Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.
Why a Literacy-Rich Environment is Important for Adolescents
Plastic bins filled with books organized by reading level. Walls covered with vocabulary words. A reading nook complete with comfortable chairs and pillows. Pieces of illustrated student writing posted on a colorful bulletin board. These are the elements typically seen in an elementary school classroom; research has shown us that young children need to be surrounded by print and encouraged to encounter it at every turn to learn to become able readers. But does a student's need to be in a literacy-rich classroom environment stop when she becomes an adolescent?
A literacy-rich classroom environment is one where students are surrounded by reading and writing. Literacy-rich environments are essential, not just for children. They are also important as young people become teenagers to help them develop more sophisticated reading skills and become life-long readers and learners. As students move into the middle grades, more and more of the information they are exposed to is presented in print form. They must read this print information for many different purposes, and must write for a variety of audiences. Being able to effectively read, use what they have read, and communicate what they know through writing, is key to adolescent students' academic success. Surrounding students with all forms of literacy including reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking helps them use literacy effectively to learn and communicate.
Elements of a Literacy-Rich Classroom
There are a number of ways that any classroom, whether it is an English/Language Arts class or a content area, can become a literacy-rich environment for young adults. Here are a few key ways to transform your classroom into a literacy-rich environment:
- Show students there is a huge variety of print materials available in the world. Provide your class with reference materials, periodicals, textbooks, fiction or non-fiction books, or even student-created writing. Having a variety of materials available at all times encourages students to use print text at their point of need.
- Make print materials easily accessible to students. Have your classroom library set up so students can get to and use books easily. Place reference materials in a central location where a student can use and return them, so they can be used by the next student.
- Post text on the walls of the classroom. Use word labels for items in the classroom, especially those that are content specific. For example, in a social studies classroom, labels can be posted on a world map labeling the elements of the map. Word walls, or spaces on the classroom wall where key vocabulary words are posted in large print, are excellent ways to not only help students learn and remember important concepts, but they also remind students that written words are connected to those ideas. Also, post classroom rules and procedures using text.
- Create spaces within the classroom for independent and collaborative reading and writing activities. If you want to encourage students to read and write in your classroom, both individually and in small or partner groups, set up the classroom to facilitate this sort of work. Independent reading and writing areas can be set off in a quiet corner. Small group spaces can be created by placing small tables or clusters of desks together to allow students to collaborate as they read and write.
- Encourage students to talk about what they are learning. While reading and writing are important pieces of the literacy puzzle, speaking and listening are equally critical. Frequent opportunities to discuss class concepts and to present to their peers help students see a connection between their learning and their communication.
A literacy-rich classroom environment is one where students are surrounded by reading and writing materials, and where they are encouraged to use literacy to learn and to share their learning. Much of what young adults are expected to learn is presented to them in text form, and they are asked to read and write for many different purposes and audiences. Surrounding them with literacy helps them have academic success. Literacy-rich environments can be created for young adults by providing a variety of easily accessible print materials, posting text information on the classroom walls through word labels, word walls, and classroom procedure and expectations posters, and creating spaces within the classroom that facilitate independent and collaborative reading and writing.
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