Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 7.00.56 AMMy love of reading was rejuvenated today. A textbook adoption, followed by a Chromebook adoption, redirected the spotlight, and my novels took backstage for a couple of years. New technology is useful, and new textbooks have lots of bells and whistles, but in the end I still feel students learn better when we are reading, discussing, and playing with text.

The webinar by Carol Gaab, Kristy Placido, and Carrie Toth reminded me of the importance and joy of reading novels together in class. Carol was first with lots of great pre-reading ideas to teach vocabulary. Students need to be able to read at least 95% of the words before starting the novels. She connects students to the characters, and she personalizes the vocabulary to be encountered in the novel in different contexts, before starting the novels.

Some of her suggestions are: word clouds, 4 corners, movie talks, teacher-created power points, reading action chains, and graphic organizers. For example, in the novel Brandon Brown Dice la Verdad, telling the truth is an important topic. One way to “hook” students, or get them geared up, is by playing four corners. Print out signs (in the target language) that say: easy, difficult, depends, or no idea. Read situations to them (in the target language, keeping it comprehensible) like… “If your friend is wearing pants that are a horrible color do you tell the truth?” Have students move to the appropriate corner and discuss. The discussion is key! Don’t throw away an opportunity to use comprehensible target language in interesting contexts! Throwing a cell phone is an important phrase for this book. A movie talk of a cell phone throwing contest is a good way to introduce this vocabulary,  and students gets lots of repetitions on that phrase before starting the book.

Prediction is so important because it motivates and provides a purpose for students to keep reading to see if their predictions are correct. A prediction activity I like to use is Tea Party. I took sentences from the novel Felpe Alou by Carol Gaab and typed them up and cut them apart. I distribute one sentence strip to each student and tell them to walk around and silently show people your sentence and read their sentence, trying to predict what the story is going to be about. It is a simple activity that always motivates students to read, if nothing else to find their sentence in the text. These strips could also be used to sequence the story after reading (allowing for further repetitions!). Check out CI Peek for more prediction activities.

Kristy Placido was the second presenter. She gives students lots of options for differentiation during reading. In first year she reads to the students a lot. Students sometimes do class choral translation in English after she reads in Spanish. Or, they think, pair, share about the translation of a paragraph before one pair is asked to share out. In upper levels, students can choose to read individually, read in pairs silently but beside each other in case they need help, read in pairs aloud, read in small groups, or read kindergarten style with the teacher. According to Kristy, discussing the reading, asking comprehension questions, and relating vocabulary to prior stories is as crucial as doing the reading itself and provides lots of repetitions.

Carrie Toth wrapped up the three hour webinar with ideas for connecting the novels to AP themes. She gave lots of examples of how many themes can be pulled out of the novels. She also talked about using the novels to move students up the proficiency scale. My computer decided to take a break part way through this webinar, but fortunately they are recorded and I can watch it again.

The best part about the three hour webinar is that I felt like I was hanging out with Carol, Kristy, and Carrie for the afternoon, shooting the breeze about teaching with novels. It really amused me to see one of Carrie’s family members trying to crawl into the room as not to disrupt the webinar, and her dog wanting to take part, and Carol’s granddaughter wandering in to see what she was doing, it made these superstars seem more like us, and maybe teaching the way they do a little more doable. After 30 plus years of teaching, if I get one or two new ideas from a webinar I am happy. Well, I am over the moon with all the ideas, inspiration, and joy I received from the July 27 webinar!

I highly recommend a TPRS Publishing webinar!

Lynn teaches French and Spanish at Alderwood Middle School in Washington State. She has been a board member of the Washington Association for Language Teaching and will be president elect in October. As a frequent presenter, she has provided keynotes and workshops around the Pacific Northwest including three presentations at ACTFL. Her presentation was chosen “Best of the Pacific Northwest.” She has received the Creative Innovation and Inspirational Leadership awards from WAFLT. She has been happily married for 34 years and has four children. She enjoys skiing, gardening, dancing, and learning. Join Lynn online by following her blog and on twitter @johnstonL60.

Thanks Lynn! Would you like to attend an online webinar too? TPRS Publishing is offering more online training August 16 and August 25 in the “Teaching a novel” series!


  • Robin Cogburn
    Posted at 13:37h, 12 August

    Excellent points, Lynn! You always, always inspire me. Robin

  • Laura K
    Posted at 17:22h, 12 August

    How do you sign up for these webinars? I can’t seem to find a place to register…


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