Reading in a Foreign Language


I have asked my Spanish I students to do Light Reading in the first semester this year. In the past, only students in levels 2-AP were required to pick a novel and read it that early, but this year the novices were included. Most of these students are 9th graders and most have not had any Spanish before. I provided them with a variety of materials and time to read, and we all sat and read in class. They were allowed to choose anything they wanted as long as it was comprehensible and interesting to them. I explained the “comprehensible” and “interesting” concept over and over until all of the students understood it and could put it into their own words. During September and October I purposefully used many high frequency expressions that they would see in the novels so that they would be prepared to read when the time came.
In September they were allowed read any Spanish materials available that caught their fancy and that they could at least partially understand, but beginning in mid October I asked them to choose their reading from novels only. Again, it had to be something that they could understand without too much difficulty and it had to keep their attention. If they had to look up too many words or if the story didn’t keep their attention, they should consider reading another novel. I checked with each student in each class to be sure that they had picked something appropriate.
In November they read the novels they had chosen. Students read in class and wrote their reports in class, but several asked to check out their novels so that they could […]


Part of our weekly routine in Spanish I classes is to do regular free reading.  This is classical Sustained Silent Reading where students select the materials they want to read and then we all sit down and read for 10 minutes.  We do this 2-3 times per week in every class.

We do this because students acquire when they are exposed to language that is comprehensible and interesting.  We have been working on high frequency words and familiar topics in our discussions and stories in class and I wanted to see what they could pick up on their own with no help.

A couple of weeks ago students were directed to pick a a book from our growing stacks of graded easy reader novels. After reading they were to write a short reaction or appreciation of the novel.  No other instructions except the name of the novel and their thoughts about it.  Here are some reactions:

I read Las Aventuras de Isabela.  My reaction to this book was that I could surprisingly understand about 80% of it.  It has all of the basic words we have learned.  –Tyler

I read from Carl no quiere ir a Mexico.  I could understand most of it.  I had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the story and the way the character (Carl) felt about going to Mexico.  I will probably get the same book again because it is just the right level for me .  –Jade

Berto y sus buenas ideas:  Berto is very full of himself. Also he doesn’t care about or like school. He only cares about his friends and how many friends he has.  I understood this book . –Jessica

I am reading Pobre Ana.  She is […]

By |October 4th, 2013|Acquisition, Acquisition vs. Learning, Reading|0 Comments


In my Spanish 1 classes we just read Pobre Ana.  I teach in a public school in a small town. It is not a particularly high achieving school academically and it is filled with kids that just don’t read and who would say that they don’t like reading. There are such low expectations and so few demands for reading put on them that several of my students told me that the ONLY book they have read in ANY language this semester was Pobre Ana. (!?)  Getting them to read and to enjoy it is a challenge.

Pobre Ana is an older book and there are plenty of new ones coming out all of the time–I use those too.  I am aware the common complaints that the story is dated, too simple and does not contain enough culture, but I have found that if students understand the vocabulary and if I point out the interesting things in it as we go along, they like it.  For them to enjoy it, they must know most of the vocabulary and it must be compelling.  If it the interesting parts are not obvious, I have to point it out. I usually do that by parallel characters, acting out chapters and (my favorite) mocking the silly parts.

After reading the book one assignment was: Give your opinion about the book and tell how you could / could not relate to the main character.

The students could answer however they wanted (positively or negatively), but they had to […]

By |December 19th, 2012|Reading|0 Comments



Self-Selected Novels from Spanish III Light Reading Assignments, 2012. 

Students chose one novel to read outside of class each month of second semester.

Books were rated by students on a scale of 1-10


          Alphabetical by Author                            Average Rating

1.      Vida o muerte en la marasalvatruchas   8


2.      Las tres de la madrugada   5

Miguel Buñuel

3.      Piratas   6.5

Mira Canion & Carol Gaab

4.      Rebeldes de Tejas   6.8

Mira Canion

5.      La ciudad de los dioses   6

Luís Carrero Pérez

6.      Me llamo María Isabel   6.8

Alma Flor Ada

7.      Esperanza   6.4

Carol Gaab

8.      El nuevo Houdini    6

Carol Gaab

9.      Problemas en paraíso   7

Carol Gaab

10.   Horas de Sol    6

Patricia Reilly Giff

11.   Sueños de la isla     7

JJ Hill

12.   ¿Quién se ha llevado mi queso?     10

Spencer Johnson, M.D.

