5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 1 Reading Literacy

5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 1 Reading Literacy - Our students need to be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies and School Librarians can integrate a Library Literacy component into every class visit. In Part 1 we look at incorporating Reading, the original literacy, into library visits. #NoSweatLibraryWhen we become a School Librarian we don’t stop being a Teacher, in fact, we take on a larger responsibility: to teach the essential Literacies that are so important in our global society. As I’ve mentioned before, our students need and deserve short, simple lessons that inculcate these multiple literacies through integration with subject area classroom activities.

Literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write, so for every class visit to the library we need to integrate at least one literacy component with the classroom topic of study. In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies:

  1. Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  2. Content-area Literacy (thinking specific to a discipline)
  3. Information Literacy (the library curriculum)
  4. Digital Literacy (when and how to use various technologies)
  5. Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

I want to address each of these literacies in a separate blog post and offer suggestions how School Librarians might incorporate each one into lessons. With this post I begin with what is still considered the most important literacy in our modern world: reading with the associated ability to write.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in ~70 countries. In their Program for International Student Assessment Report of 2003 they state:

The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time students spent reading, and this is a more accurate indicator than economic or social status. Time spent reading was highly correlated to success in math and science. The keys to success lie in teaching students how to read and then have them read as much as they can.

Their 2009 PISA report refines this by stating:

Having a deep understanding of reading strategies, and using those strategies, are even stronger predictors of reading performance than whether students read widely for pleasure.

Clearly the ability to read with discernment is the key to success in school, as well as the key to all other literacies. How might we, as School Librarians, make reading a key objective in our library program?


From kindergarten through high school, teachers bring students to our libraries to check out books. Those visits need to be more than just a quick in-and-out… grab a book, check it out, return to classroom. We need to help students develop a true appreciation for the value of reading.

Notice I said “appreciation for the value of reading,” not ‘a love of reading’. To love reading is a hobby, just like stamp collecting or building model planes, and we can no more teach a love of reading than we can a love of any other hobby. What we can do is expose students to a wide variety of books on many topics so some will come to love reading, and some who love crafts or sports or whatever will choose books on those topics so they can learn more, and that is the true goal: helping students see that reading brings them the information they need to be successful.

Most importantly, we must give students time to find a book they’ll want to read and then give them more time to begin reading it…to make sure it’s what they want. I begin the year with a Library Orientation for English Language Arts classes focused entirely on reading. I give students plenty of time to find a book, and then we have silent sustained reading till the end of the period (we called it DEAR Time: Drop Everything And Read).

Add Sustained Silent Reading To School Library Visits To Raise Student Achievement - The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time students spend reading. School Librarians can give students this "gift" by adding SSR and silent checkout during bi-weekly library visits. #NoSweatLibraryAllowing students plenty of time to choose a book and then giving them time to begin reading it allows them to become immersed in the story—they stick with it, they finish it faster, and they want to begin another book. My ELA teachers and I schedule library visits every other week for the entire school year, following the same procedure: short lesson→long book browse→longer silent reading. The biggest benefit to recurring free reading time was that our yearly State Reading Test scores moved steadily upward and remained above state averages!

Interestingly, one year we followed a district directive for ELA classes to read 5-10 minutes daily at the start of the period. Our library visits deteriorated because students became restless during long-term reading. The ELA teachers and I understood why, and when the new semester began, we went right back to DEAR time for the whole period. This convinced us how important it is to give students prolonged reading time.


3 School Library Practices to Promote Reading - Read about 3 practices I use in my middle school library to encourage students to enjoy reading and check out more books! FREE download of my IT IS FOR ME book chooser 'app' from my Librarian Resources page. #NoSweatLibrary(1) During Book Browse our students use my “IT IS FOR ME” mnemonic checklist to find a book. The 6g ELA teachers require it as an exit ticket for each library visit. The 7g teachers use it at the start of the year, then intermittently as students begin using the procedure automatically. By 8th grade, returning students are proficient, so teachers focus on establishing the process with newly enrolled students, who quickly adopt it.

