Mirroring the Language of School/Classroom Literacy Instruction by Dr. George Gross

My daughter-in-law recently asked me to share some strategies she can use to teach comprehension strategies to my first grade granddaughter Lilly.  It appears that her sight word identification, fluency, prosody, and phonics skills are superior, as well as her literal comprehension.  However, she wanted to know more about story elements and teaching  Lilly to “read between the lines.”  In addition, she wanted to know how to teach inferential reasoning, and story elements.

It was then that I thought of my colleague, Dr. George Gross, who wrote a wonderful piece describing to parents ways they can “mirror” a classroom teacher’s reading and writing strategies.  With his permission, I share this chapter.

Mirroring the Language of School/Classroom Literacy Instruction  

                        Dr. George Gross, Associate Professor

            Master of Science in Teaching Literacy Program

                                   Touro University       

     “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

As parents/caregivers, you want to help your children to do their best in school and to maximize their literacy abilities and their enjoyment of reading and writing, but you are not always sure about how to accomplish this. You probably have questions, such as: How can I know what my child is doing in school and how can I best help him or her? How can I let the teacher know that I want to help? Will the teacher (s) be receptive to my help?

I am happy to say that most teachers recognize the importance of parental involvement and would be very receptive to your active participation.

A researcher named Christina Clark noted that “The evidence about the benefits of parents being involved in their children’s education in general, and their children’s literacy activities in particular is overwhelming.” She cited several studies that indicate an increase in the following literacy areas through active parent involvement:

  • reading achievement
  • reading comprehension
  • language development
  • attitudes and interests in reading”

(Clark, National Literacy Trust 2007)

So, as you can see, you play a really important role in the

literacy development of your child. He/she needs your interaction and active involvement!  By coaching your child, you will increase his/her literacy growth, gain great personal satisfaction by being so closely engaged with this literacy development and activities, as well as participating in an area that is supported by the research. So, go for it!

Hopefully, the classroom teacher will contact you to support your child in the areas of literacy. However, you are strongly encouraged not to wait, but to reach out to your child’s teacher (s). If your child is working with other literacy personnel, such as a reading specialist, you might approach them too.

You can also contact the teacher through a note or e-mail indicating that you want to actively participate in your child’s literacy development and growth. You don’t have to use the term “literacy coach”, but if you think of yourself as a parent/caregiver literacy coach, you can be one.

What is a literacy coach and how can you be one?

      A literacy coach in the schools is somebody with extensive training in the language arts, who goes into the classrooms in order train and mentor teachers about the best strategies and activities for teaching reading, writing and other areas of literacy. Literacy coaches often demonstrate lessons or strategies for the teachers, sometimes using a teacher’s own class, and then have the teacher try the lesson with their class, while the coach observes and later provides feedback.

One of the strongest aspects of coaching is when the literacy coach goes into the classroom regularly and works alongside the teacher and the children over a longer period of time, teaching, demonstrating, guiding, modeling and, of course, encouraging. This is much more effective than just demonstrating a strategy or lesson and then moving on. From my extensive experience in the classroom, I’ve found that teachers are much more likely to actually use the strategies under these circumstances.

By being a literacy coach for your child, you will encompass some of the strongest points of the best literacy coaches. Your child will feel proud and encouraged to be working alongside you as their coach at home.

You are strongly encouraged to ‘mirror’ the language of school literacy instruction when:

  • reading and writing with your child
  • helping develop reading skills and strategies
  • working on school literacy assignments/homework
  • developing class projects
  • developing a love of reading

What does it mean to ‘mirror’ the language of  literacy instruction and how can you do this?

An important idea is that you, as a literacy coach for your child, will mirror the language and related instructional activities that your child’s classroom teacher and/or literacy specialist uses to teach and promote literacy development. The term ‘mirror’ simply means to imitate. Teachers often use particular language, vocabulary, activities and procedures to develop their students’ literacy abilities and you will be mirroring some of this as you coach.

For some activities, such as learning to make predictions or to determine important ideas, the teacher models the activity in order to help the child better understand the thinking that underlies the procedure. For other literacy areas, such as vocabulary development, there might be less modeling and more educational games or even interactive computer activities.

Therefore, mirroring simply means that you will be imitating the literacy language and activities that the classroom or literacy teacher does. As noted, some of this mirroring will involve you first modeling the procedures that your child will be doing.

Teacher modeling (sometimes called think-aloud) is often followed by guided practice and independent practice. An example of a lesson utilizing all three steps will be provided later in this article. Here is a very brief definition of these three steps:

  • Teacher Modeling: “The teacher verbalizes or thinks-aloud while reading a text, describing his/her thoughts and the things that he/she is doing during the reading. The purpose is to model for the student what skilled readers do while they are reading.”
  • Guided Practice: “Interactive instruction between the teacher and the student (s). After the teacher introduces new learning, he/she has the student practice by engaging students in a similar task to what they will complete later independently. Teacher and student work together.”
  • Independent Practice: “The student is given the opportunity to practice the learning independently in order to work towards mastery.”

Without realizing it, you probably use all or some of these steps when teaching your own child some skill or activity. For example, if you were trying to teach your child to ride a bicycle, you might first demonstrate how to ride the bike, work the brakes, etc. by actually riding your own bike in front of the child, pointing out the various aspects (modeling). Then, you have the child get on his/her smaller bike and you move along with him/her, holding the bike as he/she practices what you modeled. You might eventually let the bike go, but run alongside, guiding your child along the way. (guided practice). Finally, when you think that your child is ready, he/she tries riding the bike on his/her own (independent practice). If you have done some teaching like this, then you probably already have some idea about how this works.

What is standards-based instruction and how does it relate to literacy instruction and to coaching?

    In order to decide what they should be teaching and how to teach this, classroom teachers and literacy specialists follow a set of Standards called the Common Core K-12 English Language Arts Standards or a revised version of these current standards called the NYS Next Generation ELS Learning Standards. Teachers who teach according to these standards are following what is called standards-based instruction. The Standards are organized into areas of literacy, such as Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening and Language. Reading is further broken down into Foundational Skills, such as understanding print concepts, phonics and fluency, Literature, such as understanding key ideas and details related to fiction books, and Informational Texts, such as understanding non-fiction books and magazines.

The purposes of these Standards are to provide goals or standards that children at the various grade levels should strive to reach in the  areas of the English Language Arts (reading, writing, etc), to inform teachers about what the focus should be for each Standard and to provide teaching ideas for teachers to use in order to help their students achieve these goals. An example of a literacy Standard is: “Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.” This would be a first grade Standard.

So, how does this relate to you as your child’s literacy coach? Well, don’t worry. You certainly don’t have to learn or know these standards. Leave that to the teachers. But, it is important to know that your child’s teacher, with whom  you will be working closely, is following these Standards and that the literacy language that you will be mirroring, as well as  many of the  activities and materials that are discussed in this book, are connected to these Standards. 

A demonstration lesson involving teacher modeling  

Now that you know the steps for mirroring the language of literacy and for teaching literacy strategies, I will provide an example of how a teacher might teach such a lesson. This will help you to understand the process as you mirror this language in some of the activities that you will be doing. Remember to have fun as you do these activities, just as I enjoy teaching them.

For this lesson, I chose the fairy tale picture book Red Riding Hood. There are many versions of this book, but I’m using a version that is retold and illustrated by James Marshall. It’s relatively short, but is beautifully illustrated. The reason that I chose this particular fairy tale is that I wanted to select a story that would be familiar to most parents/ caregivers such as yourself, so that you could then easily relate to the characters and the plot without having to actually reread the story.

There are plenty of other versions of this fairy tale available in classroom libraries, public libraries and book stores, Since, for this lesson, the child will be reading the book aloud, it’s important that  he/she can read most of the words in the book (decoding). This is called utilizing a book at your child’s reading level, which the teacher can help you select. This lesson could be used with a first or a second grader.

The lesson that I will be demonstrating relates to a story element called character traits. The focus will be on the main character (most important character), which in this story is Red Riding Hood. Character traits refer to what the character is really like. What kind of person is this main character? It’s like if you were thinking of a person that you know and you wanted to know what that person is really like? The child will develop an understanding of this through the author’s descriptive words about the character (actually describing the character) and/or the main character’s actions (what the character does). So, following the three steps of the modeling process described above (think-aloud, guided-practice and independent practice), let’s begin our lesson. Have fun reading about it, just as you will  have fun working with your child in your role as a literacy coach.


Briefly introduce the book to the child:

     Teacher: “Today we’re going to read a really great fairy tale called Red Riding Hood. One of my favorites! You probably already know something about this story, which is actually good, because we can then focus particularly on what Red Riding Hood is really like. What kind of person is she? As you read, you will find clues about her that will help you to get to know her better.

