If you want to know how to get kids to read, give them a bunch of brand-new, high-interest, FREE books to check out. Then, let them pick their favorite, and start reading.
I know it’s not always possible depending on our resources, but I’m lucky enough to teach in a school where I have had this experience TWO TIMES just today, and it’s been heavenly in an otherwise chaotic, mostly-unproductive year.
Our PTA puts on this wonderful event called Booktopia each year. They collect and purchase new and lightly-used books for our students, giving each student a book of their choice to keep… forever. The comments I heard were, for the most part, HYPE:
“We can keep it? Forever?”
“We don’t have to check it out?”
“Do we have to sign anything?”
“What do we do when we’re done?”
“You mean we can read it right now?!”
Once we returned to the room, silence fell upon us for the next 20 minutes in every class period (well… except for 5th, but perfection doesn’t exist, right?). If you’ve ever been in a room with 13-28 11-12-year-olds, you know how big of a deal this is! I was able to catch up on grades, make some tweaks to our book club structure based on student feedback, and… READ! Oh, the joy of it.
EARLIER TODAY: Small group extension
My school has this enrichment/extension period called Yellowjacket Period (can you guess our school mascot?) that takes place Tuesday through Friday. On our fourth group of students for the year, I finally treated myself to a group of high-level readers I thought I could challenge to a book club extension.
Sidebar: Have you ever heard of Project LIT? It’s a community whose focus is bringing high-interest books to “book deserts” around the country to inspire a love for reading. My favorite part about the community is its Twitter, through which I read about the awesome books they promote.
With 15 strong readers in my room, I decided I’d give them a book list: Every Project LIT book title in the past two years, 1-minute flash book talks, and access to the internet to read blurbs, first pages, and watch book trailers. After two days of exploring possible titles we could read together, I had students narrow down their choices to their Top 3. The winners?
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Just Mercy, Young Reader’s Edition by Bryan Stevenson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I told them whatever books they’d pick, I’d get for them – libraries, borrowing from other teachers, ordering them on Amazon, etc. I was psyched up for their choices – but a little worried.
“These are YA books, you guys,” I clarified, “Meaning they might include swear words, violence, high school parties, that kind of stuff. You’re all OK with that?”
And of course, the implied, you won’t get me in trouble with your parents?
I placed the Amazon order while they were in the room. The day our books came in, I unpackaged them and stacked them on a stool at the front of the room with a sign:
YJP – Our books are IN!” By the end of the day, at least 20 more kids wanted to join our book club extension.
And today? Our first day with the books! You could’ve heard a pin drop, it was so quiet in that room.
And the best part? The excitement. The camaraderie. The joy. Though I only had 6 copies of THUG, so many kids were willing to take their second pick and allow others to have their first pick. We looked at a calendar and decided that we could share the books if we took about two weeks to read each.
“Is that going to give you guys enough time?” I asked, a bit worried.
“Oh, don’t worry, Ms. Vogel, I’m finishing this TONIGHT.”
Another favorite line from the morning: “Ohhhh, these smell just like Barnes & Noble!”
I know my pocketbook is crying out to me for that last order, but I’ve been very good this year, only spending school money on books so far. It’s sometimes worth it to splurge for a good cause. Occasionally.