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

Spanish III Light Reading Backlash

Some of my Spanish III students are upset about their Light Reading assignments (available on the Free Stuff  page of this website at:  It seems to me that their objections go to the core of the Acquisition/Learning issue, so I want to address them carefully. The biggest problem seems to be that students think they should be reading hard stuff, but they don’t–the assignment is to read a novel in Spanish (pretty much any novel) that is understandable and appealing to them.

All students in Spanish III classes are required to choose one novel to read outside of class every month. The novel must be in Spanish and they need to discuss their choices with me, but those are about the only parameters. I repeat over and over that they can pick what they want, but it needs to be both interesting and comprehensible to them.  Most students are doing well with the reading–they are enjoying the freedom of reading novels of their own choosing. But now that they see that the grade for this assignment is an important factor in their overall grade, some students are beginning to voice their concerns more forcefully.  Here are some comments:

“I need to have things spelled out like teacher X does, not just read.”

“I learn better with conjugation charts and vocabulary lists that I can just memorize.”

 “I can’t understand anything that I read in Spanish on my own.”

“I don’t like ANY of the books you have in your classroom, señor.”

Convincing these students is going to be a challenge.  I want them to willingly get into reading in Spanish and enjoy it, but I fear that they may have be deeply infected with the “school boy virus.”  This is the infection that is […]

By |February 22nd, 2012|Acquisition, Acquisition vs. Learning, Light Reading, Reading|1 Comment

Reading Questions

Here are some good reading questions from Carrie Ely, a young French teacher and PhD candidate in New York, that strike at the core of reading in a second language class.  I will give some short answers here, but I would be interested in hearing other solutions and expanding on these ideas.

1. What are some interesting activities to do with in-class reading? We spend 1-3 days a week doing reading – novels, stories, etc. What can we do besides straight translation? 

• Acting out passages or whole chapters can be fun.  Ones with lots of action where the class clown’s energy can be put to use are the best.  I wouldn’t overdo it, though. Once, maybe twice per book keeps them wanting more.

• Reader’s theater a la Jason Fritze, where all students have their books in front of them and there are one or two “actors” up in front–which much of the time are mostly props.  Sort of a combination of PQA, acting and reading but they are also reading the text as we go along.

• Sometimes I let students read with a partner on the academic novels once they have had a good start and know what is expected of them.

2. How much do you expect the kids to read on their own outside of class? Is there a minimum, etc.? 

• In Spanish 1 they are required to read outside of class only when they have missed reading time in class.

• Spanish I and II students can also read outside of class for extra credit points IF they do it in front of a parent and the parent signs off on it.  Parents have to sign and say they saw it happen.  If parents are in on the cheating we cannot help kids much.

• […]

By |February 21st, 2012|Light Reading, Reading, Weekly Routine|2 Comments

Light Reading Surprises in Level III

My level III Spanish students are surprising me with their light reading choices.

All through the first two years of Spanish the students have chosen their light reading materials in typical SVR fashion, sometimes with light accountability, sometimes without it. In level III the accoutabilbity is still light, but now they are required to write a Light Reading Book Report.  These reports, along with materials that provide motivation and explanations are found on this site on the Free Stuff page at:

For light reading, students are directed to pick a novel that is interesting and comprehensible to them.  I try to say this in many different ways so they get it: you should like it and it should not be too hard to understand; it should be something that holds your interest and that you most get, etc. What surprises me is that some students are picking such easy novels.  Other students are picking what seem to be almost ridiculously hard novels for this level like Harry Potter, but at least half of the students are picking easy level I novels like Pobre Ana, Piratas, and Los Baker van Peru. I told them they could pick what they want, but for crying out loud, those are TOO easy, people! Or so I thought…

I interview each student on their book choice. I look into their eyes and try to see into their souls as we talk about it. And I have to say that I am convinced that most of them sincerely seem to want to read these books.  And when I reflect on the Comprehension Hypothesis, I also am reminded that they can get something out of a book not matter the “level”.  So this is how I am thinking about it now:

1) None of us reads at “our […]

By |February 21st, 2012|Light Reading, Reading|0 Comments

Light Reading in Level I: Intensive Reading and Extensive Reading

It is amazing what our students can do if they are given the chance.

Here are some more comments from our SSR/Light Reading time in Spanish I this week. Once again, students are reading completely in Spanish.  No dictionaries. I find it interesting that students begin to figure out some of the best reading strategies on their own.  The idea of Narrow Input seems to be developing naturally in some students. Comprehension and language acquisition increase when a person reads narrowly, because the reader sees the same words used over and over again.  Narrow input (or narrow reading) can mean:

Reading a great deal on one topic (Intensive Reading), or

Reading several works by one author (Extensive Reading).

An example of Intensive Reading was found in this entry by a girl that chooses a ZooBook each time.  she loves animals and reads about them every time she gets a chance: “I read Animals Campeones, even though I didn’t know what it was about at first. The animals in this book are the most dominant animals in the world. They are either the strongest, the fastest, the smartest or the fiercest animals.”  This students figured out the theme of the book and filled in missing vocabulary with her background knowledge, cognates and imagination.

An example that is very close to the definition of Extensive Reading is revealed by this student who always chooses a Dr. Seuss or a P.D. Eastman book in Spanish.  She knows and likes the stories and that familiarity allows her to read above her supposed level and figure out word meanings through context: “I read ¿Eres tú mi mamá? some words I figured out were: eres = are, fue = went, era = was, pajarito = […]

By |February 20th, 2012|Acquisition, Light Reading|0 Comments