Distance and Home Learning: Writing Ideas and Resources

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So what’s a retired teacher to do when she is quarantined, can’t see her students in person, and only do a bit of virtual tutoring? She organizes her thousands of teaching, presenting, and tutoring photos in order to make it easier to share in these blogs and social media. In the process, she finds photos of the amazing writing activities her students have done over the years!

Right now, I am both grateful and NOT grateful to be retired from teaching. I wish I were out there with all of you figuring out how to do distance/remote teaching (and I’m gathering photos and info on all the amazing remote teaching from my teacher friends to share in an upcoming blog!). But, since I am temporarily a full-time caregiver for my Dad, who is 88, dealing with a painful knee injury AND at high risk for COVID-19, I am grateful to be available for him.

So here’s another blog with some writing resources that teachers can use for distance learning and parents can use for homeschooling!

Storyjumper

Story Jumper

I discovered Storyjumper while tutoring a few years ago. The student I worked with needed help with writing, both expository and narrative. We did plenty of essays using prompts given by her writing teacher, but to give her a break from essays, I had her use this wonderful website to create her own picture book. It was around Thanksgiving, so she created a book about a turkey invited to dinner with a farmer, who was a supplier of turkeys to grocery stores. The turkey was understandably nervous, but when she arrived, the farmer had a surprise, but welcome announcement…he would no longer be killing any turkeys! ūüôā Before I had her use this website, I created my own picture book so I would be able to guide her through hers. My book stars one of my cats, Princess Leia, and you can check it out HERE!

Rory’s Story Cubes

Love, love this app; I’ve been using it for years and it’s such a great way to launch a writing piece for kids! I first discovered it while working as a literacy specialist at Mammoth Heights Elementary in Parker, Colorado. Since I did not have a class of my own students, only pulling groups of kids literacy support, I was the go-to person to cover classes when a sub didn’t show up. THIS was my emergency tool. I would bring the app, put it under the document camera, and have a student come up to “shake” the cubes. Once they landed and were organized, we discussed what the image on each cube might mean; however, I stressed to the students that they did not have to use the consensus of the majority of the class, they could choose to interpret the cubes in any way they chose. Next, I had them create a writing piece (fiction or non-fiction) around the cubes. I eventually created a planning sheet for the students to plan out their pieces.

I have used this many times during tutoring. Sometimes it’s a quick begin or end of session challenge; we “shake” the cubes and they have to quickly come up with a paragraph using all the cube image ideas (see photo above on the left). Other times it’s a mini-project we work on; roll the cubes, have the student decide on the meaning, and then plan out a narrative story, fill out character profiles and find photos on the internet of what their characters might look like (see photo above on the right).¬† Here’s something I haven’t tried yet, but I want to: use the cubes with your students or own kids to develop oral storytelling skills. Shake the cubes, and create an oral story to tell!

You can buy the actual cubes from the link above, or on Amazon, or download the app on either Google Play or iTunes. If you’d like the Story Cube planning documents, comment below with your email address!

 Biblionasium

Book reviews

During this quarantine,¬† I know that many teachers and parents are having their students read, read, read…and that’s wonderful!¬† Once they finish a book, have them practice their expository writing skills by writing a book review on Biblionasium, a wonderful website where kids can write and read book reviews. The review can be a great tool for having them practice editing and revising skills when done!

KidPub

Kid PubHaving your students or your own kids write stories or poems? Or do they do this on their own…perhaps they are budding novelists or poets? Set up a free account on KidPub and have them share their writing with others and READ what other kids have written. There are categories for all types of genres, including fan fiction, and all submissions are vetted to make sure they are appropriate. I’ve had students find other kids’ stories to read, then review it tell me how they would revise it….a great critical thinking activity!

I will stop there for now…but if YOU have some great resources that work well for distance and home school learning, let me know in the comments below.

