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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
(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
Opportunities for children to read independently and for adults to read with children
Books and literacy areas
Resources for phonics teaching