If you follow us on Instagram or use our Accelerate program, it’s no surprise to you that here at Calico we’re huge fans of multilingual and multicultural children’s literature.  We love bilingual children’s books, and we love them even more when they’re all in Spanish, and we love them even more when they’re culturally authentic.

Drum roll, please: we’re giving away a title that fits the bill all three ways.

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Meet Alma

For our giveaway, Candlewick Press has graciously provided copies of both the Spanish version and the English version of a new children’s book, Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre (Alma and How She Got Her Name) by Juana Martinez-Neal.  Here’s how Candlewick describes it:

If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

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Teaching Ideas

This book is available on Amazon in English and in Spanish.  It really is a sweet, sweet story, and it has the stamp of approval from my children.  Let’s look at some ways you could use these books in children’s Spanish journey:
  • Read the English version with children in conjunction with our Stories Online Level B Culture Capsule “Families: Two Surnames?”
  • Adapt the Spanish version to comprehensible, repetitive language for your early language class.  The story lends itself to this very well.  For example, in the section about her great-grandmother:
    Papá dijo –Esperanza era tu bisabuela, Alma. Quería viajar por el mundo.
    Alma dijo –¡El mundo es muy grande! Yo quiero viajar por el mundo. Yo soy Esperanza.
    Then, in the next section,
    Papá dijo –José era tu abuelo, Alma. Era un artista. Quería pintar a nuestra gente.
    Alma dijo –¡Yo soy artista! ¡Quiero pintarlo todo! Yo soy José.
    I think you can see how this would lend itself to a beautiful reflection project on personal identity.  Even if they could only do this for one person in their family – wow!
  • Use the information about Alma’s familia to draw a family tree and identify who each person is to her.
  • Make a list of the actions Alma wants/likes to do (viajar, pintar, leer, buscar flores).  Then, compare and contrast which of your learners also like to do these things.
  • Explore the concept of what talismán a family might choose if they believed like Pura that nuestros ancestros estaban siempre a nuestro lado.
  • Explore the signs defending las causas justas like Candela did, and ask learners what they would write on a sign, and for what causa justa.
  • Read the Spanish version with an AP Spanish class and ask them to do interpersonal speaking and presentational tasks on the question “¿Cómo obtuviste tu nombre?” in the AP theme of Personal and Public Identities.

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How to Win Alma (x2!)

We’ll give away these books on Friday, May 18.  How can you win?  Just comment (and then watch for your notifications!) – tell us here on the blog, on our Instagram, on Twitter, or on Facebook:
How did you get your name?
SinceI have to answer this question all the time, I’ll start.
Sara significa <<princesa>>.  Yo tengo cuatro hermanos.  Soy la menor y la única chica.  Yo soy la princesa.  Soy Sara.
My parents had four boys before they “finally” got a girl- me! Consequently, they couldn’t pin down just two girl names so I have three.  My mom “won” with Sara first, my father with Elizabeth after, and then I have a middle name too.  Little-known fact: Sara-Elizabeth is actually my first name.  It’s a pain with computer systems that restrict names to 12 characters, that’s for sure!
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is the mom of 3 bilingual children, a Spanish teacher, and the chief storyteller at Calico Spanish.


Reading Activities and Tools for the World Language Classroom
As Common Core State Standards and standardized testing continues to influence that way that language teachers focus their methods of teaching, there is an increased emphasis on reading instruction. As it has become an important element for many language teachers, even more than in previous years, this was a very lively discussion, full of great ideas for pre-reading, reading and post-reading strategies.


Major Challenges for Teaching Language Reading

Even though most language teachers understand the benefits of regular reading practice, there are more than a few that are intimidated by the phrase, “reading instruction.” It conjures up images of dry, forced reading spells, frustration for both teacher and student, and another mandated activity that must be checked off before the real teaching and learning begins.

Some of the most major challenges for including reading in language classes are:

  • Finding age-appropriate reading materials that are comprehensible.
  • Encouraging whole-text reading instead of “dictionary-diving.”
  • Keeping students engaged can be intimidating to some teachers.
  • Knowing how to assess understanding.
  • Having enough time to cover the material.

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Fortunately, we have enough expert reading teachers among our #langchat PLN that gave some excellent answers to many of these tough questions. Although there were many more where these came from, these are a few of the best.

