes’ stories…[This provides them with] more repetition of target structures [and increases] student interest!”

Question 3: What smaller skills help students identify the main idea of a text?

Participants next shared advice on small steps that can be taken to help students identify the main idea of a text. @CoLeeSensei highlighted the importance of teaching students to approach texts calmly: “I think ‘relaxing and breathing’ when they see something new [is important]!” @MmeLohse also underscored the value of patience, and @SrtaJohnsonEBHS wrote that she encourages students to “[start] with what [they] know (cognates, high frequency words) and then fill in the rest.” @espanolsrs added that students should be taught that they can take it slow: “[Teach students] that it’s OK to slow down when they read. It’s not [a] race to finish.” Additionally, @KrisClimer suggested “[reading] together [as I do] with my own kids” to work through a text as a class. When doing so, he encouraged “[stopping] and circling back, [checking] for comprehension, [and circling] back always around MAIN IDEAS.” Finally, @IndwellingLang pointed out that instructors can ask students to reflect, prompting them to “[identify] what is making a text tough–vocab? sentence length? style? assumed knowledge?”

Question 4: So a student can identify the main idea… now what?

Once students can point to the main idea, instructors offered lots of advice on what to do next. @CoLeeSensei shared some of the activities that she uses to make sure that students really ‘got it’: “ or”
@steveference, along with other participants, suggested having students “put [the main idea] in their own words or into practice (for example, drawing or role playing).” Other participants like to have students elaborate on story content, adding details (@KrisClimer), writing alternate story lines (@ShaneBraverman), or predicting what might happen next (@espanolsrs). @Indwelling also recommended debriefing with students, asking, “What did you like/dislike about text itself? What did you like/dislike about the reading process?”


#Langchat participants discussed strategies to help learners at any level get the main idea of a text. They reflected on level-appropriate reading skills, discussed level-appropriate text types, and shared a variety of fun and non-traditional text types to use in the classroom, encouraging instructors to think outside the book sometimes. Participants also suggested smaller steps to work towards student comprehension of texts, reminding instructors to help students feel calm when faced with the unknown. Finally, they suggested steps that can be taken once students have gotten the gist of a text.

Thank You!

Thank you again to all of the #langchat participants who contributed to last Thursday’s discussion and to Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Laura (@SraSpanglish) for moderating a rapid-fire chat! 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.

If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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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