Advice to teachers: Effective ways to promote literacy: Part two of the new normal series by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Advice to teachers: Effective ways to promote literacy: Part two of the new normal series by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Last week I talked about the new normal. This week I’d like to share some ideas and resources I’ve come across as I dived into distance learning this week and also talk about some of the things I’m doing with the kids I tutor individually. Regular readers know I am an advocate of balanced literacy (click here for my views).  Reading ought to be fun and engaging. It ought to be all about meaning-making. Our instruction should be done in a way that helps to create students who are lifelong readers- readers who want to read. I always think of what Mem Fox, one of my favorite children’s authors, had to say : ‘When I say to a parent, read to a child, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.’. That’s excellent advice for everyone. I always try to teach reading in a way that keeps that in mind. Look at what I found on my sidewalk this week:

I LOVE He started out this year as a 1st-grade non-reader, who knew his letters but could not read. He is now reading on the second-grade level, has a favorite author- Eric Litwin, and recently read through one of Eric’s books for me reading like a storyteller. Here are some key things I did with him from the get-go and for the last two weeks, I was able to still do all these things while using Go To Meeting:

CHOICE- For the purposes of this discussion, I will call him Jake (a pseudonym). Every week Jake dictated a book to me, and I made a copy of the book for him to take home to read. This was always about something he wanted to talk about. Every week Jake got to pick Keep Books to take home. He now has a huge shoebox library full of books. Jake has read and reread these books many many many times!  I always start each session by asking him to pick his favorite keep book to read, and then his favorite book from those he wrote.  In this time of distance learning, I simply ask him to read his copy from the shoebox library while I follow along in my office with my copy of the same book.

DAILY READING- From the outset, he would read daily. At first, it was with level A (level 1) Keep Books and short phrases that he wrote down. At first, the sentences he wrote down were inspired by the Keep Books he was reading. Later his stories became more complex and we turned them into actual books.  Once again- I was still able to write down what he said and make new books. I’ll be writing about how I did that next week.

Keep Books

One of the dangers of using short texts like these is that what often happens is the child simply memorizes the whole book. I let Jake know from the outset that when he read the book back to me, I expected him to know which word was which. “Make it match, don’t make it up, that is what to do. Make it match don’t make it up, you’ll read your story true!”.  Matching meant that he had to point to each word as he read. “If you see three words, say three words, if you see five words, say five words.”  Matching also means say the word that is there not some other word that might make sense. For instance, if he said I see the ball instead of I see the balloon, I would prompt by saying, “Ball makes sense, but are those the right letters for ball?  Looks like there are extra letters “loon,” say all the sounds. OR I could also prompt- ball makes sense, but those are not the right letters for ball. What other word starts with <b> and goes with the picture? Jake knew that once he could read the book to me, it was his to keep. He could write his name in the back. He could color the pictures in the book. The book became part of his shoebox library.  On some of the miscued words, I would have him make and break the word using magnetic letters.  Keep Book sets of various sizes are available at

SIMPLE COMPREHENSION CHECK- The danger with doing comprehension checks is that if you overdo asking literal level questions, you can send the wrong message about what reading is all about. My first questions are always, did you like the book? What was your favorite part? Unfortunately, these are often questions that never get asked.  Making it a habit to always ask these questions first, makes it more likely the students will be willing to get engaged in other kinds of questions you need to ask them, What are some of those other kinds of questions?

For storybook stories, I taught Jake these little rhymes “You may have said it, but you haven’t read it until you tell me the characters, the problem, the solution.” For informational books, I would say, “If it’s true, tell what’s new.” The point of that rhyme is that if you are reading a book with lots of facts- which facts are the facts you didn’t know before you read the book? One of my other students taught me a lesson about this. I didn’t realize there were ugly sharks and blobfishes. He did. Here are two pages from his book he called “Strange Things.”  When we download pictures to use in the books, I always set the filter to creative commons license.

Strange things




READ ALOUDS – I’m encouraging all the students I work with to listen to and think about some of the many read alouds that are coming online now. Listening to Read Alouds followed up by a simple comprehension check can be a powerful combination. Here are some of my favorite sites:

David Harrison




Mrlibraryman is a private Facebook group. Kevin Boozer does an excellent job of providing daily read alouds. Here is what he said about how to join the group:

Please use this link to access the group. You will need to agree to join the group and then wait for an admin to confirm you. Thank you for doing your best to be kind and help the rest (of us) and do your best to follow publisher guidelines.

 For the love of learning and books, Kevin Boozer, media specialist AKA @MrlibrarymanSC


Eric Litwin is a talented author and song composer. He writes many books that are also sung. His website has many videos, including videos based on singing his books. You can reach his site using this link:


Also, Eric has a link about how to share his books during social distancing. He gives details on what each of his three major publishers ask for when teachers make read-aloud videos to share:


I am the president of the Missouri Literacy Association, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association. It has new posts daily from educators giving inspirational messages, tips, and resources. There have been several posts lately about various authors, famous people doing read alouds. Please do have a look at our Facebook page each day! @mscira


A little bit of fun. A very long time ago I was a Title 1 teacher/staff developer and the parent liaison for my building. During that time I wrote several songs to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s’ reading. This week I posted one of those songs to YouTube. Have a listen- hope you enjoy it!

Read Me a story jpg

In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about distance learning and I hope to add some permanent resource pages to this blog. Until next week- happy reading and writing.


Dr. Sam Bommarito aka the new distance learning guy

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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