Reading is an essential part of education, but sometimes, even most of the time, getting students to read is like pulling teeth, or worse. They’ll get the cliff notes, watch the movie, talk to someone that read the book, or read the first and last page only, and then try to guess their way through the test. There may be a few students in the class that leap at the opportunity to read, but they’re not the majority, at least in the classes I have taught or observed in the last few years.
Some teachers, in addition to just teaching good reading habits, have the added challenge of building up their school’s library collection and providing students with access to resources that haven’t been readily available in their area for a few decades (In my experience, this translates into a lot of logistical work to get things imported and to even build up an electronic library… hard work, but worth it!).
I remember one term, we combined our efforts in expanding our supply of resources and getting students to actually read by starting a school wide reading challenge. Students selected from a list of books (obtained from their homeroom teachers – different options for different reading levels) and borrowed a small book. If they read the book, they had to write their opinion about it and pin their paper to a “book board” (bulletin boards found outside of the classrooms). If students successfully read the book and wrote a reflection about it, they were allowed to keep the book; if not, it had to be returned to the homeroom teacher.
When students finished reading one book, they were encouraged to read reflections other students had written to help choose their next book. Although students from grades 1-8 participated, I found this particular challenge to be most effective with grades 5 and 6. Some of the students read 10-15 books in a month – they were so excited to own their very own books for the first time!
I know that many of you who teach in the U.S. or other countries probably have students that wouldn’t necessarily be so excited to get new resources, or schools that don’t have extra resources to give books away for free to the students, but the basic idea of having a book board and getting students motivated by having them write and read each other’s reflections might still work for the upper elementary age group.
Here are some other ideas I’ve either used in the past, or heard about for encouraging students to improve their reading habits:
- Bring in a real author (or, in absence thereof, an older student), to talk about things they have read and written, and how it has helped them.
- Read-for-a-Cause (or Read-A-Thon). Have students choose a cause they want to help out, either through money or volunteer time (maybe a local orphanage or soup kitchen, or some charitable organization). Have students get pledges from people they know – each person would pledge either a monetary amount or an amount of volunteer time per book the student reads (or per number of pages, if the books vary greatly in length). After the set duration of the Read-for-a-Cause ends, the students tally up the number of books/pages they read and either send the donations to the chosen cause, or organize a day when all of the donors volunteer for the time they pledged.
- Organize a trip. If you can, organize a trip related to what the children are reading to make it come alive for them.
- Set the example. If you tell the whole class that they need to pick a book, read it during the next week, and then give a brief oral presentation on their book, pick a book of your own, and be the first one to give the oral presentation. This shows the students that you believe in the importance of reading – it isn’t just a task they have to do because they’re students…
- If you work with older students, promise to do something they have always wanted you to do, assuming it’s doesn’t violate any school regulations (maybe they’ve always wanted you to wear a certain color you hate, or put your hair up a certain way, or touch a worm, or some other crazy idea they’ve come up with that they would love to see you do), IF, and only if ALL of them read however many books you want them to read that month.