For most of us as English teachers, reading was a love-at-first-sight kind of experience, and while some of our students have that same natural love for reading, others simply have cold feet. Thankfully, it only takes a little creativity and the right reading activity for a love of reading to bloom.
To foster this love of reading, students need pre-reading activities that fire up their interests, during-reading activities that encourage active reading, and post-reading activities that facilitate deep thinking. Here are 12 engaging reading activities that you and your students are sure to love:
Who doesn’t love to get students excited about books? After seeing how many teachers were using Book Tastings, Staci from Donut Lovin’ Teacher knew she had to give it a go! Staci believes that Book Tastings create multiple and meaningful ways for students to browse books so they can continuously add titles to their “To Read” list. A Book Tasting provides students with an opportunity to preview, reflect, and rate multiple books and in Staci’s experience, doing it together sparks stronger interest and conversation. Book Tastings can be a great way to select a book for independent reading, book clubs, or even the next classroom read aloud.
Oftentimes, these kinds of activities can feel daunting because of the planning involved. However, hosting a Book Tasting can require as little or as much preparation as you’d like.
Essentials: Several book options, a recording sheet (such as this freebie you can grab here), and your genuine enthusiasm. Build excitement the week before by writing it on the board so students become curious. Staci says she worried about how her seventh graders would engage in a Book Tasting, but they were just as excited as her past fifth graders.
Non-essentials: Table cloths or butcher paper to cover the tables, serving, table numbers, mellow background music such as this playlist, plates to lay books on, bookmarks, banners, etc. If you are looking for a resource full of fun ways to build and maintain excitement before, during, and after a Book Tasting, check out this resource from Head Over Heels for Teaching.
Lauralee Moss from ELA Classroom loves reading and sharing favorite books with students. Two years ago, she brainstormed ways to incorporate more books in my classroom than what my curriculum called for. She stumbled upon primary teachers reading the first chapter of a book, and she decided to modify the process for teenagers.
You can easily incorporate First Chapter Friday into your secondary classroom. Choose a book, ask students to pay attention as you read, and read the first chapter. If a student would like to borrow the book, hand it to that student! This year, Lauralee asked other members of the faculty to join in reading to our students.
First Chapter Friday has so many benefits! Not only does she share new authors, genres, and literary styles with students, but she also gets to learn about them as readers. She’s seen students learn that romance novels actually deal with more than mushy-ness, and she’s witnessed others realize that they actually do like sci-fi. Sometimes students fear branching out, and First Chapter Friday allows them to “taste” the book without a huge commitment. As a final bonus, students will pick up books because less “fear” is there; they already know how the book begins.
Ashley at Building Book Love uses book checkout lotteries (aka book raffles) to get her secondary students excited about checking out new books. It’s a fun strategy that she picked up from elementary teachers, and it works beautifully in high school ELA classes. To host a book checkout lottery, simply display 5-10 fresh books with a cup or envelope close to each one. Then, quickly talk up the book and allow students to put their name in the vessel if they want a chance to win first dibs at checking the book out (not winning the book itself). Lastly, pull a name out of the vessel and make a big deal about the winner!
Yes, it’s a little sad for those who don’t win, but remind them that their local public library may have this book, or you can help them find a similar second choice. This strategy can be used multiple times a year and is especially engaging if you are able to work up festive themes. For example, you can see Ashley’s Valentine’s Day book raffle here and spooky raffle here. It’s incredible to witness how adding a small element of chance and surprise can boost the overall book love culture in your classroom!
One important thing to realize when you host a book lottery for high school students is that they may not be as enthusiastic as energetic elementary students who practically run to the front of the room to add their name to the cup. If high schoolers are at their desks during your book talk, they might be reluctant to swagger up to the front of the room to add their name in front of all their peers. Because of this, Ashley likes to incorporate the raffle into learning stations.
You can see how she encourages book love on day one with these station ideas: First Day of School Activities for High School ELA. If you can’t use stations, the next best thing is to host the book lottery right before the end of class so that students can add their name as they walk out. You can announce the winners at the start of class the next day.
