Creating a Community of Readers in My Classroom

August 24, 2018

As I head back into the classroom this year, I'm overwhelmed with all of the things I'd like to try out and do, but I'm trying to stay focused on my goal of creating a community of readers. Read on for a few of the things I have planned to get my students hooked on reading.
This year, I'm headed back into the classroom after three years as a literacy specialist. I'm so excited to have my own classroom again and more importantly, my own students. While I'm overwhelmed with all of the things I'd like to try out and do, I'm trying to stay focused on my goal of creating a community of readers in my sixth grade classroom. Here are a few of the things I have planned:

1. Welcome Postcards 
As a "new" teacher, I wanted to start connecting with my students before they even arrived in my classroom. I loved Pernille Ripp's "Welcome Sign" and incorporated that idea into the postcards I sent out. The message on the back to students gently reminded them about their summer reading assignment, but also asked them to email me a book selfie. I'll use these photos to create a bulletin board or a slideshow for the first day. You can check out my postcards here.

2. Reading Survey & An Introduction to Our Classroom Library
On the first day of school, a priority is getting to know my students as readers. Their book selfies will give me some ideas about what they like to read, but this reading survey will give me even more information about their reading preferences and how they view themselves as a reader. I also want to make sure my classroom library is a good fit for this year's group of students so we'll be doing some activities that will allow students to preview the books and give me feedback on the kinds of books I should add.

3. Reading Events
I don't want the thrill of our classroom library and books to wear off so I have some ideas for three events, one per trimester, to keep my students excited. The first event I'll do is a book tasting. This event will be the perfect time to introduce some new books to the library plus bring attention to books I know are amazing, but haven't been checked out of our classroom library yet this year. With the help of some parents, I'm hoping we can turn my classroom into a restaurant and serve some treats alongside some tasty books.

The second event I have in mind will be perfect to do around Valentine's Day: blind date with a book. This will be another opportunity to introduce some new books or bring attention to ones already in our classroom library that haven't been checked out. I'm again hoping that with some help of some parents I can get the books wrapped and decorated. In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I'll probably get some decorations and sweets.

The final event I have in mind, reading in the wild, will take place at the very end of the year, likely after grades are due and we're struggling to find meaningful activities to do with our students. My school has an environmental focus, so reading in the wild will be a day where we hike to a local park with our lunches and a good book. Students will have time to read, eat, and relax with friends. The event will be less structured than the first two, but will hopefully an enjoyable day for students focused on reading.

4. Independent Reading & Status of the Class
I have a seventy five minute ELA block, the first thirty of which are dedicated to interventions. This is our first year trying out a common intervention time so I'm not sure exactly how that will affect my class, but I'm planning on dedicating the same thirty minutes to independent work, primarily independent reading. Our school operates on a six day cycle, so each day of the cycle, I'll confer with a different group of students about their independent reading or a writing piece if we are currently working on one.

At the end of that thirty minute period, I'll conduct a status of the class using this procedure. Since my school has an environmental focus, I created this Google form to keep track of what students are reading (I'll add a sheet per student once I have my class list). Students will be assigned independent reading as part of their homework, but by doing status of the class, I can avoid the dreaded reading log and allow students to share with they are reading with their classmates.

5. Picture Book of the Week
I would love to do a picture book a day so that my students have read at least 180 books by the end of the school year, but I figured I better start with one a week and build up from there. I have a few picked out already from my daughters' bookshelves and I waiting for a few first day/week options to come in at my local library (all from Pernille Ripp's list of Favorite First Week Picture Books). We'll read the picture book primarily for enjoyment, and then depending on the day, I may use the book to introduce or review a literary skill.

6. First Chapter Friday & Book Raffles
This classroom idea seems to have emerged from the practice of authors sharing the first chapter of their new books online on Fridays. In the classroom, I'll be choosing a high interest book with a compelling first chapter to read to students. This will be purely for enjoyment and to get students interested in reading the book. If students are interested in reading it, they'll have the opportunity to put their name in a raffle to see who will get to read the book first. I found this great list of recommendations and I'll probably also use our local Reading Olympic lists from 2017 and 2018 because the lists are vetted by librarians and educators and feature a variety of genres, plus we have multiple copies of all of them.

7. Literature Circles
As adults, we all love to share a good book with a friend and literature circles or book clubs allow students to do the same. At my school, we have several whole class novels tied to our environmental curriculum, but I know I want to do at least one round of literature circles using Holocaust texts, which will culminate with a survivor coming in to speak. In the past I've used activities like these when students met, rather than assign roles and have students answer questions. There were some great titles, ideas, and resources related to literature circles shared in this Twitter chat that I'll be sure to look back over as well.

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