Making a Little More Room for Reading

5 minutes read time
A man and two boys read together.
Bisroo (right) helps his 8-year-old son Keshav practice reading at home with books checked out from the school library.

Making a Little More Room for Reading

Keshav Yadav, 8, checked out Mota Raja, Putla Kuta (Fat King, Skinny Dog) from the school library again. His dad Bisroo doesn’t mind listening to the same story for the umpteenth time.

This one, about the fat king who can’t seem to catch his skinny dog, is a family favorite. Bisroo has three older children and says that none of them can read with the same fluency or confidence as his youngest.

Keshav is a second grader at the Government Primary School Ilda in the landlocked eastern state of Chhattisgarh. He and his fellow classmates spend 40 minutes a day in the library and another hour in class learning reading strategies.

Like other students in his school, he started checking out books to take home and read with his family. It’s a habit now.

Modifying the Way Teachers Teach

Room to Read, with USAID support, is helping make reading a habit for hundreds of thousands of primary school students in the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. The project, which began in September 2015, works across 1,360 schools and will expand to 1,100 more schools in two new states this November.

It starts with a detailed teaching plan for grades 1 and 2. Teachers follow the state curriculum while also using a manual created by Room to Read, which allows them to make their lessons more creative and effective. The manual also provides detailed classroom activities that make the concepts easy for students to grasp.

Monika Verma uses the Room to Read teachers manual to guide her reading lessons and activities.

Manual in hand, teachers show students how to write simple and compound words by drawing pictures and drawing boxes to connect the words. The children follow along in their workbooks and answer questions in a chorus.

Keshav’s teacher, Nand Kumar Ratre, says he’s impressed with how fluently Keshav can read. Keshav’s progress is not unique for students involved in this program.

When it started, the students could barely read one word per minute. Rita Sen, a class three teacher, remembers. She used to teach the alphabet letter by letter and cut out shapes in an attempt to make it fun for the students.

by letter and cut out shapes in an attempt to make it fun for the students.

“It was so frustrating! We were trying so hard and rote memorization wasn’t working,” she says. “This sequence of the lessons was hard for me to adjust to, but look at them: they read.”

Less than two years after the Room to Read program began, the children can read 34 words per minute. This level of fluency so early in primary school leaves the teachers free to work with students on developing more advanced reading skills.

Studies indicate that earnings increase by 10 percent with each additional year of schooling. Literacy from an early age is therefore critical for social and economic empowerment. And this holds true for all types of learners.

Forming the Habit

Rita Sen picks a different book every day to read to her students during the designated library hour.

Sen takes her students into the library every day for story time. Today’s book has a jungle theme and the kids are anxious to find out what the bear will do next. Each school library has at least 300 books, which are color-coded depending on the level of difficulty.

First and second graders usually take the books color-coded red or green. Third, fourth and fifth graders, who also spend 40 minutes a day in the library, tend to pick more advanced books marked with yellow and blue stickers.

The number, variety and increasing level of difficulty of the books gives children the option to practice with stories they are interested in reading and the option to try reading advanced stories.

This was not always the case. When Dilip Verma, now 38, attended the same primary school there were only passages in the textbooks with which to practice reading and some books of a very advanced level kept in the principal’s office.

Children and their parents borrow books as often as they please. Parents are becoming increasingly engaged.

Bisroo reads with Keshav a few times a week. “I like the stories and to spend time with my son,” he says.

Mansingh Yadav, another parent with two daughters at the school, agrees: “I want them to read. The more time I invest, the more interested they’ll be in completing their studies.” Yadav’s favorite story that his daughters bring home is Buddha Gharial (The Old Crocodile).

The Yadav family listens to Deepika read during family story time at home.

About the Author: Meenakshi Dalal is the program and communications specialist in the Office of Social Sector Initiatives at USAID’s mission in India.

Editor's Note: This entry was originally published in USAID's "2030: Ending Exreme Poverty in this Generation" publication on