Reading Instruction

Encouraging Students to Read

How does a student get better at reading?
Simply put…by reading.
Plenty of research supports the idea that extensive reading leads to better reading and language growth, but many kids just aren’t doing enough reading.
It’s our jobs as teachers to encourage our students to read. But the big question is how?
In this post, I will offer a few ideas to help create a community of avid readers in your classroom.

Access to Books

Some may think students don’t read because they just don’t like reading. However, this tweet from teacher/author Kelly Gallagher disputes that.

Gallagher did a survey of the students in his class and found that 2/3’s actually like reading. The problem is they don’t have any books.
This can easily be solved by a classroom library. I feel this is a must for every classroom. It’s perfect for giving our students access to books that are both interesting to them and at their level.
Now you may be thinking, “Classroom libraries are expensive! I’m a teacher. There’s no way I can afford that!”
My response: Who said you need to pay for it?
A couple of years ago I made a short video asking for people to help me buy some books for my classroom library. I posted it on my personal Facebook account with a link to PayPal to collect donations. Thanks to friends and family, I got 30 books for my classroom library without paying anything from my pocket.
People love supporting reading and education, so don’t be afraid to ask. Of course there are other sites that are specifically designed to collect donations such as The internet has made it easier than ever to get money for classroom books.
If you don’t have a classroom library, then stop reading here. Get on the internet, collect some money, and buy some books.
One last thing…Scholastic often has really great deals for buying books. Earlier this summer, there was a deal for 100 books for $100 making it very affordable to get your library started.

Book Speed Dating

Now that your students have books to choose from, the next task is to get them interested in books.
Kelly Gallagher tweeted this unique idea:

Here is how “Book Speed Dating” works. You set up tables around your classroom with different books on each table. Gallagher reports having 10 tables, each with 20+ books. The students then spend 3 minutes at each table looking at the books. As they find books of interest, they write the title and author on their “Books I Want To Read” list.
When the activity is done, students should have a good list of books they would like to read throughout the school year. As they read each book, they can check off the book on their list.
This is a great activity to do at the beginning of the school year to get the students acquainted with books in your classroom library.

Book Share

Perhaps a student missed a book during the “Book Speed Dating” or they just couldn’t figure out what a book was about in the short time allotted. This is where a book share is really important.
Each week, set aside a few minutes to talk about books with the class. In the beginning of the year, you as the teacher will highlight some books in the library that you think might be of interest. Obviously, don’t spoil the book, but give a little background information and why you liked the book.
As the year progresses, encourage students to lead the book share. Students can talk about books they have read and encourage their peers to read them, too. Having students share can have a great effect on reading because if their friends recommend the book, students will feel more motivated to read it to.
One last note, as students listen during book shares, they should be encouraged to write down books that sound interesting on their “Books I Want To Read” list.

Book Pen Pals

In 2015, I published an article titled “The Effects of Journaling on Taiwanese EFL Students’ Extensive Reading Habits and Attitudes.” Basically, I had my eighth grade students write weekly letters to me about books they were reading. Each week I would respond to what they wrote and ask them questions. The results were that the students’ attitudes toward reading positively increased and they viewed reading English novels more favorably.
There was just one problem…responding to the students every week was very time intensive. Even with a small class, I found it took an incredible amount of time for me to adequately respond and engage with the students through letter writing.
Given the time intensive nature, I would suggest rather than having the teacher respond to every student, set up a pen pal system in the class with you in the rotation. Each student could write to a classmate each week about the book they are reading. If there is an odd number of students, one student could write to you each week, or if there is an even number, then two can write to you. If you set up a rotation system, then you could respond to each student throughout the semester.
As shown in my research, this technique both encourages students to read while also making it more meaningful and enjoyable for them.

Give Them Time To Read Silently

Do you like to take papers home to grade or would you prefer to do them during working hours at school?
Most teachers would probably prefer the latter.
When you get home after a long day you are tired and just want to relax, doing something you truly enjoy.
Students feel the same way…While some students might like reading at night, I suspect most are more concerned with their Instagram feed.
Therefore, if we really want to encourage our students to read, we need to give them time to read during the school day. Set aside a few minutes a day to let the students just read without distraction. And even better, you chould be a good example of an adult reader and read silently during that time as well.
You may be worried about finishing your syllabus or that there is too much curriculum to cover to use class time for reading. But remember what I said in the beginning of the post: the best way to get better at reading is reading. And reading has been shown time and time again to improve language ability better than anything else. So from my perspective, silent reading time is always time well spent.
What other ideas do you have for encouraging students to read? Share them in the comments!

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