Four Steps to Immersing Your Students in Reading Over Winter Break

Archive from The Teacher Triathlete, December 10, 2016

Here in The San Francisco Bay Area, five school days stand between us and two glorious weeks of relaxation, rejuvenation, and reading!  I suspect it’s the same for most of you spread across the country.  For many of our students, winter break also means the same thing- relaxation, rejuvenation, and hopefully reading. However, as educators, how can we ensure that our kiddos will continue to immerse themselves in books while they are on an extended break from school?  

While we cannot head home or on vacation with our students, we can take a few simple steps both in the classroom and through parent communication to increase the odds that they will continue to read over break.  

Step 1:  Share your personal winter reading list with your students & invite them to create their own.  

This coming Monday, I am really excited about sharing my pictorial winter break reading list with my class of fifth grade readers.  During a very brief mini lesson on Monday… 

  • I will simply show them my pictorial listScreen Shot 2017-06-22 at 7.09.09 PM
  • Discuss why I chose to include each item
  • Invite them to think about which books, magazines, and articles they may want to consider adding to their personal lists
  • Ask them to discuss those lists with their reading partners
  • And finally, invite them to create their own via Google Drawing or by their own hand on paper.

Step 2:  Include parents and families in on the winter reading lists.  Partnering with parents around helping our students build their reading lives is not only a good idea, but it is also a critical building block of ensuring our kiddos will continue to read while they are away from our classrooms.  A simple email, newsletter, or even letters written from their children about their plans for winter break reading may do the trick. Educating parents on the importance of reading should happen all school year long, not just at Back to School Night in the fall.  Last winter and the winter before, I offered tips for parents on encouraging their kiddos to read at home during the break. Those can be found here and here

Step 3:  Provide access to books.  

Students who have books readily available at home read more than students who do not (read more about that here).  This is something we educators can take control of if we choose to do so. I’m a firm believer in opening my classroom library to students for reading both at school and at home.  When we invite students to bring home books from the classroom library we are providing both access to books and a little book education to families.  Many classroom parents over the years have mentioned that allowing students to freely take books home has been a gift in two major ways: It has saved them time, and it has exposed them to many different genres, authors, and titles they may have otherwise never been exposed to. In turn, this has helped them with future visits to the library, bookstore, and even while shopping on Amazon.  

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 7.08.31 PMWorried about losing books?  This is what prevents many teachers from sending books home.  Don’t be worried!  If you do not have a manageable system for checking out books in your classroom, create one.  Mine is a simple column of sticky notes. When a student takes a book home, they write it on a sticky note and slap it on a small section of wall near my desk. When they return the books to the classroom library, they recycle their sticky or cross out the book returned and write in the new one they are borrowing.  Very few books (that I know of) have been lost along the way.  Of the books that are never returned, I just imagine that they are being loved and read somewhere by someone! If you are just starting out with building your classroom library, and are hesitant to let go of books because of this, there are ways to build your classroom library without breaking the bank (read more about those ways here).  

Step 4:  Follow up the first week after winter break.

Creating reading lists with students is one thing.  Students reading over the break is entirely another.  One surefire way to ensure the likelihood of students reading while away from school is to offer them a voice. If you’re a classroom that uses KidblogSchoology, or another method of communicating online, you may consider inviting students to chat with each other about their reading, share blog posts, or emails over the break.  

Regardless of whether your students connect about books online or not over the Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 7.07.47 PMbreak, letting students know that the entire class will be following up with each other about their reading the first few days after break will increase the likelihood of students reading.  I’m not a big fan of assigning reading- I truly do not believe giving reading as an assignment motivates kids to read. In fact, I think assigning reading does the opposite.  When we assign reading, it turns into a have-to-do-for-my-teacher, instead of a want-to-do-for-myself.  Rather than giving an assignment, offering students a space to give book talks, share their reading with each other, and make book recommendations to friends in class does motivate them to read.  Our first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday back in class, students will know that they will be invited to share their winter reading with each other through book talks, written recommendations to add to our book recommendation wall, and by physically handing books off- one reader to another.  For our entire school year so far, students have shared books with each other during our daily morning circle (you can learn more about that here). This has turned into an expected and loved routine in our classroom.  If you haven’t tried something like this yet in your classroom, January if the perfect time to try! 

Just to recap… 

We can all increase the odds of our students immersing themselves in reading over the upcoming winter break in four simple steps. 

Step 1:  Sharing your winter reading list with your students & inviting students to create their own.

Step 2:  Including parents and families in on the winter reading lists.  

Step 3:  Providing access to books.   

Step 4:  Following up the first week after winter break.

I’m looking forward to reporting back after winter break. Enjoy this joyous time of year and happy reading, friends!

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