Reading to Learn in the Foreign Language Classroom

Reading Communities in the Foreign Language Classroom
Amy Young
Reading Communities--small student-led reading groups--are my main strategy to work with
class readings. Since I teach foreign language, reading is an integral learning goal and an important part
of the learning process. After a few sessions using Reading Communities, students learn how to talk
critically about a new text. Even if the text is challenging, students lose their fear and are able to analyze
and discuss readings in the target language.
During the semester, my students work in their reading groups about once per week. After
quickly reviewing the text to assure their literal understanding, the groups of 4 to 6 students discuss the
text starting with their open-ended, main-idea questions. They then share their connections to the text,
ideas and events that reminded them of past experiences or other readings. They then share a word or
phrase that they felt was new and important to the reading. During this part of the process, students
begin to merge their own thinking with the message from the reading and to acquire knowledge and
true understanding.
Students post their discussions sheets online, which allows me to read their ideas before class. I
also collect their work and correct it and comment on it. When I return the forms, I have a short
conference with each student in order to point out ways for them to improve. I also project examples of
outstanding work, so that students know what good analysis looks like.
I have contrasted this strategy with other, less student-centered strategies, and the difference is
clear. When students have the skills and opportunity to explore their ideas in relation to a text, they
lose their fear of class discussions. The exchange of ideas becomes dynamic and meaningful to them.
Since they have had a chance to practice expressing their thoughts in the target language, large group
discussions are much more interesting and participative.
I will continue to use this strategy in my classroom next semester and plan to expand it to short-movie
viewing and student writing analysis. I love it!