Encourage Reader Autonomy

Main Idea Match-Up

When overwhelmed with reading a text in a second language, students may sometimes get distracted with word or sentence-level difficulties and lose sight of the main idea.  This activity is intended to help students focus on understanding the overall meaning of a text, identify main ideas, and then summarize main ideas--useful strategies as students engage with longer and more complex texts.

Select a text that has multiple paragraphs.  Label each paragraph (A, B, C,).  In pairs students must write a one-sentence summary highlighting the main idea of the each paragraph or selection of text on a strip of paper.  Students then trade their strips of paper with another pair.  Students read the new set of sentences on each strip of paper and must try to match each sentence with the appropriate paragraph.  Once each pair has matched their partners’ sentences to the text, students verify each other’s work and negotiate any disagreements.

An extension to this activity is to have students (individually, pairs, or in groups of four) write a summary paragraph of the text. An alternative to this activity is to have students write titles for texts of various lengths.  Students can then compare and contrast their titles with each other and with the actual title.

Sample Activity

Map It

This activity takes into account our natural curiosity to solve puzzles. Provide students with a blank map of a city. Students must work to read clues and figure out where each building fits in the city. For example, it may say "The bank is far from the grocery." "The grocery is next to the library." Students have to comprehend the statements in order to figure out the completed city using the strategy of mental imagery.

Variations include reading statements and labeling parts. For example, a classroom picture could have statements where students read a statement like "Number 6: This object hangs on a wall behind the teacher's desk. One can write or draw on it". The students then label the whiteboard with a #6, showing their understanding.

Sample Activity Spanish

Literature Circles

Literature circles are ways for students to actively discuss readings that they have had modeling the way that adults discuss literature at the dinner table. Each student is given a role such as facilitator, vocabulary enricher (where they collect new or interesting vocabulary central to the story), literary luminary (where they pull out phrases from the reading), or connector (where they find connections between the reading and their own lives or current events). Students do the reading and then write a paragraph according to their role and then in groups, the students are given an amount of time, for example 10 minutes, where they must discuss, chat informally, talk about the reading including sharing what they have prepared with the group. For example, the connector would explain the connection and the students would talk about it and hopefully make their own connections or ask questions. These skills need to be modeled and practiced so that students get good at deep thinking and deep discussion tying to readings. This is a good way to collect information because teachers can see these literature sheets, can read the paragraphs to see what students are thinking about, and can walk around as students are discussing. It takes the responsibility off the teacher of being the center of attention during a discussion and puts it onto the students.  

This activity comes from Hlas, A. & Young, A. (2010). Assessment for learning: Twenty-five short activities for active participation. Wisconsin Association of Foreign Language Teachers in Appleton, WI.

Sample Activity

My Writing Frames

Students are provided with 30 different writing frames such as "It was really interesting when ________did_______because______". The writing frames are divided into ten from the beginning of the text, ten from the middle, and ten from the end. Students must select three writing frames from each section to comment on the text. It is enjoyable to choose writing frames rather than requiring the same for each student.

As a check, students can share their completed frames in groups.

Sample Activity

Pat Yourself on the Back

Reading, especially extensively, can be overwhelming to a language learner. It may be frustrating to accept not knowing every word, running into false cognates, etc.  After reading sessions in class or at home, have the student journal simple statements responding to questions such as “What did I enjoy from this reading? What is one thing I learned? What is a hard word that I knew? What is a hard word I think I guessed well?”  Finishing a reading session on a positive note, even a difficult one, may help student with motivation and perseverance.