Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nurturing Literacy: Tips and Resources For Developing Lifelong Readers


"Read along with me: the best is yet to be." - Lisa Dabbs (adapted from Robert Browning)

When I first became a teacher, I was excited to begin sharing the love of reading with my students. I grew up loving to read and couldn't wait to open up the children's literary book club pick that my Dad had on monthly order for me.

The time I spent with books transformed my life and sparked my imagination. I wanted to create a similar experience for my students, but I found that it was sometimes a challenge due to their home life circumstances. In the end, though, it was well worth the effort.

Fostering the love of reading in your class may take a little work, but there are plenty of resources available to support you in this effort. Here are five suggestions that can help you get started with leading the "love for reading" charge.

1. Read Aloud

Read-aloud time was one of the favorite things in my class. My students loved the chance to sit together on the carpet or at their desks and listen to their teacher read. It was one of the best times of the day for me. I loved to read in different voices and "ham it up," depending on the book we were reading. It gave my students a chance to see me in a different light and connect with me in a down-to-earth way. Don't neglect this opportunity to bring reading alive in the classroom. Remember that it's OK to read fave books many times during the year, and to include chapter books and poetry as well. If reading aloud is not your thing, seek out colleagues, administrators, parents and web friends who can support you. Skype an Author is also a great way to build excitement around the read-aloud time.


2. Visit the Library -- Weekly

When was the last time you stepped into your local library to check out the haps? When was the last time you did this with your class? It's true that many school libraries have been shut down, but why not consider planning a library field trip? It's an amazing opportunity to get books into the hands of your kids -- for free! Get colleagues, parents and school admin to support you. Your local librarian can be an excellent resource, so be sure to tap him or her for support. While you're there, don't forget to sign everyone up for a library card!


3. Develop a Classroom Library

Did you know that research says we should have at least 1,200 books in our classroom libraries to support our students' literacy? Do you have a classroom library? If not, I urge you to develop one. To share the love of reading with our students, we need to have a variety of books that are easily accessible for them to read. How do we accomplish this feat? By enlisting the support of parents, friends and family who will make a commitment to support your goal of developing and sustaining a classroom library. Ask them to donate books or sponsor your class with resources that can be used to purchase books. Also, be sure to collaborate with colleagues on creative ways to fund your libraries.


4. Start a Book Club

The idea of a book club can be so exciting for our kids. Many students will benefit from the fun interaction that a book club can provide. Book talks with friends makes the idea of reading that much more enjoyable. The whole social nature of book clubs can be a very positive activity for kids who may still feel that reading is boring. For a resource on how to get a book club rolling, check out Elizabeth's blog post about how she engages her students in reading.


5. Write Stories

Writing stories can be overwhelming for kids. At the beginning, let's make this easy and fun. Try the idea of adapting a current storyline of a favorite book (Brown Bear, Brown Bear comes to mind) and having students turn that into "their" story. Early grades especially can benefit from this strategy to support a student's writing until they are ready to write (with your guidance) on their own. Consider integrating apps, such as StoryBird and FlipSnack, that allow for a collaborative writing experience.


More Suggestions to Keep On Reading

Here are three more resources that you might want to check out:

  1. Read with Me: My Book List: Create a Pinterest board with your classroom.
  2. What Should I Read Next?: Type in your favorite book, and this website will list 20 others similar to it.
  3. Ten Ways to Cultivate a Love of Reading in Students: My fellow Edutopia blogger Elena Aguilar provides more great tips.

The five tips I've shared today are probably not new to you, but they are a way to help you stay on course with nurturing a love of reading in your classroom. Do you have suggestions of your own? I'd love to have you share them in the comments.

As a teacher, I was obsessed with cultivating a love of reading in my students. I love to read, loved it as a kid too. I'm equally compelled to ensure that my own child loves reading -- and he does. I well aware that I'm on a mission -- but I also know it's a worthy one!

Here are ten suggestions for how any teacher, teaching any subject can participate in this mission, and how parents and administrators can help.

