Independent reading is at the core of my teaching. As a class we read 3 texts together–two novels and one Shakespeare play–and the rest of what students learn center around books of their choice.
I had this shift in perspective about 5 years ago when I realized that my students were reading very little, including the required books that the district set forth. I wanted students to fall in love with reading, to see just how rewarding it could be. Once independent reading was implemented, my students read more than I ever imagined. If your students are struggling with reading, or they read but you know they should be reading more, give any of these ideas a try.
1. Speed Date
Looking to have students try different genres and authors? Try this. I do this at the beginning of each year and when we begin book clubs. It’s a fun way to have students try new genres and authors.
2. Book talks / book trailers
Every Monday, I book talk a book or two that I think my students will be interested in. I hold up the book, state the title, author, genre, and page length, and then give a short blurb about the book. Usually I read a small excerpt as well.
Afterwards, I print out the book cover and tape it to the wall. That way, students can look back for reference if they wanted to check the book out but couldn’t remember the title.
Another thing I have done too is to find book trailers on the book I am promoting. There are some really well-done trailers on YouTube. I have been lucky a few times to find the author reading excerpts from his/her own book, and those have been powerful as well.
3. Classroom library
There is a local bookstore down the street from my house that is an extension of our public library. Here I can find hardback books for under $5, and many paperbacks for $3.50. Through the years, I have collected a lot of books to share with students.
I then bought colored electrical tape and color-coded the books by genre. The color-coded key is next to the sign-out sheet. There is a clipboard on one of my bookshelves for student check-out. It’s a good sign when your classroom library has a constant flow of students checking out and returning books.
4. Purchase diverse books / variety of genres
Variety is key. I noticed when I color-coded my books that I had a lot of fantasy, dystopia, and realistic books, but not much in sci-fi, sports/adventure, and mystery. The not-so-easy-to-notice books are diversity of authors and characters. However, as more diverse authors are being published and more students are reading diverse characters, these books are getting easier to find. You just need to be really intentional and diligent about finding and bringing them into the classroom. Believe me, students notice.
5. Have lots of high interest books
What trends do you notice among your students? What are they currently reading? Then, go buy those books for your classroom. You can also do an informal poll, asking students what books they would like to see in the library.
6. Model reading
Are you reading along with your students? While I don’t always read along when we have silent reading time (as I am usually conferencing), I do read at home. It’s always funny to me when I say to a student, “Oh, I’m reading that book too!” and they give me a big smile.
This also goes with reading out loud to students. Even teenagers like to be read to. Plus, if you stumble through words or phrases when you’re reading, it’s a great way to model fix-up strategies. (And for them to know that good readers aren’t perfect readers.)
7. Student recommendations
This is probably the most powerful tool at my disposal. When students recommend books to others, they are more likely to read it than when I give recommendations (although that is helpful as well). Try this recommendation form. In my classroom I have a recommendation binder sorted by genre, and all student recommendations go there. (I had a student-aide last year sort the genres and create the cover.)
8. Librarian visits
Librarians love data almost as much as they love books. Want to know what books are the most popular? Ask a librarian! Last spring I had our librarian search for high interest biographies, autobiographies, and memoir books and she gave a powerful talk.
Bring your librarian to the classroom for powerful book talks and even up-and-coming authors or books students should know about.
9. Celebrate reading
Book stacks have been the rage lately, so why not take it into the classroom? Have students stack up their books and take a picture next to what they have read.
You could even have students draw bookshelves and write in the titles of the books they read, then post around the room.
Host a read-in day, where students read their book the whole period. Dim lights, have lots of pillows, and enjoy a day of reading with students.
10. Designate daily time to read
Our classes are only 47 minutes long, but I carve out 10 minutes of reading at least 3 days a week. When students see that you are taking valuable time in the classroom to read, they bring their books and read. And they read at home.
11. Conference with students
This is the number one way to know each student’s reading habits, favorite/least favorite genres, and how/if students are struggling in their reading. It also allows you to get to know students. I always start with, “Hi! How are you today?,” and then lead into, “Talk to me about your book.” The answer to that question leads to all kinds of questions to ask. For me, this is a chance to really listen to a student. I take notes sometimes on the conversation, but usually, I just listen. As we wrap up the short conference, I always ask, “So what are you going to read next?”
12. Surveys and reflection sheets
I use surveys at the beginning of the year to get a feel for students’ reading habits. You can see the form I use here. Halfway through the year, I have students reflect on their reading habits by answering a series of questions. How many books have they read so far this year? Is that on par with the goal they set in September? Are they reading enough just-right and challenge books? How many different genres have they read? Have they found a new favorite author or genre?
13. Reread a book
Just like we like to listen to a song again, or watch a favorite movie again, students should be allowed to reread a book. How many times have we reread something and then thought, “I forgot about that part!” or “I don’t remember this part when I read it before.” Same with students.
14. Discuss a book instead of writing about it
If students had to write about every book they read, they would quit reading. When my students finish a book, they complete a book pass and then we sit down and talk about it. I ask questions similar to what I ask in the book conferences, but I also help students with recommendations. I enjoy listening to students share their favorite books and authors, and many times I write down these titles so I can read it. It’s surprising how much I learn about my students, (and from my students), when I just listen.
15. Share reading lists (including yours!)
I require students to keep a What-To-Read-Next List in their notebooks, and oftentimes, I ask them to share potential book titles with their someone sitting next to them. This also allows me to share my list, and books I am thinking about reading.
If independent reading is established in your classroom, in-between units or even when you are sick and lesson plans aren’t coming together, (like your kid’s school called and you need to leave right away and pick up your sick kiddo), have the day where students read. I have days like this a few times a trimester, and students love reading their own book all period. Many times, they beg me to just have a class period reading. It’s a nice, refreshing day for everyone.
I hope this list gives you ideas of things to try in your classroom. Good luck and I’d love to hear of things you’re doing to help foster reading for all students. Happy teaching!