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Choice: It's Not Just For Reading

Besides talking about books at my #yalit seminars, I also share real-world examples of student success stories, classroom activities, and how I incorporate and promote reading during the school day.

I can talk about the importance of CHOICE reading ad nauseum, and could probably write a dissertation on the topic at this point. So instead, I thought I would focus this post on student responses to reading. One of the questions I get asked frequently is "how do you know if they've read the book?" I'm going to be honest, READING is the point of the class for me and what I consider the most important. But you're right, schools require us to grade something, and since I hate reading logs, here are some ideas that I do throughout the year.

1) Free Read Friday: Barring assemblies, field days, or standardized testing, our Fridays are spent READING! As long as students are on task, we spend the 45-ish minutes of class "silent" reading. (All of us...teacher included). First of all, I will fight any administrator that says this is a waste of time. Luckily I don't have to at my school. Now, before you think that I've cracked the code to keep a class full of teenagers silent, on task, and reading for 45 minutes, I haven't. Fridays are days where I have reading conversations with students, do formal and informal booktalks as needed, give students the opportunity to write book reviews and tell other students about what they're reading, and more. Of course, the majority of the time is spent reading, and I'll be honest, most of my students honor this time and their classmates by finding a place to relax and read. I think most of them appreciated the "break" from the stresses of other classes. Do students get off task? Sure. Are there students who don't read? Sometimes. But as with any classroom, you deal with that as necessary.

2) Reading Response Projects: Besides informal conversations, book reviews, and the occasional in-class on-demand writing prompt, students are required to complete a "project" after their reading. (Middle school and high school had different guidelines for number of books read vs projects completed but every one had to complete at least a few each semester). At the start of the year I offered students a list of choices for these projects as well as guidelines/rubrics. They included anything from one-pagers, book commercials, and poetry journals... to comic strips, quote posters, and Snapchat stories. Here are a few samples of my high school class' projects this spring:

Digital art representing Moxie by Jen Mathieu

One pager for Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner

One pager for The Girl Who Was Supposed To Die by April Henry

Comic strip for a poem in The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Quote poster for Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Playlist for The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Part of the script of a book commercial for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Comic Strip for Treasure Island

Persuasive presentation on why I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is the "best book ever."

3) Student Created Projects: Besides giving them a list of acceptable project ideas, I invite students to come up with their own (teacher-approved) ideas for projects that demonstrate reading. This is how, for the last project of the year, I was convinced by my seniors to let them bring in food that represented their book (because yes, they wanted a class party and we weren't technically allowed to have one). Let me tell you, the level of thought that went into these food choices was TERRIFIC and definitely showed their comprehension of the books.

4) Volunteering at Literacy Events: True, it's voluntary and not graded, but I encourage my students to volunteer at our monthly Feed n Read events. This is a great opportunity for younger students in our community to interact with teens and tweens and to have positive, shared reading experiences. It has the added benefit of being an enjoyable experience for my students as well. I always offer the option to trade out one "assignment" per semester in exchange for volunteering at one event. Let's be real, life gets busy, and there are a myriad of reasons why students may not be able to complete an assignment. But our Feed n Reads always need volunteers and the younger kids LOVE reading with the teens so it's actually a win for more than just me. And most of my students that volunteer come each month, not just the one time...proof that they secretly enjoy reading with the kids.

5) Book Character TED Talk: We did TED Talk Tuesday in our classroom each week. You can read more about that here. As a final project, I had my Contemporary Lit students choose a book character (from a book they read this year) that they would want to give a TED Talk, and then outline the key points or message that would be included. Again, WOW! I received some amazing responses. Definitely an assignment I'm keeping in the rotation.

What are some of your favorite reading-related classroom activities?


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