The first-graders at Broadneck Elementary School, sitting on blue blankets labeled with the names of countries, were discovering new worlds through words.

"You are sitting on top of a new world," their teacher said as they chose a continent and country to sit on. "You may begin to read."

The school's all-day reading marathon Tuesday kicked off the fourth annual reading program, called READiscover New Worlds.

As first-graders read everything from Dr. Seuss to "The Gingerbread Man," Cheryl Sayman, reading resource teacher, explained the goal of helping children enjoy reading.

Each class' pupils have a goal of a minimum number of minutes spent either reading on their own or being read to by a parent or teacher. For example, the first-graders' minimum goal is for each student to read or be read to for 160 minutes by spring. The fifth-graders' goal is 300 minutes.

Children who reach their grade's reading goal receive a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

The reading program this year also employs new educational techniques, Ms. Sayman said. Books now used to teach reading are what she calls "authentic literature," or real stories, as opposed to the traditional "Nan likes to read; Nan can read to Don" primers, which taught skills but weren't actual stories.

"This is a whole-language approach to reading," Ms. Sayman said. "With this new approach, the children are exposed to much more vocabulary, and the stories are more exciting."

In their fifth week of school, first-graders have read four "real" books, she said.

Said Kay Campbell, media specialist: "To see a second-grader go into an information book for the first time -- it's better than ice cream to them. They get so excited."

Ms. Campbell said the school also is encouraging reading by having both scheduled and free-time sessions in the library.

The year's goal for the school is to read 1.5 million minutes. Last year, with 89 percent of the students reaching their goal, the school topped that number by 25,000 minutes.

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