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Distance Readers: Encouraging Choice Reading in the New Normal

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It’s hard having students so far away from classroom and school libraries, not knowing how to get the right books into their hands. I know you want your students to develop as readers, and this distance learning feels like a major disruption to that process.

So this week I’m sharing my brainstorms about how to keep helping students access books. I hope you can find some options that will work for your kids.

First Chapter Fridays

Have you run into First Chapter Fridays? I love this easy program for helping students discover a wide range of reading possibilities. You just open a great book and read aloud the first chapter with your students once a week. After a few months, they’ve been exposed to a wonderful range of titles, styles, and topics. This is still pretty easy to do from a distance, since you can record audio clips or videos for them to listen to, or even invite guests to record for them. Alternatively, keep an eye on social media and let the actual authors read to students! Many authors, like Kwame Alexander, Nic Stone and more, have been reading aloud, live, on Instagram. You can send students over to listen live or on the replay as a class activity. There are even quite a few first chapters already online as videos, like you’ll find here on the Epic Reads youtube station.

If you make First Chapter Fridays a set part of your curriculum, I suggest you ask students to make an informal sketchnote as they listen. This way you get to see that they’re taking the time to listen, and it will help them focus. If they keep their sketchnotes in one place, they’ll also have a lovely list of ideas for books to read next.

Highlight Great Books in your Classroom Newsletter

An online classroom newsletter is an easy way to promote reading throughout the year, in lots of different ways. You can highlight author readings coming up, link to a book trailer once a week, share the top YA bestsellers from the New York Times, and/or share what you’re reading and enjoying. Now and then, call for book selfies from students and publish those too! You’ll find an amazing set of free classroom newsletter templates available over on Canva.

Share the Best of Audible Stories


Audible has curated a set of free audiobooks for students over on its website. While I’m not super impressed by the depth and breadth for high school students, I found the five winners I featured in the poster above (they were listed in the elementary section, but I think they’re fabulous at any age). You can share this poster (which is clickable to go straight to the books) with your students. Find it here on Google Drive.



Encourage Socially-Distanced Book Swapping

If your students live in the same area, you might suggest to kids and parents the possibility of swapping small stacks of books for reading. If they reach out to a friend or fellow student and say they have “xyz” titles and would love to trade a few to read, then they can arrange to leave a bag of books that haven’t been touched in three days for a friend to pick-up and leave their own bag of untouched books (in three days) behind.

It sounds a little crazy, but really, it’s very doable. Many of the families of young children in my neighborhood have been swapping books like this via text thread for the last two months, ever since their first and second graders ran out of reading materials (threatening their sanity).



Become a Pro Guide to the Local Library Ebooks

I don’t know about you, but I love paper books. Which means I have dragged my feet on becoming a pro when it comes to logging into Axis 360, the amazing ebook server my school library uses. And I haven’t signed up to get in line for any of the new releases on ebook from my local library either. I just bring home giant stacks of actual books. Constantly.

Except now I can’t. And neither can students, so now is not the time to cling to paper! It’s the time to become a certifiable pro in whatever ebook and audiobook resources your students can access through your school and state libraries.

Make the calls. Comb the websites. Figure out how to login and what the best books are in there once you get in. Then make students the easiest guide in the world to how to do it. Maybe make reading the guide, logging in, requesting a book, and opening it on their device the class work for a day, so you know everyone with tech access tries it out. Have them send you screenshots of the books they picked out.

Make a Drop-Off Run

Are there some students in your class that you can’t reach through tech? Print postcards for them (like these free ones) and write them a quick note to say hello, that you’re thinking of them, and that you wanted to loan them something to read from your class library until they return to school. Then put it in a bag with a book or two from your class library you think they’d like and drop it off at their house. If you batch this effort, writing notes and putting the notes and books in the bags all at once, then dropping them off around your neighborhood on the same run, hopefully it won’t take too much time.


I hope this list is helpful to you! Please do share other ideas for encouraging reading during this time of distance learning in the comments below.

Want to help students focus as they listen to your First Chapter Friday readings? Sketchnotes can help! Grab my free pack of six fun templates here. 

(Want to remember these ideas later? Pin them!)


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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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