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  • Stefan DuBois

Self-directed Content Consumption

Updated: Jan 19

Have you ever wasted hours trying to find the perfect article or video to show students so

practice their reading or listening comprehension?

This quarter—inspired by Mike Peto’s Free Voluntary Reading, which allows students regular, low-stakes opportunities to read books of their choosing—I experimented with restructuring days oriented toward reading and listening comprehension by allowing students the freedom to select their own authentic resources. As a result, I not only saved a ton of time lesson planning, but my students had a blast as well! 

The Format

Several times throughout the quarter, I used the following sequence:

1. Before the activity: I told students in advance to bring to class some form of content they wanted to consume. This could be anything they wanted, so long as it was in the target language: music, a show on Netflix, an influencer on Instagram, a blog, a podcast, etc. They were encouraged to find a target language parallel of content they typically consumed for fun in English. Early in the quarter, we even took some time in class to establish a classroom Padlet sharing these resources so students had a mini “library” to fall back on.

2. During the activity: I gave students 15 minutes to enjoy their chosen content individually. I emphasized that it was okay if they didn’t understand much. In fact, they just had two objectives: first, to be able to say in very broad terms after 15 minutes what happened (“an interview about an actor’s personal life”), and second, to complete a simple task related to whatever comprehension strategy I wanted them to focus on. Some examples:

a. Predict a list of words, people, or ideas you expect to show up in your content and check off the ones you see.

b. Write out 4 cognates you identify (this could also be done with grammar forms you’ve previously studied, or new words they learn from the content)

c. Go through a short section on mute or just skimming section headings/etc., then revisit that same section a second time in more detail. What percentage of the content do you feel like you got the first vs. the second time through?

d. What’s one piece of information you got entirely from context clues (photos, body language, intonation) and what’s one you got entirely from the language you


3. After the activity: I briefly put students together in small groups to share what content they consumed, discuss the results of the task I’d given them, and compare how difficult to comprehend they found various media formats.

The Results

Students loved it! The second or third time I told them we’d be doing this, an audible “Yes!” filled the room in response. It was great to hear students come in bubbling with what they were going to enjoy: a stream of a match they originally thought they were going to miss due to class, a reality show about catty housewives, music they were considering for their DJ job, an article with a list of bad jokes, etc.

Reduced workload. Not only did I save time on lesson planning through repeating this established format, 15 minutes of quietly busy students also helped me catch up on some things during class itself!

Outside learning. The best moment came when a student who had watched a dubbed South Park episode in class told me the next day that he ended up watching a second one at home. Ultimately, nothing we do as language teachers will be half as useful to a student as them simply using the target language for entertainment in their own lives—knowing that a small amount of class time had planted this seed was wonderful validation of the activity’s success.

The Future

This level of autonomy does of course require a fair degree of faith in your students. I did not unplug their headphones to check that the audio was in the right language or monitor their screens to make sure they weren’t just reading for another class. Your mileage may vary depending on your circumstances, but I found that first implementing this activity after we had spent several weeks building a trusting environment, giving students total freedom to enjoy whatever they were most interested in, and creating basic (but not burdensome!) accountability through simple tasks and subsequent discussions resulted in mine buying into the activities.

Mike Peto’s post which I referenced at the beginning of the article recommends building a library of level-appropriate resources, which I hope to experiment with in the future for lower-level students. I’ve also thought about finding a way to replicate the activity as homework to avoid using class time, but do worry that the more it becomes a chore, the less effective will be. After all, part of the charm for students seemed to be “I can’t believe I can just sit and watch YouTube in class!”

One way or another, this experiment proved successful enough that I will be repeating it. Hopefully you will consider implementing it in your class as well!

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