What does the first line tell you about a book? Tanesha from Love Tanesha uses the first lines from a book to increase engagement with different texts. She describes it as a “super low lift with a high impact” in exposing students to different books and facilitating hype and discussion around books. The process is pretty straightforward.
She projects up the first line from a book and beneath it 3-4 books that the line might come from. She asks students which book they believe contains the line and WHY. This is usually done in a turn and talk so that every student has a chance to share their opinion.
In the second phase of the activity, she reads the back of each book to students and they discuss if their thoughts on the book the line comes from has changed. It’s just that simple. Students enjoy the conversation about the book and this activity provides a quick way to a variety of texts available in the library!
Christina, The Daring English Teacher, found that one of the best ways to help students learn to love reading is by having highly engaging books present in the classroom and to read -for enjoyment- with your students.
Every summer I enjoy scouring the library book sales, second-hand stores, and yard sales for new books to add to my classroom library. To make sure that my classroom library is organized so that my students can easily find books that interest them, I like to organize it by genre.
With a visually appealing and inviting classroom library, I find that more students are eager to read in class. Also, to help encourage a love of reading, I make it a point to read in class when my students read. Whenever I schedule time in my classroom to silently read, I make sure that I am reading with my students. Reading in class for the first ten minutes is a great and calming way to start the period.
As a new teacher, I assigned study guides to go along with every novel I taught. Though the students’ hated it (and let me know it), I encouraged them to push through it. Though my heart was in the right place, I know looking back I wasn’t exactly encouraging a love for reading by assigning so many study guide questions that interrupted their reading. (You can read more about how I changed my view on teaching reading here.) A few years later, I finally found an answer to the conundrum: literary bookmarks. Literary bookmarks are a way to focus students’ reading and encourage comprehension, but not interrupt their reading. They add accountability to their independent reading and provide a great way for students to prepare for class discussions, essays, or projects.
You can create your own literary bookmarks with directions for active reading (e.g. look for a specific theme, symbol, characterization evidence, plot point, etc.). This doesn’t have to be fancy; any slip of paper will do. When students encounter the point in their reading, they simply put the bookmark in the book to be able to come back to it later. Just make sure you leave enough room on the bookmark for them to write notes or explanations after reading. The best part is that you can tailor this strategy to your students adding more bookmarks as needed. You can check out my editable literary bookmarks for any novel here.
One of the best ways to cultivate a love for reading in your classroom is stimulating engaging discussions about literature. The joy of reading is contagious, so the more students talk about the books they love, the more they’ll read. A student may claim to hate reading, but the reality is that they probably just haven’t found the right book. One way to remedy this situation is through book talks, or informal and engaging book recommendations. Book talks can be facilitated by the teacher, but assigning them for independent/choice reading is a great way to keep reading low-risk and enjoyable. When each student shares a book they are reading, readers are exposed to far more authors and genres than they would otherwise experience in the classroom.
If you are excited about implementing book talks in your classroom, consider an engaging spin-off of the traditional book talk: speed dating discussions on books! Abby from Write on With Miss G loves speed dating style lessons because they manage to engage every single student at the same time. Speed dating book talks offer the perfect chance for students to discuss their reading in a low-risk, highly engaging setting. Even if you’re not using book talks, you can still add speed dating to your next novel study to practice literary analysis. If you feel like your whole-class discussions are flopping, then a literary analysis speed dating discussion will save the day! To learn more about how to use speed dating in your ELA classroom, you can read Abby’s blog post here.
Falling in love with reading sometimes requires shaking up the normal slate of activities that we do in the classroom. Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching has a great lesson to shake things up: writing a literary cento poem.
The word “cento” means “patchwork.” The idea behind the poem is to pick out special pieces of text and stitch them together to create something new, in this case, a poem. Students get to explore their reading in a whole new way: looking at character, theme, or even just flipping through random pages, all in the mission of creating a poem made up of tiny pieces all put together. This is a great idea for both novel units and independent reading: either option allows teachers to shake up the normal routine and keep kids falling in love with reading every day.