Be sure to check out my other blogs on resources for remote/distance/home learning:
Reading Resources
Project-Based Learning. Resources
Math Resources, Part 1
Math Resources Part 2

Remote Writing Resources

CCIRA 2020 Recap: Ideas Galore for Teachers!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.  Mark Twain

I have been attending the wonderful CCIRA (Colorado Association of the International Literacy Association) conference for over 20 years, and have presented there many times, including two different presentations this year, one on using Lego projects to foster reading and writing skills, the other on teaching literacy through genre studies (More on these presentations in future blogs!). I chose these session topics since the theme of the conference was “Innovation: Imagining the future of literacy.” While working in schools, I used shared my notes and learnings with the teachers at my school, but since I’m retired, I’m going to share all that I learned about teaching reading and writing with all of you!¬† I hope that you are able to grab a few good ideas from the sessions I attended.

At her session on teaching writing skills first to students so they can learn to read as a writer, Colleen Cruz, one of the authors of the Units of Study series, shared several ideas that resounded with me:

  • We need to let kids talk about books that they “love to hate”. Of course, as teachers, we always need to foster a love (or at least a strong liking) for reading, but it’s unrealistic to expect that all students will love all the books they read. We teachers all have books we LOVE to hate! Mine are a few gems from Honors English in high school: The Odyssey by Homer and¬†The Prince¬†by Machiavelli. There are several books I’ve abandoned as adults, but I can’t say I hated them like I hated those two. What about you? What books do you love to hate?¬† Share in the comments below!
  • Cruz made a great point about the difference between editing and revising, saying that anyone can edit writing, even someone else’s writing. But not just anyone can revise someone’s writing…the author should be the only one to. This gave me a pause, as while working with students on many a writing piece, I feel that the younger students need to have someone explicitly model how to revise as that is a very high-level thinking skill. They can quickly understand the concept of fixing mistakes, but too often they feel that once that is done, they are done with the piece. I’ve had to approach this skill very tactfully, by giving them suggestions and ideas on improving their writing such as, “Do you think it would make more sense…” or “Do you think this sounds better…” or “Would your character really say or do this?” But I fully agree that once students are older and understand the concept of revising, they should be in charge of the revision.
  • Critical literacy was a theme at not only Cruz’s presentation, but at a session on Media Literacy, presented by Tracie King, a media specialist from my former district, Douglas County Schools in Colorado. Both Cruz and King shared videos from the Fortnite game. We had discussions about not only the violence in the videos but the lack of emotion from the characters when they end up to be the last man standing…having killed all the others and blown up many buildings. Cruz made the point that video games have become the new “backyard”; many parents just open the back door and let them go play, without thinking of the consequences of what they might be playing at. She also had kids watch a video clip from¬†Thor¬†and count how many times violent acts appear in the video.¬†King uses these questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 1.28.12 PM
  • I once again attended an excellent presentation on exploring narrative possibilities by a former Douglas County district colleague, Jennifer Gottshalk, a writing specialist.¬† She offered so many fun ideas for kids in narrative writing:
    • She presented several old, run-of-the-mill prompts to use on National Tell a Lie Day, April 4th (I had no idea this holiday existed). She had us take one of these “tired” prompts and craft a believable lie around it. I wrote one about a trip to Australia (never been there) and the horrific journey there, with canceled flights, terrible hotels, etc. IMG_5967
    • Another great option for writing prompts…a kid-friendly version of the Cards Against Humanity, called Not Parent Approved.¬† This game (which I am planning to get for the whole family, grandkids included) has some hysterical prompts on cards that your students would love writing about!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.08.12 AM
    • Another fabulous idea…you can type in your search bar the words: Visual Writing Prompt and find some amazing ideas to use with your students! You can filter the results to match your grade level or types of prompts (note: check it out first on your own before you project to students; internet searches can yield some “interesting” things!)Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.04.05 AM
      • Jennifer offered another source for photos, but without captions, for writing prompts, Unsplash. My tip for the same kind of photos is Pixabay.
    • A few other ideas for writing prompts from Jennifer:
      • What is the “cheese touch” on your school’s playground? (And check out the hilarious clip from¬†The Diary of a Wimpy Kid¬†movie!)
      • How about this for a prompt…memoirs from a Disney Princess (or any other franchise character kids like!). Jennifer first showed us this video clip from¬†Wreck-it Ralph which features pretty much every Disney princess ever…this will help kids to choose one. Here’s my “memoir” from Cinderella: “Everyone remembers me as sweet, good, kind, cheerful, blah blah blah. But that‚Äôs not really me‚Ķthat‚Äôs what you saw in the movie. I am a fully rounded person with good AND bad traits! For example, when riding the royal carriage, I silently swear at other carriage drivers. I also send anonymous hate Tweets to my stepmother and stepsisters (they deserve it!). And, when eating at the royal banquets, I‚Äôm supposed to eat like a bird, so I grab some extra rolls and put them in my royal handbag to enjoy later‚Ķ”
    • By the way, Jennifer is a published author of some young adult books! Check out her website!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.32.33 AM
  • Todd Mitchell, another Colorado children’s book author, shared with us some ideas for quick writing games, mostly around poetry. One is a “Lost and Found” poem; he had us make a list of things we have lost, then things we have found. He said these items you love and find should not be objects; he pushed us (as we should do with students), to go deeper than that. Here is my attempt as the poem:
    • I lost‚Ķmy ability to go down the stairs without holding on to a rail.
    • I lost my little daughters who are now grown up into young women.
    • I lost my ‚Äúschool family‚ÄĚ when I retired.
    • I found my purpose when I became a teacher
    • I found sleep when I retired from teaching
    • I found a new family when I married my husband.
  • After we wrote these poems in our session, he asked someone to share, then he had another person volunteer to be the “official listener”; they were the person who would listen carefully, then volunteer their feedback. Todd only allows positive feedback from the official listener. I think this is such a great idea; this ensures that someone is going to offer the brave soul who shares their poem some feedback!

That wraps up my feedback for CCIRA! I hope that you are able to try a few of these ideas in your classroom; if you do, please post in the comments!  Stay tuned for my blog posts on using Legos for reading and writing activities and teaching literacy through Genre Studies (Part 2). Here are a few sneak peek photos!

Genre Study: Comic Books & Graphic Novels

The motivational quality of comic books constitutes an enticing appeal to reluctant readers that may serve to hook them on reading. If we can get students to read and enjoy reading, strategy instruction will become both meaningful and effective.

Melissa Barbee, ILA Literacy Daily

In my last post, I discussed how I used to teach literacy to my 5th and 6th graders through genre study… the best thing I ever did in teaching literacy! I also introduced my new Teachers Pay Teachers product, a complete genre study unit for both elementary and secondary teachers!

TpT Genre Study Unit Cover

One of my genre categories in the product is graphic novels and comic books. I was a HUGE fan of comics back in the 60s and 70s…my two favorites were the Archie comics and DC Illustrated Classics (two VERY different comic book genres!). I was already a passionate reader of regular books, so unlike other children, comics weren’t instrumental in me learning to read, but just another genre I loved!

However, for many of today’s children, who grow up surrounded by a plethora of visual media, comics can provide the perfect gateway into reading, as can graphic novels. While teaching my genre units back in the 90s, I did not even remotely think about using comics as a genre (I wish I could go back and yell at myself!), and graphic novels were not common yet. Today’s teachers have a wealth of resources in both of these areas to share with their students!

Back in May of this year, I attended the Denver Pop Culture Con, which is presented by Pop Culture Classroom, whose mission it is to “inspire a love of learning,¬†increase literacy,¬†celebrate diversity¬†and¬†build community¬†through the tools of popular culture and the power of self-expression” (taken from the home page of their website). This organization provides a wealth of resources for teachers who want to introduce the genres of comic books and graphic novels into their classroom, as well as resources on how students can create their own comics!

