Connections to Local Culture Energize Students in McMinn Co.

Earlier this year, in conjunction with the launch of the statewide Read to be Ready Campaign, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation gave a $1 million gift to the department to award for summer reading programs over the next three years. This spring, the department received over two hundred proposals and selected 12 summer programs from across the state to receive funding. In this series, you will learn about the work being done by the grant recipients to help rising first, second, and third grade students develop a love for reading over the summer months.

By Yasmin Small, Urban Leader Fellow

The Read to be Ready campaign is a coordinated approach to move third grade reading proficiency in Tennessee to 75 percent by 2025. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about the importance of reading, unite efforts to address the reading gap, highlight and implement best practices, and build partnerships. Read to be Ready summer grants are designed to fund programs that focus on low-income students who experience the greatest summer learning loss. Throughout the summer, representatives from the campaign traveled to each of the 20 sites to collect data, give feedback, and share best practices from each of the different summer programs.McMinn1

A site in McMinn County produced some very creative ways to merge reading comprehension and writing strategies within different activities, cater to their students’ different needs and learning styles, and showcase their history and culture in the classroom. Here are some of their best practices.

The day started with a read-aloud while students ate breakfast in order to activate their minds for learning. After breakfast, students were divided in groups of four to rotate through each of the five classrooms throughout the day. These small class sizes allowed for greater individualized attention and student participation. In each classroom, students were engaged in a variety of reading, writing, and enrichment activities that revolved around the theme, Appalachia.

McMinn2The Appalachian theme was chosen because McMinn County is located in the region, and educators wanted to teach students more about their county’s history and culture.

In the first classroom students were transported back to the “olden times” to hear a read aloud of the Appalachian Cinderella tale, Smoky Mountain Rose. The room was darkened to suggest a time before electricity, while Appalachian music played in the background. Although students were not directly reading, this read-aloud was important in supporting their reading attainment. Read-alouds give students access to challenging texts and vocabulary, model fluent reading, and support comprehension through the introduction of comprehension strategies. Surrounded by their pretzel and graham cracker creations of the Appalachian landscape, students brainstormed, made predictions, and answered questions about the story.McMinn3

In the next classroom, students compared and contrasted pictures of farm objects, which required them to think critically to decipher the old objects from the new and explain their thinking. The simple comparison activity was used as a method to prepare students for more complex character comparisons utilized in independent reading. The explanations gave students an opportunity to practice justifying their thinking and supporting their answers with evidence, an important strategy in higher level reading and writing.

McMinn4After the warm-up activity, students took turns reading and discussing a book about farming. In order to help students make connections to the text, they did a hands on activity involving produce. Students examined a tomato, predicted how long it took to grow, and used the learned information to plant a lima bean and track its growth. It is important for students to make these kinds of connections to text in order to better understand the text and stay engaged.

In other classrooms, students created their own blank books and read to a partner, crafted corn shuck dolls from brown paper bags, and read using flashlights in the dark. Each classroom bridged academics with fun activities to keep students continuously engaged and learning. McMinn5

In an effort to appeal to their tactile and kinesthetic learners, the McMinn County site gave their students an opportunity to learn new ideas, test out theories, and build connections through the process of making butter. Before recess, all the groups came back together and discussed how people in Appalachia used to make butter and why it was important. Students were excited to learn that, they too, were going to make butter! Students partnered up and headed to recess where they played different activities that allowed them to shake their heavy whipping cream in its small water bottle. After the planned activities, students were able to play freely, but had to continually shake their butter with their partner. After recess, all of the students headed inside and tried their butter on homemade biscuits baked by one of the teachers. One student proudly exclaimed, “We made butter!”

McMinn County’s Read to be Ready site had so many great hands-on activities to keep students reading, engaged, thinking, and creating. Have any more ideas? Email us at