It’s established at the very beginning 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 of our READ 180students 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 what the best way to hook readers on books and reading was. I had to give the most honest answer I know—any way you can. There’s no one single approach. Helping students develop the taste for, a “like” of, reading is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
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 that may help lessen the time it takes for your readers to unlock their passion for reading.
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, or my gender, or where I grew up may have little to do with the kind 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 that never-in-a-million-years would-I-be-interested-in-that-book and I-am-slightly-offended-that-you-even-tried look.
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, which video games they play, what Youtubers 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 students might be interested in. Attractively display a bunch of great reads from your classroom library and/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.
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 that 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 books by authors who have lots of books published. 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.
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 a book if they don’t touch the books.
Chances are the whiteboard tray in your room is not being used to its maximum potential. Load that ledge up with books with enticing covers, books of different genres, books you know other readers loved, books you love, new books, and books you love to hate. Then try layering on a marketing technique from the mall that you discovered. Or post memes that relate to the books above them. Or write six-word summaries above them. Later in the year, you can put students in charge of creating these displays.
Enlist the Power of the Peer
A teacher’s actual best tool to get students to grow their reading habit is the power of the peer. The minute you get one student who proclaims they have just read the best book, you’ll get a second student aboard the reading train. Especially in middle school and high school, peer proclamations are highly effective. Provide plenty of venues and opportunities for students to share what they are reading.
You can offer a variety of ways for peers to share. The student who is truly excited will do a great job of spreading the word themselves. Students also enjoy utilizing tech tools. No matter what platform you have students audio or video record themselves on, linking that recording to Padlet or a QR code or a tinyurl makes accessing those video book showcases a snap.
As the year goes on, you’ll know if you have the power of the peer working in your favor because you will have grown a reading community. Students will walk in and volunteer, ask you to read their favorites, value time to talk about books, beg you to buy the latest and greatest, and jockey to be the first to get that new book.
Quick Tutorial Generating QR Codes and tinyurls is quick to do. Simply get the web address of the video or audio recording your want to share. Usually you’ll find these under the Share or Publish menus of the software your students used to create them. Copy the address. Google “free QR Code generator” and paste the address of the video/audio file into the box that requests that information. Hit enter and a QR Code will appear on the screen. Use your snipping tool to copy it. Paste the QR Code on whatever file your students can access. I like to paste them into a Word document, list the student’s name underneath, and then display that document in a clear plastic picture frame. If not all your audience is QR Code saavy, pair the QR Code with a shortened web address. www.tinyurl.comworks exactly like the QR code generator except you can choose the shortened web address by typing whatever name you like in the Custom Alias box
Harness the Power of Visuals
Stickers, signatures, and other displays that nudge students can also be effective. The end goal is always intrinsic motivation, but there are some competitive souls who thrive on extrinsic motivators as well. Students of all levels seem to enjoy a sticker chart. Graffiti walls are another way to show progress. Have students sign their names every time they meet the goal. A twist is to have them post their favorite line from the book on a chart and to list the book title underneath.
Another nudge you can try is to put up sheets of different colors of paper with varying milestones listed on each sheet. This is a de facto way to share what is possible for the year and to help students set some goals at the beginning of the year. Some students find it satisfying to move their name or icon to the next sheet of paper.
Acknowledging student success on social media can also be effective. Make sure you know your school district’s policy on sharing student success and then move forward. Ensure that your message truly celebrates success and doesn’t inadvertently share any information that might be demeaning.
None of these methods are surefire but using some or all of them will help your students grow and alter their reading identities. The goal is to help every student discover the things they don’t know about themselves as reader and as a human being. Just like the narrator in Green Eggs and Hamuses everything he can think of to persuade Sam-I-Am to like them, Sam-I-Am still needs time to process and adjust and form his own opinions. With enough creativity and tenacity, hopefully we can help all students get hooked on reading.
Share some of the tools and techniques you use to hook readers in your classroom in the comments section below. And we would love to see your book rooms, reading corners, or literary lounges. Share the classroom selfies.
Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.