(2) During silent reading we have a quiet invited checkout procedure: I begin on one side of the library and invite students at 2 or 3 tables, depending on numbers, to check out. They line up single file at the circulation desk, continue to read as the line moves up, and after I check out their book they return to their seat. When each group is done, I quietly go over and invite 2 or 3 more tables for checkout. It’s an orderly process with only 8-10 students checking out at a time, and it takes maybe 10 minutes for an entire class, less than 20 minutes for a double class. (If students talk while in line, I send them back to their tables to check out after everyone else; they rarely do it again.)

(3) My 3rd year as School Librarian I decided to eliminate overdue fines. I wrote about this in another blog post: my reasoning is that fines discourage students from reading and collecting fines is time-consuming work for us with little benefit.

Never, ever, refuse a child the opportunity to read!


While it’s important to promote independent reading, it’s even more important for School Librarians to employ reading comprehension strategies—predicting, making connections, questioning, annotating, inferring, organizing, and summarizing—during library lessons that involve reading.

I’ve written about my love for graphic organizers. They organize critical content and students learn to identify text structures by the type of graphic organizer used: classification, compare/contrast, order/sequence, cause/effect, and problem/solution.

Graphic Organizer Multi Pack from Cult of Pedagogy on Teachers Pay Teachers. Only $6For a set of these text structure organizers
and other organizers, take a look at
Cult of Pedagogy’s Graphic Organizer MultiPack.

Summarizing is the most frequently missed type of question on standardized reading tests. It’s a strategy that students desperately need help with and we School Librarians can do that. I use the prior year’s student magazines and a guided worksheet for an introductory lesson on summarizing informational text. Join my email group to gain access to the worksheet and many other great products!

2 Reading Strategy Worksheets - Verbal-Visual and Frayer help students learn new vocabulary by making connections to prior knowledge and through visualization.Vocabulary is a common stumbling block for students when learning new content, especially some of our information literacy terminology. I often use graphic organizers to introduce new concepts, especially those that help them make connections between the new words and what they already know. Here are my two favorites:

These are just 3 types of reading strategies we can use to boost students’ comprehension of informational text. I’ve written previously about other ways to promote reading. If you haven’t read them yet, why not do it now and learn more about how you can help students develop Reading Literacy:

This is the first entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

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Read Alouds & Free Reading in the School Library

Read Alouds & Free Reading in the School Library - No matter your grade level, School Librarians can engage students with the power of reading using a combination of read-alouds and free reading time...but the read-alouds must be relevant and the free reading needs to be longer than just 10 minutes at the start of a class period! #NoSweatLibrarySchool Librarians love books and tend to be prolific readers. One reason we became School Librarians was to share our joy of reading with others. Any elementary School Librarian can tell you that an effective way to ‘hook’ students into reading is to read a story aloud.

Young students never seem to tire of read-alouds, but many folks may think once students move beyond the elementary years, their fascination with read-alouds dissipates, but I can assure you that secondary students love them, too!


When I returned to education after a ‘mom’ hiatus I taught in an alternative high school. It was truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The 15-19 year-old students in my school were “at-risk” of not graduating high school for a variety of reasons that made for poor performance in the regular classroom:

  • Poor reading or math skills, some as low as 2nd grade
  • Jobs to help support their family that kept them up late or missing days
  • Extended stay in a hospital for severe illness/accident or in rehab for addiction to drugs/alcohol
  • Lack of interest in or depression about the regular classroom, including social trauma

I learned early on that many of these kids had severely dysfunctional parents, and many never had a parent read to them as a child. One of their happiest memories was an elementary school teacher or librarian reading aloud to them.  Each teacher had an Advisory of 8-10 students that met daily, so I introduced my Advisory to books my own children had enjoyed and that these students had probably never heard.

image of book cover-500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. SeussThe first book I read aloud was an early Dr. Seuss book, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, because I felt the theme of the story—perseverance in spite of criticism and intimidation—would inspire these kids. It was such a hit that I reread it each year to my Advisory, and even though some had heard the story before (we had our Advisory kids until they graduated) they loved hearing it again. I also read aloud other topical Dr. Seuss and Caldecott titles, almost all of which generated fascinating discussions among these high school students. That experience convinced me of the simplified presentation of complex issues through children’s books, and I continue to use them as a middle school librarian, to equal success.


