early grade literacy:
Our Case for Action
The Challenge skills. The shortfall in reading proficiency is especially
pronounced among low-income, African-American and
Every year, nearly 1 million U.S. students fail to Latino children.
graduate high school on time. That’s one in four
students. In communities with concentrated poverty, We want to invite individuals, institutions and
the odds of graduating high school are even worse. organizations across America to take action to improve
The United States used to lead the world in high early grade literacy by enlisting volunteer readers
school graduation rates, but our ranking has fallen both in and out of school. Together we can help stem
to 20 out of 28 industrialized nations, thereby the problem of falling high school graduation rates
undermining our economic competitiveness. and make a meaningful and long-term difference in
the lives of these children.
High school dropouts are typically years in the
making. Academic difficulties in the early years too
often lead to disengagement from school and eventual VolunTeer reading
dropout. Dropouts, in turn, are more likely to be and TuToring programs
unemployed or underemployed and to end up on
welfare or in prison Volunteer reading programs vary widely, and you, the
volunteer, can play a variety of roles in supporting
Students who aren’t strong readers by 4th grade are at them. For the general purposes of this guide, there are
risk of educational failure and are more likely than their two kinds of reading volunteers: readers and tutors.
peers to drop out of high school, and yet millions of
American children get to fourth grade without reading Volunteer readers read a story to a group of children,
proficiently. Today, 1 in 3 fourth graders scores below or may read to a single child. Being a volunteer
“Basic” in reading on the National Assessment of reader is fairly simple; readers just need to know how
Education Progress—meaning that they do not have to read, commit to visiting a classroom on a regular
even partial mastery of fundamental knowledge and basis, and share the joy of reading a good story aloud
prolianCe energY shoWs iTs CommiTmenT To CommuniTY BY alloWing emploYees To TuTor during
normal WorK hours. iT’s VerY graTiFYing To deVelop relaTionships WiTh Your sTudenTs oVer
The Course oF The Year and To see Them maKe real progress as TheY BeneFiT noT JusT From The
reading, BuT also From The one-on-one aTTenTion and The noTion ThaT someone Cares.
iT’s niCe To KnoW ThaT We, as emploYees and as a CompanY, are maKing a diFFerenCe in our
CommuniTY. as You see The Kids maKe progress From WeeK To WeeK, You KnoW ThaT Their FuTure
is geTTing BrighTer. and our parTnership WiTh The sChool ConTinues To groW eaCh Year.
Tutor for three years
manager of governmental and public affairs, proliance energy
incoming president, Corporate Volunteer Council, united Way of Central indiana
to children who relish having a visitor make time for are uniquely equipped to work with area schools,
them. As a volunteer, you may find it helpful to reference libraries and out of school programs to develop a
the Tips for Reading With Children section. You can program in one neighborhood, or in many.
easily spend 20-30 minutes on your lunch hour once a
month reading a book to a classroom near your work As a volunteer, becoming involved in a tutoring
or home. Hopefully, you will enjoy the experience so program is a good way to have impact, particularly
much that you seek to become more engaged in the among K-3rd grad children. For volunteers that
school and United Way’s other education efforts. are seeking an easy yet effective point of entry to
supporting childhood literacy, reading programs
Volunteer tutors also go to classrooms and other are a good approach.
educational environments to help children learn
reading skills. Typically one tutor is paired with one
student, and there may be specified curriculum that Where To Begin
the volunteer is asked to follow. Activities include
sounding out simple words, piecing together sentences, You can search for reading programs on your own
comprehending paragraphs and more. Because of the or find one with the help of your local United Way.
one-on-one relationship, large numbers of tutors and a Regardless of what kind of reading program you might
fairly frequent time commitment might be necessary. choose to get involved in, here are some steps to take
and things to consider:
Readers and tutors play a valuable role in improving
literacy rates among young children. When children Steps to take
see that someone cares enough to take time to share
the gift of reading, they begin to understand how - Establish how much time you have available and if
important reading is, and that it is an enjoyable, good you would rather read to children, be a tutor or be
thing to do. Many reading and tutoring programs a mentor – each activity will have a different time
include tips and training for parents, to help them requirement.
understand the value of reading to and being read to
by their children. - Think about the places where you can volunteer. It
may be as simple as to talk to people in church who
With Volunteer Centers and other expertise in know one or more children that could benefit from
recruiting volunteers, and a history of early childhood your generosity.
development and education programs, United Ways
- Check the requirements. Depending on your role readers just have to know how to read, commit to
(reader, tutor or mentor), you may have to be reading to children on a regular basis and share the
trained. In addition, because you are working with joy of reading a story aloud to children.
children, it is likely you will need a background
check done. - explore the possibilities. If you are ready for a
bigger challenge, you can become a tutor. Volunteer
Things to consider tutors also go to classrooms and other educational
environments to help children learn reading skills.
