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5 Ways to Encourage High Schoolers to Fall in Love With Reading

Reading

This posts explains five tested strategies to use with high schoolers to encourage them to fall in love with reading.

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.

The Critical Reader's Novel Study for any work uses multiple perspectives to guide students through a choice reading unit while providing accountability and consistency for all students.

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.

The Literary Soulmate is a bachelor-style literary love competition. Students will be engaged in a multiple perspectives analysis for any choice reading options.

Students receive feather pens to move one step closer to become the next literary soulmate.

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.

The Literary Soulmate is a bachelor-style literary love competition. This engaging activity uses multiple perspectives to analyze any reading options.The Critical Reader's Novel Study is a complete unit designed for choice reading or whole class units. Using multiple perspectives, students will analyze their novels with a critical lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Ready for Your Best Year Ever with the ELA Live Summer Series

Reading
The ELA Live Summer Series is a free professional development occuring on Facebook from August 1-15, 2017! Check out Doc Cop's session on choice reading!

The ELA Live Summer Series kicked off on June 1st, and my session, Tips and Strategies to Incorporate Choice Reading, was on August 3rd on my Facebook page, but you can watch the session here!

 

Here is a list of the resources I referenced in my presentation:

VIP Resource Library Access:

Resources:

The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instagram Post:

I didn’t have a classroom library until my 6th year of teaching when I was hired at my new school and inherited books from the teachers whom I replaced. Even at that, during years 7 and 8 (year 8 was last year), my classroom library was more of a #classroomdecor piece than anything else. Last year, I studied choice reading for my secondary students, and it was a major success! So I decided it was time to put some ❤️ into my classroom library. With the help of my husband (a hs history teacher), I added SO many books to my classroom bookshelves this summer (ALL of the top ones on my initial wish list), and I did so REALLY inexpensively. Most books were under $2 and a lot were free! I wrote an article about our bookish adventures, so check it out if you’re looking to build your classroom library inexpensively. #linkinbio Where do you find inexpensive books? (Disclaimer: My students still were 💯% awesome critical thinkers when I didn’t have a functional classroom library.)

A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

Blog Posts:

Panel discussions are a great activity to engage students in critical reading. Download your free resources to use panel discussions in your classroom.

Don’t forget to check out all of the amazing ELA teachers!

Aug. 1st at 9 pm EST
“Project Based Learning for Secondary English Classrooms” with Mud & Ink Teaching

Aug. 2nd at 9 pm EST
“Strategies for Writing Commentary for Literary Analysis” with Bespoke ELA

Aug. 3rd at 9 pm EST
“Ideas and Strategies to Incorporate Choice Reading” with Doc Cop

Aug. 4th at 9 pm EST
“Pinpoint the Source of Most Reading Problems in Five Minutes” with Reading Simplified

Aug. 5th at 9 pm EST
“How to Teach Students to Elaborate on their Thinking” with English, Oh My! 

Aug. 6th at 9 pm EST
“How to Run a Book Club” with The Reading and Writing Haven

Aug. 7th at 9 pm EST
“Encourage Independent Reading in Reluctant Learners” with Samson’s Shoppe

Aug. 8th at 9 pm EST
“Using Showcase Projects to Increase Engagement” with Spark Creativity

Aug. 9th at 4 pm EST
“How to Publish Student Writing Online and Create E-Portfolios” with Amanda Write Now

Aug. 10th at 9 pm EST
“5 Hidden Gems (books!) that Both Teachers and Students will Love with 2 Lifelong Teachers

Aug. 11th at 9 pm EST
“Starting on the Right Track with Struggling Secondary (Dependent) Learners” with Secondary Urban Legends

Aug. 12th at 9 pm EST
“Back to School Digital Escape Room” with Lit with Lyns

Aug. 13th at 9 pm EST
“Conferring with Student Writers” with Wild Child Designs

Aug. 14th at 9 pm EST
“Giving Meaningful Feedback to Writers” with Read it. Write it. Learn It. 

Aug. 15th at 9 pm EST
Grammar Manipulations: Holding Language” with Language Arts Classroom

The ELA Live Summer Series is a free professional development occuring on Facebook from August 1-15, 2017! Check out Doc Cop's session on choice reading!

How to Get Started With Critical Reading

Featured, Reading
Critical reading is the key for your students to unlock deeper meaning. Learn how to get started with critical reading and download your free plan guide!

What is critical reading?

Critical reading is the activity involved in reading for a deep understanding. The skills necessary for critical reading involve reflecting, close reading, and questioning to name a few. In other words, critical reading challenges students to move past surface-level interpretations.

