* How to supplement your reading program

I’ve been asked how to best supplement a reading program with additional books and texts.  This question assumes that you HAVE a reading program, the nature of which varies considerably across this country.  Wake County, the largest school district in North Carolina, uses a Balanced Literacy approach, which relies upon leveled texts (such as the Fountas and Pinnell system).  (And yes, Wake County has beefed up its phonics instruction due to poor student performance.)  Other districts use basal readers, as do many home school classes.

Regardless of the program or method being used, supplementary texts are often beneficial if students need additional practice on certain skills, want to read more on topics of interest, or benefit from materials to read at home.  I use Raz-Kids combined with a Reading A-Z license to provide a vast supply of additional online books.  For families without internet access, teachers can print take-home books from these sites.  Other sources of inexpensive books include used book stores, thrift shops, and donations from school families.  Public libraries offer free books and magazines, but may be difficult for some families to access due to work schedules or transportation issuessupplementar.

For shorter passages, WonderopolisNewsela, and ReadWorks provide terrific free online materials on a range of topics and reading levels.

finger-160597_640I always suggest that my students use a five-finger rule for determining (roughly) if a book is at their reading level.  They hold up one finger for each missed word on a beginning paragraph (although they may exclude proper nouns).  If they reach five fingers, chances are good that the book is too hard.

* Raz-Kids

Raz-Kids 5In keeping with my previous posts under the Learning A-Z umbrella, Raz-Kids provides an online library of thousands of books for kids when paired with a subscription to Reading A-Z.  Since I wouldn’t use one without the other, my description assumes you are using both.  Students can access any Reading A-Z book online.  Teachers and parents can access lesson plans, assessments, and all the other supplementary features that accompany the books on Reading A-Z.  Student management is a breeze.  Select a student’s name, assign them a book level (based on the Fountas and Pinnell system), and students have access to a whopping number of books.

What kids get:  If you ask them about Raz-Kids, most kids will want to show you their rocket ship and robot.  The incentive program for this site is well-designed (interesting but “pricey” for kids).  When students log in under their teacher’s name, they land on a space-themed platform.  They may choose their Reading Assignment, which consists of a select number of books from their assigned reading level. With your Reading A-Z subscription, they also have access to the “On Your Own” Book Room, which is packed with a seemingly unlimited number of books.  The Messages icon allows them to read any notes and bonus stars you choose to send them.  Then there’s the Raz-Rocket and Robot Builder (the latter is a more recent addition, which creates a robot avatar for students).  Teachers can decide when to allow access to these incentives. More on that in the section below.  Raz-Kids 2

When a student goes to their assignment, the image on the left (below) is a sample of how the page appears.  Each book has icons underneath it.  Students may listen to and/or read a book, as well as take an online quiz on that book.  The more effort they make (reading independently and taking the quiz), the more stars are earned, which can be used to purchase goodies for their Raz-Rocket (pictured on the right).  For struggling readers, it can be helpful to listen to a book before reading it on their own.  The books also feature vocabulary assistance, with key words pronounced and defined.  At the lower reading levels, online quizzes and answer choices are read aloud.  Students advance in rank based on earned stars, from Ensign to Fleet Admiral.  They complete levels by reading and taking quizzes on all books in their Reading Assignment area.  They earn extra stars by taking “flight checks,” which are teacher-assigned benchmark assessments.

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Teachers can allow parents access to their student’s account, so they may also keep track of progress.

What teachers get:  You have a nearly unlimited library of books for students to read, including many in Spanish.  Raz-Kids keeps excellent details of each student’s progress, from time spent on each assignment, quiz scores, and an analysis of any errors, to time spent in the rocket, which can guide your determination about student access.  For some kids, I stipulate that they may only access their rocket once a week.  Other kids are free to go there after reading.  Kids may record their practice reading on any book if you prefer.  The assessment component of Raz-Kids is valuable to me because I am serving kids whose classroom teachers are using a leveled book system.  I may use other methods to assess kids’ reading levels, but I also want to compare my kids’ scores with classroom performance.  I can select from several benchmark passages in fiction/nonfiction categories at all 27 levels. Students are recorded as they read and retell the passages; these recordings are automatically saved but can also be filed on your computer. Teachers create an online running record and use a rubric for scoring retells.

Raz-Kids is a classy product and well worth the reasonable subscription rate.  The iPad app is glitchy; I have not tried the Android and Kindle fire versions.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

* Reading A-Z

R A-Z 9Reading A-Z is a mega-site for all things reading, one of 7 amazing sister sites under Learning A-Z’s umbrella.  (In a previous post, I described the abundance of useful features in Writing A-Z.)  Reading A-Z just keeps getting better and better.  It was launched in 2002 as a resource site for teachers with printable leveled books and a small selection of decodable books.  Its expansion since then has been phenomenal.  Reading A-Z continues to provide books, now more than 2500 (including English, Spanish and French versions) at 27 reading levels.  But this site goes far beyond downloadable books.  From the new project-based selections to tools for assessments, this site has a wealth of materials for individual and classroom use.

Considering the breadth of resources provided, Reading A-Z is extremely well organized.  I decided to use screen shots instead of words to illustrate what your membership provides. Under the Resources tab, teachers can access the following types of books by category (their decodable selection remains small), related resources (such as trade book lessons and literature circles), and materials by content area.R A-Z 1

The Key Reading Skills area features materials related to fluency, comprehension, writing, and vocabulary. To support comprehension of visual materials, there are recipes, schedules, pie charts, maps, flow charts, and much more.  Their Close Reading Packets are terrific.  I have subscribed to Vocabulary A-Z (in pink below) and it’s equally well done.
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Under Foundational Skills, you’ll find excellent guidance on teaching phonics and phonological awareness to regular ed students, a portion of whom will struggle significantly if not provided these components of reading instruction.  R A-Z 3

Common Core/21st Century resources include supplemental materials for the “regular” reading lessons with an emphasis upon academic vocabulary, graphic organizers, and close reading features, among others.

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Under Assessments, Reading A-Z’s timed fluency passages and retell rubrics for fiction and nonfiction are especially worth using.  The benchmark passages are aligned with the Fountas and Pinnell leveled reading system.R A-Z 5

For ELL and Bilingual students, many books are already available with a regular subscription, but to access their full range of materials, you must purchase an additional license.

Instructional Uses organizes resources into sections for specific use, such as summer reading or project-based packs. This section includes thirty graphic organizers and a wide selection of matching and other games.  They also provide useful forms, tips, and labels for teachers.

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Books are usually available as single sided, double sides, and projectable; they may be printed in black and white or color in most cases.  Each book is accompanied by a lesson plan, discussion cards, worksheets, and comprehension quiz.  Teachers may “file” any materials in an online filing cabinet with easy access to individualized folders.  The cost of a yearly subscription to Reading A-Z is very reasonable.  Learning A-Z also offers membership discounts, typically before the school year starts.  If you’re not sure whether this site is for you, there are free 14 days trial for all Learning A-Z sites. I highly recommend Reading A-Z!