Using Basal Readers for a Literature Study

In my combined first and second grade there was a literature study for the first semester, using basal readers.. All second graders took part, and every year a few first graders were included who were beyond the beginning reading programs. People often asked why basal readers were used with the controlled vocabulary that eliminated the style of the author – and call it a literature study. Well, first of all, the fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poems in the basal series that were used were excellent.1 A few, such as poems, did not have a controlled vocabulary. But even those that did were well-written in an interesting manner. We talked about the style of the author in the afternoons when literature was read to them, sometimes comparing a current piece with a story in a basal reader. But the major reason might well be that keeping track of so many different books for a semester might not be manageable. Also, in those beginning years there wasn’t much money for new books, prohibiting the collection of multiple copies of various pieces of literature. The final reason, but not the least important, is that although many children could read various children’s literature comfortably, some could not, usually because of perceptual problems.

The program included questions that combined components of literature with cognitive processes. Children interacted orally with a peer and then a large group, sandwiched between reading and writing at their own ability level. My hope was that the knowledge gained transferred into each child’s own reading in selected books of interest.

1. Early, Margaret, Senior Author. 1979. “The World of Giants and  Monsters”, People and Places, 7-57. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. (It has long been out of print but there are used book stores on the web that still carry the series.)

Learn  about using this literature study, in a class or how to design your own, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where this program and others, plus classroom activities, can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Reading Comprehension for Beginning Readers

After receiving three reading groups in my first year of teaching, I never used three groups again. The only ones with the most confidence were the top readers in the first group. Because in each group there were variations of ability all recognized by others.

I’m retired now but taught for many years. I developed a program where each child, in my combined first and second grades, had their own reading book and soon was able to choose which stories of interest to read. Good comprehension followed after also being exposed to understanding literature read to them and thinking about writing their own stories.

See my entry about this approach:

Opportunities for Overcoming Egocentrism in Young Children

Losing egocentrism is such an important process to overcome – to be able to see and understand other viewpoints, both socially and intellectually. For children to realize that the whole world doesn’t see things exactly the way they do – that there are many different views and aspects to situations. It is important for young children to have many opportunities for overcoming egocentrism.

During social conflicts there are opportunities to point out the other side of a situation, trying to help a child realize there are other opinions and attitudes. If an egocentric child disagrees with another child, she cannot understand that there’s a different idea from her own. She fully believes that everyone understands things and sees things exactly the way she does.

Piaget believed that one reason children lose their egocentrism is because of disagreements with their friends. A child begins to realize there are other viewpoints and after enough exposure with concrete experiences, children begin to think abstractly. If a child has enough experiences of other viewpoints, the usual time to overcome egocentricity is about age seven. (By the way – how many adults do you know who have no idea that there are other viewpoints? Shocking, isn’t it? We must help children to overcome all this so they won’t still be egocentric as adults. Those adults cause too many problems in our lives.)

Overcoming egocentrism is important for successful achievement throughout a child’s school experience. Success in math requires a good mental image of numbers of objects in many different configurations including the various shapes, sizes, and dimensions of these objects. Building with blocks or Cuisenaire rods and manipulating numerous objects in the math center provide good experiences for overcoming egocentricity – seeing all sides of and configurations of their creations. The same observations can be made with art projects when a child is constructing with paper or boxes, or working with clay, or making mobiles. A child is looking at all sides and angles – offering the ability to see all aspects. When an egocentric child looks at one side of a structure, she is unable to imagine the shape of the other sides. So, constructions help children overcome their concentration of static situations. These experiences in turn, will allow a child to attain solid abstract math concepts.

In order for children to recognize other viewpoints and gain facility in reading and writing critically, they need experiences with appropriate questions, opportunities for debate, and brainstorming sessions. After enough exposure, hopefully they would be on the way to overcoming egocentricity – to acknowledge and understand others’ viewpoints. And when children write about their life experiences from their own perspective, it doesn’t provide opportunities to relinquish egocentrism. When writing a story, however, a child must think about his appeal to an audience and identify with his characters in the story.  Seeking other viewpoints. And without overcoming their egocentricity, children will indeed be handicapped in depth of reading comprehension along with all other academic areas and in personal relationships. But losing egocentrism isn’t something to be demanded. After much exposure to others’ thoughts and beliefs, children achieve it at different ages and stages, but they need repeated opportunities in order to overcome it.

