Reflect on your reading practices
The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.
— Neil Gaiman, Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
When we reflect on how we choose what to read, we can identify our reading strategies: skills we use to browse and select books, and the wider contexts that support making reading choices. This also involves knowing our own reading preferences and the purposes for our fiction reading — delight, discovery, interest, pleasure.
Sharing our reading strategies with students helps them discover and articulate what they like to read and why. It develops their sense of self as a reader, strengthens their browsing and selecting skills, and leads to a lifetime of reading for pleasure.
Questions to reflect on include:
- How do you choose what to read?
- What are your reading preferences?
- Where do you source reviews and recommendations?
- Are you in a book club?
- How many books do you have on the go at any one time?
- What works for you as a reader, and how do you build similar approaches into your classroom or library time for students?
The role of enabling adults in readers' lives
Aidan Chambers describes the critical role that enabling adults have in young readers’ lives. Teachers, librarians, parents, and guardians:
- stimulate a desire to be a thoughtful reader through exploring connections, enthusiasms and puzzlements
- demonstrate how to be a reader and what it is to be a reader
- respond to create a reading community.
Regarding book selection, this means you can:
- know your students’ interests (particularly reading interests), and know the literature by reading it yourself
- model choosing what you read, by verbalising your thought processes while browsing and selecting
- provide ample time for students to browse and choose, and plenty of resources to choose from
- support students as they make the transition from picture books to junior chapter books and series, to fiction and genres
- help a student identify their purpose for reading, how to evaluate if a book meets that purpose, and strategies to determine a book’s suitability
- foster collaboration between the classroom. the library, and home
- read aloud to children and teens — sometimes whole books, the first of a series, or just the first pages or chapter to provide an introduction
- encourage regular book talk and promotion, sharing of reviews, and book discussion.
School staff as readers
Strategies to help students choose books
As an enabling adult you can:
- teach book selection strategies
- create guidelines to display in the library or classroom
- guide parents about how they can help their children choose what to read.
For readers who know their reading preferences, browsing strategies may include looking for:
- favourite authors
- authors you’ve heard of and are interested in reading
- titles heard about from family, friends, and reviews
- favourite genre sections if books are arranged this way
- recently returned books
- new book displays
- books that look new – up to date and in good condition.
For younger readers selection strategies may also include:
- The Goldilocks strategy — is this book too easy, too hard, or just right?
- The five finger rule — identifying the number of difficult words on a page, so the reader can evaluate if the text is at the right level.
- Two Sisters have an I PICK mnemonic for “good fit” books: I look at a book, Purpose, Interest, Comprehend, Know all the words.
The Daily Five — Two Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser
Helping children choose good fit books — article includes information about I PICK
Display selection suggestions in the library or class to help students choose books:
- Look at the title and the cover – does it appeal?
- Read the book jacket blurb – does it interest you? Give different genres a chance.
- Read the first page or two.
- Read information about the author on the jacket.
- Look at print size for ease-of-reading.
- Listen to friends, teachers, parents and librarians’ suggestions.
- Look for popular authors and series.
- Use the catalogue to look up authors, titles and subjects that interest you.
- Ask for booklists and check displays.
- Give a book a fair chance – read several pages or chapters.
What the library can do
It's only in a library that all children of all backgrounds can freely explore the huge range of books and where they have the freedom to find their own tastes and discover literature at their own pace.
— Ursula Dubosarsky, SCIS Connections, May 2014
The school library can do a lot to scaffold students as they look for their just right books. Along with an inclusive, appealing, current and wide ranging collection, you also need:
- a reader-friendly environment using clear, helpful signage and attractive displays with plenty of face-out display of book covers
- junior fiction books arranged by series to encourage reading mileage and confidence
- clear, helpful signage and labels
- displays on themes, topical issues, new books, read-alikes
- photos of readers and their reading recommendations.
Also look into arranging fiction by genre. This is more user-friendly for students than a long alphabetical sequence, and plays to their reading preferences.
Arranging library fiction by genre
You'll want friendly, helpful librarians who can connect with library users and make connections between book and reader, telling them “I thought of you". Along with reader friendly policies, services, and strategies you'll also need:
- to promote books across ages, such as by promoting easy reading fiction as “quick reads” to older children, and helping struggling readers find books that suit their abilities
- to limit choice for students who are overwhelmed, such as with a “good books” box with 10 or so titles, or by picking an alphabet card and choosing something to read from that letter of the alphabet
- to promote books with visitors
- to use digital tools to connect readers with books and authors, for example by Skyping with an author or students from another school.
Reader friendly environments
Building an inclusive collection
Reading promotion includes information about reading promotion online
Immerse students in literature
Helping students choose what to read is also about the wider reading culture context — helping students become literary, not just literate.
For young or struggling readers without rich book knowledge or wide reading experience, choosing what to read is so much more challenging. It's therefore important to immerse students in literature. This gives them the vocabulary, examples and recommendations they can apply when browsing.
You can hold regular book talking and discussion time talking about:
- why I chose this book
- who else might like it
- what kept me reading to the end
- connections made with myself, with other texts, with the world, enthusiasms, puzzlements, or more.
Steven Layne, in his book Igniting a passion for reading, calls this regular classroom book chat time “buzz about books”.
Igniting a passion for reading
Ideas might also include:
- Book clubs and literature circles, discussing books based on their plot, character, setting, or themes, and exploring genre.
- “Risk it for a biscuit” and other strategies to get students take a punt on a new title or genre.
- Displays of books read and discussed in class that students can refer to.
- Developing a strong and visible school-wide reading culture, home-school partnerships and community connections to promote the value, pleasures and benefits of being a reader.
Creating a school-wide reading culture
Teachers creating readers
Donald Graves suggests that one measure of an effective classroom reading programme is if students have reading plans, which help students know what to read next.
- Hooking kids into series, particular authors or genres can be an effective way of keeping reading momentum.
- It could help for students to keep an easy reading log or record of what they have tried and enjoyed, perhaps using LibraryThing or a notebook.
- A simple 'Someday' or 'Books to consider' list for future reading encourages students to jot down titles from a friend’s recommendation, reviews or booktalk sessions to refer to when browsing.
Another idea is having some structured reading requirements. The Book Whisperer author Donalyn Miller requires her middle grade students to read 40 books a year, free choice of titles, but across a range of genre.
Evidence-based practice includes: evidence FOR practice, IN practice, OF practice.
If you are implementing new approaches and practices around helping students choose what to read, it's useful to gather information about students’ skills and attitudes. For example, a simple pre or post survey about:
- how they choose books
- their level of confidence and success
- strategies they use
- what the issues are for them.
Student reading interests
Find out more
Becoming a classroom of readers — Donalyn Miller, ACSD.
Just right book (pdf, 80KB) — a downloadable resource from Mrs Jessica White's blog.
Rights of the reader poster (pdf, 1.6MB) — Daniel Pennac and Quentin Blake.
Once upon a storytime — Laura Armstrong, SCIS.
Reading suggestion engines — Pinterest album by Joyce Valenza.
Chambers, A. (1991) The reading environment: how adults help children enjoy books. Stroud, UK: Thimble.