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism is a type of critical reading activity that involves studying, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating a work of literature. If you teach any type of critical reading, you are using literary criticism as a pedagogical approach. Therefore, it’s no surprise then that literary criticism has a vast history of practices and theories, which span over a period of more than 2,000 years.

Literary Theory

Considering this long history dating back to Plato, you won’t be surprised to learn that scholars have stressed different interpretative methods to go about literary criticism (Takolander, 2009). Then, literary theory is a set of schools of literary analysis based on assumptions or guidelines that shape the way the reader interprets a text. These theories focus on different areas of interpretation based on the theme of that theory. As a result, literary theory is often referred to as multiple perspectives or multiple lenses.

How can critical reading help my students?

Empowering students to think critically and analyze content on their own can be a very difficult task for the teacher, yet these reading skill sets are vital for students to be prepared to grapple with difficult content in college and problem solving situations in the workforce as well as succeed on standardized tests (Bloom, 1959; Carr, 1998; Baker, 2002; Collins, 1993). Fortunately, the connection between teaching literary theory to students and students’ improved critical thinking and reading skills is well supported by a review of the related literature (Appleman, 2009; Barker, 1965; Beach, Appleman, Hynds, & Wilhelm, 2006; Cox & Lewis, 1974; Golden and Canan, 2004; Harper, 1998; Knickerbocker & Rycik, 2002; Muller, 2006; Pace, 2006; Parfitt, 1997; Rozema, 2001; Sagan, 2003; Schade, 2004; Troise, 2007).

When students consider different perspectives to their reading, they learn to address the different, and sometimes conflicting, ideologies that exist within a particular text.  This transaction with the text encourages students to break out of lower-level thinking (comprehension) to engage in higher-order thinking skills, such as synthesizing information from a variety of perspectives to create a new perspective based on their reading. Acknowledging these differences, students engage in a textual relationship that empowers them to create their own understandings based on the many complexities of a text (Faber, 2011). This type of awareness is particularly important for developing empathy and empowerment, two characteristics that are the basis for a cooperative, productive society.

How can my students become critical readers?

Critical reading is an activity that all students are capable of mastering, and therefore, all students in all age groups, even pre-kindergarten, can become critical readers. No matter the grade level, the steps for creating a critical reading classroom follow a three-step system that I call TPA (pronounced “T” “pa”). Using the TPA model, teachers can plan their reading units around this model:

  1. Texts: Choose texts of academic merit.
  2. Perspectives: Determine the perspectives related to that text.
  3. Activities: Design activities to analyze the text based on those unique perspectives.

How should I get started?

Free Planning Resource

I created this free planning resource to simplify your critical reading planning. Download your free planning resource to get you started:

 

Free Professional Development

You can also read my blog posts and watch my live PD sessions related to critical reading:

Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text. Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text. Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text. Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text.

The Complete Guide to Literary Theory

Planning critical reading lessons can be time consuming. That’s why I created The Complete Guide to Literary Theory.

The Critical Reader's Guide to Literary Theory gives teachers & students background and practical applications to use literary theory to build critical reading skills.

This guide will streamline the planning process by providing you with a perspectives checklist that links to a variety of common perspectives. By completing this checklist, you will easily determine which perspectives apply to the work. Also included is a teacher’s guide for an easy-to-follow explanation of each perspective with suggested activities related to each perspective. You do not have to be an expert in literary theory to teach multiple perspectives!

Critical Reader’s Guides

You can also find complete Critical Reader’s units that are already developed to cover these multiple perspectives. These units include all materials necessary to develop, engage, and assess critical readers. I am working to develop new Critical Reader’s guides for all of our favorite works. I would love to hear your requests. You can email me at jennacopper@gmail.com.

The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.

Critical reading is the key your students need to unlock deeper understanding. Learn how to get started and download your free plan guide!

References

Appleman, D. (2009). Critical encounters in high school English: Teaching literary theory to adolescents.  New York: Teachers College Press.

Baker, L. (2002). Metacognition in comprehension instruction.  In C.C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (77–95). New York: Guilford.

Barker, J. (1965).  The essay test in teaching the concept of literary analysis.  Testing in English. 52(5), 31-35. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Beach, R. (1993). A teacher’s introduction to reader-response theories. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.

Beach, R., Appleman, D., Hynds, S., & Wilhelm, J. (2006). Teaching literature to adolescents. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Bloom, B.S. (1959). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: David McKay Company Inc.

Carr, K. S. (1988). How can we teach critical thinking?  Childhood Education, 65(2), 69-74. Retrieved from Platinum Periodicals.

