25 Ways to Build Your School’s Reading Culture

From books on buses to little free libraries, creative ways to spread the book love.

The story that went viral earlier this year about the teacher who had the genius idea of installing a basket of books on her school’s bus has a crucial message behind it: Small acts can have a big impact when it comes to fostering a culture of reading in your school and community. When we let students know that reading is worthwhile and empower them to experience it joyfully, it creates a chain reaction of literacy learning. Here are 25 of our favorite strategies for fostering a reading culture.

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1. Leave reminders about books everywhere.

Whether it’s on your classroom bulletin board, or in the hallway, or even on the wall clock, dropping not-so subtle hints about great books gets students’ attention.

2. Make sure actual books are everywhere, too.

Display books attractively in all areas of your classroom to highlight their many uses. Little kids can use books as pretend play props—baby dolls love bedtime stories! Kids of all ages will be intrigued if you leave a field guide near the window for birding or with a cool rock or shell collection.

3. Make your classroom library a sacred—and accessible—space.

Make sure your library is organized to allow kids to get in, find a great book, and get reading immediately. For tons of insight about effective classroom library setup, we’re loving the professional book It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classrooms that Inspire Readers by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan.

4. Ditch the level labels.

Yes, it was standard practice at one point to organize classroom library titles by level, but this approach is outdated.Organize your library by topic, author, or genre instead to encourage readers to choose books they will love.

5. Stay up to date on the best books.

There will always be classroom classics that every kid should read, but kids gravitate to what looks fresh and new. Replace worn or dated titles, assess your library regularly for representation, and celebrate new releases and book arrivals as notable classroom events. (Do you need to brush up on the newest, best titles to share with students? WeAreTeachers’ book list archiveshave you covered.)

6. Share those recos.

Source: Bookriot

Create a community in which readers recommend books to each other in visible ways. Create a What I’m Reading bulletin board, highlighting picks from teachers and other school staff (the more unexpected, the better) to model lifelong reading for students. Peer recommendations pack incredible currency, so make sure you have an ongoing way for kids to promote their favorites. (It doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.)

7. Give lots of book talks.

Hearing someone rave about a book immediately makes it more appealing. Give frequent book talks to highlight titles for kids.

8. Dial up the fun factor.

Gimmicks tend to work with kids. Add a fun reading-themed element to your school to spark excitement about books. This book vending machine got rave reviews from kids. Repurpose an old gumball dispenser into a poem vending machine or make your own from recycled materials.

9. Read aloud to all ages.

What’s the one practice that should happen in classrooms at every grade level (plus, we’d argue, at assemblies, faculty meetings, and parent events, too)? Reading aloud. You’re really never too old to enjoy being read to, and reading aloud a compelling title is one of the BEST ways to promote enjoyment of books. To get reinspired, check out The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by the Wall Street Journal children’s book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon.

10. Make reading a social activity.

Reading is a solitary pleasure, but reading in a community makes it even better. Ask compelling questions and give kids plenty of low-stress opportunities to talk about books. How about encouraging Lunch Bunch book clubs?

11. Try a whole-school read.

There’s a special connection created by shared book experiences. Scale this phenomenon. Elementary school classes can all read aloud the same title. Classics like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web appeal to a wide range of ages and have curriculum tie-in possibilities for any grade. Middle and high schools can select a title everyone reads to provoke important community conversations and build empathy. Check out the One School, One Book program website for ample resources.

12. Incorporate literacy into your morning announcements.

Get kids to stop chatting and start listening to the announcements with a fun literacy-themed component each day. Share a quote from a favorite book or book trivia fact. Or, share a joke of the day to build vocabulary and show students the fun of word play.  

13. School leaders, be literacy leaders.

School administrators set the tone in a school in so many ways. Make sure authentically promoting reading is one of them. Be that principal who’s always carrying a book around, excited to talk about it with students. Be that principal who invites students into your office to browse your principal’s bookshelf or pick out a book to keep as a birthday treat.

14. Connect kids with authors.

It’s so powerful for kids to realize that books are created by real people. In-person author visits can be expensive, but virtual visits are a fantastic option. Author Kate Messner offers an extensive list of authors who Skype with classes for free. Writing to authors can also be a powerful exercise for kids. This post has some helpful tips.  

