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 this. Here […]

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


My Spanish I students have just finished reading their second independent novel (See the reflections from their first novel here: Once again, they chose a novel they wanted to read. The only constraints were that it be interesting and comprehensible to them. I have to repeat that idea a lot. Students have done plenty of regular self-selected independent reading in class between the first novel reading assignment in November and this one, so they are beginning to get the hang of it, despite the fact that our national school system is attempting to beat the notion of reading for pleasure out of them—the new school reading paradigm is harsh and unending textual analysis—that is apparently the only reason anyone would read!—nothing so soft as reading because students actually enjoy it.

To counteract the reading-sucks-so-why-would-anyone-do-it juggernaut that has been imprinted in their minds, I regularly checked with students to be sure they really liked something about the novel they had chosen, be it genre, setting, characters, plot, or whatever (the “interesting” component) and that they could understand much of it without too much trouble (the “comprehensible” component). Here is a free poster on how to choose reading materials that explains the interesting and comprehensible idea in five ways using kid-friendly language: Most of the students were able to find a novel that met both of these criteria.  This time the focus for reading was on character change, from Light Reading Book Report #1 (

I gave them three weeks to read the novels. Most were able to finish in class within the scheduled 15-20 minutes twice a week. A few checked out books to take home overnight. The objective with the Light Reading Book Report […]

By |March 13th, 2014|Acquisition, Differentiation, Light Reading, Reading|2 Comments


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 a girl who has a lot of problems […]

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 justify their responses.  Most of the responses were positive. What I liked most about their responses (whether they liked the book or not) was that they focused on the content and not on the language. Here are some representative samples:
“I really did enjoy this book. It actually taught […]

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    6.5

Eric Walters



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