| July 3, 2013

Reading For Life: Engage Kids With Out of Classroom Experiences


By Samuel Alomenu

Junior high school students and volunteers, like recent graduate and star Worldreader Okanta Kate zip around the classroom. Having used e-readers for a couple years now, they’re showing younger students how to go beyond basic Kindle functions.

Next door, teens are leading story time, prompting the next generation of readers to think about what’s written on the digital page, what it signifies and how the message or lesson applies to day-to-day life.

Under the shade of a tree, groups of kids are drawing photos and sharing ideas about a book they read together.

Welcome to Worldreader’s Out of Classroom Experience (OCE) reading program!

Why create OCE reading programs?

“Education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child,” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori, physician, educator and humanitarian

As Dr. Montessori says, education—and by extension, reading—is more than sitting in a classroom reciting and memorizing formatted texts. There’s an experience waiting to be had through reading–and creating that experience is part of our mission as a literacy nonprofit working for social innovation in Africa.

Providing access to locally relevant  books is really only the first step in advancing literacy. In order for kids to read more and to read better, there has to be a place where a reading culture is cultivated and a comprehensive reading program that helps them grow into critical thinkers able to express themselves more fully.

The OCE program takes the child out of the typical classroom setting of rote learning and habitual repetition, and gets them involved in a number of interactive after-school and weekend activities that allow them to express themselves in every way possible.

The activities complement the classroom learning experience because they’re designed to get children talking about what they read, thinking about what they read and thinking about how they think. They spark curiosity, present alternative perspectives and provide a safe place where kids can speak out without fear, judgment or concerns about failing.

Students also have an opportunity to learn how to express themselves, a skill they’ll need throughout their lifetimes both personally and professionally. In the everyday Ghanaian classroom setting, students are not often allowed to voice their opinion, and this lack of expression inhibits the intellectual growth of a child.

Simply, too, OCEs are ways for kids to have fun and enjoy a good book.

How do OCEs work?

A key part of the OCE reading program is to make it sustainable and to get the students and community involved and invested in the project’s short-term and long-term success. That’s why we enlisted the help of junior high school students in Ghana.

Many of them have been using e-readers for a couple years now, but more importantly, as they’re growing up, we’re watching many of them become natural leaders. Having them lead the OCE sessions helps them build leadership skills and share their own excitement about reading with their younger peers. Teens teaching kids about the value of reading, we believe, will inspire more avid reading across generations. Another positive lesson is that the junior high school students are contributing directly to improving their communities, and they have started to recognize the value and importance of that.

We trained the junior high school students–we currently have 16 student leaders working on OCE projects in four schools–and gave them some fun and simple lesson plans we crafted specifically for OCE programs.

Here are some of the activities we have already done.

We encourage children to think about abstract ideas.

We invite students to draw their thoughts or to look at a drawing and tell a story.

In one lesson, we asked the students to draw good and evil. This was a really powerful exercise because it required the children to first think about what good is and what bad is, and then conceptualize a way to represent good and evil as an image.

The drawings the children came up with were quite telling. One child drew a woman with a swollen stomach and said the picture fell into the “bad” category. When I asked her to explain, she said, “The woman has stolen and has been cursed.”

Through the drawings, we could see how the children understood their world and how their society has influenced their perceptions.


OCE volunteers encourage kids to express themselves in a variety of ways after reading a book.


We nurture teamwork.

Children are encouraged to work in teams to foster healthy interdependence and collaboration. For example, when children are reading in groups, their peers help them to pronounce difficult words.

Students help each other read more and better, while also learning about the value of teamwork.

We give children a chance to voice their opinions.

If students do not support a decision made by their instructor, they can present reasons why they disagree. In the right setting, we believe this is very healthy interaction because it sharpens a child’s ability to reason, think critically and communicate effectively.

OCE volunteers lead a group discussion to get younger students thinking about what they’re reading and why it matters.

We broaden children’s perspective.

Through OCEs, we also want the children to understand how big the world is and recognize that people often see things differently. To cultivate greater tolerance, we invite students of different backgrounds to come play and learn with students in our reading programs.

Sharing opinions and recognizing that people have different points of views sharpen children’s critical thinking skills.



We’re continuously examining ways kids are reading in Africa and how programs like OCEs help strengthen the overall reading experience. Please check back often for updates.

What kinds of reading programs have you heard about or implemented that have helped children read more and better? Tell us below in the comments section.