“I don’t know how one develops imagination without reading fiction”—Diane Ravitch I buy all the novels for my students that our school budget allows because our students need to be reading fiction more than non-fiction. Here are some reasons reading novels will help our students both as language learners and as well-rounded human beings: 1. Readers learn more vocabulary from novels. In a novel the vocabulary repeats itself more than that in non-fiction texts because the setting and the situations tend to be revisited and referred to over and over. This helps a reader to pick up both high frequency vocabulary as well as the specific words used in the novel and to become a better reader. Repeated vocabulary becomes automatic. 2. Reading novels is easier and more fun than reading other materials. Stories lend themselves to prediction. Once you understand the genre, the setting and the characters, you can often guess where a story is going. This natural interaction with the text makes reading fiction easier and more pleasant than non-fiction, especially for young readers and for language learners. 3. The life lessons in novels are easier to see than those in non-fiction texts. The valuable lessons in non-fiction can be harder to spot as the reader wades through a sea of random real-life events. The focus on the story in a novel can help readers to understand the author’s message more clearly. We just don’t have time to learn the lesson s we need to learn from non-fiction. 4. Novels help readers to develop empathy. In a novel we are allowed to peek inside the heads of others and explore their motivations. Novels help us to develop perspective or Theory of Mind, which [...]

By |September 2nd, 2015|Compelling Input, Light Reading, Reading|0 Comments


For the first 2 1/2 weeks we have been focusing on just two areas: 1) classroom routines, procedures and rituals, and 2) Personal interviews. The affect and confidence level in the class is just about right: students are confident that they can learn Spanish and comfortable with the environment we have established so far. The interviews are progressing and the students are picking up more high frequency verbs they will need to communicate in class and read the passel of novels available to them. Students are doing well, but on Friday they amazed me. We were drilling the calm, quiet and yet fairly rapid behavior I expect from them as they get their books from the classroom library. It was mainly drill on how to move and how to act, not really reading, because the time was short. At the end of the brief 5 minutes reading time I directed students to put their books back. four (4!) students asked if they could keep their books and read them over the weekend!! I agreed, of course, but cautioned them to be sure to return the books first thing Monday morning. They promised and this morning as I was debriefing them before school, each of the students said that they could read and understand many parts (not all) of the books. The books they read were Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro by Carol Gaab, Isabela captura un congo, by Karen Rowan, and Piratas by Mira Canion. They were proud of themselves and I lavished praise upon them for figuring out how to read and for trying something new. This did not happen by some teaching magic, just solid work on establishing order and giving students tools [...]


"Kindergarten Reading" is an extremely popular part of my Spanish classes at all levels. It is the definition of compelling input. I learned the activity from Susan Gross. Here is my take on it and what has worked for me: When I do "Kindergarten Day" (actually just the last part of one class, one day per week) I try to act like a Kindergarten teacher. The idea of the activity is that you "read" a book to your students in the target language and show them the pictures. What you are really doing is just creating an excuse to talk to your students about something interesting while using pictures and a story to make it understandable. Make it as close to the actual kindergarten experience as possible, and try to use words they all know. There is usually no need to discuss anything in English first. THE SET UP: Everybody can see the pictures. With a small class, all of the students can sit on the floor, with larger classes, the first row or two may stay in their seats and the kids in the back will sit on the floor. • Big books work great here. • Cookies! Have students volunteer to bring cookies (Bribe them with extra credit points, if needed). This sets up the mood of light-hearted learning and I think it reminds them of when school was more fun. • Teacher sits on the floor. This changes the entire dynamic of the class. You are all at the same level. You are sharing a story and your reactions to a story with one another. READING TO THEM: You are interacting with the students as you would with a 3-5 year-old child sitting [...]

By |August 20th, 2015|Compelling Input, Reading, Uncategorized|1 Comment


The classroom library is an integral part of any world language classroom. Telling stories is so dramatic and compelling that reading can be treated as the ugly cousin of language teaching, but it shouldn't. When done right, reading can invigorate your program and save your sanity. And doing reading right is free reading. In too many classrooms, we act as if the kind of reading that we all love to do does not even exist. We act as if the only kind of reading that counts is plodding, over-analyzed dissection of texts, rather than joyful consumption. We want to be serious about this stuff, so we force an entire class to slog through a novel for weeks. My friends, it does not have to be that way. The best kind of reading, the kind that sticks with us all, is free reading. This is the kind of reading you probably did last night. The kind of reading where you pick up a book because it looks interesting and you keep reading it as long as it holds your attention. When your interest in it fades, you set it down and pick up something else. Doesn't sound too rigorous, but this is where acquisition happens and joy grows. How do we promote this kind of reading? What has worked for me is to provide students with books and turn them loose on the library right away, even in level I (for easy Spanish, look at I find that I have to get students accustomed to going to the classroom library, selecting a book and sitting down to read it, and it helps to form this habit during the honeymoon period--that means during the first week [...]


Teachers are always saying that their students just do not like to read. I realize that this may be true, but I also know that when students say that they are just mimicking their peers and elders, and they may not really feel that way--they do not know enough about themselves to have an informed opinion because they have been raised in a culture where reading is changing and few have quiet time to read. They probably just need some help. We need to provide them with the tools and the materials so that they can become readers. We need to realize that they have not been trained to read, they have not had reading modeled to them, they have not been provided with a safe, quiet place where they can concentrate and read, and they have not been provided with comprehensible and interesting reading materials. When we do all of those and enforce it consistently, our students will begin to read, some grudgingly at first, but most will come to accept it and eventually like it. What we are doing with reading is using principles of teaching with comprehensible input and applying them to reading. the content must be interesting and comprehensible, it must be in the target language, it must be varied and it must be consistent. Teachers are already doing much of that in their classes with oral language, they just need to convert that thinking to reading. If we stick with a well thought-out reading program we can get them to the place where they will say, as have more than one of my students, "You know what señor? I don't like to read in English, but for some reason, I [...]

Free Voluntary Reading & Differentiation

Over the last three weeks students in my Spanish I classes have been reading self-selected novellas a couple of days a week in class. They chose the books themselves and self-differentiated based on their reading ability and interests. Even though students self-select reading material in my class all of the time, enforcing the idea of choosing something based on comprehensibility and interest is a continual challenge because the idea of reading what you want seems odd for students in school. To support the idea of “comprehensible and interesting” I almost daily highlight the poster I made and posted above the classroom library the back of the room: “You all have different interests and abilities, so you should be reading different books.” The assignment was to read a novel of 6,000 or more words. They could also read two or three shorter novels totaling 6,000 words. The 6,000 word level was based on the length of Pobre Ana, which they had already read as a class. The volume of words idea being based on comments by Beniko Mason about studies of ELL’s in Japan whose English acquisition level was reliably predicted by the number of words they had read—although at this point my US high school level I students are reading far less than her Japanese students. The only criteria for choosing a novel were that the books be interesting and compressible. Students also wrote an occasional DUAL ENTRY JOURNAL (summary of page on one side and their reactions, comments or questions on the other side) to demonstrate that they understood what they were reading. Almost all of them were proud of their ability and could see how they had grown since the last time we had done [...]

By |February 12th, 2015|Differentiation, Light Reading, Reading|0 Comments