This post is part of a series of blogs by READ 180 classroom teachers about their experience both with the program and with students.
It’s established at the very beginning of the famous book that Sam-I-Am does not like green eggs and ham. In fact, he is adamant that he does not like them, neither here nor there. Not anywhere. Some students feel the same way about reading—not all of them, just some of them. I was recently asked in a training for READ 180 administrators about the best way to hook students on books and reading. I had to give the most honest answer I know—any way you can. There’s no one single approach. Helping students develop a taste for and a liking of reading is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Ways to Encourage Students to Read
In Green Eggs and Ham, the narrator tries many solutions before Sam-I-Am mysteriously unlocks his own love of green eggs and ham. However, there are some techniques and strategies you can try to help lessen the time it takes to unlock a passion for literacy and encourage students to read.
1. Get to Know Your Students’ Likes and Dislikes
While this first suggestion seems like a no-brainer, we as humans are quick to stereotype and shoebox people in general. How I look, my gender, or where I grew up may have little to do with the kinds of things that entertain me. Sometimes, I will make a first attempt at book recommendations, and kids look at me like I have three heads. You know, those never-in-a-million-years-would-I-be-interested-in-that-book and I-am-slightly-offended-that-you-even-tried looks.
When I get that reaction, I try to dial in to the chatter in the classroom and find out which kids like the coolest hip-hop musician, who passionately likes food, what they are doing this weekend, what video games they play, what YouTube celebrities they follow, and what kinds of TV they watch. Filing away these tidbits of information can help me make better book recommendations in the future.
"Book tastings" or "book speed dating" are fun and quick ways to start to get a feel for what kinds of reading may interest students. Attractively display a bunch of great reads from your classroom library or the school library. Make sure you have a wide array of topics, genres, and formats. Then, have students spend one minute checking out the cover and the blurb and making that first blush judgment of “I may or may not be enthused about this book.”
2. Read Aloud Tantalizing Tidbits
Find a handful of great titles, read them, and identify the juiciest tidbits. Mark them so you can find the good parts. Practice reading the best parts aloud so you get the most dramatic rendition, and read them aloud to your students. Reading just a few pages or a chapter or two will often pique students’ interest.
Try to choose books from series or those written by authors who have published a lot of books. You want your efforts to be generative. In other words, if the book I read from today is already checked out, are there two even better books by this author in the library? I can also recommend the author’s other series.
3. Work Your Whiteboard Tray
If you want kids to like books, market like a store at the mall. Seriously—walk the mall and see what the trendy stores do to lure customers into their space. They can’t sell clothes or shoes or makeup to people who aren’t in their store. You can’t get kids to read books if they don’t touch the books.