Reading reflections

Silent Sustained Reading (SSR)

A few observations on developing an in-class reading library

This is a reflection piece without any teaching resources

One of the accomplishments that I am very proud of this year is that I now have students voluntarily borrowing books from my class library to read at home. They are not yet breaking down my door to get the books, but there are more and more kids who approach me after a class which featured SSR and shyly ask if they can bring their book home. ¡Enganchados!

The problem with our school library is that it appears to be designed to supplement the English department´s curriculum by offering translations of Shakespeare in Spanish. Really?! I am going to describe the types of books that have appealed to my students (both heritage speakers and non-heritage speakers).  

Drug trafficking: Reading about narcos and gangs do not make our students become narcos and gang members; it makes them become readers . This theme is a big attraction for adolescent boys and has led several of my heritage speakers to switch from leveled (simplified) readers to literature written for Spanish speakers. I need more leveled readers on this theme so that I can hook (enganchar) more adolescents who prefer to read this type of book but are not Spanish-speakers. The one book that comes to mind, La vida y la muerte en MS-13, is already a hugely successful part of our Spanish 3 curriculum and thus is not available in my free reading library.

la-llorona-de-mazatlanSports: My disappointing and surprising observation is that historical pieces about specific stars of a previous era have not been too popular. My students can´t see themselves in someone who played pelota sixty years ago, but they do flock to books about contemporary athletes as well as fiction that takes place among athletes. This last piece is what I would like to provide more (hopefully the expiration date is considerably longer). I think a big part of the popularity behind La Llorona de Mazatlan is that the main character is a soccer player who is attending a summer soccer camp.

Biographies of their idols: While interest in these books may be fleeting (there will be a new crop of idols next year), these books are also among the most valued among my heritage speakers. It is like the car of a salesperson: a lot of mileage is put on it in a year and so they have to be replaced frequently. I don´t even try to guess who their idols are. I ask on an interest survey. I can imagine having a project with my upper level classes in which they write simplified biographies of their idols, which we will publish in class and then feature on my SSR wall.

Leveled readers designed for non-native learners of Spanish are great for heritage speakers. Really, I didn´t expect this, but many of my heritage readers love reading when it is an easy experience. The readings in their textbooks are all challenging. Even the higher interest readings I cull from newspapers present a challenge. SSR should be an easy, enjoyable experience.

Science fiction and fantasy: I have managed to seriously occupy the weekends of several of my heritage speaking girls with the Lazos de sangre series (enough that they were leaving sticky notes for me to buy the next book when they finished book 1). As for level readers, Stephen Krashen recently recommended two books by Christine Tiday on the moretprs listserve. Ms. Tiday is a Spanish teacher who writes accessible readers for learners . I am going to order a copy and I will post my own book review later. I am also looking forward to reading En busca del monstruo by Pablo Ortega Lopez and Pat Verano. I have also been encouraging my heritage speakers to write fan fiction following the plots, characters and writing styles of novels that they like; this might yield a few SSR stories to post in my biblioteca.

Provocative real life dramas featuring adolescents: this is my highest priority and exactly what I want more of because I see so many adolescent girls stealing away every moment they can to read books like Jay Asher´s Thirteen reasons why. We really need this in a Spanish leveled reader. La Llorona de Mazatlan also fits into this category.

Classic children´s books such as those written by Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) and David Shannon (of the No, David! series) have been fine for kindergarten day when I read aloud to students, but they have not been so popular in SSR. Given how expensive they are I have decided that it is better to buy an extra copy of a leveled reader.

I am glad I took the time to write this out. I see more clearly now that my own students writing will form the basis of expanding my class library.


  1. Results! 1st quarter Spanish 3 we read La llorona as a class and did various extension activities. They were surprised, and I was surprised at how much they could understand. Even as products of very traditional FL classrooms, the level was just right. Now I’m ready to set them free! For my FVR library, I ordered a bunch of TPRS samplers and some leveled readers from Spain (better for heritage speakers). I set them all up in an old postcard rack bought at a craft store closing blowout sale. And it has TEMPTED my kids since the first day. They spin through the rack in their free time and they can’t wait to put their hands on them. I have to comment on your reading log post and then I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. My Spanish 1 students loved Felipe Alou. We coupled the book with our Civil Rights unit. It was the last book we read last year. Also, I showed the movie Azucar along with the book.

    1. That sounds like a powerful combination. I have watched Azucar with classes before, but I did not combine it with a novel. This year, as I go deep with FVR, I think we will watch Azucar again and I’ll present at least a book talk on Felipe Alou. Thanks for the idea.

  3. Thank you for all your reading suggestions. I teach Spanish 2 and have a lot of heritage speakers, but since I do not have a separate Heritage speaker class it is difficult for me to find time to teach towards their specific needs.

    When do you find/use time for silent sustained reading? My students journal daily for 10 minutes, and I thought about having heritage speakers read during that time, but I think that writing time is really important for them. Our district’s curriculum is painfully slow (e.g. past tense is not introduced until 1/2-way through Spanish 2) and I’m not sure I could sustain my non-heritage learners’ attention during SSR.

    I also read your high-interest reading post and am excited to introduce my HL to great books. Do you have any recommendations for getting the budget to develop a library like that? What are the best HL book purchases I could make with $50?

    1. Bryce Hedstrom recently blogged about his experiences with light reading with non-heritage speakers. He includes a link to his light reading book reports. I would think that, eventually, you´ll want to build a class library that could include selections for both heritage and non-heritage speakers:

      Personally I find time for reading in class because I think it has a bigger impact on their language development than anything else. Even their writing… the words that they read and are interested in reading have a bigger impact in shaping how they express themselves than any comments I might pass back on a writing sample. It is not that writing is not important; it clearly is! Compelling reading, not error correction, is the quickest route to developing writing ability.

      As for building a class library, for me this has been a long-term process. If I were to start all over again I would start by buying two copies of several different TPRS publishing novels. They are cheap ($5-6 each) and structured for language learners (limited vocabulary, some are truly compelling reading, have glossaries at the end of each book and my heritage speakers have found them to be attractive reading). You might start by reading aloud to students rather than SSR until you can get enough books for students to choose their own. Read-alouds, I think, are still a decent literacy activity and a reasonable modification to the financial reality.

      The one big mistake I made when I started building a class library was that I started by buying class sets of books… when I finally got admin to give me $250 I bought a class set rather than $250 of different books. A few students were interested in my choice, but it is much more important to provide choices for a variety of reading levels and interests.

      1. Thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate your blog! Once I implement these activities I will share my results 🙂

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