Playing and learning through literacy (teaching ideas)

This summer, students in READ 6313 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Lily Garcia

As a first grade teacher I am aware that the child’s attention span is short for the million things they have to learn on a daily basis. One thing I like to do to develop their literacy is by making it fun for them as they are learning. Literacy begins with spoken language, so having my first graders exposed to rhyme and alliteration helps them so much and they enjoy doing centers with those activities that without knowing they are “playing” but learning at the same time.

I know one thing that sometimes isn’t liked very much in classrooms is when they are considered “noisy”, but teachers and administrators need to allow children to talk as much as they can. So even during free play, teachers should go up to a child and ask what they are doing. Engage in a conversation on the child’s level and go along with whatever the child says, but the system now a days goes straight into asking stem questions and higher order thinking questions when the child hasn’t developed the foundation yet and if those questions are not asked then we as teachers are not doing our job right, when in reality we are.

I believe in having children work through play whether it’s in group activities or drama plays with puppets or costumes to have the child develop their literacy development. When children interact with one another on a playing level they develop relationships and forms of communicating that will benefit them in the long run. Another thing I like to have my students do is play with letter blocks and stamps, they express themselves in writing and tell each other words they’ve learned and are at the same time teaching and understanding one another. They enjoy having their centers on a daily basis and all I have to do is make sure to teach them a couple of times so they are all aware of what to do and they are able to take off on their own. Students at the first grade age level love to be helpers, so another thing we do in my classroom is read aloud on a daily basis. When we all go to the carpet I allow students to hold books as we read and I give them a chance to understand the story by allowing them to put on puppet shows. Puppet shows are great because students need to use creative thinking and verbal cues to put a story together and let me tell you they come up with some fantastic scenarios.

In order to develop literacy at an early age we need to ask a lot of questions, ask them to predict what will happen, what do they know based on the pictures etc. Having a small library setup in my own classroom is also a fantastic idea since children enjoy going over to it and look at books, I’ve noticed that they pick books that seem to be attractive for them, so I make sure to display books with bright covers and eye catching scenes since most of them at that age are visual learners.

I can gladly say that with these activities in use in my own classroom I have been able to get some millionaire readers for our AR scores, my children have developed a liking for literacy that to them it was all fun and play while they were picking up everything they need to learn without realizing it. What you model is what they will pick up and since reading is constantly modeled in my classroom, they love to pick up books and read to one another with expression, intonation and act out scenarios.


This semester, students in READ 6310 Children and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By L. Ramos

Incorporating and promoting literacy in and out of school is crucial in motivating and encouraging story time. Implementing a variety of ways to induce literacy in every child may inspire parents and caregivers into story time too. Short activities before, during, or after reading may engage children into the desire to look at and use books for interest and enjoyment. Children’s imagination is a key element in jump starting a love for books. In doing so, literary activities are mere extensions of the reading essentials needed to promote literacy. Here are some useful motivational literary activities:

 Finish It Your Way!    

Read a short story, poem, or nursery rhyme. Ask students about how they would change the ending. Have students write their ending and add their own illustrations to demonstrate their response. Allow them to share their responses. This activity promotes critical thinking.


Puppets. Puppets, Puppets!

Read a short story or play. Use puppets to act out the scenes to engage children kinesthetically, visually, and orally. Puppets are extremely useful in conveying role playing to express feelings and/or scenarios allowing open discussion and interactions among the children and the characters.


In Other Words…

Do a picture walk using a picture book. Create your own story using its pictures. Then allow students to tell or write their own tale about the picture book. It’s also a great way to reinforce grammar and spelling rules.


Speak Right Up!

A microphone is a great way to allow the child to express himself/herself using oral language. The student may assume the role of a character in a story or respond to literary questions using the microphone.   They can also be placed in the reading center for motivational/expressive read alouds.


Snack Attack!

Bring a snack to class like cookies, crackers, or cereal, etc. Give each student a piece of a snack. Have each student describe the color, smell, appearance, texture, and taste. Students may write a descriptive paragraph to promote descriptive writing. A T-Chart or Venn Diagram can also be created to differentiate snacks too.


My Space

Create a reading area with pillows, a small chair, a rocker, a small sofa, a tent, bean bags, etc. This allows children to be comfortable and read with their peers making it fun, engaging, and motivational for all!


