142: Choice Reading: Building a Reading Culture

Building a reading culture in your classroom is a project that never ends, but luckily it’s so much FUN. There are many ways to keep books in the spotlight, and in today’s podcast episode, I’m going to share ten of them to help you find a few that feel right to you. You don’t have to try all of these to have a successful choice reading program. See what sounds fun, doable, and right for your class.

Maybe you’ll build one or two of these strategies in this year, and add another next year, and another the year after that. It’s better to start small and build up than start huge and get overwhelmed. The good news is, no matter how you start, you’ll be encouraging more reading for joy in your classroom and building connections with your students.

You can listen in to today’s episode on the podcast player of your choice, or on the player below. Or, read on for the full written post.

Host a Classroom Library

My first library in Sofia, Bulgaria. I borrowed books from the school library, cleared dusty old furniture, and spread books across tables and windowsills. It wasn’t fancy, but it sure ignited my reading program!

We focused in on this in our last episode (check out the show here). Having a library in your classroom will make a huge difference in making reading accessible and visible in your classroom. It’s the building block on which all these other strategies sit. Readily available books, covers facing out, and maybe even a couch or a beanbag nearby, will help draw your kids to your classroom library.

Make Time to Read

This is an essential building block for any program, and it definitely brings books into the spotlight in your classroom! There has to be time to read in class, even if it’s just a little bit, one day a week. Personally, I’ve always loved giving kids a little time on Friday at the end of class. That way I know they have a good book going home in their bag for the weekend. Now, are they going to get through a lot of their book during class time? Nope. But it’s essential that they have a little bit of time to get hooked on their book, and realize that they like it. Or to realize that they hate it, and need to switch it in for another book.

Whenever you choose to take time in class to read, I recommend you use this structure:

Start with a quick book talk or two – from you, from a guest, or from a student (more on this to come).

Point out any new books or new displays you have in your library that might interest your students.

Then invite kids to take out their books and read, and kids who need a book to wander over to the library and get one. Hang out at the library to quietly help kids choose until everyone has a book.

At this point, you can take out your own book and read with them for a few minutes, but your secret job is to be glancing around the room to see who looks bored. Take note of anyone who is obviously not connecting with their book, and after a few minutes wander the room quietly peeking over shoulders to see what everyone is reading, and touching base with kids who need a new book. Ask them what they’ve enjoyed in the past and help them trade in their book for something else. This is so essential! You are a book matchmaker, and the right match makes all the difference.

Use Book Displays

When you go to a bookstore, do you head straight to the shelves, or do you linger over whatever displays the owners have come up with? The displays always reel me in! Many of your students will be drawn to displays, especially if they don’t already have a favorite genre or author. Taking a few minutes to create a themed display in a windowsill, chalk tray, or across the top of a bookshelf can really help establish a bookish culture in your room. There are a million ideas for displays waiting online, but my personal favorite option for keeping a growing list is to follow the Powell’s Bookstore Instagram feed. They are constantly curating fun display ideas, and you can use them as your go-to for new ideas when you want to change up your shelves.

Give Book Talks

A book talk is such a quick and easy way to draw students’ attention to the latest and greatest in your library. Before they start reading (or any old time you have two minutes), just pick up a book and tell them a little about it. What did you like about it? What books does it remind you of? Why would you recommend it?

You can do book talks, and you can also invite students to do them. As you build your program, students will begin to discover books they truly love. This can help them get over their nerves about talking in front of the class. When a student comes to you raving about a certain book, ask them if they’d do a one minute book talk about it at the start or end of class. No book recommendation means more than the recommendation of a peer!

Feature Students in your Posters

When kids come in with a book they’ve loved, ask if you can snap a quick picture of them with their book before they return it. Then invite them to create a recommendation poster in Google Slides or Canva, or make one yourself, using a template you use again and again. A wall of kids holding up their favorite books will do A LOT to help you establish a culture of reading.

Involve Guests

My husband was one of my first guest book talkers in my first reading program.

I’ve always liked to invite guests in to share their favorite reads. Your guest can read a chapter in your First Chapter Friday program or give a book talk, and maybe just talk about their life as a reader a little bit. You can invite other teachers, coaches, staff members, community members, kids from your previous classes, whoever! Be sure to snap a photo of your guest with the book they share so you can create guest posters as well.

Incorporate Games or Challenges

I love a good reading bingo card. Why? Because it challenges kids to try reading new genres and authors, and ask new people for recommendations. You can include top titles you know kids will like, genres for them to choose from, and different types of recommendations like “A recommendation from someone in your family.” You’ll be encouraging exploration of new books and bookish conversations with more people in their lives.

Another fun thing to do is to challenge a class to read a certain book, author, or genre over a vacation. Let them know if they do it, they can stop by your room on the day after break to tell you about what they read and claim some kind of fun prize (like an m and m cookie that you made – nothing huge!).

Do First Chapter Friday when you Can

I’ll be sharing these fun templates inside Camp Creative at the end of the month! Sign up here!

First Chapter Friday is such an easy way to spotlight great authors and bring more voices into your classroom. Open up a great book and read a chapter to your kids – it’s something everyone can look forward to. No time on Fridays? Try “Meet a Book Monday!” It’s OK to do it every other week or even once a month if you’re cramped for time in your unit schedule. Any read alouds are better than no read alouds!

Use Assessment that helps Promote Reading

I know you don’t want to squelch your kids growing love of reading by adding assessment types they won’t like. One easy solution is to make all of your check-ins about promoting books within your community. So anything kids create is really to share the books they love and warn kids away from the books they don’t. In this spirit, you can have them do quick book pitches, book review videos, book Instagram posts, or write for a class or school book recommendation blog. You get to check that they’re doing the reading and find out how they’re liking their books, and they see that their true audience is their own community, for a very real purpose.

Make Book Recommendations a Legacy

At the end of the year, give your readers a chance to leave behind a legacy of reading for the next classes. That can look like making personalized book recommendation posters for the hallway or classroom walls, creating book recommendation bookmarks, curating a display “Section D’s Favorite Reads” that you can start the next year with, or even hosting a choice reading festival and inviting the incoming class.

OK, that’s a wrap for this week! I hope you’re excited to choose some of these possibilities and continue growing a culture of reading in your classroom. Don’t forget to sign up for Camp Creative: Ignite your Choice Reading Program. We’re getting started in just two weeks!

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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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