Teaching beginning readers is an awesome experience. Seeing kids learn to use many different strategies to help them learn to read is one of my favorite things.
I work with a large population of English Language Learners, so in addition to learning to read, many of them are learning English. This added an extra challenge for the beginning readers in my class. As I was working with my kindergarten students, I was noticing that many of them were having trouble applying the reading strategies I wanted them to practice. When I prompted them to “look at the picture” or “make the beginning sound” they couldn’t because they did not remember the name of the object in the picture.
For example, if they were reading a book that said, “I see a turtle,” they might have trouble remembering the word “turtle.”
Each day I was introducing new books to my students and each book had its own topic and vocabulary. My students frequently would read, ” I see a _____.” They did not finish reading the sentence, because they didn’t remember that animal is called a turtle, or that plant is called a cactus. When I prompted them to check the picture, or make the beginning sound, they couldn’t because they did not remember the word, even though I had given them all the necessary vocabulary in the book introduction.
I realized that the new vocabulary in each book was providing an additional challenge for them that was preventing them from fully applying their reading strategies. I began writing thematic guided reading books for them.
The thematic units include 4 texts at levels A-C that contain similar vocabulary. By keeping the vocabulary the same throughout the books, it provides an extra scaffold for my students.
In addition, I made vocabulary flash cards (pictures and words). There are several different games in the lesson plans. Students are practicing the vocabulary both in the books they are reading and out of context with the vocabulary games and activities. I have also included sight word activities for the sight words in the texts. This provides additional practice for students to learn the words from their books in and out of context.
This repetition has been very successful for my new English speakers. Once they learn the vocabulary, they are able to read the books with better accuracy. They can use the reading strategies that our class is practicing and they are also learning new vocabulary.
These students would probably have been stuck at a Level A or B text for a long time, but now they are reading Level C texts as well. When they have the extra support from the thematic books, they can handle reading more complicated patterns.
If you teach ELL or ESL students or have some beginning readers that seem stuck, you may want to try out one of my thematic guided reading units to see if the extra scaffold of vocabulary instruction provides the support your students need to grow as readers.