June 15, 2016

How I get kids to read

As part of talking about teaching, I want to share how I get kids to read. I'm not a parent, so I don't have foolproof strategies for at home. But I do have the advice I give to parents and I've managed to create a few non-reluctant readers over the years.

Let's just jump right in.

1. Give them books. I use Scholastic Book orders and accumulate points when parents order. I also throw a lot of my own money in there. Usually there's one book per book order that's $1. Or maybe $2. I'll buy one of those for every kid a few times a year. Or I use my discount codes and coupon strategies to get a lot of books for a cheaper price. Many come in assorted packs.
The point is that I give kids books for Christmas, Valentine's Day, and at the end of the school year. Sometimes for Halloween. I'm not allowed to give them candy, and I hate buying plastic toys and such. Books don't cost much more than that.
Truly, the only thing I ever give them (aside from a mechanical pencil on their birthday) is books. They learn to value it.

2. Let them read whatever they want. ...as long as they can read it and comprehend it, and as long as it's not well below their reading level. I couldn't care less what they read as long as they read. I know what their ability levels are so I just scan covers to make sure the book is in that range.

3. Read aloud (even if it goes against the curriculum). Currently, I have to carve out time for a read aloud by taking away from other things. I prioritize everything that needs to get done and is required, but I also add in a read aloud for 10 minutes a day.
If they see that I value books, they value books. My read aloud strategies are posted here and this is where I secretly persuade them with my own beliefs to introduce them to books they'd probably never choose. If I read one Gary Paulsen book to them and tell them there's a dozen more, they're more likely to look for another Gary Paulsen book.

Which leads to...

4. Talk about books. I talk to kids about books all the time. I ask them what they're reading. I tell them what I'M reading. I even keep my own reading calendar where I track minutes read each day and I show it to them so they can see how seriously I take reading (it's all mostly made up statistics, but you all know that I do read).
I never tell them they have to read a certain book, but I do make suggestions. My feelings aren't hurt if they don't take me up on the suggestion, because at least the conversation about a book happened.

5. Provide time in school (even when it goes against the curriculum). We don't have silent reading time. However, sometimes you just need a break between the intensive afternoon of 90 minutes of reading instruction and 60 minutes of science/social studies. So, again, I'll carve out some time. Instead of DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or SR Time (Silent Reading Time), I'll just say "Find a book, find a spot" and they can sit wherever they want and read until timer goes off. They have one minute to get settled and then 15 minutes to read.
When I taught 2nd grade, I read with them for 30 minutes, as it was part of the curriculum. If they saw me reading a book, they were more likely to read and not talk.
Now, I often use that 15 minutes to DIBELS test, but sometimes I do read with them also.

6. Give them accountability for at home. I have a calendar that I send home at the beginning of month. It has a place to track minutes read, a place for parents to sign, some basic guidelines, etc. I don't like doing this, but if I didn't provide the structure, some kids would never ever read at home. And even as it is, some kids never ever read at home. I tell them it's graded (and it is) and sometimes that doesn't even make a difference. This calendar will not turn a child into a reader but, like spelling homework, I've found that it kind of strengthens the home-school connection because it's something that parents are familiar with and know what to do with (in this world of Common Core and DIBELS testing...ugh).

7. Give parents tips. Parents always say that their kid reads and I can tell who reads at home and who doesn't just in the same way that the dentist can tell when you don't floss regularly. This is the list I usually rattle off at conferences in October (I should type it up this year and just hand it out).

*Have your child read out loud. The15 or 20 minutes will fly by while you're cooking dinner, driving to practice, etc. If it's hard at first, set a timer for ten minutes to start off.
*Ask questions about what your child just read. Focus on characters, setting, prediction, drawing conclusions, and sequence. Important: Drawing a conclusion is a learned skill.
*If your child wants to read silently, try this first: Have them read a page of the book out loud. They shouldn't make more than 5 mistakes (I'd stand over their shoulder so you're reading it too). If they make more than 5, the book is too hard.
*Don't let them read the same book over and over again. I've had a couple of students insist that Charlotte's Web was their favorite and I'd see them reading it again...and again. That's fine for your spare time, but we don't learn anything if we reread the same book over and over. Plus, that's a 2nd-3rd grade book. A 4th grader, at a 4th grade reading level, who has already read that book just needs to put it on a special shelf and move on.
*Model. Read a book while they read a book. Burn through those 20 minutes together. They don't need to be read to always, but they need to see good habits in reading as they do with nutrition, exercise, good behavior, etc.


