The CI waters are up to your ankles as you stand on the first step descending into the lake of CI. You tried asking a question, and whether it went well or it didn’t, your ankles have adjusted at least a little bit to the temperature. It’s time to take another step:
The next mission is to READ TOGETHER! (You may have already read together with your students as was suggested in Idea #1: Ask a question, but in this post I am going to explain how to do it well.) Specifically, your mission is to read a text aloud together with your students.
Since this post series is intended for teachers that are new to CI teaching and since it is the beginning of the school year, I am going to write from the perspective of a teacher that wants to read a text with their students in a Level 1 class at the beginning of the school year.
Why would you want to read together with your students?
Reading accelerates the rate of acquisition. It builds vocabulary and it strengthens and grows our mental representation of language. Reading is a BIG DEAL. (Speaking of reading, please read Krashen’s The Power of Reading!!!) Reading of all kinds is important for your students on their path to proficiency, and reading together with them plays a key role especially as they are setting out on their journey.
Reading a simple text together with my students has many benefits:
- Reading together allows your students to HEAR the language. They will hear the correct pronunciation of words. They will hear familiar language and be able to match it to the written word. This pairing of spoken and written language is really, really important. As we read, we listen to a voice in our head say the words. If we look at a word and are unsure about how to pronounce it, we can’t hear that voice. I discovered this as I have been learning French. When I first started to read Brandon Brown dit la vérité, I had not listened to any beginner French. I could understand the text because I was familiar with the story in Spanish (available here). However, I could not recall ANY of the language once I walked away from it! I didn’t begin to have success recalling words until I re-read the text while listening to the audio version. While this is just coming from my experience, I am confident that you will find the same thing with your students. They need to hear the language and see the words to develop that voice in their head.
- Reading together allows me to clarify meaning. If students read a text on their own, they will either understand it or not understand it. When you read with your students, they might not understand a sentence or a piece of a sentence the first time that you read it, but you can use strategies to clarify meaning so that they do understand it before you move on. You can boost comprehension by having the class translate a word, phrase, or sentence. By having the class translate chorally, any students that don’t understand will hear the correct translation and be brought up to speed. That being said, I prefer to use translation only in small snippets, and I use it less and less as the year wares on. Translation is a wonderful way to make sure that everyone understands the language, but it can also disrupt the flow of the target language. If I can check comprehension without it, I (typically) do. You can boost comprehension by gesturing while you are reading. All of the key target structures that I work with in class are assigned an accompanying gesture, and I use those gestures to support comprehension while I read aloud. You can also boost comprehension by asking clarifying questions, often called circling questions. When you read the sentence, “Hay muchos elefantes en África“, you can clarify meaning with either/or questions (¿Hay dos elefantes en África o hay muchos elefantes en África? ¿Hay muchos elefantes en África o hay muchos elefantes en Europa?) or by asking WH questions (such as “¿Cuántos (how many) elefantes hay en África?”). While asking these questions will not guarantee that your students accurately understand the text, they will allow your students more time and angles from which to process the language. On occasion, all of us need people to repeat things for us several times in order for us to understand, even in our first language. We might understand the individual words, but hearing (or reading) them over and over a few times will give our brain time to put the pieces together. Finally, I can clarify meaning for my students by re-stating sentences and/or adding more information to them. I can say more than the words that are printed on the page, and I can do it in the target language.
- Reading together allows me to thoroughly check my students’ comprehension of the text. Even though individual student comprehension is somewhat lost when I use a strategy like choral translation, I can still tell which pieces of the text are least comprehensible because I will hear fewer voices saying the translations, or perhaps I will hear more incorrect or hesitant translations. I can also ask questions to individual students. For more on checking for comprehension, please read this post.
- Reading together allows me to personalize the reading. I can ask personalized questions (Author and Me or On My Own questions) that connect my students to the content of the text. My questions should be comprehensible to students, and I allow my students to respond with 1-2 words in English that I can then put into the target language and repeat to the class. If the text says, “Bob quiere ir a África” (Bob wants to go to Africa), I can ask, “¿Quién en la clase quiere ir a África?” or “Gary, ¿tú quieres ir a África?” and then ask follow-up questions as proficiency allows.
- Reading together allows me to use pop-up grammar. You can give short (like 5 seconds!) grammar explanations, and you can ask questions to highlight discrete grammar points. Explicit learning doesn’t have to disappear altogether in a CI class, but it should be extremely, extremely limited (like 10% of class time or less) because we know that it is not the most effective way to ‘learn’ a language–acquisition is. Read more about grammar here.
What kinds of texts might you read with your students at the beginning of the year?
Admittedly, typical language classes don’t have a lot of reading in the target language early in the year. This makes it hard for teachers that are new to this way of teaching to picture how they might put this strategy to use. I know that when I was a ‘textbook’ teacher, readings were limited to 1-2 short paragraphs per chapter–not usually in the first chapter–and they were filled with LOTS of words that were new to my students and 20 words from the vocabulary list in the chapter (that my students hadn’t yet acquired).
First and foremost, the texts that you read together should be COMPREHENSIBLE to your students (in a Level 1 class, the vocabulary will be extremely limited and likely include many cognates). It will contain structures that your students are already familiar with, structures for which the meaning is obvious, and just a few new structures for which you can establish meaning as you read with your students.
Given comprehensibility, there are really no limits on the text type that you read. It could be
- an easy to understand song–if the song lyrics are already comprehensible to your students, you can use them as is. If not, you could re-write them in a way that students can understand.
- a transcription of a class-created story or vignette; perhaps the one that you came up with after Idea #1: Ask a question
- a summarized current events story that is very simple
- a story that you wrote or found (see this post for some simple French stories and this post for a simple Spanish story)
- a non-fiction blurb (biography of a musical artist, description of a tradition or holiday, etc.)
- ANYTHING as long as it is comprehensible!!! (Not sure if something is comprehensible? Read this post as you consider.)
Likely, this will be a teacher-created or student-created, teacher-corrected text (at the beginning of Level 1, anyway) so that you can tailor it to your students.
Alright. So you’ve got a text. Yahoo! Now what to do? Well…if you have 30 minutes to watch and listen, you can watch this very amateur recording that I made for you 🙂 Then go on and read the rest of this post! (I apologize for the loud noises that occur sporadically throughout the recording; I guess my computer is super sensitive to any movement, and I’m not techy enough to know how to adjust the sound on the recording now.)
The text that I worked with in that recording can be found on this worksheet that I mentioned in the video.
Here are some strategies that I employed:
- I read in Spanish, students listen (they don’t read aloud).
- I point to words, students translate (I can point to words out of order so that the language sounds coherent in English; for example, when I read una clase interesante I might point to ‘una‘ then ‘interesante‘ and finally ‘clase‘ in order to read the translation as it would be said in English.
- I ask clarifying “circling” questions.
- I ask questions to check for comprehension.
- I ask personalized questions.
- I give short grammar explanations, or ‘pop-up grammar’
- I ‘rewind’ and revisit earlier portions of the text to remind students of what we already know from the beginning of the text and to boost comprehension.
- I re-state sentences and add words here and there to further “comprehensify” the reading.
For more reading strategies to keep reading together with your students novel, I highly recommend seeking out training from Carol Gaab. She has several webinars recorded on Fluency Matters website, and she often presents on reading at workshops and conferences around the country. I have sat in on many of her presentations and attended one of her reading webinars, and I have learned much from her!!