Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 Ways to Encourage Students to Read Independently

Encouraging students to read independently is one of the most important things that we can do to help our students become better readers. Kids who enjoy reading read more and build their vocabulary and comprehension strategies at a faster rate. In addition, books increase the background knowledge students have and help them better relate to other books, as well as topics covered in science and social studies. Independent reading is important during the school year, but also during school breaks and over the  summer.  Here are some suggestions on how to encourage independent reading that could be used during the summer months or at any other time during the school year:

1.) Connect with an extrinsic reward program. While it is extremely important to make reading intrinsically rewarding, sometimes we need a bit of a carrot to get our reluctant readers to pick up the first book. There are lots of reward programs already out there through libraries and private companies that let students read a certain amount of time in order to win a prize. Often I find that once students start reading to accumulate their hours, they get “hooked” into a book or series and read much more than the designated amount of time, because they have found some intrinsic reward as well!  Some reading reward programs to check out are: Six Flags Read to Succeed, Pizza Hut’s Book It ProgramScholastic Summer Reading Program and Barnes and Noble’s Imagination’s Destination.

2.) Suggest alternatives to novels and picture books. Some students don’t get into what we think of as traditional reading material, but at the end of the day, reading is reading and all types of reading can help students become better readers. Try suggesting alternative reading sources to help hook your reluctant readers and to push your avid readers out of their boxes. Some possibilities for alternative reading sources would be: comic books, non-fiction books, reference books, blogs, websites, brochures, newspapers, etc.

3.) Encourage travel reading. This suggestion is especially pertinent during summer and school holidays, as many students travel or go to local attractions. However, travel reading can be fun all year long if you bring it into the classroom. Students can learn a lot from travel brochures, travel blogs, destination websites, and pamphlets picked up at different destinations. My children love to pick up brochures from hotels and rest stops. If your students won’t regularly have access to these types of materials, consider picking some up on your next trip and keeping them in your class library. If you want to encourage some cross curriculum learning, you might want to consider combining this reading with my Planning a Field Trip Math Project as well!

4.) Give students to respond to books they read in fun ways. Kids love watching movies based on books, why not give them the opportunity to create a movie, or a movie trailer, or some other fun projects based off of a book they read. This can be a fun “reward” when they finish a book from a suggested list, which might encourage them to read books they wouldn’t have found on their own or simply a way of responding to any book chosen independently. For specific suggestions on possible book projects, check out my Online Book Report format which is a free download at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

5.) Host a book club through Edmodo or Google Docs.  Adults participate in book clubs all the time, why can’t kids? Hosting book clubs in class is great, but if you choose to do book clubs online, you can include students from other classes, other schools, even other countries. Book clubs can be done rather simply using either Edmodo or Google Docs. Simply discussion questions and guidelines and let the kids go at it. Kids can read books in pieces or be asked to read the entire book by a certain date. Students can all “meet” online or go online at their convenience. There are so many possible ways to work online book clubs, but no matter how they are run, they provide students with a great way to interact with others about books they have read and encourage students to read new, interesting books.

6.) Create a Selfie Book Pic Project. We all know that kids like taking selfies, how about asking students to take a selfie of themselves reading books in different places? This would work really well for school holidays or summer break, but could be done as weekend or even evening homework. Ask kids - Where do you read at home? In your bedroom? In a tree house? At your sibling’s soccer practice? Collect all of the selfies into a bulletin board or ask students to create a photo album of themselves reading.  For suggestions on how to create online photo albums, check out this old blog post called: Using Photobucket In the Classroom.

7.) Provide author or book suggestions. Some students think all books are boring. One great way to prove them wrong is to provide them with book or author suggestions that will intrigue them. Find out their interests and suggest books that appeal specifically to them. My 7 year old is obsessed with gross out humor. His favorite books are Captain Underpants and Weird, but True. Just because kids don’t like the books you like doesn’t mean there’s not a great type of book out there for them!

