Literacy · Teaching Strategies

Teaching with Authentic Texts in the Language Classroom

As language teachers one of our goals is to use the target language as much as possible, ideally in the most authentic way possible. When working with beginning language learners it can often be hard to find engaging stories that offer comprehensible input as well as a cognitive challenge–the two essential components to language acquisition (Cummins, 2001).

The question remains, How can I expand my students literary prowess in the target language while making the story and subsequent content comprehensible? I believe the answer lies in how we scaffold text comprehension before, during and after reading.

Before Reading

Pre-teach targeted vocabulary

One of the best way to do this is using the 7 steps method where the vocabulary in question is introduce through the context in which it will be exper(example of 7 steps)

  1. Teacher says and shows the word. Students repeat three times.
  2. Teacher says and shows word in context.
  3. Teacher says and shows the dictionary definition of the word.
  4. Teacher says and shows a kid friendly definition.
  5. Teacher points out difficult parts of the words, roots, affixes and cognates.
  6. Students think-pair-share, using the word 10-12 times in a sentence.
  7.  Teacher assigns reading and writing that uses the word.

Set the Stage

Provide or activate student’s schema by providing background knowledge on what they are about to listen to through the use of short videos, pictures, or class discussion. KWL charts, Semantic maps, or a think-pair-share are great ways to facilitate the acquisition of background knowledge.

During Reading

Modify the Text

When modifying a text, you essentially are trying to condense the story down to it’s essence. What is the main plot line? What are the main language structures you want your student to understand? Cut out or change parts of the story that do not fit within this framework.

Make it visual

While picture books are a great way to make a story innately visual, adding and moving visual elements as the story is progressing is a great way to increase the comprehensibility of a text. Interacting with the visuals provides a means to support the action that happens in the story and provides students a point of focus if they get lost as you are reading.

I have a great modified version of the classic fable The Little Red Hen for Beginning Spanish Leaners here. It includes setting and character cards and script to support oral story telling.

After Reading

Think on Paper

Provide an activity for students to do after reading that makes them think about the text in some way.

Beginning language learners lack all the vocabulary to express their understanding in writing, but allowing your students to provide a pictorial representation of the text with labels for words they do know would be a great start to having students express what they learned in the target language.

As students progress in the language moving to short sentences or sentence completion using sentence frames would be a good way to facilitate language development.

Using graphic organizers like a Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then summarizing sheet, a story map or a beginning, middle and end sheet could help support students sequencing and summarizing skills.

Whatever the comprehension focus, providing a means for students to record their thinking in a non-formal manner using pictures and words can facilitate comprehension and language acquisition.

Think Out loud

Once students have recorded their thinking and have a hand made reference to refer to. Have students share in partners or small groups then to the whole class. Encourage students to mark similarities of thinking between each other as this will motivate them to share these same points during a whole class share.


Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating Identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society. 2ND edition. Ontario, CA; California Association for Bilingual Education.




Teaching Strategies

3 Ways to Motivate Students to Speak the Target Language

One of the first steps to language acquisition is allowing students the ability to practice what they know. While this seems easy in theory more often than not, our opportunities for students to speak in the target language amount to a select few participating while the rest of the class is idly sitting by. Speaking a new language for many students is a daunting task that is filled with a large amount of anxiety. It’s easier therefore for students to fade into the background and not make a mistake than practice what they know and risk saying something wrong. Fortunately, there are a few small changes that can be made in the classroom to help support student’s speaking skills and ease their anxiety about the target language.

Model the Art of Circumlocution

If you’ve ever had to hold your own in a conversation with a native speaker of your L2 language, you’d know that often times you lack the vocabulary to say everything you want to say. Fortunately, we can still communicate what we are trying to say through the art of circumlocution or speaking around the missing the vocabulary word.

For example, if I wanted to talk about a strawberry but did not know the word for strawberry, I might talk about a small, round, red fruit that I often eat in the summer. The other person to whom you are talking, might be able to provide the word you are looking for given the context or she will at least infer what you are trying to say.

Modeling to students how to speak around a vocabulary word they don’t know can help students see that they need not be completely “perfect” in what they are trying to say, that language in and of itself is flexible and can be molded to the speaker.

Practice It: This game goes by many names, but it is commonly called “Headbands”. One student is given a head band and a vocabulary card that they cannot see placed onto the headband. The rest of the class takes turns giving the students clues as to what the vocabulary word could be and the student with the headband tries to guess the vocabulary card. Circumlocution with a competitive edge guaranteed win.

Want more students engaged at one time? Try “Headbands” in small groups, or in partners.

Allow for Think Time

This idea comes from a technique used to teach students with language based learning disabilities from the Landmark School. Before asking students to speak in the target language provide a space for them to write or draw out what they want to say. You can provide a graphic organizer for students to use if you are focusing on specific language structures or provide a vocabulary resource sheet if you want students to speak using specific words. Allowing students the time to think about what they want to say before saying it and providing a resource that they can refer back to takes some of the anxiety of having to think on the spot off of students.

Practice it: The cooperative learning strategy Think, Pair, Share allows for three different opportunities to use the target language with a lot of think time.

  1. Think: Provide a graphic organizer, sentence frame or vocabulary sheet to scaffold students language. Ask them to provide their opinion or answer to a question, image or text.
  2.  Pair: Have students share what they wrote with one other student for a designated amount of time (Normally 1-3 minutes). If students have an idea in common have them put a star next it.
  3. Share: Share out responses whole class style. Watch how students who put a star next to one of their ideas are more willing to share it.

Circle Up

Circle activities involve students sitting in a circle and passing a ball or some object around. When a student has the ball they need to say something before passing it to the next person. You can even have the class say something in response to the student with the ball or make each student response have to build off of the one before it. Use circle activities as a warm up activity to break the ice each class or as a fun way to practice conjugations, list vocabulary or practice tense changes. Because students need to be paying attention when the ball is passed to them, this activity motivates more students to be paying attention. Additionally, if the activity uses repetitive phrases it gives nervous or struggling students the opportunity to hear what they have to say multiple times before they say it.

Practice it: Have students circle up. One student begins by saying the target phrase. For example: I am 5 years old, “Yo tengo cinco años.” The rest of the class needs to repeat back what the student says with a different conjugation: He is five years old, “Él tiene cinco años”.

You could create a circle activity where students have to add on to a story, say the days of the week  or the months of the year, describe a picture, or say the alphabet. Add a timer for an extra challenge or split into two groups and race to be the first circle to finish saying a target phrase. The possibilities are endless.

According to Stephen Krashen’s theory of language acquisition, when students feel comfortable in their environment, anxiety is low and motivation and confidence are high second language acquisition can occur (p. 38, 2009). Providing scaffolds and structure changes within a class can help students navigate around rode bumps to speaking, motivating students to produce more language and consequently acquire more language.




Krashen, Stephen (2009). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition.