The Elements Of A Literacy-Rich Classroom Environment

Top 10 Literacy-Rich Env

by Kimberly Tyson, Ph. D. of

Literacy-rich environments, as endorsed by the International Reading Association, have a significant impact on what goes on in the classroom and set the stage for interactions with a wide variety of genres. In the past several years, I’ve supported many teachers and administrators as they work toward creating literacy-rich classrooms across schools and districts that allow for increased interaction with print and literacy learning for students.

Much attention is being spent preparing for the Common Core standards and the call for increasing the amount of nonfiction and informational text in classrooms. Perhaps we should begin by focusing attention on the classroom environment and making certain that it is a place that supports and encourages literacy learning. A literacy-rich environment not only supports the standards set by the Common Core, but also provides a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media.

A literacy-rich environment is not only important for early literacy but supports content-specific learning as well. I’ve been promoting this idea for years, and was recently reminded of its importance when reading a recent article featured in ASCD in support of content-area literacy-rich classrooms. Depending on student level and the content area, elements of a literacy-rich environment include, but are not limited to:

  • classroom libraries that include a variety of genres and text types
  • content posters
  • anchor charts – teacher-made and co-created with students
  • word walls
  • labels
  • literacy workstations
  • writing centers
  • computers
  • display of student work
  • displays of books & information
  • bulletin boards, and
  • plenty of opportunity to read, write, listen, and speak

Unfortunately, many classrooms lack an environment that supports engagement with text in the form of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Cold, hard chairs carefully aligned in straight rows do little to encourage student interaction and engagement with each other or text. Walls that are barren, except for exit signage, and classrooms that include few books and materials for students to read won’t help us meet the new standards nor do they support student learning.

Students need access to interesting books and materials – both in print and online. When students are provided with well-designed classroom libraries, they interact more with books, spend more time reading, exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement (NAEP, 2002). Additionally, classroom libraries support balanced literacy instruction. Teachers can provide instruction in literacy skills and content-specific reading skills; however, if students are not provided with access to interesting books that they want to read and can read with success, they will never reach their full literacy potential (Gambrell, Malloy, & Mazzoni, 2007).

Classroom Library

This post is not intended to serve as a plug for classroom libraries (though I’ve done that here and here and here), but rather as a recommendation that teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators slow down and take a look at classroom environments. As you observe K-12 classroom settings, ask yourself if they support learning as defined by 21st century literacy demands and the new standards? If not, what are your next steps to support teachers in creating literacy-rich environments that foster student learning?

The infographic below summarizes Key Characteristics of a Literacy-Rich Environment. Use this with colleagues as a means to create conversation and movement toward creating print-rich environments that support student learning, the Common Core Standards, and provide for equity and access across classrooms in your school and district.


Gambrell, L.B. Malloy, J.A., & Mazzoni, S.A. (2007). Evidence-based practices for comprehensive literacy instruction. In L. Gambrell, L.M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best Practices in Literacy   Instruction, 3rd edition (pp. 11-29). New York: Guilford Press.

National Assessment of Educational Progress Report. (2002). 1992-2002 NAEP Report. Princeton, NY: Educational Testing Service.


  • I agree. It is very important to have a classroom that supports a literacy rich environment. The more our students see the modeling of good reading and have an opportunity to learn and practice reading a variety of literature, I believe they would enjoy reading more.

  • My experience is that older children enjoy selecting their own independent reading material especially from the school library. However, they seem to enjoy using class sets of reading material (e.g. novels) especially when exploring particular themes or skills in reading and writing. Limited floor and wall space is often an issue for me especially when attempting to display posters, graphic organizers, student work, or provide easy access to teacher/student resources (e.g. leveled readers, dictionaries, teacher/student editions of books). The article states that children need access to interesting books and materials -print and online. That requires a financial commitment from school districts to allocate more money for technology and school libraries.

  • I am all for a literacy rich environment! Many of the elements that are considered rich I currently have working in my classroom. And then there are those that I have gotten away from over the year; like a word wall. ( I have used a portable one in their writing folders in the past as well). After reading this article, it makes me want to dust off the elements that I haven’t been incorporating and add them back to my to my classroom in hopes that it will be even more rich in literacy!

  • I too have many of these literacy items in my classroom. Since my classroom is in a mobile, I find more and more that I have to be creative to include these items because space is an issue. Ashley and I have had a conversation and looked at my room as to whether to include a word wall or more anchor charts. Technology is also an issue with twenty students and three computers. This is another area in which I have to be creative. I keep a tracking chart because I try to get each student on the computer each day–even if it is only for 10 minutes. I try really hard to make sure the ones that don’t have access to a computer especially get computer time at school. In a perfect classroom we would have all the items listed in the article, until then we will just have to strive to be as creative as possible!

  • As a kindergarten teacher, I see why the print rich environment is important. Kids often come in saying “I can’t read!” Environmental print is perfect for this. Most kids can read words like McDonald’s, Pepsi, etc. Most kids can read the words that they helped to write! This makes them feel validated and confident that they can read and write. A print rich environment gives them a place to start and a sense of ownership when the walls are decorated with writing that they were a part of.This article has also made me realize I need to expand my reading center. I only have room for 2-3 students and I feel like making the area a larger space to accommodate more students will say to the kids that I really value reading.

  • I really enjoyed this article and the classroom video. One thing I noticed about the classroom at Lester is that the students’ work and charts were put at the students’ eye level. I think this is important. I also think having a print rich environment is extremely important and it is vital in the process of learning to read and write. It lets kids know where they can go for help. Displaying shared writing also lets kids know that what they write is important.

  • I agree. Kids need a print rich environment. They have a variety of interests so they need reading material that holds their interest. Reading should not be only for grades or points, but also include reading for enjoyment. Also, kids love to see their hard work displayed around the classroom and hallways. This gives them confidence and pride in their work. We are very fortunate at Delmae to have an in-house photographer. I see kids reading captions and looking at pictures of events and themselves all around the building.

  • Well, I’m the lucky one. Since I’m the librarian I see the benefit of literacy-rich environment on a large scale. There is no joy like recommending a book and then having that student ask you if you have more books like it! One of my issues is that since the school day is so jam-packed students really don’t get to take some good quality time to view several books, read a few pages and decide if it’s the one they want. When students come to the library is seems so rushed. I hurry them along (some need a nudge at times) I know that they will miss classroom learning and specials. Since students are so rushed when visiting the library, I feel that it is more challenging to really hook a student on reading, especially those who don’t really enjoy it to begin with.

  • I also feel that parents need to create a literacy-rich environment at home. Since my 9-year old son is in the age of electronics I have downloaded the kindle app onto his phone and pda. We read online chapter books together through the app. Because we are reading it together we try to see who can finish a chapter first and then we discuss it. There have been times when he said he was bored and I suggested reading but I did not make him do so. He decided to do it on his own and he was happy he did. One he finished a chapter before me, and two he liked what he read. It is amazing seeing the joy of reading through your own progeny.

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