The Nuts and Bolts of Teaching a Whole-class Reader
by Kristy Placido
In my classroom I teach 2-4 readers per year. When selecting readers, I want to choose books that are going to be at a comfortable level for the students. I err on the side of “too easy.” Books that are too hard will feel too much like drudgery and the reading will not be enjoyable. I also try to balance the “girl characters” and “boy characters.” Finally, I like to have a broad representation of the Spanish-speaking world in each level.
Currently I do not teach Spanish 1, but the level 1 kids in my district read El Nuevo Houdini by Carol Gaab first semester and Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto by Mira Canion and Carol Gaab second semester.
In Spanish 2, my students read Noches misteriosas en Granada by Kristy Placido, Esperanza by Carol Gaab, Robo en la noche by Kristy Placido and Felipe Alou by Carol Gaab.
In Spanish 3, we read Bianca Nieves y los siete toritos by Carrie Toth, La Llorona de Mazatlán by Katie Baker, La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth, and Noche de Oro by Kristy Placido.
In Spanish 4, we read Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha by Anónimo, La hija del sastre by Carrie Toth, Frida Kahlo by Kristy Placido, and Problemas en paraíso by Carol Gaab.
You may notice that I have an almost complete disregard for the recommended levels of the readers we read. Yes, I reserve the higher wordcount readers for levels 3 and 4, but I do not shy away from reading easier readers in the upper levels. There are a couple of reasons for this. #1- I don’t mind giving the students a “comfortable read.” If the story is compelling it is great for them to just be able to sail through it and enjoy a story in their second language. It is a great confidence boost, too. #2- I am able to up the level of the experience through class discussions. I can easily expand on a story and up the ante with questions like “If YOU were Frida, how would you feel that Alejandro didn’t visit you at the hospital?” or “How do you think Makenna’s sister will react when she finds out Makenna went alone with Martín to a rural area?”
On the first installment of this topic, I stated that there is no wrong way to teach a reader. Well, maybe the only wrong way would be to choose a really boring reader that is not comprehensible, but other than that, follow your teacher instincts!
I like to begin with a “hook” if possible. Plan something, even if it is as simple as playing interesting music or having a new bulletin board up, to show that you are about to embark on a cool journey. Some teachers go as far as to dress in costume or transform their classroom, but it is not necessary to go to extremes to have the effect of shifting the students’ mindset toward new ideas.
Prior to reading a chapter or chapters, teachers may want to do some kind of discussion to prepare students for what they are about to read. This could involve reviewing the previous chapter(s), expressing opinions about the events and characters, and/or making predictions about what will happen next. These discussions can and should be conducted in the target language. Write down phrases that come up on the board so that students have a reference.
Another important consideration prior to reading is unknown words. Are there important words coming up in the next chapter for which you may need to establish meaning? I like to pre-teach no more than a few (2-6) key words prior to reading a chapter. If you have more unknown words than that, you may need to evaluate the difficulty level of the reader for your group. TPRS is the perfect vehicle for pre-teaching vocabulary in a reader. If there are only 2-3 new words in the chapter, you can also just wing it as they come up in the reading. By that, I mean, when they come up, stop, tell the class what the word means, write it down, and do some quick discussion using the new term. Discuss it in context of what is happening in the book, personalize a few questions using the term if possible, and then after a mini-discussion, return to the reading.
As for the actual reading, in level 1 I think it is important to constantly assess comprehension. Don’t count on kids to tell you they don’t understand, but encourage it! I have a signal my students give me when they don’t understand. I praise profusely for using it! You may even want to begin by chorally translating a chapter together. Another technique is to read a paragraph aloud in the target language followed by a choral translation. Often I also like to translate TO the students, pausing on words that I think they know and asking the kids to yell out the next word in English. I like to give a little piece of candy if only one kid knows a word for a little fun competition. Something my students also enjoy is listening to the audio book. You might play a paragraph at a time of an audio book followed by some comprehension checking, choral translation, or discussion. Whatever method you choose for reading, make sure you are aware of students’ comprehension at all times. It doesn’t take much for a novice to get lost!
There are 2 main components of reading a chapter during a whole-class reader, and both are very important. The first is the reading, assuring that comprehension is taking place. The second is the discussion. If you are a TPRS teacher, and you are teaching a reader for a long stretch of time, you are likely doing less storytelling during that time frame. The discussions, paired with reader’s theater will effectively substitute for the aural input normally given through storytelling. As you discuss a chapter, you might ask comprehension questions, but you might also ask hypothetical “what if this had happened?” or “what would you do?” types of questions. These types of discussions can easily be made comprehensible to level 1 students and will lay the foundation for more advanced language later on. Another fun way to incorporate more of a storytelling environment during the teaching of a reader is by using storytelling to introduce key structures that are coming up in the reader or by creating parallel stories with your students as characters!
Beginning in level 2, I like to give kids options with reading. I allow kids to select whether they read individually, in a small group, or in a group with ME available to help. No matter which option they choose they can always ask me for help. By level 3 and 4 most students no longer want or need much help from me and the vast majority prefer to read individually.
After the reading (or even after a sentence or paragraph of reading!) teachers may opt to discuss or complete an activity of some sort. This is a good time to make additional connections to self or to the world. Is there a way to connect the text to students’ own experiences? Is there a cultural topic that could be explored further? The Teacher Resource Guides, available for all Fluency Matters readers are rich and varied resources that will help greatly with these types of connections, and the work has all been done for you!
Continue through the reader, varying reading strategies, sometimes listening to the audio book for variety and aural input, and enjoy! If YOU have a favorite reading strategy that you’d like to share, please let us know!
-Kristy Placido, kplacido.com