How can I motivate and interest my students to read is a question many teachers ask. Something happens between upper elementary and middle school. Those eager readers ready to soak in read- aloud time from parents and teachers and ordering from the Scholastic book catalog disappear into a pile of “I don’t like to read” and “I don’t know what to read” and other lines unmotivated and disinterested readers say.
Kylene Beers spoke at a presentation and she shared data about the reader profile of students as they move from lower elementary to upper elementary and how there is a major decline starting in fourth grade. This is a time where one would expect as the students have now transitioned from learning to read to reading to learn that they increase their independent reading levels but sadly, independent reading seems to fall to the wayside and replaced by phones, YouTube, and a plethora of other things that we are fighting against/with for time.
In the eleven years I’ve spent in education, I expect the disinterest. Because I expect it, I plan for it. Below are some things that I do to help overcome barriers that students come in with about reading and to encourage them to try it again.
I am notorious for mind games (hopefully my current students aren’t following my blog lol). I call it the Book Hype that I start my year with. Most of my first month revolves around reading and writing activities that hype up the reading culture that I create in my room. I do not mention students not wanting to read because who needs that kind of negativity when you want students to walk in believing themselves to be readers and seeing themselves reading. I always start the year with a new box of books that I open up and share. Guaranteed you will have some students in your class that loves to read so they start the excitement going when you release them to check out books. I have different book stations around my room beyond the classroom library so imagine a reluctant reader seeing their classmates move around excitedly going through books. They start to naturally want to go through the stacks and you know what comes next, MAGIC.
Stacks on Stacks
The magic happens when they find a book they are interested in reading. Ok! Not really magic, but once they find a book half the battle is won. Now this is tricky. Kids like all varieties, genres, and topics of books. Even though I have built up quite a collection over time, I still have a deficit is some areas. You may just be starting the journey of building up your classroom library so don’t despair. There may not be a book today for that one or two kid that they are interested in but don’t despair.
A community is defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. My big goal for the year as a language arts teacher is to build a community of readers and writers and thinkers. Below is the method to my madness.
In our class, I make space for books. Not only physical space but also space in the schedule. It doesn’t matter if you have a 55 minute block or a 110 ten minute block, MAKE THE TIME. Does it have to be every class period? No! I’m a realist. I work for a large school district that has a lot of mandates and school activities that interrupt so I get it but I do make it work.
First Chapter Fridays is my opportunity to do a read-aloud to my students from a book that I am hoping to spark interest in some of them to read. I choose from a variety of books early on and typically start with the same book for all my class periods but once I get a pulse on the types of books that are more popular with each class, then I start differentiating. For example this school year, my seventh graders this year loved dystopian and science fiction, while my sixth graders loved historical and realistic fiction, graphic novels, and mythology. This maybe takes 5-15 minutes depending on the book.
Book Talks happen once a quarter by each and every student. This is an opportunity for them to not only work on their speaking and listening skills but serves as an opportunity for other students to add books to the To Be Read List based on what others recommend. A great product on Teachers Pay Teachers that I use every year to help students keep track of their reading and books they want to read is The Reading Student Notebook Pages by Literacy for Big Kids. They have a books to read sheet a well as a “bookshelf” for them to list the books based on its genre they’ve read. Student book talks are anywhere from 1-5 minutes depending on the questions and answers the class may have for the student sharing.
I also use a website/app called Flipgrid which allows my students to record short video book reviews or book talks that students can also watch to get more book recommendations from other class periods and previous years.
There is also a Goodreads account that I maintain for my class so students can engage in discussion about books that we are reading together, get other book ideas as well as to participate in Goodreads book challenges. They do have to set up their own account and then join a group you create.
Another product, Building a Reading Community Poster, also from Literacy for Big Kids, that I use to serve two purposes: One, I post them around the room so that everyone can see who is reading what. I ran into the problem with students wanting to know who had a copy of a book they wanted to read and instead of stopping me to search my library check-out system, they can easily check for themselves. Second and most important reason is that it serves as a visual reminder to anyone who walks into the classroom of how many students are reading and that students are reading. I post mine at the door so it is the first thing you see and the last thing you see entering my door. Yes, it is another mind game but it works.
Last but far from the least, to build a community of readers, I have to participate. I have to show them that I read. I talk about the books I am reading. We talk about books. I stand at my door and as students are passing, I’m talking to them. I’m talking to kids about new books that came in because I know what book genres they like. Sometimes, I’m even putting a book into their hands. Mondays are the best because students had the weekend time to dig further into their books so here comes the “Miss, you wouldn’t believe what is happening in the book!” Sometimes I do get the “Ugh, I don’t like this book” and that’s ok. Readers have rights including letting go of books. But we are still having a conversation about a book and why they don’t like it. Notice, I am a participant in the community. If they don’t see the teacher in the classroom reading, then what are we demonstrating to them?
I mentioned before that I have a classroom library but I also display books in different spots throughout my classroom. Books that I am currently reading or sharing for First Chapter Fridays normally get placed in the front on my whiteboard in a magnetic spice rack. I also use a three- tier cart with wheels for new arrivals with a little mix of the more popular books. I do keep books that I use for book clubs or as a whole class read separated from these books in tubs that I just pull out when I need them.
Building up a collection of books takes time but can get costly but I have used a lot of resources over the years. First, Donors Choose is a site that teachers can create and post a project to help them fund their classroom needs. Second, I buy books from places such as BookOutlet and First Book Marketplace that caters to Title-1 schools. The books are HEAVILY discounted. Third, I order from Scholastic and also provide my students the monthly book club catalog to order from. I get points when they order which in turn I use to get more books. WIN WIN!
There are plenty of other barriers that I can name from pacing guides to time to funding. But ultimately, we know that reading serves many purposes. Reading belongs in a classroom. Every classroom.