Read more about appropriate activities in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Beginning Readers’ Success

In my classroom, each successful beginning reader after being offered materials and guidance and support, in one way or another, taught herself to read. She may have participated fully in all parts of the program offered, or perhaps only in part of the designed program with special attention unique from anything offered. But she, and every beginning reader, made choices along the way, perhaps unaware of making those choices, but choices never-the-less about how she learned to read. She chose to use phonics or avoided them because innately, she knew a better way. It was always hoped that during and after learning how to read, these choices allowed her self-confidence to grow, leading to continued motivation, responsibility, and independence – that she knew the purposes for learning how to read and enjoyed many different books, stories, and articles.

Read more about programs for beginning reading in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success, beginning on page 38.  Also, see 7 reviews on

Teaching Phonics With Phonograms

A phonics Reading Folder for each child was stapled inside a manila file folder with his name and Reading printed on the cover. Inside, the first page contained upper and lower case alphabet letters, the second page beginning sounds, two pages of phonograms, one page of consonant blends, and one page of nonsense words to see if what had been learned could be applied. Each section of each page had a readable and easily pronounceable code on the right.

On each of the two pages of phonograms, there were four sections with six phonograms in each. The beginning phonograms were rather simple, such as: at, up, ook, it, and, all - progressing to more complex phonograms, such as ell, ight, ould, en, ain, tion.

In the Book Center, there was a bookcase containing materials and games that corresponded to the codes in the reading folders. For instance, if a child was going to teach a section labeled with a triangle, a triangle would be on a shelf containing all the appropriate materials and games that would teach the phonograms in the triangle section of his folder. And each activity had a triangle printed on the outside of it, to be returned to the correct place. Some games would require two folder sections in order to have enough variety to play the game. In that case, on the outside of the game there might be, for instance, a triangle and an X, therefore, using both the triangle and the X phonograms. Children were usually free to choose which game or activity to use.

There were as many different activities as could be provided. For many years I made them myself. After becoming wiser, when asking for parent volunteers in September, I added one more – to make games and activities. They did not create them, only remade those that were worn out. Many sets of the same activity or game were made for each section, with variations in color and format.

Folder Time on Mondays through Thursdays included each child with a partner either to teach or be taught, or was in a group with me. No Folder Time on Fridays when there was a conference with each one. This recorded information was used to formulate partners and a group for the following week. Across the top of the grid were upper and lower case letters and each of the codes. So during a conference, the section of a child’s folder that was passed was checked in my record keeping and Good written in red across the code in the child’s folder. Then she and I knew exactly where she was. At first it might be a few weeks on one section, but before long, achievement became more rapid.

Read more about the Reading Folder in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success, on page 49. There is a web site included showing all materials and activities discussed in the book. The Reading Folder may be viewed in Appendix B and the folder may be printed for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Learning to Read

In my combined first and second grade classes for children learning how to read, basal readers were used.Beginning basal readers were carefully selected for those that were most appealing. After the first day of school, every child had a book for Book Time.

The beginners that needed the most help were with my assistant teacher, a parent volunteer, or a second grade volunteer. When second graders were asked to volunteer, many hands would go up. These partners were changed every day so that no one was deprived of Book Time continually. A partner might be listening to one child read and yet could tell another child a word if needed. Partners were tremendous assets for the beginning readers to have one-to-one attention while reading. Sometimes, a second grader with perceptual problems who still had some difficulties would help a beginner, which was a great morale booster and gain a reinforcement of his own skills. Sometimes two beginners at about the same level would be partners together and take turns reading to each other. When one didn’t know a word, often the other would. So, during September second graders might help a beginner for two mornings a week and read his own book the other three. And sometimes in September afternoons, first graders would read to a second grader for a half hour or more. Books were also sent home to be read with a parent and kept until finished.

Much was learned while listening to each beginner. Was she memorizing the words, using phonics learned during Folder Time, or skipping many words – or was she on-task enjoying her book? Was it too hard or too easy? Earl might know most of the words upon finishing his first book and be given the next level book, while Janet might know about half of the words and decide to read it again or be given a different basal reader at the same level, perhaps an easier one. Most children read two to four books of one level before going on. The children who were very ready and strong would start with a more advanced pre-primer and go right through a series, from the three pre-primers to the primer, the 12 book, etc. About the time they were reading at a 22 level, they could read library books as well. Meanwhile, Marty might forget far too many words and would be a candidate for a language experience approach along with Kay who couldn’t manage the words at all. So for the first few days until that program began, Marty and Kay would have a picture book, or another child might read to them.

