Click play below to hear 3 essential literacy lessons:
At the beginning of each new school year, we set up our classrooms for a successful year which includes routines, procedures, and centers. All of those elements help make engaging activities and lessons possible. As literacy teachers, we also strive to build skilled readers who have a love for reading. In order for those things to become possible, I’m sharing the 3 essential literacy lessons to focus on at the beginning of the school year.
When students are in upper elementary, there are often misconceptions surrounding their reading skills. Each of these literacy lessons helps students identify what area of reading they struggle with, how to respond to reading concepts and questions, and how to discover their reading genre preferences. After knowing the importance of the essential literary lessons, I take it another step forward and provide engaging activities for students to participate in during each lesson.
Focusing on literacy at the beginning of the year helps set the tone for the importance it has on your students. Therefore, implementing these 3 essential literacy lessons towards the beginning of school will lead to more skilled readers in your classroom this school year!
In this episode on essential literacy lessons to focus on, I share:
- Why comprehension isn’t the only skill upper elementary students struggle with
- The importance of student choice and freedom to not like certain reading genres
- What reading a variety of genres can do for a student’s perspective
- Picture books to use with each literacy lesson
- Reading Genre Posters and Anchor Charts
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Free Literacy Block Workshop
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 111, 4 Ways to Easily Incorporate Movement into Your Instructional Day
- Episode 105, How to Incorporate Writing About Reading During Small Groups
- Episode 97, 3 Ways to Introduce Genre to Your Students at the Beginning of the Year
- How to Help Students Find Their Favorite Reading Genre and Fall in Love With Reading
- 5 Simple Tips for Teaching Reading Genres in Upper Elementary
Connect with me:
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high-quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey, there and happy Monday. If you are tuning in to this episode live, then more than likely, you have the day off today because it is Labor Day. And most schools give teachers and students a nice long weekend for this holiday. So I hope that you are feeling rested and recharged and ready to tackle this week.
Now I know that for many teachers and students that this week will actually be their first week back to school. I have a nephew that lives up in Minnesota and his first day of school will be tomorrow. And I keep on asking my sister, I’ve been asking her this for a month. And I was like, Okay, is Bennett ready for school? You know, like, is he getting excited? And she’s like, we don’t have school till after Labor Day. So we still have weeks yet of summer.
And I often feel bad for all of the teachers and students who do go back to school after Labor Day, because I feel like the rest of the country has been in back to school mode since the end of July. And when everyone else starts talking about back to school, you know, our East Coast friends and our northern friends, they still have like a month of summer left.
So I wanted to do a special back to school episode that is really dedicated to all of the teachers and students who are starting tomorrow, for the very first time. Know that we have not forgotten about you. And even though we’ve been talking about back to school for a month now, we are still cheering you on as you get ready to start to this week.
Now, even though that this is going to be a back to school episode, do not worry if you have been in school for a few weeks, or even a month now. I still think that you’re going to get something out of this episode.
And that’s because today, we are going to talk about three essential literacy lessons that you need to teach for a successful year. And while these lessons would really work great at the beginning of the year, they are really lessons that you can do at any point in time. So even if you’ve been back at work for a few weeks, you can still sprinkle these lessons into your literacy block if they aren’t something that you’ve already taught your students.
So let’s jump in to the first lesson idea. And that is you want to teach a lesson that focuses on explaining to your students what makes a skilled reader or really focusing on the five building blocks of reading. And I like doing a lesson at the beginning of the year, that really helps the students to get a big picture perspective of the types of things that they’re going to be learning during the year. And again, we’re thinking big picture.
You know, I think it’s important that students know what the end goal for the entire year is. Because we want students to understand why our literacy lessons are so important. So we really want to create buy in from our students. And one of the things that you can do at the beginning of the year to help create buy in is to start the year with a lesson that focuses on this concept of what makes a skilled reader.
And really let your students know that this year, our goal is for every student in our class to become a skilled reader. So we need to have a really clear vision of what that looks like.
So what this lesson could possibly look like is you would really want to introduce and explain the five building blocks of reading. And so maybe during your lesson, you would give your students an analogy that if they are going to build a house, that they really need to start by laying down a foundation, you know, we can’t just start by building walls right on the ground. You know, we need to clear the area and pour a foundation first before we start building the house.
