I LOVE to read. Like finish a book in one night LOVE to read. Like wake up on a Saturday and read two hours in bed LOVE to read. Like cozy up on the couch and go on a mental vacation LOVE to read. I’ve always had this natural love to read. When I was growing up I would go every other week with my Aunt Clemmie (great aunt) to get her hair done. I grew up in Alabama, so getting her hair done meant the color, the blow dry, the curls. The big hair. She got her hair done in JCPenney with a nice lady named Shirley. I LOVED going with her because JCPenney was in the mall. Know what else was in the mall? Walden Books. I would sit and wait for her to get her hair done. While she got her hair done, I read and waited patiently like the good little reader I was. When she was all finished, we would head to Walden books. While most girls my age longed for clothes and toys and other *crap,* I was happy with a book. We didn’t have a lot of money for all that other nonsense anyway. A book could take me places and create a peace in me like nothing else could.
So I couldn’t wait to go to Walden books every other Thursday. I would scan the lower shelf to get the newest Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley Twins. The glossy cover with pages that had not yet been turned. The smell of a brand new book with its crisp pages beats that new car smell any day in my book! (*pun intended*)
I tell you this story to paint a picture of how much I love to read and always have. It comes naturally to me. But not to everybody. Every adult and every child may not love to read as much as I do. I’ve slowly come to terms with that. However, my goal is to open the doors for my students to see how beautiful it can be. I don’t really remember my mother reading to me every night. (That doesn’t mean she didn’t.) But I do know that she read. A lot of self help books. (As have I). So I don’t specifically remember anyone teaching me to love reading, but just because I don’t remember doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. But, it was part of my natural environment. Like my mother, people around me read.
More often than not, our students come to us without having a home environment where people read or read to them. This leaves a lot on the shoulders of teachers, but it also leaves a lot of opportunity. So HOW do we do that? I’ve always said in times of frustration that I can’t teach students motivation. While there’s some truth to that, I’ve also been wrong. I can’t explicitly teach someone how to be motivated and it magically happens, but I CAN guide the way. Which is my job anyway.
At Open House and Parent Teacher conferences, I tell parents about all the technicalities, rules, procedures, data, testing, etc. yada yada yada…. but one of the ways I try to win them over (I want them on my side after all!) is by appealing to their emotions and letting them know my WHY for teaching, my WHY for doing what I do. I tell them that while all the testing and data is important, my biggest goal for their child is to ENJOY reading. Something that comes with such pleasure should not cause so much pain. So while many kids struggle with reading and it is not the most enjoyable task, my job is to help them also see the love and joy that reading can bring. So I bring you my most effective, tried and true, REAL strategies that you can implement today! Or tomorrow. Or whenever you see fit.
1// Don’t Ever Ditch Your Read Aloud. (Like EVER.) #swiftie
I am about to admit some things that I am not proud of and that take a lot of bravery to admit, but need to be said. You might have found yourself in the same situation in the past or will someday in the future. So consider this a cautionary tale or a story you can completely identify with. Either way, it has taught me to be even more tuned in with my core beliefs and values as a teacher.
I have always sat on my high horse with my teacher read aloud. I always knew the best books or sought out other teachers who knew the best books or found the newest best book to share with others. I preached about how it was the best part of my day. I used it to teach my mini lessons. I used it to build relationships with students, introduce them to new authors or series, and every other thing that a purposeful read aloud should do. I knew all the benefits and this is why I did it. This is why most of my kids enjoyed reading. Even if they didn’t LOVE it independently, they LOVED it when I read to them.
Until last year.
Last year I moved to a new city and of course new school. I love the school I am at, teachers I work with, my students, etc. It’s all butterflies and daydreams. BUT, my ELA block is very different from what I am used to doing. Not bad different. Just different. (explain more) I love my school and job so much that I want to do what I am supposed to even if I find it hard or not quite what I want to do. I have embraced the change and want to “fit it all in.” Well, guess what the first thing to drop this year was? My Read Aloud. Unintentionally. I didn’t mean to go days without reading. Or spend MONTHS in the same book, but it keeps happening. Meanwhile, I have become the AR dictator, questioning kids about their points. Are they not reading each night? Where is their reading log? Insert all the things kids dislike about reading.
I caught on to my problem early on in the year. I was not cultivating that classroom environment I hoped to. This built some humility, was good for my character, etc. But I have to make time for my read aloud.
If you are struggling with education policy and meeting the demands of teaching, you need to watch this:
Listen to your gut. Do what you know is right. Don’t ditch your read aloud.
2// Create a reading community with Reading Partnerships and Book Clubs.
As an adult, I always want to share my recent read with my friends or other people who have read the same book. We are part of this “club” where we have shared a similar experience.(plot) We know the same people. (characters) We’ve been the same places. (setting) We’ve had the same problems. (conflict) And we’ve learned some lessons along the way. (theme) The elements of the story have built a bridge between us no matter what our real lives are like. So we may have little in common, but we’ve got that book we can talk about. People have told stories for all of time to teach life lessons or share experiences. Teaching students how to talk about reading and the things they have learned allows them to develop social skills and interact with others in a positive way.