Problem: Word Hunting and “Dictionary Diving”
Solution: Pro-Risk Atmosphere, Pre-Assessment

In a classroom where making mistakes is discouraged, many students can get into a mindset where they won’t read a text unless they know every word in it. Many teachers discussed how troublesome this practice can make a reading lesson. @cadamsf1 encouraged teachers to, “Create an atmosphere where it’s ok for them to NOT know EVERY word in an authentic reading.” In this way, students feel comfortable making mistakes, so they know it is okay to not understand every single thing (or read it correctly).

Another way to help students avoid overuse of dictionaries during reading time is to help them identify words they don’t know ahead of time. In this way, they “pre-assess” the text and get a general feel for the content before they even really begin reading it. @tiesamgraf said, “A great idea is to have students cross out words they don’t know and then work with the text they know – avoids obsessive dictionary use!”

Problem: Mental Barrier to Language Reading
Solution: Engaging Content, Preparation

For many students, even bringing up the idea of reading in another language is enough to bring about a panic attack. So, instead of making it more difficult by choosing dry, archaic texts, @KrisClimer said, “Good reading early needs to be compelling. Lots of students need a reason to read (any language even their own).” Many great and compelling texts were discussed, such as Tweets, signs, picture books, bumper stickers, as well as traditional textbook stories and teacher-produced readings. @SraSpanglish added, “ANY flyers or posters, really! And SIGNS! Wet floor, protest, billboard, event posters.”

One of the most important strategies that was discussed was the concept of preparing students well before introducing a reading to them. Various pre-reading strategies were mentioned, but they all had the same goal: help students understand clearly the concepts and vocabulary they will be presented with so that they feel successful during the lesson. @MmeM27 said, “We focus on what we know. Identify familiar words and cognates. Try to understand unfamiliar words using other strategies.”

Problem: Age-Appropriate, Proficiency-Leveled Reading
Solution: Skill Grouping, Embedded Readings, Teacher-Designed Readings

When you have a class full of diverse learners, it’s natural that they will all be at a slightly different proficiency level. @cadamsf1 said, “For me, I build skills by grouping students and they only read the story IN class. We don’t take anything home.” Grouping students by skill level may allow them to have different reading goals.

Several teachers also mentioned embedded readings as a way to meet the needs of different age groups or proficiency levels. In these readings, there are different embedded levels of proficiency provided, so a novice reader might be reading for vocabulary recognition, while an intermediate student might be reading for additional comprehension or evaluation of the material.

Still other teachers found that creating their own texts was the best way to ensure that students were getting information on the appropriate level. @MmeM27 said, “I started making my own iBooks to put on iPads that embed the learning concepts and vocab at a level I know students can access.”

Problem: Checking for Comprehension
Solution: Incorporate Technology, Provide Variety

It is often very hard to know whether or not a student is understanding the text that they are reading, regardless of the language that they are reading in. There were a number of really great comprehension activites and ideas that were shared, focusing on providing diversity and access to technology in addition to assessing how well students understood the material.

Some of our favorite comprehension activities included:

  • @tiesamgraf said, “Socrative is a fun way to do comprehension check-ins as a warm up or summarizer.”
  • @placido said, “For intermediates, I might identify specific words in text and ask them to guess meaning in context.”
  • @crwmsteach said, “Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘point to the phrase or paragraph that…'”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “@cadamsf1 @placido students can make infographics too! to summarize – illustrate, etc.”
  • @cadamsf1 said, “I have students tell a section to me as assessment via Google Voice and then I know quickly who understands.”
  • @sgojsic said, “I use retells, draw pictures, sentence strips in the TL to check for comprehension.”

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Assessing Reading/Comprehension Checking: English or Target Language?

As the #langchat teachers discussed the unique problem of checking for comprehension in a world language classroom, a valid question was posed by @dacosta_sra. She asked, “Does anyone check for comprehension in English? I would like NOT to, but how?”

Although the general consensus among the forum over the years has been to stay in the target language as much as possible, checking reading comprehension is one of those key areas where it is not always necessary to stay in the target language. Because the focus is checking the students’ understanding of the material, rather than their ability to process or produce language, several teachers said that they check comprehension regularly in English. @placido said, “I think [checking comprehension in English] it is perfectly ok. If you have a common first language, use it, quick, then back to TL!”

Others maintain that it can be done in the target language, but needs to be modified, especially for lower proficiency levels. @SraSpanglish said, “For novices, if we assess in the target language, we’re assessing two modes instead of one. It’s hard to judge that way, but there ARE ways.”

