Teaching with Variety
“Variety is the spice of life” is an idiom which refers to the idea that individuals prefer to participate in a variety of experiences instead of doing the same thing all the time. People like variety. You see this in everyday life when you shop for ice cream. This idea also applies to education, specifically to the teaching of reading. Doing the same thing every day is boring for students and teachers. You can add variety to your reading instruction by changing your reading groups, reading texts, and reading responses.
Teaching the whole class ensures all students receive the same instruction. It also saves planning time and class time. However, this form of grouping does not meet individual needs, makes it difficult to involve all students in a discussion, and makes it more difficult to informally assess individual students. Teaching the whole class is best saved for teaching phonics, vocabulary, and specific reading skills/strategies that all students need (drawing conclusions, comparing/contrasting, summarizing).
Teaching with ability or skill groups meets the needs of the individual student or group by helping struggling readers and challenging proficient readers. When using small groups, more students participate in the discussion and informal assessment is easier to manage. Ability groups also enable you to provide text at students’ instructional reading level. Teaching skill groups is best used to reteach or practice specific skills.
Partner groups provide students with opportunities to assist others. The use of partner groups requires training and good classroom management so students stay on-task and cooperate with each other. Partner groups are effective for repeated oral reading to increase oral fluency and reciprocal reading (one student reads a page while the other listens and asks questions or summarizes what was read and then students switch roles).
Research groups also require training as students learn to cooperate with group members. Students with similar interests choose a topic. They develop research skills by locating information in books and on the Internet. Struggling readers benefit by working with proficient readers. Students share their research by writing reports, making posters, or giving presentations. Research groups give students authentic purposes for reading.
Literature groups (circles) involve students who read the same book. Most teachers offer students a choice of four or five books (historical fiction is often used). Students are assigned a job sheet to complete while independently reading the chapter. Students meet to discuss the reading. Literature groups develop leadership skills by providing students the opportunity to run their own group while the teacher moves among the groups and facilitate.
Narrative text contains story elements (setting, characters, theme, plot, resolution). The organization is usually in chronological order consisting of paragraphs that unfold the plot. Historical fiction, realistic fiction, and fanciful fiction are examples of narrative text. When reading narrative text, have students identify the story elements. Ask students to predict what will happen and later let them confirm or revise their predictions.
Informational text is usually written in a factual writing style. The organizational structure is varied (topic/detail, cause/effect, compare/contrast). Textbooks, newspapers, Internet articles, and encyclopedias are examples of informational text. Although most teachers use narrative text, it is important that you also teach comprehension using informational text. Provide books on interesting topics (sports, animals, how-to books). When reading informational text, have students identify the main idea, visualize concepts, or summarize the text. A major portion of reading instruction should focus on the life skill of understanding informational text so students can “read to learn.”
Student responses can be varied instead of always writing book reports or answering questions. To develop deeper understanding, responses should require students to refer back to the text and provide support. During-reading responses increase understanding. While students read, let them complete a concept web, answer questions, make T-notes, or participate in reciprocal reading.
After-Reading responses promote retention by allowing time for reflection and analysis. After students read, let them sequence events in words or pictures, tell three things they learned, make a character web, act out the story, write a new ending, compare/contrast on a Venn diagram, or summarize what they read.
God created your students with differing abilities. Jesus, the master teacher, is an example to all teachers. He met the specific needs of people by using variety in grouping; He taught large groups, small groups, and individuals. Jesus used variety of instructional strategies as He taught with examples, illustrations, miracles, and questions. Reading instruction at the elementary level should prepare students for lifelong reading. Doing the same thing every day for six years does little to excite students about reading class. Add variety by using different types of text while teaching the whole class a couple of days and teaching in groups several days during the week. At least once every quarter, use literature circles to read a novel. Students don’t always have to do the same thing. Vary the types of reading responses with different texts and with different students reading the same text. You too can add spice to your reading instruction by adding variety.
Dr. Tammie Jacobs has been an educator for over 30 years. She currently serves as the head of the Department of Elementary Education at Bob Jones University, teaches elementary education courses, and supervises candidates during practicum and clinical practice.
Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Winter 2014 ed. Vol. 20. No. 2. Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.