Pre-reading: The Secret to Successful Whole-class Reading

Have you ever read a book and laughed out loud? Has a book or other text ever made you cry, get angry or scared? If you are reading this blog post, the odds are high that your answer is “YES!” While strong readers feel a wide range of emotions directly related to the type of text they are reading, weak readers generally feel only one emotion when they read: FRUSTRATION!

Weak readers expend so much effort and emotion on the process of reading that they never experience anything more than sorting through words on a page. Strong readers, on the other hand, quickly pass through three stages:

  1. Comprehend: identifying and understanding words (Micro perception of text)
  2. Process: putting the words together to make meaning of the messages within a text (Macro perception of text)
  3. Visualize: creating vivid mental images that depict the characters and events in a text (Visual perception of STORY)

Limited literacy skills present a huge obstacle to learning in general, and although being pre-literate* does not make language acquisition impossible, it certainly does slow down the process and limit language potential. Individuals who read frequently generally have much larger vocabularies than those who do not. This is true of one’s first language or their second. Language learners who read more consistently have larger vocabularies, better verbal skills, better writing and more sophisticated grammar.

I have experienced the power of reading and its impact on acquisition in a wide variety of settings over the course of 25 years:

– ESL for for professional baseball players aged, 16 to 26 in MLB (25 years): Pre-literate, emergent and fluent readers
– K-8 Spanish (5 years): Pre-literate, emergent and fluent readers
– Middle/High school Spanish, all levels (3 years): Mostly fluency readers
– Adult Spanish and Adult ESL (intermittent classes over the last 25 years): Pre-literate, emergent and fluent readers

I experienced the same phenomenon every single time: Preliterate learners took 2 to 20 times longer to acquire L2. Preliterate learners did not enjoy reading, unless I guided them through the process. They also needed much more time with auditory input– almost full (vs. partial) acquisition before reading seemed to have any positive and/or noticeable effect on their L2 acquisition. Pre-literate learners were consistently fragile readers, quickly feeling frustration or panic when they saw words they can not easily decode.

Strong readers, on the other hand, almost always felt a sense of excitement when they saw a new word (as long as there were not too many unknown words in a given text) and a sense of   joy and accomplishment when they were able to process for meaning and begin acquiring the word(s).  As literate individuals (and if you’re reading this, this applies to you), one of the first things we think about when we hear a new word is “How do you spell that?”  Literate individuals tend to write new words phonetically, either in their minds or on paper to help them remember the word and the pronunciation. All of these literacy-based strategies aid acquisition and accelerate the rate at which it happens.

The numerous benefits of reading on language acquisition make improving literacy skills a worthwhile endeavor.  Reading, however, won’t aid acquisition until learners have reached a minimum threshold of vocabulary knowledge through auditory exposure. Beginning language learners can only decode text (connect the written word to the spoken word) when they have already heard the words they see. Learners can only link meaning to written words if they: A) have had previous exposure to the word(s) and built an accurate mental representation, or B) know enough of the vocabulary surrounding a new word that they can ascertain the meaning from context of the text. In either case, previous exposure to L2 and at least partial acquisition are necessary to comprehend a reading.

The key to successfully using reading as a tool to enhance and accelerate the rate of acquisition is to focus on pre-reading strategies rather than how-to-read strategies. The most powerful pre-reading strategies are ones that emotionally engage learners. Start by previewing the reading and identifying two to three topics that interest learners. Seek out personal connections and build background knowledge, while strategically weaving new (upcoming) vocabulary into your lessons.

Focus first on sharing interesting tidbits that will help students develop their interpretive skills. Gradually shift into the interpersonal mode of communication by asking for personal opinions, experiences and/or background knowledge. Connecting to the topics in the text will pique learners’ interest, help them become familiar with upcoming vocabulary and inherently improve reading comprehension.

*I prefer the term PRE-literate vs. illiterate, because illiterate conveys a permanent state, while pre-literate conveys a temporary situation in which a learner is not literate…YET.  As long as learners have access to compelling, comprehensible reads, they will always have an opportunity to develop literacy skills! Learn powerful pre-reading strategies at ACTFL 2018 or tune into the livestream session on Fluency Matter’s Facebook page

Pre-reading: Priming the Pump

Discover key strategies to prime your students for optimum acquisition before you even crack open a book. Learn how to calculate the ‘Reading Ratio’, pique interest, and build familiarity with vocabulary and concepts through a variety of techniques that will leave you empowered and your students dying to start reading!

We have a special perk planned at this session for all who attend. It is guaranteed to be a great tool for all readers and provide you with multiple chances to win great reading materials for your classroom!

Fri, 11/16        10:30 AM  – 11:15 AM  Workshop Room #2  

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