In the past, I’ve talked a lot about building a classroom library from scratch. If you don’t have a classroom library, get one! The benefit to your students as readers is simply unparalleled. But how can you start the year off right to maximize student use and enjoyment of your library and get all of your kids reading? Let’s talk about a variety of ways to hook students on reading right off the bat.
Back-to-School is always a whirlwind of get-to-know-yous, sharing expectations, and creating classroom culture. Getting kids reading and using your library should be included on your very first day of class to make reading a clear part of your classroom culture! On Day One of class…
If not on day one, then definitely by day two, every student in your room should have a reading book from your library. Getting books in kids’ hands right away immediately builds a culture and expectation of reading in your classroom. Reading is important, and it’s what we do here, so we’re diving into it right away. No need to wait for your class’ first checkout in the school library- you’ve got books all ready to go, because reading is just that important.
Bonus points if you give students 10 or 15 minutes of class to read it- this doubles as casual observation time for you to start identifying kids who might be struggling readers or “fake” readers.
But how do you hook kids right away with books they’ll love? Let’s explore how you get each of your new students connected with right-fit books from your classroom library.
Donalynn Miller talks in The Book Whisperer about giving a reading interest inventory on the first day of school to every student. She then uses the inventory to stay after on that first day and individually select a book that each and every student might like, based on their inventory. Not only is each student immediately connected with a book they might click with, it shows right away that she cares about her students and their reading lives enough to take the time for each of them. Powerful stuff!
If Miller’s method isn’t a viable option for you, it is still more than worthwhile to give your students an interest inventory, for several reasons. One, it gets kids thinking about themselves as readers, what interests they have, and what they know about their own reading preferences. Two, you can use the data you collect to shore up areas of your class library that students may be more into this year. (For my group of kids this year, it was horror and thrillers- not something last year’s group read a ton of.) Three, an inventory gets students talking to each other about their preferences and reading lives- circulate and eavesdrop while they’re working, and you can learn a lot about your students right off the bat. I would have students complete the inventory before you introduce them to your classroom library so they’ve already activated their thinking about reading preferences.
There are hundreds of pre-made reading interest inventories out there for all grade levels, so this is one less first-day activity you’ll need to sweat. Here are a few great (free!) options for every grade:
Once students have started thinking through their reading preferences, introduce them to some high-interest options from your classroom library with a basket pass. Even if you don’t use book baskets in your library, if you can get your hands on enough book-holding containers to have one for each group, you’re all set for this activity! Students can start their “Books I Want to Read” list for the year with some high-interest titles straight from your library shelves.
A similar activity to the basket pass is book “speed-dating,” where you start with one book per student and the students (or the books!) rotate once every two minutes or so! You can set this up all sorts of ways and get fun and creative with it; an idea is to require students to read each book for the whole two minutes, which forces them to really try it out and see if it’s a good fit! Again, students should record titles of interest on a “Books I Want to Read” list.
I’ll go more into detail about this super-fun bookish game in the future, but you can easily get setup with the free game kit from the makers of Bring Your Own Book to play with students on the first few days of class (Note: An email is required to access). Best described as “Apples to Apples” or “Cards Against Humanity” meets reading, students are given a prompt (“Find a line that could be straight from a teenager’s diary”) and have to find a line in the book they’re holding that fits that description. There’s a rotating judge for each round just like CoH and A-to-A who picks the best or funniest answer as the winner. You can keep points if you like, but this one is fun enough that students don’t tend to get too concerned with winning or losing. I like to combine this with the Basket Pass activity- they get a few minutes to peruse the basket, play a round or two of BYOB, then pass the basket and repeat. A super engaging way to get middle and high school students skimming possible reads- be sure to remind students to keep their answers school-appropriate, though!
Use bulletin board or wall space near your library to advertise some of the high-interest texts on offer to students. Pinterest is full of fantastic ideas here, and you can even include students from the year before by having them leave their recommendations behind for future students. Early in the year I like to advertise first books of series, books with Netflix adaptations they may have watched over the summer, and books from a variety of genres. You can even make the books part of the display with specialty-crafted bookmarks that advertise your favorites or popular titles.
Once you’ve done some work in getting students thinking about their reading interest and maybe perusing some selections from your collection, it’s almost time to set them loose in your library. First, though, it is key to clearly state your expectations for library use, including procedures for check out and check in of books, when students can browse, how to re-shelve books, whether books can be taken home, and how books are to be treated. I am upfront with my students about the fact that I bought all of these books with my own money. They are always stunned, given the size of my library, but this creates another great opportunity to explain to students how much I value reading and their lives as readers, and how much I love books myself. To that end, I also make clear that I made this investment because I want every student to have a rich reading life, and that means I need their help in making sure that books stay present and accounted for and in good shape so we can all benefit from this library.
Then, once my spiel about rules and procedures is done, I let small groups of students browse a few at a time, with the expectation that everyone is required to check out something. This is the first day of class, so it could be anywhere from 3-5 more days until we’ll hit the school library for the first time. Some students could have finished a whole book in that time! Start early, read often! I make myself available to recommend books to students and record initial book checkouts on my checkout log.
Setting your expectations and creating a culture of reading from Day One of the school year can go a long way in keeping your students reading for the whole school year. The sooner you put books in your kids’ hands, the more you communicate the message that reading is what we do here, and the more you’ll get students to buy into reading. Next week I’ll explore some ways to keep students hooked on reading all year long, to make sure students are challenging themselves, and to avoid fake reading and book burnout. Stay tuned!