Non-Negotiables for Reading with Emergent Readers

Hi, I’m Cathy Collier and my blog is The W.I.S.E Owl (Where Instruction Supports Excellence) at I have become the crazy OWL lady. When I went back in the classroom after a 2 year “sabbatical” as a reading specialist, I couldn’t have a BEE classroom because the lady across the hall was already the BEE lady. So…I wanted something no one else was using. So when I decided to decorate my classroom in OWLS I was told I was crazy. Yes, I am personally responsible for OWLS in your classroom. (hehe)

I am also kinda a control freak when it comes to teaching reading to kindergartners. I have a passion for emergent readers and writers and truly believe kindergarten is more important than ever. There are a couple of non-negotiables in teaching reading.

Non-Negotiable #1 – Guided Reading Instruction EVERY Day
That’s what I mean…EVERY day! Students not only need lots of exposure to lots of text, but they need it consistently. The hour of guided reading and literacy centers is a given. The centers are set up to create independent learners, so that my guided reading groups are pulled every day. Starting with predictable texts in Level A, students are forming good reading behaviors from the beginning.

Speaking of Good Reading Habits…
Non-Negotiable #2 – Fix-It Strategies
When I was teaching at a previous school we adopted school-wide fix-it strategies. This is valuable. Every student in the school hears the same words for the same skill. When they leave kindergarten the first grade teacher doesn’t have to reinvent the “fix-it” wheel…they can expand on what they already know. An area reading specialist created the Reading Toolbox of fix-it strategies. I love this. I had a toolbox with physical things to represent the strategies.  

My school adopted more specific fix-it strategies…not themed. Teachers have the posters on their wall and they were sent home on bookmarks for the parents. I made desktop fix-it strategies that are taped to my reading table. As the students get stuck on a word, I can point to the strategy to remind them how they can fix it. It is far more powerful for students to learn to fix the interruption in their reading rather than rely on a teacher or parent to help them. 

Non-Negotiable #3 Independent Reading at the Guided Reading Table
After instruction and a book walk, students must be afforded the opportunity to read the entire text in an uninterrupted format. This is not Round Robin reading. Round Robin has its own special soap box in my mind. Reading the entire text is important for fluency, comprehension, and practice with reading strategies. I ask the student to my immediate right to begin reading. When student #1 finishes the cover and title page, I direct student #2 to begin. When student #2 finished the cover and title page, I direct student #3 to begin, and so on. The routine in my classroom is to read the book over and over until I tell them to stop. This is typically when the last child reads the book 2 times. The students read in a soft tone a bit higher than a whisper. As the students read at their own pace, they are reading for understanding. I listen to each child read a page or two before moving to the next student. The predictable text makes it easy to hear mistakes (even if you are not focused on that student). You can quickly turn your attention to that child and help the child make corrections for the mistake. (The perfect opportunity to use the desk mats for fix-it strategies.) To give a visual cue for your students, I am sharing my Reading Fix-It Set.  You can access it by clicking the image below.
Reading Decoding Fix-its

Non-Negotiable #4 Independent Reading is not just recommended. It’s necessary. 
Students must be given the time to practice reading. We wouldn’t expect to become a prima ballerina, professional athlete or concert violinist without practice, so we cannot expect students to become prolific readers without practice. Having the time scheduled is just the start. Students need to be encouraged to read when they finish early. 

Students in my class have a bag of books that are leveled texts. These books are given at the guided reading table and they have gotten instruction on these books. They also have 2 areas in my classroom for self-selected books. The first area is the leveled library in the room. These books were collected over the years and have single copies of books. Students know their reading level and they are allowed to take any book from that level or the levels before it. 

The second area is the classroom library. They can choose from themed books. Most can’t be read independently, but can be discovered and investigated independently. These books are not put in their bag, but in their individual boxes. Let them read to a “buddy” (stuffed animal) or a friend. Teach good routines for reading to a friend. Set norms for taking turns and providing feedback. Kindergartners can do anything when expectations are demonstrated and allowed to be practiced. Sending home guided reading books is another debate. Some schools allow it, some don’t. Regardless, make sure you don’t do running records on a book that has been practiced for days and taken home for homework (but that’s a post for another day).

Thank you for inviting me to post.  I LOVE talking about reading.


  1. Thanks for your tips, Cathy! I like the idea of having building-wide language for the strategies. I'm sure it helps students "hit the ground running" as the enter the next grade. Have a great weekend!

    A Very Curious Class

  2. Our elementary school (grades 1-5) uses the same language for decoding and comprehension strategies. We are pleased with the consistency it provides for students. However, our kindergarten academy and every other elementary school in our district uses something that varies from teacher to teacher.

    Love your non-negotiables! They are certain to provide a solid literacy foundation for your students. :)