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Story Time May Be the Most Important Part of Your Lesson

I love reading children’s Spanish stories to my elementary Spanish students. Story Time is my favorite part of the Sonrisas Spanish lessons. It is so gratifying to watch stories come to life for children in their second language. But beyond the enjoyment of this experience is the fact that Story Time may be the most important part of the Sonrisas lessons.

Realize the Value of Story Time

The storybooks that you read in Story Time do several things which bring value to your lesson. Because each book is related to the lesson theme, it introduces vocabulary and phrases that the lesson targets. The books give learners an authentic experience with Spanish—exposing them to distinct voices and styles in the target language. The books also engage student’s imagination which has a profound effect on their acquisition.

Each lesson in the Sonrisas curriculum contains performance targets (these are listed on the lesson overview page). These are the vocabulary, phrases, and skills that we want students to know after each lesson. The lesson activity during Circle Time introduces the targets first. The storybook reinforces them during Story Time. Students listen to and see the performance targets being used in the literature. They also try them out through shared reading techniques (see below).

Each author’s vocabulary, dialect, and style provide a very different linguistic experience. By reading diverse books to Spanish language learners, you expose your students to a diversity of Spanish expression to which your students would not likely otherwise have access. Every time you read a book written in a distinct voice, you represent another Spanish voice, style, and vocabulary to your students.

We know from research that young children learn a lot through play and imagination. One of the things that children do through play and imagination is construct meaning. We also know that acquisition occurs when there is a focus on meaning. It follows that, when we read to students in Spanish, they are able to use their imagination to construct meaning from the context of the story, the language used, and from the illustrations. This promotes acquisition.

Use Shared Reading in Story Time

During Story Time we use a form of storytelling that is commonly called “shared reading”. In her book Invitations, Regie Routman defines shared reading as “any rewarding reading situation in which a learner—or group of learners—sees the text, observes the expert reading it with fluency and expression, and is invited to read along.” The atmosphere during shared reading is relaxed and social with an emphasis on enjoying and appreciating the text. Sharing stories in this manner serves as an effective foundation for reading and writing Spanish.

Using shared reading, you engage students in the reading process by asking questions about the story line or the illustrations. When the story includes repetition or predictable text, encourage students to join in and participate in the storytelling. Shared reading also allows you to realize a huge benefit to Story Time—extending interpersonal communication.

Extend Communication and Differentiate in Story Time

You can think of the storybook as a springboard that gives you the opportunity to use the context of the story and its illustrations to engage in meaningful interpersonal communication with your students. Your communication can focus on the performance targets for the lesson, and you can review previously learned concepts. For example, if you are reading a story and it includes a picture of a cat, you can pause and ask:

  • ¿De qué color es el gato?
  • ¿Cuántas patas tiene el gato? Contamos. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro.
  • Mira la cola. ¿Es larga o es corta?

Engaging your students in this way also allows you to differentiate the level of language you use with different students in your class. For students who are still developing comprehension and speaking skills keep questions very simple and concrete. With students who are further along, or for heritage speakers, ask more complex or open-ended questions. For example:

  • ¿Dónde está el gato?
  • ¿Tienes un gato en casa?
  • ¿Te gustan los gatos? ¿Por qué?

Pacing of course is important. Keep the story flowing and choose your timing for extending communication carefully. We know that language learners acquire language by engaging in meaningful interpersonal communication which uses comprehensible input. The context of each story, and its illustrations, provide the comprehensible input, you choose where to take the communication, and the story becomes this incredible learning experience. This is why Story Time may be the most important part of your lesson.

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