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Deepen Academic Language with Thematic Read Alouds

Dual language teachers know that reading across themes is very powerful for language learners because it allows for repeated exposure to the same concepts and language. We selected our read alouds by theme to help students learn language faster and more efficiently. Many of these are centered around social emotional learning, the environment and intergenerational relationships. Browse our Pre-K, Kinder, First and Second Grade selections!

Let me show you how to make the most of these thematic collections to develop students’ academic vocabulary! 

At Hexagramm Books, we love characters who break stereotypes! We seek out characters and stories that demonstrate that you shouldn’t make assumptions about others. I chose four books for first graders to start conversations about what stereotypes are, what prejudice means, and how to push through when others put you down. 

Starter Text and Simple Sentence Structures

When I look at books around the same theme, I read them once and decide which book to start with. I look for a simple text: easy language, great visual support and a clear message that students can grasp. In reading the books in Breaking Stereotypes Through Perseverance, I found that Sofía, la vaca que amaba la música was the easiest book to comprehend.

With a theme like Breaking Stereotypes Through Perseverance, students must learn to identify the problem and solution. This book isn’t super long, but I’d like to read it in two sessions so that we can first focus on the problem, and then the solution. It will take a few segmented read alouds, which means I’ll read the book across multiple days.  

For the first day, I’ll ask questions so students can practice talking about specific details that relate to the problem (RL.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text). In the case of this book, they should understand Sofía’s wishes, and how other characters might stop her from achieving her goals.  


On the second day, I’ll hone in on her feelings and the solution to the problem (RL.1.2 Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson). By the end of the second day, students should be able to pinpoint the central message.

Don’t be afraid to give past tense sentence starters. You cannot expect non-native students to produce it with spontaneity, but you can scaffold that transition to using preterito. In the answers, you can also give students synonyms so that they have various choices in how they form their sentences.  

I like to put all of my questions and vocabulary words on manila folders, and keep them up while I explore the theme. The manila folders are a visual reminder for students, and while they were specific to a book, they are useful to all books that are connected to the theme. A nice bonus is that on the next folders, I won’t have to re-use words that can be used across read alouds. 

Layer on a Second Read Aloud

The second read aloud should allow students to reuse some of the words that you presented in the first read aloud. In this case, words like orquesta, tocar el piano or audicionar won’t apply. However, many other words will be useful, such as words about emotions (enfadarse, indignarse, aceptar) and words to describe how characters do or don’t support each other (solidario, desalentador). 

El fuertecito rojo sends a similar message as the one found in Sofía la vaca que amaba la música. In this story, Ruby’s put down by her brothers who don’t believe she can build a cabin all by herself, but she sets out to prove them wrong. Like the first book, there’s a problem and solution, and we can re-use words such as ser solidario, ser desalentador. I can also review the idea of a problem and solution, using the same standard (RL.1.2 Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson).

This time, I put actions that happen in the text out of order; I did not align the questions with their answers. I did, however, make the tenses match the questions: some verbs are worded in preterito due to the second question, and some in participio pasado for the fourth question. I also added an adverb (nunca) for them to practice using more complex sentence structures. The goal is to gradually teach students to make choices about how they put sentences together. 

As I present other texts about perseverance such as Poka y Mina, Daniela pirata and Cosas de bruja, I can talk about having allies, and have students compare and contrast stories (RL.1.9 Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories).  I can compare Poka y Mina and Cosas de bruja, where characters receive help from an ally. I can also contrast Poka y Mina with Daniela pirata since Daniela breaks a stereotype alone.  I will make an effort to present a variety of answer stems so that students don’t repeat the same answers.

Diving deeper into a theme gives our students an opportunity to gain confidence in using vocabulary specific to that theme.  However, words alone are not sufficient, it’s the sentence-level production that yields richer, more advanced academic language.  By conjugating verbs both in sentence stems and in our word banks, we empower students to own the language without having to master the different tenses.  It’s an empowering scaffold that will eventually build automaticity. 
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