A Glossary Isn’t Enough & Replacing Comprehension Qs with Reflection Qs

After looking at various first day/week/month materials for the beginning language learner, I was reminded that most resources include texts with way too many words, way too soon. A full glossary certainly helps, but isn’t enough. Words need to be recycled often—especially in the beginning—to have a chance of being acquired by all learners (not just the ones with an excellent memory). If your text doesn’t recycle its vocab, you should adapt it. Remember, for a text to be truly readable (i.e. without starting to become laborious), students must understand 98 words in a text with 100 different ones, 49 words in a text with 50, and pretty much every word in a text of 25 (Hsueh-Chao & Nation, 2000).

A full glossary is as close to cueing as we can get asynchronously, but we won’t know how students are using it. As part of evidence of engagement when reading a text, these Google Form reflection questions could shed light on that:


  1. How often did you look up meaning of words?
    – Hella
    – A lot
    – Sometimes
    – Not very much
  2. What was your experience of looking up words?
    – No problem at all
    (i.e. it helped you read, or you didn’t mind looking up words)
    – It was OK
    (i.e. a little annoying looking up words, but not too bad)
    – It started getting hard to read
    (i.e. looking up words started feeling like “work”)
    – I kept looking at almost every word, so “reading” was really hard to do
    (i.e. this was a bad reading experience)
  3. Would you like Mr P to give you easier & shorter texts to read?
    – Yes
    – No

The first two tell us a student’s threshold for “noise” (i.e. how much incomprehension in the input they can handle), but the last question is going to be extra important. If a lot of students opt for “yes,” we can put effort into making easier texts for all (e.g. an additional simplified tier). Alternatively, we could reach out to a few individuals with support.

Support vs. Individualized Feedback
I wrote about how individualized feedback, especially when required, is largely a waste of time. Don’t confuse providing additional input to a student with giving an individualized feedback for its own sake, about something that student completed (but doesn’t need any reply), or worse, on correct/incorrect responses. That kind of individualized feedback isn’t worth our time, and not even effective, pedagogically. When any reflection Q responses indicate comprehension, we don’t need comprehension Qs.

In fact, rather than spending time any time at all writing comprehension Qs, use data from the reflection Qs and spend time writing more comprehensible texts! That is, inasmuch as comprehension Qs are a student’s word on homework (i.e. remote learning), so are the reflections. It’s much more valuable to get a sense of how often a student is referring (i.e. signs of incomprehension) rather than percentage of X correct out of Y. Students are also more likely to report how often they used the glossary more accurately, which itself is all the comprehension data we need.

*THE* Time For Writing & Adapting Texts

In the COVID-19 scramble to replace classroom instruction, many teachers are tossing anything they can at students, often using materials someone else created. This might work out fine, but it also might not. Some of the texts are comprehensible. Some aren’t.

Of course, some students will do the enrichment work, and some won’t. That’s just our reality. Yet the K (constant) in all this is us. Teachers can use this time to hone their skills while also providing input—that students may or may not receive, which is completely out of our control (i.e. what used to be problems with homework is now the entire course content!)—ensuring more productive ways to spend our time…

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Skip The Activity?

In terms of input, I’ve observed a few differences between reading independently and reading in pairs, or as a whole-class. The bottom line? Reading independently results in far more input than could be provided in pair, or whole-class activities. Therefore, I wonder if we’re not giving enough time for independent reading, even there are already routines in place (e.g. 10 minutes 2x/week). Could we be better off skipping some or even most of the reading activities in class? Maybe. Granted, independent reading cannot be the only kind of reading done in class since most students not only need input, but also interaction, at least in the K-12 public school context I teach in (conf. Beniko Mason’s more advanced Story Listening students with access to 500+ graded readers). Still, how much less input are students getting with all those activities? Let’s look into that…

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Adapting Latin: No Excuses & Every-Text Tier Challenge

I’ve been writing my next book on the zodiac signs and their associated myths for months now. Despite being intended for the beginning Latin learner, I thought each myth could use an additional, even simpler, version in the final book. Today, it took me only 7 minutes to adapt one of the myths—that I’ve been writing for months—to about 1/4 the length using fewer words. Every teacher can do this kind of thing. Every.

No excuses.

My Every-Text Tier Challenge goes out to all language teachers. To accept and claim honor after observing greater comprehension from students, just take tomorrow’s text—because there’s no good reason your students aren’t reading every day—and write a simplified version of it…right now. Don’t worry about changing formatting if it’s perfect for printing or something. You can project the simplified version tomorrow and read with students just before they read the original (as part of the simple Talk & Read daily lesson plan format). Oh, and does the text have some twists, or juicy details? Leave them out in the simplified version, and you’re on your way to creating an embedded reading.

Keep doing this for every text until you can adapt Latin (or whatever) so fast you don’t have to think about it. No excuses. “No time” is the usual excuse I hear for not doing this kind of thing, but that tends to come from teachers doing too much planning, quiz creating, and/or too much grading. Just do less of all that, and do more simplifying of texts.

Why Bother?
Bottom line, all students will benefit from reading a simple- to super-simple version of a text. There’s also a very good chance that particular students even need a text at a much lower level to truly receive CI (i.e. input that’s *actually* comprehensible, and not just partly- to incomprehensible input).

Oh, and if it takes you too long to adapt your Latin (or whatever), that’s a really good sign that the original text is too high level for students to read, anyway (i.e. also a sign that you need to be giving more comprehensible texts that provide more comprehensible input). So, I challenge you to the Every-Text Tier Challenge. Of course, there’s no need to share this work, especially with Latin shaming still lingering about, so it’s truly the honor system, here. However, I encourage you to discuss the process of simplifying texts in fōra varia, especially if you’re unsure where to begin, or have questions about this important strategy to make language more comprehensible.