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The Reading-Ready Classroom

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Whether you're a first grade teacher working with students who are learning to read or a high school teacher working with students who are reading to learn; whether you're a primary teacher leading phonics drills, a middle-school history teacher assigning book reports, or a high school science instructor conducting hands-on experiments, reading is an essential component of your instruction. Why not make it a visible component as well? If you want to instill in your students an awareness of the importance of reading, your classroom must provide an environment in which reading is clearly valued.

The following tips will help you make reading a priority in your classroom, regardless of the grade level or subject matter you teach.

Read Alouds

For more tips on reading aloud to students, see the following Education World articles:
*The Read-Aloud Experience by "Literacy Ambassador" Cathy Puett Miller
* Reading Aloud -- Are Students Ever Too Old?
* Reading Aloud -- Is It Worth It?

These Education World articles offer teacher suggestions for books to read aloud on the first day of school.
* Back to School Books Make the Grade!
* Great Books Get School Off to a Great Start! This book includes a printable list of teachers' favorites.

A Classroom Library
A classroom library tells students that you value and encourage independent reading. To pass that philosophy on to your students, set up your library in an area of the classroom that students frequently pass by or through during the day. Display as many books as possible with covers visible at students' eye level. Include books on a variety of topics, written at a range of reading levels, with at least 10 titles per student. Provide a wide range of genres, both fiction and nonfiction, and look for selections that reflect student cultures and interests. If appropriate, include such reference books as dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias. If you need to start or improve your classroom library on a tight budget, check out:

  • your local library. Many hold regular sales of used books to trim their inventories.
  • used book stores and bargain areas of large bookstores.
  • tag sales and flea sales.
  • Ebay.
  • "remainder" sites that carry publishers' overstocks, such as BookCloseouts.com and Book Depot. Many individual publishers also sell their own overstock online.
  • book clubs, such as Scholastic.
  • and, of course, the generosity of family and friends!

A Reading Corner
Every reading-ready classroom should provide a quiet and comfortable place for students to read independently or with a partner or small group. Your reading area should include comfortable seating (bean bag chairs, pillows, carpet squares, even a small couch, if possible); a plant or two, and a couple of lamps for atmosphere. Some teachers prefer more unconventional reading areas, however. If you're one of those, you might consider a tent, claw-foot bathtub, milk-jug "igloo," or (empty!) wading pool. Green carpet, a few lawn chairs, a piece of white lattice, and some plants make an interesting "reading garden" for teachers with green thumbs!

Books, Books, and More Books
Why limit your book collections to the classroom library or reading corner? Make your students aware of the endless variety of books, while relating their independent reading to their "real lives." Place books about fish near the fish bowl, books about nutrition near the lunch count form, math books in the math center, art books by the art supplies, game books near the playground door.

Family Involvement
Involve your students' families in their reading. Create story sacks of your students' favorite classroom library books. What's a story sack?: A bag that contains a book along with related craft ideas and materials, games, artifacts, and other items and information related to the story. To make your own story sacks, decorate (or have your students decorate) plain brown bags, inexpensive canvas sacks, old pillowcases, or. Place in each bag a book as well as a few of the following items:

  • An audio tape or CD of the story.
  • A video of the story or a related video.
  • Artifacts related to the story.
  • Dolls or puppets related to the story.
  • Written instructions on how to act out the story -- or a play script.
  • Arts-and-crafts materials to make costumes or props.
  • A game, puzzle, or toy related to the story.
  • Pictures of related places or events.
  • Nonfiction books about related places or events.
  • Paper and art supplies to write and illustrate a related story.
Encourage even more family involvement by asking families for book donations for your classroom library!

Read Aloud
Read aloud! Read aloud! Read aloud! I can't say it enough. Whatever grade level you teach, reading aloud to students is never a waste of time. Read aloud to your elementary and middle school students for at least 15-20 minutes a day, at the same time each day. If you're a high school teacher, read aloud for at least 5 minutes, three times a week. In its 1985 report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, the Commission on Reading, stated that "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children." The commission further stated that reading aloud in the classroom is "a practice that should continue throughout the grades."

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