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Reading Lessons

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Following are two examples of what the National Research Council report characterizes as good reading instruction.

High-Quality Teaching: One Classroom

In Ms. Levine's 1st grade reading class, each student has a basket of books, chosen to match his or her ability. The bulletin boards offer children word-attack strategies. The children's journals are full of writing. The class has only 18 children, nine of whom have limited English ability and 12 of whom are living in poverty.

For 2.5 hours, the children move at an upbeat and energized pace from one interesting and valuable activity to another. Every time the children start getting restless, it seems to be time to move to a new activity. The children are: reading independently, reading in pairs (shoulder to shoulder), reading in groups of four, spelling, and writing and writing some more.

While the children work individually or in groups by themselves, Ms. Levine teaches other children individually or in small groups. She then brings the whole class together to teach a phonics lesson on the aw sound in words like drawing. Without prompting, children clap out the sounds in the words. Next, she reads two books to her students, one fiction and one nonfiction, and talks with them about the content of those books. They review what helped them in understanding the book.

Word Wall and Making Words

In another 1st grade teacher's class, the daily two-hour language arts period is organized into four distinct half-hour instructional blocks devoted to process-writing instruction; basal-reading instruction; independent, free-choice reading of trade books; and word-study instruction.

The word-study block is the central focus of this discussion. It consists of two primary activities, word wall and making words. The word wall serves as a foundation for spelling instruction and practice, using five words selected each week from a basal-reading lesson or the children's writing. These words are posted and, as a whole group, the children practice reading and spelling them, with a daily chanting-clapping-writing routine. New words are added weekly, and a subset is practiced daily.

Making words is part of the instruction in phonemic awareness, letter-sound relationships, and spelling patterns. For this activity, each child has a set of 26 letter cards, with corresponding uppercase and lowercase letters printed on either side (vowels in red, consonants in black). The teacher displays one or two vowels and three or more consonants to the whole class. After the children locate the same letters from their own collections, the teacher calls out a word for the children to make. A two-letter word is presented first, with succeeding words using more letters; 12 to 15 additional words are spelled daily in this manner and added to the display.

The highlight of this daily routine is the mystery word--one that requires the use of all the selected letters. The teacher does not identify this word; the children are encouraged to discover it on their own. Subsequently, the teacher and the children together explore the new words, sorting by various spelling or phonetic features, such as word families, rhymes, and common vowel and consonant combinations.

The making-words activity is an engaging medium for explicit instruction about specific spelling-sound correspondences and the alphabetic principle in general. It also provides opportunities for self-assessment and correction, as each new word is displayed and the children compare their spelling construction with that of the teacher. It supports children who are struggling to recognize letters automatically by limiting the number of letters encountered at once. Meanwhile, the physical manipulation of the letter cards accommodates children who might otherwise have difficulty sustaining their attention in whole-group instruction. Finally, the activity is inherently motivational, because children at all levels of achievement can experience both success and instructional challenge as the lessons proceed from simple to more complex.

"Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children" is available by calling the National Research Council at (800) 624-6242. The cost is $48.

SOURCE: National Research Council.

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