Category Archives: Reading

Using “Context Clues” to Determine Word Meaning

Using "Context Clues" to Determine Word Meaning (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comWhen faced with an unfamiliar word, students need to consider the context of the word in order to locate clues for predicting the meaning.  Teachers often talk about using “context clues” to determine meaning, but there is very little published on what the strategies might be to engage this process.  Below are some suggestions for explicit instruction on determining the meaning of an unknown word.

Type of Word: Is the word used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.?

  • Articles often preceded nouns.
  • Adjectives are typically before or after a noun, or after a form of “to be”
  • Nouns are often found after prepositions
  • Regular verbs have predictable endings
  • Subject pronouns often precede verbs
  • Adverbs are often found in front of or after verbs

Semantic Relationship: Other words in the sentence may provide clues to the meaning of a word.

  • The noun in a sentence may provide a clue to the meaning of the verb. For example: The architect designs buildings.
  • The verb in a sentence may provide a clue to the meaning of a noun. For example: The architect designs buildings.
  • Nouns and verbs may provide clues to the meaning of another word in a sentence. For example: The architect designed the building using a state-of-the-art computer program.

Using Proverbs in the Foreign Language Classroom

Using Proverbs in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comProverbs will very often reflect the history and values of a community of people (Ciccarelli, 1996). Since these phrases tend to be short, the vocabulary and sentence structure don’t require a lot of time to understand linguistically. When a new vocabulary list is presented to students, consider providing a few proverbs or idioms that use some of the words and engage a conversation about how the phrase might be important in the target language culture as well as who might use it and in what circumstances. This is also a great opportunity to have students reflect on cultural similarities and differences as they consider whether or not the proverb exists in English, and if not, why?

Here are some proverbs by language for use in the classroom:

Reference: Ciccarelli, A. (1996). Teaching culture through language: Suggestions for the Italian language class. Italica, 73(4), 563-576.

Foreign Language Text Types and Reading Strategies

Foreign (World) Language Text Types and Reading Strategies (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comCompetent readers use various reading skills when approaching a text written in a foreign language.  Reading techniques vary depending on the type of text.  These different approaches and techniques help the reader to more effectively understand a particular writing style or content.  Students are better able to engage and understand a text in the target language when the accompanying activities are scaffolded toward these styles.

Keep these ideas in mind when developing reading activities:

  • When reading for specific information, activities need to provide ways for students to ask themselves, “Have I obtained the information I was looking for?”
  • When reading for pleasure, activities should lead students need to ask themselves, “Do I understand the story line/sequence of ideas well enough to enjoy reading this?”
  • When reading for thorough understanding (intensive reading), Activities should be geared toward students asking themselves, “Do I understand each main idea and how the author supports it? Does what I’m reading agree with my predictions, and, if not, how does it differ?” To check comprehension in this situation, students may stop at the end of each section to review and check their predictions, restate the main idea and summarize the section

Traditional comprehension questions are a useful tool, but they can be modified to scaffold student engagement with the text so that they are better able to navigate the various styles and objectives of the text. Here are come additional suggestions from the NCLRC.

Determining the Level of Difficulty in a Text

Dteremining the Level of Difficulty in a Foreign Language Text. (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comHelpful guidance from the NCLRC.

How is the information organized? Does the story line, narrative, or instruction conform to familiar expectations? Texts in which the events are presented in natural chronological order, which have an informative title, and which present the information following an obvious organization (main ideas first, details and examples second) are easier to follow.

How familiar are the students with the topic? Remember that misapplication of background knowledge due to cultural differences can create major comprehension difficulties.

Does the text contain redundancy? At the lower levels of proficiency, listeners may find short, simple messages easier to process, but students with higher proficiency benefit from the natural redundancy of authentic language.

Does the text offer visual support to aid in reading comprehension? Visual aids such as photographs, maps, and diagrams help students preview the content of the text, guess the meanings of unknown words, and check comprehension while reading.

Developing Foreign Language Reading Activities

Developing  Foreign (World) Language Reading Activities (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comDeveloping interpretative reading activities involves more than identifying a text that is “at the right level”  and writing a set of comprehension questions for students to answer.  A fully-developed interpretative reading activity supports students as readers through pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading activities.

Here are some guidelines and suggestion to keep in mind when creating an interpretive reading activity for students.

  • Keep in mind that complete recall of all the information in a text is not the goal.  The goal is to comprehend the text and learn from the content.
  • Construct the reading activity around a purpose that has significance for the students.  The goal is not simply to read and understand, but to take the knowledge gained and do something with it.
  • Define the activity’s instructional goal and the appropriate type of response. What will students do with the content that they take away from the text?
  • Check the level of the text.  Is it accessible given the proficiency level of the students?
  • Use pre-reading activities to prepare students for the content.
  • Assess students’ background knowledge of the topic and linguistic content of the text.
  • Give students the background knowledge necessary for comprehension of the text, or activate the existing knowledge that the students possess.
  • Clarify any cultural information that may be necessary to comprehend the text.
  • Make students aware of the type of text they will be reading and the purpose(s) for reading.  Interpretive reading activities should have a clear goal and information gained from reading should be used for a follow-up activity.
  • Provide opportunities for group or collaborative work and for class discussion activities.

