How to Inspire Students to Love Reading: The Joy of Reading
The biggest challenge ELA teachers face year to year is how to get to students to not only read the novels we assign, but to love reading them. Here are a few things to consider thinking about at the start of this year before you hand out your first novel:
Read out loud
In my class, we almost always read a passage out loud before interpreting what it means. I will ask for a volunteer (not all students are comfortable reading out loud) but I like to read really powerful passages myself. This way, I can demonstrate the importance of slowing down, pausing, increasing volume, or otherwise read the words with the tone or emotion behind them. Reading a passage out loud helps students understand how the words sound in real life, as if they were spoken in reality. It’s easier for students to understand the comedy or absurdity of a moment if they can hear it. Too often students will speed read, just to get the information about the plot, and then they miss the power of the words. Reading dialogue out loud also allows students to understand how the characters react to each other in conversation. Students can easily hear the anger, joy, frustration, or disappointment in a voice, but not always on the page.
Think about what to read
This is sometimes out of our control, but we should rethink the curriculum every year. What books do the majority of our students dislike? Should a book stay in the canon if it doesn’t stand the test of time? What newer texts including poems, essays, and short stories might students love? What podcasts or videos might be considered literary? However, there should always be a place for texts that students might not love to read at first, but grow to appreciate once they study the book in class. Shakespeare works on that level, or for me, it’s Jane Austen’s Emma. Once they watch the world of Clueless, they suddenly understand the comedy of the novel.
Talk about where and when to read
At the beginning of the year, after I distribute the first novel, I like to talk about how to read, and one of the more important topics is where students read. Not every student has a quiet, well-lit space to read at home, one free of conversation and screens. After a long day of school and activities, students might be too tired to read say, Virginia Woolf. Reading is a mentally taxing activity and requires a lot of mental attention and energy. I often suggest that my students read longer chunks of text in the morning on the weekends. This way, they don’t have to break up their reading into twenty-minute periods, where they may be likely to forget the characters and plot from day to day. I tell them how I used to study and read in the library at college. If your students can’t drive, this might be a challenge, or it might be easy because the library is a short distance from the school or their home. Parents might be willing to drive their child to the library at night because they know they’ll be doing work.
Give enough time to read
If you’ve ever assigned independent reading in class, you know how long it takes kids to read, and the wide range of reading ability levels in class. Even if you have a student who can read quickly, that doesn’t mean they appreciate or understand the text. So, we have to give students as much time as possible to read the book and be flexible if they need more time. This might mean taking a book out of the curriculum to ensure students get enough time to read the entire text.
Make notetaking easy
I allow my students to read an entire novel independently, without stopping to discuss sections or chapters of the book. I give them one due date and at least four weeks to read the whole book. This way, they can make their own reading schedule. If they have a big tournament or play over the weekend, they can find a time to read that works for them. You will inevitably catch a student who has not read an assigned section of the book on any given day because they have other tests, labs, travel, responsibilities at home, work, the list goes on. I don’t give quizzes, packets, study guides, or expect a huge amount of notes. I found that there will always be a way for a student to “prove” that they read a book even if they didn’t, so I ask them to do what I’d like them to do in real life: just read.
Reread in class
My classwork assignments require a reading of a specific section of the text. This way, they read once on their own, then a second time when we read out loud, and then a third time when they independently interpret a passage. The process of writing out a quote is also in a way, rereading. A student will almost never fully comprehend a challenging passage on the first read. But they will once they analyze language and interpret it in conjunction with other passages on the same topic or question.
I always tell my students that they’ll never love to read if they don’t visualize the text. In a world where kids get bombarded with quick visuals, it’s important to encourage creativity through the mental process of imagining a story. I will often ask students to draw symbols or characters on paper or posters in addition to interpreting the language of the book. It also makes decorating the classroom cheap and easy.
Have good conversations
Finally, it’s important to allow students to talk about the book and the characters in a relaxed environment. This means discussing as a class, in pairs, and in larger groups. I try to teach by asking questions. I might interpret the book myself, but I do so in a way that opens up the conversation. I also teach topic by topic instead of chapter by chapter so when my students think about a passage, they consider how many passages answer a single question. This way, I can introduce the topic and we have a clear objective when we discuss the passages.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers