Literature as Content
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
- Describe what research has to say about second language reading processes.
- Explain the role of background
knowledge in readers' comprehension of texts.
- Discuss how cultural knowledge
and experience may play a part in reading.
- Describe a proficient reader's reading process.
- Define metacognition and
explain its role in proficient reading comprehension.
- Explain the importance of literature
response groups for second language learners and explain how to
prepare students for successful work in these groups.
- Define extensive and intensive reading, and explain how
each one helps promote language and reading acquisition for English
- Describe at least three different literature strategies for beginning
and intermediate English language learners.
- Describe three informal processes for assessing second language readers'
1. What does research tell us
about reading in a second language?
|knowledge of sound/symbol
|word order: syntax
|word meaning: semantics
|knowledge about text topic &
structure: background knowledge
* Background knowledge is crucial and most problematic once the
linguistic knowledge is in place.
Activity 1: Word Splash
Discuss the activity and how it might be modified
for other levels. Note: teacher modeling, vocabulary development, preparation
for reading aloud, lessened pressure on reading aloud, using the
learning strategy predicting.
- Refer to the list of words from "MIDNIGHT SNACK"
the words to compose a story – define or demonstrate
- Write a story using the words.
may read their stories to the class.
- Read aloud "MIDNIGHT SNACK" Round Robin style.
- Allow each
student a moment to read over his/her paragraph silently before reading
- Students can pass a turn.
- Stop at 3 points in the story for
fellow students to predict.
How Learning Theories Affect
Reading and Writing Instruction
Behaviorism: (RWL p. 46)
Problems with this approach:
- Led to traditional approach of part to whole.
separate skills, then put them together.
- Bottom-up processes in
reading: decoding --> words --> sentences --> text.
writing: handwriting --> spelling --> sentences --> guided
writing --> composition.
- Communication of meaning tends to get lost.
- Drill on separate
skills becomes rote, rather than mentally active.
- Students become bored, motivation falls.
- Assumption that students can integrate all the separate skills
does not always work out - they get in the habit (leads to belief) that
reading is the same as pronunciation and writing is the same as
- Focus on
communication of meaning as purpose of reading and writing.
- Look at
language as a whole, rather than focus on separate skills.
- Concern for
top-down processes which lead to global meaning.
- Emphasis on process
(e.g., writing process, reading comprehension strategies) rather than
only on product.
- Stress mental activity of learners. Active negotiation of meaning
between writer, text, and reader.
- Importance of prior knowledge --> schema theory. Types of
linguistic, content, discourse (rhetorical).
- Importance of text: authenticity, focus on literature; text
- Importance of text-processing strategies, both comprehension
and decoding (bottom-up) strategies (not either-or – but both).
- Role of teacher - model of literate behavior. Explicit
Activity 2: Reading and Background Knowledge
Read the short text. Tell what you think the topic is. Come up with a title. Listen to the title from Dr. Robbins
A paper version of the task involves showing words that are the names of colors, although the actual words are printed in a color of ink different from the color name they represent. You are asked to respond with the color you see, and inhibit (disregard) the word you read. It turns out that this is much harder than it sounds and research documents lower scores with increased attentional fatigue. (More information...)
Difficulties ELL Students Encounter in
Reading and Writing
1. Prior knowledge may be
different from that
required by text to read or write. Examples:
- Cultural, linguistic, and
educational background - differing degrees of
overlap with English speakers.
- Organization of discourse may be different in L1 - Story structure
- Literacy tradition - who
is literate? How does a literate person behave
when reading (aloud or silent? role of decoding - What does it mean to
understand a text (memorize, explain,
- Lack of experience in
reading and writing in L1.
2. Reading difficulties due to
3. Writing difficulties:
- Decoding is not enough
if word is unfamiliar.
- Narrative, literary language is rich in vocabulary - too rich?
- Academic language structures different
from oral language (passive,
- Lack of context - What
does "it" refer to? (in
face-to-face conversation, gestures or presence of "it" reveal meaning).
4. Strategic difficulties:
- Limited language with
which to express intended meaning.
- Frustration and low
- Use of translation (bottom-up) to try to write at cognitive level.
- Physical difficulties with writing system (different prior knowledge).
- Lack of transfer from L1.
- Inappropriate strategies.
- Lack of metacognitive awareness.
- Lack of flexibility in
strategies (if one doesn't work, try another).
