Reading Routines

Jen commented that she is working on building reading routines with her combination (K-1) class.  I think K-1 is really a challenge – first graders are expected to begin the year already decoding and comprehending simple stories – but most kindergartners are in a very different place at the start of the year.  Even though my experience was always in Kindergarten, I am happy to share a few thoughts.  One of the important skills children must develop to become good readers is the motivation or disposition to BE a reader.  I think it is really important to find real life reasons for them to see the value of reading, and be motivated to try to figure out this complicated process.  I tried to build lots of reasons to read into the structure of my day – I tried to include reading in routine things we did every day.  I know these are not new ideas, and I have mentioned many of these things in other posts, but I didn’t specifically talk about how these daily activities give the children a reason to try to figure out the written message.  These activities also enhance a child’s image of him/herself as a reader when they are able to figure it out.

A very simple definition of reading is making meaning from marks on paper.  Using photographs and picture cues is a great way to scaffold this process – when you couple a picture with a word you help all children be successful, and that is essential if you want to encourage their efforts.  Every day my children found their photograph and put it on our lunch chart.  We always had a main and alternate lunch choice, or yogurt and graham crackers.  Another column was for children who were just buying milk, and one more column for children who brought their entire lunch.  It may not look like reading but the children really had to make meaning of the pictures and words in order to do this task every day.

Later in the day, after lunch, I would post a yes/no – or 2 choice question in another pocket chart.  The children would move their picture to indicate their choice on the graph – another real reason to figure it out.  It also meant that I didn’t have to move all those pictures myself!

Choosing a center from our clothespin center chart gave the children another opportunity to make meaning.   Again, the picture cues made this very easy for all children, but I still think it is a very basic reading experience.

I always included a note to the class as part of our morning circle time.  Some people call it the Morning Message.  I wrote mine on roll paper that was attached to a small easel.  After we read it together I called the Special Helper up to “make frames” around different kinds of punctuation, letters, or sight words.  Then I tore off the note and gave it to the special helper to take home.  At the beginning of the year I included many simple picture cues, as the children learned more sight words and decoding strategies I used fewer pictures later in the year.

I often wrote almost the exact same letter each day, changing our activity, special class and weather – until the children were confident ‘reading’ it along with me.  After awhile I would change the basic pattern and use that for awhile.

I sent a stuffed animal home overnight with a child every night, and asked the parents to write a simple short story about what the child and animal did together.  I set them up by telling them that Marmalade LOVED socks, so if they didn’t want him to mess up their sock drawer they should be sure it was shut tightly.  That gave parents who weren’t comfortable with their child sleeping with this class stuffie an option to allow the animal to sleep in the sock drawer.

My take home animal was always called Marmalade (when I had 2 classes, the other one was Marmaduke) but the animals changed every year – I had bears, dogs, tigers, it really didn’t matter – the kids loved this!  They were very interested when I read the parents’ stories out loud.  When it was their turn to take him home the children often dictated what they wanted the parent to write.

Labeling your classroom also provides a real reason for reading – it really helps the kids keep organized and know where to put things away too.

I usually began the year with one word labels, and changed to sentences later.

After lots of modeling I allowed the children to get their own snacks.  I would write a very simple note on the chalkboard about what the snack was and how many to take.  We practiced using hand sanitizer, carrying the snacks and cleaning up!

After learning a song or a poem I often put the words on a chart or in a pocket chart for the children to ‘read’ as they sang.  We made lots of books together, and the words for those were always in a pocket chart too.  Here is a book I made from one of Dr. Jean’s songs:

May there always be sunshine kids book

Of course you always need to give the children lots of time with books – but I think you need to spend time teaching them what to do with the books.  Most classes include children with little book experience, they flip through a book quickly and toss it aside.  I modeled and we practiced what to do when you are ‘reading.’  We talked about finding a good spot to read, staying in one place, turning pages carefully, looking at the cover and predicting what the story is about, making up a story by looking at the pictures, looking for words you recognize, looking for the letters in your name, counting question marks, etc.  We role played how to hold and handle books, how to take them out and put them away.  We talked about how to read to yourself, and how to read with a partner.  All of these skills need to be specifically taught and practiced, these were the lessons I taught at the beginning of Reader’s Workshop.   I often made a class book about how to read a book, and another one about how to read with a partner.  After lots of modeling, role playing and practice, I asked the children to tell me all they knew about how to read a book.  As they shared their ideas I wrote them on chart paper.  If you have neat handwriting you could cut apart that list and glue it onto pages for the children to illustrate – I usually typed the sentences.  Then after the children illustrated each page I bound them together in a book that we could read, and later added it to our class library.  We made a separate book about how to read with a partner.

