Reading is Breathing – Give your students oxygen!

Reading in language classes

By Martina Bex

Of all the different kinds of things that you do with your students—games, conversation, grammar or vocabulary drills, cultural exploration, etc.—what do you do the MOST?

For me, it’s reading. Nearly everything that we do in class comes back to to reading. All of the fun activities and games, the meaningful conversations, the intriguing stories are grounded by this wire that runs through every class: reading.

I was recently caught off guard when a teacher asked how she could incorporate reading in her classes. No judgment—I was there once, too. Reading for my students used to consist of attempting to hunt and peck answers to an #authres task on benchmark assessments. Reading in the target language was not part of my own early language learning experience, and the textbook that I used when I started teaching did not provide opportunities for it, either.

But I am not the same teacher that I was back then, and I don’t think the same way that I used to. Now, reading is breathing and comprehensible texts are oxygen.

I first started incorporating more reading with my students because
I wanted to read a novel with them. I was transitioning from a class that revolved around cooperative learning activities, vocabulary games, and grammar practice, and I recognized that my students were not equipped with the useful language that they would need in order to understand a novel, nor did they have the stamina to read a text of that length. And so I set about to make reading a part of our daily class life.

So, how do I incorporate reading?

…How can I avoid it?



Using Alina Filipescu’s Passwords? Determined to greet each student with a word of encouragement or a special handshake? Have a perpetual cluster outside your door of students that are not quite ready to pass through the threshold? Get those students reading. Outside your door, post a fact or a puzzle for students to read. Some ideas:

» Bulletin boards related to holidays or special times of the year*

» Today in History*

» Fact/Animal/Person/Meme/Quote of the day*


Jon Cowart partnered with Fluency Matters this last week to offer an INCREDIBLE two-part webinar series on classroom management. One of my many takeaways from Jon’s webinar was that there is a reason that bellwork works. When I was teaching in my urban middle school, our principal required bellwork. All teachers in the building were required to start class each day by providing a short task for students to complete immediately upon entering the room. If you use my SOMOS (or Nous sommes) curriculum, you see this manifested as the daily Campanada/Clochette. Since leaving the classroom, I have learned about primacy/recency, and I had all but decided that whenever I am able to return to the classroom, I would break up with my bell ringer. Jon’s webinar has made me revisit this decision. As an urban educator, Jon attests to the value of bell work/entry tasks in setting the tone for the rest of the class: both in terms of compliance and participation. Whether you find yourself in a generally challenging school setting, have a particularly difficult class, or just want to stay ahead of the game with classroom management—establish an entry task routine.

Watch Jon’s webinar to tackle classroom management with confidence this year!


Several days per week, students can enter the room and choose a text from your class library to read for 5-10 minutes. If you opt for this stepping stone to Free Voluntary Reading, be certain that your students know how to select texts that are interesting to them and will provide an appropriate challenge.

Read a summary:

Project or otherwise give students access to a summary of the previous day’s class. Did you read a chapter of a book? Summarize it! Have a class discussion? Summarize it? Tell a story? Summarize it! Watch a commercial or music video? Summarize it! Learn about a current or historical event? Summarize it! No matter what you did…SUMMARIZE IT (in the target language). As students enter, they should read it and then complete a task.

Some possible tasks are:


    1. Re-write it from a different perspective (horizontal conjugation)
    2. Identify an intruding statement (an untruth that you ‘plant’ in the otherwise true story—I learned this from Elizabeth Dentlinger)
    3. Translate to English
    4. Summarize the summary (creating a “Shrinking summary”)
    5. Illustrate it
    6. Write 1-3 questions about it (matched to QAR types, if you want!)
    7. Expand it with two words per sentence one new sentence after each existing one
    8. Copy it down (for use later on)
    9. React to it (possibly with annotations)
    10. Identify one personal connection


An exit ticket can be used in the same ways that you use an entry task. If you have read a text during the class period—or perhaps created a text together—have students complete one of the tasks listed above as an exit ticket, handing you their completed task on a slip of scrap paper on the way out the door. Formative assessment, check!