- Know your community educational issues and Typically one tutor is paired with one student, and
players. Whatever you decide to do, you should there may be a specific curriculum that the volunteer
understand your community challenges and is asked to follow. Because of the one-on-one
barriers to educational success. You should also relationship, a fairly frequent time commitment
understand its assets to build on them. Read may be necessary. Mentors have an even deeper
the local newspapers, do a web search and/or relationship, usually to a single child.
participate in the local school board meetings.
You will learn about the problems and the programs - share the joy. As you read, tutor or mentor, you
addressing them. You will also meet other people may let others know about it. You may blog or use
who know, care about and have the power to Twitter to share your experiences with friends and
change education in your community. people with similar interests.
- set clear goals and expectations. Even in an - recruit others. After hearing about your
informal situation, it pays to set up clear goals and experience, others may want to join you. Be sure
expectations and to have the buy-in of all those they share your understanding of the issues and
involved. Periodically providing feedback and asking your commitment to the children. Creating your
for feedback will help you fine tune your volunteering volunteering group and volunteering together
experience and be successful in the long run. multiplies your impact and can be a lot of fun.
- Test the waters before you jump in. If you are new
to volunteering with small children, you may start as
a volunteer reader. Being a reader is fairly simple;
Tips For reading WiTh Children - High quality writing is important. Don’t choose a
book just because it is based on popular media,
Successful read-alouds rely on active engagement in such as television and videos. Look for books with
reading by both adults and children. To help create characters, setting, plot and resolution that are both
an experience of engaged reading, volunteers should rich and appropriate for the age of the children.
also take steps to:
- Don’t think that because a book won an award, it is
- Carefully select high-quality texts; a good book to read aloud. Some books win awards
for pictures, but the stories aren’t great for reading
- Be familiar with the book and ready to bring it to aloud.
- Vary the book length and topics.
- Elicit predictions by children of what they think
might happen or come next in the book; and - Stories read in a group should be shorter. Pictures
should be easy to see from a short distance. Books
- Enable conversations that tie the book to life that ask for children’s active participation are also
beyond the classroom or the here and now. good selections for group stories.
Whether the volunteer is reading to a group of - If you don’t like a book, don’t read it.
children or with just one child, the following tips
can help enhance the experience and contribute to - Draw on recommended book lists, such as the one
improved reading skills among children. Additional included in this guide. Other lists include the: As-
tips for reading one-on-one with a child appear at sociation for Library Service to Children/American
the end of this section. Library Association’s Notable Children’s booklist;
the National Education Association’s Educators’ Top
Choosing a Book 100 Children’s Books; the International Reading
Association’s Children’s Choices Booklist; and lists
- Know your audience—both the size and the recommended by Parents Magazine.
demographic makeup. Some books are appropriate
for a whole class; others are more suited for a Be Prepared
- Read the book ahead of time to avoid surprises and
- Look for books with illustrations that will hold so you can think about questions to ask the children
children’s attention and inspire them to read the as you read.
- Plan for places in the text where you can ask
- Choose books that reflect the diversity and interests children to predict what will happen next, or to
of the class. discuss what is happening in their lives that might
be similar to the story.
- Select a variety of books from those that use humor,
drama, or help children think about and deal with - Think about how to engage restless children, e.g.,
issues in their own lives. ask them to find letters they know in the book, read
along with you, or clap or snap their fingers when
- Books should provide opportunities for you to ask they hear the “word of the day.”
questions, and engage in conversation with the
children. Occasionally use books that help develop - Put sticky notes on the pages to remind you where
specific literacy skills, such as alphabet or rhyming you want to ask questions, explain an unfamiliar
books, as well as books that present an opportunity word or concept, or have the children join in.
for learning new concepts or vocabulary.
- Follow the children’s lead—be open to focusing on Reading Styles
an aspect of the book you hadn’t considered.
- Each storyteller has a different style of reading. Find
- “What do you think will happen next?” is a good way ways to read aloud that are comfortable for you.
to get back to reading the story if the discussion
strays off for too long. - Be expressive. Add sounds. Make the snake hiss
and the door creak.