And the same is really true with our success as readers. We need to start on a strong reading foundation. And in order to do that, we really need to focus on the five building blocks of reading. So you can introduce these to your students and they are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
And of course, you want to be able to break down and explain what each building block is, you know, you could either have a premade anchor chart that explains these or you could even create an anchor chart with your students. Or you could even do a sort of Jigsaw where a group of students learns about one of the five different building blocks, and then presents it to the rest of the class.
But ultimately, you want your students to understand phonemic awareness is the ability to separate and manipulate individual sounds and the words they hear. Phonics is the relationship between letters in written language, and the individual sounds in spoken language. Fluency is the ability to automatically reads words, phrases, and entire sections of texts quickly, accurately and with understanding. Vocabulary is being able to understand the meaning behind words. And comprehension is the ability to read a text and understand what it means.
So basically, your lesson is going to be to introduce and explain these five building blocks to your students. And I think a lesson like this is really important because it helps your students understand everything that goes into becoming a skilled reader.
And, you know, by the time students are in upper elementary, they usually have enough self awareness to know if they struggle with reading or not. And unfortunately, oftentimes, our students perception of what makes a quote unquote, good reader is how well they do on standardized tests, or if they’re able to read a passage and answer the questions.
And, you know, I think if students come to us in upper elementary, and they have this perception that they are not a good reader, they’re going to be much more reluctant to actively participate and engage and, you know, really stretch themselves during the year.
So doing a lesson like this can really help students realize everything that goes into becoming a skilled reader. And you can even point out that nothing on this list is connected to a standardized test or multiple choice assessments. And you know, you can help students realize that if they struggle with one aspect of it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a bad reader, it might just mean that they need a little more help with phonics or fluency. And that’s the key element that is missing in their reading foundation, and you get to help them work on that throughout the year.
But the other thing that I think is great about having your students have an awareness about the building blocks of reading, is that it helps your students understand that it is okay if they are working on something like phonemic awareness or phonics throughout the year.
You know, I think so often we get stuck in this like comprehension tunnel in upper elementary, and our students become very aware of it. But letting them know that there’s a lot more that goes into reading than just comprehension, I think can help your students alleviate maybe some of the the worries or the like the stigma that might be involved.
You know, if they’re in a small group, and they need help practicing decoding, you’re going to give them a little extra support with phonics and helping them learn how to decode the words. And you can remind them, you know, it’s like, hey, remember, at the start of the year, when we learned about a reading foundation, you know, phonics is an important part of that. So we’re gonna get some extra practice in that area.
And hopefully, that will help your students not feel as bad because they realize that it’s like, okay, phonics isn’t a kindergarten skill, it’s not a, you know, a first grade skill, phonics is necessary if I want to be a successful reader.
So basically, doing a lesson like this, at the start of the year, can really lay the groundwork that might prevent your students from feeling bad about themselves, if they are working on skills that are different from the rest of the class, or if they need help in something other than comprehension. So that’s why we want to do a lesson like this.
Now, after you’ve done your lesson, an independent practice activity that you might want to do is have your students create a recipe for reading success. And you know, you could remind students that in addition to the five building blocks, they’re going to need other ingredients to become a strong reader.
So they might need something like support and encouragement from friends or a teacher, you know, they might need to practice reading a variety of books, they might need to read every single day, they might need to talk about and write about the books they read with their family, or, you know, with friends, or whatever it is. So you can encourage students to be creative, and to come up with their own personal recipe for reading success.
And tell them that they need to include the five building blocks, and maybe two to three additional ingredients that they might need this year. And then you can have them you know, format it like a cute little recipe. That’s something that they could glue in their reading journal, or you could even make a bulletin board to display it for the year. But that way, they’re getting to really personalize it and hopefully embrace this idea that they are going to work on becoming skilled readers this year.
One of the things that I always love doing is using picture books to match my lessons. And so a picture book that you could use with a lesson like this is how to read a story by Kate Messner. And I like this book because the book walks you through a step by step process for how to read a story, and it can be a really good springboard to begin the conversation about everything that goes into reading. And helping students realize that reading is so much more than just knowing how to read the words.
