- Declare Freedom Read-Um Days.
These are the days when I allow students to choose whatever book they want from whatever leveled bin. Students are free to move up or down levels to suit their desire. I also allow students to choose any location in the room to do the reading and on many of the Freedom days I allow free choice of partners to read to and share with. This totally celebrates student choice.
I had a very high level advanced reader two years ago who on Freedom Read-um Days would drop down and take it easy. One day I saw him reading a book from two reading levels below his independent level. The book was called, The Stupids Die. When I asked him why was he reading from that bin of books he said, “I wanted to have fun and reading the word Stupid is a lot of fun.” I laughed, he laughed and later we read it to the class and we all laughed. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. That brings us to suggestion number 2.
- Read books with “Bad” words in them.
If you have ever worked with young students you know that the so called “S” word is not what it means later on in life. For my second graders it means stupid. I learned this early on in my career when a little tattler came up and announced that Cindy just used the “S” word and upon cross examination it was revealed that she called the tattler stupid. I was very relieved. So there are books out there with words that still have shock value to young readers. My personal favorite is the series called Walter the Farting Dog. The most easily distracted student will be hanging on every word as you read that classic. I also include the Stupid Family books in this list. Someone once suggested Everyone Poops but I haven’t seen it yet. Feel free to add titles in the comments of books that hold shock value and are fun for younger students.
- Create fun independent reading environments.
Recently I asked my students to describe their favorite reading spots at home. Not one said sitting in a chair at a desk. So we revamped our classroom reading time. I allowed students to design and implement this daily ritual and the outcome was a big increase in engagement. Students also became very expressive about how much they loved reading this way. I told the kids to go home and design a favorite reading nook with their families. Emails started rolling in with shocked claims of students racing off the bus to go and read. Parents were very happy to see some major transformations happen in their reluctant readers.
Here is what we created:
Here is the link to create a beach reading environment.
Students have also chosen the waterfalls and
But this led to higher request to use the bathroom.
- Turn read aloud chapter books into multi-sensory vacations.
Research shows just how important being read to is to developing literacy skills in young students. At home being read to is becoming more and more rare. To hook my students I have transformed my chapter book read alouds to involve all the senses. Every year I read The Cricket in Times Square in the fall and then I switch to the Borrowers Series of which I usually read 3 or 4 of the 5 books. I go chapter by chapter and find ways to bring more depth of experience to the children.
The Cricket in Times Square lends itself well. There is a chapter where the characters eat fortune cookies so I bring fortune cookies for my class. Almost every chapter has a different variety of music the cricket learns to play on his wings. I incorporate YouTube videos of the songs and explain opera, South American Rhumba, Irish jigs, and Italian folk songs. I created a playlist on YouTube. As a culminating activity I get a visitor to come and play the violin in class. When I read I always use voices and accents to differentiate the characters. Let’s just say I do a mean Brooklyn Tucker Mouse and hoity toity Harry Cat.
The Borrowers is set in the English countryside about 100 years ago so I play all sorts of videos from that time period to show how life was then. In one of the stories there is a thatched cottage so the whole class goes outside with me to collect materials to make thatch. We also use old lunch half-pint milk cartons to create model cottages to recreate the village from the story.
- Celebrate and share student success with their families.
I have always had students call their parents from my cell phone as soon as I have determined that they are moving up a level in their reading. Parents love the mid-day connection they get to their child; that is, as soon as they realize no one is in trouble. J Students beam with pride knowing everyone in class is aware they are using the teacher’s phone. This year I decided to up the ante. After having gone through the National Board Certification process I have incorporated parents as participants and not just witnesses to the learning. So I now will use Voxer, a free app, to record students reading aloud their Developmental Reading Assessment, DRA2. The test has them read a portion aloud, make predictions, then answer comprehension questions and retell the story. I forward these “voxes” to my school email and then forward that to the parent with the feedback I generate after going over the results from the assessment. Now parents know how many words per minute their child is reading, what areas they are strong in and/or need to improve in. They hear firsthand what I heard. This creates a very comprehensive bridge between the classroom and home reading environments. Students are able to discuss with parents in detail what they are doing in reading. Testing is not usually associated with having fun but the celebration that I link to the reading is the key. Pride is a valuable and powerful motivator in 7 year olds.