13.   Los Baker van a Perú     2

Nathaniel Kilroy

14.   La verdad     7

Tanya Lloyd Lyi

15.   Viajes Fantásticos    7

Elías Miguel Muñoz

16.   Julie B Jones es una peluquera   7

Barbara Park

17.   Julie B Jones y su gran bocata    8

Barbara Park

18.   Julie B Jones y el negocio del mono    7

Barbara Park

19.   Julie B Jones jefa de cocina    7

Barbara Park

20.   Noches misteriosas en Granada    5

Kristy Placido

21.   ¿Dónde está Eduardo?    6.5

Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray

22.   Mi propio auto    7

Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray

23.   Viva el toro    5

Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray

24.   Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal     8

J.K. Rowling

25.   Harry Potter y la cámara de los secretos     8.5

J.K. Rowling

26.   Hoyos    8.8

Louis Sachar

27.   Marcelino Pan y Vino    6

José María Sánchez-Silva

28.   Escalofríos: Bienvenidos a la casa de la muerte   8

R.L. Stine

29.   La chica del tren    7

Jordi Suris

30.   Pobre Ana bailó tango    5

Patricia Verano, Verónica Moscoso, Blaine Ray

31.   A toda velocidad  […]

By |July 11th, 2012|Compelling Input, Light Reading, Reading|0 Comments

Higher Level Thinking in Level I: COMPARING PATRICIA AND ANA

We can encourage our students to think at higher levels even in low level language classes. My students are doing questions 1-3  below today and tomorrow (broken schedule due to high stakes state testing this week and next).  They will need to re-read a bit to answer the questions well, which is what we want–MORE COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT.

Notice that we are NOT forcing output here. They can answer in English. Writing above the level of acquisition is not required–but I bet that some will answer in Spanish.

The attempt here is to engage kids with compelling input and thinking. Knowing how to ask their parents for something and get it without losing their dignity is a BIG issue in their lives.  These questions point out that in the book and ask them to think about it.

I am giving them questions 1-3 today since we just got done reading chapter 3 of Patricia yesterday (not sure about questions 4-6 yet, we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it):

When students begin to read Patricia va a California someone always says, “Oh, this is just like Pobre Ana!”  In some respects the two novels are similar: In each book a girl travels to another country where they speak a different language.  But once we start reading and thinking, we see that there are many important differences.  Show that you are reading, understanding and most importantly, reflecting on what you read by answering these questions.

You will need to refer back to the text in each novel to answer these questions well.  We have read and acted out the novels in Spanish and discussed them in Spanish, but you can answer in English if you […]

By |March 13th, 2012|Compelling Input, Forced Output, Reading|0 Comments


When we assign reading to students there is always a nagging suspicion that some of them will be fudging their answers when it comes to reporting what and how much they have read.  They may exaggerate or out-and-out lie about the reading they have done.  Typical teacher questions about verifying student reading are:

• How do we grade reading assignments?

• How do we know that students have actually read?

• How can we tell if students have understood what they have read?

• When there are so many options available (online translation programs, English versions, summaries, other students, etc.), how can students prove that they have actually read the book in the target language?

• How can students prove that they have done the work of reading on their own and that they have not just watched a movie of the book?

Here are some ideas that have worked for me:

Ramp up your Expectations Gradually: Many students are not accustomed to reading novels.  Many are not expected to read in other classes or at home. Reading for pleasure may be a foreign concept to them—especially the idea of reading in another language! So go slow. Gradually but inexorably increase the amount you expect students to read throughout the school year. If you go slowly they will adjust. By the mile it’s a trial; by the inch it’s a cinch.

Model Reading: Read when students are reading in class.  Just sit there and read.  Do not give in to the temptation to grade a few papers, check your email, straighten up the classroom or even answer student questions during reading time.  Show that reading is important and pleasurable by your own example.  A study by reading expert […]

By |February 24th, 2012|Reading, Teacher Training|0 Comments