Teaching Readers

Ellen A. Thompson, Ed. D., author

Sometimes when I read books on the teaching of reading, I miss the part where the actual reader comes into the process. Everything is “done” to them – not with them as individuals.  I think this matters.

Each reader in our classroom comes to us with a different reader demographic.  Some have been read to a lot, others not so much.  Some have loads of real life experiences and have developed a huge set of background knowledge.  Others have not left their yard.  Some others have experienced multiple ways to talk about their world, giving them the words to use with  others. For others this is more passively translated through television or video games.  If this is the case how can a classroom teacher teach all these unique readers during the school day?

  1. Don’t assume anything about your readers.  Find out about your readers and writers early and often.  Engage them in conversation. Assess their understanding about reading using a reading inventory.  The Burke Reading survey is a good place to start.  Then USE the information as you plan for your readers.
  2. Read to them. Choose books that baffle the mind with new information.  Books where the characters get into extraordinary situations.  Books that invite conversation and discussion.  Books that allow you to have some tough conversations within the safety of the book.  Choose books that are above your readers’ ability to read themselves. Challenge yourself as a reader.  Challenge your readers.  Keep track of your thinking as you read aloud.  Talk to your readers about what you do as a reader and encourage them to try these out. 
  3. Create a classroom library that is unleveled with rich text across multiple subjects, genres, and reading abilities.  Teach your readers how to choose books that work for them as readers.  Honor this choice – make it matter in your classroom.  Give them time to explore and read with meaning.  Give them opportunities to write about their reading in informal ways. Let them share their reading with others.
  4. Set routines for your reading/writing block(s).  Teach your readers how to sustain themselves with print. Build their ability to read for longer and longer periods of time.  Open up the classroom environment as a second teacher of reading.  Can they “read the room”?  “Write the room”? Let them know that you will work with them 1 on 1 and in small groups during this time.  Build their independence over time.  
  5. Consider your group as you develop your focus lessons for the reading/writing block(s).  You will need to “open up” your lessons for this full group of individuals.  How can a beginning reader engage alongside a more experienced reader/writer?  How can you use mentor texts, shared reading and writing to maximize your focus lessons and give them authenticity? Keep in mind the differing types of focus lessons:
    1. Procedures/processes
    2. Strategies/skills of reading and writing
    3. Authors’ craft
    4. Have to’s from the State Standards.
  6. Be gentle with your skill instruction.  Ask the question, “Does everyone need instruction on this skill?  Or just a few.”  Tailor your instruction to your answer.  Small group and even 1 on 1 instruction may be the better answer.  Always connect the skill to an authentic literacy activity.  Can some phonemic awareness/phonic lessons be taught with songs and poetry?  How can you use rereading for fluency in more fun and engaging ways?
  7. Debrief the time with your learners…always, always, always!  It does not need to be everyone everyday.  Save 5-7 minutes.  End the literacy time hearing the voices of your learners.  Ask 2 questions: 
    1. What did we do today? 
    2. What did we learn from that?

As you begin to think this way about your instruction, you will find that it does not matter if you are teaching 2 grades, or a single graded group in one classroom.  Each reader and writer is unique. Our instruction needs to find value in that and use it to their benefit.

Throughout this school year, I will spend more time on each of these important components for creating the environment that includes all learners in this thing we call reading and writing.



Ellen A. Thompson, Ed.D., Literacy Consultant

Ellen A. Thompson, Ed.D.

Ellen Thompson has been an educator for over 43 years.  She taught as a classroom teacher in Vermont for over twenty years with many of those years in a multiage setting teaching children aged 6-9 years of age. Ellen was named the Vermont State Teacher of the Year in 1993 and she achieved her National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist in 1999. Ellen began consulting nationally in 1993 and has continued this work throughout her years as an educator.  Upon leaving the classroom, Ellen joined the Elementary Education literacy faculty at the University of Vermont in 2000.  At the University, she taught undergraduate literacy courses, supervised student teachers and also worked as a literacy consultant in two large scale literacy research projects which spanned the grades K-6. For twelve years Ellen worked with the Essex Town School District as the Director of Instruction and Information Services.  During this time, Ellen completed her doctoral studies in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Vermont in the fall of 2007.  After the merging of the Essex Town School District and the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union, Ellen continued working with educators in the newly created Essex Westford School District as the Director of Learning Design.  Ellen is currently a literacy consultant for Partnerships in Literacy and Learning.