Collins, N.D. (1993).  Teaching critical reading through literature.  Eric Digest. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Cox, R. & Lewis, S. (1974). The student critic.  Cambridge: Winthrop Publishers, Inc.

Faber, J. C. (2011). Re-envisioning the transaction: Literary theories in the high school English classroom. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest.

Golden, J., & Canan, D. (2004). “Mirror, mirror on the wall”: Readers’ reflections on literature through literary theories. English Journal, 93(5), 42-46. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Harper, H. (1998). Dangerous desires: Feminist literary criticism in a high school writing class. Theory into Practice, 37(3), 220-8. Retrieved from ERIC.

Knickerbocker, J., & Rycik, J. (2002). Growing into literature: Adolescents’ literary interpretation and appreciation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(3), 1-14. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Muller, V. (2006). Film as film: Using movies to help students visualize literary theory. English Journal, 95(3), 32-38. Retrieved from Research Library.

Pace, B. (2006). Between response and interpretation: Ideological becoming and literacy events in critical readings of literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(7), 584-594.

Parfitt, M. (1997). What kind of discourse?: Thinking it through. Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1-15. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Rozema, R. (2001) “Heart of darkness” webquest: Using technology to teach literary criticism. National Council of Teachers of English, 1-29. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Sagan, C. P. (2003). Sing a new song: A fresh look at literary criticism. English Journal, 92(6), 40.  Retrieved from Wilson Web.

Schade, L. (1996). Demystifying the text: Literary criticism in the high school classroom. English Journal, 85(3), 26.  Retrieved from Research Library.

Takolander, M. (2009). Energetic space: The experience of literature and learning. College Literature, 36(3), 165-183. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Troise, M. (2007). Approaches to reading with multiple lenses of interpretation. English Journal, 96( 5), 85-90. Retrieved from ProQuest database.

Wilhelm, J. D. (2009). The power of teacher inquiry: Developing a critical literacy for teachers. Voices from the Middle, 17(2), 36-39.  Retrieved from ProQuest database.

7 Cheap and Easy Ways to Build Your Classroom Library

Reading

When I decided to go all in with choice reading for my secondary English classes, I knew it was time to build my classroom library with intention. Up to that point, I had a classroom library that was really just there for looks. Some of my bookworm students would ask to borrow books, but I didn’t even have them organized in any logical manner (Gasp! I know! For an organization-obsessed teacher, I realize this is a cardinal sin!)

Building your classroom library can be both cost efficient and fun! Check out these 7 places to find cheap choice reading books for your secondary students.

When I experimented with choice reading last year, I instantly knew that this strategy was a winner for my students. There are so many benefits to a robust classroom library, but for me, I wanted to be able to give my students access to all of my favorite classic and young adult novels for their free choice reading assignment. I was lucky to inherit books from the teacher whom I replaced, but I still had a long way to go to acquire books that I wanted in that library. Over just a few months, I checked every major book and/or genre off my list and into my classroom bookshelves! Even better, I did it cheaply!

Here are seven of my best tips for building your classroom library and doing so in a way that won’t break the bank:

1) Ask your friends and family

This one seems obvious, but I didn’t think to do it until we were cleaning out our basement and we realized just how many books we had been hoarding! Unfortunately, most of those books were not what I needed for my classroom library (a lot of football coaching books and teaching trade books), but it made me wonder if other people had hoards of books as well. I started by asking my family members if they had any books they wanted to donate to my classroom. The response was incredible! I couldn’t believe how many people had hoarded books like we did.

The next step was reaching out to my friends. You may even find success if you write a public announcement on Facebook. It helps if you frame it like you’re hosting a book drive for your classroom library until such and such a date. People tend to be more likely to donate if you make it sound official and you give them a deadline.

2) Browse discount stores

Check any and all discount stores for the chance that you might find relevant books for your grade level. My husband and I found so many great deals on books at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet; we purchased eight brand new books for my library for $12!

3) Find used book stores

Yes, used book stores still exist, but you may have to do a little searching for them (and likely a little driving for them). It can be well worth it though. We discovered an awesome used book store at State College, PA. We turn in our used books to them and get credit for purchasing used books from their store. This summer, I was able to get six books for my classroom library on that credit. Granted we have to drive two and a half hours to get there, but in truth, we love any excuse to go to PSU.

4) Search buyer/seller networks

Facebook Marketplace, Amazon Used Books, Half.comhttp://www.half.ebay.com/ (an ebay Company), and Craigslist are great places to search for books. As a bonus, you don’t even have to leave your house! I tend to use these marketplaces when I have to have a specific book. Just make sure you check out the condition before buying online without seeing it.