Face Book

Ask students to draw each family member’s face and/or their friends. Each face is to be drawn and colored on an individual paper.  When done, they will write a story using each member or friend as a character. Great for a multicultural activity!


Online Reading Games

Exposing children to online reading games broadens literacy further by making it exciting and interesting. By combining reading and fun, it will engage students by motivating him/her towards story time. Online reading games reinforces phonemic awareness, spelling, punctuation, blending, sentence structures, and much more!

With these ideas in mind, story time can be engaging, interesting, and motivating for all children of different learning styles. By promoting different literary activities, children can become happy, fluent readers. They can all be embedded within the school setting and at home allowing children to have access to a variety of literary elements.

Tools to Support Students with Their Online Research Assignments

This semester, students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Lizeth Rodriguez

With the advent of technology, digital literacies have facilitated a wider range of possibilities for research papers done by students. With great power, such as the one generated by search engines, comes great responsibility for the students to filter accurate information. When a student is given a topic on a assignment and they decide to search for related material, as soon as they type any keyword in the search engines they may get millions of related websites. For example, I searched for the water cycle on Google, and this generated about 146,000,000 results in 0.22 seconds according to their statistics feedback. Now out of all of these websites that google provided for me, some maybe accurate, but, surprisingly, the first website on the list is from Wikipedia. Although some information on Wikipedia may be correct, for the most part it is not reliable since any one can modify the information independent of their expertise. Teachers can guide the students by providing some guidelines when they search information online.

First, we will look into what is a typical research sequence for many students (Ippolito, Lawrence & Zaller, 2013, p. 119):

Searching in Wikipedia or Google

  • Browsing quickly through websites for ideas and quotes
  • Cutting and pasting information from the Web into one’s own writing without providing proper attribution for it
  • Viewing information as free, accurate, and trustworthy
  • Treating online information as equal to print information

Clines and Cobb suggest the following strategies for students when they research online (Ippolito, Lawrence & Zaller, 2013, p. 119):

  • Checking the purpose of the Web site (for example, the extensions .edu, .org, .gov, .com can often indicate the orientation or purpose of the site)
  • Locating and considering the author’s credentials to establish credibility
  • Looking for recent updates to establish currency or relevancy
  • Examining the visual elements of the site such as links to establish relationships with other sources of information

One approach to website evaluation that has been developed by researchers at Michigan State University is the WWWDOT framework. This framework asks the students to consider a set of six dimensions (Ippolito, Lawrence & Zaller, 2013, p. 119):

  1. Who wrote this, and what credentials do they have?
  2. Why is it written?
  3. When was it written and updated?
  4. Does this help meet my needs?
  5. Organization of website?
  6. To do list for the future.

The teachers can direct the students by providing guidelines when they are searching material online utilizing the above strategies and others they can formulate. For example they can ask them to make sure that the material is dated from five years to present year, a minimum of three professional websites. Teachers can also ask the students to research in their school’s library search engine, and to reference all their material. With practice and dedication, the students will understand the importance of legitimate and accurate research.

Reference: Ippolito, J., Lawrence, J. F. & Zaller, C. (2013). Adolescent literacy in the era of the common core.(pp. 1-285). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Educational Press.

Multicultural Literature in Schools

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Sandra Lozoya

Multicultural literature is literature that includes a variety of cultures. The world is made of billions of different people with several diverse cultures. Here in the United States, we can see some of those different cultures. In our schools however, we don’t let our students know that the world, the United States, and even the schools itself, are made up by a mix of cultures. Introducing Multicultural literature in our schools would be a way to open our student’s minds and let them know that it’s ok to not celebrate Christmas, and that it’s ok to have a different color of skin, that it’s ok to have quinceneras and that it’s ok to have different beliefs.


The purpose of school has always been to educate. Some may argue against “teaching cultures in school” since it may be misunderstood as imposing cultures but no one is imposing anything to anyone. One of the biggest problems with today’s society is ignorance. Ignorance is the lack of knowing something due to the absence of information about it. When a person doesn’t know about a topic he or she becomes defensive towards it. It is human nature to be scared to something that is unknown. Therefore this is why multicultural literature is essential in today’s society.

