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How to get your students to love reading

A teacher shares best practices and resources for encouraging your students to be engaged and excited readers

Getting kids to read is one of the most rewarding and challenging things a teacher can do. Opening the world of adventure and imagination from a book set in a far-off land or even down the street can help students make connections to their lives and to the world. It can make children feel less alone, give them tools to navigate their lives, and even make them think about others.

So how do I get my students to find connections to books that will last a lifetime?

• I try to meet them where they are.
I choose my read-aloud books very carefully. I ensure that the main characters are diverse in gender, culture, religion, and more. Throughout the year, I mix factual and fantasy, historical and fiction. I like to start my year off with Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli, to let my students know that trying something new might be scary and you might be influenced to do something you shouldn’t, but being true to yourself and being kind is always the right thing to do.

I am also not afraid of having an emotional reaction to a story as I read aloud. When I read the passage about Bob, the dog who was thrown out of a car window in The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, I couldn’t help my visceral reaction to the passage. Kids see that it’s ok to be moved by a powerful story.

(Next page: Additional tips and resources to promote reading)

• I leverage my school community.
My librarian, technology resource facilitator, the school reading teachers, and even my principal all help me try varied approaches to experience literature. One exciting thing happening in my district is that we are transforming our school libraries into collaborative meeting places. My librarian, the facilitator and literature promoter, guides my students to specific research and connects them with others with similar interests. It brightens a child’s entire outlook when they meet other students who also want to solve mysteries, read fairy tales, or talk about the Warrior series.

• I use literature and discussion to support global learning opportunities.
Another layer of understanding is added when a child hears a story being told from a different perspective, using a different accent, dialect, or speech cadence. Two websites where I find books with different perspectives are We Need Diverse Books and Lee and Low Books.

• I use audio books to bring stories to life.
Thanks to my school’s technology resource facilitator, we now use audio books. These great tools appeal to my reluctant and more novice readers and allow students to experience longer and more popular stories than they might be able to independently.

Listening to the engaging voices of Kwame Alexander, Shel Silverstein, or Gene Luen Yang read their poetry and stories is powerful and gives students a path and the inspiration to try their own hand at writing and telling stories.

So, what are some easy ways to start promoting literacy access in your classroom tomorrow?

• Start a book club.
I let my students pick the books we read and I also did away with any sort of assessment, which seemed to excite them even more. This approach allows them to focus on experiencing the story and discussing it from a more personal perspective. My principal even hosted as a guest facilitator at the club, and the kids loved it! I also added a “May I Recommend?” collection. Any student can recommend a book and spotlight their entry to the class. The rewards are two-fold: The students want to see what others are reading and recommending, and students are eager to tell others about their favorite books.

• Use online resources.
I often use Reading Is Fundamental’s Literacy Central, where I can find free tools like reading lists, games, and in-classroom exercises that support getting my students excited about reading.

Book trailers that use multimedia experiences can help students explore new titles, as well as short stories read by actors and actresses who bring books alive like the Storyline Online collection.

I have also used Pizza Hut’s Book It program for many years to encourage and reward students for meeting reading challenges.

As educators, we are lucky to have such a rich and varied bounty of books and resources at our fingertips that are often free. For me, reading has provided a great platform to teach empathy, promote global citizenship, and connect students to one another while building literacy skills.

Don’t be shy about asking around in your school or district for others who can help you reach students in new and exciting ways. Because at the end of the day, the power of learning to read is one of the greatest gifts we can give our students.

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