We are intermediate grade teachers who have learned over the years that there are practices that get kids excited about reading. We tried to rank them but decided they were all equally important. We can’t imagine eliminating any of them, so these are not in any particular order.
1. Know your kids. Did Katie’s hamster die last night? Is Michael upset because his parents are getting a divorce? If you know your kids, you can connect readers with books. LOVE THAT DOG may help Katie express her feelings about her beloved pet. BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX may help Michael see his parents as people and forgive them. Books speak to our students. Keep students in mind when you read books.
2. Read aloud EVERY DAY. We know there is not enough time in the day for all you have to do. But don’t give up reading aloud. It builds a reading community (and vocabulary, fluency, and a sense of story) and provides touchstone texts. Reading aloud creates a bonding experience and time to be together in another world. It provides numerous opportunities to model good writing and teach reading strategies. And it’s fun!
3. Invite authors into your classroom and school. If you can’t get them to come in person, Skype, Twitter, blog, and e-mail them in! Treat authors like they’re rock stars! Meeting authors gives students a glimpse into a writer’s world and just may inspire them to become writers themselves! We have found children’s authors to be extremely kind, creative, and interesting people! Use social media to connect to authors and educators. It’s inspiring to be part of that positive online community.
4. Be a wide and voracious reader yourself. We couldn’t put this any better than Katherine Sokolowski and her students did in her own Nerdy Top Ten. We believe this is the number one reason why we are getting better as reading teachers. We are more and more passionate and knowledgeable about children’s books at all levels, genres, and formats. The kids see that and are moved to action by it.
5. Give students choice with frameworks. Students should be allowed to choose what they read as much as possible. Eliminate or at least limit whole class book studies. We find that read alouds substitute as whole class novels and can provide common mentor texts for all kinds of purposes. Even when choosing books for small group studies, we give them choices. A framework like reading contracts (contracts given every month, focusing on a theme topic or genre that incorporates choice reading and CCSS) gives students direction in their reading. We feel uncomfortable when students are only reading what they want to read and there isn’t any direction. When we job-shared, we chose to go without contracts for one year and found that student reading was difficult to track and connect to other reading. Contracts frame their reading into genres, theme topics, and /or book formats so they are challenged to read widely and deeply as well as voraciously. Keep in mind that the kids are also expected to read independent books that are COMPLETELY their choice along with their chosen required books.
6. Institute Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge. This is another idea we’ve incorporated into our classrooms that has made a huge difference. THE BOOK WHISPERER is a must-read when teaching reading. We were skeptical at first because 40 books sounded like a lot of books in our pre-reading-hotbed days. However, it was successful the first year. The 40 Book Challenge is a work in progress. We are continually tweaking it to fit our readers and to reflect what we’re learning. Make the 40 Book Challenge your own, but whatever you do, don’t overlook or underestimate its power to encourage students to read.
7. Build a classroom library and bring books TO students. Recently, a student was helping one of us pack up books to move to a new classroom. She said, “You have OBBD. Obsessive Book Buying Disorder. But that’s not a bad thing!” Kelly Gallagher tells a story in his book READICIDE about trying to book talk a memoir by Lois Duncan chronicling her daughter’s murder. He knew it was high interest, and he knew a lot of students had seen I Know What You Did Last Summer. The library had 3 copies; Gallaher had none. The only way he could get kids to check out the books was to bring them into the classroom to the kids. Immediately providing books to students in the classroom is one of the cornerstones for happy readers. We’ve spent years building healthy-sized classroom libraries. When multiple copies or new titles are needed, and you don’t have them in your library, check them out yourself at a library and bring them into the classroom. Do we lose a few? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
8. TALK about books as well as write about them. Be as “real life” as possible. When was the last time you made a diorama when you finished a book? At Dublin Literacy Conference, Donalyn Miller said, “I’m not a language arts and crafts teacher.” What DID you do the last time you finished a book? You probably wrote or talked about it! There is lots of material to cover with CCSS, but we can do it authentically. Do we sometimes ask questions on a worksheet or do projects? Yes, but there are many ways we assess. Kids want to talk to each other and to YOU about what they’re reading! Give them free writing and talking rein when possible. We get more authentic responses to books when we give kids less parameters. Do they need to practice writing from prompts? Yes, but they also need to practice writing about what THEY want to say.
9. Offer book clubs. Kids don’t need rewards for reading like points, prizes, and parties. However, they love book clubs. We’ve run Mock Newbery and Caldecott clubs, parent/student book clubs (one even took place at the Cincinnati Zoo after reading THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN), and pledged to “Choose Kind” after reading WONDER. Parents have eagerly snapped up multiple copies of our read alouds to read and discuss with us and commented on classroom blog conversation starters. Students have told us they were proud they got their parents to read. How many of you belong to book clubs? Kids love them, too!
10. Let kids read silently every day. OH, this can be so hard! We have so much to do! However, studies show that there is no greater way to increase stamina, fluency, vocabulary, writing skills, background knowledge, a sense of story, lifelong reading, and pure enjoyment. Besides, how are you going to know your students’ reading habits, struggles, preferences, and successes if you don’t see them read??
Did we cover them all? We doubt it. We’d love to hear about any other practices that you think create classrooms of enthusiastic readers!
Megan is a 5th grade teacher in Ohio who is a proud book lover. When not reading, listening to a book, or reading to her preschooler, she’s thinking about which book to pick next. You can check out her blog, titled “Adventures in Learning” at http://www.meganginther.blogspot.com or on Twitter as @megangreads.
Holly is a gifted intervention specialist who teaches accelerated 5th/6th grade ELA in Ohio. She loves to read, teach, write, learn, hang out with friends and family, walk her dog, and travel. She blogs at www.hollymueller.blogspot.com and tweets as @muellerholly.