Opponents to multicultural literature may also argue that multicultural literature in a school may only lead to an increase in stereotyping cultures, Nonetheless an idea of the type of culture is better than to pretend it doesn’t exist. The problem of stereotyping would be targeted by explaining to students that not everyone in the culture acts the way the book may be telling them. The students could study their own culture with literature and establish the similarities and differences they have with the characters in the literature. With the idea of this concept, they can have an understanding that other cultures work the same way.


Multicultural literature can also be a great tool to help decrease bullying in schools. A lot of the bullying going on in schools is due to the fact that every student is different. For example, students leave out the kid with an accent or the one who comes from a “weird” family. It is important that children grow up with the knowledge that every person is unique and comes from a different type of family. It is also important to enforce the students to be proud of their culture and who they choose to be.


In addition, it is vital for students to be aware that no matter what their culture is they deserve respect and they should never let anyone make them feel inferior. The biggest mistake of society is believing there is ONE and only one correct way to live. In reality there is no right or wrong culture to follow, but several different ones, especially here in the United States where we are a soup of cultures in a big, great bowl.

I’m a teacher, I should know

This semester, students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Elizabeth

When I first became a teacher, five years ago, it was quite a daunting task. But quickly, and after various trainings and numerous workshops (and practice), I became quite good at it…or so I thought. I was assigned department head my second year, was named teacher of the year my third year and then Elementary Teacher of the District. What an honor! I quickly became a leader at my campus; I was helping other teachers, doing trainings and even presented at a big conference. And while I felt confident in my teaching ability, I knew I had more to learn, especially with regards to teaching reading.  I then entered the Reading Program and realized how little I do know, but should know as a teacher.


My life and way of thinking, being and seeing the world, especially as a teacher, has drastically changed since my first class last semester. After reading Frank Smith, Paulo Freire, Margaret Moustafa, Yetta Goodman (who infected me with habitual kidwatching) and numerous others; after learning about multiculturalism, transactional theory, critical literacy and everything that falls within, I wonder how, why every teacher is not exposed/ equipped with all of these ideas, theories and practices! Although I am making a generalization, in my five years and two districts, none of the above were ever mentioned, discussed or suggested by any trainer or administrator. Why should one enter grad school to learn this valuable information that is extremely pertinent to their job and to the lives of their students? I am baffled by this because now I cannot imagine teaching without knowing what I now know.

Does this mean that I wasn’t a good teacher after all, or that if teachers don’t know, they aren’t good teachers? Of course not, but imagine how much better we all can be for ourselves and our students if we all had these ideas to consider and implement.  Maybe teaching traditional phonics hasn’t been working for some and knowing about Smith’s and Moustafa’s ideas would bring great changes (and results) to their practices. Maybe after reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, critical literacy is practiced in more meaningful ways with students. This can be life changing! What if learning what Yetta Goodman’s “kidwatching” is and because of it, students’ actions begin to tell stories and inform (it did for me)?

kid learn on blocks

As teachers we are busy, swamped; swimming in a sea of school work. We are provided with curriculums and adoptions to follow. Do these ever suggest the idea of multicultural literacy? Probably not; they might actually omit most multicultural ideas, or as we’ve learned, provide a shallow tourist approach.  We all now know the implications of a classroom without multicultural literacy and how valuable it is, particularly with our student population. Teachers must be exposed to these ideas in a meaningful way and be able to act on them in their classrooms, but need they be in school to learn?


What about Rosenblatt’s transactional theory? Are all teachers familiar with discussing aesthetic questions versus efferent questions with their students or modeling how to discuss them with each other? Are teachers supplementing their basal “literature” with high quality literature that lends itself to a more personal, artistic experience? If not, I believe they would if they knew of Rosenblatt and her works.

I know many teachers are very knowledgeable with the above and more, but I wasn’t and I have not worked with anyone who has ever discussed or practiced what I have and continue to learn. I take it seriously; this knowledge stirs up urgency and a passion that makes me be a better person, better teacher and a better thinker. I want other teachers to know of these things because they are important. I want teachers to of know these things because we have an obligation to our students. I want teachers to know about these things so that they have a choice. I strongly feel that these theories, authors, ideas and practices should be common knowledge and discussion in our schools amongst teachers, administrators and students. After all, we are trying to facilitate higher order thinking and well-rounded being.