Any tips to add? 
Parents, what do you do at home? 


  1. Great tips!! We're slowly slowly approaching a time when these tips will be effective for us, but still with a 4.5 year old, I read to her as often as possible and answer questions where I can.

  2. Oh! And we listen to stories on podcasts on the drive to and from school!

  3. Let me tell you...my FAVORITE memory from school is my 4th grade teacher reading Summer of the Monkeys to us. I can't remember how often we read, once a week or daily. But I can still remember sitting in the hot school room (AC wasn't installed yet) with the lights off and a cool ice pop with her soothing voice reading that book. Best memory!!! Thanks for reminding me of that happiness today. Reading is love!

  4. My Mom loves telling a story from when I was 11, and I was telling some adult, "My Mom never gives me time to read!" She asked me, in front of the other adult, "How many books have you read this week?" and I said, "Five," still believing that my mom never gave me the chances to read that she ought to have given me. ...so I have never really been able to relate to kids who don't want to read constantly. The two 5-year-olds I teach are just at the beginning of learning to read--right now the balance of reading time is heavily spent on me reading to them, though they do read aloud to me individually each day, and I encourage any reading they can do just through noticing the words around them on book covers or signs or dvds and such. They love sounding out the letters on the signs in the elevator--I can't wait till their reading skills are far enough along that they can start reading some books that are a little more interesting!

  5. All awesome stuff. I love when people are invested in getting kids to read. I always saw people in my family reading and always had books around me, and we do the same for my niece. It's important in school but it's really important at home too.

  6. Great tips!

    Is your school involved in any reading programs like Book It! (through Pizza Hut)? Our local Minor League baseball team also does a program each spring where the student gets a free game ticket if they complete the month and other little prizes along the way. Some fun incentives that get the family involved...but like you said, there will always be some who choose not to participate.

  7. I was a HUGE reader when I was a kid. I learned to read when I was 3, and I honestly can't remember my parents ever reading to me, though I'm sure they did before I learned to do it myself. My mom never had to try and force me to read...she had to force me to put down books to do my chores. Her favorite punishment for me was taking away my library books if my room wasn't clean, haha. I hope my kids inherit the same appetite for reading. These are great tips if they don't!

  8. I love #2!!! It's so true, if you let kids read what they want they are more likely to do it.

  9. It's nice to hear this from the teacher side. My 10 year old loves to read. He reads way above his age and always has. He read all the Harry Potter books in third grade. I don't have any desire to read those. My 7 year old is troublesome though. We have to fight with her to get her to read. One of the rules for the summer is reading 30 minutes a day. 10 year reads a couple hours a day, but 7 year old just doesn't want to. I know it's because she gets frustrated. She picks out her own library books and I also pick some out that I know won't be too hard so she'll love them. We are also doing 5 summer reading programs, so that is an incentive, but it's still a fight with her.

  10. Kristin, this is FANTASTIC to see from the perspective of a teacher. Since, I'm "only" a step-parent, and my stepkid's mom is a primary school vice principal, sometimes I am not as pro-active about his educational stuff as I should be. Except reading. I'm always encouraging Liam and his reading. He's all about the Goosebumps series right now, and we talk about the story he's read quite often. Thanks for sharing all the tips.

  11. Ooooh! I like the list of suggestions you have for reading at home. We use AR (Accelerated Reader) at MV, and in 6th grade, students are given an individual point goal based on the results of their STAR test (with the AR program). What I like about this is that students get a point goal based on their abilities as readers. Our special education students can have as low as 1 to 3 points, and I had a student this year who needed 13. Sometimes, though, getting the students to actually read AT HOME (which was the original intent of the program) is hard, and they're cramming in points at the last minute. I might have to steal these tips and possibly begin the year by having them read at home as a homework grade....

    I would also really love to make time to read aloud to them every day. Somehow, the 5th grade teachers have managed to do this. Since we work in 80 minute blocks now, I should find a way to at least do 10 minutes of a read aloud each day. (Students can also take AR tests on books read aloud to them so that would be helpful!)

  12. i don't have kids obviously but i love this perspective, and it really makes me think about how i will (hopefully) get my future kids to read. especially if (gasp) they don't love it as much as i do lol


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