Make a read-aloud of Perrault's original Cinderella the focus of an ELA school library lesson. #NoSweatLibraryA particular middle school read-aloud success is during my 6g Multicultural Cinderella lesson. This collaborative co-taught lesson is designed to illustrate plot elements using the original Perrault Cinderella story as an exemplar. The 6g ELA Teacher introduces each plot element, and I, the School Librarian, read the associated story segment. While most students are familiar enough with Cinderella, many have never heard the original story. Though abbreviated for time, the read-aloud had students rapt with attention!

For the follow up activity students choose a multicultural Cinderella picture book on their table and, in pairs, read it to compare and contrast various cultural elements with the original story. The group discussion afterward emphasized to me that, not only do students enjoy being read to, but the combination of read-aloud and self-reading increases comprehension of concepts.

Make a Read-Aloud the Focus of a School Library Lesson - Here's how a School Librarian uses a read-aloud as the basis for 2 different School Library Lessons, one with 6th grade English Language Arts and one with Newcomer English Learners. #NoSweatLibraryRead-alouds are particularly powerful with ESL/ELL students, who need to hear English spoken in a fluid manner to fully grasp the rhythm and flow of their new language. My Newcomer ELLs experience read-alouds for their first 3 library visits of the school year, all designed to make them comfortable with me and with using the school library.

I also read aloud every week to our lowest-reading-level SpEd students who struggle with comprehension. Their teacher tells me what they are studying that week and I choose a story to support the subject area classroom activity. This wide range of read-alouds stimulates these students to explore the subject on their own, especially since I always pull a few fiction and/or non-fiction books on the topic for them to browse and check out.


Our middle school ELA teachers all have classroom libraries, but they don’t compete with a good School Library. No matter how spacious a classroom, a teacher can only stock a few hundred books for her students; even a small middle school library can offer several thousand current Fiction books. My ELA teachers understand the difference, so that is why they schedule regular library visits every other week throughout the year.

We discovered that 10 minutes of reading at the start of each class period is not enough “free reading”. For students who have never had regular free reading, giving them 10 minutes a day to read is a great way to begin, but it can’t be the end goal. Ten minutes isn’t long enough to truly become engaged in a story: prolific readers want to read longer, and reluctant readers just want to get through the time, often jumping from one book to another and never finishing any of them.

Give Students the Gift of Silent Sustained Reading - Build student reading endurance & enjoyment by embedding extended free reading into every ELA library visit. #NoSweatLibraryTo really build readers we give students a 30-minute time period to become immersed in a story. When ELA teachers bring students to the library every other week for book return/checkout I occasionally have a lesson, but it’s a very small portion of the 50-minute period. Students always have 7-10 minutes to browse for books, and then sit down to read for the rest of the class period. During the last 10-15 minutes of the period I go to a couple tables at a time, signaling students it’s their turn to check out. This orderly checkout preserves the quiet reading atmosphere.

With a longer reading time, students become involved in the stories, continue to read on their own, and finish their books faster. Some students decide after a few minutes they don’t like the book they’ve chosen, and they still have time to find a new one and get started reading it. ELA teachers also provide a 30-minute reading time in the classroom during the interim week between library visits. The success of this strategy became evident to us with improved word recognition and reading comprehension, and we raised State Reading Test Scores. Interestingly, one year our district insisted on using the first 10 minutes of ELA periods for reading, but before the end of the first semester our ELA teachers realized it was a disaster, so we abandoned it and went back to our tried-and-true method with greater success.

My experiences as a high school teacher of at-risk students and a middle school librarian has convinced me that, no matter the grade level you teach, you can engage students with the power of reading using a combination of read-alouds and free reading time!

You can find my Multicultural Cinderella lesson and my ELL 3-visit Library Orientation lesson in NoSweat Library Lessons, my TeachersPayTeachers store.
No Sweat Multicultural Cinderella & Fairy Tales Library Lesson - Students know the Cinderella story, but examining its story elements through an interspersed read-aloud gives it new meaning. Students then read other cultural renditions of the story, and make comparisons to identify the diversity of cultural elements. #NoSweatLibrary No Sweat ELL Newcomer School Library Orientation - 3 School Library Lessons where students hear Tomás and the Library Lady, Librarian From the Black Lagoon, and The Library Dragon read aloud by the School Librarian followed by a hands-on activity to build vocabulary & comprehension. Product includes the Library Lesson Plan with WIDA-ELD Standards, ELA Common Core Standards, and National School Library Standards.

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