When do I assign text?

Free Voluntary Reading, self-selected, free choice reading for pleasure, out performs traditional approaches using assigned text in 51 out of 54 studies (Krashen).  However, assigned text presented appropriately can be good source of comprehensible input (Krashen 2004, 51).
A 2007 study found self-selected reading was much more effective than teacher-assigned text, with two exceptions: beginners (2000 word level texts) and advanced “academic level” readers (Lee).  This is consistent with Krashen’s statement that “Sustained silent reading is not for beginners…(or) advanced readers who have already established a reading habit” (Krashen 2011, 8).
Teacher-assigned texts requiring excessive “scaffolding” should not be used to present developmentally-inappropriate language.  Students must be “capable of doing the reading, but (lack) confidence” (Shin 47).  To build confidence for new readers, Beniko Mason encourages offering a few limited choices of very easy, “i-1” books.  Reading alongside children in smaller groups is another confidence boost; fewer students means teachers can differentiate for ability and interest.
Quickly, students will not be scared of reading independently, and so be one step closer to Free Voluntary Reading.


Continue reading When do I assign text?

Talking to Administrators About Questioning

Observers and administrators require teachers to use frequent comprehension checks and questioning.  Teachers who use “a high frequency of questions” are given a higher score on teacher evaluations; teachers who ask fewer questions are penalized (Tennessee, 3).  In the SIOP Model, a teacher is praised for asking a question, then literally covering her mouth until a child answers (Echevarria, 103).  The lesson will not move on until someone answers.



The more comprehension checking, the less students acquire (Krashen, 2011, 85).  Avoid interrupting with questions (Krashen, 2013), and simply read or listen to a story, then discuss what students enjoy without forced output in L2 (Mason; Lee).

Allowing creative, autonomous responses, ample time to reflect, and compelling, personal “shared interaction” levels the playing field for ELLs (Peyton).  For example, Nancy Atwell exchanges letters to discuss students’ favorite books.  Face-to-face oral Readers Conferences, open-entry Readers Notebooks, and student-led literary circle discussions are alternatives to teacher-created comprehension questions.

What book would you like to self-select today?  How do you feel about what you read?  What does this book inspire you to create or investigate?  In exemplary language classrooms, open dialogue about good reading habits replace “assign and assess” questioning (Allington, 743).


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Talking to Admin About Assessment

Students acquire best when they do not feel tested (Krashen, 85).  While summative tests may be needed occasionally, most assessments should be natural, authentic observations of how much students enjoy and comprehend input.  It is sometimes difficult to communicate and document alternative assessments.

Here is a simple primer with 15 commonly asked questions and answers teachers may face about authentic assessment for second language learners.

Assessment: A Simple Approach

Krashen, S. D. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Talking to Admin About “Teacher Talk”

When talking with administrators, it is important to explain why ESL classrooms have more teacher talk than mainstream classes.  Teacher talk is an important source of comprehensible input for language learners (Krashen, 1982, 59).  The majority of English Language Learners report that teacher talk with enhanced visual clues, body language, and simplified speech helps them understand and feel engaged (Matsumoto).

Many native speakers or advanced ELLs are ready for  “student talk” and may choose to speak spontaneously.  Forcing student talk, however, may raise the affective filter.

Proponents of forced student talk argue “Talk plays a noticing role; it triggers a consciousness-raising function” (Boyd, 448).  However, language practice and noticing promotes conscious learning, not unconscious acquisition  (Truscott; Krashen 2004, 1982).   Student talk is the result, not cause of comprehensible input.  Autonomous, student-initiated responses will happen if students receive enough comprehensible input (Krashen 2004, 1982).


Boyd, M. & Reuben, D. (May 2002). Elaborated Student Talk in an Elementary ESOL Classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 36(4):  495-530.

Gharbavi, A. & Iravani, H. (May 2014). Is Teacher Talk Pernicious to Students? A Discourse Analysis of Teacher Talk.  Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 98: 552 – 561.

