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Lessons Learned


Early Reading First

Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment

All children in Providence will enter school healthy and ready to learn.


s most preschool educators know, a classroom’s physical environment plays a key role in the cognitive and social development of their children. In fact, some have called it “the third teacher,” one that works hand-in-hand with the teacher and teacher assistant to meet the objectives of the program and the needs of the students. A well-organized and welldesigned classroom promotes purposeful play that leads to meaningful learning. Well-planned interest centers spark curiosity, investigations, problem-solving, vocabulary development and conversation. But a classroom can have all of this and still not be “literacy rich,” even if it includes a wellstocked book corner and some printed labels around the room. In a literacy-rich classroom, literacy materials and props are integrated into every interest center in a way that makes reading and writing both meaningful and fun for the child. Equally important, teachers regularly model the use of these materials and help children interact with them. By integrating literacy into every area – from the dramatic play center to the science table – a teacher helps children see the essential role that reading and writing play in all aspects of their everyday lives. Children also begin to understand that what can be said can be written, and that what can be written can be read – a crucial step in emergent literacy development. They start to see that print is both a useful and entertaining way to communicate. On the following pages are some ways that ERF teachers and others have successfully integrated literacy throughout their environment. Keep in mind, however, that research has shown that these materials and activities are effective only if adults model them and talk about what the children are doing.

Introducing Literacy throughout the Classroom A child’s name is one of the best ways to teach children about print and should appear frequently (with pictures) around the classroom – on cubbies, helper boards, sign-in boards, etc. Although you don’t want to “clutter” the classroom with an overwhelming number of labels, functional labels and signs should be visible throughout the room so that children can see and use print for multiple purposes. Labels, for example, should indicate where certain toys or personal belongings are to be stored. “Hot” and “cold” signs over Ready to Learn Providence is a citywide initiative with the vision that all children in Providence will enter school healthy and ready to learn. With a coalition of nearly 2,000 individuals and partner organizations, the R2LP community represents the largest constituency in the state devoted to school readiness. R2LP is a program of The Providence Plan. In 2004 R2LP received a $2.9 million, three-year federal grant to create centers of educational excellence through Early Reading First. ERF is designed to change teacher practice as well as outcomes for children. In 2006 R2LP received a second ERF grant to work with four additional centers for three years. Funding for this publication was provided by a U.S. Department of Education, Early Reading First grant. The content is solely the responsibility of R2LP and does not represent the official views of USDOE nor constitute an endorsement by the funding agency.

the appropriate faucets give a child some useful information. Stop signs and directional signs can be placed in the outdoor area to indicate play areas. Refer to these classroom labels and signs whenever appropriate in a meaningful context. (And if you’re working on a beginning sound, ask if anyone can find a word or name in the room that starts with the /s/, like “soap” or “sink.”) A classroom schedule, classroom rules, lunch menus, classroom news, etc. (all with both pictures and words) should be prominent in the large group area and referred to almost daily.

Introducing Literacy into your Interest Centers The Reading Center. Educators suggest that the book corner should have four to seven different titles for every child in the classroom. In other words, a classroom with 18 children should strive to have at least 72 high-quality books for the children to choose from. All kinds of books should be available – story books, non-fiction, poetry and wordless books. They should be displayed so that children can see the covers and access them easily. The Reading Center should be a quiet, comfortable and homey corner of the room where children can snuggle up with a good book or share one with a friend. If children can bring the books home or reserve one for naptime, develop a simple sign-out system they can do independently. Teachers have found that play “reading glasses” encourage some children to “read” books in the reading center. Have writing materials available in the book corner (or in a nearby writing center) so that a child can dictate and illustrate a short book review to share with the class. After reading a book to a class, put a “book tub” in the reading center containing props that help a child retell the story to a friend. The Writing Center. Stock the center with all kinds of paper that are fun for the beginning writer – newsprint, construction paper, white paper, notebooks, white paper, etc. Writing tools should include large pencils, large crayons, brushes, markers, typewriters, computers, etc. to encourage experimentation. An easel in the writing center lets an adult take the dictation of children. Taking dictation helps students see how oral language is translated into written language. By watching a teacher write, the child also sees how print moves from left to right. By attributing the sentence to the child who is dictating – Joe said, “We saw bears in the zoo.” – the child is likely to be able to pick out his own name after the sentence is read back to him. He’s now on his way to reading and differentiating words. Set up a post office in the writing center so children can send messages to one another or to teachers.

The Dramatic Play Center. Whenever a preschooler takes on a persona other than her own, she’s engaging in dramatic arts. This center lends itself to endless literacy opportunities that are fun, creative and meaningful. Here are just two examples of how to integrate reading, writing and speaking into a play activity. (Don’t forget to place some thematically related books in the area.) Set up a grocery store. Encourage “shoppers” to use a newspaper supermarket insert to make a grocery list and to find coupons. Stock the store with empty food containers with labels and logos on them. In a pretend restaurant, help the children write menus and the daily specials on a board. Give the “waiter” or “waitress” a pad for taking orders and a receipt pad for writing the bill. Give the “diners” credit cards, checkbooks or play money. The Block Center. After a walk with the children around the neighborhood observing landmarks and street signs, encourage them to map it out with blocks and toy cars on a large plastic sheet on which you’ve drawn and labeled the streets. “Where should we put the library and the church?” “Are they on the same street as our school?” “Is this where we saw the stop sign?” As in all centers, have some books nearby that relate in some way to the activity. The Science Center. Use simple written/picture directions for children to follow for science experiments. Develop charts and diagrams to document the outcome of a project. Help children refer to appropriate books in the center to find answers to their questions. These are just a few of the numerous opportunities for bringing literacy into every corner of the classroom and showing children that print has a real purpose. “When literacy is an integral part of their daily activities, children actively construct their own literacy knowledge and strategies, and learn to read and write naturally and playfully.” (Teale & Yokota, 2000).

References and resources Handbook of Classroom Management by Carolyn M. Evertson and Carol Simon Weinstein What to Look for in a Quality, Literacy-Rich Preschool Learning Environment, Center for Literacy, University of North Carolina Reading Rockets: Early Literacy Instruction: Research Applications in the Classroom Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment, John Funk Increasing the literacy behaviors of preschool children through environmental modification and teacher mediation, Wayne, Angela; DiCarlo, Cynthia F.; Burts, Diane C.; Benedict, Joan. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 2007.

Ready to Learn Providence•945 Westminster Street•Providence, RI 02903 •(401)490-9960

Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment  
Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment  

Ready to Learn Providence, which has administered three Early Reading First programs, produced a series of handouts for participating educat...