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Functional Reading with Functional Folders

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Functional Reading with Functional Folders

Functional folders provide students independent practice in reading “real world” print. Select items your students would have a functional need or reason to read in real life. Examples would include food labels, store flyers or catalogs, TV guides, children’s menus, theater ads, local maps, and magazine subscriptions. Let your imagination and knowledge of your children’s interests be your guide.


The print items you select should be glued on the left side of a file folder. Three sets of questions, written on index cards, should be placed on the right side of the folder. These questions should be written at three levels of difficulty, targeted at the lower-, average-, and above-average reading levels for students in your class. All questions should be factual/literal because functional reading is primarily a fact-gathering activity.


The main difference among the sets of questions is in the amount of reading required for the answer.


Example: Condensed Soup Label


Set 1: (for the lowest reader)

Questions are focused on the most obvious information on the item. They should be short, clear, concise, and unambiguous.


Who made this soup?


Set 2: (for the average reader)

Questions may be a bit longer and require more reading than those found in Set 1.


How many cans of water should you add to the soup?

Set 3: (for the best readers)

Questions will require more detailed reading and may be longer. They should not deal with trivia, e.g., What is the address of the maker of this soup?


How many cans will you need to serve  eight people?


Do not ask vocabulary questions


All items and questions should be relevant and functional to the “real world” reading needs and interest of your students. You need to reflect on what your students care about and what they do read or would like to read to function better in their world. For example, ads for bicycles might be appropriate for Grade 5; in a few years motorcycle or car ads would be better. Do not over- or under-estimate students’ interest level. Remember, also, to provide materials that reflect different interests and backgrounds.


When first presenting folders to students in your room, it is helpful to do it as a teacher-directed lesson. The students can be given instructions on how to proceed and how to use the answer sheet (if you choose to use one). The students should be instructed to do the following:


1.       Write the folder code on the answer sheet.

2.       Select one of the sets of questions and answer them. When you are finished, lift the card and compare your answers with the ones on the back of the card.


Most functional reading can fit into one of four categories or objectives. These are reading to follow directions, gain information, use references, and fill out forms.

Some specific items for each of these objectives are:


Reading to Follow Directions (F.D.)

                     Cooking/baking instructions

                     Sewing instructions

                     Repair manuals

                     Road maps

                     Game directions

                     Craft and hobby instructions

                     First aid instructions

                     Labels/washing instructions

                     Bus schedules

                     Building/street signs

Reading to Gain Information (G.I.)

                     TV schedule

                     Movie ads

                     Sports information

                     Want ads/classified

                     Food/clothing ads


                     Weather charts

                     Temperature charts

                     Bike ads

                     Skateboard ads

Reading to Use References (U.R.)

                     Phone directory

                     Magazine contents

                     Newspaper index

                     Yellow pages

                     Repair manual index

                     City services directory

                     Job manual

                     Classified ads directory



Reading to Fill Out Forms (F.O.F.)

                     Club memberships


                     Contest/puzzle entries

                     Record/tape clubs

                     Banking forms

                     School forms

                     Job applications

                     Book clubs

                     Postal forms

                     Want ad forms


Each folder should have a folder code to facilitate record keeping and identify the objective of the folder. Thus, folder code F.D. #6, indicates Following Directions, folder number 6.

As you are constructing your folders, it is very helpful to develop a Master List, recording the code and contents of each folder. You can use the list to prescribe or suggest specific folders for specific children. As you make additional folders, you may simply add to the list. Your Master List might look something like this:



Functional Folder Master List


Folder Code

Folder Contents

F. D. #1

G. I. #1

G. I. #2

G. I. #3

U. R. #1

F. D. #2

F.O.F. #1

Local city street map

TV schedule

Children’s menus

Movie guide

Local newspaper index

Recipe for making fudge

CD Club application


It is generally helpful to provide the students with an answer sheet. It consolidates all the students’ activities with folders on one sheet, facilitates recordkeeping, and reduces confusion. It is strongly recommended you do not grade or mark the students’ performance unless, of course, you are interested in fostering cheating. The students are generally intrigued and motivated enough by the folder content and format to work quite honestly and persistently with very little teacher monitoring.


The biggest problem with folders is making them fast enough! The students will soon work through all you have and then begin to repeat, likely answering other sets of questions. The problem of getting more folders has been solved in several ways. Parent volunteers have been taught how to make folders in workshops and then spend time at home or at school doing the actual work. (You may have to help with the wording of the questions.) Children in class and/or older students have also been given instruction in developing folders. They may do it during school time, recess, or at home.