Let’s take a look at the cover first. What do you notice about Red Riding Hood that will help us to get to know her better? As you say these ideas, I’m going to write them on this big chart.”


Child: (possible comments) “She has a big smile on her face. She

looks happy.”

“She’s carrying a big basket, like she is going to bring food to

somebody. She looks really kind.”


Teacher: (writing these ideas on the chart) “Great ideas. These are

things that tell us about what Red Riding Hood is like. We have a

name for this. They are called character traits. They tell us what a

character is really like. We learned this by looking at the

pictures. However, you can also discover the character traits of

a character by what the author writes in the story.

“Now we are going to read this story together and try to discover

some of Red Riding Hood’s character traits by what the author

tells us about her and, also, by some of things that Red Riding

does in the story. These are called character actions.”

Teacher Modeling (Think-Aloud):

“I’m going to read the first page of this story to you and after I read, I’m going to talk about what I learned about the kind of person Red Riding Hood is. Let’s begin.”

 Teacher reads the first page, which is only one sentence long. After reading, the teacher says the following:

     “I see that it says that ‘in the deep dark woods, there lived a pretty child called Red Riding Hood’. The author is telling us directly that she was pretty. I’m going to write that on our chart.”

“The author also says that ‘she was kind and considerate and everybody loved her’. Again the author is directly describing her. Let’s write that on our chart.

Teacher reads the second page.

     “On this page, the author tells us that ‘Red Riding Hood loved going to her grandmother’s house, even though it meant that she had to cross the deep, dark woods’. From her actions, I think that she really loved her grandmother and that she is a really brave person for crossing these dangerous woods to see her and bring food to her.

This is an example of how a character’s actions tell us something about what she is like. Let’s write ‘brave’ on our chart. I think that this is an important character trait.”

After the teacher thinks that the child understands how to find character traits through the author’s descriptions and the character’s actions, they are ready to move to the next stage of the lesson: guided practice. 

Guided Practice: The teacher and the child  work together to discover the character traits. The child reads the story orally or silently and then thinks-aloud about his/her ideas related to the main character’s traits, just as the teacher did during the modeling step discussed above. Based on the child’s thinking-aloud or on questions that he/she asks, the teacher helps the child to identify more character traits related to Red Riding Hood and how these were identified. The teacher or the child adds these traits to the chart. When the teacher feels that the child can do this on his/her own, they go to the next step, which is Independent Practice.

Independent Practice: The child reads and works independently to identify the character traits of the main character, either by completing this book or starting another book at his/her reading level. This can be done in class or for homework. In this way, the child practices and learns to master the particular skill/strategy being taught. Depending upon the age and abilities of the child, he/she can read the book orally or silently. The teacher and the child then discuss the child’s responses afterwards.

You are now ready to enjoy your experiences as a literacy coach.


Clark, Christina (2007). “Why It Is Important to Involve Parents in Their Children’s Literacy Development: A Brief Research Summary”

This research brief explains the need for parental involvement in children’s literacy activities and development, based on overwhelming evidence about the benefits of parents being involved in their children’s education in general, and their children’s literacy activities in particular. Parental involvement positively affects children’s performance in both primary and secondary schools, leading to higher academic achievement, improved social adjustment, and greater school enjoyment. This brief describes other similar impacts that have been identified with regards to literacy practices.

Journal of the National Literacy Trust


Glossary of Terms

Guided Reading. Small-group reading instruction for students at their assessed instructional reading level. The focus of instruction is on specific comprehension, phonics, and fluency needs. It is designed to provide differentiated teaching to help students expand their reading competencies.

Independent reading. Reading on one’s own. Can occur inside school, when teachers provide scheduled time for all students to read self-selected print or digital texts, or outside school, when students are self-motivated to read. The goal is not only to read but also to enjoy reading; as such, independent reading is not tied to assessment, formative or otherwise. Teachers may offer suggestions about texts on the basis of students’ self-identified interests, confer with students about the texts they are reading, or engage students in peer discussions and shared book talks.

Modeled Reading. An experienced readers’ oral reading of a text to aid students in learning strategies, understanding intonation and expression, and the use of punctuation, among other aspects of reading.

Modeling/Think Aloud. Teacher overtly demonstrates a reading/writing strategy, skill, or concept that students will be learning.
















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