- Background knowledge - about the genre and the subject
- Decoding - breaking
word into parts and sounding it out
- vocabulary knowledge -
recognizing words in written form
- inference - use
literal information + background knowledge to interpret & draw
- Metacognition: thinking about
thinking - used to recognize
and repair understanding when reading
- Text structure -
different according to genre
Steps teachers can take to prepare Ss to work successfully in response
Why use a variety of response types in teaching
- read daily
- share their own responses
- make connections to own lives
- encourage different views
- share enjoyment of reading
- teach vocabulary to talk about literature
- provide a model response sheet
students' varied learning styles can be
address through dramatizing, discussing, drawing, writing, questioning
in response to literature
Extensive / Intensive Reading
Intensive reading implies
reading rather short texts under close guidance of a teacher or
under the guidance of a specific task. The aim of this type of
reading is to arrive at a detailed understanding of the text.
Extensive reading is for students who want to improve not only
their use of language but also to get information on certain topics, to
become familiar with the literature of the country whose language they
In Extensive Reading, students read from self-selected books on a
daily basis. Krashen promotes this as a means to language development.
Strategies for use with
Language Experience Approach
Providing Quality Literature
Illustrating Stories & Poems
Shared Reading with Big Books
Directed Listening-Thinking Activity (DL-TA)
Strategies for use
with Intermediate Readers
Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DR-TA)
Literature Response Journals
Developing Scripts for Reader's Theater
Adapting Stories into PLays & Scripts for Filming
Using Computers &
CD-ROMs to Enhance Learning
- engage students with animated, interactive storybooks
- story creation software
- can provide background information on topics
Assessing Second Language
- observations in class: natural, routine reading situations
- individual assessment procedures: (see more in chapter 10)
- miscue analysis: student
reads and teacher marks text for miscues; analysis looks for persistent miscue patterns
- informal reading
inventories: graded passages with comprehension questions - tape
Ss reading aloud
- running records:
shorthand transcription of child's oral reading
- literature is a human &
- children should have chance to read self-selected literature
- goal to nourish imagination
& need for further reading
- literature expands language
- students become aware of the
delight & magic of words
Choosing Books for ESL Students
What Are the Criteria for Selecting Reading Materials for ESL Students?
* excerpted from Virginia
Allen's chapter, "Selecting Materials for the
Reading Instruction of ESL Children," from Kids Come in All
Reading Instruction for ESL Students (Spanenberg-Urbschat, Pritchard,
Robert, Editors, International Reading Association).
CHOSEN MATERIALS SHOULD:
- encourage children to choose to read;
- help children discover the values and functions of written
- permit children to use the written language for a wide range of
- be appropriate for all the age and interest levels of the
- take into account the children's cultural background;
- make use of the children's native language when possible;
- support the children's acquisition of English;
- offer a rich array of games;
- have text structures that will support children's understanding;
- take into consideration the children's background knowledge.
MATERIALS SHOULD SUPPORT ESL CHILDREN'S LITERACY ACQUISITION
Children's own writing
- charts of words the children are learning as they explore a
- class books that tell of shared experiences such as a field trip
- labels to explain a classroom exhibit
- written accomplishments to a bulletin-board display of children's
- individual books made by children on topics of their choosing.
"Real World" Print
- signs in buildings and outside
- advertising on TV
- newspapers, magazines, brochures, catalogues
- seed packets, game instructions
- job applications
Textbooks - Basal readers
Basal readers, central to reading
programs in many schools, are
- designed for children whose native
language is English.
- may not match ESL student's
- should be used selectively, with preparation to provide
Textbooks: Content area textbooks
- Content area texts use organizational
patterns such as time sequence, cause and effect, or compare and
- Information load is very dense
- Vocabulary may be both more precise and more abstract than in
- CALLA-Cognitive Academic Language
Learning Approach (Chamot & O'Malley, 1986), helps ESL students
develop the academic language they need in order to participate in
content area classes. The approach provides a framework to assist both
ESL and mainstream teachers to meet the specific needs of the ESL
- Viewed by researchers & teachers as the best material for
- Benefits children's language development:
- vocabulary development
- syntactic maturity
- input made comprehensible through illustrations, predictable
structure, patterned language
- provide good opportunities for discussion and writing
SELECTING BOOKS FOR THE BEGINNING
Selections should encourage ESL children to:
- acquire new labels for old
experiences and for the many new experiences of life in a second
culture. One example: Anne and Harlow Rockwell's The Toolbox (with
clear and simple pictures of items that might be found in a toolbox)
Other examples: Tana Hoban's Circles, Triangles and Squares; Over,
Under, Through, and Other Spatial Concepts provide beautiful
photographs of key concepts;
- categorize knowledge about new
experiences. Example: Lois Ehlert's Growing Vegetable Soup helps
children discover the categories of vegetables that are picked,
vegetables that are dug up, and used in a recipe for vegetable soup.
- link old experiences with new. Example: People, by Peter Spier who examines concepts such as beauty,
homes, games, and food as understood by people around the world.
