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Creating a literacy rich environment

The environment

The purpose of literacy rich environments

From the atmosphere and decor of the room to interactions with peers and teachers, every element of the classroom is designed to allow students to explore the elements of literacy. The literacy rich environment emphasises the importance of speaking, reading, and writing in the learning of all students. This involves the selection of materials that will facilitate language and literacy opportunities; reflection and thought regarding classroom design; and intentional delivery and facilitation by teachers and staff (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1999). Because literacy rich environments can be individualised to meet students’ needs, teachers are able to create both independent and directed activities to enhance understanding of concept of print and word, linguistic and phonemic awareness, and vocabulary development. All of this occurs in a concrete setting giving students multiple opportunities to gain the skills necessary to participate in the curriculum.

Classroom materials for literacy rich environments

The intentional selection and use of materials is central to the development of the literacy rich environment. Teachers ensure that students have access to a variety of resources by providing many choices. Teaching staff connect literacy to all elements of classroom life. Teaching staff alternate books in the classroom library to maintain student's interest and expose them to various genres and ideas. Classrooms also include miscellaneous literacy materials that are used in everyday life further demonstrate how literacy is used (Goodman, Bird, & Goodman, 1991). For example:

  • Phone books
  • Dictionaries
  • Menus
  • Recipes
  • Labels
  • Signs
  • Printed directions
  • Student work
  • Alphabet displays

As students make attempts to write, allowing for diverse materials (pens, pencils, markers, and crayons of varying shapes and sizes, typewriters, computers, keyboards, magnetic writing boards, etc.) increases students choice and motivation. Adapted materials such as tactile books, slant boards, and pencil grips for diverse learners offers accessibility and motivation. Such as:

  • Tactile Books — textured print or pictures within books for students to touch and sniff
  • Manipulatives — hands-on skill building materials such as pattern blocks, colour tiles, and reading rods
  • Desk top slant boards — angled boards to assist students with their writing
  • Pencil grips — a pre-shaped grip that is placed over a pencil to assist students with pencil grip and letter formation

Classroom design for literacy rich environments

The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995). Through repeated practice with materials and activities, skills become more automatic and students are given ample opportunities to integrate new and old information. As teachers design their learning environment, it is essential that they consider the diverse needs and skills of the students they teach. As they integrate the skills and background of their diverse students, teachers should ensure that each student is represented in their classroom design and instruction. They can individualise the environment to meet the needs of students and ensure appropriate opportunities to participate in literacy activities are consistently available.

  • Word/letter games like Pictionary, Scrabble, BINGO, and Boggle
  • Play with alphabet letter cookie cutters or stamps
  • Discuss the daily timetable
  • Interact with magnetic letters
  • Label photos of students, teachers, important school staff and class activities
  • Explore a variety of books, magazines, books on tape, books on computer

Literacy rich environments support children who have English as an Additional Language (EAL) as well. As these children may not have experience of speaking English, a classroom that incorporates the elements of literacy rich environments can help EAL children access the curriculum. For example:

  • Read aloud frequently.
  • Include children's primary language in print around the classroom.
  • Allow children to make mistakes when attempting to use a second language.
  • Encourage children to read the same books repeatedly to become familiar with the text.
  • Plan activities that involve using language.

The literacy rich classroom serves as a means to build the basic skills necessary for literacy development by demonstrating to students the function and utility of language in an intentional, purposeful, and intensive way. Given the support of this environment, students are better prepared to work on other literacy skills including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Literacy Learning Environment Checklist

(From Primary National Strategy, 2011)

Providing a range of quality literacy experiences and a print rich physical environment is an important factor in the facilitation and support of literacy learning. It may be useful to review the learning environment using the following guidelines.

Environmental print: letters and words

  • Is the setting bright, well-organised and inviting to walk into?
  • Are resources and working areas clearly labelled?
  • Do the resources reflect the range of families and cultures in Britain?
  • Are children's names and high frequency words displayed at child-height?
  • Are greetings/days of the week displayed in English and other languages and scripts?
  • Is there an attractive pictorial alphabet frieze displayed at child-height?
  • Are poems, songs, children's writing and extracts from shared texts displayed?
  • Do displays include typed and handwritten text?
  • Does the teacher read and refer to the print that is displayed around the setting?
  • Do displays include typed and handwritten text and captions from adults and children?
  • Are children encouraged and supported to ‘read around the room’?

Opportunities for children to read independently and for adults to read with children

  • Does reading and writing happen inside and outdoors in Reception?
  • Do adults read to the children most days?
  • Are there are lots of opportunities to hear, sing and discuss rhymes?
  • Is the Big Book stand easily seen by all children during shared reading?
  • Do children take an active role in group, shared and guided reading?
  • Are the children building a good bank of known texts?

Books and literacy areas

  • Do the books in the book corner match the needs and interests of the children?
  • Are the books of appropriate quality, quantity and variety (hard cover, soft cover, fiction, non-fiction, rhymes…)?
  • Are Big Books, favourite and new books and phonics games available for independent use?
  • Are books included in displays and available resources related to areas of learning other than communication, language and literacy?
  • Are books for guided reading identified and organised with reference to book bands (or another system of fine grading)?
  • Are there enough guided reading resources to meet the needs of Reception (20–30 titles are likely to be needed at book band Pink level)?
  • Do the books for early reading have a repetitive structure?
  • Do the books for early reading have text that includes the repetition of high frequency words?
  • Do the books for early reading include a good proportion of words the children can decode using their phonic skills?
  • Are there enough guided reading resources to meet the range of needs in Year 1 and Year 2?
  • For shared reading, is the type and page layout simple and clear so that the children can isolate known high frequency words?
  • Are the texts short enough to be completed in a 10–15 minute shared reading session?

Early Writing

  • Do children see adults reading and writing for different purposes and in different contexts?
  • Is there an appealing writing area that includes writing materials, high frequency word cards, interactive displays, messages, and examples of children's writing available for independent use?
  • Are there lots of different resources for writing (and mark-making in Reception), such as large sheets of paper, boards, chalks, big brushes, and pens and paper?
  • Are literacy targets displayed at child-height in child-friendly language?
  • Is there an inviting listening post with a variety of stories and rhymes on tape?
  • Are puppets, props and small-world items available for role-play?
  • Do the outside area in Reception and role-play area include opportunities for reading and writing, and have these been modelled by an adult?
  • Is there enough floor space inside and out in Reception for being dramatic and creative, e.g. acting out stories, making dens, working on large sheets of paper?
  • Are children in Reception able to access physical development activities that will build their fine and gross motor skills, e.g. building wrist strength by twirling ribbon sticks, practising writing patterns with big brushes and water, making letters in the sand?
  • Are there lots of opportunities to link language with physical movement, e.g. in action songs and rhymes, cookery, gardening?
  • Do children have access to a computer and are there suitable reading and writing software programs in use?
  • If there is an interactive whiteboard, is it accessible to children and are they taught how to use it?

Resources for phonics teaching

  • Are there sufficient resources for children, including whiteboards and pens, letter fans (one each), and Yes/No cards?
  • Do the teacher resources include puppets for demonstration, a large clearly visible whiteboard, sticky notes, cards of each phoneme, magnetic letters, and cards for games and activities?
  • Does the practitioner have a well-organised selection of phonics resources to draw on (fans, mini-whiteboards, etc.) for discrete teaching sessions?