Students as leaders in building their skills in the interpretive mode

lit circles

How can students take the lead in improving their interpretive skills? 

As we lead language learners to build skills in the interpretive mode,  our goal should be to work toward moving away from a teacher-centered approach and release the responsibility for unlocking and comprehending text to the students.

Of course, the learning process must begin with the teacher modeling, showing examples, doing think alouds, providing scaffolds and supports, and giving lots of guided practice to students.  This process ensures that students have the routines, resources, skills, and confidence in place to work independently.

Why is it important that students can lead themselves through interpreting authentic text?

  • Students are empowered by owning their learning.
  • Having control over their learning is motivating to students.
  • Giving students voice and choice.
  • Peer to peer teaching increases student independence with language.
  • The teacher is not seen as the sole source of inquiry in the classroom.
  • Mirroring the trend of book clubs.

Reciprocal teaching

One example of a protocol for students interpreting authentic text independently is reciprocal teaching.  Reciprocal teaching is a strategy where students work collaboratively in small groups to process their comprehension of a text.  This strategy teaches students to use each other as resources to complete a task.  The students act as teachers who guide their group discussions by taking on various roles:

  • Summarizer
  • Questioner
  • Clarifier
  • Predictor

Students begin by reading a part of a text.  Each student in the group makes notes as they read based on their role.  Providing a graphic organizer for the students will assist them in organizing their thoughts.  The Summarizer, for example, is looking for key words and main ideas and writes a summary of the text.  The Questioner is capturing questions that come up while reading the text.  During the discussion, the Questioner poses and answers questions in the group.  The Clarifier identifies areas in the text that are not completely clear.  The Predictor shares predictions made based on the text features and makes predictions about what will come next in the text.

If it is expected that students are conducting this discussion in the target language, students in the various roles should be given sentence starters to support them to persevere in the target language.  For example, the Summarizer might be given sentence frames like:

  • The important ideas are…
  • This was about…
  • I learned that…
  • My summary is…

There are many resources available online for the strategy of reciprocal teaching (click the images below to visit the resources):

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Literature Circles

Literature Circles is a similar strategy to Reciprocal Teaching.  Students work cooperatively to help each other make sense of a text of their choice and discuss and debate about it, ideally in the target language, mirroring natural conversation.  Through Literature Circles, students are encouraged to take both written and visual notes.  Participation in Literature Circles is evaluated by teacher observation and student self-assessment based on each student’s contribution to the discussion through their assigned role.

Literature circles have expanded roles for students in the discussion groups.

  1. Narrator/Discussion Director
  2. Investigator
  3. Summarizer
  4. Connector
  5. Vocabulary Enricher/Word Wizard
  6. Illustrator

In exploring many of the online resources for Literature Circles, you will find quite a few variations and additions to the list of roles above.  The idea is that all students in the group have a unique role, examining the text from a distinct perspective.

Resources for Literature Circles

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Literature Circles Sentence Starters document

For French and Spanish:

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For more resources on these strategies and others that are similar, visit my website:

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or my Pinterest board:

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Increasing student comfort with authentic text through choice



Trying to interpret a text in a language other than your first language can be intimidating.  And, in this day and age, students’ first impulse is to use Google Translate.  How can we lower students’ anxiety around interpreting authentic text?

In a previous post, I’ve discussed ways to build reading skills in the target language, implementing scaffolds and supports to support learners through interpreting authentic text.

Showing students how reading in another language has many similarities to reading in their first language and giving them the support to persevere through interpreting an authentic text can build confidence and lower anxiety.

Another approach might be to offer students choices.  Providing choices:

  • is motivating for students
  • draws on student strengths, abilities, and interests
  • gives students a sense of control, purpose, and competence

What types of choices might we offer students?

  • choice in the text they interpret
  • choice in the tools and strategies they use to gather information
  • choice in the way they complete tasks
  • choice in the planning and design of products

Let’s explore some strategies that lead to increased student comfort with authentic texts through choice.

  1. Allow students to select authentic text for independent reading time.



In my blog post from May 11, 2018 called “Independent Reading: Building students’ confidence in interpreting authentic texts,”  I shared the benefits of providing time for students to read a text of choice independently in the target language (listed below):

  • It builds confidence with reading in target language
  • The texts are sources of comprehensible input and add to students’ vocabulary and understanding of structure and syntax
  • Choice is motivating and engaging
  • The experience increases fluency
  • Reading texts of choice adds to cultural knowledge
  • It allows students to read text at their challenge level

Allowing students to read a book of choice (either in hard copy form or online) in the target language lowers students’ stress and anxiety about reading in the second language where the goal is reading for pleasure, without being given worksheets or comprehension questions.

2. Implement before, during, and after reading choice boards

When students are required to demonstrate understanding of a text, using choice boards allows students to select the best way for them to reflect on what they learned from the text.  For each phase (before, during, or after reading), the student selects one task from the board to complete.  Click on the examples below to download a copy.

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3. Allow students to select an authentic text from a group of curated resources.

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Imagine that during a unit on the environment, intermediate level students are exploring the challenges of food waste.  Giving students a link to a Pinterest page like the one pictured above allows them to select from a collection of authentic resources that have already been curated on the topic.  For example, students may be asked to collect as many statistics as they can on the topic and then use that information to participate in a discussion or debate in the target language.  The teacher might provide a generic, flexible graphic organizer for students to capture their notes while interacting with the various authentic resources.

4. Encourage students to enrich and extend their learning by diving more deeply into a topic of their choice through authentic resources

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During a unit on personal technology, intermediate level students may be given several ideas for extending their learning on the topic based on their interests.  Some examples might include:

  •   exploring the idea of internet safety and digital citizenship
  •  researching the impact personal technology has on users’ health
  •  examining the topic of privacy and social media

These experiences may lead to presentational products or performances such as a short public service announcement, an infographic for young children, or a lesson created for English Language Learners on the topic.

5. Give access to students to authentic text at a variety of challenge levels

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In order for students to interpret authentic text that is neither too easy nor too hard for them, students can be taught strategies for selecting a text that is the best fit.  One way students can judge the difficulty level of a text is to count how many words in the first paragraph or section are unknown to them.  If there is only one unknown word, the students should select a more challenging text.  If the student counts 5 or more unknown words, the text is likely to be too difficult.  The “just right” authentic text contains 2-4 unknown words in the first segment.

In my blog post from May 25 2018, entitled “Tiering authentic text to meet the needs of all learners,” I shared strategies for selecting more than one text on a topic that have a variety of challenge levels.  When allowed to choose their challenge level, students become self-reflective about their confidence with the content and are able to select a text that is the best fit for them.

In a novice level Chinese class during a unit on healthy eating, for example, the teacher may give the following authentic text to the students from which they may select (click on each image below to access the source):




Even the most reluctant learner can judge which infographic to interpret based on the number of visuals and the amount of text.  The generic graphic organizer for the task is a blank plate.  Being able to select the authentic resource which they will interpret can be motivating and engaging to students.

Consider how offering choices in authentic text might increase your students’ confidence level in the interpretive mode.