I explained in another post how I used Elizabeth Sulzby’s Kindergarten Literature Program at the beginning of the year.  Basically I bought about 5 copies of 15-20 books.  I read and reread a book over and over, then put that book out as a choice for children.  This simulates the experience of a parent reading a favorite book over and over to a child at home.  The children gain ownership of the story, they use expression and intonation and they retell the story as they look through the book.  Some begin to match the print to some of the words.

There are a few more things I remember doing to help children value reading.  When we made a class graph I would always ask the children what they noticed about the graph.  On an apple graph they might say something like “there are more apple pies than ciders.”  I would write – Timmy said “There are more apple pies than ciders.”  I would write each child’s comments just like that, then I would post that list with the graph on the wall.  I really liked doing this because it showed the children the sight word ‘said’ that is in so many emergent books, and also quotation marks.  They loved it because they liked to see their name on it too.  It motivated the children to share ideas too!

I looked for opportunities to model writing – if I wanted to remember to bring something from home I would stop what I was doing and talk about needing to remember, then I would get paper and write myself a note in front of the children.  Later in the year I would ask a child to write me a reminder note.  If the children had more than one project or job to do, I would make a list with picture cues and they would be responsible to read the chart and be sure they had done all their jobs.  I made a chart of important people in our school that had the pictures of the specials teachers, the office staff, etc. along with their names.

On the wall I had a small pocket chart with pictures and words about our daily schedule.  Because they were in a pocket chart I could change it when I needed to, for different specials, etc.   I had a pig with a word bubble next to the doorway where the children lined up.  I used wipe off marker to write sight words or notes on it that they could read as they went by.

We brainstormed ideas often and I would write their ideas on a paper cut in a shape to match the theme.

Another thing I loved doing was making Language Experience stories.  I did this often after a field trip – the children would tell me what they remembered about the trip – I usually encouraged them to retell the event in order.  Again I wrote their words and then the children illustrated each page.

I talked in another post about how I used my puppet Rosco to introduce alphabet letters and engage children.  They were so excited when they first met him that we made a language experience story about that.  I saved the words on my computer – the children illustrated the pages.


I shared a few books that I made to help children learn our classroom routines.  Here is one about what it means to be helpful.

We did lots of activities to reinforce sight words.  As they learned new words I made little booklets that used the words we already knew and provided practice on the new word.  The children cut and pasted pictures and phonetically labeled in these books.  Most of all they read them and reread them.

I have shared other class books that we made, here is one we did after brainstorming why leaves change color.  Class books like this are very popular and provide lots of motivation to read.  After we made this book we read an information book to really learn what makes the leaves change color.

Of course all of these ideas need to be coupled with skills like letter recognition, sounds, phonemic awareness and concepts about print!  Becoming literate is a complicated process!

So Jen, I hope this gives you some ideas.  I know you were asking about how to build routines into your day; and I agree that it is so important to provide time and put books into the children’s hands.  Research clearly shows that the more a child reads, the better reader he or she becomes – that just makes sense!  But in my kindergarten experience I found that just providing time and books is not enough.  You have to provide a huge variety of opportunities to read, and materials that mean something to your children, and you need to help them fall in love with reading – most of that is sharing your own love and excitement about books!

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ccassidy
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 10:38:06

    I so love your blog. I gleaned a lot of really good information from this posting, but had a question regarding something I saw in one of your awesome pictures: How do you print on sentence strips? I’m assuming you used a printer, otherwise, you have the best printing skills I’ve seen. Did you print onto sentence strips?

    Again, I love all the information you give, thanks for all you do to make me a better teacher.


  2. dbsenk
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 13:10:31

    Thanks Connie – I did print those sentence strips on my computer – isn’t that great? I used an Epson printer that allowed me to set the margins at 24 inches. I had heard that some Epsons could do that and my son helped me set it up. Actually after he helped me I saved that first set of sentence strips with all the settings on it and changed the font and size and text when I wanted to make different sentence strips! That printer was not very expensive, but I have not been able to do it on other kinds of printers. Thanks for reading!


  3. Jen Whiffin
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 23:09:47

    Wow! I feel so lucky that I found your blog. You are the best kind of mentor! Thank you so much for your ideas. You are right that I need to teach and model what we do when we read. I will start that straight away. I love the stuffed animal idea…I’m going to give that some thought. It can be so overwhelming starting a new level like this! There are so many things to consider. I’ll let you know how it is going as I implement new ideas.

    By the way, I used your friend survey with my students in the first week of school (as you suggested) and it has now turned into a nice little routine. I partner the children up every morning, sing “hello neighbour”, and then do a little survey work. We’ve learned a lot about each other this way. We’ve been learning about feelings together, and so the children survey each other on how they feel. They colour and cut out their partners selections and I line them up to make a graph.

    Thank you again!


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