By Presto Plans
For some of your students, the love of reading might come naturally. They are the ones in your class squirreling away novels under their desk and reading them during class or the ones who always have a book tucked under their arm in the hallway. But, not all your students feel this way.
One of my middle school students once informed me, “I don’t really do books.” So, how do we get our middle school students who do not really “do” books excited about reading?
The first place to look when you want to solve student reading apathy is your independent reading program. Student book choice is crucial to create good reading habits in students.
Here are five ways I was able to provide a more engaging, responsive, and fun culture of reading to create excited readers.
- Increase your book inventory.
The first place to start is providing enough selection, diversity, and reading interest in a class library. I know that this can be a challenge, especially when you are a new teacher. My school library often didn’t stock stories geared toward grade 7/8 and funds were short. How did I boost my library? Some of my favorite places to shop were thrift stores and online marketplaces. In thrift stores, books are often multiples for one price, no matter hardcover or softcover. My local store also had certain days when all books were reduced. In the warm months, I stacked my arms full of yard sales on people’s lawns. Often, when speaking to an individual, rather than a store, you can get a great price when you are using them for a classroom. I’ve had many people selling online offer me entire boxes of young adult reading material. I love sorting through the piles to see what gems are in there!
Sometimes, the used selection may not have the hot new middle school read. When you really want a shiny, new copy to wow your students, fundraising can be a great help. Certain book companies, like Scholastic, will give teachers back a certain percentage of book sales. This is a wonderful way to get new books in your room, as well as more books in the hands of your students.
Survey your class interests.
Once you’ve added new books, now what? I like to survey what I have in my class library to ensure I’m providing books my students want to read. This could change year to year. I’m always looking to see if the titles 1) match what my students are interested in 2) show the diversity represented inside and outside my classroom 3) are appropriate reading levels. I always encourage students to choose books for themselves, so by presenting books they will be drawn to, I increase the chances they will enjoy it and finish! Use this free student interest survey to get to know your students better, so you can choose reading material that they will be drawn to:
Create excitement with gamification.
One way I’ve “gamified” my independent reading program is to have the class work toward reading goals. After reading each day, students report the number of pages they’ve read (this can be done with any level of text) and add it to the class tally. Once the class hits their page goal, it’s a party! This has helped my students be accountable each day, and more likely to pick up their book when the bell rings. It's also great that it is a collaborative effort rather than a competitive one. Students are working together towards a common goal. The challenge helps keeps them motivated, as does the party at the end!
- Develop opportunities for low-stakes reading.
Often, finishing a novel requires some sort of assessment or follow up activity. Students can come to dread the work that will follow the reading, and soon reading for pleasure is a thing of the past. It’s important to build in time to read for enjoyment, but also to develop an enjoyment of talking about books. I do this by creating opportunities for low-stakes reading. These are activities that come with very little strings attached, and the students are told this from the very beginning! I have often forgone reading logs and quizzes, and added in activities that are lower pressure, such as book clubs (without assignments) where students simply have to talk about their book. I sometimes will use general discussion questions that can be used for any novel that really get students talking about literature in a low-stakes way. Things such as a peer book recommendation board also create a classroom that values reading for fun, and puts the power into the student reader’s hands!
- Give options for post-reading tasks
To continue low-stakes, low pressure reading, I needed to adjust my assessments. Often, students are dreading the traditional book report or test when a novel wraps up. I have found one way to do this is to create more open-ended culminating tasks. Giving students a choice of how they present what they took from the book or what they enjoyed about a character, relieves some of the stress of doing an assignment they have no interest in.
I have over 100 options for reading responses that students can choose from on hand that work for any novel. This way, I can quickly provide my students with lots of options and they can easily see which one speaks to them. My artistic students loved the art based options, such as “Character Tattoos” which blends both art and comprehension. Activities like “Litflix” and “Character Selfies” got kids excited as the world of entertainment and social media is what they already were talking about! This really helps to break the read-book report- repeat cycle and helps make leisure reading much more fun!
Click the links below to start using these assignments in your classroom:
All these things have helped me encourage young readers to dive deep into a story and find enjoyment in their books. A few small steps can transform attitudes about reading for fun, and help boost an independent reading program in your middle school classroom.
Looking for more resources and ideas to help your students get excited about reading? Click the link below!
Reading Workshop: Where Do I Begin? by Room 213