I attended several sessions led by authors and artists of comics and graphic novels who shared some of the latest and greatest graphic novels out there; so many of them turn events and people in history into a comics format; others include more diversity in their characters.¬† I took plenty of photos of the books they were discussing…check them out below in the slideshow with my descriptions/thoughts!

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Back in my literacy coaching/training days (2006=2009), I learned about Comic Life and loved all the ways the teachers in my district were using these! I’m sure Comic Life is bigger and better now, so students can do so much more with this app! Take a peek at the slideshow:

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Of course, being a tech geek, I had to try it out as well, so I made a comic about my cat! But see how much fun your students could have both writing and reading through a comics medium?

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I plan to have several of my tutoring students explore this genre in the near future, and will share what they read and create. See below for all kinds of resources for you…and thanks for reading my blog!

Pop Culture Classroom:
Graphic Novels Teaching Guides
Educational Comix Series
Curricula Units
Lending Library (currently only for schools in the Denver Metro Area)
More Comics Resources

Other Resources:
Comic Life in Education
Copetoons: Comic resources for kids and educators from Mike Cope
Abdo Digital Bookshelf (Comic books that can be checked out digitally!)
My Google Drive Folder
Hoopla: Check out digital comic books with a library card
Comics Plus app: Another site where you can check out digital comics with a library card
My Pinterest board for elementary comic books and graphic novels, and my secondary board for the same genre

If you have or are currently using comic books and graphic novels in your classroom, please add your thoughts and ideas down in the comments!

Pinterest Poster: Comics & Graphic Novels
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Teaching Literacy through Genres

..when students learn how to recognize and use genres, they are building the background they need to cope with new and unfamiliar texts. – Emily Kissler, ASCD

Growing up, I was a voracious reader, and all the books I read were from many different genres.¬† While raising my own daughters, I encouraged them to also read a wide variety of genres…and when I started teaching, I taught literacy through genres. No state standard, principal, or colleague told me I had to do it that way; it just made sense to me! By organizing my instruction around genres, I was able to meet both the state and district standards in both reading and writing. In addition, I was able to teach such skills and topics as reading strategies, as well as grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout our work in the genres.

Here were the steps I used 25 years ago to teach each of the genres and how I think it should be done now:

  1. I would first introduce each genre, going over the defining characteristics of the genre. Now, I would have the kids read several short excerpts or passages from the chosen genre and have them come up with common elements for the genre.
  2. Students would then choose novels from the targeted genre, either from my classroom library or with the help of the school media specialist. One change I would make: in addition to their novel, I have them read several short reading passages in each of the genres, perhaps during guided reading groups. One book in the genre is not enough to expose a genre to the students.
  3. For some of the genres, I would have students write a story in that genre. For example, during our historical fiction unit, I combined literacy and social studies by having them choose a period in history, research that period, then write a short fiction story set during that time period. One year we had a “History Fair” where the students created a display board on that time period, gathered or made artifacts and other books, and shared their historical fiction story with parents and other students.¬† Here are a few photos from that event! Now¬†in our technology era, students could now do a multimedia presentation on their historical period!

    After our Folk and Fairy Tale unit, I had students write their fractured Cinderella story. We had stories set on ranches where the Cinderella character lost her cowboy boot, and one in a bowling area where she lost her bowling shoe!
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  4. If I did not have students write a story in that genre, we would integrate the arts into the genre study…such as creating Medusa masks to go along with our Mythology unit, or performing fractured fairy tale skits!¬†No updates; this stuff is STILL fun!

5. During our poetry genre unit, my students read, discussed and wrote many different types of poems: haikus, narrative, concrete, free verse, cinquain, diamante, etc. Each student then had their poems put together in a booklet. Later, while working with my GT students, I did the same thing but had them create their portfolio in Google Slides.

