If someone were to walk into your classroom, would they know how much you value reading? Have you created a culture of reading within the four walls of your classroom?
Even before someone walks into my classroom, they get a sense that this classroom values reading. I’ve posted reading quotes above the lockers alongside my classroom, I proudly display my school picture with alongside me holding my favorite YA book and I have a sign on my door sharing with all students and guests what I’m currently reading, and the books I’ve read in the current school year.
Once they open the classroom door, they will see my classroom library in the far corner near the window, content-related non-fiction books and another corner, bulletin boards with phrases encouraging students to read and student work proudly displayed. As they look closer my library, they will see little pieces of paper popping out of the books – these are student reviews and recommendations!
If they come during class, they would also see students sitting on the floor or with their feet up across several chairs or sitting at a desk but all of them would be reading. Every student would be reading a book they chose to read or having a conversation with me about their book.
This is what happens when you create a culture of reading a culture where reading and books are valued. From the first day of class, until the last day of school, both students and I are sharing about the books we are reading and the stories we love.
How did I build this culture?
I am very blessed that I work in a building that values reading as much as I do, but I know for some of you that’s not the case, so let’s talk about some things that you can do in your own classroom, in your own space to build a culture of reading.
Talk about what you’re reading
You can have all the pretty things, but if you don’t show your love of reading with students, then all the pretty things are just decorations.
I make it a point to read YA fiction. Much of it I enjoy, some of it I don’t, but it is important to be familiar with current YA books so I can make recommendations to students. But I’m an adult and I like reading other types of books. I share these too. I share books I’m reading about business, or a fun seasonal book, a biography pretty much anything I’m reading. I don’t book talk or recommend these books to students, but I do tell them that I’m read other types of books and I add the book cover to my door display.
I show them that reading is not just something I do for class but it’s something that I do in life.
Share your own experience with reading
students are always surprised to learn but I was not always a reader and fact I didn’t really like reading until I was in college. I had learning difficulties and issues with my eyes that made learning to read very difficult for me and something I was very good at avoiding.
I share with students that when I was in college and was able to choose the books I wanted to read, I found books that were fun and entertaining. I learned that fairy tale retellings and fantasies were some of my favorite books to read. It was through books that I began to dream about traveling and I realized how much I could learn about life by reading biographies
I share these experiences with students and explain how a whole new world opened to me when I became a reader.
Make trips to the library a regular part of class
When students were in elementary school, trips to the library were part of the regular schedule but once they get to Middle School, many students never see the inside of the library again.
Library days in my classes are like mini-holidays. They are scheduled and they are days we look forward to! I post it on the board and we count down the day!
I try to schedule a library visit at least once during each grading period (for us that’s once every 6 weeks) more if it works into our schedule. With each library visit I ask the librarian to do a quick book talk of a few current titles before I release students to browse the stacks. I like this for a few reasons 1) Student see another adult talking about books and 2) it gets everyone in the library and settled before they are “set free” and it curbs many of the unwanted behaviors before they start.
Invite other staff members to share about books
Even if you work in a building where reading is not celebrated, I bet there are people on staff who have a love of reading and would be willing to share that love with the students in your class. Invite other staff members such as instructional aides, counselors, administration, secretaries, lunch ladies, anyone really, into your class to share about what they’re currently reading. Many would love an opportunity to interact with your students in this way – It never hurts to ask!
Create a low-risk environment for students to try new genres
If students are not used to choosing their own books, the thought of choosing a book they might not like can be a barrier to trying anything at all. Make it acceptable for students to abandon a book if they don’t like it. [see discussion on abandoning books here]
Creating a culture of reading in your class doesn’t mean putting on a dog and pony show about how great reading is. Be genuine with your students when you talk about books. Be honest with them when you share your struggles, your successes and the risks that you’ve taken. Whenever possible, invite other adults to share their love of reading with your class.