August 14, 2023

3 Ways to Introduce Students to Books for Independent Reading

A book scavenger hunt, a book tasting, and a first line face off are activities that can be used to get students excited about independent reading.

In the first week of school, one of the most important things I do is introduce my students to our classroom library and make sure that they have a book that they love for our daily independent reading. If students are enthusiastic about reading at the start of the year, it so much easier to maintain that enthusiasm rather than trying to create it as the year goes on. 

Some of the activities I use to introduce students to the organization of my classroom library during the first week of school are activities like genre circles, a book sort, and book speed dating as well as a variety of book spine activities.

A few other possibilities for getting books into students' hands are using a book scavenger hunt, hosting a book tasting, and holding a first line face off. What I love about these three activities, all described below, is that they can be used at the start of the school year to get students excited about choice reading, but can also be repeated or used later in the school year when your choice reading routine needs to be reinvigorated.

Scoping Out Books With A Scavenger Hunt

It can be easy for students to get “stuck” reading books from one series, by one author, or from one genre. Students, like all of us humans, are creatures of habit, which can create reluctance to branch out to new authors or genres. Sending them off on a book scavenger hunt is a great way to have students explore your classroom library and get their hands on some new books.

Your scavenger hunt can be as short or long as you’d like and the items on it will vary depending on how you organize your classroom library and what you want to draw attention to. For example, if your books are organized by genre, have students find books from genres that don’t typically get read as much. Or, if your books are organized alphabetically by author, have students find books written by a diverse mix of authors or recently published titles that likely would not have been part of their classroom library last year. 

You may also want your scavenger hunt to include key features of your check in and out routine. For example, if students sign books in and out in a binder or on a clipboard, have students find the title of the last book that was checked out. Or if you use a device and an online system like BookSource to manage checking books in and checking books out, have students sign in and find the title of the first book listed in your classroom library. If you use a return bin, have students find the book in it waiting to be reshelved.

This activity can be done in your school library, with your librarian’s permission of course, or in your classroom library. If you want to make it competitive, you could assign points to easier items to find and more points to items that are more difficult to find, and offer a prize at the end to the student(s) with the highest number of points.

You can also decide if you’d like to have students work individually or in groups. If students work individually they may focus more on books that appeal to them, but if students work in groups, it may lead to organic conversations about books they'd recommend to each other or books they are excited about.

As students work through the scavenger hunt, you'll also have to decide if you want them to just record the titles of the books they find or pull the books from the shelves. Either way you’ll want to leave time at the end of the activity for students to reflect on which of the books they found they would be interested in reading and add those titles to a To Be Read (TBR) list. If you had students pull the books from the shelves, you could give them time to share their stack with a friend as they work on their TBR. Pulling the books from the shelves also create an opportunity for students to practice your return or reshelving procedures.

A book scavenger hunt, a book tasting, and a first line face off are activities that can be used to get students excited about independent reading.

Browsing Potential Nexts Reads With A Book Tasting

A book tasting is an event during which students “taste,” or sample, a selection of books that you've chosen ahead of time.  You can go all out with the "tasting" theme and put tablecloths out on students’ desks and offering snacks and drinks, or you can keep it simple with “dining” themed graphics.

When planning a book tasting, consider if students will browse at their own pace or if you will indicate when it is time to transition. Also consider how much information you want students to record as they are browsing books as well as how many books you want students to look at, as both will impact the timing of the activity.

During a book tasting, you can place one book at each desk, but I prefer to put together themed bins of books for students to look through to increase the number of books they are sampling. Some ideas for themed bins would be:
  • topics such as friendship or starting a new school year
  • first books from different series you have in your library
  • new books (be the first one to read appeal)
  • books in unique formats like graphic novels, verse novels, and short story collections
  • favorites from different genres
  • favorites from last year’s students
  • your summer reads or personal favorites

Book tastings can be repeated throughout the year with different themed bins each time. I like to do book tastings each time we finish a whole class novel or after literature circles to help students get back into our independent reading routine. I showcase books with similar themes or topics to the book(s) read as well as other books by the same author(s).

Focusing On A Great Hook With A First Line Face Off

One of my favorite things about holding a first line face off is that it forces students to actually open up a book and read how it starts. Too often my students judge a book by its cover, and then discover that the author's writing style isn't for them (conversely there are all of the books they don't like the cover of so they don't read the inside).

Each student will need a book for this activity. You could pick books ahead of time that you know have interesting first lines or let students browse your library to look for one. If you let students choose their own books, consider whether you want them to pick just based on the cover and be surprised by how that book starts or have them look at the first lines.

Once each student has a book, two students will face off by reading the first lines of their books. The class will choose the winner who then faces off against the next student until all students have had a turn and there is one winner. You will want to consider whether students will read only the first sentence of their books or if they can read a few, setting a limit at 3-5 sentences. You will also want to decide on a system of voting.

This is a great opportunity to discuss authors' writing styles and what makes for a great first line. Is it short or filled with details? Is it dialogue or description of the setting or a character? What hooks the reader and makes them want to read more? The best first lines could be collected and used as inspiration during narrative writing assignments later in the year.

After the face off is over, display all of the participating books for students to browse and add to their TBR (to be read) list. If you hold a first line face off again later in the year, include the winner of the first face off to see how it holds up against new titles.

You can find the resources for these activities and more here in this choice reading resource pack.

I hope one or two or even all three of these activities will make their way into your your classroom to help hook your students on reading during the first days of school and throughout the school year..

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