Spark Reading Program

“I’ve been teaching for 16 years, and I can tell you that it used to take students up to two years to learn to read well. Now they reach the same level in three months.”


—Dora Maria, teacher at Agua Dulce Primary School




© Rebecca Wilks, Skyline Images

Why Reading?

Reality in Rural Guatemala

Imagine you are seven years old. If you live in rural Guatemala, your parents are likely Maya, subsistence farmers, illiterate, and dropped out of school before the sixth grade. Quite possibly, you have never come in contact with a book, either at home or in school. Your teachers probably received little more than a high school education, and lack the training and resources they need to make a meaningful difference in your life.

The Consequences of Illiteracy – Guatemala’s Literacy Rate

In Guatemala, poorly trained teachers use ineffective techniques to teach reading, emphasizing rote memorization instead of comprehension and critical thinking. Kids become bored and fail to learn to read, leading to high dropout rates: 80% of rural indigenous children who begin primary school will not complete it. Without adequate reading skills, these young people enter adult life unable to understand a bank statement, a voting ballot, or the label on a bottle of medicine. They remain targets of exploitation and injustice, and the cycle of poverty continues for them and their families.

How the Program Works

The Spark Reading Program trains primary-school teachers in effective reading instruction and provides them with a library of books. Teachers receive two years of intensive training combined with individual support and instruction through in-class visits. They also receive 60 to 192 high-quality children’s books (depending on grade level and class size), which enable them to read with their students every day.

These teachers transform their students into enthusiastic, competent, and lifelong readers. Their students achieve more in school, continue their education longer, and overcome the obstacles presented by low literacy.

The Spark Methodology

Early grade literacy is central to the Spark Program’s methodology. Kindergarten and first through third grade teachers focus on recognizing sounds and the ABCs—the building blocks for being able to sound out words—along with grammar and vocabulary, which make up the language knowledge to allow for reading fluency and comprehension. Third through sixth grade teachers build on these foundations to explore the world of writing more deeply, further developing fluency and vocabulary, along with reading comprehension strategies and activities in critical thinking and analysis.

The program starts developing reading comprehension in the early grades—and helps kids explore their own creativity. Teachers use the books to implement strategies for reading aloud that gain children’s interest and engage them in critical thinking. Students act out the story, bringing the text to life. They also retell it, using their own words and drawings to demonstrate their understanding. Children further develop essential literacy skills by authoring original stories on topics or themes important to their lives.

For example, seven year-old Spark student Fernando Augusto Gonzalez, separated from his parents at age three when they migrated to the U.S. to find work, authored a book about the night sky. He described seeing his parents’ faces in the stars, and how this helps him feel connected to them, even though they live far away.

The Spark Reading Program’s simple and straightforward methodology rapidly builds Spanish vocabulary, strengthens reading comprehension, builds confidence and competence working with written language, and makes the learning process more meaningful. For the first time, young people in these schools are enthusiastic about reading and writing.


The Spark Reading Program achieves sustainability by building local capacity for reading instruction. Training teachers and working within the rural school system to promote literacy creates permanent and lasting change in program communities. The teachers who participate in Spark increase their skills, share their knowledge and best practices with teachers in other schools, and promote literacy in their classrooms. The children who benefit from the program take their improved reading abilities, as well as actual books they have authored at school, and share them with their families, friends, and neighbors. They become vital links in the chain for promoting a lifelong culture of reading in their homes, their schools, and their communities.

  • Spark Classroom
  • Regular Classroom
A recent Randomized Control Trial found that kids in Spark classrooms are learning twice as much as kids in regular classrooms.


fewer students fail

Failure rates in Spark schools typically drop by 30%.

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