I remember thinking that there had to be some kind of magic trick to teach kids to read… not only the actual process of teaching them how to read, but encouraging them to want to learn to read. To actually love reading.

Most new things are hard. What if they get frustrated or bored? What if they have difficulty? There had to be some kind of delicate dance that carefully moved them from their love of simply listening to books to pushing them just enough to begin to put together sounds and words on their own. To want to do it on their own.

With some self-discovery, a little trial and error, and constant learning right along with them, I’ve found a few keys to help build a love of reading in our primary classrooms.


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Young children are curious little sponges. They love cool, interesting facts about bugs. They love hilarious stories and characters that burp. They love books that leave them on the edge of their seat, waiting for more. While they most likely won’t be able to read these types of texts themselves, they crave them and can learn valuable pre-reading skills from watching you.

  • Put engaging texts in their hands, even if they’re too hard. Give them choice.

Let them look at the pictures, make up their own stories, notice, and question. Let them take out books from the library that interest them. Don’t limit their choices to their reading level. In my Kindergarten students’ book boxes, I asked them to choose three books they could read, three that were a little hard, and three of whatever they wanted.

  • Partner them up as much as possible.

Students of any age learn from each other. Allow them to look at books together. Model and encourage them to ask each other questions.

  • Use as much environmental print as possible.

Label everything. Make your word wall visible from any place in the classroom. Teach and model how you can find words on the word wall.

Word Wall 

These large-print word wall cards can be found here.

  • Set up a school-themed dramatic play center, or allow your students to use your materials for free play.

One of my favorite things to observe was my Kindergarteners playing school. They’d grab books that we used for read alouds and sit in front of the dry-erase board watching one child scratch words, while they raised their hands and deciphered their peer’s writing. They’d take turns being the teacher, leading the read-aloud with the big book. They’d put post-it notes over words, just like they’ve seen me do a hundred times. {Let the heart melting commence!}

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Little ones learn through learning opportunities where they get to interact with words. I’m not talking about worksheets, but hands-on, multisensory interaction.

  • Have them use magnetic letters to build words.

Magnetic Words

Build sight words and practice using them in sentences with these interactive dry-erase mats.

  • Practice letter formation using shaving cream or playdoh mats, and decorate words using art supplies like tissue paper or glitter.
  • Put a spin on boring, rote routines.

Instead of drilling sight words with flashcards, put the cards into an empty decorated tissue box. Have students pull out a “Mystery Word” and read it. Another idea is to write sight words on pieces of construction paper. Crumple them up and put them into a popcorn container. Students pick a piece of “popcorn” then read and write the word.

Popcorn Words

(This recording sheet can be downloaded on Karen’s Blog: mrs. jones’s class … and everything elementary)

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Traditional, familiar books are always perfect for emergent readers because they know the stories and can often “read” by looking at the pictures. Infuse these old favorites with some new, novel items to help keep things fresh and exciting.

  • Have them become experts by rereading old books that they can show off to their family.

Use the Books poem from above taped to a folder to encourage a home-school connection and student pride in their newfound reading skills.

  • Let your read-alouds and big books be available to them during any independent reading time.
  • Keep up the excitement by cycling in new tools.

Things like Magic Reading Wands to help them “keep their eyes on the words” (pictured above, wiggly eyes hot glued to popsicle sticks), special pointers, finger lights, eyeglasses (with lenses removed) keep engagement levels high.

 Finger Lights

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Using the most relatable print in the world (their name) as their building block, you can help your young readers grow and love reading. Use every moment to support and encourage them while simultaneously pushing their thinking.

  • Allow them to use reading tools that self-check and build confidence.

CVC Touch and Sweep

(This tool reinforces blending sounds into words with picture support and can be found in this Guided Reading Unit.)

  • Celebrate all kinds of victories.

We know that students learn at different rates and in different ways. As much as you celebrate your star reader reaching a Level E, celebrate your little one who struggled but now knows 15 sounds. Remember, you helped him or her get there.

 

Karen JonesKaren Jones is an educator and curriculum author from Buffalo, NY. She holds a Master’s Degree in Childhood Education and is certified in both Elementary Education and Special Education. She has taught for 12 years in Kindergarten, 5th grade, and as a Math Specialist for K-5. Karen has a passion for creating high-quality, developmentally appropriate resources for primary educators. You can follow her on TpT, on her blog Mrs. Jones’s Class, and on Pinterest.