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Teaching Reading K-2: A Library of Classroom Practices

Staying on Topic

Martha Duran-Contreras creates a community of learners in her second-grade class by establishing predictable routines, mutual respect, and clear expectations.

Martha Duran-Contreras’s Second-Grade Class

“Creating a community of learners is the most important thing I do all year long. Because in establishing a community for them I make the students responsible not only for their own learning, but for their classmates’ learning….”
Martha Duran-Contreras

Video Summary

In her second-grade classroom, Martha Duran-Contreras creates a community of learners — including herself — by establishing predictable routines, mutual respect, and clear expectations. In writing tasks and guided-reading groups, students are encouraged to solve problems together and share understandings, to stay on task and contribute at all times, and to articulate and celebrate their achievements. Ms. Duran-Contreras comfortably uses both English and Spanish to support individual students and to provide explicit instruction. The Author’s Chair, a time when students read written work aloud, appropriately ends a day of shared learning and individual accomplishment.

Ms. Duran-Contreras’s literacy lessons demonstrate the following:

  • Culturally sensitive teaching that addresses students’ personal experiences and feelings
  • Explicit instruction that helps students understand why they are learning, and builds metacognitive awareness
  • Strategic use of dual language response and instruction
  • Established routines and clear expectations that create a safe environment for risk-taking
  • Spoken and unspoken belief that every child can learn and has something to contribute
  • A community in which the teacher and students work and learn together in meaningful ways

Literacy Teaching Practices
See section in Lens on Literacy

  • Guided Reading
  • Independent Reading
  • Independent Writing

The Teacher and the Class

Martha Duran-Contreras teaches second grade at the Will Rogers School in Santa Monica, California. A neighborhood school, Will Rogers draws a diverse group of students, including many English language learners. Of Ms. Duran-Contreras’s 22 students, 9 are ELL students. Her students’ reading levels range from kindergarten to fourth grade.

While English proficiency is a clear goal, Ms. Duran-Contreras speaks Spanish often in class to explain important concepts or clarify differences between Spanish and English. Believing that students should continue to develop skills in their first language, she provides Spanish-language books for students to read independently, and opportunities for them to write in Spanish.

Ms. Duran-Contreras communicates with students in a clear and straightforward manner. In her opinion, explicit feedback and instructions help students understand what they’re doing well, and what goals they should set to improve. “I give them some ideas for their next steps. I try to be specific with them. Instead of saying, you need to be way over here. I give them little steps — the whole notion of scaffolding.”

Starting at the beginning of the year, Ms. Duran Contreras carefully establishes a classroom atmosphere of appreciation and respect, stressing that everyone in the community is important. Often referring to students as brother and sister learners, she emphasizes the value of students’ contribution to their own and their classmates’ learning, and communicates high expectations for student participation and behavior.

Before Viewing

The following activities prepare you to observe this classroom video, whether alone or with a group. Taking notes on the Observational Checklist while you watch will help you focus on important aspects of teaching and learning in the classroom. You may also use the KWL chart to record your thoughts before and after watching the video.


1. Prepare To Record Your Observations

Print out copies of the Observational Checklist (PDF) and Key Questions (PDF) to record your observations, reactions, and further questions throughout your viewing.


2. Review Important Terms

Review the definitions of the Literacy Teaching Practices (see section in Lens on Literacy):

  • Read-aloud
  • Shared reading
  • Guided reading
  • Independent reading
  • Interactive writing
  • Independent writing

Review the definitions of the Essential Components of Literacy Development:

  • Oral language
  • Phonological awareness
  • Word study
  • Vocabulary/Concepts
  • Word identification/Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Composition
  • Fluency/Automaticity

3. Create a Know-Wonder-Learned Chart

Print out a copy of the KWL Chart (PDF) to record what you already know and what you would like to learn about teaching reading and writing in kindergarten. Groups can use the KWL chart to generate discussion and questions to consider while viewing.

First Impressions

1.  Watch the Video

On your first viewing, use the Observational Checklist to note how Ms. Duran-Contreras implements the Literacy Teaching Practices. In particular, consider how she supports native English speakers and English language learners and how she helps them become independent readers and writers. When does she use English and Spanish to “scaffold” learning for all students?

2. Review What You Saw

Review the Observational Checklist and reflect on what you saw. How do the practices you just watched compare to your own? What do you think about the ways these practices apply to the students you teach?


As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

3. Relate the Key Questions to Martha Duran-Contreras’s Classroom

How are the diverse needs of learners (language in particular) met in this classroom?

Consider Ms. Duran-Contreras’s comment: “It’s important for children to think about the reasons why we are doing what we are doing in order to understand something in depth. I purposely tell children what they just did and why they’re doing it — I’m very explicit because I don’t want them to be confused.” What examples did you see in the video of specific explanations, questions, and scaffolding that Ms. Duran-Contreras provides for different students?

How does the classroom environment encourage students to gain independence as readers and writers?

