With so many schools online right now, it may seem harder than ever to get your students reading for joy. But I’m here to tell you, there are still a lot of ways you can help a reading culture flourish in your classes! Here are some of my favorite ideas – try one or try them all!
You can listen in on the player below, or on Apple Podcasts, Sticher, Blubrry, or Spotify. Or simply read on for some top takeaways.
#1 Work with your Librarian
I was talking to a school librarian friend the other day who is currently busy re-doing all the damaged spine labels on the entire collection. She didn’t seem super excited about it.
“But what about the ebooks?” I asked. “Are you working with teachers to push them out? Creating digital bookshelves and such?”
“The teachers aren’t interested,” she said.
Oh man. We had a good conversation about how she might reach out to teachers and help them make use of the ebook and audiobook collections her school has available.
Your school library (or community library) is probably in the same boat – ready and waiting with a collection of digital resources to share with anyone who wants them, maybe even feeling a little sad and lonely. The tech can feel like a hurdle, but your librarian will not be intimidated by their own tech! Ask for their help in getting your kids signed up for whatever digital book apps and programs are available. Ask your librarian to be a guest speaker in class and give kids a tour of exactly how to search, request, access, and read the books. Maybe create a step-by-step digital guide together for the kids, with links out to the platform and the search feature, as well as a screenshot step-by-step for whatever they need to read the books.
Make it as easy for the kids as possible. And then build using it into your curriculum. Make getting signed up an assignment, and have kids send you a screenshot of their successfully-created profile. Have them write down their username and password. You want to be able to rely on this firm foundation going forward – it’s so worth the effort!
#2 Run a Choice Reading Unit
If you haven’t done independent reading with your students yet this year, kicking it off with a choice reading unit is a fantastic option. You’ll go from zero to sixty in a hurry, as kids put their digital book choosing skills into action, start making lists of books that appeal to them, begin to hear “buzz” from friends about their books, and suddenly have a book to book talk or recommend to others.
Just as with any choice reading program, there are steps you can take to make your online choice reading unit successful:
- Book talk books from the e-library that you think kids will like, and make it easy for them to request those books. These book talks can be quick videos that you make or short live presentations you give at the start of class.
- Give students time in class to read, and check in to see if they’re enjoying their books – maybe do a quick Jamboard with sticky notes where they list the title they’ve chosen and give it a rating 1-10 at the end of a reading period. Then you can talk to kids who are on the low end of that scale and help them find a better book for them. A kid who gives The Golden Compass a 2 one day might give Ender’s Game a 10 the next.
- Visually showcase books to the kids that you think they will like. A digital bookshelf or a digital book tasting works great for this (more coming on that further down!)
#3 Use Book talks
Ahhh, book talks. Folks have been sharing this strategy for a decade plus, but it won’t ever go out of style. Think of all the times people have put wonderful books into your hands over the years, with a few sentence telling you why you’re going to love it. That’s what kids need! In the digital classroom, book talks can come from you, but they can also easily come as little pre-recorded videos from librarians, colleagues, parents, and friends. In my physical classroom, I loved having students’ favorite teachers from other subjects come in for five minutes to share their favorite book – you can easily do the same by asking colleagues in other disciplines to record a quick something. It’s great for your students to see other adults modeling a love of books, whether that’s their beloved tennis coach, their art teacher, or their principal.
#4 Do First Chapter Fridays
I’ve already “talked” myself hoarse on the awesome qualities of this program, so I’ll just throw in a new set of resources I’ve recently found to make it even easier to try it out. Several authors, including Nic Stone, John Green, and Jason Reynolds, have read first chapters aloud for public consumption online (happy dance party!).
Do some internet searching and you’ll find more videos you can use to supplement your own reading sessions.
#5 Give Kids Time to Read
I know it may seem insignificant, to spend fifteen or twenty minutes of class time reading. But here’s the thing – if you bring them together, talk about books, make sure they each have a book to read that it’s likely they will like, and then actually give them time to start it, it’s that moment of starting it when you have the golden opportunity to show them they actually like reading. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to become hooked on Long Way Down, Born a Crime, Ready Player One or The Poet X.
#6 Make Physical Books Available Too
If some of your students don’t have the tech required for digital reading, think creatively about making it possible for them to pick up school or class library books. Could you spread books out on blankets in your yard and give kids a time window to drive by and pick some up? Could you gather a few volunteers to drop off book packs to students who need them? Could you let parents who are willing stop by after work one Wednesday and pick up brown paper bags with their students’ names on them?
#7 Try a Digital Book Tasting
As adult readers, we can forget that it’s taken time and experience for us to build up the strategies we use to find our next book. Maybe you get recs from friends, read The New York Times book review, have your own Goodreads account, follow your favorite author on Instagram, or regularly go to your favorite local library to check out the new releases. Your students probably don’t do any of those things.
A digital book tasting is a chance to visually show them some books you think they would like (covers matter!), while also linking them out to various platforms where they can learn helpful information about the book, to help them see whether they’d like it.
Make a copy of these book tasting templates and choose your favorite to use to create your own set of digital tasting stations.
#8 Feature Books in your Newsletter or Parent Communications
There are a few fun and easy ways to do this. Introduce parents to the digital book platform you’ve shared with students and encourage them to encourage their kids to read for fun. Add a “recommended reading” or “book of the week” section to your parent communication and link titles to the platform. You might also want to add a bookish email signature to your email account, featuring your top five recommendations for student readers.
#9 Create Digital Bookshelves
If your students are now doing the majority of their choice reading through e platforms, it’s super important (and actually really fun) to create digital bookshelves were you can display the books you recommend most highly, just as you’ve always done.
This digital bookshelf, which I created in Google Slides, is clickable for students to visit these books on their respective platforms.
Here’s how you can create one too:
1. Find a picture of a bookshelf, table, or library area and use it as the background of your Google Slide.
2. Using the apps, websites, or programs students have access to, screenshot a picture of a book you want to feature. Drop the screenshot into this slide, resize, and drag onto the shelf. Click it and press “link”, then add the link to the site where students can find it.
3. Repeat capturing screenshots and linking them until your shelf is full. Make as many as you want!
For the shelf I created above, the top shelf is books students can readily access for free online, because they are in the public domain. The bottom shelf takes students to the Overdrive site, where they would need to be registered and then request and check out the book (free) to read. Because ebooks are available in limited numbers, you can’t guarantee that anyone clicking the book will be able to get the book just when they want it, so you should remind students that if a book is already taken, they should submit a request to get it next before moving on to check out a different book.
#10 Connect with Authors on Social Media
Many authors have really stepped up to meet the current crisis, and are sharing their work, their time, and their energy with their readers. Follow a few of your students’ favorite authors on social media, and see what neat opportunities are available for you to connect your students with their literary heroes. They may do a live Q and A, read from their works-in-progress, or even be willing to answer questions from your class live or in writing.
I hope one or two of these ideas feels like just the right one for you to run with! I could go on. You could build reading into your attendance questions, your icebreaker Jamboards, your guest speaker requests, and much more. I bet you’re thinking of lots more ideas too, now that you’re thinking about it! Reading culture is just as important now as ever before, maybe more, with kids stuck at home with more time on their hands.
Where, though, are you accessing this digital ebooks in ways that don't break copyright laws? I haven't had much luck with finding full-texts that I am able to link students out to unless they are project gutenberg… is this contingent upon having a library with ebooks on the menu?