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! 🙂 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!

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Read Aloud…with a Purpose!

Reading aloud in the classroom is not just a one time a day activity, and it is not only for elementary students. Teachers can use short, purposeful read alouds in all grades and all content areas!

The single most important activity for building the background knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

Becoming a Nation of Readers, 1985

Yes, that quote is over 30 years old…but it is STILL true! Reading aloud to kids…by parent, teachers and other adults in their lives is crucial to reading success!

In my post last week, I gave an overview of Balanced Literacy Elements and wrote about the problem of trying to fit all of these into your daily ELA block…but that’s impossible! In order to ensure our students are proficient readers and ready for the high amount of expository reading they will encounter in secondary school, we MUST be teaching and using reading and writing strategies in content areas. This first breakout post will help you understand Read Aloud with a Purpose (RAWAP) and how this can be used in not only the literacy part of your day but in the rest of your day as well!

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 1.46.29 PMRead Aloud with a Purpose is not the same as your scheduled “read aloud-for- pleasure” part of the day.  Of course, this IS always important to do in classrooms, especially primary, as it instills a love of reading and introduces genres and authors to kids.  However, Read Aloud with a Purpose is different; it’s used in short increments several times during the school day.  This time provides an opportunity for teachers to model many different reading behaviors and use of strategies.  In the gradual release of responsibility model, Read Aloud with a Purpose comes at the top…”I do, you watch/listen”.

The key points to this element are as follows:

  • A time for students to observe a proficient reader using a specific reading strategy
  • The teacher should state the name of the reading strategy being modeled, either before or after the read aloud
  • The students must hear the teacher’s thinking as they read through a piece of text
  • Short, strategic pieces of text are used…from any content area.

Here are some examples of how I have used Read Aloud with a Purpose in several content areas.

Ideas for Short, Purposeful Read Alouds…in ELA

Note that for all of these examples, I do NOT read aloud the entire book (If I do, I will wait for my traditional read-aloud time. What I have found is that if you choose books wisely to use for RAWAP, you will cause students to want to read the book on their own! I used to leave my RAWAP book on my whiteboard shelf and for a few days, it was being passed around like crazy! Below are four books I have used for RAWAP in either the classroom, small groups or tutoring.

Image-1-1 2I use The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg all the time to teach my students about inferring. I would read aloud just a few passages and think aloud about who or what this stranger could be. I pointed out both evidence in the text and talked about how my background knowledge was helping me make some inferences.

Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems (and all of the other Pigeon books) are wonderful to use when teaching persuasion. I just used it last week with my 3rd-grade tutoring student; I read parts of the book to her and we discussed what words and ideas the pigeon used to persuade. Next, she will use these persuasion ideas in her own persuasive writing project on Antarctica!

Sunset at Camp
My grandparents’ former camp on the Big Dead River Basin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

All the Places to Love by Patricia Maclachlan is perfect for teaching students about how words can invoke both feelings and senses. While training teachers on Modeling Writing (also called “Write Aloud), I read aloud the first few pages without showing them the illustrations. We then discussed what visuals they were seeing in their mind, and how the author invoked both feelings and senses by the word choice. I then shared the beautiful illustrations and we discussed further feelings gained from the images.  I then used these ideas to write and think aloud in front of the teachers about the place I loved the most…my grandparents’ camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Finally, to help a student learn about the main idea in expository books, chapters, and passages, I used an excellent non-fiction book from Scholastic’s A True Book series Animals Helping with Healing by Ann O. Squire.  I read aloud the first chapter, discussing sentences and details that were clues to determining the main idea. Next, I had the student read the next chapter and try to determine what the main idea was, and which details supported the idea.