Krashen, S. (2004) The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.

Long, M. H. (1983). Linguistic and conversational adjustments to non-native speakers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 5(2): 177-193.


Matsumoto, H. (2010). Students’ Perceptions About Teacher Talk In Japanese-as-a-Second-Language Classes.  Arizona Working Papers in SLA & Teaching, 17: 53-74.


Truscott, J. (1998). Noticing in second language acquisition: a critical review. Second language Research, 14(2), 103-135.

A Story Listening Identity

My students have started to identify as folklorists.  “I know so many stories,” they boast.  Like generations before them, they succumb to the urge to retell the stories to friends and family.  On their own time, they research and request lesser known folktales.  Just like FVR, Story Listening helps children develop an identity that connects them to the world in a bigger way–a Story Listening identity.

A Print Oasis

Outside of your classroom, many children do not have a safe, clean environment where books are displayed proudly.  Jim Trelease warns that a “print desert” deprives children of access to books, reading role models, and a place to get excited about reading (108).  Send the message that books enrich our lives by decorating your classroom with books: on shelves, walls, and desks, under and on the whiteboard, and every available surface.

When Displaying Books:

  • Books should look intentionally placed, not cluttered.  Displays should be colorful and feature only books with attractive covers.
  •  Whenever space allows, books should face out (Trelease, 89).


  • Donalyn Miller cautions against labeling an “easy” section.  Instead consider placing easier books (ex. comic books) on the same shelf, but in bins facing out to lure new readers.


  • Don’t be afraid to display books by interest, or even target groups (ex. boys or girls). Switch out the books on display frequently.

Involving students in book displays:

  •  Students should have a routine for sharing what they are reading in a way that builds community.  Frank Serafini recommends ”providing space for personal collections, or book baskets, for students to organize future reading materials” (35).  Another approach is an individually-designated spot (ex. round table or edge of a white board) where books can be left at the end of the day for the group to see and share on a daily basis.


  • During daily lessons, display books in an inviting way.  Use this time to model selecting and talking about books with friends.  Encourage spontaneous response-to-text: if students have an interesting comment, let them dictate it to you.


  •  Instead of book reports, consider asking students to create book displays to show off what books they read and what they loved about them.



Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2011). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Serafini, F.  (2015).  Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook. New York: Penguin Books.


Not Just Reading, Pleasure Reading

Everyone knows it is “good for you” to read…or join a debate team… or go to college…but these things feel overwhelmingly lofty for less traditionally academic children.  The rich get richer and poor get poorer when students consider reading for the sake of external achievements (Stanovich).

The solution is pleasure reading, also known as Free Voluntary Reading.  Reading because it is pleasurable -not just because it will get you a better grade, job, or social status- appeals to all learners. Those who have failed to make the grade before, or struggling readers, benefit most from pleasure reading (Mason, 1997).

Programs like Accelerated Reading that use external rewards make it likely that students will quit reading after the rewards end (Krashen 2011, 49).  Pleasure reading show gains on tests of reading comprehension (Krashen, 2011; Mason 2004; Yamashita).  Pleasure reading lures in all children: those who know they will be president someday and those who think they’ll drop out next year.


Mason, B. & Krashen, S. (1997). Can Extensive Reading Help Unmotivated Students of EFL Improve? International Journal of Applied Linguistics.  Retrieved from: http://www.benikomason.net/content/articles/can_extensive_reading_help_unmotivated_students_of_efl_improve.pdf

Mason, B. (2004). The effect of adding supplementary writing to an extensive reading program.  The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching (IJFLT), 2(2): 12-15.

Krashen, S. (2004).  The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, and Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited (2nd edn.).

Krashen, S. D. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Stanovich, Keith E. (1986).”Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy.” Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4): 120-125.

Yamashita, S. (October 2013). Effects of extensive reading on reading attitudes in a foreign language. Reading in a Foreign Language.  25(2): 248–263