Literacy is a skill that begins in infancy and has lifelong ramifications. Studies correlate literacy to financial and personal well-being, not to mention social skills and academic achievement. Yet, a typical classroom may spend as little as 10 percent of the day on reading and writing. Even in classrooms with 90 minutes blocked out for reading time, the actual reading accomplished in that time might be as little as 10 to 15 minutes. A more balanced classroom might spend as much as half the day reading in one capacity or another.
Here are five ideas to incorporate more reading into elementary classrooms:
- Make your classroom a print-rich environment.
Hang words from the ceiling. Give objects labels. Post a relevant scientific text next to the creature kept in the class aquarium. Have charts and graphs and posters to read. Feature quotations worth remembering on the wall. Bring in the newspaper and try reading it with a highlighter or circling words in pencil. Stock a variety of books besides the ones the whole class reads for class assignments, and make sure students and parents know where to find them.
- Create a special place to read.
Pop up a pup tent. Encircle a simple beanbag chair with a curtain of gauzy netting. Convert storage tubs into child-sized "book boats" stuffed with comfy pillows. Use some fabric and stuffing to turn an old tire into a tuffet (dangling spider optional!). You will probably want to take one door off the enchanted wardrobe, and you might even make a good old-fashioned blanket fort.
However you construct your welcoming nook, spend a little time thinking about fanciful themes, comfortable surfaces, and appropriate lighting to create an alluring quiet place where students can retreat to curl up with a good book.
- Start a student-run library.
Designate a special shelf or create an intriguing enclosure to stand all by itself. Discuss the history of libraries and the recent popularity of small free libraries, especially if you have one in the neighborhood. Have students bring favorite titles from home, and start a running list of recommendations.
Learn how to make a simple pamphlet or a one-page zine and start putting student-made books on the shelves. Some classes really enjoy adding to the library with a birthday tradition, where a book is given to the library by or in honor of the student celebrating a birthday.
- Read across the curriculum.
Reading does not exist in isolation from the rest of life or the rest of the curriculum. We certainly read for entertainment through various forms of literature, but it is also an equally vital way to access history, science and social studies. We need it for instructions, diaries, putting on plays and passing notes. Look for opportunities to incorporate reading into labs and lesson plans, too.
- Establish reading as a reward.
Give students opportunities to read as a bonus when they've completed other work. Consider structuring oral reading time to invite classroom visitors and community members -- perhaps starting with parents and principals -- to guest star at story time and perform a cameo reading as a special treat.
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