Books With Predictable Features
Peterson (1992) identifies factors
that make text predictable. They
Books such as the Great Big Enormous Turnip (Leo Tolstoy) and The
Napping House (Audrey Wood) are predictable because they are
cumulative. Other books, The Three Billy Goats Gruff (Paul Galdone) or
Titch (Pat Hutchins), have a predictable pattern of events. Others such
as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See (Bill Martin, Jr.) and A
Dark, Dark Tale (Ruth Brow) have repetitive language patterns. They
offer repetition in ways that are inviting for native English speakers
and English learners alike.
- content as it relates to the background experiences of the
- language patterns
- illustration as it supports the
meaning of the text
- the narrative style of the book.
Books Whose Illustrations Support and Extend Meaning
Mira Ginsberg's The Chick and the Duckling is appropriately and
dramatically illustrated by Jose Aruegos. The text describes how the
chick and the ducking go for a walk. The duckling takes the role of
leader and says, "I'm taking a walk” and the chick immediately
responds, "Me, too.” Supporting illustrations support the meaning of
the text and add humor; so, when the duckling decides to capture a worm
and the chick follows his lead, the picture shows that they are pulling
on opposite ends of the same word. When the duckling decides to swim
and the chick follows suit, the picture shows the chick's frantic
struggle to stay afloat. These books extend the ESL child's
understanding of the author's message and draw him or her more deeply
into the world of the book.
Books That Invite Talk
The opportunity to respond to a book is central to becoming a
reflective reader. One example is A Taste of Blackberries by Doris
Smith, a book that tells of the sudden death of a young boy. The
teacher asked the ESL student what she had experienced as she read the
book. The girl replied that she had cried and then added, "I tasted
blackberries once and they were sour, and now I know that death is
sour.” This response revealed the deep connections she was making with
a particular book.
Books with the same theme can be compared.
Leo Lionni has written books that explore the theme of being oneself:
The Biggest House in the World, Fish is Fish and Frederick.
It is also useful for children to discover how different authors have
approached the same topic. The love offered by and given to
grandparents is a subject that writers of books or young children have
explored. Tomie dePaola's Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, John
Burningham's Grandpa, and Aliki's The Two of Them are several such
Books That Offer a Framework for Writing
Books can offer models to frame the written product. Janet and Allan
Ahlberg's book The Jolly Postman follows a postman on his route. He
delivers a note of apology to the three bears' cottage from Goldilocks,
a flyer on the latest bargains in witchly products to the Gingerbread
House, and a threatening letter to the wolf from a legal firm to let
him know that he is being sued by the three little pigs.
These letters can be taken from their envelopes, which are part of the
book. Because the letters are written by and for characters well known
in the folktale world, they allow ESL children, who have often had rich
experiences with folk tales, to explore letter –writing language and
Books That Support the Curriculum
ESL children studying the human body could gather interesting,
significant information from Jonathan Miller's three-dimensional book
The Human Body. The book allows children to lift the ribcage to expose
the lung, pull a tab to see how the heart valves function, ad discover
how an image becomes focused on the retina. ESL children studying
stories of pioneer life on the America prairie can better understand it
with Pam Conrad's book Prairie Visions: The Life and Times of Solomon
Butcher. There are brilliant photographs of pioneers in Nebraska,
actual sod homes, children playing in the yards, etc.
Books Linked to ESL Children's Cultures
Series editor Harriet Rohmer has selected authentic folktales from many
cultures. These stories are published as bilingual texts with
illustrations that share the art forms of the culture. Examples:
Tran-Khan-Tuyet's version of The Little Weaver of Thai-Yen Village
(English and Vietnamese), Min Paek's Aekyung's Dream (English and
Korean), and Rohmer's adaptation of Uncle Nacho's Hat (English and
Choosing Materials, Using Them Well
Good books alone are not enough. Teachers must also:
Quebec's ESL resource list
- match books with particular children to meet both language needs
- select books that support vocabulary development,
- explore how books can help develop oral and written language
- choose books that support understanding across the curriculum,
- help children revisit books in significant ways,
- use books to support talk in book discussions and conferences,
- think how books can be a springboard to writing for a variety of
- use children's responses to books to help assess their literacy
A nice resource: ESL library (PDF document) Books
have been categorized according to the eight areas of lifelong learning
cited in the Quebec Education Program 4 since these areas are to
be considered the basis of meaningful learning situations.
Appendix 1 provides a list of these eight areas as well as their
educational aims. A list of text types from the
English Language Arts Program appears in Appendix 2. Appendix 3
has been included to furnish teachers who prefer to select their
own books, with criteria for choosing suitable texts.
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