Top 10 Ways To Get Kids Reading January 11 2010

In our world of speed and visual effects, it can be difficult to convince kids that they can actually love reading. I've noticed especially when teaching fourth graders that it's tough to build the confidence they need to be willing to read longer works. However, once they finally believe that they can do it and start reading, a "switch" flips on and soon they can't be reading enough.

If you teach young readers or you want to motivate older kids to enjoy reading, here are my top ten ways to get your children reading!

Read. Read. Read.

I explain to my kids at the very beginning of a school year that you can't get better at reading unless you read. A lot. Every day.

They don't believe me until I draw a comparison between reading consistently and practicing any other set of skills, such as a musical instrument or a sport. Since many of them are involved in activities like these, they usually admit that I'm probably-maybe-we-don't-want-to-admit-it right.

Set Aside Time

In order to help kids become better readers, they need to have time during the day to read. This isn't the same block of time used for literacy centers or reading skill building. For me, teaching reading skills usually happens in the morning, so I block out a separate time during the afternoon so that kids can read for pleasure.

You Read When They Read

This is a tough one, but I believe it's absolutely necessary that during that block of time to read for enjoyment that you are also reading. For pleasure. I know there's so much to do, but you need this time as much as they do...and you're modeling reading for pleasure says far more about what you believe than your words do.

Provide Choices

The whole point of having a separate reading-for-enjoyment time is for kids to, well, enjoy it. They need to be able to pick out stories and books that interest them, and it's our job to provide these materials. Many times, I use our library check-out time to encourage (or demand) that kids find books that they can read in the afternoons.

Help Choose

 Since kids are kids, they don't always pick the best reading material on their own. Early each school year, I inevitably have fourth graders still reading Captain Underpants, which isn't bad, but it's time to move on to something more challenging. So I make them a deal - they can read Captain Underpants now, but I get to choose the next book. Then I use that time to teach them how to choose a book that's right for them.

Share

I'm sure you know what it's like to read something really cool in a book and want to share it. Set aside five minutes at the end of the reading-for-enjoyment time for kids to share what they like about their books. You may have to start by sharing your connections with or feelings about the books that you read during this time. I also allow kids to ask each other questions about their books (limit of 3 questions per sharer).

Connect With Parents

To begin with, make reading apart of regular homework - I encourage 20 minutes a night. In order for you and parents to keep track of this reading time, use Carol Brooke's Reading Log, which also includes a space for teacher comments and a bookmark. Emphasize that this reading time is for enjoyment, and encourage parents and kids to "share" the reading; for example, with my seven-year-old at home, I read a page and then he reads a page during his evening reading time.

Challenge and Reward

Reading goals are important, and I like to set up Independent Reading Minutes goals with individual kids, and then a Class Reading Minutes goal - this would be a great use of the downloadable Reading Log above. At the beginning of each month or quarter, set a Reading Minutes Goal with your class, then have a parent volunteer tally up the minutes from the Reading Logs each week. Include the afternoon reading-for-enjoyment blocks of time in the tally, and keep a poster that shows the progress of your class as you get closer and closer to achieving the goal!

When they reach their Minutes goals, provide prizes that center on reading. Some examples I've used in the past are bookmarks, books, gift cards to bookstores, reading pajama parties (usually on a Friday afternoon), or a special reading time with our principal (she reads aloud and they all have a special snack).

Build Skills

The skill building time for reading is during the morning in my classroom, and reading for enjoyment happens in the afternoon. Because of the gap between these two reading times during the day, I like to briefly review a skill from the morning and connect it with their choice reading. Maybe we had a lesson on character traits in the morning - I might take five minutes at the beginning or end of reading in the afternoon to ask kids about the characters in their books.

Celebrate Your Readers!

As the school year progresses, you'll start to have lively discussions with kids about their books instead of trying to convince them that they can love to read. When kids realize that they can read for pleasure, a light comes on - it's a wonderful thing to see! Celebrate this love of reading with your kids!