Manage the Setting and the Children
- Read rhyming and counting books and recite the
- Where you sit and how are important. Be sure that rhymes and numbers together.
all children can see the book.
- Use expression appropriate to the book. There is no
- Minimize distractions so children can focus. need to be overly dramatic.
- Ask the children to sit the same way with their - If you feel comfortable doing so, create voices for
hands in their lap, or on their own pillow. the different characters.
- Young children sometimes get so absorbed in the - Slow your pace to the children’s level, so they will
story they stand and move to you. Gently ask them have time to understand and appreciate the story
to sit. and the pictures.
- Sometimes children start asking lots of questions - Project your voice, but don’t shout. A low voice is
or “sharing” while you are reading a story. If this more likely to get their attention than a high or loud
happens, respond simply and try to get the story voice.
flowing again. For example, a child sees a dog in the
picture and shouts out, “I have a dog.” You can say, - Hold the book carefully so all can see—out to the
“Yes, you do. Let’s see what happens to this dog,” side. Move from side to side slowly so everyone
and move on. gets a chance to see the pictures.
- Know the story—read it several times to yourself - Text-to-self—Questions that relate the text to the
so that you know what happens next and can look child’s own experiences. When has this happened
away from the book regularly to make eye contact to you?
with the children.
- Text-to-text—Questions that relate to another book
- Try to look at the children who cannot see the book the class has read.
(to help hold their attention), so you are always
looking in the opposite direction that the book is - Prediction—Ask what might happen next in the
- If a passage is too long, shorten it or “read” the - Authorship—Ask the children to imagine they are
pictures. the author. What would you have Felix do next?
- Reading to young children can be like a television - Vocabulary—Ask what children think a particular
commercial—you have to get their attention to be word means.
successful. Depending on their age you want to
keep the story short to fit their attention span. The Involve the children as much as possible. Ask
book can’t be too long but has to be interesting and questions and encourage conversation about the
exciting to hold their interest while building up their book. This helps them connect the story with their
imagination. own lives and also helps them compare the current
story to others that they have heard. More tips for
- Don’t hesitate to conclude the story before you’ve engaging children in reading include:
finished reading it if the children aren’t enjoying it.
- You can get their attention at the start by asking
- There is not just one way to do things—be inventive. them about the cover illustration.
- Have fun! If you are having fun, the children will - Vary the questions, including open-ended
catch the spirit as well. questions, like “Why do you think the boy in the
story did that?” or use prompts, like “Tell me more
Engage the Children about why the girl in the story is…”
Conversations that take place when reading with - Talk about the stories and pictures as you read. Ask
children are critical. Such conversations should go questions like, “What do you think comes next?” or
beyond the “who, what, when” to a deeper discussion “What is happening here?”
and understanding of life beyond the words printed
on the page. - Ask them what they think will happen before turning
to the last page. Tease them and pretend that you
Here are different types of questions to consider won’t read the last page, saying “we are all done!”
during read-alouds, all of which will help improve a This gets them laughing and involved.
child’s comprehension skills:
- Have children read out loud—even in a group setting.
- Factual—Details about the text. Where does this
story take place? What kind of dog is this? - Encourage them to count if the story involves
- Inferential—Help children understand the difference
between factual and what is inferred. Why did the - Find ways to include children in the stories —repeat-
mommy put on mitts to take the cookies from the oven? ing a phrase, making a motion or sound—some-
thing that ties to the stories. For example, when
- Opinion—Ask children what they think, but avoid reading The Very Quiet Cricket the children can rub
questions that result in yes or no answers. their hands together each time the cricket rubs his
legs together. Rehearse your participation activity - Be encouraging.
with the children before starting the story.
- Provide gentle corrections.
- Mimicking is fun, and a good way to keep the
children engaged. Say a phrase, and then ask all - Give the child time to figure out tough words, but
the children to say it again with you. give them help quickly if they ask for it. Don’t force
them to sound out a word, but let them do it if they
- If there is a word in the story that might be want to.
unfamiliar, try providing a short explanation,
and then re-read the sentence. - If the child asks a question, stop and answer it. The
book may help the child express her thoughts and
- Insert a child’s name into the book. solve her own problems.
- Offer praise; reward performance with stickers. - If the child substitutes one word for another while
reading, see if it makes sense. If it does, (e.g.,
- Draw out insights from the children. “dog” for “pup”) continue reading. If it doesn’t,
(e.g., “road” for “read”) ask the child to read the
- Extend the level of interest by discussing the book sentence again because you are not sure you under-
after you have finished reading, and voting on stood it.
where the book should be kept so the children can
look at it later. Talk about things that happened in - Recognize the child’s energy limits. Stop at or be-
the book that you might like to do. fore signs of fatigue or frustration.
