Use a TV Series to Create an Anchor Text for your WL Class

A teacher who has trouble fitting a daily exit quiz into her 44-minute class period recently wrote to me to ask if she would get the same benefit if she gives Friday quizzes or sporadic, unannounced quizzes instead of a daily exit quiz. Answer: I don’t recommend it.

We want to give students a solid incentive to be present and engaged every day. Sporadic quizzes encourage students to ‘gamble’ on whether there will be an assessment. Friday quizzes encourage students to tune off with the mistaken belief that they can get the notes and study Thursday night. It is not the quiz that leads to acquisition, it is the consistent engagement with the language. Choose the tool that leads to consistent student engagement, even if sporadic quizzes lead to a grading curve that looks more like ‘school’.

This got me thinking, however, that a comprehensive Friday quiz isn’t all bad if it is a reading quiz based on the texts made in class throughout the week. Rather than replacing the exit quizzes, give time at the beginning of class on Friday for students to reread their notebooks before the reading quiz. This gives a nod to linguist Paul Nation’s research on vocabulary acquisition that finds that rereading previously encountered texts is often as important and sometimes even more useful than reading new texts. This will also give students a good reason to actually copy the W&D text accurately at the end of class.


You do not have to prepare these quizzes before school (all classes will be different, of course). In fact, you do not even have to keep a copy of the W&D notebooks for each class. Instead, after 5 minutes of reading on Friday, simply borrow a student’s notebook to spontaneously make the comprehension quiz.

Once we get in the habit of concluding each class period with the creation of a Write & Discuss text, we have the tools to make impressive leaps in literacy. It is valuable to have students reread the texts describing student interviews and the other activities we do daily in class. However the collection of the W&D texts reach a whole new level when we use them to track an ongoing plot line, such as when we take notes on the development of a target language television show. This collection of W&D texts truly becomes a class anchor text if we frequently refer back to the texts as we recognize character and plot developments. An anchor text is a text that is read and referred to often in class because we use it to build a variety of skills.

My key pieces of advice:

  • Watch 1-2 scenes the night before and do not show more in class the next day.
  • Watch a little with your students every day, not a lot occasionally.
  • Remember: the video is not CI. The teacher provides the CI. The class discussion and Write + Discuss are essential for deep language acquisition.
  • When talking through a scene, focus on what the main character wants in the scene.
  • Do not translate dialogue! Don’t even worry about details. Skip complex, cumbersome scenes.
  • Once you have a single phrase to describe what the character wants in the scene, use it while pointing out visual clues, repeating and rephrasing that one phrase.
  • Have students maintain a notebook of the Write & Discuss texts related to the series so that they can go back and reread to trace how the plot has developed.
  • Have students write double-spaced so that they can go back to translate or you can go back and add details or comments at a later time.
  • Maintaining a notebook is crucial so that absent students do not get lost.
  • This notebook is also helpful if the plot line is complex. At the beginning of the activity have students go back and reread the texts from scenes that are relevant to the day’s viewing.

You do not have to prepare readings ahead of time if you commit to making the readings with your students while watching the series. The huge of advantage of only watching a little every day is that you have a natural reason to recycle language everyday as you cue the video. This constant recycling of comprehensible language is much more effective than pushing forward and seeing a large chunk of the show.

Subscribers to the CI Master Class can view a video in which I outline my approach to using Movies and TV to create anchor texts in class.