The Importance of Relevance in Learning to Read

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The Importance of Relevance in Learning to Read

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“The Importance of Relevance in Learning to Read”

By: Angela Hernandez

A revision of the original published article:

“Reading is Fun and Fundamental”

in The Bridge is Over, Dec. 2008 

I became a teacher through the New York City Teaching Fellows.  Although I was assigned to teach Middle School Spanish, there were other responsibilities I had to fill.  One of the most important ones to me was being a homeroom teacher to a rambunctious yet highly talented and intelligent group of students.  One of the toughest parts about being a homeroom teacher was overseeing “SSR” or (tan, tan tan, sound of impending doom) silent sustained reading (a loud scream as the one heard in the horror movies may be suitable now).  You see, SSR required for all students to go to their homeroom classes and spend the last period of the day reading in a silent and continuous fashion.  As I walked around, I noticed kids staring at the same page for more than 10 minutes.  Also, I noticed a couple of them reading the book upside down.  Others complained the book they chose was boring and requested more time selecting a different one at the bookshelf.  This was only a delay tactic.  It wasn’t that these students didn’t enjoy reading, but other outside factors contributed to this behavior; there were limited resources, it was forced reading and there were so many restrictions surrounding what they could read.  No comic books, no magazines.  It had to be a chapter book.  These restrictions often times turn students off to reading and thus, turn them off to literacy, the ability to read to and write.


Reading can be fun.  In fact, reading should be fun.  When we choose to read, we shouldn’t think about just books.  The internet is a great way to get kids, teens, and adults to read more. In fact, Jon Scieszka, an author who was once named the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress, appeared on the “Martha Stewart Show” and gave three tips to kids and to the adults in their lives:

  1. Broaden definitions on what is reading.  He suggested reading information books on sharks, volcanoes, on anything.  He also suggested reading magazines, newspapers and exploring audiobooks.  Let kids read what they like.  Let them read humor like Captain Underpants or his book The Stinky Cheese Man.


  1. Embrace technology – Rewrite the old script: “Reading is good.  All TV is bad.”  Martha Stewart chimmed in and added that a good idea would be to watch only closed captioned TV in order for kids to read the captioned words on the screen.


  1. Be a good role model.  He asked adults to show the kids in their lives how to be a reader.  He added: “show them how you pick books.”  Having men show their boys how to read is at the top of Jon Scieszka’s list of priorities as National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature.


Upon viewing this video I was prompted to think about how I started reading.  The simple answer is that I read what I liked.  I liked learning about outer space and that was how I started.  Therefore, here are some guiding questions to help kids select reading material:

  1. What do you find interesting?
  2. What are you curious about?
  3. Who is your favorite celebrity? (movie, music, sports star, etc.)  Research their life.  How did they get where they are?  What do you have to do to get to where they are?
  4. Do you like to draw?  If so, what’s your favorite comic book or cartoon strip?  Aside from the Superheroes like: Spiderman, Batman, Superman, etc.  Look into other cartoons: have you of Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts?
  5. What sports are you interested in?  Which one do you enjoy playing the most?  How can you improve your technique? What kind of equipment is associated with that sport?  (Ex: For Skateboarding, what different types of boards are on the market?)
  6. What’s your favorite TV network? (Nickelodeon, Discovery Channel, etc.)  Look them up online.  See what their websites have to offer.
  7. How does ____ work? (ex: how does electricity work?)
  8. What is the history of the instrument you play?
  9. Do you like finding inspirational quotes?  Do you have a favorite author? What else does he or she write? Find another poem or book they wrote.

10. If life had “show and tell” moments, what would you want to tell everyone

you knew?


Now, below are some good websites starting from the younger readers to older ones:


You can read three Clifford stories for free.  When you click on the link to a specific story you will see the text and to have the information read to you just click the text.  You can also check out: for more       good stories for young kids.


On this site you can also read FREE books for young readers.  These online books let you flips the pages of classics like: “The Little Engine that Could” and more recent favorites such as: “Llama Llama Mad at Mama.”



Girls: you can play a variety of games but before you do make sure you read along with the narrator the background information and instructions.  Also check out, the “historical characters” tab and read the excerpts.


Guys: on this site, Jon Scieszka (whom I mentioned above) along with a few of his friends have put together a list of great books that speak to the young boy, the pre-teen and to the teen boy.  From the doodler to the sports fan, they have a wide selection of recommendations.  The categories under the Books for Guys tab are as interesting and diverse with titles such as “Action/Adventure”, “Boxers, Wrestlers & Ultimate Fighters,” and a boy’s dream category “At least one explosion.”


Do you like projects or like to create things?  Visit this link.  It is the   website to “Boys Life Magazine.”  To create things just for fun, go to the “hobbies and projects” tab.  There you will see step by step instructions on how to put it all together.  My favorite ones are how to make a camera that takes 3D snapshots and making a ship in a bottle.  How?  Check it out or feel free to find another craft website.


or animal planet’s website:

Animal lovers do not be shy about exploring your passion.  Check out these         two sites.  It could be the beginning of something big in your life.


Still not sure what you like to read?  Well, here is a list of…well, lists!  J


This website by Scholastic has a list of books by category for those 8 – 12 years old.  The covers of the books are displayed as well as a brief description of the books; any 8 – 12 year old would definitely find a book they’d enjoy.


You can also take a look at Oprah’s Reading Lists for Kids for the little one to age 12 and up.


Still not sure what you like to read?  Check out    According to their “about us” section, it is:


“the largest database of magazines and newspapers on the Internet, with listings for about 22,800 magazines and newspapers from all over the world… [it] is a complete guide to world media sources where readers find stories quickly — whether it’s news from Time Magazine or a small regional weekly newspaper in Asia.”


You can choose to read a newspaper from a specific city OR check out their         extensive top ten magazine lists, which range in topics from computers, cooking, entertainment, music, motorcycles, sports, to travel and much more.  These lists of magazines have something for every interest and every age group.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find my childhood favorite, “Highlights” under the “Top 10 Kids Magazines” category.


Please note: When you click on a top 10 list, you will see a red “buy” link            along with a description of the magazine.  You may choose to buy the         magazine if you are interested but also check out the magazine’s website by clicking on the link above the red “buy” button, you could find articles that is of interest right on their website.  For example, I clicked on Making Music Magazine and it took me to their website.  Then, I clicked on “Magazine” then “Tips” and saw a short article and video on drum warm up techniques.


Lastly, a site specifically for the teen reader.  When you go to this Barnes & Noble page you will see “Compelling New Teen Reads” and a slew of suggestions.  However, if these don’t interest you be sure to check out the links on the left like “Must Read for Teens,” “Bestsellers,” “Best of 2011,” and “National Book Awards” among many others.


Closing remarks:

Reading doesn’t have to be a chore.  Reading can be fun as long as you choose something you are interested in.  Reading is fundamental because it reveals you to you.  Half the battle is asking yourself what you are interested in.  The second half is getting started. Go to library.  Ask a friend what they read.  Check out a good website.  Just start. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC).  Good luck on your journey.

1 Comment


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