I subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea that reading should be fun (which teacher does not?), yet if I take an honest look at my track record with reading novels with my classes, I have not been successful at making it fun, especially with my Novice High to Intermediate Low learners. Typically, I create (or buy) a student handout with pre-reading, during-reading, post-reading and cultural extensions activities. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these activities are super fun, but the act of reading is not fun. We end-up spending several weeks on a book and everyone leaves feeling exhausted.
That is because my goal up to now was to teach my students language, not to enjoy reading a book. Can we achieve both? Can we instill a love of reading while acquiring a language?
After reading Dr. Krashen’s Free Voluntary Reading book and having several conversations with Claire Walter about intensive versus extensive reading, I decided my 7th graders were not ready for independent reading yet, but we could certainly start reading a book together for enjoyment.
If we want to create enjoyment, we must focus on the story itself.
#1 Choosing a compelling story
I chose to read “La classe des confessions” by A.C. Quintero with my 7th graders. I helped proof read this book so I knew the story was super fun and the creepy French teacher, Monsieur Martin, was going to entertain my Middle School students.
#2 Reading out loud, focusing on the plot
I read one chapter a day out loud to my students and supported it by drawing or writing on the board to ensure comprehension of the overall story. As the week progressed, I drew less and less and simply supported the reading by writing in L2 and L1 when needed to support comprehension. Students were highly engaged, reacting with ohhh and ughhh, and commenting on Monsieur Martin’s creepy behavior (as I had hoped!). Because you can’t teach to the eyes as much when you are reading to your class, we agreed they would make a tongue clicking sound when they were lost so I could stop and help. They were very good at using our signal.
Click on the image above to watch the highlights of our read-aloud.
#3 Discussing what we read the next day
The next day, we discussed what I had read to them the previous day. I asked them questions and used their answers to type up a recap live on the computer, which allowed my students to read a simpler version of the text in a low-anxiety and interactive setting.
Here, the important part was for me to provide comprehensible input, while my students were allowed to answer in French or English.
Click on the image above to see how students remained engaged in a 16 min recap of what we read previously.
#4 Low accountability
We finished the book in one week. On our last chapter today, one of my students said “Can we please read another story? I like our story time.” Folks, before moving to Tennessee, I taught at THE best public High School in Ohio, where reading is considered cool, and I have never heard a student ask me to please read another story in French. This comment alone, coming from a student who had ever commented on French class, tells me there is something really special about reading for pleasure at school.
#5 A boost of confidence, an increase in fluency
After reading chapter 1 last week, I asked students to do a fluency write about what we had read. A fluency write is a timed-write where students have 5 min to write as much as possible about what we read. This was the first time I had asked students to write anything in class on their own. I was met with complaints. Someone even said: “I don’t write French”.
After we finished the book, I asked them again to write for 5 min about what we had read. This time, they eagerly wrote and someone said “I can do that!” The results were really interesting: in one week 10 students doubled or even tripled their production, 9 students increased their production by 15% or more, and only 3 students wrote the same amount or less. (Note: I did not grade this)
All it took was one good book to boost their confidence and increase their written fluency. Imagine what 10 good books could do?
I am really excited about what I witnessed this past week, I am looking forward to our next book and I think it is safe to say so are the students!