5) Go to yard sales and flea markets

This option is hit or miss, but you might find other fun classroom decor or flexible seating options, so it’s definitely worth it.

6) Travel to book sales

We used to have an amazing book sale in a warehouse just down the street from our house. Sadly, the storage center was sold and the book sale ended. This lead me to try to find other book sales in our area. This is when I found an amazing website, Book Sale Finder. I’ve found two library book sales within an hour drive coming up in the next two weeks. Check this website out for sales in your state.

7) Stop by thrift stores

The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Goodwill, and other consignment stores often receive book donations. (This is where we donated ten boxes of our book hoard, so we know from experience.) In fact, when I asked my teacher friends on Instagram, they overwhelming responded with Goodwill as their go to.

I didn’t have a classroom library until my 6th year of teaching when I was hired at my new school and inherited books from the teachers whom I replaced. Even at that, during years 7 and 8 (year 8 was last year), my classroom library was more of a #classroomdecor piece than anything else. Last year, I studied choice reading for my secondary students, and it was a major success! So I decided it was time to put some ❤️ into my classroom library. With the help of my husband (a hs history teacher), I added SO many books to my classroom bookshelves this summer (ALL of the top ones on my initial wish list), and I did so REALLY inexpensively. Most books were under $2 and a lot were free! I wrote an article about our bookish adventures, so check it out if you’re looking to build your classroom library inexpensively. #linkinbio Where do you find inexpensive books? (Disclaimer: My students still were 💯% awesome critical thinkers when I didn’t have a functional classroom library.)
A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

You can check out the full post and comments here.

Bonus: Find free eBooks

In my opinion, nothing beats a physical book and a bookshelf filled with your favorite books. Still, you can’t beat free. If your students have a SmartPhone, tablet, or computer with internet access, they can find thousands of eBooks for free. Project Gutenberg is my favorite for classics, but you can even find contemporary eBooks with a simple Google search.

Although it can be somewhat tiring, we find book hunting to be really fun. Who doesn’t love a good deal on a good book? When you do come across those treasures, don’t forgot to play the teacher card. You just might get an even better deal.  Good luck filling your bookshelves!

Building your classroom library can be both cost efficient and fun! Check out these 7 places to find cheap choice reading books for your secondary students.

 

Make the Best Decision: A Free Tool for Teachers and Students

Reading

It is an understatement to say that I’ve learned a lot from my dad. He can fix anything. I have this great memory of coming home from school to my dad sitting on the floor surrounded by the washing machine in about 1,000 pieces and thinking to myself, “There is no way this is ending well.” I won’t act like I didn’t hear any choice words whispered under his breath, but somehow the next day that washing machine was working like new. 

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!
In terms of his role in my life, he was (and still is) my coach, counselor, financial planner, mechanic, contractor, and for lack of a better term, my hero. Without getting too sentimental, I’d like to share one of the most important life tools that I learned from my dad: the Pro Con List. 

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!
 
It seems so simple, but it really has guided my decision making since I was a little girl. I’m not saying that you should make a pro con list for every decision (i.e. it’s not really necessary or advised to use it for deciding what to order at a restaurant). However, for important decisions, it has really, really helped me. 
 
I love it so much that I even created the “pretty” version you see above to use in my classroom (for reading and counselling). You can download it for free here. I print off a bunch and have them in my classroom in case a student comes to me with a difficult decision (e.g. What college should I go to?, Should I take AP next year?, etc.). I also use it as during reading and after reading activities. For example, when after reading part I of Antigone by Sophocles, I ask students to assume the role of Creon, the antagonist in the tragic Greek play. I ask them to complete a Pro Con list for Creon’s big decision: should he or shouldn’t he punish his niece, Antigone, for disobeying his edict? The students use the Pro Con list to determine what Creon should do. At the conclusion of the story, we revisit their Pro Con list and discuss what Creon should have or could have done differently based on their judgments. Not only are they addressing higher-order thinking skills, but the students are also learning and important life skill: decision making. As you can tell, the Pro Con List is a big time winner in my book.

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

Here’s why I love it:

  1. It requires higher order thinking. Evaluating a decision and potential outcomes is one of the highest thinking skills on Bloom’s Taxonomy. 
  2. A Pro Con list makes the abstract, concrete. Decision making (and thinking in general) are abstract. However, once you put potential outcomes and realities on paper, it becomes concrete, hence helping you make better decisions.
  3. It’s universal. If you can write, you can do a Pro Con list. Adults and children alike can benefit from this practice.
  4. You have a record of what you were thinking long after the decision is relevant. I found a Pro Con list that I made years ago when I decided to go to pursue my doctorate in education instead of law school. Not only is it interesting to see how far you’ve come from that decision, but it is also validating to remember why you made that decision.
  5. It really does help you make the best decision, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, at least you know you made an informed decision.
Happy Father’s Day to one awesome dad! I love you!

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!


Best of luck with your next decision!

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!
 
 
 

10 Meaningful Graduation Gifts That Will Make an Impact

End of the Year, Reading

Graduation season is upon us, which means you’ve likely been invited to graduation parties for former students. No matter your philosophy about attending graduation parties, you most likely will find yourself in search of the perfect graduation gift for at least one special graduate. Of course, you can give money or a gift card, but it’s unlikely to make a lasting impression and the cost can quickly add up if you’re attending several (or many) graduation parties. One meaningful graduation gift that can make a true impact is a book picked specifically for that special student. With a personalized inscription in the front cover, the student will not only remember you when his or she picks up that book, but if you choose wisely, the meaning behind the book selection can become a special treasure. Plus, you’re a teacher, so books are kinda your thing!

Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!


The following list describes 10 books that are perfect for every student in your class. These books not only match with a particular interest, but they are really meaningful books for any reader (even you!). Most of them are so cost efficient you could even pair the book with another special trinket (as I explain for a few of them).

*Thank you to my husband (a social studies teacher) who helped me compile this book list!

For questioners:

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins

Written by famous evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, this nonfiction book is the perfect gift for a student who asks insightful questions. I call these students “questioners” because they simply don’t stop questioning. To encourage them to keep asking those tough questions, give this book, which highlights many fascinating and challenging questions and their scientific answers, and rest assured their questions will keep coming.

For organization-fanatics (or students who need to become more organized):

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Mari Kondo

Taken from the title, life changing is just about the only way I can sum up this book! It is perfect for any organization fiend, like myself, or any student who needs a push in the right direction. This book would be perfect for a student who is ready to pack up his or her belongings and head to college. Need proof? Check out this post by B’s Book Love. She talks about how this book inspired her and her husband to downsize, and while you’re there, you can learn about how to apply it’s magic to your classroom.

For leaders:

Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success by John Wooden and Jay Carty

I read this book for the first time in one of my doctoral classes. The basic principles outlined in Coach Wooden’s pyramid can be applied to just about any life situation, which makes it a great gift for a graduate on your list, especially those leaders who may want personal and professional development.

For athletes and/or soon-to-be soldiers:

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by John Krakauer

Pat Tillman is one of my heroes, and his story, though tragic, is inspiring on so many levels. He was an NFL star who left the game (and millions of dollars) to respond to his personal call to serve his country after 9/11. His story will inspire your graduate to follow Tillman’s free spirit, patriotism, and heart.

For poets:

Poetry 180 by Billy Collins

This poetry collection by former American poet laureate, Billy Collins, is a collection of 180 contemporary poems that are accessible and impactful. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Animals” by Miller Williams. This short poem that relates the lives of our pets to periods in our lives is just one example of the finely selected poems that are likely to engage new graduates.

For nature lovers:

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Your students may have touched upon transcendentalism in their American Literature class, but it’s not until they read Walden in its entirety will they understand the “truth in the quiet of nature.” As a bonus, this classic work is only $5, so you could pair it with a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a small plant.

For adventurers:

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This classic novel is touted as one of the best adventure stories. As a bonus, it’s really cheap (like $3 cheap), so you could pair it with a compass as both a practical and meaningful gift to symbolize finding your way. Credit goes to my dear friend and colleague, Mrs. Mortimer, for the compass idea! She also makes beautiful t-shirts blankets that make beautiful graduation gifts and would be perfect for keeping warm on a chilly night by the campfire. You can find her on Instagram here.

For class clowns:

Connect Using Humor and Story: How I Got 18 Laughs and 3 Applauses in a 7 Minute Persuasive Speech by Mr Ramakrishna Reddy

This book is a great addition for anyone. It contains practical advice and step-by-step directions for using humor. Though it tops the list in price, it is worth it. Not to mention, you usually only have one class clown!

For future lawyers:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I got this idea from one of my former students. She loves this book so much that she asked me to read a chapter of it before I had even heard of it. When she stopped back the next period to talk about it, I had tears running down my face. It’s that good. Civil rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, will make an impact with this book.

For aspiring educators:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum

What I like about this book is that it is a great first book to build a classroom library, and it contains important fundamental life advice.


Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!


I hope these ideas can help you give a special gift to your special graduate. You don’t have to be a teacher to give these books either! Don’t forget to write a special inscription in the front cover so the student knows why you picked that particular book for him or her.

Happy summer!