By Teachers, For Teachers
As soon as someone is told to do something, it stops being fun and starts being work. No matter what it is or how enjoyable it can be for a person, as soon as they are forced to do it, it feels like a chore.
Unfortunately, this is also true for reading. Reading can be such an enjoyable, enriching activity -- but when students are assigned to read a text, that joy turns to misery as the assignment compels them to focus on completing a task rather than flourishing in an enriching reading experience.
So how do we put the joy back into reading? How can we make sure all students understand that they shouldn’t read because they have to, but because they want to? How do we make sure that we aren’t just turning students into “better” readers, but more passionate ones too?
Here are several successful strategies teachers have used to ensure that students develop their own passion for reading without letting the chore of school bog down the experience:
1. Let students choose what they read. Everyone enjoys reading something different. So let students decide what it is that interests them and read about it. Don’t limit their selections or confine them to reading levels. As long as they are given the freedom to choose, they will choose something they can get passionate about.
2. Don’t assign work with reading. Homework and classwork is a necessity in many cases, but there’s no better way to turn reading into a chore than to attach work to it. While you might not get away with this all the time, encourage students to read not for a grade, but because it is simply a good thing to do.
3. Let students decide what to talk about. Teachers have a notion of what’s “important” in a text and guide student attention towards that. However, if discussions were more open-ended, you might be surprised at what actually interests students. They’ll get more value out of what they see as important.
4. Get parents involved in reading too. While students might see this as another boring, stifling obligation of school, the long term benefits of “family reading” are incredible. Encourage parents to read the same texts and talk about them with their children.
5. Meet outside of class to talk about books. Those four walls of the classroom get real old real fast. Turn a typical “classroom” discussion into a more dynamic conversation by getting outside of school. Take your class outside. Or even better, with older students, offer them the option of meeting at a local restaurant and having a book chat over some food.
6. See a movie about what was read. Show you’re class the movie that was based on the text you read. Or add more video content by showing films and clips prior to reading to “whet their appetite” for the text’s content.
7. “Read for fun” each day. Just allow time in class for students to read. Teachers often feel fettered to a curriculum, but part of that curriculum should include time chiseled out just for students to pull out a text and enjoy it.
8. Take class trips to the library or media center. Your school’s library is often a foreign place to many students. Allow them time to just be around books. Even if they’re just joking around amongst the shelves, students are looking at titles, observing covers, reading the book jacket descriptions, and getting general exposure to that wide world of reading.
9. Take a field trip to a local library or bookstore. Nothing would make a librarian happier than hosting a class full of students. Nothing would make a store happier than catering to a classroom of would-be customers. And nothing would expose students to books better than getting them to a location that has thousands and thousands of texts.
10. Buy books for students. Your school might have funding for this, or you might find yourself digging into your own pocket, but when you purchase a book for a student it’s like putting a huge stamp on a text that says, “I like you enough to give you this gift. Please read it.” Reading is no longer an obligation, but a gift.
11. Let students see your own passion for reading. I have a big poster in my classroom that displays the book I’m currently reading. It’s a great conversation piece with students who see that I do read whatever I want to on my own time. Your students should know that you don’t just value reading professionally, but you value it personally too.
12. Read together. Experts say that you should read out loud to children for as long as they let you. Take time to read out loud to your class so they can hear what good reading fluency sounds like, and you’re whole class can share the experience of hearing a gripping text together. You can even get guest readers involved too!
Reading only seems like a chore in school because we let it. If we want passionate and competent readers, then we need to find ways to allow students figure out what role reading should play in their own lives. There are plenty of creative ways to do this – share your own ideas and experiences in the comments, and I’d be happy to learn from you.