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How Does the Daily 5 Look in Different Elementary Grades?

Monday, October 16, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

When it comes to developing students’ literacy skills, one of the most popular and successful frameworks used by educators is the Daily 5™, introduced by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser in their 2006 book, The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. The Daily 5 provides an excellent structure to guide you toward teaching students to develop self-discipline, build stamina and focus, and ultimately, become better readers and writers.

When fully implemented, this model includes five different rotation choices—read to self, work on writing, read to someone, word work, and listen to reading—but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the Daily 5. The truth is, depending on the developmental age and reading level of your students, you’ll want to execute the Daily 5 a little differently. Today, we’re taking a look at tips and tricks for differing the implementation of the Daily 5 into lower elementary and upper elementary classrooms.

Lower Elementary (Pre-K–2nd Grade)

Really lay down the law

You already know how important it is to establish firm classroom management procedures, no matter how old your students are, but when it comes to young learners and the Daily 5, it’s worth a second mention. To work most efficiently, the Daily 5 requires your students to be independent and take responsibility for their own learning. But, pre-K to 2nd grade students are also young children, and they won’t always want to stay on task. It’s up you to make sure that you’re being as thorough and consistent as possible with your class management procedures. Review them again and again, having students demonstrate the right way and the wrong way to “read to someone” or “listen to reading.” Avoid drawing attention to negative behavior, and instead use behavioral narration techniques to reinforce positive actions by pointing out when you see students reading quietly, following directions, and using the correct reading volume. You could also ask students to self-assess their behaviors through simple think-pair-share activities or a thumbs-up/thumbs-down exercise.

Use whatever helpers you can, whenever you can

Emerging readers often struggle sounding out words, recognizing meaning, and—let’s face it—staying focused. If you have the option to request a volunteer or teacher’s aide, do it. If an extra adult isn’t available, assign a student “helper” as part of your daily classroom jobs, such as lending a hand with the technology center, identifying sight words, or assisting with whatever you feel comfortable delegating. Using student helpers has the added bonus of encouraging students to self-manage while you are working with a separate small group.

Have a “question plan”

Even if you have helpers, a “question plan” is a great way to make sure that students are not sitting idly with one hand in the air waiting for help sounding out a word or resetting a tablet on the fritz. Develop a system for your classroom where students can quickly and quietly take note of questions they come across during their activity, non-disruptively signal to either you or a helper that they need assistance, and move on with their work while waiting.

This could be as simple as students flipping up a question card from green to red on their desk, or highlighting or writing down a word they have trouble with in a designated notebook or binder so that they can look it up later. Having procedures in place to handle questions also helps limit interruptions when you are working with a group and need the rest of your students to self-manage. To make things a little more fun, you could try wearing a special hat, animal ears, or a zany headband to indicate to your students when you are unavailable and when it’s time for them to follow the question plan.

Call the shots

While the traditional Daily 5 procedure suggests letting students choose which activities they will go to and when, it can’t always work that way. For some classes, especially during early literacy development, it’s better if you are the one directing who goes where and when. You can still make it fun by letting groups choose team names at the beginning of the year.

If you don’t have the time to split students into groups or the resources to support an equal number of students at each station, you can also try a token system to direct the Daily 5. Using this kind of system, each student gets a certain number of “tokens” (Popsicle sticks, for example) for stations at the beginning of each week. You might let students draw at random or dispense tokens for specific stations to a student who needs extra practice. The students can use the tokens in whatever order they want that week, but you’ll rest easier knowing that they’re visiting the stations you decided on for them.

Use fun materials and manipulatives as incentives for students to self-manage

One of the greatest things about the Daily 5 is that it gives you the chance to really get creative when it comes to teaching literacy. Children love using Play-Doh®, letter blocks, dry-erase boards, or any other fun manipulatives to practice spelling and writing during Daily 5 time. Even being able to use crayons to write or a highlighter to pick out sight words on a worksheet can be thrilling for young students. Using manipulatives as an incentive for your students to stay on task is a great way to not only encourage them to be more independent during Daily 5 time but also get the benefits of hands-on approaches to learning. 

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Upper Elementary (3rd–6th Grade)

Adapt the traditional Daily 5 to meet your unique needs

Once students reach a certain level of literacy proficiency, you may find that it is no longer necessary to carry out the Daily 5 in its traditional model. Why use precious class time running through “listen to reading” or “read to someone” stations when you can tell that the majority of your class has surpassed the initial developmental goals of these centers? Consider adapting your Daily 5 procedure for older students to include a “passion project” or “genius hour” station, or stretch out the stations you want to keep and call it the Daily 3. Just don’t be afraid to change up things every now and again to suit your students’ needs.

Don’t totally give up on reading to someone or listen to reading

Yes, the last tip condoned cutting the “read to someone” and “listen to reading” activities if you feel your students have well-developed fluency abilities. However, while students may be reading more fluently, reading aloud and listening to others read allows students to focus on imagery, visualizing, and inferencing—all of which help develop listening comprehension skills.

Oral and auditory reading activities help students who are still struggling to read fluently and can build confidence in students who get nervous being called on to read aloud by allowing them to practice with a peer in a low-pressure setting. Listening and reading aloud to other students also give young learners the chance to socialize in a controlled setting, potentially exposes them to books they might not have otherwise explored, and allows them to share the joys of reading with one another. At the upper elementary level, these stations may no longer have to be in your regular Daily 5 rotation, but there certainly is value in continuing to incorporate them from time to time.

Amp up peer reviews

When younger children work together with the Daily 5 in activities like “read to someone,” the main focus of the activity is building up students’ individual foundational understanding of how to read. As students become more comfortable with reading, the focus shifts to sharpening skills and developing comprehension. Take time to instruct students on how to apply reading strategies when working in small groups or pairs, such as sounding out letters, looking for context clues, etc. When modeled by the teacher, many students can internalize how to execute these strategies enough to help practice newfound skills with their peers too.

By guiding your students on how to actively apply reading strategies, you are not only letting them engage with one another in productive and helpful ways, but you are also showing them how to really understand what they are reading or writing, develop stronger fluency, and take pride in their assignments and tasks.

Double dip

After students have unlocked the key to reading, so many learning opportunities are made possible. As your students mature and develop reading proficiency, you can use your Daily 5 time to incorporate cross-disciplinary lessons into your literacy block. For example, you can tie a math vocabulary lesson into your “word work” station. You might even try infusing works of nonfiction that align to the unit you are covering into social studies or science lessons. This will likely require a little bit more prep work, but it can save you time in the long run by merging two subjects into one and make the lessons more meaningful to students.

While these tips have been divided into best practices for lower and upper elementary grades, all of them can be tailored to apply to your classroom, depending on your unique environment. The Daily 5 is, at its core, a management system to help students become independent learners and be present in their own development of literacy skills. It’s a versatile approach that can make a big difference in helping your students become strong, enthusiastic readers.

Looking for more tips to boost literacy in your classroom? Check out this Daily 5 Guide to Best Practices!