Accessing Authentic Resources – Beyond Questioning Part 1: Gearing Up

By Deborah Espitia
@despitia
Instructional Strategist

World language teachers have been incorporating authentic resources – materials made by native speakers for native speakers – into their lessons since forever. How many of you have collected “realia” during your travels? Menus, ticket stubs, magazines, newspapers, posters, and coasters have all found their way into my suitcase and then into my classroom. And with the Internet, the sky’s the limit. All types of print and audiovisual materials are at our fingertips and shared with our students. 

Fortunately, our students love these materials as much as we do. Authentic resources are highly motivating because they provide students with a window into the everyday use of the target language – real people actually communicate with this language! Authentic resources not only bring authenticity into the classroom, but they also prompt students to use the language themselves and support them in making intercultural connections. 

But how does all this happen? How do students move from reading or listening to a resource to talking or writing about the content it presents? Often, we have students answer a series of questions to gauge their comprehension of the material. Proper questioning strategies can be a powerful learning tool, as noted by educational researcher, Robert J. Marzano, especially when sequencing questions from details to categories, elaborations, and evidence.  

However, too much of a good thing can get old. So, let’s mix it up!

Over the course of three posts, we will look at some of the other ways learners can show their comprehension and expand on what they have learned beyond questioning through pre-, during-, and post-reading/listening/viewing. In this first blog post, we will take a closer look at what we can do before students access an authentic resource, in order to help them understand it more fully.  


Pre-Reading/Listening/Viewing 

Even before students access the text – print or audiovisual – engaging in pre-reading, listening, or viewing strategies will prepare students for understanding the resource. These strategies can be grouped into two categories: tapping into prior knowledge and making predictions. 


1. Tapping into Prior Knowledge 

Guided imagery, a strategy promoted by Marzano, taps into students’ prior knowledge and the affective domain. It taps into experiences students may already have that are similar, especially in an intercultural context around products, practices, and perspectives. Guided imagery empowers students since they decide what images represent the concept in question.

An example activity useful for Novice level students involves fruits and vegetables at the market. Have students close their eyes and imagine they are going to the market with a family member. The first thing they see when they enter is the produce section. Ask them questions based on the target vocabulary or previously learned words and expressions: 

  • What produce do you see?  
  • What colors are they?  
  • What shapes are they?  
  • What do they smell like?  
  • What do they taste like?  

When you are finished, have students open their eyes. Post pictures in the front of the classroom of fruits and vegetables labeled in the target language. Ask students to create a 2-circle Venn diagram. In the first circle, have them write, in the target language, the produce they imagined during the visualization, including the color and shape of each.

Next, have students share with a partner, add the partner’s produce in the other circle of the diagram, and note the items they have in common in the overlapping space. Debrief by asking a series of yes/no, choice, and wh- questions. This supports pronunciation practice and vocabulary building, and also taps into question sequencing.  

Extend the activity by having students close their eyes again and note where items are located in the market. Then, have them open their eyes and describe the scene to their partner, who will draw it. Provide a list of prepositions of location (i.e., on the right, underneath) to use as a reference. 

Now, students are ready to access the authentic resource (perhaps a photo, a video clip, or a passage from a short story) that depicts a market from a country that speaks the target language.


2. Making Predictions 

Based on their background knowledge, students can next predict what they are going to read, listen to, or view.

Making predictions draws on students’ ability to make inferences. A good activity for this involves having them review an excerpt from an article or a video and infer what the context is. Advertisements work very well with this strategy, given their use of imagery and play on words to motivate consumers. One such example is the commercial for Gol TV, a European television service. Students see the image of a group of soccer fans with the caption, Sin gol, no hay fútbol. (Without Gol [goal], there is no soccer.). The company plays on the word, gol, which is the objective of playing soccer. Students make predictions about what they think the video is promoting (or selling) based on inferences they make from the image, the caption, and their prior knowledge about soccer. 

Another predictions activity, First • Then • Finally, asks them to summarize using only a set of vocabulary words from the authentic resource, without previewing the print text, audio or video. For example,  you could introduce the short story Una Hija Singular, by Argentinian author Juan Carlos Moreno, by providing them with the following vocabulary:

Have students write a summary of the story in three sentences: Primero (First)… Luego (Then) … Finalmente (Finally). As students read the text, have them star any details they correctly predicted. 

Finally, students can sequence events pulled from a story or from steps in a process prior to reading, listening to, or viewing the actual text. For example, prior to watching a video on how to make a mola, provide students with steps in the process in random order. Have them predict the correct order by rearranging the steps in the proper sequence. 


Give one or more of these strategies a try with your students. Pause before jumping right into a text, an audio, or a video and engage learners by tapping into their prior knowledge and having them make predictions. In the next blog post, we will examine strategies that engage learners while they are reading, listening, or viewing a particular authentic resource. And in the third post, we will discuss follow-up strategies and activities that provide students with opportunities to talk and write about what they have learned.


Deborah Espitia has been a world language educator for more than thirty years. She is a lead author on EntreCulturas 3 and she is an Instructional Strategist at Wayside Publishing.

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