What Is It?
At the intermediate grades, students become increasingly competent as readers, and they are eager to understand the world around them. They enjoy reading for entertainment as well as for learning information. It is important that teachers take advantage of students' intrinsic curiosity and motivation to learn by providing opportunities for students to read a wide variety of material.
In addition to reading books, students at this level are ready to become more familiar with newspapers, essays, advertisements, and electronic media such as the World Wide Web and e-mail. Fourth grade is a good time for teachers to introduce students to different genres such as poetry, historical fiction, nonfiction, informational texts, mystery, and science fiction. Fourth graders usually need explicit reading strategy instruction and scaffolded support for reading and comprehending this array of new and complex genres.
To support reading development, a wide range of books must be available to students. The most convenient place to obtain books is the classroom library. Some authorities recommend that each classroom library contain as many as 1,000 books. School and public libraries are also important sources of reading materials, including books, magazines, brochures, and reference books. Many school and public libraries have connections to the Internet where students can access information that broadens their understanding of the world. Effective teachers hunt for enjoyable and age-appropriate new sources such as youth-oriented magazines, newspapers, Internet sites, popular music lyrics, books on tape, and movies and television productions based on books.
By helping students make good choices in reading materials, teachers encourage students to become avid readers. Effective teachers provide explicit instruction on how mature readers select materials for independent reading by reviewing book jacket covers, studying information about authors, reading leads, sampling text for appropriate readability level, checking the table of contents, and previewing pictures. In addition, teachers instruct students on how to determine when a book is inappropriate and that it is permissible to abandon reading material if it is not at the right level. Teachers can also structure assignments that allow students to explore their reading choices. By planning specific activities around a wide variety of resources, teachers can encourage their students to become literate, lifelong readers.
Implications for ELLs
English language learners (ELLs) in the intermediate grades display a wide range of language and literacy levels. Proficiency in oral English does not necessarily mean that children can read well. Consequently, it may be more difficult to determine a student's independent and instructional reading levels. Some beginning ELLs in grades 4-6 may require materials typically used in lower grades, such as simplified easy readers or high-interest materials at a low reading level.
ELLs and their parents may be unfamiliar with the range of reading materials and genres available in the classroom, school, and public libraries. They may need explicit orientation to resources, where to find them, and how to select books at an appropriate level of difficulty.
Strategies for Supporting ELLs
Effective teachers and librarians make sure that their bookshelves contain books and periodicals at a range of reading levels to accommodate beginning to advanced readers, as well as a variety of topics related to ELLs' places of origin (e.g., biographies of famous people, fables, folktales, poetry, history, and informational books). When students can borrow and share these materials with their families, connections between home and school are strengthened. Teachers may want to investigate bilingual software and online resources for students in students' home languages.
Glimpse of the Classroom
Mrs. C. previews new books that she has recently added to the sixth-grade classroom library. She uses boxes to organize and to store books for students' easy retrieval by genre and by level. Mrs. C. also keeps periodicals in neatly organized shelves and designs content-area assignments that encourage students to select from the magazines and newspapers.
Students have a lot of choices. They can read from math, science, news, and literature magazines published by Scholastic Teachers (see http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/classmags.htm#elementary). For social studies and literature, Mrs C. subscribes to Cobblestone (American history), Cricket, and Calliope (world history with maps, time lines, illustrations, and art from major museums). She also provides Boys' Life, National Geographic World, and Time for Kids (from Time Magazine). Scope, which is oriented more toward the sixth grade and higher, is another Scholastic magazine that focuses on nonfiction, classics, and contemporary and multicultural young-adult literature; it is especially designed to engage reluctant readers with a variety of celebrity features and stories that incorporate high-interest news and contemporary issues. Mrs. C. has provided a great deal of material for students' self-selected reading period and encourages them to read books that may be easy, just right, and challenging.
Today, students review the criteria for easy ("You just breeze through and understand it perfectly."); for just right ("You may have one or two unfamiliar or difficult words in a hundred, but you can understand it pretty well."); and for challenging ("It is difficult to understand, and you read it over more than once."). Mrs. C. reminds students that to look for social studies or science information often involves challenging reading and will require more time and effort.
Students are eager to read their books because they know that when they all have completed at least one free-reading book, Mrs. C. will have a book celebration. For the next book celebration, students may choose the best of three celebration formats for their book. If they think others should read it, they develop a sales pitch or advertisement to persuade others on the merits of reading their book. If they have a favorite scene (narrative or expository), they may write and produce the scene and invite their classmates to take parts. They introduce the scene by summarizing the context of the book so that the class will understand the significance of the scene. Or they can play "Meet the Press," in which they sit in a chair in front of the class as their favorite character or as the author and answer questions from the class as if it were a press conference. The only requirement is that the class will use a rubric for evaluating how clearly they present their book and how persuasive they are. Now it is time for free reading to begin.
Questions to Think About