* 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.

* Wonderopolis

Many thanks to K. Renae P. for her post that inspired me to check out Wonderopolis.  She wrote a really good review, so I had to find out more!Wonderopolis 1

Wonderopolis, a FREE educational site, was started in October, 2010 by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL).  Wonderopolis is massive, brimming with information on more topics than I can imagine.  The reading level of the topics is about the same as that of daily newspapers (about 7th or 8th grade reading level), but all topics have a “listen” feature which allows student to hear a robotic-sounding voice reading the material.  I typically read the articles out loud if they are above my students’ reading levels (which they all are).  Topics are introduced with a question and accompanying video.

There are two main entry points for accessing the wide range of “wonder of the day” lessons.  Teachers, parents, and kids can explore the daily question or search the vast resources by grade and subject.  Today’s wonder is #1344: Who invented the first video game?  Other topics range from “Why do you pick a banjo?” to “Why does it hail?”  The second entry point to this site is Camp Wonderopolis, which is free but requires registration.  If you sign up your student for this feature (email address required), they may select one of seven lessons on various “tracks,” including Wonder Zoo and Wonder Amusement Park.  Camp Wonderopolis

Camp Wonderopolis has two interesting features.  Students may earn digital “cards” for their camp wall by answering questions about the topic.  The cards are printable (2-sided on 8.5″ x 11″ paper) and visually appealing.  Students may also spin a word wheel for definitions of vocabulary used in the article.

Whether you explore a random topic or work through the Camp lessons, all topics include external links to photos, articles, and related information.  Due to the rapid growth of this site, it is now possible to select topics which relate to typical classroom instruction.  I have found that the topics are also useful for providing authentic uses of math skills.  A topic on “which animal can jump the highest” is a springboard for measurement, ratios, and place value (pun intended!).  Wonderopolis is definitely worth using!

Have you tried it out?  What are your impressions?