Dr. Beniko Mason tells her students to “just enjoy the story” to provide low-affective-filter, low-accountability comprehensible input. Most students won’t need convincing to “just enjoy stories” and books. But how do you convince that rare skeptic teen, or the studious, over-achiever to keep an open mind when they hear their first story? How do you convince students accustomed to a textbook to simply read for pleasure?
The answer is to empower them with what they crave: knowledge.
Inform students about the SLA process. Beniko Mason has created this great resource explaining SLA for parents, but you can explain the same ideas to students too.
Use books and stories that give students special world knowledge. Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. are just as engaging for adults as for the very young. These stories never lose their charm. But stories like Prometheus Brings Man Fire or Pandora’s Box (especially if told as a series) may catch the attention of those students who are reluctant to enjoy less “academic” stories. Similarly, students who turn their nose up at Diary of a Wimpy Kid may enjoy high-interest nonfiction or historical fiction. My favorite are Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales or the I Survived series.
Offer feedback on their growth. Periodically show students the assessments you have done and how you are monitoring their progress. This kind of student may want to know how many words per minute they are reading.
Give in a little. If “practicing language” really makes them feel better, let them. Dr. Beniko Mason suggests allowing students to take notes in class if they want; or send home a prompter or word list with them to “practice” on their own time.
Why are blood and guts, gross out humor, and enormous spiders so endlessly fascinating? Because they’re cool, that’s why. And the idea of pursuing your curiosity despite it being taboo or displeasing to adults is empowering.
As students gain knowledge about the gross and weird, they proudly think, “‘Listen to me. I know what adults know too, and I am brave enough to speak of the unspeakable!’ They are pushing the edges of their knowledge as they push the edges of acceptability,” according to Jobe and Dayton-Sakari (73).
Students feel empowered as they build a special knowledge base through narrow reading. When possible, encourage students to find a single subject to read narrowly on (yes, even if that subject is the later stages of digestion).
Single-Topic Gross-Out Books
Gross-Out Animals That Do Disguisting Things by Ginjer Clarke
Bugopedia by Discovery Kids
That’s Disgusting series by Connie Colwell Miller
Poop: a Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies
Sanitation Investigation Series by Capstone
Icky, Sticky Gross Stuff series by Pam Rosenberg (warning, the Icky, Sticky, Gross Stuff in Your Food book is in fact quite gross)
Real Scary Spiders by Animal Planet
*The following books jump from subject to subject. They don’t have the same effect as true narrow reading in a content area, however, they allow students to browse until they find exactly what they are interested in reading.
Grossology by Sylvia Branzei
Almanac of the Gross Disgusting and Totally Repulsive by Eric Elfman*
National Geographic’s Ultimate Weird but True series*
The “Guiness Book of World Records” series*
Oh, Yikes! History’s Grosses Moments by Joy Masoff
Free Voluntary Web-surfing is great source of comprehensible input (Krashen 2011, 64; Krashen 2005). There are many ways to adapt this to suit your classroom, but use these guidelines to protect children.
Surf with a plan. Conference with students to create small group or individual web-surfing plans. Use student interests to offer a list of safe sites and resources. The American Library Association has over 800 amazing kid-friendly sites, or you can talk to your school librarian.
Monitor use of social media and online interaction and neverallow students to give identifying information (their name, their school, etc.).
Use settings to block inappropriate content. Make sure your school filters block inappropriate content, use safe search, and consider blocking images for very young students.
Two simple approaches to Free Voluntary Web-surfing
1. Read in a content-area or genre.
Shared reading and discussion about text in a genre or content-area can provide background knowledge, as well as set a purpose for Free Voluntary Web-surfing. For example, to enhance a Sheltered Literature study in lyrics, my students surfed the web for lyrics and contributed to a class’s blog of their favorite songs.
2. Create a Digital Magazine
Web-surfing and then contributing to a class magazine allows students to share enthusiasm for reading and creates a finished product students take pride in. Instapaper allows students to bookmark articles they love with one click. Their bookmarks compile to create a beautifully visual “magazine” of articles, blog posts, and websites.
I allow students to sign up for roles like “sports editor,” “fashion columnist,” or “celebrity news reporter.” Students familiarize themselves with online resources and then read narrowly in an area of personal interest.
I once made the mistake of mentioning my love for comics in the classroom at a job interview. I got the job… and an eye-roll.
Comics have an undeserved stigma. While students should eventually move on to academic text, Krashen notes “that comic book reading and other forms of light reading can serve as a conduit to ‘heavier’ reading” (3).
Comics lure the most reluctant of readers into a reading habit. Artwork that allows them to actually see thoughts, faces, and feelings helps make connections with characters (so says my comic-fanatic son with ASD).
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.
Remember the puppets on the reading rug when you were little? They got your attention and direct it towards books. For older grades, Book Hooks are 1-5 minute activities to introduce books, build excitement for a story, and find joy in books. Used before read-alouds, guided reading, or book-commercials, they show students that with a good book, you can let your hair down, smile, and be silly.
Forget the Civil War or Rainforest. Guide advanced ELLs to read narrowly and deeply in high-interest content-areas based on whatever they loved during Free Voluntary Reading.
Children who love science fiction and have a strong background in FVR may decide they are ready for a unit of study in space exploration.
Maybe they’d rather stick to their beanbag chair with a comic book in hand. Maybe they are waiting for you to conference with them one-on-one to share that they have a hidden passion for photography (what middle schooler isn’t an expert at selfies?).
Maybe they’ve read Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Drama, and are inspired by the main character to read about theater arts so they can join the drama club. Maybe books will help the language minority students in your building take on leadership roles or dream about future careers. Maybe books can satisfy a burning curiosity, slowly build confidence in academic text, and make students feel like experts.
Letting kids come to the books they love autonomously opens up a whole world of maybes and possibilities.