Try it Tuesday: 2 Simple Ideas to Promote Reading

You know what I could use? A bookmark.

Actually, I could use five bookmarks right now.

I’m not proud and it’s not pretty, but I’m suffering from tented book syndrome these days. On my desk at school. My nightstand at home. The corner of the couch. The kitchen counter.

A vast field of tented texts. Books in progress. I know Amy can relate.
We share this affliction.

It always starts innocently enough. I’m between books. In the market for another. Speed dating texts to book talk, but not really committing myself yet. Then, I get sucked in.

It’s just one book to start. One book I want to come back to, so I’ll just leave it…here.

This time I blame Alyssa, one of my AP Language students. She enthusiastically book talked Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. I immediately ordered it and it’s now flipped open on the coffee table as I type.  Shortly after,  Errin, an inquisitive sophomore, asked me to read Kafka’s Metamorphosis and that (to keep the creature in) is flipped upside down under a stack of papers.  Don Quixote has been languishing on my desk at school since the start of the year. I will finish it this time; I’ve just been distracted by about twenty-seven other amazing books since I started (I did read six whole pages today. That leaves 788 pages to go. So, I’m really cruising).

Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them is eternally tented on the shelf behind my desk. And I’ve been flying through another ‘I can’t believe I haven’t read this text,’ The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Esperanza was actually flipped open on the front seat of my car last week. I started it during an oil change.

So…I have a problem. For a bibliophile, this is a good problem to have. It is both damaging to my books and a testament to my deteriorating organizational skills, but it does keep those books at my fingertips. It’s super nerdy, but I love to see them, open and waiting for my return.

However, while having a good book close at hand might excite those of us already full of passion for reading, it takes a little something more to get our students geared up to keep turning the pages day after day. Just ask the local library. If merely having the books available led to literacy, I might be out of a job. I bet librarians would  be willing to open and tent books if they thought it would get kids reading, but shockingly enough, few students are as willing to be as visually nerdy as the average English teacher.

What we need is to not only get the texts in front of kids, but keep them there in a meaningful way.

Bright. Catchy. Student-centered.

So, here are two very easy ways to appeal to our students’ goal oriented nature, if not their occasional tendency to let their eyes wander around the room during class. If we can’t hook them with tented texts, these approaches just might catch their eye.

1. Reading Goal Bookmarks

This is a hybrid of a number of measures I’ve seen and read about for helping hold students accountable for their reading. While I certainly want to keep track of what they are reading and how they are progressing, I wanted to try and incorporate a visual reminder of their reading goals into the experience.

In the rare occasions I get into an exercise regiment (regiment may be a strong word…spurt, perhaps?), I stay accountable, in part, because I make the routine visible and harder to ignore. I set alerts on my phone, schedule time on the calendar, and put my workout clothes out where I can see them. In short, I make it so I can’t avoid seeing what I know I should be doing.


The sample card I made for my classes. Fiction start to finish, but it showed how things should be organized. Without the example a few weeks ago, it was a big mess.

In that same way, I decided to purchase neon colored index cards for students to record their goals and progress. I’ve marked my own calendar for the days when we should be setting a weekly reading goal, and ask students to record their current book, the date, the page they are starting on, a weekly goal based on reading for two hours per week, and reflection the following week as to whether or not they met their goals.


We just started this new system, but I like what I see so far!

Students keep track of their reading, I use the cards to help guide conferences, and even more wonderfully, I have them put their cards in the book not where they are currently in their reading, but where they want to be by week’s end. The bright neon cards stand all week as visual reminders of where students are aiming for the week.

2. Recommendation Walls

Sometimes, it just takes the support of one’s peers to keep texts fresh. In the same way that a book talk from students allows kids a glimpse into the texts their peers are enjoying, visually displaying recommendations and books completed, by both teacher and students, keeps suggestions fresh for everyone. Get those suggestions up on the wall and let kids take a peek.


Erin Doucette’s wall is adorned with her hand painted sign and book suggestions from texts she and her students have enjoyed this year.


Catherine Hepworth has her students populate the recommendation wall based on genre.


Brandon Wasemiller has students recommend books by creating their own analytical book covers.

How do you keep recommended texts at the forefront of your readers workshop? Please leave your ideas in the comments below! 




10 thoughts on “Try it Tuesday: 2 Simple Ideas to Promote Reading

  1. Kristin April 5, 2016 at 6:19 pm Reply

    Love the reading rate bookmarks and totally stole it this week with my honor 9th graders. Here is my question for you–I plan on conferring with students week to week but what about those students that just don’t make the time to read or lack the “buy-in” for weekly rates? Other than conferencing, how do you hold them accountable for this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Dennis April 5, 2016 at 8:22 pm Reply

      Hi Kristin,
      That is the ten million dollar question! I find that fewer students are taking that route when choice is in the picture, but it’s always an issue. Keeping in mind I am still learning too, I try to combat this in much the same way I would with any assignment. If it’s a consistent issue, I would add some discussion during our resource period to encourage. Many of our formatives and then summatives demand that students use information and show development of ideas from the text they are reading, so many find that not reading becomes more of a problem than taking the time to read. Parent contact can help, peer pressure through book club selections can help, setting smaller goals with particularly reluctant students can help, checking quick writes on reading can help. So the rates become necessary more in terms of consistent progress as opposed to only success or failure. Does that make sense? Reading rate scores are only every formative, but what we do with their reading is often summative, so without that progress, they are really digging themselves into a hole that I tell them they could avoid with just ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there beyond the time they get in class. Does this help? I hope so. Talking one on one with students is the very best way I’ve found…so much more so than the tests I used to give or in-class essays students used to slosh through. If you want to chat more, please feel free to email me! We can collaborate 😉


  2. […] to independent reading. I am encouraged to see a number of students pushing themselves to meet the reading goals we are setting in class and so happy to be able to quickly intervene with those that need […]


  3. Sarah Muszynski March 22, 2016 at 12:34 pm Reply

    Is it possible to get more information about the analytical book covers? I’m intrigued! (I would be wanting to use these for 9th grade independent reading projects and possibly for a memoir independent reading unit I designed for my 11th grade composition students.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. shanakarnes March 22, 2016 at 8:36 am Reply

    I am loving all of the recommendation wall examples! So brilliant and beautiful!!

    You remind me a lot of Amy, who wrote at one point about this towering stack of books on her nightstand. My half-finished books are less visible because when I can’t finish a book, it’s usually because a student stole it from me. 🙂

    Oh, and I’m totally sending you some bookmarks, you poor, book-destroying soul. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Dennis March 22, 2016 at 9:54 am Reply

      Thank you, Shana! You are the best!

      I tent because I love. Broken bindings are beautiful. #breakabook.


  5. jhuber2015 March 22, 2016 at 8:01 am Reply

    I LOVE the recommendation walls! I will for sure be doing this next year! THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tricia Ebarvia March 22, 2016 at 7:32 am Reply

    What a great post! I have students set goals when they read as well, but I usually do it on a separate sheet. I really like the idea of putting their goals on a bookmark. I also like the wall of recommendations. I have a giant sticky poster students add titles to, but I like how there are categories listed in the example above.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa Dennis March 22, 2016 at 9:52 am Reply

      Thank you, Tricia! I LOVE your blog and have devoured your insights on AP! I remind the kids almost every class to take a look at where their goal markers are to gauge their progress. I think it’s helping! I had to laugh at myself after posting today…I start the post by saying I could use a bookmark and then suggest bookmarks my kids use. Maybe I really do like tenting texts?


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