Varied Approaches to Leveled Readers

Tips for Incorporating Novels into Novice Classrooms

Lauren Racela, OFLA Technology Integration Committee Chair
French Teacher, Milford High School

Each year I’ve taught, I’ve elected to teach with a leveled reader. I truly think that the students have benefitted from this experience. It builds the confidence of novice learners to think that they’ve read an entire book in French. I want to share the ways I’ve taught with leveled readers in the past and what I thought about each method. 

Reader’s Theater – This is the way I first taught with leveled readers, and the method I’m employing now. Each day when we’re reading, students know to grab a book, open WordReference on their computer, and find their notes. Most students take all their notes for the whole book on one Google Doc, but others find it more useful to take their notes on paper. We read together, referencing slides on the board where I’ve typed out all the text of the book and added pictures for context. Students take turns reading a few sentences aloud, then we stop and summarize in English. As we’re reading, students are taking notes about new words as well as notes about the major ideas and plot points of the book. We also take multiple choice quizzes, which are all in French, every few chapters. The quizzes cover major plot points in the book, as well as any relevant cultural knowledge.

A benefit of this method is that students are extremely supported and scaffolded. They are not reading on their own unless they are ready for it and able to read ahead. Students who still need some support are able to find it in the class discussion as we’re reading. I’m there to answer questions, and they also have WordReference to use as a resource. 

The downside is that it takes a lot of class time. Students reading aloud obviously takes longer than if I were to read the passages aloud. Plus, we have to carve out time to take the quizzes. It’s a big commitment, but in my experience, students form a deep understanding of the content. It also helps them connect the spoken and written language by reading aloud. 

Differentiated Stations – I used this method in French I and French II last year for their leveled readers. I think it was excellent with the French II students who were reading their second leveled reader of the school year. 

In this mode, students have three different choices for reading. They can choose Level 1, where they will sit with me and read in a small group while taking open-ended notes. In Level 2, they read with a partner and complete a worksheet that has some vocabulary and some multiple choice questions. For Level 3, students are required to work independently and complete a worksheet with some vocabulary and some short-answer questions. 

One benefit to this method is that students could work at their own pace. Students were able to read ahead if they felt the text was easy, and other students could take more time to finish reading. I scaffolded the activities so that the students who read more quickly would have worksheets that went a bit more in depth and took longer to complete. This evened out the difference in pacing. 

One deficit is that students have an option to be very passive if they choose to. If all they do is fill out the worksheets and they collaborate with a partner, they may be much less engaged with the text versus if they had to read various passages aloud and hear the rest of the book read aloud. The students may fall into the trap of reading for the answers instead of thinking about the story as a whole. This method is less hands-on than the reader’s theater method and involves less teacher intervention. While this can present its own problems, it could also be a benefit if  you’re looking for your classes to gain independence and encourage metacognition. 

Overall, I think leveled readers are a great classroom resource. I read a novel with my French II students near the beginning of each year, and it really sets them on a path to progress quickly in their reading and writing. Leveled readers are a great source of comprehensible input for novice learners, and I look forward to continuing reading them with my students. 

Image: This is the slide I would display on the board before reading in differentiated groups. This image prompts students to pick which level they would like to complete that day for reading. Any students who had been absent were required to sit with me in Level 1 so they could have the help they needed. 

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