Helping Struggling Readers in the CI Classroom

Literacy is the foundation of language classrooms. Reading is where vocabulary “sticks” and grammar starts to make sense to our students. I first learned how to teach with CI by provided copious amounts of verbal comprehensible input, then prompting my students to read everything we just talked about. My college students did a great job transitioning from verbal input to written input with no problems. I never had to do anything to help them comprehend reading, especially since Spanish is such a phonetic language.

However, when I transitioned from teaching college freshmen to high school freshmen (many on whom were 3-4 grade levels behind in reading), I learned quickly that reading is a separate skill that needs separate teaching strategies. My students could comprehend verbal Spanish with ease, but when I put a reading in front of them (with the same vocabulary and content), they struggled, complained, or completely shut down.

So, I turned to my ELA colleagues for help in how to “teach” reading better for my struggling students. I observed every English class, from freshman through senior AP, and noticed the same strategy happening in every class: think aloud guided reading.

Think alouds are when the teacher model reads for the students, literally “thinking out loud” what the teacher is thinking as she reads. She then annotates the texts based on her thinking, and prompts students to annotate with her. Then, she gradually releases students to do more of the thinking, moving from model reading to guided reading, and eventually independent reading. Here’s the steps for think aloud reading:

  1. Choose a text to guide the students through (either teacher-written, or a class novel).
  2. Choose the reading objective. What do you want students to get? (Main idea, supporting details, vocabulary, inferences, etc…) Refer to Common Core reading strategies to choose the best ones that make sense for your students.
  3. Create an exemplar annotated text. Annotate the text ahead of time exactly how you would want students to be able to do it by the end of class. Then backwards plan from there.
  4. Plan the think aloud. Using your exemplar annotations, plan the exact language you want to “think aloud” to model for your students.
  5. Plan the guided reading. Decide which passage of the text you want students to do with your guidance or with a partner.
  6. Plan the independent reading. Decide which passage you want students to annotate independently.

Video example: This video is gold, and all credit goes to Nikita House. The teacher is teaching 7th graders how to tackle a text they haven’t seen before using some think aloud strategies. She’s modeling for the students how to find the main idea and supporting details of a text before answering comprehension questions. More specifically, she’s modeling how to cross out “distractor” words (words that are unfamiliar and unimportant to the text), how to identify subjects of sentences, how to find important verbs and cognates that are familiar, and then finally, how to “put it all together” to decide what the passage is about. Then, and only then, does she look at the multiple choice questions.

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