We all want a literacy-rich secondary classroom. You can build a literacy-rich classroom environment 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. Literacy makes life easier and increases a person’s quality of life.
How do I build a literacy-rich environment? 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 below for five ways to build an environment of literacy in the secondary classroom.
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 book quotes. 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.
Many times, I have repeated that I do not attach assignments to activities like First Chapter Friday. I’ve seen other bloggers attach work to First Chapter Friday with cute “rating” cards and coloring sheets. As one of the first people to implement First Chapter Friday, who was around when the movement started, attaching work was never the intention. In fact, most teachers started First Chapter Friday for a period of relaxation, a time of no work.
Authentic fun tied to literacy will be a major component of building a literacy-rich classroom. Think about what draws you to language arts: in some capacity, it is probably literacy! You enjoy yourself when you read, write, or speak. Show students the fun of literacy—with no work attached.
Reading and writing—with a variety of opportunities for students to engage—are huge. We can’t ignore the rest of our courses. Many students love vocabulary, grammar, informational texts, poetry, and public speaking.
Building a literacy-rich secondary classroom requires giving all aspects of class content. Sure, many of us teachers love novels and short stories. We spend tons of time on writing essays or narratives. Sometimes we must check ourselves: Am I giving all aspects of language arts a fair shot?
For instance, I find that I dread most poetry lessons from a book. When I felt myself slipping with poetry activities, I decided to experiment. I used book spine poetry, blackout poetry, and other experimental forms to teach domain-specific vocabulary connected to poetry. Since I want to build a classroom of literacy, I didn’t want to miss out on exposing students who would join our community through poetry. I had to check myself that I was giving all aspects of language arts a shot.
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.
Why is literacy important with high school students? To create a literacy rich environment, design your classroom with literacy in mind. Consider books, discussions, relationships, and overall messages. Want more ideas for creating a literacy-rich secondary classroom? Melissa at Reading and Writing Haven shares her secrets.