Every time Nancy Boyles works in a K-2 class, she brings her magic binder. From the outside, it’s three-ringed, matte black, and ordinary, but on the inside are colorful concoctions that transform young learners into readers: Active reader cards. Corwin Literacy consulting editor Wendy Murray spoke with Nancy about the method behind the magic.
Wendy: I had the privilege of watching you hand out a summarizing story card to first graders, and it was as though you were handing out bubble gum! Tell me about these illustrated cards.
Nancy: The process of reading is very abstract, and so for kids in the primary grades, still such concrete thinkers, the cards give them something they can hold onto as they read, and it makes the process seem more real to them. They’re designed in full color to make them inviting for kids.
Wendy: How many different active reader cards do you use?
Nancy: I use twelve sets of cards, focused on essential comprehension skills like summarizing, noticing details and central ideas, character traits, cause and effect, word meanings, text features, author purpose, interpreting illustrations, supporting evidence, and text-to text connections.
Wendy: How do students use them?
Nancy: On their own, interacting with classmates—they can move them around on the table, so they help make reading a social act. The pictures remind kids to pay attention to particular things that are going to help them understand. For example, The Character Traits and Feelings Card has 20 different versions of a smiley face, and it prompts students to notice what the author is telling them about a character’s emotions.
Wendy: What’s the benefit to teachers?
Nancy: Huge! Because it then becomes easier for teachers to see what students are doing, and when they are doing it. For example, a teacher can observe and ask, are they putting the cards in order? Are they talking about the different parts of the story and putting them in the right sequence? It’s easier to see what kids really understand.
Wendy: Wow, and then the teacher has a good sense of what to teach next.
Nancy: Exactly—and in addition to the active reader cards, I’ve designed twelve corresponding reader response frames, which students use to support their writing about reading, and teachers use to glean instructional next steps.
Wendy: These cards are a part of your K-2 close reading framework, but can such simple cards really work for complex texts?
Nancy: Absolutely, and here’s why: For close reading, the complexity really is text based—that is, it’s the skill in relation to the text they are reading. So when you have a more complex text, K-2 learners often need that scaffold again. The active reader cards give them support as they work through challenging books. If teachers in the early grades haven’t used tactile tools like these cards, I suggest they give them a try.