We are all aware that reading is one of the most important skills a child can learn, and cultivating a life-long love of reading will only serve him well in life. However, year after year, we hear literacy statistics for elementary students that are less than encouraging. Unfortunately, some factors are out of a teacher’s control, like parental encouragement and involvement in a child’s reading life. But there are things a teacher can do within the classroom to encourage elementary students to read. While every teacher must teach reading in elementary school, these tips will help you bring reading alive to students and elevate reading from a chore they must do to an exciting experience.
Read Aloud to Your Students
Sometimes reading can get monotonous for elementary students because they’re either getting frustrated with books that are a little above their reading level, or bored with reading to themselves all of the time. Hearing you read a story aloud with inflection and proper phrasing is a great way to model good reading skills and let students focus on the story without getting bogged down in the mechanics of reading. Part of the fun of reading is the wonderful plots and characters, but this can get lost when students are so focused on reading through one word at a time. Choose an exciting book with colorful characters and plot twists (chapter books are great for this), and go through it as a class, setting aside a relaxing time for a story each day, like after lunch. Kids will enjoy being read to, and this simple act may inspire them to read more adventures of their own.
Allow Students to Choose Their Own Books
Instead of assigning books for your students to read, organize your classroom library by reading level and allow the students to choose their own books based on which level is appropriate for them. Children love choice in general, and since so much of their school day is already planned out for them, the simple act of choosing their own reading material can feel powerful and exciting. Plus, they may discover characters that really appeal to them that they may not have had the pleasure of reading had you been the one to choose.
Tie in Favorite Movie and TV Characters on Occasion
Let me first say that I am not a fan of our media-centric culture, and I go to great lengths in my own home to curb screen time and media influence in favor of original thought and creative play. However, the unfortunate truth of today’s culture is that many children’s primary influences come from television, movies, and video games. On occasion, I have found it helpful to choose books and stories whose central characters are ones that come from children’s shows and movies. Elementary students learning to read will see that even their favorite on-screen friends can be found in books, potentially making reading more appealing. While I wouldn’t make these types of books the main focus, sometimes it takes a familiar theme to get kids hooked on books in general.
Engage the Class in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure
Growing up, I thought that choose-your-own-adventure stories were some of the coolest I’d ever read. Instead of being a passive observer of the story, I could actively participate in the plot twists and turns. While it may take some hunting around to find these types of books, they’re well worth it. Whether you read one of these first as a class to get kids involved and understand how they work or just let them experience them for themselves, this type of book has the appeal of interaction, which some kids find irresistible.
Choose Books with Beautiful Illustrations
For some elementary students, reading loses its appeal when the words take over and there are no longer engaging pictures. While this transition is a necessary part of advancing up the reading levels, it’s good to still have picture books available, no matter what grade level you teach. Just as adults enjoy coffee table books with beautiful photography and illustrations, so kids like to peruse well-crafted visuals in books. From factual illustrations to intricate pop-up books, there are skillfully-illustrated books at every level that elementary students will love to read.
Find New Classics
Many books are labeled “classic” for a reason; their stories are timeless, have delighted kids for decades, and never seem to go out of date. And while introducing these favorites while you teach reading to elementary students is a worthwhile endeavor, be sure to keep up with current literature as well. New children’s authors are emerging all of the time, and while not all of them are great, there are some wonderful new names in children’s literature worth adding to your bookshelf. Also, your students will appreciate current books with themes and terminology they can relate to, making reading more fun.
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