Authentic Resources?

Another key discussion revolved around the use of authentic resources when choosing reading texts. Several teachers championed the use of authentic resources as a way to incorporate cultural relevance and to keep students more engaged in the reading activities. Other teachers said that authenticity was not as important as interest and level-appropriateness in choosing a text.

Good Reasons for Using Authentic Reading Resources

Motivation and Engagement. @BeckyTetzner said, “Authentic resources make a difference because students from the beginning can see HOW/why they will be using these skills! It’s relevant!”

Cultural Context Makes Reading Engaging. @dr_dmd said, “I simply encourage STRONG cultural contexts for them, richer and more engaging.”

Encourage Risk and Finding Main Ideas. @textivate said, “One benefit of authentic resources: to get students used to NOT understanding EVERYTHING.”

Sense of Accomplishment. @cadamsf1 said, “Seriously authentic resources give students a feeling of accomplishment as well. They really feel like “I have learned something”!!”

Validation by Native Speakers. @cadamsf1 said, “It’s heightened because they are validated by native speakers that are impressed that they are reading those texts.”

Good Reasons for Not Using Authentic Reading Resources

Relevant Texts Don’t Have to Be Authentic. @textivate said, “You can write very relevant texts which are not authentic, so why focus on authentic resources?”

Authentic Resources Not Always Designed for Learners. @TerryWaltz_TPRS said, “The importance of authentic resources depends on goals and level. For acquiring reading, sources must be comprehensible. Most authentic resources are not for students.”

Focus is Engagement, Not Authenticity. @cforchini said, “If my students are reading, I’m happy! It’s ok if it’s authentic resources or not. A tweet or a review on Yelp: whatever captures them!”

Accomplishment Comes from Reading, Not Authenticity. @TerryWaltz_TPRS said, “@cadamsf1 My Chinese 1s feel proud of reading a 400-char long story on day 2 of class. Trust me it ain’t authentic resources.” @textivate said, “@cadamsf1 My point is that it isn’t the “authenticity” of the text that does that. Maybe the difficulty? The interest level? #langchat”

Difficulty of Authentic Resources Can Limit Students to Only Reading Main Ideas. @TerryWaltz_TPRS said, “One cannot acquire language through comprehending only main ideas. Can’t acquire language that’s not linked to meaning.”

Although it’s likely this debate will never fully be resolved @placido shared a perspective which incorporated both strategies, focusing on different goals for different levels of students. She said, “I use authentic resources more in level 2 and a LOT in levels 3-4. In level 1 we focus on fun and very comprehensible.”

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Tools and Strategies for the Reading Process

As the moderators guided the discussion through the natural stages of the reading process, participants shared some incredible ideas for incorporating lesson ideas, tools and activities. We put together a short list of some of the best


In the pre-reading stage, the goal for students is to become prepared to interact with the text. Whether this means introducing them to vocabulary, discussing themes or teaching them how to use the technology associated with the lesson, the pre-reading stage is a vital one to ensure that students have a successful reading experience.

Pre-Reading Lesson Ideas

  • @sgojsic said, “Use a transparency over text and have them circle familiar/cognates first…forces them to apply the strategy
  • @nicola_work said, “looking at title / picture to activate background knowledge.”
  • @Marishawkins said, “I like to have students predict what will happen in a reading.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “@nicola_work Exactly! Aside from pictures, title, familiar structures help, like Wikipedia, recipes, etc. Use prior expectations!” @SrtaLohse said, “I love using classic children’s books that the students are already familiar with and have them read after finishing test or quiz.”
  • @placido said, “I use teacher-created readings to prepare to read #authres. (This is embedded reading concept.)”
  • @dacosta_sra said, “For prereading, find a hook. A video or a picture, a prop., etc.”
  • @crwmsteach said, “video clips and feature films provide a picture beforehand to associate with reading material.”
  • @BeckyTetzner said, “Pre-reading via organizing scrambled pieces of a summary version? Then put in order, get the gist, then find detail in the actual reading?”

Some Pre-Reading Tools Mentioned



Once the reading begins, it is important to continually having students engage with the text and the comprehension process. There are many ways to do this that are both fun and effective. #Langchat teachers shared some of their favorite, classroom-tested activities for engaging readers.

