Q. I was wondering if you could give me any ideas on how to vary reading activities. Currently, we read Blaine’s novels on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We translate. The students are doing fine, but of course it is challenging.

When we come across words we don’t know, I write them on the board, and the other students are listening (at least I think they are), but sometimes it seems so laborious that I wonder if they are flat out bored. Is there a way to vary the reading activities so that my students don’t get burnt out on the repetition?

A.  Blaine has the kids translate and then discuss in the target language by paragraph. He advises us, once the paragraph is translated, to ask the facts of the paragraph in the target language, and then extend them by asking facts that are not in the story.

 This pushes the believability of the text, but Blaine reminds us that it is the job of the instructor to keep discussion going in target language whether the facts are true or not. It is the instructor’s story. 

This  is very much like extending PQA, but in reading. In the same way that PQA can be extended into a story, invented facts from readings can be extended into a story by adding more and more details. Once a story is going, the facts in the story can be compared and contrasted with facts in the reading.

The basic idea in Blaine’s approaches to both reading and stories is that we must try to relate the text to the kids’ lives.

If you wish to connect the reading activities to writing, the following is suggested. In this approach, there is less focus on personalizing the stories – it is offered as simply another of the myriad ways to treat reading in TPRS:

If the kids are reading, say, Chapter 6 of Pauvre Anne, I only have them read a page or two, individually and silently, for maybe ten minutes. Any longer and the class starts to get separated by too many pages. Any time a group of thirty kids is not on the same page in a secondary school classroom, it is not a good thing, with organizational difficulties popping up all over. 

The ten minutes of silent reading is done as per certain rules, posted on the classroom wall in a prominent place and given here:

  • Make a note of any word you don’t know in your composition book.  You will learn it later in class.
  • Look for cognates.
  • Sound out the words for meaning – you may have heard them in class.
  • Read from context – other words give clues.
  • Use information from walls.

After the silent reading, I deliberately and slowly translate the text we just read. The kids follow along with absolutely no talking. This is a marvelously productive time for them. I occasionally make connections (“Kids, did you know that “se réveille” is where we get the American military term “reveille” etc. etc.).

I have figured out that most comments from kids, by far most of them, are to draw attention to themselves, which does not work for me when I am trying to cram a reading class into a scant fifty-three minute period.

So having read and heard translated only one or two pages of the text, and not an entire chapter, we move to the writing skill, which in my view is always taught best in connection with the reading skill. I place on the overhead a series of prepared questions about the chapter (“Where did Anne go in the morning”, etc.).

A key point is that we do each question one by one, without letting the kids get separated as would happen if the kids were given twenty five questions over the entire period – we know that if we did that two kids would be done in ten minutes and some would have nothing done in ten minutes, another recipe for confusion.

Doing one sentence at a time, I place the answers on the overhead, in the space between the questions, revealing each answer only after they have written it in their composition books. For class discipline and focus, it is important to go along through each question as a group, and not get separated in this work.

My thinking, by trying to translate only a page or two of each chapter at a time, is to be able in one class period to vary the activities from silent reading, to my translating, and then to the writing in a kind of three part cycling process. Remember, when the kids are writing, they are reading.

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