And so a lesson like this can be really great for buy in, it can be really great to introduce at the start of the year. And like I said, I think it’s important for students to know and understand this bigger picture perspective with reading, especially when they get into upper elementary, they have the capacity to understand it. So consider teaching the lesson about the building blocks of reading, and really how to become a skilled reader.
The second lesson that I think is really essential in our literacy blocks, and upper elementary is teaching students how to or the importance of discovering our personal reading preferences. And so the goal of this lesson is to really help students realize and recognize that every person has different reading preferences, and whatever their individual reading preferences are, they are 100% okay, and valid.
And I think it’s important for students to realize that they can read and explore a variety of genres and types of texts, including things like graphic novels and audiobooks, which I know sometimes, you know, people are like, those aren’t real books, but 100% they are.
I also think it’s okay for students to realize that they can read about a variety of topics, you know, if it’s something that they’re interested in, there’s a book out there that can connect to their interests. And while both of those have a positive spin on it, you know, those those preferences, like learning about the genres you like, and the topics you’d like to read, it’s also 100% okay, for students to have negative opinions about reading.
You know, it’s okay for your students to say, I don’t like historical fiction, or I don’t like reading and fantasy. It’s okay, if your students don’t like reading about a certain topic, especially if it’s something that you have to study during the school year. And I also think that at the beginning of the year, it is 100% okay, for your students to say, I don’t like reading.
You know, I think when students realize that they have a voice, and they can use their voice to share their thoughts and opinions, and that their opinions are valid, it really can create a strong and safe reading community. Because we’re simply telling students, you know, we want to discover our reading preferences, we’re not telling them what preferences are good or bad.
We’re just wanting them to really tune in and understand how do they currently feel about reading? What do they like, what do they don’t like, and the great thing is, is that there are ways that you can tap into a positive thought or memory about reading that your students have. So even if they don’t like reading, if they don’t like reading certain genres, you can find something that they do like about literacy.
So what this lesson might look like, you know, during a lesson like this, is usually when I like to introduce the different types of genres to my students, because when we talk about personal reading preferences, it to me seems really natural that we let students know that there are a variety of text types out there. And just because they haven’t found a book that they love to read yet, that doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. And we can let them know that our goal this year is to help them find books that they are going to enjoy. Even if in the past, they haven’t enjoyed reading.
So like I said, introducing a new genre is a really great focus for this lesson. And a really easy way that you can introduce the genres to your students, is by creating a gallery walk of genre posters around your room.
So first of all, you need to get genre posters. So you could use or print pre made genre posters. And we have a set of genre posters in our TPT store that I will include in the show notes. And then of course, if you happen to be a part of the stellar literacy collective, then you do get access to our genre posters included in your membership. So you can always log in and grab those there.
But if you don’t have premade, anchor charts, and you don’t want to purchase any, you could always have your students create their own genre posters. So what I would do is I would have students work, and maybe groups of two or three students, and you give each group a specific genre. And they need to really learn about that genre. So they need to do a little bit of research. And then as they research it, you’re going to have them create a poster. And it’s going to have sort of, you know, a set of requirements.
They need to be able to define the genre, give attributes of the genre, and examples of texts that are of that genre that their class might be familiar with. And then maybe even give a description of you know, what type of reader would enjoy reading this genre. So students can always make their posters as well for you.
So regardless of how you create your posters, once they are made or printed, you want to display them around the room. So think of it like you are going to be creating a genre gallery so the posters are going to be your artwork, and students are going to walk around your gallery and they’re going to view the genre posters.
And so of course, you have to have a conversation about you know, when you’re in an art gallery, what does our behavior look like? How do we walk around? What’s the goal of this? So you know, you’d give your students maybe 10 to 15 minutes to walk around your genre gallery and view the different posters. And maybe you would have them take notes on two or three of the posters they read. Maybe you have them walk around with a partner, and they discuss the posters and what they look like.
You might even encourage your students to come back and be prepared to share a genre that they learned about that they are excited to explore this year. And if you want to learn more specifically about a gallery walk, so if you’re like, Oh, I like this idea. But I still have some questions, go back and listen to episode either 97. Or you can also listen to episode number 111. And we will link to both of those in the show notes.