Reading Lesson Ideas

  • @placido said, “I am a big fan of acting aka “Reader’s Theater.” Can be done PRE-reading too!”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Always use tons of graphic organizers! What next?”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “Reading is the best way to acquire vocabulary- personal vocab lists and activities/reinforcement strengthen content understanding.”
  • @sgojsic said, “Use technology by having text responses in real time to a question.”
  • @BeckyTetzner said, “[Choose reading that uses] lots of relevant infographics to decipher (I find LOTS on pinterest), FB posts, articles w/lots of pics, tweets, etc..”
  • @cforchini said, “Reading in the target language in 140 characters or less- Students can follow their fav. actor, athlete, singer, etc. on Twitter. Great reading.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “I like to tie reading to other media. Film, news story, music. Lots of deep discussions and conclusions drawn.”
  • @Marishawkins said, “Recently I gave students sticky notes to write down one important fact from each section of the reading.”
  • @andrearoja said, “During reading: highlighting main ideas, cognates, or supporting evidence. My kids will read anything with a highlighter!”
  • @placido said, “Treat reading like a book club discussion…stop and chat, personalize it. Comprehension checks via discussion. @dr_dmd responded, “Love book club idea – look for a target language online social media site like GoodReads – imitate it w/sts blogs – FUN!”

Some Reading Tools Mentioned

Clé International/Hachette books w/CDs
Poll Everywhere
Embedded Readings
Graphic Organizers
Good Reads
Reader’s Theater


Once students have completed a reading section, they need to be able to show their comprehension. Fortunately, there are a number of really creative, diverse ways for them to do this. This is also a great part of the lesson to allow students choice, which gives them more “buy-in” to completing the comprehension and post-reading activities. @dr_dmd said, “Great post-reading strategies give students opportunities for being creative in response! Write a story, create a comicbook/kids book. Others?”

Post-Reading Lesson Ideas

  • @mweelin said, “#langchat Love having kids draw scene from story, do gallery walk and they explain why they chose it in TL in prs or grps” @cadamsf1 said, “oh my I like the gallery walk idea!! We did a murder mystery just finished and that will be [email protected] #langchat”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “students can also draw what they read and then retell using the pics.”
  • @cadamsf1 said, “I have my students illustrate scenes especially if it’s particularly descriptive as in hard to read no action.” @SraSpanglish responded, “Favorite, then Storify notes later!”
  • @BeckyTetzner said, “LOVE Socrative! Writing tool too-kids can respond to a reading, then have them anonymously pop up on screen and we edit together.”
  • @placido said, “Post-reading: Act out a scene, put items in order, sorting activity, draw a picture, watch a video of similar/same theme.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “authentic resources in station activities is a good way to move novices (and more) through different examples quickly.”
  • @cadamsf1 said, “Exactly I do the same- we play reverse taboo to retell the story to review the plot before we move forward.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “As a summary activity, students can make their own Wordles for HW to use for a warm up next day.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “Google Docs is also a great tool for student collaboration/reflection on texts.”
  • @Tecabrasileira said, “Use schoology/facebook to connect/interact as the character of the book”

Post-Reading Tools Mentioned

Google Drawing
Google Docs
Word Chart Functions

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While not everyone agrees on what language teachers should be reading in their classrooms, every #langchat teacher showed a dedication to building this skill in his or her students. Through a variety of engaging pre-reading, reading and post-reading activities, students and teachers will have more fun and gain more knowledge from reading in the target language. @KrisClimer summed the chat up nicely by saying, “My takeaways: authentic resources or not, pre, during and post reading activities and scaffolding is the most important.”

Thank You

Thanks so much to @dr_dmd and @Placido for leading such a fun and interesting discussion about reading strategies. There were several very important points that were shared during the chat that we couldn’t include in the summary. If you’d like to know what you’re missing, you can read the full transcript here.

Also, thank you for participating in #langchat every week. We truly enjoy hearing from you and sharing your amazing tips and tricks for language teaching. If you have ideas for future chats, please share them with us as well. You are the most important part of our discussion, and we want to talk about the things that will help you the most.

Additional Resources

Venezuela Skit
Daily Chorus Bellringer
Embedded Reading
Reading with purpose-to develop a love of reading
Reading for Information and for Pleasure
Education Place
Recursos para maestros de Español
TBD Teacher
103 Things to Do Before/During/After Reading
Resources for Languages
Authentic resources versus TPRS? Or a happy marriage of the two?
Encourage students to make use of Reading Strategies
10 free tools for creating infographics
Reading in the Target Language…What helps them ‘get it’?
Spanish Reading Comprehension Flip Chart