By Jennifer Wolfe
In the midst of my ‘normal’ teacher-in-August anxiety, the idea of traditional teaching is out the window. Nothing about this school year is traditional, or normal, or predictable.
One of my biggest worries about prepping for my 7th grade ELA class is how to engage and entice my reluctant and striving readers when all my ‘traditional’ methods need to adjust - or get tossed out.
I can’t surround them with books to the point that they’re tripping over book shelves and boxes, and pushing away stacks to clear a space on their work tables.
I can’t have a stack of books waiting on their seat, a sly post-it note attached with their name - just because I think they’ll like the titles.
I can’t wander around the room during the first ten minutes of class anymore, clipboard in hand, looking over their shoulders, chatting about their titles and noticing what books are ‘making the rounds’ with my students.
To me, hooking kids into great books is equivalent to winning a Olympic ski race - I’m preparing all season, learning the best path to the bottom of the hill (or book stack), sharpening my equipment and constantly searching for the next great training opportunity to pump up my ‘athletes’.
And in true Olympic fashion, when we cross the reading ‘finish line’ and complete a book, we need to shout it out!
Are you with me? So what CAN we do to get kids excited about books and reading?
I’ve got a few ideas to start the year with - for opening up a world of enticing titles, for capturing thinking and discussions about books, and for sharing books we love.
Opening up a world of books
Read alouds - Global Read Aloud, picture books, and First Chapter Friday
Every year I participate in Pernille Ripp’s Global Read Aloud program. She graciously organizes educators around common books by grade level, and facilitates us to collaborate on curriculum, share teaching ideas, and connect our students across countries. This year I’m reading Linda Sue Park’s newest novel, Prairie Lotus. In a digital space, I like to start class with 5-10 minutes of reading while students settle in. They like the calming effect, the personal connection, and of course, they groan when I end each chapter!
This year I’m trying batch recording - each chapter I’ll read aloud and record ahead of time to have an independent, ‘do-now’ activity. I’m also gathering up lots and lots of picture books for quick engagements into a theme or skill.
I’m also saving each Friday for ‘First Chapter Friday’ read aloud - I’m hoping to build up the anticipation all week for the book I’ll select to read aloud. I’m curating a list for kids and parents to have as a reference, and I’ll be asking for student suggestions, too!
I challenge my students to read 25 books during the school year. We talk about setting personal goals, and what ‘counts’ as a complete book. If 25 isn’t enough, I encourage students to go higher - and even to compete with my goal (last year I set it at 75)!
I think the trick with this challenge is that it is NOT restrictive or punitive. Kids choose EVERY book they read. They can read ANY genre, and I don’t require a certain amount of anything. And it DOESN’T count towards their grade. Yes, I check their progress and help make suggestions if they get stuck, but I want them to read because they LIKE it, not because they have to.
Capturing thinking and discussions
Digital Reader’s Notebooks are my plan for curating student thinking and discussion about what they’re reading. Last year my students thought it would be neat to have a list of all the books they are reading, so I’m going to add a link to a digital form they can fill out when they finish a book. This is one template from Amy, who writes at Charmed by Challenge.
I also love to get kids blogging about books - we use Kid Blog. I set up class accounts and teach students how to write to a prompt, how to give feedback, and how to make the post appealing to readers. They love feeling like published writers!
Book Bento Boxes are another fun way to get kids engaged and talking about books. The idea is to use Google slides to create a bento box that represents the characters, plot and theme of their book. Lisa Highfill created this Book Bento Box HyperDoc - it’s perfect!
One of the most popular projects with my 7th graders is creating Instagram profiles for their book characters. I use this template, and encourage students to think deeply about who their character is, what they value, and how they would communicate that in their profile and images. Kids can’t believe they get to create this in school! This version was made by Cynthia Nixon and makes it super simple for kids to create really authentic looking pages!
Sharing books we love
Creating podcasts is one of my most favorite ways to get kids talking about books they love. Using this template, they can work individually or with a small group to script, practice, record and produce their podcast. I like to use WeVideo for this project - but even just doing a simple audio recording on a phone would work, too. Creating book soundtracks with WeVideo is another way to broaden thinking about characters and plot by curating songs.
Video book reviews are simple, engaging projects to help kids share their reading. I share this Book Review HyperDoc and have students record on Flipgrid. It could be adapted for creating a book trailer or filming a scene as well.
Finally, a project with a simple set up yet complex thinking are one pagers. These can be done on paper or digitally, with any type of reading - short stories, articles, novels, poems...and teachers can change the expectations every time. I used a Google doc to package all my One-Pager for Lit Circle directions and students created fabulous representations of their thinking! This is a great project for independent or group work.
Whatever teaching scenario you find yourself in this year, I hope that thinking about bringing the joy of reading, books, and authors into your classroom is a bit less overwhelming with some of these ideas. I’d love to hear what you do - visit my website, http://jenniferwolfe.net for more teaching and learning ideas!
About the Author
Jennifer Wolfe, a writer, middle school teacher, and digital teaching and learning trainer and coach, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously.
Jennifer publishes regularly on her blog, mamawolfe, at jenniferwolfe.net, and has also been published in Real Simple magazine as well as the anthology, I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People, The Huffington Post, The Educator’s Room, Mamapedia, Mamalode, and BlogHer websites. She was a cast member of Listen To Your Mother in 2014. When not teaching or writing, Jennifer enjoys cooking, traveling, hiking, reading, and adventuring with her two young adult children. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Goodreads.
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