Saturday, December 10, 2011

Teaching Children to Read - Keeping It Simple

Sometimes I think we over organize our reading programs with literacy rotations, guided reading sessions, and many must do jobs for our students. In the past I was one of those teachers rotating students through a weekly rotation, planning different activities for my different levelled learners.  I think I spent so much time making sure my students were on task doing the right thing that I had little time left to actually teach my students.  This year I've tried something different, and so far I like it.

This year I am trying to start every reading session with a read aloud.  Sometimes the read aloud is purely for the sake of enjoying good literature, but more often than not it's used as a tool to teach my students a specific reading strategy. I try to make sure that all my students are in my class during the read aloud.  This isn't really new for me, but ensuring that all my students are present for this lesson is.

At my school I am extremely lucky.  I have an excellent Learner Support Team (LST).  Typically as I finish the read aloud and the mini lesson someone from our grade one LST team appears at my door.  They are there to collect my struggling readers.  They come four days a week and my struggling readers are slotted into one of three groups.  You see, there are three LST teachers that work with our grade one students at the same time.  The three of them take a look at all the struggling readers in our four grade one classes and create reading groups depending on the needs of our students.  Their groups are fluid  and the children in my class that require additional support are also fluid.  The LST teachers work with the low of the low, the medium low of the low, and the high low of the low freeing me up to teach the reading to the rest of my students.

When those students are taken from my room the rest of my students turn to their just right book boxes.  These boxes are filled with books at their just right reading levels, along with books that they are keen to learn to read, and/or old favourites.  We keep our past guided reading books in these boxes too.  With their book boxes in hand they find a comfortable, safe place to read around the classroom.  Once everyone is settled I start a timer.  During this time most students read independently on their own.  I have read over and over again that one of the best ways to become a better reader is to READ.  During this time my students READ.

While most of my students are reading I pull a small group for guided reading.  I find in term one I tend to pull similar reading level groups as we are all new to reading strategies for comprehension, accuracy, and fluency.  During these small group sessions I always have a focus, and a reading strategy to teach (or review).  As I begin term two I think I will have more of a balance between similar levelled reading groups, and strategy specific groups to encourage my groups to be more fluid. While I am teaching this small group of children the rest of my class is on task reading.

Sometimes the timer goes off before I am done with my group sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't really matter though.  My students that have been reading books from their just right book boxes know that once the timer goes off the students are free to "free read".  In my room "free read" can include pretty much anything as long as the  main focus of the activity is reading.  Some children head on line to Starfall or Tumblebooks.  Others play with our word blocks to create sentences. Some share their book box books with friends.  Some continue to read on their own.  Some explore the literacy centres I created in the past.  With the introduction of our class iPad some are reading there.  But really, the goal of this time is to continue to have my students practice their reading and to be perfectly honest I don't really care what they are reading as long as they are reading.  A favourite activity this month is playing the oops game - focussing on reading our weekly word wall words. Last month they were into reading a silly story starter book that as you flipped the pages you created different (funny) sentences.  It's amazing how easy it has become for me.  Instead of me gearing my students to read this, or complete that reading activity, they are happily choosing what they want to read.  It's also cool to see my stronger readers share their knowledge of reading with my less able readers.  My goal is to have my students read and by giving them this "free read" time, they are reading, what they WANT to read. It's huge, and so simple to do.

As I finish up my guided reading group those students also join the rest of their classmates at "free reading".  During this time I am free to have one on one reading conferences with my students, or to rotate around the room and chat with my students about their reading.  It's a magical time and provides me with so much insight into my students reading.  It's invaluable time spent teaching and learning with my students.

We end each reading session with Reader's Chair.  Depending on time we have at least one student read to our entire class.  We provide feedback on their reading, and provide suggestions to help them improve.  It's powerful learning/teaching.   I think in the coming term I may  look at perhaps having more reader's share their reading.  I'm thinking about maybe having a different reader's chair take place in the four corners of our room so that more children get a chance to share their reading to their classmates.  Not exactly sure how it will look but it is something I'm thinking about.

So my question to you is how do you teach reading? What have I forgotten in my reading session or how could I make it even better?  I look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Thanks for sharing what you are presently doing to help your readers. How wonderful that you have such great support during your reading time.
    I love that you start each day by reading aloud and modeling a reading strategy. I also love that your readers are reading so much each day. What a great way to help them get to be better!

  2. Kathy early literacy support is a priority for my school. If my LST support came at a different time in the day, my reading program would also run at that different time of the day. We are a team working to help every reader become the best they can be. Our students are the lucky ones. Thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment. :-)

  3. Hi Karen,

    It was great to read about how you structure your class during literacy. It sounds incredibly flexible and open. I'm really interested in this approach as I too am a big believer in students having choices and enjoying their reading.

    Are there any ever issues with children not being on-task or continually choosing the same task (which could then limit the breadth of their learning)?

    If so, how do you manage/mitigate these potential obstacles to this flexible approach?


  4. Anna,
    I've had really great success with my students during their "free read" time. By giving them choice they are motivated to read what they want to read. I am also active during this time either conferencing one on one in private with students, or talking with groups of readers. If I see someone off task, or I notice they are choosing the same task over and over again I step in when I feel I need to. I am also constantly introducing (or reintroducing) different things to read. One term is I can't complain and I can only see it getting better. Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment. I love comments! Heading over to your blog to do the same. Thanks Anna.