The 95/5 Rule. The linguist blog “lingholic” says to be conversant you need to easily understand 95% of the words being used. Easily understand. Making sure my novice learners easily understand 95% of what is being said or read requires careful selection of material and carefully leading guided conversations. One way I make sure my students easily understand the novels we read is for me to select a novel that is leveled lower than the reading level of my students. For a level 2 class, I often choose a level one book. The results are amazing.
My Spanish 2 class is reading Mira Canion’s Agentes Secretos. Not only is Agentes Secretos a good story, but the novel is an easy read. Because the reading level of the book is lower than the reading level of most of my students, we have 100% comprehension. 100% comprehension means we have close to 100% student participation. Students feel comfortable with the material and are willing to take risks. We discuss. We describe. We act out scenes. Students beg to read the book in front of the class. We are having a blast.
Strong comprehension means I can add extra material. They are learning about Franco, some geography, about bull fighting, Picasso and Gaudi. (these topics are all mentioned in Agentes Secretos). If the story in the novel is good, I don’t worry about constantly challenging student’s reading skills. The ease and comfort students feel reading a lower level novel opens new possibilities for language development and growth.