Beyond Popcorn and Popsicle Sticks

Thursday, September 4, 2014
selected by Lori

Our regular readers know how much we love a good excerpt. They're perfect for targeted teaching and are powerful tools for annotation, close reading, and even vocabulary development. However, we also realize there is much to be said for sustained reading of longer pieces. Sometimes a short excerpt won't cut it, but how do you ensure that everyone reads the three page short story or the two page article? How do you make sure each kid reads it and understands it well enough to dig deeper and work with it?

Down time makes teachers nervous--and rightfully so. All too often, reading turns into student-sanctioned down time where heads are down or eyes are wandering. Some teachers have found accountability measures in popcorn reading where students are called on to read aloud and many use the popsicle stick method to ensure that students are called on at random. 

I get it. You want accountability and you don't want down time, but the problem with this strategy is two-fold. When it comes to reading, I am never a fan of asking a kid to read something out loud that he hasn't had the chance to first practice. It is a "gotcha" and can be detrimental to the student-teacher relationship. Second, when a student is reading aloud, comprehension generally suffers and other kids tune it out anyway. Let's find ways to engage in sustained reading with some useful strategies that are rigorous and hold all students accountable for their own reading. These simple strategies offer support to struggling readers and opportunities for stronger readers to dig deeper. 

  • Paragraph for Paragraph—Alternate reading paragraphs aloud to students and letting them read independently.
  • Page for Page—Same as paragraph for paragraph, but with extended chunks of text.
  • Say Something—Assign a targeted passage with a specific purpose. Tell students they are responsible for saying something to someone else after reading. You don’t have to be specific about the expectation until after they read. That puts the pressure on them! Once reading time is ended, students stand to find a partner and you give them their discussion task. 
  • Group Read—Give small groups or pairs a chunk to read and allow an appropriate time. They can decide how to spend that time.
    • They could switch readers.
    • One student could read aloud while one annotates.
    • Students could read independently and recap to annotate together.

  • Targeted PassageBox a targeted passage of the text you are working with before you make copies. Begin by reading the targeted passage aloud to your class first and then they read the remainder of the text. This is a great strategy for specific and targeted teaching. For example, if you want your lesson to focus on figurative language, then draw your kids into a cool sentence before they read the entire text. Then, their reading purpose for the rest of the text is to determine how that piece of figurative language impacts the rest of the piece.
  • Paired Reading—This is a great strategy for struggling readers. It takes a bit of work to establish, but the payoff is nice.
     Remember to mix and match these strategies to keep your instruction interesting for your kids. It's a great idea to tell students what the reading expectation is. Kids always feel safer and more comfortable when they know what the expectation is and what they'll be required to do. As a student, if I know that I'll be expected to read every other paragraph or every other page, then that feels manageable and I feel like my teacher is going to help me.

     If we can move beyond popcorn and popsicle sticks, then students will be held accountable for much more than a random risk of being called to read aloud. 

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