Did you also love Reading Rainbow as a kid? It was a great way to get kids excited about reading. For me, that show captured the wonder and magic I felt every time I opened a book. No matter what kind of book they promoted, I wanted to read it.
Reading Rainbow understood that reading is often in need of good publicity. Some students are reluctant readers or need convincing to try a new type of book. Other students abandon books after a few pages.
I’ve found it helps to take some cues from public relations firms to improve reading’s reputation with my students. Use these tips to add surprise and delight to the reading experience in your classroom and improve reading’s image today.
1. Create a “personal library” that’s special.
When I moved to a new classroom several years ago, I put my personal collection of children’s books in a cabinet and labeled it, “Ms. Howard’s personal library. Please ask to borrow a book.” It wasn’t a big sign, but it was enough for students to ask to see what books I had hidden behind the closed cabinet door.
The requests to borrow from my library increased throughout the year, with each student taking a few minutes to talk to me about the book they chose or to ask for a recommendation. The personal interaction only added to the excitement of accessing a new, secret set of books.
TEACHER TIP: To ensure that all books are returned to you in good shape, take a picture of each student with the book they borrowed. These photos will serve as entertaining reminders of who borrowed what.
2. Save books for later.
Capture some of that excitement from the beginning of the year when the entire classroom library was new and fresh by holding back a few stacks of books to put out after winter break. This is also a good time to think about introducing new kinds of reading materials: graphic novels, illustrated encyclopedias, or even high-interest magazines.
TEACHER TIP: Make sure to give students a brief introduction to the new books in your classroom library by reading the backs of a few titles or sharing what makes each one special.
3. Adopt a classroom author or stage an event.
One of the coolest experiences I’ve had as a classroom teacher was when my fourth grade class was obsessed with Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Smile, and Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series.
Both authors were scheduled to speak as part of a live web interview, sharing their writing (and drawing) process with students across the country. I made a big announcement, sharing the details of the upcoming event, and promoted each of the books to my class.
It wasn’t long before my students had organized a list, outlining in what order they were going to read our classroom copies of Smile and Amulet 1-4. They devoured the books to get ready for the webcast, but even after the interview was over they still passed them around to read a second or even a third time.
TEACHER TIP: You don’t have to wait for a live event to promote an author or genre in your classroom. Schedule a character costume contest or arrange to show a pre-recorded author interview and build-up enthusiasm leading up to big day.
4. Change up your read-aloud.
Read aloud is a special time in the classroom, and not just because it has the power to calm and quiet even the most unsettled students. Make read aloud even more special by taking the experience one step further: pass out a small treat for students to nibble on while you read, allow them to lay on the floor as they listen, or play part of the audiobook read by the author.
One year, my students asked if they could to pull down all the curtains and turn out the lights while I read by the light of a small globe that doubled as a lamp. It was so cozy, we continued the practice all winter.
TEACHER TIP: You don’t have to spend money or provide food to turn read aloud into a memorable occasion. Changes like moving your class to a grassy spot on campus or taking care to do all the silly voices won’t cost you a thing.
5. Start a “Flashlight Friday.”
Give your sustained silent reading time a boost with flashlights.
Turn off the classroom lights, lower the shades and have students grab a comfy spot on the rug or bean bag chair. Reading by flashlight is not only an exciting treat, but it literally focuses students’ attention on the book in front of them.
TEACHER TIP: It doesn’t have to be Friday to use flashlights, but I find that alliteration makes everything more fun. Also, while blanket forts are optional, they magnify magic exponentially.