Supporting Pre-Nerdy Readers
As a first grade teacher I start the year with a group of mostly pre-readers. Every year I find that they love to listen to books but are uncertain about what to do with a book independently. Over the past several years I’ve found two ways to use their love of read alouds to support their independence with books.
In the first few weeks of school I read several books a day to my students. These are books that I love and that are comfortable to them. By comfortable I mean that these books are ones that they settle into quickly as they listen, they are able to relax and soak in the story and the characters. I often try to read multiple books in a series (Piggie and Elephant, Froggy, Black Lagoon) or by the same author (Laura Numeroff, Kevin Henkes, Dr. Suess).
The great majority of the books I read in those first critical weeks are ones of which I have multiple copies, as many copies as possible. By the end of the second day I usually have enough copies of books I have read aloud for every student to put two into their brand new book box. They are now able to ‘read’ these books to themselves. Even if they are unable to read all the words and don’t exactly remember the story, their comfort with the characters and the support of the pictures allows them to linger over each page and enjoy the book.
Pictures are a critical support for early readers. Unfortunately, I have found that many of my students don’t really know how to use the pictures to help them understand the story. We spend a week or more reading wordless picture books; there are many fabulous ones out there. I start by telling the story I see in the pictures. Over a few days they begin to take over the storytelling.
By the end of the first or second week of school each of my students has at least five books in their book box that they have heard read aloud as well as a few others chosen from our classroom library. These other books are ones they will read more through the pictures than the text, at least for a while.
I will continue to read books aloud all year long (as much because I love it as because my students do). Hopefully after all this support at the beginning my students will be able to enjoy the read alouds and books all on their own.
I know these supports have worked for my students because they can’t wait to talk about the books they are reading. I had to implement what we call ‘book buzz buddies’ at the end of independent reading. Each student finds a partner and takes about three minutes to share their books. They might read a passage to their friend, point out pictures they love, talk about something that surprised them, made them laugh, or was sad. It’s a highlight of our day.
One of my greatest hopes for my students is that they love books and reading as much as I do. One of my greatest goals is to do all I can to support that hope. I think we are on the right track.
Jenny teaches first graders at a Title I school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Her nerdy book clubness is not only shared with her students but her two young daughters as well. She is a national board certified teacher and a teacher consultant with the National and Northern Virginia Writing Projects. She and her students blog about their learning at http://exploreorrs.terracetimes.com and she writes without them at http://emdffi.blogspot.com.
My children, now young adults, still love for me to read to them. My high school students like it as well. Unfortunately, with all the demands and mandated structure that are placed on us, reading aloud to my students has become increasingly rare. I always like to read the first chapter in a book aloud to them because it gives the book a “voice,” particularly since I work with struggling readers. I also love pulling out picture books every now and then. I use Stone Soup to teach required writing elements and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs to teach elaboration. Many of them act offended at first but they hang on every word.
Our school librarian was one of our fourth grade teachers for a while and she did the same thing. She would read the first chapter of various books aloud to hook her students. It worked beautifully.
Our old librarian had worked in elementary and high schools (including our district’s exceptionally well respected magnet high school) and she used picture books at all levels. Your comment is a great reminder to me that good teaching is good teaching and that first grade classrooms don’t have to look that different, in some ways, from high school ones.
Anyone who understands that picture books have a place at every level of reading/readers is miles ahead on the path to good teaching- in all subject matter, too.
I teach 7th grade and make it my goal to remind students that they can love reading, since many of them “hate” to read before coming to me. Thank you for what you do for those little ones in giving them positive early experiences with reading.
For years I taught fourth and fifth grades. It was painful how many students hated reading. I think that’s a lot less true at my school now than it was when I started there nearly 15 years ago. Books are so easy to love it seems we must work pretty hard to turn kids away from them.
What I love best about your ideas are that you could adjust and apply them to many grade levels. Thank you for sharing your tips for introducing kids to books and building their confidence and reading ability.
Before reading the comments here it had never occurred to me that these ideas could be used across the grade levels. First grade feels so different to me than fourth or fifth did that I sometimes lose sight of the similarities and the fact that learning is learning regardless of age.
I too, as I read, wanted to say that this should/could happen at any level. I do love that 3rd paragraph where you ensure some beginning comfort for the students, to have familiar & already loved books in their special book box. What an intentional plan that you follow, great teaching!
Determining those comfortable books requires knowing books. I find that easier to do at first grade than at upper elementary because the books are shorter! That said, the blogosphere is unbelievably helpful in finding new books that are worth reading and owning.
I agree with you. Sometimes teacher friends ask me how I find time to read. I might a well stop breathing as to stop reading. It’s how I relax. Beyond that, if I don’t know the books, how am I going to put the right book in the hands of the right student? And, as I frequently tell my students, learning to love reading is like falling in love. You simply have to meet the right book.
I agree. I loved the idea of the special book box.
I love how you wrote “I will continue to read books aloud all year long (as much because I love it as because my students do).” Reading out loud to my students and the discussions we have as a class about the stories are my most favorite part of the day! I am a first grade teacher as well and I know these early experiences are what contributes to their attitudes/emotions towards reading. I believe that if I have a passion for sharing literature that they in turn will be life-long readers!
I remember a class my freshman year of college about Mozart. He was not a composer I cared that much about but the class fit my schedule and was in my major so I took it. The professor had such love and adoration for Mozart that he became one of my favorite composers.
I think our passions come through to our students quite clearly and it is a lot harder for them to hate things we so clearly love. The added benefit in first grade is that it is pretty easy to fake a passion for things that only mildly interest me! Literature however, requires no faking.
I think thats so awesome! So many classrooms these days are focusing solely on drilling students so they can read WORDS and so they can pass reading comprehension TESTS. But reading is so much more than that! I have always loved to read. I think the love of reading is one of the best gifts you can give a child. And you are definitely giving them that gift! 😀
You are so right about the focus in so many schools and so many classrooms. I completely understand the stress and the urge to move in that direction, but if we can take a long-term vision then we know that helping students love reading is so much more useful than helping them call out words. I hope your student teaching experience is wonderful and you are in classrooms that encourage a love of reading!
Such a brilliant idea – multiple copies of your read alouds for their book boxes! Of course there are many ways to read a book, and I can’t wait to talk about this with my fellow primary teachers. Thank you for giving us another way to help our students connect with books.
It is certainly an idea that has made me happy for the past few years! Originally I was snapping up any books I could find multiple copies of for cheap – now I’ve managed to be more selective. Thank goodness for library book sales and yard sales!