No matter what you are doing in class, reading can be part of it:


  • Singer biographies*
  • Information about the genre of music, the country of origin, or the inspiration for the song*
  • Lyrics re-written as narrative (what story is told by the song?)*
  • The story told by the music video*
  • Teacher-imagined back story or parallel story for the song*


  • Current events*
  • Historical events*
  • Cultural insights*
  • Biographies*
  • Subject area information (science, math, geography, literature…)*
  • Student interests (sports, the arts, animals, social justice…)*
  • Special person summaries*
  • Authentic resources (blog posts, infographics, instructions, etc.)*


  • TPRS stories*
  • One Word Image stories*
  • PQA-spun stories*
  • Sharing personal experiences from my life or the lives of my students*


When my students read narrative, it was in one of two ways:

  1. Self selected texts from the class library during sustained silent reading
  2. Reading stories that I had already told them. Typically when I told my students a story, I would support their comprehension by using student actors to act out the story, illustrating it on the board or overhead or with a felt board, or miming/gesturing it myself. Learn more about these strategies for supporting student comprehension here.

The existing stories that I shared with my students mostly fit into one of these six categories:


As you are filling your students’ linguistic air tanks with fresh texts to breathe (read), make sure that the life-giving oxygen that comes from reading and understanding a text is not too polluted with carbon dioxide: the exhaust of their labored breathing. Oxygen in blood gives life; carbon dioxide in blood kills. Strive to give your students texts that they can understand well enough to engage in meaningful conversation about them; texts in which they understand not just the main idea, but details as well. Texts that they can understand well enough to make inferences about the content, not just well enough to recall what the text said explicitly.

As a diver, you depend on the oxygen in your tank to last throughout the dive, but the deeper you go, the faster it’s used up. A text that keeps our students within the depths that they’re comfortable diving will engage and inspire much longer than a text that pushes to their limits. —Carrie Toth

Look back through this post. You will see an asterisk* beside almost every single kind of text that I give to my students. What does it mean?

Wherever you see an asterisk, know that it is YOUR responsibility to make sure that you present the information or the story of that text to your students in such a way that they understand it. In some of the texts—novels written for language learners, for example—the work has largely been done for you. If you are looking for a novel to read with your most beginning of beginning language students, Fluency Matters has full-length novels that those students will be able to understand (and their Teacher’s Guides are filled with informational texts and narratives to supplement with!). But by and large, the work of making the information and the story understandable to your students will fall squarely on your shoulders. “Comprehensifying” is a learned skill that is not easy or simple when you first start to learn it. With time and practice, you will be able to comprehensify texts without skipping a beat.

If simplifying texts is a not yet a skill that you have learned, try these suggestions to get started:

  • Read texts that other teachers have simplified. Pay attention to the words that they use, the way that they structure sentences, and how they simplify ideas.
  • Keep a running list of the words that have come up in your class conversations and stories so that you can see at a glance the words that are possibly part of your students’ working vocabulary.
  • Get coached by trained CI coaches (if possible) or by more experienced teachers in your area. Trained coaches will be able to help you learn how to know in the moment whether or not your students are understanding you and how to respond when you realize that you are losing them. Interested in becoming a trained CI coach? Plan to attend Coaching for Coaches before iFLT 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida—information to come soon!
  • Learn how to equip your students early on with useful language—words and phrasing that they will be able to use to talk about a wide range of things. Considering how your students are exposed to the Super 7 and Sweet 16 is a good starting point, and you will find that with a little practice in comprehensifying the language that you use to communicate with your students, you no longer need to look for strategic opportunities to use these words—they will happen naturally.

Reading is enough

Simply giving your students the opportunity to read texts that they enjoy and can understand is sufficient to access the plentiful benefits to reading for language learners. Do not ever think that you HAVE to assign a task to complete during or after a reading session. If you are, however, looking for activities that students can complete with a text, search the CI Peek blog for “Reading activities” or check out their Teacher’s Guides for ideas!

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