Comprehensible input Spanish readers are a game changer in the classroom. Leveled readers in Spanish tell captivating stories and incorporate repetition of high-frequency language making them an extremely effective way to engage students. I recently read two new TPRS novels by Bryan Kandel, and they are excellent choices for Spanish learners.
During the 30 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve been fortunate to participate in major developments in language education. One of the most significant changes has been the development of compelling Spanish readers. The comprehensible readers available today play a crucial role in increasing student proficiency.
I read the TPRS novels Bajo el agua (Spanish 2 and above) and Los sobrevivientes (Spanish 3 and above). Bajo el agua tells the story of the adventures of an American student in Costa Rica as he learns the story of a town that was flooded for hydroelectric power. Los sobrevivientes tells the story of the Uruguayan rugby team and their fight for survival after Flight 571 crashed in the Andes. Both books are captivating stories that will engage readers of all levels.
Author Bryan Kandel spoke with Spanish Playground about teaching with CI and his new novels. Read the interview below, and learn more about the books: Bajo el agua Spanish Level 2 Reader and Los sobrevivientes Spanish Level 3 Reader.
Conversation with Author Bryan Kandel
I recently read Los sobrevivientes and Bajo el agua, your new comprehensible input novels. My initial reaction was “Class just got a lot more interesting.” These Spanish readers are compelling stories!
Many teachers are new to CI, so let’s start with a general question. Why is reading important in the CI classroom? How does it complement the input students get listening?
Reading is essential to growth in proficiency. It allows students to process the language with their eyes at their own pace. They can change speeds, read a passage multiple times and more easily decipher meaning of unknown words. It also allows teachers to vary the delivery of input. Students need to hear many different voices in the target language. As they read, the input comes from the voices in their heads. Reading invites us to create pictures in our imaginations. Doing so forces students to engage with language in a new way. It also exposes students to the flow of natural language and many current and historical cultural themes.
Bajo el agua and Los sobrevivientes are inspired by dramatic true events in Latin America. What are the advantages of using reading to introduce students to culture?
In short . . . it sticks. Stories are memorable. Novels invite us to join the adventures of the characters. There is a great difference between hearing about a plane crash and following one of the survivors as he tries to motivate his friends to fight for their lives – between reading an article about a town that was flooded and accompanying a young man whose dreams are haunted by those who were left behind. There is value in reading articles, hearing lectures or watching videos about cultural events, but when students are introduced with a story, their desire to know more is greatly increased.
I was impressed by the themes in your books. The novels deal with tragedy and ethical dilemmas using comprehensible language. What suggestions do you have for teachers addressing complicated themes in the target language?
Start early. In low levels, begin asking students to make difficult decisions. We always look for hooks in the content we provide. How do we make it compelling? Humor is a hook. Cultural relevance is a hook. As I found out with Los Sobrevivientes, cannibalism is a hook. But one of the most attractive hooks for students is a dilemma. What would you do? What do you prefer? Ask students, and do not allow them to avoid answering. Make them decide and defend their answers.
In early levels, it can be Do you prefer cats or dogs and why? Do you want your mom to go to the homecoming dance and why? As students progress through the levels of the language, begin to increase the complexity of the themes and require more from their answers. Some of the silly things we do and read in my Spanish 3 classes provide the language and cognitive skills that are necessary for success in my AP Spanish classes.
You drew on fascinating stories for Los sobrevivientes and Bajo el agua. Can you give us an idea of what your next novels will be about?
Spanish-speaking culture is alive and constantly changing. Poverty, immigration, discrimination, drug trafficking, and government corruption are themes that constantly emerge in our classroom discussions. If there is a story that helps students engage with and understand a relevant theme, I’ll try to write it. Or maybe I’ll finally have time to finish my masterpiece about the woman who fell madly in love with a duck.
That’s a book I look forward to reading! We’ll be watching for more TPRS novels and your masterpiece. Until then, thank you so much for talking to us.
You can read more about comprehensible input in world language classes on Bryan’s blog, Bryan Kandel TPRS.
Nuestra Historia Comprehensible Input Curriculum
The novels Bajo el agua and Los sobrevivientes are published by the creators of Nuestra Historia, a comprehensible input curriculum. Mr. Kandel has also written stories for their leveled reader collections Nuestro Mundo. Like his TPRS novels, these stories are based on AP themes, with a focus on culture. Read the Spanish Playground review of the CI Curriculum for Spanish: Nuestra Historia.
Grow Proficiency with Spanish Readers
Reading is an essential piece of the language proficiency puzzle. Compelling stories captivate students and allow them to engage with language independently. In addition, Spanish readers can be a window into the culture of Spanish-speaking countries. If you haven’t tried TPRS novels with your students, I encourage you to take the leap!