Reading is a skill that initially appears to be accessible to some, and downright daunting for others. If you’ve heard students say, “I hate reading,” “reading is boring,” or “I don’t like reading,” chances are good that those students feel the challenge of reading is insurmountable.
I never devalue my students’ thoughts and feelings about reading, even though it always breaks my heart. Getting students to enjoy reading is a challenging task, but it is possible! Here are some ways that I encourage reading in my classroom.
1. Get to know your students’ interests and hobbies. With this knowledge, you will be able to recommend books to students based on what they like. Kids who like sports might enjoy Matt Christopher’s books encompassing just about any sport invented; dancers can connect to Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes, and more; kids who enjoy imaginative TV shows can jump into graphic novels like Dogman or Bad Guys.
2. Read. If we want our students to be readers, we have to be readers ourselves. I made a commitment to myself to read at least one book a week this year. Making recommendations is my favorite task as an English teacher, and you can only make strong recommendations if you read the books that your students may enjoy. If you don’t have time to curl up and read, listen to audiobooks while you’re running errands (I bump the speed up to 1.5x) and you’ll be surprised at how fast you can get through books! Talk to your school or public librarian, browse online book lists, or check social media to see what teachers and schools are reading, to plan your personal reading lists.
3. Provide. If a student asks you for or even shows interest in a book, go the extra mile to get that book from your public library, or request donations to purchase the book for that student. Students get so excited when you support the shaping of their reading identities by putting requested books in their hands! Additionally, when a student recommends a book to you, read it. It’s highly impactful for a student when a teacher takes the time to read something they suggested.
4. Create a literature-rich and inviting reading environment. My classroom library has over 300 books of different genres and levels collected from donations, book sales, and money set aside each month for this purpose. Through donations and thrifting, we have beanbags, sofa, lounge chairs, and yoga mats to get comfy with reading material. When they walk in my room, my students see a poster highlighting what I’m currently reading, along with what certain students are reading, too! Books are placed all over the classroom so that students are surrounded by them.
5. Book Talks and Read Alouds.I had a beautiful classroom library, but because I never talked about the books I had, they collected dust. I revamped the way I showcased my books to include a 5-min book talk from my students, co-teachers, or me, and allowed for 2-3 questions from the class. Hearing from peers can sometimes be even more impactful than hearing from teachers.With the book talks, my classroom library has gotten very popular! Every Friday, I invite families and professional staff to read aloud to my class. I want to show my students that readers are everywhere!
6. Allow for student choice. In this digital society, there are so many formats available for students to read. If a student doesn’t want to read a “normal” book, allow them to read an ebook on a tablet, or to listen to an audiobook. I want all books to be accessible to my students, and my students have been exposed to several books through audiobooks. Students love graphic novels, so I make an extra effort to have graphic novels in my classroom library. I read them in front of the students to introduce the new format of text and the slightly nuanced way to read graphic novels.
7. Celebrate. Celebrate students who are reading, whatever they are reading! If they read a book that you recommended, get excited. Have conversations with students about what they’re reading, and make it ok for them to be honest in their critiques - even if you recommended a book they highly disliked. Allow them to explain why they don’t like it and encourage them to find a different book to try. Not only does this allow students to talk about books, it provides an opportunity to practice both forming and defending a position! Bottom line: if you are excited about reading and patient with your students’ reading journey, your students will be motivated and engaged.
Most importantly, READ, and let students see you doing it. Share your reading identity with your students to model how you continue to grow as a reader, so that they grow in their love of reading.