In my classes, we generally read two whole-class novels a year: one in late fall and one in the spring.

What I love about whole-class novels is the discussions we have as a result of things that happen in the novels and the a-ha moments students have when they understand what's going on!

The problem with whole-class novels for me has always been that the teacher did the heavy lifting, reading the text in the target language, directing the students to choral translation, and finally leading the class discussion.

I have found in my experience that many of the students rely on me to understand the novel. I wasn't developing independent readers.

So I came up with the idea of 3-2-1 Reading to help alleviate that and produce independent readers who were less reliant upon the teacher.

What is 3-2-1 Reading?

3-2-1 Reading is a variation of whole-class reading that slowly scaffolds reading as students go from whole-group reading to paired reading and finally to independent reading.

All three stages of 3-2-1 Reading are important and what is key is the discussion that happens between each of the steps.

The discussion not only assures that all students understand what was read regardless of if it was read as a whole group, in pairs, or individually, but also deepens the understanding of the content, themes, and issues that occur in the book.

How to do 3-2-1 Reading.

So how does 3-2-1 Reading work?

There are three phases of 3-2-1 Reading with each phase followed by whole-class discussion in the target language about what happened in the novel and any themes or issues that were introduced.

The first phase is the whole-class reading. I will read with my students the first two or three chapters to explain the background of the novel and to get them invested in the characters and story before the next phase.

During this phase, I read the chapter in the target language and I either have the class chorally translate into the home language or, for upper levels, I will translate any words I know they don't know or words that they ask about.

Once everyone understands what happened in the chapter, I initiate a class discussion in the target language. I start with the concrete facts of the chapter: the who, what, when, and where. Afterward, we will explore any themes, characterization, or issues that arose within that chapter.

Also, if there is any relevant culture to the chapter, we will also discuss that, usually along with Google images and Google maps to further explore the land and the people.

I do this for each of the first two or three chapters depending on the novel.

Now that my students have gotten into the novel, I will have them pair off to read the next chapter with one other person.

I want them to read to each other in their home language and their partner can help them if they struggle with a word or sentence. They can either alternate paragraphs or pages; whichever they decide is okay by me.

While they are reading in pairs, I will circulate around the room and answer any questions they may have.

Once each pair has had an opportunity to read the chapter, we come back together as a whole class and we have our discussion in the target language. I will start by asking if there are any questions. I do this to make sure there is no confusion about what they understood about the chapter. I then ask my who, what, when, and where questions, followed by a discussion of themes, issues, and culture.

These whole-class discussions are important for me as a teacher to point out anything special in the chapter, make sure everyone is on the same page with comprehension, and to go deeper into the subtext of each chapter.

The last phase is independent reading. Each student is responsible to read the next chapter on their own and understand it to the best of their ability. They are free to ask me questions as I circulate around the room.

Again, we come back together as a group to discuss the chapter in the target language.

We then repeat the cycle until we finish the book with the only exception being that instead of two or three chapters that we read as a whole class, we only read one chapter as a whole class before moving on to pairs and then on to individuals.

Why 3-2-1 Reading?

I find that 3-2-1 Reading is a great way to scaffold reading with my students and at the same time give them some autonomy— even if only in small chunks— as we process the novel together.

The traditional way of reading a novel is as a whole class and this puts the burden of instruction squarely on the shoulders of the teacher and for many students causes them to be 100% reliant upon the teacher to understand the novel.

The students never get an opportunity to "struggle" with the novel and try to make their own meaning before it is clarified by the teacher. And because of this, many of these students don't ever get to stretch their reading muscles and grow in their skills.

By gradually moving them from whole class to pairs to individual and back again, students have multiple opportunities to flex their reading muscles and grow as they work to interpret what the words and sentences mean with the end goal of creating more autonomous readers.

So there's my 3-2-1 Reading strategy. What do you think? Have you tried it or something similar? Let us know in the comments.

Also, be sure to download the "3-2-1 Reading" cheatsheet by clicking the button below. That way you can have this strategy always by your side!