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.
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)
- Teacher says and shows the word. Students repeat three times.
- Teacher says and shows word in context.
- Teacher says and shows the dictionary definition of the word.
- Teacher says and shows a kid friendly definition.
- Teacher points out difficult parts of the words, roots, affixes and cognates.
- Students think-pair-share, using the word 10-12 times in a sentence.
- 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.
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.
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.