Keep these tips and suggestions in mind and when putting together an interpretive reading activity.  They will help to keep the goal of reading and using the content learned in the text.

Foreign Language Vocabulary and Verb Form Activities-Based on Sudoku

mzl.yqsjcqhb.175x175-75I always see kids and adults working on Sudoku puzzles in books and in newspapers. I decided that I wanted to take advantage of the Sudoku craze.  I figured that if kids were into this number puzzle they could possibly transfer this enjoyment and motivation onto a Sudoku-like vocabulary activity.  I tried a few different ways of crafting it, but it got a bit complicated and the end result was that there was more of a focus on the logic than on the letters, spelling, and vocabulary.  But, I didn’t give up.

I eventually came up with a way to use the Sudoku solutions board to make a verb form activity.  Students need to find the correct verb form in the grid (there are multiple) and fill in the correct number.  When each box has a number, the student can verify his or her work by adding up each row.  The total will be 45 for each row, column and diagonal (since each line will have the numbers 1-9, which add up to 45).  Here is an example:

–Find the « je » form of the verbs « manger » and « finir » and write the number « 1 » in the box (nine number « 1 » total).  Continue with the other subjects.  To check your answers, add up the numbers in each row, column and diagonal. The total is 45.

You can easily make your own boards using the solutions to Sudoku puzzles (available in any Sudoku book or in a newspaper.  You can write the verb forms in by hand, but I find that it is easier to make a template in a Word document with the numbers so that you can just type over the number.  Make a few templates that you can use so that the numbers are not in the same places every time.  Here are a few templates to get you started or you can download some Sudoku verb activities that are already made:

Foreign Language Vocabulary and Verb Form Magic Squares

I saw that some of my students were working on Magic Squares in their math classes and I saw my in.  Magic squares are a grid of 9, 16, or 25 boxes and when the numbers 1-9, 1-16, or 1-125 are inserted into the grid the total of each row, column and diagonal line is the same (15, 34 and 65 respectively).

Foreign (World) Language Verb Form Magic Squares (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comI created verb and vocabulary activities that ask students to fill in the number of the correct answer in the grid and then when done they can add up the rows and check their work.  This has been great for all sorts of verb forms and vocabulary (pictures work really well).  The trick is to work out the number solutions on your own and to then fill in the grid.  Students really enjoy this and it works great as a pair activity as well.  Below is an example where students fill in the number of the correct subject/verb with the correct verb form.

Foreign (World) Language Verb Form Magic Squares (French, Spanish)

Litterature Activity Centers

If you are looking for follow-up activities to engage students in a text that they have read in the target language,  consider setting up reading stations (sometimes called centers) in the classroom.  These centers typically center on a particular interest of the student and you can have each student complete one or two of the activities depending on time and interest.  When students have a choice they tend to invest more time and focus  more attention.  Here are some ideas for setting up reading stations in your world language classroom:

reading centers

Using Wordle in the World Language Class

Wordle is a resource for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery.

These word clouds can be used as a pre-reading activity in a a second language.  Students can look for the most prominent words and begin to decipher what the text will be about.  Student writing can also be put into a word cloud and you can have other students visually look at the text.  There are many interesting uses for this free tool.

Here is an example using a Neruda poem:


Sabrás que no te amo y que te amo
puesto que de dos modos es la vida,
la palabra es un ala del silencio
el fuego tiene una mitad de frío.

Yo te amo para comenzar a marte,recomenzar el infinito
y para no dejar de amarte nunca:
por eso no te amo todavía.

Te amo y no te amo como si tuviera
en mis manos las llaves de la dicha
y un incierto destino desdichado.

Mi amore tiene dos vidas para amarte.
Pore eso te amo cuando no te amo
y por eso te amo cuando te amo.

Wordle in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

Check out the site HERE.

Foreign Language Reading and State Testing

We live in the age of state testing. For those teachers who are in public schools, there is a need and expectation that all subject teachers attend to the literacy needs of students. Traditionally, the level of foreign language in the middle school (and even high school) has not been sophisticated enough to contribute to the language arts framework.

Janel Paquin, the Past-President of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA), recently addressed the literacy issue during the Association’s Summer Immersion Institute. She became aware, while doing advocacy work in Washington, that foreign language classes must contribute to the literacy needs of students so that the departments are valued, respected, and funded.

We hear about foreign language programs and individual languages being cut on a regular basis these days. One way of defending language programs to the wider school community is to emphasize reading and writing in the language classroom and making others aware of how this contributes to Language Arts curricula (while still focusing on speaking and listening of course).