Effectively Using a Para in the Literacy Classroom

Do you have a paraprofessional in your literacy classroom for part or all of the day?  Check out this post on how to effectively use your para for your students' benefit!
Some of us are lucky enough to have an aide or paraprofessional ("para") in our classroom for one, or maybe many, periods throughout the day.  This may be to meet the needs of special education students, ESL students, struggling readers, or just because.  Sometimes these paras enter the classroom with specific tasks and other times they do not and it is up to the classroom teacher to provide them.  

Having been an ESL teacher, most of the positions I have held allowed for a para to be in my classroom for about 30-60 minutes per day.  Of course if there were assessments occurring, staff absent, or anything special going on this did not occur.  BUT, having an extra person for even just a small amount of time can be very useful!

General Tips:
  • First and foremost, if the para is in your classroom for a specific purpose or to work with a specific student, make sure that happens!  
  • Treat your para as though he/she is another teacher in the classroom.  Students need to know the para has just as much authority as you do.
  • If you have any say in scheduling, arrange for the para to be present during times when students are working independently or in small group (not during your read aloud, for example).  
  • Remember that the para should be providing supplementary, or EXTRA, instruction.  You need to provide the primary instruction and are ultimately responsible for this.
  • Be specific and provide all materials and directions needed.  Do not assume he/she will know what to do if you hand over a book and a child.  I've had awesome paras with tons of experience and others with zero experience.
  • Don't plan activities for your para that will result in a disruption of your day if/he she doesn't show (because this will happen often).
  • Try to come up with a steady routine so that you aren't having to waste time explaining new directions every day.
  • Use the para for your students, not yourself!

Often teachers choose to use paras to help them with administrative tasks, such as making copies, prepping projects, or grading assignments.  While this makes life easier and is sometimes allowed or even unavoidable (for example if an assembly occurs during the given time frame), I am here to beg you to use your para for your students' benefit as much as possible!  It doesn't have to take a lot of work on your part, I promise.  Below are some ways that I have found it helpful to use a para in my literacy classroom.  

Skill and Drill Practice
Do you have students that need additional practice with letter names or sounds?  High frequency words?  Vocabulary?  These skill and drill type activities are easy for paras to do and any extra practice will help your students.  Plus, they are fast and require little prep on your part.  Usually some flashcards or a whiteboard will do.

Fluency Practice

Many students benefit from just having extra time reading to an adult, especially if they do not get this practice at home.  Let your students take turns heading out into the hallway for some extra reading practice of favorite books.  

Catching Students Up

Did one of your students go away on vacation?  Miss an assessment?  Need a book read aloud to them so they can continue with the actives occurring in your classroom?  Use your para for catching students up.  Sometimes students fall behind when working on research or other large projects as well and a para can be helpful with moving them along.

Checking Comprehension
If you have a student that needs additional practice with retelling or your know has trouble comprehending but don't always have time to work with them one on one, provide your para with a list of commonly used prompts (just as you would parents at the start of the year) to check for understanding after reading.

Modified Assessments
Sometimes students are allowed extra time for assessments, need them read aloud, or need to take them outside of the classroom.  Your para can usually help with this, just ensure that you are very clear with instructions so that the results of the assessments are accurate.  

Extra Reading Group
If you are able to write very detailed and easy to follow guided reading plans, allow your para to take your lowest group for an EXTRA session.  Note I said extra, NOT instead of. Have your para watch you provide instruction for a group before doing this so they know exactly what you expect.

Games to Build Confidence & Motivation

Provide your para with some fun games to practice vocabulary, sight words, phonics skills, etc. and allow he/she to take a small group to play with.  The students have fun, get extra practice, and will hopefully learn how to play some games so they can later practice on their own or at a literacy center.


If you know one or a small group of your students didn't "get" something, provide your para with materials and instructions for reteaching it to provide the student(s) with a little extra practice.

Oral Language & Writing

Especially the case with ESL students, sometimes kids just need a comfortable place to talk and have a conversation.  I've found this to be very helpful for the kids that "don't know" what to write about or have trouble getting started.  It's also beneficial to provide your para with sentence stems that you'd like the student to learn, which can then carry over to their writing.

Monitoring Literacy Centers
If you have younger students or a class that has trouble staying on task during your reading groups, have your para monitor students during literacy centers and help them your students from interrupting you.
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Do you have a paraprofessional in your literacy classroom for part or all of the day?  Check out this post on how to effectively use your para for your students' benefit!
I hope you have found some tips you can use with your para!  If you don't have a para, some of these ideas will also work with volunteer grandparents, parents, or college students who may visit your classroom.


  1. These are great suggestions, Jessica! I do not have experience with having a para or other adult in my classroom (other than a student teacher), but I can imagine it can be difficult to know what to have them do. It can also be a great blessing in having someone else love on your kiddos and help them achieve!


  2. What a great post! I've been teaching for a long time, and I've worked with many paras. I always value additional advice, and your advice was really valuable. Thanks!
    Laughter and Consistency