This was a wonderful session presented by Carol Gaab. Once again she focused on the idea that the brain “craves novelty” and talked about how we need to mix things up often so that our students don’t get bored and tune us out. She suggested throwing something novel into the mix at least once per week in order to shake things up a little. She also reminded us to always keep in mind that the goal of an extended reading is to reinforce the teaching of a small number of specific structures, to help students develop confidence in the target language, and to improve literacy in the target language. Her advice is geared towards the reading of novels; however it is also applicable to other kinds of reading.
The first step of the reading process, the pre-reading activities, is sadly often forgotten in the rush to get reading. These activities are important because they get students excited about reading, which leads to higher engagement with the text and therefore better language acquisition. Below are several questions which will help to guide you in deciding what needs to be done before starting a novel with your class:
- What is the desired learning outcome? What should students gain from reading the piece?
- How much of the unknown vocabulary is critical to reading comprehension? What vocabulary do I need to pre‐teach?
- What is the best way to teach new vocab? (ie. within the context of the novel or through PQA and other CI‐based activities?)
- What background knowledge do readers need to have before reading? (ie. Houdini: none; Granada: geography of Spain, Alhambra, Granada, etc.; Esperanza: geography of Guatemala/Mexico, significance of unions and striking in S.A.; Piratas: history of Caribbean, pirates, etc., geography of Mexico, Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean; Robo en la noche: geography of Costa Rica, preservation of endangered birds/animals of Costa Rica; etc.)
- What amount of culture, history, geography or cross‐curricular connections will I be making?
- How much time should I devote to character development, setting, plot, etc.?
Basically you want to use this pre-reading time to isolate and establish the meaning of new vocabulary words and phrases that cannot be determined from context, to discuss previous knowledge (cultural, background, historical, topical) that students possess, and to predict the outcome of events and characters’ actions. It is often helpful to start by giving a description of the story which includes some sort of drama or mystery which will intrigue your students.
The time while reading is best used to establish meaning. This involves establishing/confirming the meaning of new vocabulary words and novel phrases and also ensuring basic comprehension by asking questions that help students to analyse characters, their actions, events in the story and the order of events in the story. It is also important during the reading to personalize and help students make connections with the text. Be sure to ask more personalizing questions than circling questions. Carol suggests thinking of circling questions like salt: if you use too much, you will kill the story.
Translation is a good strategy to use to ensure 100% comprehension, but students quickly get bored of doing it in the same way over and over again so we need to make sure we mix up the activities we use. The obvious choice and the one that many TPRS teachers use is the group choral read. In this activity, the teacher reads a sentence in the target language and the students translate it chorally until the entire text or chapter is finished. Of course, you can sprinkle in comprehension questions, personalized questions and circling questions throughout and do not have to translate the entire thing all at once. You can also skip reading it in the target language and just have students translate all the way through. Another idea is to break the class into groups and translate. The teacher still reads a sentence and students translate it, but you call out a number/colour/country that you have assigned to a certain group and only that group translates it chorally. The teacher can also do fill-in-the-blank by translating the bulk of the text out loud, but should pause at certain points and have the students translate this “blank”. Keyword response is similar to this, except that a word or structure is emphasized somehow (ie. underlined in the text). The teacher translates the whole text except the students translate that one structure each time it appears. Students can also read in partners and take turns reading one sentence aloud in English. Or they can do it jigsaw style, where they are put into groups and are assigned a certain part of the reading to translate. Then everyone comes back together as a whole class to translate the entire text. You can also have students listen to the audiobook version of a text. This can be especially useful as a review of a chapter in a novel.
Novels are a great way of incorporating reading into your class. As they are high-interest, the content is compelling and they are easily comprehensible due to the low number of high-frequency words used. They also provided many repetitions of the same structures but in a more camouflaged way. Do the novels however you want, just make sure you’re delivering comprehensible, compelling, contextual input and promoting acquisition. Remember though, you’ve got to get the students into the book before you even START reading it.
There are many activities that you can do during the reading that help to engage students in the novel, including:
- acting out dialogues in partners
- making personal connections between the characters and the students
- doing readers’ theatre
- using props and putting on skits
- having a debate
- doing interviews
Don’t forget about possible post-reading activities you can do as well, such as:
- Venn diagrams
- glove retell/review
There are many more ideas and details about everything in the session handout, so I strongly recommend you take a look at it!
Source: Carol Gaab, NTPRS 2011, Activating Readers