If you find it hard to get your classroom full of tweens to crack open a book, you are not alone. The leap from easy read chapter books to full-blown YA novels can be daunting. Even the most avid readers in elementary school can find it difficult to summon the time or desire to read for fun. Here are some sure-fire tips to help you spark or re-kindle (no Amazon-based puns intended) the love of reading in your middle school classroom.
In-Class Book Clubs
Leadership Coach and former educator Elena Aguilar, in her blog post titled Ten Ways to Cultivate a Love of Reading in Students, says, “Many students (especially boys) need to interact with each other around texts. It greatly enhances their comprehension and makes it so much more enjoyable.”
Creating book clubs is a great way to divide the classroom into smaller groups, which makes it easier and less intimidating for in-depth discussion among the students.
And here’s an idea…
Create book clubs within the classroom with each “club” reading a book in a different genre. Expose the students to several different types of books: nonfiction, historical, fantasy, mystery, etc. Allow the students to pick the club/genre that most piques their interest. You can even allow a student to switch groups to help them find the book that is best for them.
When my son was in fourth grade, he had a wonderfully enthusiastic teacher who was absolutely enamored by the Harry Potter series. She would often comment to kids about her favorite scenes, tell them how things they did reminded her of things that happened in the book, quoted the book at random, contrasted the books with the movies, and even brought in her own well-worn, dog-eared copies of the books for them to see.
All autumn, she again and again reminded them of how excited she was for December to come when they would start reading the first book in their classroom. On the day before they were to start to read, she brought in a replica sorting hat and sorted the kids into the traditional Hogwarts houses. By design, she had them whipped into a frenzy before they turned the first page. Many had been so excited that they sought out the books early and started reading them. One can tell a student that they should/would love reading, but showing and sharing your own enthusiasm is a much more powerful message.
Plain and simple—if you haven’t checked out shmoop.com, you need to. This site has tons of free resources for educators of all grades. For your middle grade classroom, I suggest taking a peek at the Bestsellers section, http://www.shmoop.com/bestsellers/. Choose the YA/teen bestselling novel that you want to feature in your classroom and the site will provide you with summaries, quotes, trivia, questions…you name it. As of the publishing of this post, there are more than enough to feature one a week (really enough to feature a new book every few days). With every book you expose your potential young readers to; you heighten their chances of finding something to entice them between the pages.
As reported in the 2015 Socialnomics report, 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations. If a peer recommends it, it’s golden. And essentially, you have a room full of peers—kids who have spent their entire academic careers together. You can leverage the peer recommendation mindset to your advantage.
Announce, “Today we are going to make book recommendations for Johnny. You all know Johnny. He plays football and his favorite movie is Jurassic World.” It helps to give the students a favorite movie or TV show to use as a base for recommendations. Have a list of books and blurbs about their content available for those that might need a little help thinking of books to recommend. Make sure all students know that they may also recommend books that do not appear on the list. Let all students make one recommendation by ballot and include their name. By using a ballot system, they can’t see each other’s recommendations to duplicate intentionally. Collect all the ballots and compile the recommendations. Present Johnny with the list of recommendations, leaving out who recommended each so that he doesn’t just pick his best friend’s recommendation. Let Johnny pick out the one book in the recommendation list that most piques his interest and give the submitter of that recommendation a small prize. The prize will encourage better recommendations. Repeat with each student in class.
A great side effect is that the students, while in the process of giving recommendations, also learn more about their own options for reading.
Blog About It
Start a class book blog. WordPress and Blogger (Google) will allow you to set up a blog for free. Make it a classroom assignment for the students to read a book and write a review to post to the blog.
Many authors offer free copies of their books to book blogs who are willing to post an honest review. Often times, the free copy is signed by the author and is accompanied by other special perks like bookmarks, stickers, badges, jewelry, and other book related items. As a reward for writing a review, allow the student to keep the book and freebies (what we in the bookish circles call “swag”).
Not only does this incentivize reading, but it places a level of responsibility on the student. Additionally, if the student is posting the finished review, they accumulate valuable web design and maintenance skills, which can help build their resume.
Tried any of these ideas? I’d love to hear about your experience. Be sure to leave a comment.