This or that?

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Have you ever taken a moment to think about just how complex ‘reading comprehension’ is? There are an infinite number of skills that a good reader must possess in order to truly comprehend a text, and very few happen consciously.

This week, I have realized that my students are often unable to separate ‘this’ from ‘that’ when reading, even if they are able to decode and make sense of everything in the chapter. Since that sentence doesn’t make any sense with those variables, let me give some examples. Students can not always separate…

  • Unknown…fact from opinion.
  • …event from information.
  • …something that happens in the text from something that already happened.
  • …something that happens from something that is planned.
  • …something that describes a character versus something that a character does.

Is that broad enough for you? This deficiency is revealed in many of their assessments in both English and Spanish, in both explicit and implicit ways. For example, when students have to identify the ‘five most important events’ in a story, they will often give me something like “Johnny is a strong boy”: not an event at all!

Most of the time, students have this deficiency because they have simply never been taught the difference, at least not explicitly. This is a great way that World Language teachers can support students’ L1 literacy! These are easy things to teach in another language: simply decide what difference you want to highlight, and then find a text that contains many examples of the ‘this’ and the ‘that’ variables. For example, in Chapter 6 of Esperanza, I did the activity “¿Antes o durante?” (before or during) to help students separate current action from reported action, because there are multiple instances in the chapter of characters (or the narrator) explaining things that had already happened to them or to people that they know.

Write out a list of ‘this-es’ and ‘that-s’ from the chapter (in my example, some things that happened before the chapter began and some things that happened in the chapter). Put the statements in a Powerpoint, post them around the room, give students a handout with a list of all of them…whatever! Then go through each event and ask students to identify whether it is a ‘this’ or a that’.

When you review answers with the students, take the time to explain why each statement is what it is, and why it isn’t the other thing or how it could be changed to become the other thing. For example, the statement “Esperanza says that Alberto received a great favor from God” happened during the chapter, because she is talking to Alberto in the chapter and actually says that in their conversation, but “Alberto received a great favor from God” would be an example of something that happened before the chapter began, because the series of events to which Esperanza was referring had already happened. Help students identify grammatical clues–if there are any–to help them out: this might be preterite vs. present tense or even imperfect vs. preterite (for information vs. events).

Ta-chan! That’s it! I like using this because it focuses on a literacy skill, but it also gives you more repetitions of the text that you’re working with. Win-win, I’d say!

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