8.) Read a Preview Chapter.  Use read aloud to get kids interested in new, interesting books by previewing books with them. Choose a variety of books. Each day over the course of a week or two, introduce a book to your students. Talk about why the book is interesting and then read them a chapter or a few pages, just enough to get them hooked. Think of it as a movie trailer, give them just enough to get them interested in reading it on their own. Then leave those books in your classroom library, or give them a list to possibly check out from the school or public library.

9.) Start students on a book blog. Whether you have students each create their own book blog, or you create a collaborative class book blog, this could be a great way to keep track of what they have read and encourage others to read books they have enjoyed. Students don’t need to write long blog posts – a quick critique would do the job, although more advanced readers may be asked to do a summary. They could include a picture of the book – or even one of those selfies! – and a link to where other people could find more information about the book. Not only will students enjoy sharing the news about what they read with the world, they can get ideas about new books to read by looking at their classmates’ blog posts.

10.) Create a Genre Challenge. Students often get stuck in one genre and forget there are plenty of different kinds of books out there. Get kids out of their box by challenging them to read at least 3 books from a new genre. Encourage students to read science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, historical fiction, narrative, poetry, etc. Perhaps students will find out that there is a whole world of books out there that they never thought to read before!

I hope that some of these suggestions will help you encourage your class to read more and read independently. A teacher’s main job is to inspire the love of learning and reading is learning. If you have another great idea for us, please feel free to share in the comments, as we build a community of learners right here at Raki’s Rad Resources.

For more posts about reading check out:
Top 10 Reading Websites for Kids
Book Reviews for Kids
Online Books for Kids

Top 10 Authors to Have in Your Classroom

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Spelling is More Than Just Memorizing

I have been boycotting standard spelling programs for a long time. Memorizing a list of spelling words to regurgitate onto a Friday spelling test is rarely helpful to students. Often students do not remember how to spell the words one week later, and they definitely can’t use those words in their writing. Instead of memorizing a list of words, students need to know how to identify key spelling patterns and word work skills. This way, even if they haven’t memorized how to spell weight, they have a chance of remembering that EIGH can make the long A sound too. This is a skill that will be very important in both reading and writing.

Additionally, when students simply memorize a list of words they rarely understand the meaning of their words, which means they will rarely use those words in their independent writing. The entire purpose behind learning to spell words is to improve reading and writing skills. If students don’t know the meaning of the word, there is no purpose in memorizing how to spell it because they can’t use the word in their writing and it’s not going to help them better understand what they are reading. This is particularly important for ESL students and students from low income homes.  These students often have smaller spoken vocabularies and so they are often asked to memorize lists of words that they don’t understand. This turns into a time wasting exercise and we wonder why their vocabularies are improving so slowly. This is why I have turned my spelling instruction into vocabulary instruction for the past few years. Students learn vocabulary, which I feel is important, but they are also doing “spelling” which many parents and administrators feel is important. Everybody wins!

Even though we teach students spelling patterns, they will still make mistakes in their writing. However, students who have been taught to look at words for possible mistakes will have built up the ability to edit their own writing more proficiently. This is why my spelling assessments are not memorized lists where students write out words that I say – a skill that will rarely be used outside of school, unless your students are planning on becoming secretaries who take dictations. Instead, my students look at typed sentences with misspelled words in them. They then correct the misspelled word. This is a skill that will come in very handy as they edit their own writing, and possibly the writing of a peer.

Two years ago I began to put together some word work/ spelling/ vocabulary packets to help my students work on spelling patterns, vocabulary and editing skills all at the same time. Of course all of my students were not on the same level, so I went ahead and created four differentiated lists for each spelling pattern. This meant that the whole class could practice the same spelling pattern while each student worked at the correct level for them. It has taken time to put together these Differentiated Word Work Packets, but I am excited to say that I have finally completed 30 packets, each with five activities for each level, and put them together into a Year Long Word Work Bundle, which is now available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Whether you choose to use my bundle or another set of resources, please be sure to teach your students spelling patterns, vocabulary meanings and proofreading skills, as all of these are vitally important to applying good spelling to student writing.