Books are mirrors and doors for students. Books can reflect back to students their own lives and experiences (mirrors) and they can also invite students to witness the perspectives and worlds of others who they might have little experience with (windows). Through these windows and doors, our worlds – as readers – become larger, more connected, and more interesting places.
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Building Excitement for Reading
So – how do we foster classroom communities in which a love and excitement for reading is present? Like writing or building conceptual understanding in math, a love for reading is a long game. It is being knee-deep in our own reading, as teachers, paired with intentionality (in conversations, in environment, in exposure, and in leveraging student voice). In the sections below, you will find some of my 15 favorite ideas for building excitement for reading.
Minimal Time & Cost
Although excitement matters, how do we do it sustainably? There are lots of balls in the air ALLTHETIME. How do we make simple choices to celebrate and build excitement for reading and books?
- Eyes Only: Adding a “Brand New Book: Eyes Only” is the perfect way to build suspense or excitement for a book. Nothing says “I MUST READ THAT BOOK!” like “Hands off.”. (The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors is AMAZING.)
- Book Display Shelf: Likewise, part of developing life-long reading habits is exposing students to a variety of genres, authors, and types of text. Weekly book displays are the chance to do this. From poetry to biographies to season-specific collections, pulling books for a display shelf is a simple tradition that allows you to highlight texts students might not traditionally choose and/or anchor your content learning.
- Desk Fairy: Books are a gift and positioning them as such works. Every quarter or so, our desk fairy delivers books from Half-Price Books or Scholastic Reading Club to celebrate friends who have learning spaces that are ready-to-use! (Snag the free tag, here.)
- Book Raffle: Additionally, book raffles are another simple, low-cost ways to distribute books among students and build community between readers. All students have the opportunity to submit their name for a chance to check-out a book! (In this book raffle, we raffled graphic novels from our Donors Choose project.)
Student Voice Matters
Undoubtedly, power dynamics in a classroom matter. Shifting the power from us, as teachers, to students build agency, independence, and a sense of ownership.
- Student-to-Student Book Recommendations: One of the easiest ways to achieve student book buy-in is peer pressure! Getting students to suggest books to other students immediately validates the recommendation. Book blurbs are one simple way to have students share their favorite books with their friends. (Grab the template here.)
- Fan Fiction: Do you ever read a book and think “Where is the next one?” Only to find out it isn’t a series OR you just finished the last book in the series?! *gasp* This happens to kids too. Encouraging students to write fan fiction, allows students to leverage something they already know a lot about (the book’s characters, settings, plot progression, etc) and add their own creative twist. What should the Pigeon demand next? (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) What mode of transportation should the Duck try in the next book? (Duck on a Bike) What sound words should we force the reader to say next? (The Book Without Pictures)
- Tweet an Author: From celebrating new books to asking questions to offering ideas for future books, tweeting an author is a simple, easy way to expand our world. Several years ago when Mo Willems announced he was ending the Elephant and Piggie series (still so sad) some of my students wrote letters to Willems and we tweeted them to him. A few days later, we had a response AND DIED. Coolest day ever. (Note – When tweeting and communicating with authors, never assume a response. I always remind students how busy authors are and when we reach out we should never expect a response. I set this boundary to help ease lack-of-response heartbreak.)
- Tournament of Books: March Madness is also the perfect chance to build community around some of our favorite books. Plus, book tournaments are just plain FUN! Choose the theme of your tournament (picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, author-specific books, etc) and decide who will participate (students, teachers, class, school) and get reading! (Read more here.)
Without a doubt, families are critical stakeholders. We need and want them to be involved and that means providing many different access points for connection. For some families that will be through text, phone calls, daily reflection logs, school events, and/or classroom websites.
- Guest Readers: Having a standing-offer for families to be a guest reader is one way for them to invest in our classrooms. I always ask families schedule a visit (typically 10-15 minutes at the end of the day or right before/after lunch). Some will bring a favorite book with them, others show up ready to read a book chosen by the teacher (or class). That’s okay. There is never any shame in the read-aloud game. Sometimes our readers share their book in English and other times in their native language. That’s okay, too. Again, no shame in the read-aloud game. You volunteered. You showed up. Your kid is now beaming. This matters.
- Take-home Book Bags: Providing students access to high-quality trade books at home and school matters. From bus rides to waiting in the gym in the mornings to afternoon dismissal book bags can be used at home or at school. Reading should be daily part of every student’s life, and these bags help families maintain this routine.
- Book Talk Videos: Over breaks and before special days, highlighting books and authors via video is the perfect way to reach-out to students and keep families (stakeholders) in the loop. To keep it simple, I grab my phone, a book, and hit record. I will read a section of a book or just give a quick summary to build suspense about an upcoming read-aloud or unit. I upload to YouTube, list it as private, and then, text the link to families via Remind.
- Reading Celebration: Recognize the transformation and growth in your readers with a Reading Celebration. It is one of those simple, just-right traditions that allows us (educators, students, families) to pause, reflect, and recognize the efforts of so many in fostering life-long reading habits.
It’s All About Environment: Building Excitement for Reading
Additionally, the spaces in which we learn matter! As teachers, we can craft reading environments that give students easy-access to lots of books, as well as, cozy places to enjoy them.
- Partner with School Librarian: School librarians are the jam. They are magical people with access to thousands of books, ideas, resources, and reading goodness. Partnering with our school librarian, we host school-wide reading theme days. Classrooms of students rotate through the library during specials to join in on the library-transformation fun! From the Wild West to Antarctica to campsites, everyone grabs a book and enjoys.
- Classroom Characters: Having classroom traditions matters. I looped with a class of K/1 friends to 1/2 and we were all about Mo Willems. To leave his stamp on our learning space, I traced some of our favorite characters onto bulletin board paper (using our SMART board) and added them to our reading space. Simple, inexpensive, and just plain lively. To do this, we add characters one-by-one over time built excitement into our weekly routine (Who knows when another character would arrive?!).
- Showcasing Student-Written Books: From fan fiction to how-to writing to student research, adding student-created books to your classroom bookshelf motivates readers AND writers!
- Read Ins: In the same vain of reading celebrations with families, we can also have class celebrations using read-ins. Celebrating a class goal or trying to keep the focus on learning on those awkward before-break days? A class read-in is the perfect way to do this. Blankets, a technology-based fire, a gallon of chocolate milk in the crockpot (obviously, fancy hot chocolate), and lots of books are the recipe for a fun, low-key, reading-based day.
In our classrooms, we have the opportunity to position books so they are loved, cared for, and become something students care about. With a bit of creativity, intention, and energy, our classrooms can be foster lively and growing reading communities.
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