All the Feels: Creating a Classroom Community of Readers by Rachel Weidenhammer
Two summers ago, I read and fell in love with Donalyn Miller’s books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I felt passionate and invigorated to help build a love of reading in my 5th grade students. After reading incessantly, creating Donor’s Choose projects for more high interest books, adding in reading time to my student’s school day and getting high-interest good quality diverse books into the hands of my students, I left last year with a room full of almost middle schoolers who love reading and talking about books.
As I start a new school year, I thought I’d recap some of the routines and traditions that have become engrained in my classroom community that have helped to establish the Weidenhammer Wild Readers that currently reside in my room and those who have moved on to middle school. I by no means have everything figured out and I am not even saying this works 100% of the time with every kid. However, I can say that I’ve seen a considerable difference in my students’ attitudes towards reading, their overall depth and breadth of their reading lives and the depth of conversations we have about books.
First Week Feels
On the first day of school, I make sure that my students know that I love books. It’s present in my Summer Reads poster, in my About the Teacher presentation and is quite obvious in the hundreds of books that line our walls in bookshelves. (I have even had students remark, “our classroom is like a library itself!”) I also have students fill out an interest survey for me on the first day and come in during the wee hours of the second day of school to create preview stacks for each and every student. This was something new that I did this year because I actually felt I could recommend quite a few books for each student and boy did it pay off! But this came with reading widely and deeply across genres all last year and this summer. Again, I am by no means a children’s literature guru but if you want kids to love reading you have to speak their reading language.
Additionally, during the first week (and all year long), I make the Amazon or Scholastic book box unveiling an experience. I pull out books one at a time and do a elevator pitch for each book. Then, we do a book raffle for who will get to read each book first. This is another moral booster for reading because students get excited they may “win” something and I also have students who can’t wait until it is their turn to read the book so it keeps the winner on track to finish in a timely fashion! I also did a Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover raffle this year where I wrapped up four different books that I know students would not pick up based on their covers but are actually excellent reads. I read the students the first lines of the books and held raffles! It was definitely a hit and something I will do again later in the year.
If you’re stressing the fact that you don’t know enough books, consider partnering with a librarian! I partnered with our school librarian to add in an extra Library Book Exchange time each cycle. The librarian and I book talk books and so do the students. We even get the middle school librarians involved in these sessions to provide additional recommendations and to develop a connection between the librarians and our students. This way, when they head to the middle school next year, they are prepared to continue their reading lives! Students provide recommendations via a book review or a book trailer. We held a movie trailer premier last year with popcorn and VIP guests (principal, reading specialists, and librarians) all of which took notes on books they wanted to read after our initial viewings of the trailers.
A few mornings a week, I also have my students answer a question on our whiteboard to help build our classroom community. I ask students questions like, Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book? and this provides students with the opportunity to provide recommendations in a nonconfrontational way. The important thing is remaining flexible and knowing that your recommendations might not be perfect or might not work for that student at that time. But by creating a classroom full of avid readers, you’re creating a whole committee of book recommenders who can help!
Showcasing Their Reading Lives
Another excellent tool I’ve set up this year on top of their book tracking paperwork is their own personal shelfie. Each student has their own paper “shelf” in the hallway where they record the book title and author name of each book they read. Students get jazzed to add another book to their shelfie and I make sure to make the finishing of a book a major accomplishment especially in the beginning of the year when we’re building momentum! I also create my own public shelfie for students to see what I am reading too! And you better believe they notice if it has been awhile since I last wrote on my shelfie! It is great that we can hold each other accountable to reading each and every day!
These are just a few of the many routines and traditions I develop within my classroom to create all the feels of a community who values and loves reading. Students have shared in their end of year reading reflections that they read double or triple the amount of books they read the year before. And that in itself is a resounding success!
Rachel Weidenhammer is a 5th Grade teacher in Sinking Spring, PA. She is passionate about developing enthusiastic and inspired readers of diverse books inside and outside of her 5th grade classroom. In her spare time, Rachel spends time with her family and enjoys reading stories to her 2-year-old son.