And I talk more in depth about how to do a gallery walk in both of those episodes, so you can get a little bit of information there. But basically, the goal of this lesson is to really introduce the different genres to your students. So this would be sort of the main activity that you would do.
And the reason why a lesson like this is really important is because we want students to realize that everyone is going to have a different reading preference, and that their reading preferences can be completely different from their friends or classmates.
You know, I think so often, when students get to upper elementary, they have this idea that they should be reading chapter books, and that picture books are baby books. At least I know, I had some of those mindsets in my class when I was in the classroom.
And I think it’s important for students to realize that there’s a lot of value and benefit in reading other types of books, you know, that we don’t just have to limit ourselves to chapter books. And so we want students to know that their reading preferences don’t have to look like anybody else’s.
You know, ultimately, even if our students don’t like reading, we want to help create this positive identity that they can be a reader. And ultimately, you know, students start to develop their opinions about their ability to be a successful reader early on in life, or even if they have the ability to be a reader. And we want to make sure that students feel like even if they don’t like reading today, that they have the possibility that maybe someday they could.
And I always think about my husband, my husband’s an engineer, and he is constantly reading. He reads the news a lot. He listens to audiobooks every day on his way to and from work, he’s always listening to an audiobook. And he also reads a lot of how to manuals for his various garage and car projects.
But he doesn’t identify as a reader, because he doesn’t read novels. And so he always says things like, oh, I should read more, or I’m not a reader, or I wish I read as much as you. And I’m like, but you do read like you just read different types of texts than I read.
And I think that this can be really detrimental when our students have a very limited view and understanding of what it means to be a reader. So this lesson is really important because from the beginning of the year, it helps open up your student’s perspective and understanding of what it means to be a reader. And hopefully it will help them be open to learning and working on growing as a reader throughout the year. So this lesson is really important.
Now, an independent practice activity that you could have your students do, after a gallery walk or a lesson like this, it could be really fun to have your students create a me as a reader poster. And they can create a poster that shares some of their personal reading preferences. You know, it could be their favorite book, it could be their favorite character. It could be like topics that they like to read about, you know, it could be their favorite place to read or listen to a story.
And if a student does not like reading and they’re like, I don’t have any of these at all, then let them create a me as a non reader poster and have them say, Okay, what is your least favorite book? What is your least favorite character? What don’t you enjoy reading about, because at least they’re going to be thinking about books, and they’re going to be able to participate and complete the activity. And of course, you can let them know that even if they don’t like reading today, the goal is that you’re going to help them discover some of these things that they will enjoy throughout the year.
So it’s important that we try to give students time to just even start to conceptualize and understand that they can enjoy reading in a variety of ways. And it is not limited to just chapter books or even just being able to read you know, a certain types of books or what they have been typically exposed to in the past. So that’s an activity that you could have your students do.
And then a picture book or text that you could use with this lesson. And there’s actually two books that I like to use for a lesson like this. And they are an example of like a paired text. And so the two titles are A Leah’s Mission Saving the Books of Iraq and that one is by Mark Allen Samedi. And then a similar text is the Librarian of Basra a True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter.
And both of these books share an amazing true story about a woman who risks a lot in order to save a library full of books during a war. And one of the books is written as a graphic novel. And the other one is written as a narrative picture book. And I like to read both of these books, and then have a conversation with students about which one did you enjoy the most.
And it’s great to point out to students that both books shared the exact same story. And you can learn a lot of the same details and information from each of the books. But they’re written in completely different formats. And so letting students know that they can learn about a topic or an event. But they can do so through a variety of text and styles that can match up to their personal preferences.
And it really just helps students almost have this aha moment that they can find books that they will enjoy reading, but that also allow them to learn as well. So if you have not checked out those two titles, I would definitely encourage you to do that. But doing a lesson on helping students develop their personal reading preferences is so important for the year.
And then lesson number three is doing a lesson that focuses on talking and writing about reading. And this lesson could take on a ton of different sort of formats. But ultimately, we want students to realize that even though we are reading, reading is not where our lessons end. Ultimately, we are also going to talk about the texts we read and we’re going to write about the text that we read.
