For the past three years, I have been researching ways to help my high school students fall in love with reading. I read books and journal articles, talked to expert teachers, and field tested strategies. I made progress, but I didn’t exactly see hearts aglow when I mentioned the word reading. Then, I realized that I was missing one important perspective: theirs. It was the final piece I needed to start to see a real difference in my classroom.
For some students, reading was a love at first sight kind of thing. For others, falling in love with reading takes time, effort, and attention. I learned a lot along the way, and I’m still working on implementing some of these ideas today. These five strategies have helped me change the culture of reading in my classroom to encourage all of my high schoolers to fall in love with reading.
1. Give them a choice.
This is the most important strategy that I really can’t stress enough. My students overwhelmingly reported that giving them reading choice was the most important factor to help them love reading. Of course, we have curriculum to follow and plans to meet, but incorporating some form of choice reading is the most important way to help students foster a love for reading. That’s not to say that students shouldn’t be introduced to work that challenge their thinking. Of course, they should! Still, balancing that reading plan with choice reading provides a way for students to find their love in literature and build lifelong reading habits. There are many ways to incorporate choice reading in your high school classroom, and I’ve blogged here about how I engage my high schoolers with choice reading.
2. Give them guidance.
Before seeking student perspectives, I assumed that giving them choice was enough. However, through my surveys and interviews, I soon realized that my students who weren’t already avid readers didn’t know what they would like to read. This often led them to choose reading materials that didn’t interest them. This is where reading interest surveys play a really important role. Once I had a basis for their interests, I was able to create a individualized plan for each student. I know that sounds really intimidating, especially if you have 150 students, but generally speaking, it just means you use their interests (which are often similar to their peers) to help them try new genres or themes. In fact, one of my most challenging students realized his love for graphic novels through this simple process. You can check out my reading interest survey as part of my choice novel unit here.
3. Make it fun.
Make reading fun. It’s definitely a lot harder than it sounds, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Whether you’re planning a whole class reading unit or choice reading unit, it’s important for you to ask yourself, “Would I find this unit engaging?” Starting with this reflection is good, but for most of us, we already love reading, so take it one step further and put yourself in your students’ shoes. How will your most reluctant readers react to this unit? For example, when I planned my Romantic poetry unit last week, I tried to imagine how my students would react. Of course, I love poetry, and I would be more than happy to sit at a round table and discuss Blake, Shelley, and Keats for two weeks. My students, on the other hand, likely would not. Therefore, I created a unit based on a concept most of them know and find at least interesting: The Bachelor. This bachelor-style literary love competition will engage students through their analysis by using a reality TV show format to pique their interests and engage them until the end.
4. Model a love for reading.
This is one area that I have been working on for a while and need improvement. Of course, I love reading, and though I’m always pressed for time, I always have a book or two that I’m reading outside of school. So, why not share what we’re reading with students? I realized the significance that this sharing can have for students when I saw several of my students carrying around a book that my husband shared with them. Mike, a history teacher, does a great job sharing what he’s reading with our students. (We teach at the same school and in the same grade, so most of our students overlap.) Not only can this inspire students to pick up a new book, but it also shows them an example of a lifelong reader. This strategy is easy to implement and a great way to practice what you preach.
5. Put them on display.
I didn’t have a classroom library for the first years of my teaching career, and it was only when I started implementing choice reading that I made a conscious effort to build a library. My first attempt at a library doesn’t really count as a library, but it worked. I simply put five personal copies of my favorite books on the tray of my chalkboard and above them, I wrote, “some of my favorite books.” They were The Da Vinci Code, We Were Liars, Unbroken, Maus, and Just Mercy. They generated interest, and students started asking me if they could read them. Then, I made a simple QR code book checkout system and put it by the books. It exploded. I couldn’t believe how many students were writing their names on the board waiting for the next copy. This led me to buy two copies of each just to get it moving faster. Now, I have a more extensive library that I am still growing, and the results have been awesome. If you’re interested in how I grew mine, check out my post here.
I hope these strategies will help you foster a love for reading for all of your students. If you’re interested in the units discussed above, click on the images below.