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Reading growth spurt as measured by shirts

East Grand Rapids — Frankie Ellis squinted and peered closer at the graphic on her classmate’s shirt as he smoothed out the wrinkles. 

“What does that even say?” the second-grader wondered to herself as she scanned the black letters printed across the fabric. 

Then, recognition: “Oh! It’s a poem about bears!” 

Across the hall, fellow second-grader Aaron Bowman was wearing a shirt with the letters “EGRA Waves” printed in a very stylized font. He noticed some of his classmates were having a hard time reading the letters, so he tried to help them along. 

“Yes, that’s an E,” he encouraged a peer. “At least this isn’t in cursive. Her shirt’s in cursive” – he pointed at a teacher – “and it’s way harder to read.”

Frankie, Aaron and the rest of Wealthy Elementary’s second-graders had fun with “Read a T-shirt Day,” where they got to put some of their newfound reading skills to use reading words and phrases on their classmates’ shirts and writing down the words they found. The activity marked the end of their first reading unit, Second Grade Reading Growth Spurt. 

“(Students) learn how to take charge of their reading, building their stamina, fluency and comprehension,” teacher Christen Sarjeant said of the work her class has been doing. “They work hard to solve tricky words, using a variety of strategies, noticing word patterns and relationships, and growing vocabulary. … So much hard work deserves a reading celebration.” 

Part of the celebratory aspect of Read a T-shirt Day was the opportunity to do the activity together with all three of Wealthy’s second-grade classes. The classes don’t have many opportunities to learn together, so for everyone to gather in the hallway and get to know their peers while working on reading skills was a treat, Sarjeant said.

After filling out their worksheets with the words and phrases they found, Sarjeant’s students came back together as a class to share what they discovered while reading their friends’ shirts. Some of the reading elements they noticed and wrote down included:

  • A “vowel team” – two Os in a row
  • Snap words, or “words you should know in a snap, like ‘of’”
  • Lots of syllables
  • A vowel that “breaks the rules” (makes a different sound than you’d expect)
  • Letters that are silent

Cecilia Abraham said she can already tell that she is becoming a better reader. How so?

“If there’s a word I can’t read, then I just go over it more, like, a few times, until it makes sense,” she said.

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter (covering Cedar Springs, Grandville, Lowell and Rockford), editor, copy editor and social media manager. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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