One-on-One Reading Tips - Give lots of praise.
Reading with a child one-on-one is a good way to
associate reading with the special attention all children sourCes
love. Asking children to read aloud and listening to
children read can greatly help boost their fluency, - Helping Your Child Learn to Read
especially after a child has learned to read on his own. American Academy of Pediatrics
- Let the child choose and hold the book. Sometimes
kids want to hear a favorite book over and over again. - RIF’s Guide to Reading Aloud to Your Children
Reading is Fundamental
- Try to find a quiet place. www.rif.org
- Let the child set the pace and have fun. The more - The Power of Planning, Developing Effective
fun children have while reading aloud, the more Read-Alouds by Meagan K. Shedd and Nell K. Duke.
they will love books and reading. Beyond the Journal, Young Children on the Web,
- Have the child turn the pages.
- The Read Aloud Handbook by J. Trelease
- Run your finger under the words as you read to
show that the print carries the story. - Margaret Cain, Covenant Presbyterian Preschool,
Los Angeles, CA
- Stop to look at pictures; ask the child to name
things he or she sees. Talk about how the pictures - Ann Marie Van Camp, James Madison Elementary,
relate to the story. Lakewood, CA
- Sometimes read together or alternate reading—the
child reads one page, you read the next.
reCommended BooKs How Do Dinosaurs Eat their Food?
by Jane Yolen
There are many excellent books to read with children
ages K-3rd grade. A portion of the Association for I Spy Fly Guy!
Library Service to Children/American Library by Tedd Arnold
Association’s Notable Children’s booklist for younger
readers is listed below. Consult your local library Little Mouse Gets Ready
for additional recommendations, and consider by Jeff Smith
reviewing the National Education Association’s
Educators’ Top 100 Children’s Books; the International Listen to the Wind: The Story of
Reading Association’s Children’s Choices Booklist; Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea
and lists published by Parents Magazine. by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth
All the World Mommy, Mama and Me
by Liz Garton Scanlon by Lesléa Newman
Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends
by Geoffrey Hayes by Wong Herbert Yee
Big Wolf and Little Wolf My Abuelita
by Nadine Brun-Cosme by Tony Johnston
Birds Olivia Forms a Band
by Kevin Henkes by Ian Falconer
A Book Mordicai Gerstein Book Fiesta!: Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day
Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; by Kate McMullan
Celebremos El día de los niños/ El día de los libros
by Pat Mora Posy
by Linda Newbery
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
by Eric Carle Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
by Joyce Sidman
The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown Sweet Potato Pie
by Kathleen D. Lindsey
Gracias * Thanks
by Pat Mora Thunder-Boomer!
by Shutta Crum
Growing Vegetable Soup
by Lois Ehlert Waiting for Winter
by Sebastian Meschenmoser
by Leslie Patricelli Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales
by Lucy Cousins
How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?
by Jane Yolen
addiTional lisTings Intergenerational tutoring
For reCommended BooKs http://www.oasisnet.org/discoveroasis/programs/
Family Education’s Recommended
Reading Lists for All Ages International Reading Association’s
http://school.familyeducation.com/literature/read- Children’s Choices Booklist
National Education Association’s Teacher’s Top 100 National Education Association
Books for Children National Association for the Education of
http://www.nea.org/grants/13154.htm Young Children articles:
Oprah Winfrey’s Kids’ Reading List Using Read-Alouds with Critical Literacy
http://www.oprah.com/packages/kid-reading-list. Literature in K-3 Classrooms
html http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file /200911/primary-
PBS Organization’s Recommended Books & Links
http://www.pbs.org/teachers/bookslinks/ The Power of Planning:
Developing Effective Read-Alouds
Teachers First 100 Best Books http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file /200811/
The Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction
addiTional resourCes http://www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/ roskos.pdf
American Academy of Pediatrics Online Help for Parents Who Volunteer
Association for Library Service to Children/American
Library Association’s Notable Children’s booklist The Read-Aloud Handbook
www.ala.org by Jim Trelease and website
Center for the Study of Reading
http://csr.ed.uiuc.edu/pubs/resources.html Reading is Fundamental
EVERYBODY WINS! A national literacy and www.nea.org
united Way Worldwide
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