15. Make it reading for the win.

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We started my first ever #marchbookmadness bracket and I’m so pumped. I selected 16 books. To make it a little easier on timing, 8 of them I have already read this year. For the next few weeks, I will be reading the other 8 and my students will get to vote. On Monday, they will set up their bracket. The only requirement is they have to write in pen so there is no changing of answers. Then at the beginning of each day I will read a picture book and then the students throughout the day will vote through our Google form to select the one that gave them a #confettimoment . #googleforms The following morning we will have an unveiling of the winner. This will happen for the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, and the championship title. If you want to see and hear more about this fun interactive reading activity head to my highlights under student engagement- it will be up by this weekend. This activity is a great way to get your student engaged and find their love of story telling. #readingteacher #picturebooksaremyjam

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Everyone’s loving the March book madness ideas on social media, but you don’t need to stop there. Organize a book pennant race during the World Series, a book Super Bowl (who will play the halftime show?), or host the Library Olympics à la Mr. Lemoncello. Who says reading can’t be a sport?

16. Roll out the red carpet.

Source: Patch.com

Participating in a book award process as a class or school generates excitement about great titles and builds community around reading. Join in with one of the many state book award programs, submit a class nomination for the Nerdy Book Awards, or create your own. Do it up right: paparazzi, a red carpet, sunglasses, and feather boas are totally appropriate when you announce the big winners.

17. Take on a challenge.

A good challenge can build intrinsic motivation for reading. (Plus, checking off items on a list IS a reward, as to-do list addicts everywhere know.) Challenges can also encourage readers to try out books they might not otherwise have chosen. Brightly is a reliable resource for monthly reading challenges, or create your own.

18. Tap into the power of social media.

There are lots of ways to use Insta, Twitter, and Snapchat to get kids excited about reading and connect with the wider reading community. Have kids join the #bookstagrammer ranks to recommend books to others or create fake profiles for book characters. Even the act of publicly logging page-number progress or books read on a book-driven social platform like Goodreads can be motivating.

19. Change it up with theme days.

Inject a little novelty into reading time by planning special themed reading days. Grabbing a flashlight to curl up and read in a blanket fort on pajama day is a perennial favorite. You could also try a reading picnic outdoors, a book-themed treasure hunt in which the treasure is a stack of new books for your classroom library, or a fractured fairy tale day.

20. Host a community read aloud day.

What’s even more exciting than a teacher reading aloud a fantastic book? A firefighter reading it. Or a police officer. Or a local athlete, news anchor, or even a notable school face like the custodian or a favorite bus driver. Put the call out for volunteers to grab their favorite titles and spend time sharing them in classrooms.

21. Celebrate book holidays.

There are plenty of other reading-themed celebration days in addition to Read Across America Day. How about bringing World Book Day to your school and ask everyone to dress up as a favorite book character? Or honor Día, (Children’s Book Day), a national celebration that promotes literacy for children from all backgrounds. Need more ideas? This month-by-month list of book-themed holidayshas plenty.

22. Get books in kids’ homes.

The power of book ownership is unparalleled for kids. Host a book giveaway event with your school’s book fair to make sure all kids get to bring home new books, even if they can’t buy them. Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp’s book Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids has tons more ideas for getting books in kids’ hands (plus lots of online resources you can unlock with a hard copy purchase).

23. Celebrate libraries of all sizes.

Source: littlefreelibrary.org

You can’t beat the charm of a Little Free Library . Involve students in bringing one to your school or other community location, or create a list of existing local ones kids can seek out. Give your public library every shout out possible, too. Meet with your local librarians to determine barriers to kids’ public library use and work together to overcome them.

24. Provide virtual read-aloud alternatives.

Of course, there’s no perfect substitute for a snuggled up, in-person read aloud, but if you’re worried students don’t have anyone to read to them at home, offer an online substitute. The Internet loves Texas principal Dr. Belinda George, who hosts the Tucked-in Tuesday read aloud for her students each week via Facebook Live. Check out the WeAreTeachers Storytime series, too! 

25. Highlight and support literacy champions in your wider community.

Source: Barbershop Books

We love hearing stories of literacy-themed community programs, like barbershops stocked with books, or efforts to bring books to places kids tend to hang around waiting, like the laundromat. Identify places where your students spend out-of-school time and offer to partner with community members to get kids reading when they’re not in class.

How does your school foster reading culture? Share your tips in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, 21 ways to build background knowledge and support readers.

25 Ways to Build Your School's Reading Culture

Posted by Lindsay Barrett

A former elementary teacher and reading nonprofit director, Lindsay now works as a literacy consultant and freelance writer while wrangling her four young children.

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