Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reading is Fundamental

I teach at a Title I school. That means a significant portion of the student body lives in poverty.
In the US, about 61% of low income families have NO books in their homes. Some people might believe that the book shortage is because I've hoarded them all, but that, regardless of what you've heard, is not true. I would happily share all my books. Well, most of my books. Okay, I would happily share some of my books. :)

The good news is that my students don't have to wait for my generosity before they get something to read. That's because we're part of the RIF program.

Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is the nation's largest children's literacy nonprofit. From the RIF website:
We prepare and motivate children to read by delivering free books and literacy resources to those children and families who need them most...Planting seeds of inspiration in our nation’s most vulnerable children is what RIF and a network of more than 400,000 volunteers do.
Our school participates in the Books for Ownership Program (BFO). Thanks to a partnership with Nestle, we get to celebrate RIF days 3 times a year. And that means my kiddos get their own book to take home.

Part of the BFO guidelines is that every student has a choice of which new book they get to keep. If I have 25 kids in my class, I offer 28-30 books so even the last child gets a choice. Also, the order for choosing books must be randomly assigned. Coming up with different ways to choose kids, and keep with a theme, can be tricky! I'm sure somewhere there is a repository of fabulous RIF day ideas, but I have yet to come across it. Since some other teachers might be in the same boat, I thought I'd share some of what my class has done.

On our RIF days, we celebrate reading all afternoon. I usually leave book choosing as the grand finale. In November we had a "Devour a Good Book" theme. We shared which books are "delicious" to us and then participated in Scholastic's Classrooms Care challenge of reading 100 books. In keeping with the food theme, we read The Incredible Book Eating Boy and wrote out "recipes" for a good book. Then we ended the festivities by choosing an apple/number.

I die-cut a bunch of apples and wrote a number on each.

I had a small scallop punch handy, so I used it to take a "bite" out of the apples. The kids got a huge kick out of the idea that I'd eat paper apples!

Then I taped a string to the back of each. Because the kids would be pulling on these, I taped the strings, then folded it over and secured it with a 2nd piece of tape. That way no one could pull the string loose.

I put the apples in a little bushel basket that I had lying around and they each picked a string to pull on. It took some finagling to keep everything from knotting, but it worked out okay.

November 2009, our theme was "tackle a good book." I gave each child a picture of a football helmet and a jersey. They each got to choose their own "number." I kept a list on the board so no one did duplicates and so they could remember what they picked (you know how kids' memories are!).

At the end of the day, I gathered these and used a pocket chart to make a concentration game.

It didn't work out too well until I stopped having them turn the cards back over after their turn. Then things went much faster. When a helmet and jersey number were matched, the owner of that set got to choose his/her book.

Sometimes we play musical reading chairs. While the kids are out of the room, I write a number under each chair using an Expo dry erase marker. Then I have each child choose a book from the class library and move their chairs to sit in an outward-facing circle. They read in their chair for a few minutes. Then I ask them to put their books under their chairs and stand up. I play music and they walk around the circle musical chairs style. When the music stops they sit in a new spot and read someone else's book (no one is out). After a few rounds, books are returned and the children take their new chairs to their desks. Then they can check which number they have.
One year we had a beach theme and I let the kids bring towels from home to "lay-out" on while they read. They got to add a paper flower to their leis for each book they finished and as a class we read some fun oceany books like Bats at the Beach and Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach.

My very favorite RIF celebration is one I've done for a few years, "Books are Magic." We read a Shel Silverstein poem called Magic Carpet and talk about how not using your mind is as sad as having a real magic carpet but only using it as a rug. As a class we do a readers' theater about the magic of the library and read Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook. I give the kids time to read, but I interrupt them occasionally with the Whole New World song from Aladdin. Then we sit on our pretend magic carpet and fly to a new place. When we arrive I read them a story from a different place or even a fictional setting.

Before they choose their books, they pull a rabbit out of my magic hat. The dollar store had these magician hats recently and...are you ready for this?...THEY STORE FLAT! I was so excited that I did a happy dance! I can use it for this one thing a year, put in my file, and not have to worry about it for another 12 months!

I die-cut a bunch of white rabbits and use a white crayon to number them. Then I tucked them all in my hat's secret compartment. I had the kids say some magic words and--hey presto!--I've got a hat full of rabbits! I have the kids get a "magic marker" (dark colors work best) and color over their rabbit.

Abracadabra! Reading fun for everyone!

For more information about RIF or how you can donate to help these sweet little ones get excited about reading, check out the Reading is Fundamental website.

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