Three Activities to Extend Language Learning with Read-Alouds

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I might be starting to sound like a broken record, but I really believe it’s true: foreign language read-alouds are a great tool for homeschool language learners. You don’t have to be multilingual yourself to make reading aloud in a foreign language happen in your home—you just have to be intentional and know how to use a few key tools, like audiobooks and on-line audio resources. If you haven’t read my recent posts about how to do that, by the way, you might want to take a look at them now:

How to Start Foreign Language Read-Alouds (Even When You Don’t Speak a Foreign Language!)
Free (and Legal!) Audio Resources for Homeschool Foreign Language Read-Alouds

But once your family has started enjoying read-alouds together, how can you make the most of these amazing learning tools? Well, I’ve got some ideas right here for extending your language learning through audiobooks or read-alouds that you do yourself, if you speak another language.

1.) Practice storyboarding with audiobooks (promotes listening comprehension, fine motor skills, and—optionally—speaking and writing skills).

My brother-in-law is an (award-winning) children’s book author and illustrator, and I love watching how his books go from idea to storyboard to final product. His work inspired this activity, in which your homeschool student creates a storyboard of the book that he or she is listening to. Here’s how to do it:

  • Choose a relatively short book or short story, no more than five minutes in length. If you don’t speak the language yourself, get the audiobook in the target language and check out an English translation from the library to serve as your “teacher’s manual.” If you need some ideas for audiobooks like this, you’ll find some suggestions in my resource library
  • Have your child listen to the story as much as necessary, until he or she is comfortable with the storyline. 
  • Invite your child illustrate the story using whatever materials she prefers: collage, colored pencils, or paint are all good options. You could even have your child make clay sculptures and photograph them to create the storyboard. 
  • Optional: Have your child re-write the story in his own words to go along with with the images that he has created. This is excellent writing practice, but will probably only work if you yourself are also familiar with the language. 
  • Option: Have your child read aloud his version of the story. If your child has written a narrative to go along with the storyboard, then this is easy, but if he’s a pre-writer, you can ask him to simply re-tell the story by explaining the pictures that he has drawn. Even if you don't speak the language that your child is studying, you can still ask questions to help him practice his new vocabulary--for example, "Tell me the names of the objects in this picture." or "Tell me how to say what this character is doing." Sneak in that speaking practice!
  • Check your child’s version of the story against the original or the English translation to see how much he/she has understood. 

2.) Use audiobooks for foreign language dictation practice (promotes listening comprehension, grammar and vocabulary skills, and writing skills).

Dictation is popular in the homeschool community, and for good reason! Here’s what the Brave Writer team has to say about it:

Dictation enables children to discover how to write from memory properly spelled words, and how to assemble them on the page using proper punctuation. Because they are transcribing someone else’s words (not their own), they have a model to compare to. They can evaluate whether or not they have successfully reproduced the original. Happily, the challenge of accuracy is the primary task in copywork and dictation. As a result, no one’s feelings get hurt when you point out mistakes, unlike when you correct your child’s spelling in his or her original work. The focus is entirely on accurate reproduction.

And just like dictation can be a powerful tool for developing children’s ability to write in their native language, it can also be useful for homeschool students learning a new language! Here’s how to go about it using an audiobook or family read-aloud:

  • Find a read-aloud that matches your child’s proficiency level and takes into account the vocabulary that he/she has been learning. For example, beginning language learners would do well with Eric Carle’s books, which cover color vocabulary, animal names, and the present tense. You can’t go wrong with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for this group, and it’s available in French, Spanish, and German. Intermediate and advanced language learners might enjoy doing dictation with a passage from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which you can find in Spanish, French, Italian, and Latin. Of course, if you need more ideas, we’ve got plenty of book recommendations waiting for you in our resource library
  • Choose a short—very short—selection to use as your dictation text. For beginners, one to two sentences might be enough. Even for advanced learners, I would probably make one paragraph the maximum limit. 
  • Have your child listen to the text and write down what she hears. I would personally allow your child to listen to the text as much as possible (if you’re using Audible, you can bookmark it to make it easy to find), but you may also choose to limit it to two or three times. (That’s what my high school French teacher did—she was tough!).
  • Check what your child has written against the original text and discuss any mistakes. As much as possible, try to get your child to articulate what he/she did wrong—this is an important part of correcting errors, which is an essential skill in language learning. Resist the temptation to correct the errors yourself—even if you know the language that your child is learning. The practice of dictation is much, much more valuable if the child does the legwork him or herself. 

3.) Make visual vocabulary flashcards from your foreign language read-alouds (promotes listening comprehension, vocabulary development, and pronunciation).

When listening to foreign language audiobooks or read-alouds, your children will undoubtedly encounter new vocabulary—that’s kind of the whole point! But of course, we want our children not to just hear new words, but to understand them and retain their meanings, so it is helpful to be intentional about their vocabulary development, especially in a second language. Because our children likely won’t be hearing the words in the target language in their everyday environment (unless you’re a bilingual family), it’s important to capture and review new words as they come along.

Language learning research also suggests that students retain vocabulary better in a second language if they learn to associate words with images (not translations). So why not have your children make visual flashcards to go along with their read-aloud?

I don’t want to be too obvious here, but I’ll go ahead and outline one process that you could follow to guide your children through this activity:

  • Have your child listen a short to medium-length read-aloud (5-15 minutes)—once for overall comprehension and once again to capture new words. In the past, I’ve used these tiny spiral notebooks to keep track of new vocabulary words for myself, and they can be a cheap and portable way for busy homeschool students to do the same. 
  • Help your child find the meaning of the new words in a bilingual dictionary. 
  • Give your child a stack of index cards, and have him draw a representation of each new word on a single card. On the back of the card, your student should write the meaning of the word in the target language only. Note: if the new vocabulary word is a noun and your child is studying a language where nouns have genders (Romance languages or German, for examples) PLEASE have her include the gender. It’s a really important thing to know, and I can’t tell you how many college students I saw tripped up in my years as a teacher because they had memorized nouns without their gendered articles. 
  • Play games! I really love Cait and Kara’s idea of game schooling—or making learning happen through playing games. In fact, as a classroom teacher, that was one of my favorite strategies for motivating my students! I’ve come up with a few vocabulary games myself, and games number 2-5 that I have listed in this post can all be played with flashcards.

How does your family extend your foreign language read-alouds? Have you tried doing activities like this before?