After retiring from the school district, I started my own tutoring business and still used the genre approach with many of my students. I found that struggling readers, in particular, have not been exposed to many genres and really need that exposure to them before secondary school. I created a Google Doc listing all the genres so the student could keep track of each genre read and answer questions about the genre.

Miah Genre Study_Page_1Riley Reading Genre Project_Page_1I also have my tutoring students write in some of the genres. Here a few examples of their writing!

Riley Gregory Fable draft
Fable!
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After reading mysteries, my student wrote her own mystery!
Harry & Gloria's Big Trip_Page_1
Fractured Fairy Tale based on Hansel & Gretel

I also created a Quizlet so my students can test themselves on all of the reading genres; click HERE to access it!

I love teaching about and through genres so much that I had to put this entire unit together into a Teachers Pay Teachers product. This is a COMPLETE unit that can be accessed in Google Drive for both elementary and secondary teachers!  The unit includes:

  • Links to my Elementary Genre Study Pinterest board and Secondary Genre Study Pinterest board with hundreds of book choices for ALL genres! Oh, now YOU have the links! ūüôā Many picture books are included in addition to chapter books. These boards will continue to be updated as I find more books!
  • A link to my personal Google Drive folder with hundreds of reading passages, short stories and teacher resources in ALL genres! (Sorry, no link…it’s in the product, though!)
  • A Google Doc for students with activities based on Bloom’s Taxonomy for ALL genres!
  • A Google Doc with hundreds of links to teacher resources!

Here’s a sneak preview:

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Click HERE to check out my Genre Study unit on Teachers Pay Teachers!

And don’t forget to follow my 50 Pinterest boards JUST for teachers! Click HERE!

And as always, I welcome your questions and comments below! Thank you for reading this blog!

Genre Study Pinterest.png

 

Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 1: Overview

Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom ‚Äď in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions.¬†Noel Jones

By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students!  But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich?  During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.

One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom.¬†¬†Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways ‚Äď through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.

Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library

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This how NOT to do a classroom library! Sadly it was mine back in the 90’s, a rolling cart with books on both sides. Ugh!

The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo.¬† Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!

At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question:¬†¬†Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels?¬†¬†However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system.¬† Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!¬†¬†

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)

Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!

‚ÄúA¬†printrich environment¬†is one in which ‚Äúchildren interact with many forms of¬†print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other¬†printed¬†materials‚ÄĚ (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).

What goes on your classroom walls is important as well!¬† I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:

All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary.¬† Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!

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I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!

And don’t forget Word Walls!¬† There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers!¬† More on Word Walls in a future blog!399

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A Personal Word Wall that I had one of my tutoring students create on Padlet for her self-selected words in her book. We then use this wall for various activities to help her not only learn the words but retain them.

(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)

Classroom Design and Layout

“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)

Another question teachers need to ask themselves is:¬†¬†Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework?¬†How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are!¬† What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area?¬† This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well.¬† You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

Authentic Literacy

Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work

Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.”¬† So what are examples of authentic literacy activities?¬† Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!

And that’s a wrap for this week! I would like to thank the following teachers for sharing photos of their classrooms!

  • Kelly Broecker, 5th grade, Gold Rush Elementary in Parker, CO
  • Sarah Rumsey, 3rd grade, Aspen Crossing Elementary in Aurora, CO
  • Renee Hartwig-Ott, 2nd grade, Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, CO
  • Carol McRae, 6th-grade writing, Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
  • Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade, Ruth Hill, Lincoln NE
  • Leslie Schlag, Pre-School, Cherokee Trails Elementary, Parker, CO
  • Angela Davis, Kindergarten, Saddle Ranch Elementary, Highlands Ranch, CO
  • The many K-12 Douglas County School District teachers who attended my literacy training sessions (LIFT) from 2006-2009!

Click on the links below for more information and details about each of the aspects of a literacy-rich classroom!

Word Walls
Classroom Libraries
Print-Rich Walls
Classroom Design and Layout
Authentic Literacy