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Making time for reading

Karen Millar explains how making time for reading can reward both you and your pupils.

Primary Teacher

I spent my first term as an NQT feeling harassed and frustrated with my P2 reading groups. The other NQTs I talked to were all in the same position and looking to improve it, just as I was.

I inherited five from the P1 set up and made an early decision to split my bottom group of six into a four and a two, which gave me six groups to deal with. School policy is to send reading home with every child twice each week and I was struggling to make time to hear never mind 'teach' six groups twice each week.

I wasn't enjoying it and I really felt that I needed to enjoy the activity in order to have that enjoyment of books rub off on the children. Having survived my first term and remained standing (and smiling) I set about making the reading group situation my top priority.

"Teaching" reading

I spent a couple of days going round the other infant teachers asking how they managed to 'teach' reading, manage their reading groups and maintain control over the rest of the class. The experienced voices fell into two camps:

  1. those that were doing it the way I had been: slotting in a reading group as and when they could, but they agreed it wasn't satisfying
  2. those that gave reading the place it deserves in the timetable and, if anything had to slide, they wouldn't let it be reading. Mmm, tell me more please . . .

Camp 2 talked me through some language activities for the rest of the children to keep them actively occupied and quiet whilst each reading group had their dedicated time with me. Although it all made sense and sounded fun it seemed like a total sea change to how I had the class operating at that time. Still this is the year to try things out so I went for it big time.

Materials

I spent a week looking at the last few reading books each group had read and reproduced a small part of some of the illustrations as:

  • picture pairs games
  • "finish the picture" sheets
  • "tell/draw me what happens next/before" sheets
  • "design a poster" sheets
  • "find me 'describing words' sheets" and so on.

I wrote the new vocabulary from previous books and the new sight vocabulary for each group on stepping stones: they play by laying out a line of stones upside down and have to turn one over and say the word before they are allowed to stand on it. The idea is to go from wall to wall by only stepping on the stones.

Groups

I already had CVC loop cards, word pairs, lotto games and word-maker wheels/sliders for the lower groups.

For my upper groups I photocopied some simple books they hadn't seen from the reading scheme without their first few, middle few or last few pages and the children have to write in a suitable start, middle or end for the book that makes sense and uses the characters already in the book. (Some of these are laminated so they wipe clean ready for the next budding author and save me more time.)

Materials

Along with alphabet-match, follow me, order cards, dot-to-dots, initial/end sound, and letter-blend dominoes, these provide the language activities for the children who will not be reading with me at that time.

The reading groups each have a colour-coded box that contains these quiet, independent, language activities for that week.

Making time

I timetabled the groups reading slots to be the first half hour in the morning and the half hour before lunch. These were times the children had been used to having a soft start and a wind-down play, so I had to be sure they understood the reason for losing the playtimes and that the activities that took their place were reasonably fun.

I explained to parents (in writing and in person at the recent parents' nights) that I was slowing every groups' reading books down to one each week, and the reason for this was that I wanted to look at each book in much greater depth.

I made a "do not disturb" sign for my reading table and explained the rules around only approaching us if the sign was on show if it was an emergency. We get every one settled to an activity at the start of one of the timetabled slots and I pull out reading groups and spend a lovely peaceful uninterrupted 15 minutes with each doing proper reading book activities.

The place to be

We've started small by only reading half the book and guessing what happens next, looking at the illustrated characters for facial expressions and using funny character voices, but it's been great fun. The children are loving it, I'm loving it. The independent activities are extending their reading and language skills and the reading table is the place to be.

Keeping up with new independent activities for each group is challenging but it's allowing me to enjoy 'teaching' reading and that's what the children need from me.