While Ms. Duran-Contreras’s teaching includes explicit instruction and modeling for students, she also believes strongly in students’ capacity to learn independently. “Every child is capable of learning and every child should be respected,” says Ms. Duran-Contreras. “As teachers, one of the things that we’re here for is to guide them on this little journey. And not always as the sage on the stage, but really as their guide on the side.” How does Ms. Duran-Contreras act as a “guide on the side” to foster independence in her students? How would you describe her manner in addressing students?

Elements of Classroom Environment
See section in Lens on Literacy

  • Physical Space
  • Materials and Tools
  • Techniques and Management
  • Tone and Atmosphere

Looking Closer

Take a second look at Ms Duran-Contreras’s classroom to deepen your understanding of specific literacy strategies. Use the video images below to locate where to begin viewing.

1. Writing: Video Segments

Find the first segment 2 minutes and 30 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Find the second segment 5 minutes after the beginning of the video. Watch for 5 minutes and 31 seconds.

Ms. Duran-Contreras plans varied writing assignments for students throughout the week. In the first segment, Ms. Duran-Contreras confers with a student about a piece of creative writing, clearly communicating observations about the student’s progress.

  • How does Ms. Duran-Contreras guide the conversation with the student? What kinds of questions does she ask? What elements of writing does she encourage the student to focus on?

In the second video segment, Ms. Duran-Contreras emphasizes the theme “staying on topic,” giving students small objects to write about. She confers individually with students as they write independently.

  • What is Ms. Duran-Contreras’s approach to supporting students’ writing? How does she use oral rehearsal to elicit background knowledge with both native English speakers and English language learners? How does she encourage students to help one another, and to monitor their own learning?
  • What lessons about writing does Ms. Duran-Contreras encourage students to internalize?

2. Independent Reading: Video Segment

Find this segment 16 minutes and 49 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for 4 minutes and 14 seconds.

During independent reading time, an important part of Ms. Duran-Contreras’s literacy curriculum, students read self-selected books. Ms. Duran-Contreras reads silently herself, or confers with them individually.

  • What explicit directions does Ms. Duran-Contreras give to students as they get ready to read? What does she learn about students during independent reading time?
  • As you watch, note the different kinds of reading materials used by students. Why might it be important to provide English language learners with reading in their own language? How do Ms. Duran-Contreras and the aide work together to make the independent reading time successful for everyone?
  • What do you think about the timing, structure, and management of Ms. Duran-Contreras’s independent reading? How would this work in your classroom? What role would the teacher and the students have? What do you think about the use of DEAR with English language learners?


3. Author’s Chair: Video Segment

Find this segment 16 minutes and 49 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for 4 minutes and 14 seconds.

William has many opportunities to write each day: for example, personal journal writing, written response to reading, and observations in science. In this segment, in January, William writes in his journal about his weekend and meets with Ms. Soto to review what he wrote.

  • How would you describe William’s writing in his journal entry? What strengths and needs are demonstrated in his writing?
  • What does Ms. Soto do to help William enhance his writing?
  • What questions would you ask William about his writing in a one-to-one conference?
  • How would you describe William’s reading of his own writing? How does this reading compare to his reading of books?
  • What instruction would you plan to promote William’s writing development?

Summing Up

Reflecting on Your Viewing Experience

Review your Observational Checklist and other notes such as your KWL chart.

  • What surprised or interested you?
  • What did you find that affirmed what you already knew or had been doing?
  • Which segments offered you a new approach or idea?
  • What new questions do you have?
  • After watching the video, do you think differently about your own practices? About the students you teach? About how young students develop literacy?

As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

Making Connections

Here are some opportunities to apply and extend what you’ve seen.

1. Read This Article

The debate about the best teaching practices for English language learners is ongoing. Should ELL students be immersed entirely in English, or is there room for maintaining and building on the student’s own language? Read this article and compare what you read with what you observed in Ms. Duran-Contreras’s classroom.

Literacy Instruction for Students Acquiring English (PDF)
Flood, J., et al. “Literacy Instruction for Students Acquiring English: Moving Beyond the Immersion Debate.” The Reading Teacher 50, no. 4. (December 1996/ January 1997): 356-369.

Copyright © 1996 by the International Reading Association. All rights reserved.

2.Watch These Videos

View “Building Oral Language,” another video in the Teaching Reading library, and think about the different approaches to teaching English language learners. In the “Building Oral Language” video, how does Cindy Wilson value and validate her kindergarten students’ language through use of children’s literature and support from her bilingual aide? How is her instruction different from or similar to Ms. Duran-Contreras’s second-grade instruction?

View “Writer’s Journal” and “Promoting Readers as Leaders,” and compare the methods for fostering a strong sense of community used by Ms. Duran-Contreras and the teachers in these videos. What has been done to create a community? What might you try?

For more information, see Building Oral LanguageWriter’s Journal, and Promoting Readers As Leaders

3. Take It Back To The Classroom

Identify one element or strategy from Ms. Duran-Contreras’s lesson that you would like to try in your classroom. List any supports or resources you would need to implement it. Use the Classroom Strategy Planner (PDF). If you are participating in a study group, share what happened when you tried out the new strategy. Or keep a reflective journal of your experience, focusing on the benefits for you and for your students.