Well, it’s finally happened – you’re back in school - with full classes (with or without masks) - and now it’s the moment of truth: what have your pupils been doing since March? Of course, you hope that they avidly followed your online lessons and dutifully completed all tasks set with the devoted attention of a furloughed parent… but the reality might be quite different. There will be many pupils who were not in need of additional support prior to school closure but who will now need a boost to get back on track. You might be tempted to think that the Number 1 priority is to test pupils to find out the extent of the damage of missing school, but it would be more beneficial to your pupils to give them enough time to tune back in to learning mode first.
Read aloud to pupils
The best thing you can do for pupils is read aloud to them. Many of them will have had no experience of books and stories since March and they will need to be guided gently back into the world of books. Choose short stories to read aloud - ones that will re-ignite your pupils’ imaginations. Punctuate the school day with readings, sometimes stopping one reading at a cliff-hanger so you leave pupils eager for more. By reading aloud to your class, you are demonstrating the power of story and the magic of language. For many, it will become the incentive for them to pick up a book and read for themselves again.
If some pupils find it hard to concentrate when they are just processing information via their ears, give them a page from a colouring book to keep those fidget fingers busy while you read – this is also good for re-tuning those fine motor skills!
Make reading sociable
Not many pupils will regret missing intensive tuition, but most will have missed sociable learning with their friends. Set up small groups for reading and discussion using books that are not too challenging for anyone in the group. Let the group decide if they want to read around the group or read silently (or even in unison!). Give each pupil in the group a role such as: plot tracker, humour detective, artwork expert, language spotter so that every pupil has something specific to contribute to the group discussion. Ask the group to rate the text out of 10 and invite them to convince another group why they should read the ones they have scored highly.
Play reading is a great way to build reading confidence as no individual pupil has full responsibility of delivering the text. For young children, you might like to try a set of Bug Club plays by Julia Donaldson, each containing 6 parts. For older children, you could try the short plays in Rapid Stages 7-9, each of which is designed for 3 readers and takes about 10 minutes to read, making them not too daunting. Pupils can re-read swapping parts. Play reading gives pupils a real reason for reading with intonation and expression, which are the hallmarks of comprehension.
Poetry is an easy way to get pupils of all ages to tune back into the sounds in language, and many children enjoy hearing the rhythm and intonation of a poem being read aloud. Read rhyming poems to them, sometimes leaving out the rhyming word at the end of the line and challenging pupils to supply it. This is great for encouraging them to tune into the rhyming sounds and think about what makes sense in the context, building valuable comprehension skills.
Many pupils will have lost confidence with reading during the school closures, and they will need to be reminded of its pleasures. So, concentrate on what is enjoyable and what gives pupils a high level of success and you may find that, for the majority of pupils, this confidence boost is all they need to get them back on track. The Bug Club reading scheme offers a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books ensures every child will be able to find something that matches their interests. For those who need further intervention, a catch-up scheme like Rapid Reading is ideal for helping children to make accelerated progress and build confidence, helping to close the gap.
Ensuring effective catch-up in reading will not only kickstart literacy and language development for the coming year, but will stay with your pupils throughout their education and have benefits across all other areas of learning. Whether it be through a funny poem, group play-reading or storytime with a class favourite, books can be the tool to help your pupils settle back into the classroom and enjoy learning again.
About the author
Dee Reid is an expert in helping children catch up in reading and writing. She is the Series Editor of Rapid Reading and Rapid Writing, as well as the creator of Catch-Up Literacy.
Rapid Reading is a proven intervention scheme for children who have fallen behind.
Find out more about Rapid Reading
Bug Club is a whole-school reading programme that offers a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books for children of all ages to enjoy.
Find out more about Bug Club