So you may have heard of book clubs, but have you ever used them as a year-long independent reading program that enhances your curriculum and elevates the literacy culture in the classroom?
Melissa from The Reading and Writing Haven likes using book clubs to make reading a social experience and to mirror what reading could look like in life! If you want to increase students’ reading volume, make time to talk with students one-on-one about their reading lives, help them set goals, and get to know them as readers, you’ll love this twist.
To begin implementing this style of book club, prioritize the first ten minutes of class every day to choice reading and conferring with students. Then, add in some opportunities for students to share what they are reading (because a little accountability always helps!) through writing and discussion activities. I use book fit reading ladders, journal prompts, discussion cards, book spines, and pop culture book displays, to name a few. And, make sure to build in a day for students to talk in a book club setting at the end each month…food is always an appreciated bonus.
This year-long choice reading book club format has improved the classroom community, and – happy dance! – helped students to be mindful of their reading identities more than ever before.
Want more details about how to structure this experience? Read all about creating a schedule, establishing expectations, adding some basic accountability that students won’t hate, and more to begin incorporating book club with a twist in your own classroom.
Want to instantly engage your teenage readers? Try tapping into their passions by letting them design their own culminating response to reading.
Emily Aierstok from Read it. Write it. Learn it. uses passion projects to get her 7th grade students excited about reading. How do passion projects work? Start by giving students a list of reading standards. Model the process of choosing one standard as a focus and designing a book project that demonstrates mastery of that standard.
For example, to show their understanding of development of theme, students might create a book trailer using iMovie with scenes and quotes from the book that show the theme developing. Another student might show their understanding of character traits by baking a cake along with a written guide describing how symbols on the cake represent different aspects of a character’s personality. The key is that students are demonstrating their learning through their passions. You will be blown away by what your students create! Read more about how Emily uses passion projects in her classroom on her blog and in this guest post for We Are Teachers.
If you’re looking for an engaging analysis activity, Shana Ramin from Hello, Teacher Lady suggests trying digital blackout poetry. It’s all the fun of traditional blackout poetry, but without all those pesky marker stains on your table.
In blackout poetry, students are given a passage of text to read, keeping an eye out for anchor words that lend themselves to an overall idea or theme. Then, they begin ‘blacking out’ the remaining text to create the lines of a poem. A new piece of work emerges, and the results can be truly breathtaking.
To take this concept digital, Shana explains, simply select a passage from a text you’re studying or have students choose their own. Then, add it to Google Slides or another digital medium of choice. You can read more about how Shana uses Google Slides to create digital blackout poetry with her students here.
Shana points out that digital blackout poetry has a ton of added benefits over traditional, paper-and-sharpie blackout poetry, including more flexibility for students to revise and strengthen their work. Students can experiment with a variety of layouts/design in their poems — paying attention to things like mood, tone, and symbolism — without worrying about making an irreversible mistake. Digital blackout poetry can also help teach or reinforce other essential tech skills, like how to filter Google search results for images labeled for reuse. Click here to learn more about creating digital blackout poetry with your students.
In 2015, Staci Lamb from The Engaging Station helped coordinate the publication of her students’ book, Behind the Door of G115, inspired by The Freedom Writers Diary. Each student wrote a few pages about a personal experience they grew from. They had a book signing, made it to the local newspaper, and sold over 250 copies! 🙂 For this project, they used lulu.com. In 2020, her new class of freshmen are releasing the next novel titled What They Don’t See, and they’ll be using Amazon.com for publishing.
Having students be immersed in the process of writing a book and exploring its challenges and successes actually turns them into even more avid readers because now they can say, “I’m an author too!” They see their book on the shelves in their classroom, their school library, and in their homes.
To read more about this process and how Staci continues to add more books into her classroom library, check out this blog post.
I hope this post has helped you find some fresh ideas to inspire your students to love reading. If you like this post, I’d love for you share!