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Tips for Organizing Your Upper Elementary Reading Block

Procedures and processes are super important to organizing upper elementary students, and in this post, we’re providing 10 tips for organizing your upper elementary reading block.

In upper elementary, organization, systems, processes, and procedures are king.

Students need as much organization as you can possibly set up for them, but organizing a bunch of 9-12-year-olds is not always easy.

Each part of the day requires different kinds of organization and planning because the needs of math are different from the needs of reading or science.

Today, we’re going deeper into organizing the reading block with 10 tips to make your organization attempts more successful with this age of students.

These Close Reads with Mystery Pictures are a fantastic way to quickly assess how students are doing on their reading. They are also differentiated to accommodate for different reading levels.

I used these frequently to both formally and informally assess my students’ reading skills.

Tips for Organizing Your Upper Elementary Reading Block

Note: In our classrooms, the reading block is a daily staple, so we are going to work through this list as if these are things you will be doing daily with students.

#1 | Establish Clear Learning Objectives

Clearly define the learning objectives for each reading block session. Take the time to let students know what the focus of today’s learning block is. What specific skill is being practiced, and at what level? Are we learning something new? Are we practicing? Are we reviewing? Make the learning goals clear so students know the expectations. 

Whether focusing on comprehension strategies, vocabulary development, or fluency, having clear objectives helps keep the lesson focused and ensures students understand what they are expected to learn.

Tactical Organization: You can start each day with the learning targets on a slide (i.e. Google, PowerPoint, Canva, etc.) along with the list of student groups for centers for easy organization.

#2 | Create a Flexible Schedule

Reading blocks tend to be longer periods of time in the school day, so having students do just one thing for that whole time would not be wise, and students would most likely struggle to focus.

Instead, design a flexible schedule that allows for a balance of whole-group instruction, small-group activities, independent reading, and one-on-one conferences. 

Flexibility allows teachers to adapt to the needs of their students and provide targeted instruction as necessary. Adjust the schedule depending on how well students are doing with each topic, and be okay with making adjustments. If you explain to students why changes are being made, they will also be more flexible.

Tactical Organization: Use a slide (i.e. Google, PowerPoint, Canva, etc.) to reveal to students the order of events for the block. Provide timers on the slide to keep everyone moving at the same pace.

#3 | Use Rotational Centers

Implement rotational centers to provide students with differentiated instruction and independent practice opportunities. 

Centers can focus on various skills such as reading comprehension, vocabulary development, fluency practice, and writing.

Don’t let these centers grow stale. Students will grow complacent if they get too much of the same center. Make small changes to the centers to keep students on their toes.

Check out this blog post about holding students accountable during independent centers.

Tactical Organization: Use different-colored drawers and/or placemats to help indicate where items needed for centers can be found. Identify computer-based centers with placemats or signs hanging over groups from the ceiling. 

Student Accountability During Centers Blog Post

#4 | Utilize Data to Inform Instruction

Regularly assess student progress using formative assessments, reading conferences, and comprehension checks. 

Close reading passages like these are great for measuring students’ skills. 

Use both formal and informal data to inform instructional decisions and tailor interventions to meet the individual needs of students.

Tactical Organization: Have a folder with 3-hole punch tabs to keep data sheets for each student. Have students monitor their progress in their centers each day within this folder so you can refer to it when you want to see how they’re doing, in addition to the time you are actively gathering more formal data on them.

#5 | Incorporate Technology

Integrate technology tools and resources into the reading block to enhance engagement and provide personalized learning experiences. 

Digital resources and games are great for adding to centers because they self-assess and provide immediate feedback.

Be careful that these digital resources or games are not being used to fill time. Each time a resource is used, it should be purposeful. 

Tactical Organization: Have just one or two tech centers each day and rotate students through them in a timely manner.

#6 | Model Reading Strategies

Explicitly teach and model reading strategies such as predicting, summarizing, questioning, and visualizing even before you are actually working on that skill. 

Spiraling in the teaching of standards and skills over time by creating the habit before the skill is even taught can help students recall prior knowledge of the skill.

Once they are taught, start expecting students also to give examples. Provide opportunities for students to practice these strategies independently and apply them to various texts.

Tactical Organization: Play Bingo! Give students a Bingo card at the beginning of the week, and have them listen for examples of times you model a strategy you’ve been working on. When they hear the type of example they have on their card, they get to mark it off.

Top Tips for Organizing Your Upper Elementary Reading Block

#7 | Promote Independent Reading

Dedicate time for independent reading where students can choose books based on their interests and reading levels. 

Encourage students to explore a variety of genres and formats to foster a love of reading.

Allow students to read with and to others as well. Hearing how others read a text or hearing the many voices of a story played out by different readers can help students “see” the story even better.

Tactical Organization: Have students rotate between reading on their own and reading with others. 

For example, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are independent reading days, and Thursday and Friday are days for reading a book as a group, in pairs, or in small groups. This is also a good time to bring in a drama or play where students can read for different characters.

#8 | Implement Guided Reading Groups

Organize guided reading groups based on students’ instructional levels and needs. Provide targeted instruction and support during guided reading sessions, focusing on comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, and word study skills.

You can make this a part of your daily reading block or have one day a week where these guided reading groups get a bigger focus.

Tactical Organization: Put these groups on the board at the beginning of the block so students can easily see who they are working with and where they are supposed to go.

#9 | Offer Meaningful Feedback

This is one of my favorite tips for organizing your upper elementary reading block because it is something that we often forget about at the moment. 

Feedback!!

Provide timely and specific feedback to students on their reading progress and comprehension. 

Help students map their growth using charts and goal setting. Give them a chance to practice skills using self-checking resources and then chart their progress on each skill over time. 

Generally, find ways to listen to how students are doing and give them a combination of appreciation for their hard work and more critical feedback to improve their learning. 

Lastly, use a combination of verbal feedback, written comments, and rubrics to support student growth and guide the next steps.

Tactical Organization: Keep a list of students on your clipboard, and make sure that you check in and give feedback to each student at least three times a week during your upper elementary reading block. Put checkmarks on your list to give you a clear way of indicating that you checked in.

#10 | Reflect and Adjust

Don’t get set in your ways when it comes to your upper elementary reading block!

What worked for last year’s students may not have the same effect on this year’s students. Before the pandemic, students loved working on computers because digital resources and online work were more rare; however, after the pandemic, we saw students less excited about these types of activities. Don’t box your students into a specific type of resource.

Regularly reflect on the effectiveness of your reading block organization and instructional practices. Seek feedback from colleagues, observe other teachers’ classrooms, and stay informed about current research and best practices in literacy instruction. Be willing to make adjustments and refine your approach based on student needs and outcomes.

Tactical Organization: Set goals for how often you are going to read blog posts or books on new reading strategies and centers. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and tell students when you’re trying something new so they know that you don’t expect everything to run smoothly at first but that you have a growth mindset and are willing to try something new.

Top Tips for Organizing Your Upper Elementary Reading Block

These are 10 tips for organizing your upper elementary reading block, and we hope that you found a few nuggets you can implement along the way!

We have lots of resources you can use during your upper elementary reading block in our shop, or if you prefer, you can shop for them in the Fun in 5th Grade Tpt Store!

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