Answering a GREAT question with the help of an Anchor!

This semester in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature, students were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Maria D. Wiles

I recently attended a meeting in which the presenter was a district instructional coach. I enjoy attending these meetings because I always have an “AHA!” moment as a result of at least one item of discussion from these meetings. This particular meeting was focused on using questioning to raise the rigor in our classrooms.  There are many things that we as teachers know are effective but sometimes; we don’t give much thought as to why it is effective or how much effect that single strategy can have on a class full of students.

Our presenter brought up the fact that some teachers will say their reason for not asking higher order questions is because the students will not be able to answer. The presenter continued with a short activity. First, she showed us a video that although humorous, was also informational because it was a short clip about a teacher in a classroom discussing a book with students by asking open ended, high order questions. We were all engaged in the viewing of the video. Next, there was a slide up for viewing that had 4 pictures on it. Next, we were instructed to get out a “thinking sheet” that we had that had a “Synectics Four Box” with four fill in the blank such as “Coaching is like ___________ because _____________.” The instructions were that we could use either the video or the posted pictures to help us fill in the four items. When we finished, the presenter asked how many had used the pictures and how many had used the video to help them fill in the blanks.

A good majority (I couldn’t see every person) had used the pictures. The presenter then explained that students, like adults need a reminder somewhere for them to be able to remember concepts. She pointed out that we used the pictures because it was easier for us to reference and it helped us put our plan for answering into order. She explained that with the use of anchor charts in our classroom, students will be reminded of skills throughout the year and therefore, higher level questioning is possible and students will feel reassured knowing there is a guide to help them.

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Ask yourselves, how much do you actually remember from a regular day? Now, by Friday, how many details from your week do you remember? Your answer is probably the same as mine, “not very many”. Why do we remember phone numbers, addresses, and appointments? Because we have a constant reminder, these things are usually written down. So remember, anchor charts aren’t just time consuming to make and wall decorations, they really do help a student remember throughout the year what they have learned and assist them in being able to answer these higher level, thought provoking questions.

Reading to Infants and Toddlers

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By E. Perez

What is the big deal about reading to infants and toddlers? Why is it important to read to them? Are there successful strategies to use when reading to infants and toddlers? What type of books should be read to young children?

It always fascinates me to hear all the reasons why we should NOT spend our time reading to infants and toddlers. “Babies do not understand what is being read to them.” “They can’t even talk, how will they contribute to reading a book?” “All infants do is place books in their mouths and chew on them.”

Reading to infants and toddlers is a big deal. Introducing, sharing and reading books to children at an early age can establish a strong foundation for later literacy skills. Reading builds curiosity, introduces them to new words, and it provides a positive association with books. Sure young children do not have a long attention span, but they are interested in books and they love to be read to.

We do not expect infants or toddlers to be able to read, but the skills that lead them to be successful readers begin in the early years. It is important as parents and early child care teachers to make lots of books available to these young children, provide them with plenty of experiences with books, read to them as much as possible and ensure we are responsive to children who want to be read to. When one reads to infant and toddlers, they become familiar with the sound of language and learn that print in these books have meaning.

Parents and early child care teachers can engage children in the reading process. When reading, adults should point out to different words and make connections between text and the imagery in the book. Infants and toddlers should be given the opportunity to handle and explore books; even it means they will put the book in their mouths. Share control of the book. When looking through a picture book, adult should point to and name the picture. Observe how the children respond to the books. Talk to the children about the picture books and help them make connections to familiar items. Providing young children with books allows them to learn the skills on how to handle books.

Infant and toddler children should be exposed to books with basic concepts such as numbers, colors, shapes, letters, and interest items. Helen Oxenbury and Eric Carle’s books share some of these basic concepts.

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Zero to Three, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families recommend providing infant and toddler children with the following type of books.

  • Books with simple pictures.
  • Chunky books or fold out books that can be propped up in the crib.
  • Cloth and soft vinyl books with simple pictures that can be washed.
  • Small plastic photo albums of family and friends.
  • Books with few words on each page.
  • Books with simple rhymes or predictable text.
  • Textured books.
  • Books with animals of all sizes and shapes.

As an advocate of young children, I believe one of the primary benefits of reading to infant and toddlers is their development of early language and pre-literacy skills.