Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. [Books are] so endlessly delicious.”
― Ruth Reichl

I’ve spent a lot of time with the love birds my children gave me for my birthday. They are beautiful. Marianne and Colonel Brandon And scared. I made the mistake of not reading enough about them before I tried my hand at training. Now, I am having to back track just to get them to like me. I knew better. Should have done my research.

It all starts with trust. Every day I put my hand inside the cage, hold it there, and just talk. I talk about the weather — it’s been quite tragic in north TX lately. I talk about the book their names come from — Sense and Sensibility. (My daughter dubbed them Marianne and Colonel Brandon.) I talk about how we will be the best of friends if they will just trust me.

Colonel Brandon bit my finger and held on so hard I stamped my feet for five full seconds hoping he would let go.

I’ve even tried speaking my limited Spanish. (The birds came from a Mexican vendor at an outdoor market.)

“Hola, buenos dias.”

Sitting on the floor near the cage is my school bag. In it is my conferring notebook. It holds a roster with check marks for books read and pages for each student where I record our conversations about books and reading.

This morning I was finally able to get Marianne to step up on to a perch and gently pull her from the cage. She sat on the top, eating happily on a millet twig. Progress.

I flipped through the notebook, remembering conversations I’ve had with students this fall.

“I used to love to read,” Henry told me, but then I didn’t like textbooks so I didn’t read anything again until 8th grade.

“What do you mean textbooks, you mean like an anthology of stories and poems and such?”

“Yes, those,” he said, “I hated those, so I just didn’t read anything in middle school. Then my teacher in 8th grade let us choose the books we wanted, and I read a ton. Hunger Games, Divergent, all those dystopian books. Then in 9th and 10th it was back to textbooks. I stopped reading.”

Henry was a hard sell at first. I’d already set up the routines in my reader’s workshop classroom. He missed the read arounds, the notebook set up, the initial book talks with the titles I know students love every year. And just like with my birds, I started wrong with Henry.

I expected him to step up without question into our reading world. He didn’t.

I had to back track and build some trust. I’d do a book talk and then set the book not far from him. I’d talk to other students about their reading near enough so Henry could hear. I’d ask Henry questions and I’d listen to his answers, so he would know I cared about him as a person more than as a reader.

And Henry started reading.

Henry has read four books since September when he joined my class:  Article 5, Friday Night Lights, Peace Like a River, and Labron James’ Dream Team.  Not bad for a young man who went two years without reading anything in 9th and 10th grade.

For any teacher who says independent reading just doesn’t work for you or your students, I issue this challenge:  Backtrack and try again.

Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read:

  1. Read. The more you read books you think your students will enjoy, the more you will be able to talk about books your students will enjoy. Don’t have a clue about YA? Read anything by Matthew Quick, A.S. King, Jandy Nelson, or John Green (my personal favorites). You’ll have a good start.
  2. Share book talks daily. Talk about books you know students love. If you don’t know titles, ask your librarian for help, read book lists like this one, read lists we’ve shared in previous posts.
  3. Show book trailers. I used to post book trailers on this blog. You’ll find many post with trailers, interviews, and other ideas here.
  4. Get students talking. The more students talk to one another about their reading the better your chances of getting all students to read. One favorite activity in my classroom is speed dating with a book.
  5. Give students time. I heard it first from Penny Kittle:  “If they aren’t reading with you, they are not reading without you.” We must give students time to read during class. Too many teachers and administrators think silent reading is not a good use of instruction time. FALSE. The only way to become a reader — or to become a better reader — is to read. If we want students to develop the habits of life-long readers, we must help them develop the habits in class where we can help them 1) stay focused, 2) learn what readers do when they get stuck, 3) practice choosing books for learning and for pleasure, 4) make plans for future reading.


What tips can you share for anyone who’s struggling with independent reading? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!




Tagged: , , , ,

6 thoughts on “Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read

  1. nuzzyanne January 4, 2016 at 8:29 am Reply

    Hi Amy! Thank you for this post! It was a great read to start off my week back at school. Can I ask…what does your conferring notebook look like? What sorts of things are you marking when you confer? Thanks!


    • Amy January 4, 2016 at 6:21 pm Reply

      Regarding my conferring notebook: I created a binder with a roster for each class period in the front that I mark when I confer — F for formal conference, I for informal. Then I have a page for each student that has my conferring protocol as a table: listen and assess, confirm and validate, instruct and close. I use that for notes in formal conferences. If I ever get this book written, I’ll share that there.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. stefaniecole January 2, 2016 at 8:27 am Reply

    I have a Henry this year, but her name is Jasmin. She was new to our school & she wasn’t reading. Her reading marks had been low the for Grade five & six, but not for four. She had written a couple things about the language teacher for those years & I know her home life isn’t the easiest. I decided to run a leveling test on her to see where her reading broke down, but there was no breaking. She is a phenomenal reader & that small amount of time turned into a great discussion.

    I immediately found her more books I thought she would like. I had been book talking, trailer showing & sharing all year, but she was picking – and not reading – lower level books. Now she doesn’t stop. The City of Bones series & The Awakening have been her favourite.

    Apparently, she had been testing me. Could I be trusted to see what she could do? You are so right, it’s about trust & relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy January 2, 2016 at 9:48 am Reply

      Thank you for sharing about Jasmin. Important validation — I love how we give that to each other when we share moments and memories from our classrooms. And I love how you gave it to this girl. Lucky her to have you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. David Dear December 30, 2015 at 2:02 pm Reply

    “Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Belated Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, Amy. 🙂


    • Amy December 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm Reply

      I love that quote, David. Thank you for sharing! Thanks also for the Christmas and New Year wishes. I wish you all the best as well. So great to hear from you!


What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: