Beginning Teacher tips: Setting Up a Reading Program (Year 3-Year 8)
When I studied teaching at University, one of the things I was most surprised with was the lack of practical advice given to teachers about the day to day workings of actually running a classroom. Yes, I got some “thrilling” lectures about phonemic awareness, but what I wanted to know was the nuts and bolts reality of running a reading program: the how, the what, the when, the why – all of it.
This blog post is my way of helping beginning teachers (or anyone who feels like having a read) to understand some of the fundamentals of a reading program. Disclaimer: Is this the only way to run a reading program? NO! I am not a fan of anyone who says there is only one way of doing pretty much anything. I push back on that big time! People are different. Classes are different. Classroom environments are different… and the clincher – KIDS are different. The following is what I found worked for me, the way I enjoyed teaching reading, and tips I found useful. Take what you wish from this blog post and add it to your knowledge, skills, preferences and experiences.
Beginning Teacher Tips: Setting Up a Reading Program
I based my reading program on
- Effective Literacy Practice – Years 5-8 which is a book that should be in every New Zealand resource room. It is also available via TKI’s website here.
- The research by literacy expert, Alison Davis. I highly recommend that you check out her book “Teaching Reading Comprehension.” You can find it in lots of online retailers, including here (this is not an affiliate link).
My reading programme consisted of four areas: reading to, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading. While I am not in the classroom at present (#MUMLIFE), for ease of explanation, the following will be written in the present tense.
Reading To Students
I read daily to my students from a novel so they are exposed regularly to vocabulary-rich texts. In most cases, they would be unable or unlikely to read these texts independently. Reading aloud allows the teacher to model good reading behaviour and foster a shared love for a particular book. I love bringing characters alive to students by bringing a bit of acting into the classroom with different voices – students love seeing their teacher being a little less straight-laced from time to time!
Some of the benefits of reading to students include opportunities to:
- Model a range of decoding and comprehension strategies e.g. what to do when you come to a word that is unfamiliar, how to use prior knowledge.
- Become engrossed in a story without having to worry about decoding – this can be a really enjoyable experience for lower readers who are usually so focused on the skills of decoding in their own reading.
- Model your (as the teacher) enjoyment of reading.
- Develop a sense of community in the classroom.
- Explore language features and highlight how they can be used e.g. “Look at how this simile has been used to describe Mrs Twit.”
- Develop students’ listening comprehension skills. As Literacy Online says, “Listening to texts read fluently, accurately, and with expression is particularly useful to students who need additional support in oral language development or who are learning English as a new language.”
- Bring fun into the classroom!
I really love this book by Dallas Clayton – An Awesome Book! I highly recommend it! It is all about challenging students to dream big dreams; perfect for the beginning of the year or as an end of the year challenge.
I love Roald Dahl, Morris Glietzman, Paul Jennings, David Walliams… just to name a few! Here is a great list that suggests 50 books that all 9 and 10-year-olds should read. I would extend that out to 8-12-year-olds. Do you have a favourite on the list?
I used to think that shared reading was only something done in junior classrooms, but after seeing it in practice in a Year 5 and 6 classroom, I became a quick convert. Once or twice a week I read a picture book or a big book with the intention of reinforcing strategies that are or will be a focus in guided reading sessions (such as identifying different themes or using the visual information in the text). I also use it as a chance to highlight a new type of text that we would be exploring e.g. a list of instructions or a scientific report.
All students see a large copy of the text during shared reading e.g. a big book, a poster, a book that is projected onto the board or a screen via an in-class projector or tv. When taking part in shared reading, the teacher and students discuss as they go, and read along, or read certain parts individually. As Literacy Online explains. the teacher “will question, prompt, model, tell, explain, direct, and/or give feedback to the students.”
The difference between shared reading and ‘reading to’ is with shared reading both the teacher and students are reading the text together. I generally read the words while the students read along (silently). Sometimes students ask to read a paragraph here or there, and I am fine with that too – a common theme here: there is no “one” correct way.
To prepare for shared reading, I plan my objectives before the lesson and consider what I want to model or discuss using the book. Then on each page, I use a post-it note with any reminders that can jog my memory. This way I don’t need to refer to a lesson plan throughout the reading session.
To learn more about the steps in a shared reading lesson, I would highly recommend Alison Davis’ book “Teaching Reading Comprehension.” Click here to see more. This is not an affiliate link – I just think her book is great.
Guided Reading Logistics
I’ll let the Guided Reading guru, Alison Davis, give you the definition of guided reading:
Guided reading is a small-group apporach in which students with similar instructional needs are grouped together for explicit comprehension instruction. Students are supported as they read, think, talk, and question their way through a text.
Teaching Reading Comprehension, p212.
I group my students for guided reading based on the students’ reading ability. The children are placed in these groups based on diagnostic testing, and prior reading ages from the previous year. This is one way to group students for guided reading. I have heard other teachers have success using mixed ability grouping, too.
At the beginning of the week, I display the guided reading activities on a reading task board. This is a simple chart that I had displayed on my whiteboard so students could see what activities they are doing during guided reading time. Activities include follow-up activities for after their guided reading, grammar and punctuation activities, spelling activities, independent reading, and iPad reading (I will explain these in more detail later in this blog post).
Here is an example of reading charts from @miss_t_nz. She creates these great digital tables and then displays them on her class TV.
Here is another example of reading activities task board from @thekiwiteacher (the logos are where student names are listed).
When I meet with each group for the first time in the week, we do our guided reading activities focusing on a particular comprehension strategy. I aim to have a second session with the group later in the week where I conference with the children on the activities they have been working on and also mark their work. I find that using modelling books is a great way to record student learning e.g. hunting for adjectives, working out a definition. You can also add a learning intention or focus question.
Guided reading sessions
The guided reading sessions focus on the explicit teaching of a decoding strategy or comprehension strategy and the modelling and scaffolding of this strategy. It is often a follow on from a strategy I have modelled earlier during shared reading. I encourage the students to articulate what they are doing as they use the strategy and then aim for the students to use the strategy independently as they read a range of texts. The diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the year (PATs, Star, Asttle, running records) helps to highlight which strategies should be of particular focus during this teaching time.
When we read the text, I prefer for the students to read the page or paragraph silently while I have one student sit beside me to read out loud (so I can check how their reading is going). But remember, there is no one approach to rule them all. Some teachers prefer round-robin reading or everyone reading silently.
An important part of setting up a reading program is making time for independent reading. I make sure the students have a chance to read independently each day in class (and hope that they will develop a love for reading that spills into the rest of their life!) I usually use the time straight after lunch as silent reading time. It gives students a chance to calm down and settle after the craziness of lunchtime.
Now, I am aware that independent reading is not going to be everyone’s idea of a great time. However, as the teacher, it is my responsibility to make independent reading as engaging as possible. This means providing a range of texts that will hopefully spark a love for reading in all children. In the spirit of being a good role model, during the independent reading time I recommend picking up a book and enjoying ten minutes of independent reading, too!
Essentials for your reading program
1. A wide range of texts
- In my previous blog post, Four Ways to Engage Students in Reading Comprehension Activities, I talked about the importance of providing a wide range of text types. These include brochures, magazines, Internet articles, advertisements, newspapers, recipe books, scientific texts, maps and even restaurant menus! Check out the blog post for more information about guided reading texts.
- How do students know what to do when not with you e.g. a visible timetable?
- Where do they find their books? An easy way to do this is to put each group’s books in a different book box. Head to your resource room to find empty journal boxes or head to a $2 shop or K Mart to purchase some inexpensive boxes.
- How will you record notes on the group you are working with? Modelling books, note book?
- Behaviour management considerations – kids who know what they are meant to be doing and have the tools they need are much more likely to be on task.
3. Follow up activities/Independent activities
- When you are working with a group of students it is essential that the rest of your class are able to work independently. My set up for independent activities included a rotation of:
- Follow-up activities from their guided reading session.
- Spelling activities
- Literacy skills activities (Grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, figurative language)
- Independent reading
- In term one, the first six weeks of the term is spent on modelling my expectations of how, where and when to do these activities. By term two, the students understood what to do and were able to move through the rotation easily.
- I also had a selection of early finisher activities available when students had completed their work. There is nothing worse than being interrupted by “I’m Done, Now What?”
I will link to my resources that fit within each of the activity groups above.
Guided Reading Follow Up Activities:
Click here to see our Reading Comprehension resources.
Check out my previous blog posts about reading in the classroom.
Our spelling activity task cards and Print and Go student worksheets are designed to save you time while providing students with a range of fun and interactive ways to practice their spelling words. The best thing about these activity cards is they work with ANY spelling list, so they are perfect for differentiated learning. Click here to see more.
Literacy skills activities
Back to School Starter Kit
Our Back to School Starter Kit contains everything you need to get your classroom set up and ready for day one. This resource includes classroom decor and display materials, literacy and social studies activities, early finishers and team building activities, and more!
Print, photocopy and laminate these resources and then put your feet up knowing you are ready for day one! You’ll also save with our generous discount (25% off!). See more here.
Also in our Beginning Teacher series
I hope you found this blog post useful!
Onwards and upwards,