Teaching readers

Today I had two new native speakers in one class and one in a second. We went over the rules for leading reading groups. I handed out a text, picked a leader, and coached that person who read with a group. What I forgot to do in the first group was coach one step at a time, as we do in adult coaching groups. I tried to get the first leader to do it all at once. The next thing I forgot was to give lots of praise to that first leader, and to the reader as well. In the second class, I gave huge praise to both the students who were demonstrating (the leader and the student who was volunteering to be the reader). I thought you’d like my “rules for reading,” though they may be here elsewhere.

1. Leader reads about one paragraph of the text slowly.

2. Student reads in English, but leader is ready to jump in to supply a word when the student hesitates.

3. If all the vocabulary is familiar, the leader will point out one or two samples of the focus grammar in terms of meaning.

4. If there was high-frequency vocabulary in the unknown words, the leader questions the students using it both to repeat it 4-10 times and to get to know the students better.

5. The leader may discuss the reading briefly in the TL.

6. The leader continues with the next paragraph.

It was really interesting to see how good my students are at demonstrating this tactic and how generous they were about volunteering to be the readers. I learned a lot about my kids in a short amount of time. I also realized how unfamiliar a skill this is for new people, especially students who have learned language in a different system. Finally, I could see how huge a difference there is when a student gets praise.

5 responses to “Teaching readers

  1. Michele how big are the groups? Who are the leaders? Have you tried this with just one superstar filling the role of both leader and reader?


  2. Hi Ben!

    The groups are 6-7 in one class and 5/15 in another, though I will be able to get it down to groups of five one day this week with extra volunteers. The leaders are my native speaker students who can be very helpful this way. I haven’t done it with the same kid in both roles because I’ve found that then kids slip by, because the leaders figure that everyone understands everything. If a middle-high kid in each group does the English, it will show what most kids really know, as well as go at a good processing pace for all the rest. This is where leveling really works well. I’ve got four very different reading levels going on (level 2 up through AP/IB) but it doesn’t necessarily depend on the “year” or “class” they’re in–the kids pretty much level themselves based on the reading selection.

    I’ve done this with superstars, and find that I have to limit the groups to 4-5, because kids have a hard time directing other kids. It works this way with superstars for sub days in classes where I have no native speakers.

    I don’t do the whole-group translation in these small groups because they would simply get too loud.

    Nice to “see” you! I’d love your comments on this idea too.


  3. Thank you Michele. Your instructions are so helpful. I could see how coaching a student leader a step a time would make all the difference. Great idea! And the coaching session could easily save my voice, and give the students’ ears a break. I could see this opening up lines of creativity for shyer students who wouldn’t contribute in front of the whole group and the teacher.

    If you end up trying it with superstars, I’d like to know how it works for you. So much potential. In my class, they would all be reading the same book, so I would think a superstar could do steps 1-3. I would think my superstars would have trouble doing PQA and read and discuss (none THAT good), but if there’s no native speaker, maybe the whole small group could pick out challenging words and write questions in English or TL to generate interesting discussion, and then I could lead a whole group discussion with their ideas for PQA, and Read and Discuss… Or maybe the group could answer personal questions that I could use in read and discuss. Or maybe I could set them up to write a group parallel story together by using summary-oriented questions as I learned from you in an earlier blog, and then setting up a parallel story template where they would substitute characters, locations and actions into their summaries…

    I love this online brainstorming.

    I think I could start training leaders this Friday during Piratas reading. It would make a good change of pace for the students. This might even be a really good project for those students who understand some TL (native listeners?) but are trying to learn to speak. It’s a sheltered speaking opportunity because a lot of the vocabulary is right there in the book.


  4. Carla,

    I have actually done this with superstars (all year long until I got the two new native speakers into the room). I like it a lot. The twist I learned from Jason is that when a group can’t figure out a word, one group member writes it on the board with what they think it means (then you ask them to read that with their word to see if it makes sense, correcting as necessary), so that you’re teaching them how to learn words in context. If they’re all reading the same book, they can then check the board as words come up–mostly groups will have the same words. It slows down the group that’s moving faster and keeps the slower groups from having to come up to put their words up.

    As you say, there’s SO much that is possible here. You can keep tweaking and twisting the way you run reading and assessment and everything else. My feeling now is that the more you tweak, the better, because that keeps it fresh. I used to think that I needed to find the best way to do everything, and now I realize that the reason new techniques or ideas are so successful is that they’re new and interesting for the kids.


  5. Hi Millie,

    I think that only the questions showed up, so here goes…

    Millie Torres-Ruiz wrote:

    > Do you choose your superstars? or do they volunteer? If they volunteer and really aren’t good readers then what?

    I choose the superstars based on great comprehension, pronunciation, and eagerness to read and talk (non-stop in some cases). When the leaders are superstars, I tell them to do vocabulary and grammar that they are comfortable with, rather than risking wasting time on improper input with long pauses. I want the reading to be the main thing.
    > 1. Leader reads about one paragraph of the text slowly. After this does another student begin to read?

    After the leader reads a smallish chunk, the English reader pretends as though she’s reading the text in English, but after that the leader reads again. The better the group, the longer the chunks can be.

    The kids from one of yesterday’s groups informed me that they had all helped with the translation, rather than making one kid do a paragraph at a time. They said that one person would start, and others would jump in as the first person hesitated. They said they liked that because they all stayed more focused.

    > 4. If there was high-frequency vocabulary in the unknown words, the leader questions the students using it both to repeat it 4-10 times and to get to know the students better. How does the leader question the students?
    It’s really PQA, so I demonstrate and then have the leader practice. If they can’t think of ways to use it, it’s probably not high frequency, and they should just skip it. Today a word was “is late,” so I demonstrated asking whether kids are late to class, if so, which one, whether the teacher gets mad, whether they have detentions, and so on. I repeat that “late” word in every question, and since it’s new, the kids don’t notice that. I have to have a private talk with the leaders and tell them that they may get bored hearing themselves say that word so often, but that it’s new to the kids, so they won’t notice. And even if they do (because they’re helping coach the leader), generally they’re focused on the meaning: when you are late to class, do you get a detention? When you are late to class, are you embarrassed? When you are late to class, what do you say? I repeat it again when they answer–

    One thing that’s strange about these questions is that the leader can’t follow approved interviewing technique. I want the answers to be one or two-words long, because I want the primary input coming from the better speaker.

    > 5. The leader may discuss the reading briefly in the TL. Besides asking in TL What does that mean? What else can be discussed/asked?

    Sorry…TL is target language. I don’t actually want my leaders in these cases to be doing too much discussion unless it’s really easy for them. If it’s a native speaker, he or she will go way out of bounds on vocabulary in seconds. If it’s a superstar, true discussion is not necessarily going to be great input. I want to be leading up any true discussions myself, because I can keep it in bounds and comprehensible. That being said, the leader can offer an opinion: “I don’t like Anna very much, how about you?” or “Does your brother help you?” or as in a story today, I heard a leader asking where everyone buys their flowers and whether they die fast. That was a great discussion, because it was manageable. Of course then they got totally off course about an upcoming dance and I had to remind them that the reading was the focus, even if they were speaking in Russian.
    > 6. The leader continues with the next paragraph.
    > Thank-you,Millie


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