Hooray! It’s near the end of the year, and testing is over! But now what do you do to fill the time?
Here are seven reading activities that are all connected and are intended to move students toward choice reading, which is so important if we want to create lifelong readers.
Click below to skip to each activity:
On page 23 in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller states, “Why does choice matter? Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them. It promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control. Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated.”
And on pages 28-29 in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller states, “Because so many students’ reading choices are dictated by their teachers, they never learn how to choose books for themselves. How can they shape a self-identity as a reader if they never get the chance to find out what they like? If you are a student and your entire class is reading one book together (a common practice), what do you do if you don’t like that book? How would that uninteresting book color your view of books in general? By denying students the opportunity to choose their own books to read, teachers are giving students a fish year after year but never teaching them to go near the water, much less fish for themselves.”
I don’t want to simply give you end-of-the-year busy work activities. My hope is that these reading activities will thrust your students into summer with a joy for reading and a habit for reading daily. That’s why I think it’s important to implement these activities now, as soon as possible, so that you have time to build this habit with your students before the start of summer.
In The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel page 145 states, “Research shows that the reading levels of students who stop reading during the summer drop an average of three months. Perhaps even more unsettling, the I.Q.s of children who don’t read over the summer drop or stagnate, too. Frequent, enjoyable, year-round experiences with books are key.”
So, how do we get our students to read books? Here are seven end-of-the-year reading activities to help them find the joy in reading and to build a habit of reading daily.
1. Have Students Fill Out an End-of-the-Year Reading & Interest Survey
This is always so helpful when trying to figure out what kids like and want to read about. The more you know about your students’ personal interests outside of school, the easier it is to direct them to books they might like. For example, if one of your students loves playing baseball after school, you might encourage him to look up novels about baseball, or you might know a novel centered around baseball that you could recommend to him.
On page 39 in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller states, “Students may not be able to describe what types of books they might like to read, but if I have knowledge of their personal interests, I will be able to find books that match a topic they enjoy.”
Another helpful tool you can use to get to know your students as readers is a Reading Survey. Have them fill out the questions so you can see what their attitude is toward reading, what causes them to dislike reading, and/or how they typically find and acquire books. One of my favorite ways to read books is through my public library. Books for free? Yes, please! Some students might not even know about their local library, so this is a great way to find out what they know and to introduce them to all of the book possibilities. Get the Reading and Interest Surveys for FREE when you sign up for my email list here. You’ll also get my FREE Reader’s Notebook Flipbook when you sign up.
2. Do a Book Tasting
A great way to introduce students to new books is to host a book tasting. This is such a fun activity for students to get excited about reading. You set up your classroom like a restaurant and move desks into 5-6 tables, categorized by genre. Students sample books in each genre by reading the back cover and a page or two from the first chapter. Then, they fill out a brochure to evaluate the books to see which ones are most interesting to them. I explain this activity in more detail in my FREE printable. Get the Book Tasting for FREE when you sign up for my email list here.
3. Have Students Do Book Talks
The best way for students to read more books is to get great recommendations from their peers. A book talk doesn’t need to be anything formal. It can just be a quick talk in front of the class to let everyone know the book’s title, author, main character, setting, and problem. Students can explain a few things they liked about the book (but no spoilers! Remind them not to give away the book’s ending) and tell everyone who they’d recommend the book to. Watch a quick three-minute video of my book talk example here.
If you’d like to assign a grade for Book Talks, I’d recommend just doing participation points. The main purpose of a Book Talk is to expose students to new books and get them excited about what they can read next.
Quick Tip: Book Talks don’t have to take up an entire class period. You can have students write their names on a sign-up sheet and call on 1-3 students per day to present. Or if you’re really crunched for time, just have 1-3 students present their book talks at the end of the day on a Friday right before dismissal. Grab my Book Talk Exit Cards here.
4. Research Middle Grade Books Online: Take your students to the computer lab, or if you have laptops or iPads in your classroom, have students use those to research the following sites:
One way I like to find new books is by searching online. I follow different blog posts by book bloggers. A good one for middle grade books is “From the Mixed Up Files… of Middle Grade Authors.” This website has a tab on the menu bar titled “Book Lists!” It features newly released middle grade books. And the blog posts are organized by their dates. Check out the titles and blog posts here.
Another great resource for finding great middle grade books is The Center for Teaching and Learning. This is a school in Maine, and their staff posts book recommendations that their students have read and recommended to each other. The books are categorized by grade level and gender, so students can easily see what their peers are reading and recommending. Click here to see the list.
Watch or subscribe to Colby Sharp’s YouTube channel. He is a 5th grade teacher (and author) in Parma, Michigan, and he knows his books. He posts videos of the books his students are currently reading, and he also posts lists of his favorite books on his website that are categorized by year. When you visit his website, look for the menu tabs that say “Awesome Books” that also include the year.
When I’m completely out of ideas for what to read, I sometimes like to go to my public library’s website and type in a topic of interest and see what pops up. I use the filters to narrow down the age range and the year published. Then, I read the blurb/summary to see if it’s a book I might want to read. See the pictures below for how I search for topics and use the filters.
Step 1: Type in a keyword (Example below shows I'm searching for books about mermaids)
Step 2: Use the filters to narrow your search to children's books and to the ones that are recent releases.
Step 3: Click on the books/titles that look interesting to you and read their summaries. If it sounds like an interesting book, check it out from your local library.
5. Go to the school library, the public library, or a local bookstore (or do a virtual field trip)
I know this sounds a little scary, because what’s more chaotic than taking a whole class of students somewhere with no structure? But, with a little practice and a little prep, this could be a great opportunity for students to find new books to read.
First, have students bring a book with them. This can be used as a management tool if they’re not on task or can’t find a book they want to read. Have them pull out their book and sit in a designated spot to read it while their classmates search for books.
Second, practice, practice, practice! Have students look up books beforehand to see if the library or bookstore has them in stock. After that, pretend your classroom is the library or bookstore. Take students outside your classroom and practice walking in quietly. Then have them pretend to look for books. Explain how books are shelved in the library or in a bookstore, and have students practice going to the children’s section, then the specific genre/category, and then to an author’s last name.
6. Create a Reader’s Notebook
This notebook is essential if you want students to be successful, independent readers. It helps them log books they’ve finished reading and books they’ve abandoned. Even as an adult, I log all of the books that I’ve finished reading. Seeing my list helps me analyze the types of books I gravitate toward and notice patterns in the books I like to read. It also helps me feel successful as a reader. I look at my list and say, “Wow, this month, I read three novels! I’m proud of myself.” Our students get that same feeling of success and satisfaction when they look at their list of finished books.
With the list of abandoned books, students can see which books and genres they don’t enjoy, and they should feel freedom—not guilt—when deserting a book they don’t like. This is so important in choice reading, because students need to know that it’s okay if they don’t like a book.
In The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel page 48 states, “There are too many good books out there waiting for readers to waste precious time with books we don't enjoy. Students need more than permission to abandon books that don't satisfy them.”
Another component of the Reader’s Notebook is the response section. Students can use these sentence starters to reflect on their reading. Of course, we don’t want to bombard our students with activities and written work after they’re done reading every book. Otherwise, they’ll not associate reading with pleasure.
On page 121 in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller states, “Teachers tie so many strings to reading that students never develop a pleasurable relationship to reading inside or, regrettably, beyond the classroom.”
We want our students to think about and write about their books, but we also need to balance the amount of work assigned with pleasure reading. Perhaps a good way to do this is to have students choose one or two books and write a response once or twice a month.
7. Start Reader’s Workshop
The most important set of materials you’ll need is a variety of books. Give students time and space to read in the classroom, and you’ll have a whole class period filled with purposeful reading activities.
Tip: If you don’t have a classroom library, go to your public library, and check out 20-30 middle grade books. Bring those into your classroom for students to read and continue to do this until you’re able to build up your own classroom library.
Once students have access to books, they need time to read and a quick check-in with the teacher.
In The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel page 8 states, “Anne has just finished scooting among them and whispering a conversation with each boy and girl: ‘How is it?’ or ‘What do you think so far?’ or ‘What’s happening now?’ she asks. ‘Are you happy?’ And, always, ‘What page are you on?’”
This check-in is quick and informal. It doesn’t have to be intimidating for us or our students.
In The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel page 66 states, “Teachers said they struggled with what to say when every student was reading a different book. They were flummoxed about how to discuss books they hadn't read yet. Most significantly, they worried about not meeting frequently enough with individual readers. One teacher told me it was all she could do to confer with each of her students once a week.
“Perhaps because it seems to suggest a sustained session about a topic of great import, the word conference can misdirect or even intimidate teachers. Checking in is a more accurate, less freighted way to describe my and Anne's meetings with readers, where our primary purpose is making sure that everyone is OK in the reading zone and happy to be there. Our check-ins with kids aren't oral exams, for them or for us, about the books. One-to-ones cannot wait from one week to the next, especially for students new to reading workshop. A week long gap is long enough to hurt a struggling reader's motivation and momentum for months.”
Grab your FREE check-in sheet by clicking below.
Basically, our job as teachers is to ensure every student is happy with their book and reading it. We can do this by documenting what page each student is on every day and having them rate their reading experience from 0-10. If a student seems dissatisfied with their book, then it is our job to redirect them to something more interesting (a perfect opportunity to pull out the Student Interest Survey and find a book that matches that student’s interests).
Again on page 66, in The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel it states, “She might ask, ‘If you were going to rate this book right now, what number would you give it?’ Anything lower than a 7 is a sign that a reader should abandon the book and try another.”
If you haven’t implemented Reader’s Workshop into your classroom yet, the end of the year is the perfect time to try it out. And if you need more guidance on how Reader’s Workshop works, check out the two books below. I found both of them at my local public library.
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Passionate, Skilled, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel
I hope these activities were helpful and inspired you to create a classroom full of readers. I’d love to know which activity you’re most excited about. Tell me in the comments below.