May 23, 2019
Reading is an essential component in the language acquisition process. Reading provides input for students, exposes them to natural language use, and often expands their cultural understandings. However, reading only works if our students genuinely engage with the text. Unfortunately, students often lack our enthusiasm for reading, especially in a language that is not their first. This leaves us with a challenging question: How do we get our students to engage with a written text?
I have found that there are three keys to fostering reading engagement with students:
- The first is to provide compelling texts. There must be some kind of hook that interests the reader and makes them want to continue reading.
- The second is that all reading must be comprehensible. If students do not understand the majority of what they are reading, they quickly lose interest and may even abandon the text altogether.
- The third is variety. If we can vary our delivery of texts and change the experience for the reader, we can avoid fatigue and increase engagement.
Each of these keys deserves pages of description and hours of discussion. For now, let’s focus on the third—variety. How do we vary the delivery of texts in order to increase reader engagement?
Consider the following 10 tips for adding variety to reading:
- Read Short; Read Long: Students should read something every day. It can be a paragraph or a novel. Varying lengths of texts help engage readers.
- Read Aloud; Read Silently: Hearing different voices can shake students from the reading doldrums. Even teachers with dynamic, passionate reading voices need to allow space for students to hear other voices, including the one in the student’s head. Silent reading allows students to read at their own pace and engage even more with the text.
- From a Page; From a Screen: Sometimes, text on a computer or tablet screen, or projected on a large screen, does not feel like reading to students. It certainly changes the act of reading.
- With the Eyes; With the Ears: When a teacher reads to students, the experience is very different.Likewise,audiobooks and video screencasts allow students to follow a text without seeing the words. Although these activities change from interpretive reading to interpretive listening, they can be a great way to advance within a longer text.
- Funny Texts; Serious Texts: Compelling texts make reading engagement much easier. A great hook to hold attention is humor. However, serious texts can also be of great interest to students. Sad, suspenseful, heartwarming, and culturally relevant texts often add depth and maturity, which teenage students appreciate and find compelling.
- Together; Separately: Sometimes it’s best for the entire class to read the same text. It can be a novel, a story, a website, an article, or a cereal box. Other times, students should select materials for reading from a class library or an online database.
- For Assessment; For Pleasure: Knowing that the content of a reading will be important for an upcoming assessment can motivate readers to be extra engaged. However, too much reading for performance can strip the joy from the process. Allowing students to also spend time reading for pleasure is essential. Students should know that all reading leads to gains in proficiency, which will be assessed often during class.
- In Class; At Home: A change of venue can be enough to spark engagement in students. Also, reading outside of class provides additional input—if the students are motivated and able to spend time in focused reading.
- Teacher-Created; Authentic: Teacher-created texts tend to be very comprehensible. Authentic texts help prepare students for the language used in the real world. Both are valuable and should be utilized.
- Fiction; Nonfiction: Fiction allows students to be a part of a story and perhaps forget that they are even reading. Nonfiction connects students to the world around them, and better yet, to the worlds that they may never have a chance to visit. Choices in reading materials need to showcase unique titles and genres at all levels.
Our classes are filled with unique students. We constantly adapt and alter lessons to fit backgrounds, preferences, personalities, and proficiency levels. Our reading practices and materials should reflect the same desire for diversity and variety. Reading is essential to growth in proficiency, and any type of engaged reading in the target language is a success.
Bryan Kandel teaches high school Spanish in Canton, Ohio. He presents professional development workshops on Comprehensible Input techniques, the importance of strong classroom culture, successful world language AP® courses, reading strategies, and many other topics. He has published three CI Spanish readers: Los sobrevivientes (newly updated this spring), Bajo el agua (new this spring), and La novia perfecta. He has seen the power of reading as a tool to improve proficiency, and constantly aims to increase reading engagement with his students.
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