3// Book Teaser Tuesday
This is a strategy from Jan Richardson’s book The Next Steps in Guided Reading. She suggests using a Book Teaser to introduce your students to new books they might not normally pick out on their own. I try to do this every Tuesday. I simply take about 5-10 minutes to introduce 2-3 books I noticed none of my students have read. I introduce the book, tell them why I thought they might like it and then read the blurb on the back. You can expect all of your students to want to read the books, so be ready to do a drawing or have some way to decide who will be able to read the book. 🙂 We’re taking a trick from business and marketing by creating a sense of urgency.
I keep these books in a special basket called Book Teaser Tuesday in my classroom library.
4// Teacher-Know-How Book Recommendations
I like to have a Secret Library of Recommendations. Aka-my closet. I always keep my favorite books that I have read aloud in the past or books that I especially love and have read in a special spot in my classroom. At one point it was a huge cabinet. Today, it is a closet. We have especially large closets in our classrooms. Like half the size of the rest of the room. I have a couple of bookshelves that I keep class sets of books and my special books that I give readers upon request or for special reasons. Let me give you a couple of scenarios of how this looks.
Keep ‘em Coming Back For More!
I have a boxed set of the Percy Jackson series that I keep in the closet because it is a hardback set (=very expensive) and you are not reading the Percy Jackson series in my 4th grade classroom unless a) you start with Book One, b) I know you are capable of understanding the book. Last year, I bought a class set of Percy Jackson because I LOVE the series and it builds knowledge of Greek mythology and allusions that are part of the 4th grade standards. After I read the first book, my students were fighting to be the first to read the second book. Like a good teacher, I taught them how to take turns and some even found the book on their own accord. Here’s where it gets good. Just last week, one of students from last year who is now a 5th grader informed me she would be by later that week to pick up the second book so that she could read it. At some point between May of last year and November of this year, she could have picked it up from the school library, public library, bookstore, or even borrowed it from her current teacher. But she knew that book was sitting in my closet, waiting to be read. So she came to my room this past week to get the book and is reading it now. That is the power of the closet.
Building Confidence with Struggling Readers
This “strategy” is for readers of all ability levels. I used to teach 3rd grade for a long time, so I have a lot of lower level books that I don’t want the majority of my students reading, unless that is their ability level. Just to be clear, I have a wide range of levels in my classroom library. Just because they are sitting in 4th grade, that doesn’t mean they can read at a 4th grade level. So, I have a huge bin of extra books that are appropriate for 3rd graders. These were perfect for two students that I had last year. There were English Language Learners that read at a 3rd grade level and needed to be motivated to read. One of the best ways to do this is to get them hooked on a series. So, I partnered them up with the same book from The Bailey School Kids <<link>> series. The next thing I know one of my students has a Ziploc bag full of this series in his desk. J. That’s when we had the talk about one book at a time.
5// Use books as a reward. Class Dojo-100 points
I love Class Dojo. It has been a game changer in my classroom. In a digital world, it is an extremely effective tool for classroom management. I am constantly looking for ways to use it more effectively. This is the first year that I have most of my parents using the app to check their students’ behavior as well as message me. At the end of each marking period, students receive rewards based on their points. When students receive 100 points, they earn a free book. I hand them the Scholastic Books Catalog and let them circle their book of choice. They LOVE it, especially when their book comes in and they are getting the jealous stares from their classmates.
I also LOVE this resource from Kristina Zucchino that uses coupons for Reading Based Rewards. I use these for students who don’t quite make the 100 points, but use the other benchmark numbers (25, 50, 75).
6// Make Reading Homework Fun
When I first began using AR, I couldn’t stand to hear myself hounding my students about their points. Way to kill the love for reading! I still have to catch myself and ask questions about what they are reading, help them find books, take them to the library, etc. I do have them on a schedule for their points, but I try to celebrate their achievements rather than nag. If they are not making their points, there’s another issue going on that hounding them won’t fix. I don’t want them to read just so they “won’t get in trouble.”
While my students have an AR goal they have to meet every marking period. (AR=Accelerated Reader), students also have a monthly Reading Tic-Tac-Toe Response that helps them engage with their book and do something FUN with the book that is also standards-based. Plus, they have a choice. They only have to do 3 of the activities for the whole month, but they can do more for extra credit. This along with reading for 30 minutes each night is their only Reading homework. I thoroughly enjoy seeing what they come up with every month. This is a great way to give your students a creative outlet. You can also encourage your students to create their own way to respond to their reading.
7// Read picture books to your students.
Picture books are not just for little kids and do not equal easy books. I love to use picture books as a mentor text, to teach certain skills, or character education. Keep a basket of on grade level picture books in your classroom library. Use picture books as anchor texts throughout the year. I have used Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania in my own classroom in grades 3-5 throughout the whole year to teach various skills in both Reading and Writing. Having anchor books like this that your students are familiar with the story give you a permanent accessible reference point for your students when teaching deeper, harder skills.
8// Give them access to books of their choice.
If you use Scholastic Book Club in your classroom, you know how excited your kids can get about those catalogs. Take your students to the library once a week, every other week, once a month. Teach them how to find books outside of your classroom.
I could give you all the tips in the world, but when it comes down to it—your attitude, values, and beliefs ultimately create your classroom community. If you share enjoyment and give your students reading experiences where they feel happy and excited about reading, you truly can teach your kids to love reading.
I hope you found these tips useful to cultivating a classroom or readers! Share YOUR ideas on how you build a LOVE for Reading in your own classroom in the comments section below.