Adventures in my classroom – getting the students to read 


We all know that ‘Literacy is everyone’s responsibility’ and when it comes to developing and supporting students with this skill development that it should not be left to the English department. The MFL team, like every other teacher in the school can create opportunities in their classes to allow students to read to develop reading skills but also to develop literacy. 

And we do and we take this most seriously because we want our learners to be able to read the text in the target language that they encounter with increasing levels of confidence and skill. We want them to not be afraid of a short or longer text in a magazine, on an app or in a book but to just approach it head on and read it carefully searching for clues about context and key words and phrases to help them reach improved levels of understanding.

Here are some of the things that we have developed at my school in the pursuit of helping students to read a range of text styles and lengths but of course in the target language. I hope you can try out some of these strategies and they work wonders for you as they do for us and our learners. The transformation in learners as they develop their confidence with real authentic language texts is phenomenal and they simply stop being anxious because giving them time to develop this critical skill is vital. Reading is important for life so it is indeed everyone’s responsibility take time to develop this with their learners and is very much part of the learning journey of all of our MFL students.

  •  Reading library

We have developed a small but adorably effective collection of French and Spanish books mainly children’s stories, poems, encyclopaedia, dessin-anime and graphic novels that students can access in MFL lessons if they complete work or have planned reading time. In our school we have a dedicated reading time which currently is for year 7 students known as ‘DEAR’ time (drop everything and read) which lasts ten minutes. A superb MFL colleague has collated a range of authentic texts which the class read during this time which then is built upon and exploited when DEAR time is over. 

Students loved reading ‘le corbeau et le renard’ recently and of course reading and exploiting authentic literary texts is part of new framework and curriculum it is very good practice to integrate this in to KS3 if you haven’t already. Our students love this and when the DEAR time bell rings they are excited for the new authentic literary text. 

  • Native magazines 

I frequently spend a small fortune updating the French and Spanish magazine collections that we have for our KS4 learners and more able Y9 students. We have found that if they are able to choose which magazine they want to read then this develops reading authentic language materials for pleasure and that we increasingly have a group appearing at break time and lunchtime asking to come in to share the article or new stories they have read and to start a discussion about the article not least a linguistic one but also philosophical discussions are a frequent occurrence in my classroom. It is a lovely sight too! 

Obviously there has to be a ‘health warning’ attached to this as there are very different media laws allowing more graphic imagery in magazines. I check carefully any purchases made to protect our students from some of the more challenging aspects of the world in which we live. 

  • Apps

There are many free news apps that we encourage our students to download so they can dip in en route to visit family or on the school bus. Often news stories are short and punchy but are filled with exciting and new colloquial language which always creates a buzz. Paris Match, l’equipe, le nouvel obs & science et vie junior are particular favourites as they cover a spectrum of tastes though there are many others. Students are allowed mobile phones in our school and we encourage them to use them in MFL and this is one of the reasons we do!

  • Tongue twisters

Following the purchase and use of the fantastic planètes phoniques and planetas fonéticos created and written by Juliet Park and Wendy Adeniji we asked our students to create tongue twisters using the sounds they have learned. We now have hundreds of student created tongue twisters using key sounds to develop pronunciation however these fantastic creations can be used as reading material as starters or in DEAR time to encourage students to read. Students absolutely love the challenge of a tongue twister and frequently beg to do this for significantly longer in lessons or as homework for fun!

  • ‘Random phrases’

Each year I purchase for the team French and Spanish calendars, the ones with a sentence or phrase on per day. The reason for this so we can have a thinking starter ready for them to complete so learning starts immediately as students enter the learning spaces. Students have one, two or three phrases on the board for them to read, and translate, this is dependent on the class and year group and the level of challenge that presented. The phrases can be completely ‘random’ or they can be linked with a theme, perhaps a recent learning point from a previous lesson or the lesson they are about to embark on but this is an excellent way to get students settled & reading. 

I have in the past used a collection of translated Bart Simpson-isms, the phrases that he has to write on the board in detention at the start of the programme. These can prove very challenging for students outside of KS4 but they are excellent fun and really get students thinking hard about the language. We term the current listening and reading terminal exams as ‘random vocab surprise’ exams as students are not aware of the vocabulary required nor topics of the 8 or 10 questions they will face so this is an excellent strategy to help them develop this skill of dealing with unknown elements. 

In addition, it appears that translation will likely be a feature of terminal exams in the new GCSE so this activity proves excellent in helping students to prepare for this new challenge.

  • and lightbulblanguages

Both these sites are fantastic and contain a plethora of excellent texts to promote reading activities, parallel texts and comprehension tasks to support this vital skill development. Also both sites are frequently updated with a superb range of up to date resources and texts. If you don’t know these two sites please do visit them, I’m absolutely certain that you won’t be disappointed as there is a wide range of activities available in multiple languages from primary through to a level on both sites.

Students love these reading tasks and don’t feel threatened by them being very long. I recently completed the vampire parallel reading task with Y7 who utterly adored it and can’t stop talking about it. They are hoping for more monsters as the year goes on! (Hint hint!)

  •  Storybird

This fantastic free website allows students and staff to upload original stories in a range of languages and create the story resulting in beautiful mini books developed by students in your classes that you can correct, if need be, then use as reading material. This is truly a superb and very creative site so feel free to incorporate this in to project or as part of an assessment. 

@ictevangelist promotes the publishing of students work and using Storybird in this way truly does inspire and drive students to dig deep and produce works of art where the pages just come alive! He is absolutely right so have a go because you’ll be amazed at the quality and care of work produced!

It’s much nicer than scanning bought books or photocopying them as I have done in the past as when students see their storybook being read by others they positively glow with joy which is always a pleasure to witness. 

  • #Rhubarbe

When we have any text we read it as a class playing #rhubarbe. This quick game has become a hugely competitive and highly engaging fun element  supporting our reading strategy and is an absolute favourite with all of my classes. Students take turns to read a sentence or two aloud but pronunciation and intonation are important. When a student completes their sentence(s) correctly they receive praise and a reward however if they don’t it’s up to the listeners, the rest of us to identify the error & correct it. To identify an error we call out #rhubarbe and then I ask them to explain why it was #rhubarbe

Students utterly adore this and it is lots of fun so much so they don’t even realise they are reading. Students love listening for the slightest flaw and pouncing when they do however when it is their turn to read the focus and determination you see are truly incredible. 

This strategy is fantastic and one of my favourites. I first read it on Twitter, a fabulous idea from a primary colleague whose name I’ve sadly forgotten but to whom I am very grateful for sharing this fabulous and highly effective idea! 

I hope you have fun with these ideas and can use them with your learners.   


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