And you know, your students are ultimately going to show you their understanding of reading and the reading concepts you teach by talking or by writing. So making sure students understand that talking and writing are really an essential part of reading as well.
So like I said, there are really a ton of different ways that you could teach a lesson like this. But ultimately, we want to start to introduce our students to different ways that they could possibly talk or write about a text. So maybe during this lesson, you introduce and practice doing a turn and talk, which is a partner strategy that you can incorporate that let students discuss your lesson with a partner.
Maybe you introduce sentence stems or sentence starters and you let students know that if they want to talk about or share about a text that they can start their response using a sentence stem, and that can help them get started.
Maybe you model different ways that students could write about a text, maybe you show them that they could write using a sticky note, that they could write in their reading journal, that they could, you know, write a summary, that they could use a graphic organizer, and that there’s more than one way to write about a text.
You can even use this lesson to introduce and model really good speaking, listening and writing skills. So even talking about things like you know, when we’re communicating, we want to make eye contact with the person that we’re speaking with, that when we’re speaking with somebody in a one on one setting, the volume and the level of our voice is going to be different if we’re speaking to the entire class. And so start introducing this idea of a presenter voice. So your students know if they’re, you know, sharing something with the entire class, they have to be a little bit louder, so everybody can hear.
Talking about things like keeping your body still when you are speaking or listening, that when we write, we use our best handwriting, that we pay attention to the spacing and the formatting of what it is that we’re writing. You know, you really could use this lesson to introduce any key routine or process that your students will use during the year to talk or write about books.
And like I said, I think this lesson is really important or a lesson along this topic is really important because talking and writing is an essential part of your literacy instruction. We don’t ever just stop at reading, you know, there’s always some sort of response we’re going to read and we’re going to discuss as a class we’re going to read and students are going to write about it.
So we want to make sure that our students can effectively communicate their understanding that they have knowledge of how we need to talk and write about books. I think too often, we assume that our students have strong speaking, and listening and writing skills. And so we don’t take time to explicitly teach those things. But it can be really, really helpful to take some time at the start of the air to explicitly teach and talk about your expectations for speaking and listening and writing.
So a super easy independent activity that you could do for a lesson like this is to simply let your students talk and write about a text. So you could do a short read aloud that is just for fun, and have students practice doing a turn and talk or using sentence stems to share their thinking.
Or you could give students a sticky note and have them do a quick little stop and jot or something like you know, summarize the text in 10 words or less. So just a quick little way to actually practice some of the speaking listening and writing skills that you talked about during your lesson.
So one of my all time favorite books to read at the start of the air is really perfect for this lesson. And that title is Let Me Finish by Min Lee. And this is such a great story. It is about a kid. It’s also a really fun story.
You know, it’s about a kid who is so excited to sit down and read a book. But every time that they sit down and try to find a quiet place to enjoy reading, they get interrupted by somebody who wants to tell them about the end of the story. And so they want to jump in and share their opinion and tell them how the story ends and basically spoil it for the reader. It’s a super cute story.
But it’s really great because it does give you an opportunity to discuss with your students that we want to talk about our books, but there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about a book with a friend. And so it’s just a great springboard into this conversation. Super cute story if you haven’t read it.
Okay, so these are three lessons that I think are absolutely essential for a successful year in literacy in upper elementary. And so the three things if you have not already taught these things to your students try to squeeze in these lessons sometime during the month of September.
And the first one is what makes a skilled reader where you also introduce the five building blocks of reading. The second lesson is making sure your students are able to discover their personal reading preferences. And then the third one is really taking time to explicitly teach how to talk and write about reading, where you’re going to focus on a lot of those speaking, listening and writing skills.
So like I said at the beginning of this episode, if you are getting ready to start this week, I hope that this episode does give you some ideas for lessons that you can teach this week as you welcome back your students. And if you’ve already been in school for a few weeks or even a month, it is still not too late, you can definitely still incorporate these lessons into your literacy block.
In fact, I think if you have already been jumping into content your students might enjoy if you take just one step back, take a little break from the standards and teach one of these engaging foundational lessons to your students. So I hope you have a great rest of your week and I look forward to connecting with you back here again next Monday.