We all want a literacy-rich secondary classroom. How can we get there? You can build a literacy-rich classroom with intentional actions and purposeful discussions.
Literacy includes so much more than reading and writing that defining and articulating that one word can be tricky. When I think of my classroom, I do not have an overall theme or design. I do, however, have a message, and that is that literacy matters.
Everything in my room from my Shakespeare magnets to my bins of student supplies shouts that literacy matters. That is my goal, anyway.
How do I meet that goal? I reflected on that concept today as I scrolled through Facebook and Instagram. So many teachers spend gobs of money and time decorating, and if that fits your lifestyle, perfect! I don’t, and I suspect other teachers don’t either. In fact, I’ve written before how I typically decorate my classroom with garage sale finds.
If you are striving for a literacy-rich secondary classroom, I’m sharing my ideas with you. Read on!
Ownership and purpose
I always attempt to tell students why we are learning topics. Students approach class positively when they understand the purpose of a lesson and where they are headed. When students own the lessons, the lessons have more meaning. You can intentionally build literacy in this way.
Some examples of explanation include:
- We previously studied ___, which connects to our current study. Next, we’ll be covering ___, and we’re building the foundation for that now.
- Sometimes when I’m writing, I use this knowledge. . . and think about. . .
- In the future, you’ll need ___
- (with literature) The author used this sentence structure, perhaps because. . .
- (with nonfiction) What theme is the author presenting? Identify key components of how that is done.
- (with speeches) Where is parallelism used? Did the speaker miss the opportunity to create parallelism?
Explaining the why behind reading and writing encourages students to think about your lessons more. Connecting all components of an ELA class also builds literacy.
I enjoy building my classroom library. I read the books, my personal children read the books, and my students read the books. I surround myself with books and decorate my classroom around them with posters and messages.
One my favorite ways to decorate my library is with statistics. I don’t mention the posters immediately, but eventually, students and I discuss the implications of literacy and their futures.
As I build relationships with students, I will ask what students’ next steps in life are. Typically, they answer college, trade school, or passing a union test. I love those answers! Students can typically connect literacy to those ideas without my help.
What do students rarely say? A parent. A consumer. A caretaker for an elderly parent. A homeowner. A city council member. A car owner. An advocate for a child.
All of our students will take on those roles and more. Discussing diagnoses with doctors, reading complex laws, and managing loans can be overwhelming. Those are real-life areas for knowledge. The root of all knowledge is literacy.
Older students should consider those roles. Literacy directly ties to all aspects of their future lives. To build a literacy-rich secondary classroom, I discuss that with students.
Reading and writing
Discuss literacy honestly with students. For instance, if you are reading a difficult piece of literature or nonfiction, share with students your methods for decoding. Ask students their tips. Turn all of the tips into anchor charts. Reference them. Those tips have meaning because students created them.
Reading with students is a paramount as well. I understand teachers’ discomfort, though. We teach older students. We are stressed with time, and we are personally exhausted. Lately, PD books and research is showing teachers that they must read with older students. Change is difficult, but implementing independent reading into your classroom is possible. You can experiment with books clubs, First Chapter Friday, reading the first ten minutes of class, or hosting book talks.
A well-rounded classroom that values literacy includes writing too. Students must create! I think that sometimes teachers feel as though every writing assignment must be formal. Writing improves memories, and students understand what they read when they work through the reading by writing. Explore your class with writing. Ask students to write a few sentences about a lesson. Use a sentence or two as an exit ticket.
Reading and writing are key parts of a literacy-rich classroom. Connect the purpose to students’ lives and talk honestly with older students about the effects of literacy on the rest of their lives. One of the benefits of teaching older students is the honest conversations we teachers can have with them. Make literacy efforts one such conversation.
Want more ideas for creating a literacy-rich secondary classroom? Melissa at Reading and Writing Haven shares her secrets.