A blog post on 6 ways teachers kill the joy of reading is the most popular ever here at Brilliant or Insane. It has generated some passionate discussion here and on social networks about how to make students love reading.
In one of those discussions on Facebook, someone recommended a different conversation–one sharing effective methods for encouraging reading. That insightful comment inspired this post and, hopefully, more thoughtful conversation about reading.
8 ways to make students love reading
1–Let students choose what they read
When I taught from what I called the “Traditional Teacher’s Playbook,” I followed a pacing chart and curriculum guide, and we read one class novel each year in my 7th grade classroom. After spending a summer reflecting on how my students learned and researching best practices in the classroom, I decided to build an incredible classroom library (see strategy 3) and invite my students to choose their books. At this moment, everything changed in my classroom.
Surround kids with books, and they’ll read.
2–Read in class daily
The old-school “reading workshop” implies spending instructional time reading for a few weeks. For many years, I designated a few weeks for this archaic activity. After reading amazing books like Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer and Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone, I realized that emphasizing reading for three or four weeks in a 40-week school year simply wasn’t enough. So, the new mantra became, Read All Year. This meant reading many books and reading every single day in class. It was never okay to not read in class, no matter what we were working on. Reading is always the best teacher, and the best way to make students love reading is to let them read everyday.
3–Build a classroom library
Another hat-tip here to Donalyn Miller. Her advice on how to effectively build a classroom library is some of the best I ever received in my 20 years as a classroom teacher. Within two years of reading The Book Whisperer, I had nearly 1,500 books in all genres, filling multiple book cases in my classroom. A student at our school, but not in my class, once asked if my class was the school’s second library. Surround kids with books, and they’ll read. You can find many great books and magazines at yard sales, discount book stores and, my personal favorite, your local library. Make friends with your city’s librarian and be sure she donates the books that are being culled from the library’s shelves to your classroom. Always be on the lookout for books. Remember, a classroom filled with books tells students that reading is embraced and expected. Plus, kids love to handle books.
4–Throw out reading worksheets (and any other traditional tools you may use)
For a long time, elements of fiction worksheets were a big part of my traditional teacher toolkit. Discarding the old novel worksheets was remarkably rewarding. Asking students to connect characters to character traits or to choose the correct setting in a novel is not only irrelevant information, it’s extremely boring and will certainly kill the joy of reading. Encourage your students to write about their books and talk about characters, settings and conflicts instead (see strategies 5 and 6). They’ll love it, and you’ll enjoy assessment much more than you would grading worksheets or multiple choice tests.
5–Blog about reading
Once you’ve shredded the old “match-character-to-character-trait” worksheets, fire up your class blog and invite kids to reflect on their books. Have them make connections to other books, movies, and real-world situations. Encourage questions, predictions, and reviews. Let them share their opinions. Then, invite them to comment on their peers’ blog posts. Soon, you’ll have an amazing online conversation about books. It’s okay to mix some comprehension, vocabulary and writing activities into blogging. As long as you allow kids to share their opinions about what they read, they’ll be happy to add some class vocabulary to their blog posts or to highlight the commas they’ve used, based on your mini lessons. Remember, it’s always about how we make students love reading.
6–Converse about books
The small-group book chat is not only a reader’s favorite, it’s one of the best ways to observe reading comprehension. Encourage students to ask meaningful questions and share their observations about the books and magazines that peers are reading. Model how this is done: “Why do you think the community members in The Giver can’t see color? I think if Ponyboy and Johnny had gone to Darry for help, after killing the Soc, the story would have taken an entirely different turn. What do you think might have happened?”
7–Let students see you reading
Always carry a book, preferably something your students might read, and read in front of the class. You can read aloud (kids of all ages love this), or you can join them during silent reading time. It’s important for students to see their teachers read, no matter what subject you teach. We must model reading as an important and fun life skill.
When you create a culture of reading, this is something to be celebrated. Come up with ways to celebrate the completion of books. Invite students to create ways to celebrate their success. They can keep a list of books they’ve read or they can write their names and completed titles on a bulletin board (even my reluctant readers couldn’t wait to do this). Set attainable goals (read 20 books this school year). Consider ways to “count” completed books. For example, a 300-page novel might count as two finished books for a sixth grader, and 30 online articles could equal one book. For students who have never read a book on their own, they’ll love this.
You may know other strategies to encourage students to read (please share them), but these are 8 surefire ways to make students love reading, and there’s no greater joy in the world.