You can also read excerpts from chapter books to focus on specific reading and writing strategies! Tuck Everlasting is one of my all-time favorite books, and I loved introducing it to students. I would read aloud the beginning of the book (the “August” paragraphs) for many reasons…to model inferring, predicting, vocabulary in context, or just for the sheer beauty of the words. I also loved to read aloud the beginning of  The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen for all the same purposes.  Here’s a link to a blog discussing favorite opening paragraphs in children’s/young adult novels.

story_snippet_calm

I discovered a wonderful website, Live.Read.Write by Erika Crowl, who has created something called Story Snippets; wonderful excerpts from children’s books that can be read aloud to help students understand how to show, not just tell. As you read, you need to be thinking aloud about how the words help the reader to understand the feeling without the author stating what it is. Currently, she has Snippets for several emotions: calm (at left), despair, sunshine, wind, and anticipation.

It’s also fun to read aloud the JUST the very first sentences of books to students for a variety of reasons: to help them with writer’s craft, to entice them to read new books for independent reading or to model word choice. Here are some classic first lines from Kim Hart on her website.

Ideas for Short, Purposeful Read Alouds in other content areas

Understanding test or assignment directions:

Directions

Directions 2

Take a look at the two different set of directions above…do you see the benefit of reading and discussing these out loud with students? So many times we just expect that students will magically understand all the words in the directions and what the directions are telling them to do!  I can’t tell you how many times I would hand out an assignment or test to my students, with VERY clear, bulleted directions, only to have several students coming to ask me questions on what do afterward! I finally started adding in secret messages into the directions, such as, “If you are reading these directions, write this sentence under the directions: “I read them!” and you will get five bonus points…” or something similar. It finally dawned on me that it would help if I projected the directions so all could see, then read aloud the directions and model my understanding of what I had to do to be successful in that particular assignment or test area. You could also have the students join you in a shared reading of the directions and a follow-up discussion.

Vocabulary in context:

To help students understand how to use context in reading to figure out an unfamiliar vocabulary word, I would choose a piece of text that I knew would have some difficult words. Let’s say I am teaching 5th-grade social studies unit on Explorers (been there, done that!). I plan to assign articles on explorers from Newsela to help with background knowledge on exploration and explorers, as well as reading skills. Before I have them work independently on this, I am going to read an excerpt from an article and think aloud about how I would use clues in the text to figure out the words “fleet”, “mutiny” and “vessels”.  I would also point out the proper name “Patagonia”; I can tell it’s a place, but I’d like to look on a map to help understand the location. Explorers Read Aloud

Textbook page

Textbook Fun!

Education Corner has this to say about textbook reading: “Textbooks can be boring, tedious, and full of detail. Jumping right into a textbook without having a general idea of the central themes and topics can make textbook reading that much more challenging.”  To help make this type of reading less intimidating, you can do a read/think-aloud while previewing a textbook chapter. Read and discuss the titles, the heading, any bold-faced words, picture captions, etc. Model reading aloud any chapter questions BEFORE reading and think aloud about how this will help find the answers while reading.

IMG_1150Math Word Problems: 

This is an area in which I have spent a great deal of time helping not only my tutoring students who struggle in reading or math but also my gifted and talented students! In my own past classrooms, I know I was guilty of just assuming if students could read, they could handle these problems easily.  Just look at the problem to the left; even skilled reading and math students can easily be intimidated by this! An excellent way to help with this is to provide a read/think aloud of a word problem. A teacher can do this in a whole group setting, or a small guided math group setting. The teacher reads the problem aloud, thinking aloud about what exactly needs to be solved, as well as clues given on how to solve it and any unnecessary information thrown into the problem. The teacher should also model annotating the text (highlighting, questions, thoughts). By providing this modeling, it could help many students be less intimidated by word problems! After modeling for my tutoring student, he was able to read, annotate and solve on his own!

There are so many more ways you can read aloud in content areas…just think about how much you expect kids to read silently in math, science, health, electives, etc. Now think about how much their comprehension can improve if you first MODEL proficient reading skills and THINK ALOUD about the strategies you are using. This can make a world of difference!

Let me know in the comment section below other lesson ideas or texts to use for Reading Aloud…with a Purpose! 

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