Building the Next Generation of Readers

Book charachters and Professor Michael Optiz

Recurring action-figure characters are part of a book series UNC Professor of Reading Education Michael Opitz helped develop to spark interest in reading among children.

University of Northern Colorado Professor Michael Opitz brings nearly four decades of reading expertise to a book series that uses recurring action-figure characters and 3D imagery to spark interest among children, with an emphasis on reaching out to boys categorized as reluctant readers.

The latest work from the professor of Reading Education also incorporates trading cards and interactive online modules that allow children to write their own versions of the stories.

In his role, Opitz, a former elementary school teacher, helped develop the conceptual framework, the lesson design and lesson plans for the 120 books across five themes in the "Pair-It Extreme" series by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt '' the same publisher that in the 1960s helped vault into national prominence a reading instruction series by former UNC Education professors Paul McKee and M. Lucile Harrison.

In keeping with that tradition, the "Pair-It" books are designed for first- through third-grade teachers to supplement traditional curriculum and increase literacy skills. The series builds on national standards by employing key reading strategies in critical thinking, listening, speaking, and writing.

"They're written with novice teachers in mind, but experienced teachers can use them and go in different directions," Opitz said.

While the books can be enjoyed by either gender, they were specifically written with boys in mind. That's because research shows boys tend to struggle with reading more so than girls, Opitz said.

Opitz, a sought-out national and international speaker, is the author of several books on reading instruction and strategies. His most recent book, with contributing writer and UNC doctoral student Lindsey Guccione, focuses on effective oral reading strategies to boost comprehension among English-language learners.

Another book, due out this fall with contributions by UNC doctoral student Jennifer Davis, explores how to use literacy to help kids get physically fit and healthy. He is also working with colleague James Erekson on the sixth edition of a reading diagnosis textbook published by Allyn & Bacon.

Some Tips to Engage Young Readers
Reading expert and UNC Professor Michael Opitz suggests a few tips to encourage reading among children:
- Find material that will enable students to build meaningful associations. If the material lacks application to their lives, it's harder for them to stay engaged. Opitz says that series with recurring characters that children can identify with are a great way to capture their interest and create those meaningful associations.
- Allow children to explore a variety of genres and topics of their choice. Opitz says that nonfiction books often appeal to young readers because they learn facts about their world.
- Remember, reading is a social activity. Families should consider reading aloud and discussing books around the dinner table.
- Books count, but so do other forms of writing. Magazines, newspapers, online content and even handheld Game Boy manuals all involve reading and comprehension.
- Build stamina by gradually increasing reading time at school and at home and by using a variety of texts (e.g., switching between fiction and nonfiction)

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- Nate Haas