At iFLT 2017, I presented a session called “Digging out of the Reading Rut.” In this session, we explored ways to read chapters of a text differently and activities to follow up those chapter readings. Because many Fluency Matters Comprehension-based readers have 10 chapters let’s look at 10 different ways to read.

  1. Read in a new environment: One of the easiest ways to make the reading feel different is to change the place you’re reading. I have a reading lounge in the back of my room where we can sit in beanbags and comfortable chairs as we read the chapter together. We have read in the hall, on the stage in the gym (when Brandon was looking for Jake at the school assembly in The New Houdini), under a tree in the yard of the school (when Emilia is in the woods with her family in La hija del sastre)… anywhere that suits the scene in the chapter.
  2. Popcorn Reading Groups: Many of us use “popcorn reading” to get students involved in the reading process but have you tried smaller popcorn groups? One chapter per novel I let small groups read together popcorn style. Student A reads line 1 in Spanish aloud, student B summarizes that line in English and reads line 2 aloud, and so on. Students are very engaged because the time between their turns to speak is so short!
  3. Reading Club: As early as second quarter of level one, the “superstars” float to the surface. They are able to read any text we put in front of them with no extra help. These students tend to be strong readers in L1 as well. The struggling readers also become obvious very early on. What can we do to honor such a broad range of abilities?

Kristy Placido mentioned to me that she lets her students choose how they read. Some read independently, some in small groups, and some in a large group with her. This inspired me to create reading clubs. In all readers, I do one chapter reading club style and in level 3 I do a whole book reading club style. In level 4 we do a reading club reader but they get to select the reader they are most interested in.

In this “reading club” chapter, students choose to read independently (with follow up comprehension questions from the teacher’s guide), read in a cooperative group (with a creative project follow up from the teacher’s guide), or in the alpha group with me. My group has no follow up because we will do a lot of discussion as we read. Any gr

oup that finishes early reads from the FVR library until other groups are done!

For a detailed description of how I group students and what student groups do, check out this free download.

  1. Reading in Pictures: This is actually a two-day activity! When a chapter is really detailed or has a lot of events to keep straight, I will often make a simple 4×4 table on a white sheet of paper, print, and ask students to illustrate events of the chapter as we read. This formative assessment is just a completion grade for me but I can use those same illustrations on day 2 to review the chapter we just finished!
  • Take the best student illustrations and make enough copies for groups of 3-4 students. (these will be in the order they occurred in the text)
  • Write summary sentences about the chapter that match the illustrations you have chosen. (I type them up in the order they occur in the text but then use cut/paste to move them around so they actually have to read them to match them.
  • Have students cut apart the illustrations and the sentences and match them.
  • Have students make sure the images and descriptions in the correct story order.
  1. Smashdoodle: An idea I got from Martina Bex is to Sketchnote or Smashdoodle for one chapter of the novel. I do NOT do this back to back with the reading in pictures activity! I reach for this activity when the chapter has a lot of emotion because those experiences are good to get in words and pictures to help students “see” what is happening with the characters!

In my room, I read the chapter aloud with a lot of pauses. Rather than the usual comprehension checks, I find that I ask a lot of questions in target language about the parts I hope that they will draw and the words I hope that they will add. They get the idea that if I’m pausing, they should probably be drawing.

My favorite part of this activity is watching the type A vs type B personalities. When I smashdoodle, I use the whole page. I am type B. When a type A smashdoodles, the illustrations are in a line across the top then another line under that, highly organized!

  1. With manipulatives: Sometimes a chapter of a reader can be a little confusing because a lot of changes occur! I think about Carol Gaab’s Esperanza when the young mother had to try to cross the border and was sent back to Tijuana or Kristy Placido’s Frida Kahlo when Frida’s dad lost his wife, married a new wife, abandoned two kids, and had 5 more! My students LOVE the drama in these two scenes from real life but can get lost by all the movement. Using the manipulative activities in the teacher’s guides help keep them engaged in the chapter and on top of what is happening. I frequently create my own manipulatives (even play-doh sometimes) to help students see the action as it unfolds.
  2. Solo or solo plus audio: Sometimes it’s nice to just silently read a chapter. If the novel is easily at the level of the students in your class, rest your voice! Let them read a chapter on their own. Play the audio book as they read along for a little exposure to the accents of native speakers from around the Spanish speaking world.

I try to choose a chapter that does not have a major secret revealed… if students don’t catch the important information as they read, it may lead to confusion down the line.

  1. Teacher read aloud: Sometimes my students just like for me to read them the chapter. When there is a lot of drama, I am good at drama voices! Without bogging the joy down with a lot of discussion or side questioning, I just read with emotion as they follow along. We review in target language after I’m done reading to make sure everyone knows what happened!
  2. Adopt a monster: (This is great for spoken story retells too) I have a lot of things with faces around my room: monsters, stuffed animals, sugar skulls, pictures of my family. As we read a chapter, sometimes, when we come to a part that is very dramatic, I have them grab a “thing with a face” and read aloud to it. They can go anywhere in the room to read or 
    they can stay at their desk. After they’ve practiced on their monster, (their favorites are the pictures of my husband and I) volunteers will read the scene aloud for the class. It gives great, engaging repetitions of key scenes and lets those who want to be dramatic show their stuff.
  3. 1, 2, 4 Read and Discuss: Students read the chapter individually in this activity. After they’ve had time to finish (fast finishers read from the FVR library while waiting for the others), they connect with a partner and skim through the chapter again, clearing up any questions either has. Pairs then pair up with another duo to form a group of 4. This foursome writes a list of the 5 most important events of the chapter. Display the top 5s and allow groups to “gallery walk” as they view what other groups chose. If time remains, try to come to a class consensus about what the 5 most important chapter events were.


Carrie Toth is a Spanish teacher from Illinois with over 20 years of teaching experience. She was the 2014 Central States Teacher of the Year and 2015 finalist for ACTFL Teacher of the Year. Carrie has authored La Calaca AlegreLa hija del sastreBianca Nieves y los 7 toritos, and Vector. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @senoraCMT.

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