About the time children were beyond the primer level of a basal reader, they were aware that they should only read selections of interest, skipping others. In fact, to foster independence and responsibility, it was very for a child to make decisions about his own reading. When a child chose his own stories, this lead to mimportant ore enjoyment and it’s this enjoyment of reading that leads to the habit of reading. If a child wants to read, he will read more. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

After participating in Folder Time, a phonics program, some would use phonics to a high or low degree or not at all. Beginning readers fluctuated between periods of fast and slow growth while requiring one-to-one assistance in the beginning stages. A child’s success, however, probably depend as much upon that child’s own motivation, her curiosity, and her great and sometimes overwhelming desire to learn as it does upon the instruction. With materials, guidance, and support provided, each child taught herself to read. Hopefully, through her strengths, every child would progress at her own rate and continue to feel the success and excitement of reading. With materials, guidance, and support provided, each child taught herself  to read.

Read more about my program for early reading in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success.Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Child’s Own Book

On the first September morning in my combined first and second grade, I met with each child in the Book Center to choose his own reading book. An accomplished reader chose any book of interest – a picture book, novel, science or library book – to read privately. For beginners, after determining capabilities, they received their first reading book. This was for Book Time which would take place daily for 30 to 40 minutes each day.

Now, how did the beginners and those with perceptual problems learn to read when each one was in a different book? With a child or adult partner. Each progressed in her own way at her own pace. What were those first reading books? They were basal readers. “Basal readers? Horrors!” said some. But they learned how to read very well, some very rapidly, using basal readers with what I called conversational English with a good storyline – interesting stories, poems and articles. Well-written but with a controlled vocabulary. Part of the Book Center had many basal readers in each level with multiple copies from various companies.

One very bright first grader arrived not reading at all. She started with a first pre-primer, more difficult than most and breezed through that so rapidly that she was given choices in third pre-primers. This soon led to choices in the 12 level – and she was an accomplished reader in one month. One month using basal readers.

But she was the only one that accomplished learning how to read that quickly. However, it wasn’t uncommon for others to be reading books of interest very comfortably within four to six months.

Read more about my program for early reading in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success, on page 38. See 7 reviews on

Grouping for Phonetic Ability

When I first heard that entering students were grouped for an intensive phonic program because they were the weakest in phonetic ability, I thought I had misunderstood. I hadn’t. Now, why wouldn’t one assume that a weakness in phonics at 5 or 6 years old – might be a child’s disability??? Might have very weak auditory skills. May have a disability with auditory skills. Many children learn well using a phonics approach but for some, it just doesn’t work and is not an appropriate program. They need a different approach.

See more about reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Sylvia Ashton-Warner Approach for First Grade

In my combined first and second grade classes, I used a program similar to Sylvia Ashton Warner’s approach for those not able to read in a book. (Ashton-Warner, Sylvia. 1986. Teacher. NY: Simon & Schuster) I usually had about 3 in the group. Every day each child would tell me their favorite word which I would write on a card and give it to them to keep. In the following days, before asking for another favorite word with each child, we would go over her stack of words. Often the other children would start to learn the words of the others. After a time, we would use those words to make up a story which I printed a line or two on a page for the child to illustrate. This became her first reading book. Sometimes there were 3 or 4 of these books before a child was able to read in a pre-primer.

See more about early reading programs  in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success.  Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also see 7 reviews on

A Sylvia Ashton-Warner Approach for Nursery School

While teaching nursery school, I read Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, and was so impressed with her method of giving a child a word each day – a very personal word chosen by the child. One day the children were told that we two teachers were going to pass out words – any word that they thought was very special. They had long-sleeved knit shirts on, and we wrote the word on a slip of paper about 2 ½”x 1” and pinned it on their sleeve turned toward their face. So they could read it. They loved it. Quite a few children got back in line for another word. And then another. Some had a lower arm of 6 words. Well, we wondered if they could really read those words, so about an hour later, we went from child to child and pointed to each word. Each one knew every word. It seemed amazing that they could read those words. And, not only an hour later, but the next day also. A mother told me, and others concurred, that she could not take those words off at night, and then the child wanted that shirt on the next day. Each word had the most meaning for him and once given, he owned it.  It was his word and belonged to no other.

See more about early reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success.  The book describes programs for a combined first and second grade but the early reading programs could be for younger children. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom.  See 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved