Engineering in Reading- Building Worlds and Scenes

Making forts was a way of life for me when I was child. Throw me a rope and a sheet and I could build you any type of fort. Outdoors, indoors, it didn’t matter. Building a structure meant creating a new space, one where the imagination could be set free. As a teacher, the same holds true, and it’s a powerful teaching technique.

When I was nine, my parents bought a bright yellow foam couch from Ikea for our living room. It was hideous. A total eyesore. But this couch was a reader’s dream come true. It was a dream come true because its arms were made out of sturdy, thick foam and were removable. This meant that the couch’s arms could stand up vertically to hold bed sheets and create tents. This bright yellow couch was my reading portal. My sisters and I built the bed from Norton’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the attic in Hodgson’s A Little Princess, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. The couch was our space to recreate the scenes from the stories we loved so much.

When I stepped into my first classroom space, I smiled. I had four walls. Four glorious walls that could be transformed into any space I wanted. This was better than the couch for sure! These four walls could be transformed into a fantasy land, a mystery, a poetry café, or a historical time period. The possibilities were endless!

Changing the physical environment in my classroom is an important part of my teaching. I want my students to live inside the stories they love. For each reading unit, I transform the physical classroom space to match the genre we are studying. What does this look like?

  • If we’re reading a whole class read aloud, my students build a scene out of PVC pipes.
  • When we’re studying poetry, the room is transformed into a poetry café, complete with awning, butcher block paper walls (for poetry writing), table top lamps, and bins filled with coffee beans for the aroma.
  • When I’m teaching mystery, we set up a crime scene and clues.
  • Historical fiction might include building museum displays, train cars, and life-size models of buildings.
  • When we’re reading fantasy fiction, we build a castle.
  • We build puppet theaters, stages with curtains, and wishing wells.

PVC piping is an fantastic way to help your students build structures in the classroom. It is cheap and easy to purchase at Home Depot or Lowes. Once you have the pipes (I’ve had mine cut into 3ft pieces and 1ft pieces) you’ll want to buy different connectors- see in the pictures below. You’ll find that your students are natural builders and can engineer any structure. Conversations about measurement, symmetry, and angles ensue during these building projects. They are excellent opportunities to connect students’ reading to math, physics, and architecture.

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