Inside: Why learner novels are important and how to find the best Spanish books for beginners.
The face of teaching language is changing. We’re moving towards living language, what I call the magic stuff: things we get lost in. Like stories and books.
Today’s post is for everyone: tired teachers, insecure speakers, homeschoolers, eager high-flyers– all of you! Because everyone needs stories, and everyone teaching Spanish needs learner novels.
Students in classes that include time set aside for voluntary reading in the form of sustained silent reading do better than those in similar classes without sustained silent reading on tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and grammar.
This is true of first- and second-language studies and holds for children, teenagers, and university students.
(Krashen, 2004; 2007; Krashen and Mason, 2017).
Language Latte just put out an amazing podcast that covers the “why” and the role of reading in language classrooms. (Really- it’s excellent. Go and listen!)
This post here is sort of written to my younger self; the information that would have helped me as a new teacher and mom to bilingual kids. At the end I include where access novels and more links on teaching with them.
AUTHENTIC RESOURCES AREN’T EVERYTHING
With our limited time, authentic resources must be used wisely. If you hand your students a picture book, or sit on the couch to read The Hungry Caterpillar with your toddler Spanish-learner, you’ll quickly realize even children’s books are VERY advanced.
Sometimes, it’s good to practice the skills of navigating authentic resources: picking out words you know, matching text to picture, and getting the general idea.
But here’s the thing: to efficiently learn new vocabulary and get the grammar of a language subconsciously imprinted on your brain, you should be reading things that are comprehensible and enjoyable.
Enter Spanish learner novels: books written for beginners.
You can re-tell La oruga muy hambrienta with comprehensible language, but that’s not your only option. You can also choose from leveled readers that only use simple language from the get-go, building up to the day that The Hungry Caterpiller is pan comido.
For Spanish learners, tuning into the local Spanish radio station sounds like noise. It’s a good thing to do, but it will take years of tuning in for your brain to turn that “noise” useful language you’ve acquired and can use. Think of how many people live in foreign countries without learning to speak– surrounded by language, but not taking it in. This is why beginners need learner materials.
NOVELS FOR NON-NATIVE PARENTS & TEACHERS
Those of us who aren’t native speaker need to stay ahead of our kids. You need immediate language to use (like, the next day while putting on everyone’s shoes on or telling a story in the past tense).
So guess what? You need a Spanish learner novel on your night stand. I love Spanish shows on Netflix and Spanish podcasts for improving fluency, but there’s something about written language that sticks with us and cements all the things we know from here and there. If your Spanish is totally fluent, go ahead and read Cien años de soledad! For others, simplified language will improve your skills more efficiently.
If you are teaching Spanish three and need to “cover” the subjunctive, be reading a “level 3” novel. You will be filling yourself with the exact language you need to flow while chatting with your class or writing a story.
Maybe you’re a parent trying to give your kids a bilingual boost and feel insecure about your Spanish. Read a level 1 or 2 novel, and you’ll notice that it becomes easier to speak to your kids in simple, whole sentences.
NOVELS FOR STUDENTS WITH NON-NATIVE TEACHERS
As a non-native teacher and mom, I know I can’t be the only source of input. Beyond songs and shows, learner novels are an excellent, excellent way to provide accurate, whole language on just the right language level.
If you are a parent who is doing a once-a-week class or learning together at home, buy a pack of novels. Once your child has a very basic foundation, have him or her read at least 10 minutes a day. It is THE BEST way to acquire Spanish and no teacher is needed. You might feel confident to read aloud, just not coming up with things on the fly. Some novels also come with audio, and you all can listen together.
NOVELS FOR STRESSED TEACHERS
That’s probably most of us! Learner novels are for every teacher, but they really have been game-changers for lowering my stress-level. I’m doing something wonderful for my kids, while giving my voice and brain a break. That makes me a better teacher, win-win!
Here are some ways novels will rock your teaching world:
- Set up a free reading time as your bell-ringer.This is life-changing. For Spanish 1 first semester, I do bell-ringers. After that, everyone comes in and reads quietly for 10 minutes, in all my classes. It is a soothing, peaceful way to start class. I have a minute to collect myself before we jump in, and the students have that transition time of “switching to Spanish” before class starts, and can choose according to their interests. I don’t quiz, or do assignments. Some teachers are able to set up awesome, comfy classroom libraries that give an extra touch of “reading is special.”
Credit: Blair Chalker Brown
- Use a novel as you dip your toes into CI.It’s not easy to teach in a new way. If providing lots of comprehensible input is a new thing for you, purchase a set of class novels with a teacher’s guide. If you teach with novels, you will quickly see how vital it is that your students know high-frequency words. If throwing out the textbook feels scary because you lose a clear plan, find a novel or two to study. Look at the glossary in the back, and you’ll know what you’re working towards. Build up to that glossary: week by week, add in new words, and use them in stories, chats, and songs.
- Teach a class novel across several levels. Multiple preps are stressful! Get around this with novels. Many books can be adjusted across several levels, and you can concentrate on developing a quality unit. Robo en la noche, for example, contains both present and past tense versions. Spend a month on the book, studying Costa Rica, conservation, travel, etc. and adjusting the conversations and resources slightly, for each class. Save your brain space!
- Use novels for absences, special circumstances, and extra credit. I always have a deer-in-the-headlights look when a student announces they are leaving to go to Disney tomorrow, and can I please give them the work they’ll miss all next week? Dude, I don’t have any of that stuff ready. Unless we’re doing something uber-specific, I hand them an appropriate novel and say, “Read this on your trip.” They can do a simple quiz or chat with me about it after. I’ve also done this with students out for extended illnesses. Novels can also be great for students wanting extra credit, adjusting a class to be an “honors class” (this sort of things happens in small schools), or for heritage speakers who need more challenge.
WHERE TO GET THE BEST SPANISH BEGINNER BOOKS
Some learner novels are available on Amazon. Here is a sampling!
Information on teaching with novels:
Novels Sorted by Level from Bryce Hedstrom
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