Have you ever had a student that COULD but was convinced that they COULDN’T? I’d like to think that we all have. That student that looks at a reading and thinks, “Too many words, all in Spanish, *shut down mode*.” The student that immediately responds to any question with, “I don’t know” instead of attempting to provide an answer… but you know that they know. I call these my borderline students. They are borderline convinced that language learning is possible… and borderline being amazing language learning students. These are the students that inspired my to create this reading strategy. (Note: I have no idea if this is a real reading strategy… and if so, who really invented it. I just decided one day to try it and it’s worked wonders for me.) The example you will see throughout this post is a story from my TPT store.
Green Means Go:
I start by giving my students an article or a reading that, at first glance, appears to be beyond their level. I love to introduce El Mundo en Tus Manos articles this way, but you could use any reading. What the students don’t realize is that the reading before them is well within their level, they just need some confidence. I then ask my students to get out something green, yellow, and pink/red to mark/highlight with (like a traffic light). Pre-COVID I had plenty of highlighters to share… no more. My personal preference is that this activity works best with highlighters.
Then I explain my system to my students. They are going to have 15 – 20 minutes to read the reading/article in front of them. While they read, they are going to use the green highlighter to mark every single word in the story/article that they are 100% confident of the meaning. They are going to use the yellow highlighter to mark every word that they are 70%+ confident of the meaning or think they can make a good guess of the meaning (glossed words count, potential cognates count), and they are going to use the pink/red highlighter to mark words they don’t know and can’t figure out. I always show my students an example of what a fully highlighted page looks like from a former student. I usually will show two of three of different levels. I will show this before they begin.
Slow it down:
After students are done reading/highlighting I ask for a show of hands for 25% of their paper is green, 50% of the paper is green, 75% of the paper is green (then I increased based on numbers) 85%, 90%, 95%, 100%? Then I go back and ask how many pink/red words did they have 10 or less? 7 or less? 3 or less? etc. Then I ask my favorite question, “Did you think your paper would have more or less green than it does?” Students almost always unanimously expect to know less than they do. I also like to ask for a two sentence summary of the article/reading from one student… and then another one sentence add on, and another, and another until we’ve hit the entire story. This is a low pressure way to involve everyone in a review without calling out folks. It’s also a great “proof” to students that you don’t have to understand every single word of something to get the message. Comprehension.
But, what about explicit input?:
Now why do I do this activity? Couldn’t they get more input other ways? Couldn’t I use the time to speak Spanish to them so they understand? Couldn’t I…? Yes. The answer is yes to all of those questions. I could do all of those things, but those things don’t build immediate confidence in my students. I typically will do this activity once or twice a semester. We aren’t doing this every day. This activity gives students a tangible and visible indicator of how much Spanish they know and can understand. That’s huge. Many of my students slide the highlighted readings into binder covers after we’re done as a reminder of what they can do. To me, that’s worth it. I take 30 minutes of two class periods to build confidence in my students’ reading skills and cognate recognition for a semester or years pay off with confident readers that are willing to take risks to understand and participate. Bonus benefit – my upper level students will start asking for “harder readings like this one” and I’m all about extending their learning voluntarily.
I do review all pink/red words with the class. I first offer someone else in the class to tell us what the word means, and then I will fill it in if no one knows. Typically, there are no more than 2-3 totally unknown words. I also will review yellow words if students would like to know, occasionally there are false cognates that we will correct. 95% of the time, the students make good inferences and use good cognate recognition skills and comprehend the reading just fine!
I have done this activity on Jamboard using the pen tool, it’s a little messy to me. I’ve also used Google’s highlight tool, but that only works if you give students an editable piece of writing…. and most things I have are not editable.