top of page

Reading and literacy in Languages

 We, all are teachers of literacy … 

Developing reading is one of the key skills students need to tackle in order to access knowledge and information.


So, how are you teaching it in your lesson?

In M(F)L classroom when teaching an international language, learners often approach reading texts in another language with the phonics of their first language (anglicised phonics) in mind. Having said that, teaching phonics – grapheme and phoneme links (sound and spelling links)  is therefore vital to ensure they can access the language and the text. Using a variety of reading texts can be highly beneficial in developing students’ comprehension skills in L2 and combined with effective deconstruction of these texts via carefully structured activities, it should maximise their ability to manipulate the language in order to enhance their own speaking and writing in the TL. 

This doesn’t mean that we always have to use authentic materials as we might want to create our own texts or adapt authentic materials that we have sourced online or through our travels thus enabling our students to access them and establish they are suitable for their stage of learning (novice vs expert) – securing at least 95% comprehensible input (ideally 98%).

If we are teaching, modelling and practising a specific language structure or syntax i.e opinions we may want to create a text or a number of texts – narrow reading texts à la Gianfranco Conti which would contain a selection of different examples of opinion phrases and structures taking into account certain grammatical rules such as the word order (German).

To make reading in TL most effective, like with the receptive skill of listening, it is important to deliberately plan pre-reading activities such as teaching specific vocabulary chunks, grammatical structures and activating prior knowledge (schemas) via retrieval or brainstorming chunks around a particular topic.

It is also crucial that students get used to reading texts aloud from the start of their language journey using activities such as ‘echo reading’, ‘paired dictation’ or reading along.

Research has also shown that reading aloud increases learning as it is an example of the Production Effect, which is caused by producing something with the new information. In the case of learning a new language producing the (new) sounds thus utilising a combination of 3 processes: visual (seeing the words), active (not being passive during the event) and self-referential ( ‘I said it.’) @innerdrive – case study #34

Reading for information:

When reading an extended text, students need to have opportunities to process the text and practice strategies using some ‘warm up’ activities such as:

  • Reading the text aloud – breaking down the words and sounds – decoding and contextualising of vocabulary (this also supports listening)

  • Look for and underline/ highlight cognates

  • Look for and underline/highlight vocabulary students know

  • Look for specific word groups (nouns, verbs, adjectives…) or grammatical structures (tenses, negatives, opinions…)

  • Skim and scan for further clues – tone, title, pictures, general ideas, gist, heading, the purpose of the paragraph etc.

  • inferring meaning of unfamiliar words through context

Further activities that can be employed to explore students’ comprehension of the text more extensively could be:

  • multiple choice questions

  • true/false/not in text questions

  • ‘who’ questions

  • cloze exercises

  • find synonyms

  • order the pictures

  • translations

One of the most effective concepts that I have come across during my teaching career is ‘narrow reading’ – an idea that I have encountered first time whilst reading Gianfranco Conti’s posts on reading instruction on his Language Gym website where he writes extensively about it + many other posts on developing reading skills. It requires students (novice and intermediate) to read 3-6 short paragraphs on the same topic – each paragraph  containing similar chunks and structures that have been previously taught thus enabling students to have a significant exposure to chunks and syntax without being too repetitive. 

His E.P.I. methodology has been a ‘game changer’ in my teaching!

Example of narrow reading texts in German (C.Dymond)

Spot the difference task (template FloRence)

Spot the missing task (template FloRence)

In my lessons, after the reading activity we consolidate the new structures that have been taught, students review what they have learnt and what they have struggled with in order to close the gaps in their knowledge – feedback driven metacognition.

Through the E.P.I. – RAM and LAM students then progress to guided and independent oral and written production phase.

Reading for pleasure:

It is also very important to nurture students’ love of reading through reading for pleasure. There are nowadays numerous websites and platforms that provide authentic texts as well as adapted known stories such as fairy tales or other adapted materials. Some examples are below.

  • The Fable Cottage – provides bilingual tales for language learners in 5 languages – text, audio and video. Some tales are free and some require subscription. 

Project inspired by Chloe Butler via Facebook

Other activities could be  – pop corn reading or 3-2-1 activity – i.e. find 3 new words/phrases, 2 different tenses, 1 question – but the choices can be easily adapted to a specific focus.

If you are interested in developing literacy in your department, Adam Lamb (@senorcordero ) wrote an interesting post ‘Literacy in MFL – Reading’ on the topic which is looking at deploying Alex Quigley’s 7 strategies to explore unfamiliar words focusing on morphology, word families, etymology, spelling, multiple meanings, synonyms and antonyms, and context with specific examples in Spanish.


bottom of page