How Do Kids Become Readers?

Photo: A Pete the Cat bedtime story.

My students are beginning to work with elementary children. They are planning and teaching reading and writing lessons. As they are beginning their time teaching, some are learning, either directly from the child or indirectly from the child’s parents, that the child does not like reading or is not a “good” reader. And, my students have been asking me the question, “How do kids become readers?” It seems that they want me to tell them the secret or the magic steps that they can implement in order to help the children become readers. Unfortunately, I do not have a magic potion that when taken will automatically have kids reading. My simple answer to their question is that in order for kids to become readers, they must read!

Reading is a muscle that needs to be used in order for it to be strengthened. Think about learning to read in a similar way as you would think about learning to ride a bike. You can’t learn to ride a bike only by watching someone else do the work of riding a bike or only watching videos about riding bikes. Instead, if you want to learn to ride a bike, you need to get on the bike and keep trying – even when you fall off! It’s the same for reading. If you want your students to become readers (which we all do!), then they must read. There’s no getting around doing the hard work. In order to support students and help them learn to read and enjoy reading, they need to be given multiple opportunities throughout the day to read and be read to. Here are a few ideas to get students reading:

Get Independent Reading Right

Providing the time and space for students to read independently is an important part of a balanced literacy curriculum. This is the time for the students to implement the reading work you taught in books that are “just right” for the child’s level as well as of interest to the child. You spent time at the beginning of the school year learning about the students who are in your classroom – learning about their interests and background. Don’t let that information sit in a folder – instead use it to help put books in students’ hands. If children are reading books that they enjoy, they will fall in love with reading. Independent reading has many benefits, such as building background knowledge, improving vocabulary, and providing time and space for children to practice the reading skills and strategies you have taught. In order to make independent reading a supportive time for students, provide them with teacher guidance and feedback. For example, meet with students and hold conferences with them about what they are reading and their understanding of the book. You can discuss what skills and strategies the child is using when reading or discuss new vocabulary words that the child is noticing in the book. Regardless, conferencing and providing the student with guidance will make independent reading time a more powerful opportunity to strengthen the reading muscle.

Plan Engaging Interactive Read-Alouds

Interactive read-alouds are one of my favorite literacy structures to implement in the classroom because they allow children to engage with a text that may be above their reading level and they get a window into how the teacher thinks about the text. Interactive read-alouds are not a time to just “read for fun,” but also allow the teacher to show details about the book that the students may not notice. For example, author and illustrator Mo Willems sneaks an illustration of Pigeon into each of his books. While some children may be familiar with the hiding Pigeon, others may not be and this is a way to teach the importance of reading the illustrations. The more you read to the students, the more exposure to different books and genres they will receive, which will help children learn about the types of books they enjoy reading.

Talk!

Kids are social beings who enjoy speaking with their peers. Talk is an essential part of literacy as well as an important skill for children to learn and unfortunately, there is not enough talk in classrooms today and this has probably been amplified during the COVID pandemic. If kids are reading independently in the classroom, a nice way to extend the reading is to create time and space for the children to talk to each other about what they are reading and give reviews of the book to their peers. This is a way to have the students become book salespeople – by promoting the books and authors! During COVID, children have been enjoying reading outside when the weather permits and by ending independent reading a few minutes early, students can sit in a socially distanced circle talking about what they read. This gives students the opportunity to share what they read as well as have time to connect with others in the classroom, which right now is so essential.

How are you getting kids to become readers? Share a few tips that have helped strengthen your students’ reading muscle!

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