  1. Read. Simple first step! If we're going to encourage kids to read we need to do it too. Read for pleasure, information, instructions, connecting with others, and so on. Read. Read a little more than you've been reading lately.
  2. Share your reading experiences. Share with colleagues, friends and students. Tell them what you've been reading, what you've gained or learned from these texts, what you recommend. As a teacher, I very intentionally and regularly told my students what I was reading, where I read, ("in the bath!"); I brought in the books I read, I read passages to them, I read during silent reading, I told them about how I couldn't wait for the weekend so that I could read, about my book club arguments, the stories my husband I read aloud to each other...and so on. Help them see what a reader does. Also -- I recently discovered Goodreads where you can share, get recommendations, and read reviews that friend have written -- I had so much fun on this site and was reminded of how socializing and reading are a perfect match. If you are on Goodreads, or join, find me there! I'd love to hear about what you're reading. I also wonder if there's an equivalent for kids to use -- anyone know?
  3. Invite students to socialize around reading. Set up book clubs, reading groups, literature circles. Many students (especially boys) need to interact with each other around texts. It greatly enhances their comprehension and makes it so much more enjoyable. Adults know that (we join book clubs and spend hours on Goodreads) so let's help kids have this experience too.
  4. Organize a Read-a-Thon. A beautiful event that parents and administrators can take a lead on setting up. My son's school recently did a Read-a-Thon and it was the highlight of the year for my boy. Kids wore PJs, took their pillows and stuffed animals to school, were invited to re-read their favorite books or select a "challenge book." Parents supplied snacks, teachers and administrators read. It was fun and community building and they raised a lot of money.
  5. Take a field trip. This is another way to make reading social and exciting. Visit your local library, a university library or a bookstore. It's not about checking out or buying books -- it's about being surrounded by thousands of books, touching their gorgeous pages, seeing the world of possibility in print, salivating over what there is to know and explore. In my family, we often take weekend trips to explore different bookstores in the area. We make it an adventure and talk about what constitutes a "good bookstore;" it's just fun. This is another event that parents can organize and administrators can support or encourage.
  6. Listen to audio books. Invite students to listen to them; play short passages. To me, audio books "count" as reading. While you're not developing decoding or fluency skills, you are acquiring vocabulary, applying comprehension strategies, and enjoying stories or accruing information. Some of the audio books I've listened to have stuck with me in ways that reading text hasn't. My mind was free to visualize the scenes in a way that creating lasting images. (One such book like this was Native Son by Richard Wright. A phenomenal listen).
  7. Invite authors to speak. Another activity that can be supported by admin and parents. Kids can be greatly impacted from hearing an author (if possible, especially one from a similar background to theirs) speak about reading and writing.
  8. Make connections between reading and other issues. I just read this this fascinating article in Harper's about how people in Mali hid their ancient sacred texts as Islamic militants took over Timbuktu. Books and reading have always been political (think banned books, prohibitions on slaves becoming literate, etc.). Help students see the wider, historical and political context of the importance of reading to enhance their appreciation.
  9. Learn about specific needs for specific populations. Those responsible for teaching literacy also need professional development in how to serve specific vulnerable populations. One book that dramatically changed how I taught reading in middle school is Reading Don't Fix No Chevys, by Wilhelm and Smith. If you teach boys, you must read this book! Another equally impactful book for me was Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males, by A. Tatum. We need to meet the needs of all learners.
  10. Teach reading strategies. Finally, I believe that all teachers, in every content area, should be responsible for teaching reading. Text genres are different in every content area -- teachers should receive PD in how to teach reading strategies so that they can do so with students. Kids won't enjoy reading if they can't do it -- no one loves doing something that's really hard. We must give them the skills to read at the same time that we cultivate an attitude.

There's so much more we can all do -- from the superintendent to the classroom teacher, the custodian to the parent's association. I'm tempted to turn this list into "20 things..." but I'll stop here and invite your participation!

Teaches, how do you cultivate a love of reading? Administrators, what do you do towards this end? Parents, how do you do this with your own children? Please comment in the section below.


The importance of early literacy cannot be understated. Countless studies have shown that students who start reading earlier are better prepared for the academic road ahead. Not to mention, early readers are much more likely to become lifelong readers.

Parents and teachers play an important role in lifelong literacy, but how exactly can they best help their kids cultivate a love for reading? Well, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and I'm sure you all have strategies of your own. But we wanted to highlight a few resources from around the web that can offer support in this challenging task.

  • Early Literacy Teaching Guides: MAKE WAY FOR BOOKS, an early literacy advocacy nonprofit, offers a wealth of resources for educators. And MWFB’s early literacy teaching guides are just one example. Each guide offers tips, strategies and activities for helping young learners develop a love for reading. The MWFB website also features a section for families that offers information about early literacy and strategies for enjoying books with your kids.
  • Excerpts from Building Student Literacy Through Sustained Silent Reading: ASCD published the first chapter of Steve Gardiner’s book for free, with other chapters available if you purchase the e-book. The first chapter is a wonderful resource, and it provides a solid overview of SSR, some research behind it, and ideas for incorporating a silent reading program in your classroom. Also check out sixth-grade teacher Donalyn Miller’s article “Becoming a Classroom of Readers,” originally printed in Educational Leadership, which offers strategies for encouraging reading in your classroom.
  • Early Literacy Resources from Reading Is Fundamental: Early literacy nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental produced this collection of activities, book lists, articles and multicultural reading resources, and it's full of helpful information. For middle school students, there’s the interactive reading resource “Reading Planet” that would certainly be useful in class. You might start with the article "Getting Your Child to Love Reading,” by Kathryn Perkins.
  • Tips for Creating a Home Library from Reading Rockets: Reading Rockets is a fabulous source for reading resources for parents and teachers. It’s hard to pick just one piece -- but I felt that this article really fit with the theme of cultivating a love of reading. A home library is a powerful motivator for kids, and here you’ll find fun tips for putting one together on any budget. For students who use tablets for reading, “Top 12 Comprehension Apps,” is a great source for reading tech inspiration.
  • Interactive Reading Resources from ReadWriteThink: These interactive resources from ReadWriteThink cover a variety of topics. But for reading specific modules, check out the Learning About Language and Organizing and Summarizing collections. Both offer some extremely useful tools to encourage deeper reading, comprehension and organizing notes and research.

    Really, there are many different useful tech resources. Which ones do you use in your classroom? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out these other useful tech resources for reading comprehension:

    Some Recent Edutopia Reading Blogs:

    Edutopia's bloggers wrote some pretty inspiring posts about literacy and lifelong reading last year. These are just a few from 2013 that were hits with our readers, and each one offers practical tips, tools and strategies for encouraging students to read.