“Is it true that we get a copy of the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book next year?” an incoming fourth grader askd on step-up day. He was referring to the celebration my class has had for the last three years when the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book is released in November. I pre-order a book for everyone and eagerly await the arrival of the big box. Then we spend the afternoon reading the new books, watching Jeff Kinney interviews, and trying to draw Greg Heffley. It is a day we all look forward to and one the students remember for many years afterward.
I love recognizing and celebrating reading and writing events in my classroom. They build excitement around reading and writing and are so much fun! I used to try very hard not to miss a special event such as the Global Read Aloud, World Read Aloud Day, International DOT Day, Poem in Your Pocket, Children’s Book Week, DEAR Day—you get the idea. Although my intention was to bring another element of excitement to literacy, it was exhausting and a bit too much of a good thing. After a while it became old hat to the students and they didn’t really get excited anymore. I was spending a great deal of energy to plan each event on top of my lessons and other responsibilities, and it just wasn’t necessary. Although I still firmly believe in the power of these events to help create and maintain excitement for reading and writing, I have learned to scale back and be a little more choosy about which events to celebrate. If you would like to plan successful reading and writing celebration events in your classroom, here are a few things to consider.
What’s Out There?
If you are new to hosting literacy events, the choices can be overwhelming. Fall and spring tend to be busier times of year for widely recognized events, but really, there are events happening year-round. Although there are many sites with lists of events, I have compiled a fairly comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list here that I update each summer. It contains large events such as Global Read Aloud, International DOT Day, and World Read Aloud Day as well as lesser-known events such as National Day on Writing, Free Comic Book Day, and National Book Lovers Day, to name a few.
Create Your Own Event
There is no need to wait until your favorite event rolls around. In addition to the larger events, teachers can make their own literacy celebrations.
- Celebrate an anticipated book release. John Schumacher (aka Mr. Schu) has a book release calendar that is up-to-date with upcoming children’s book releases.
- Host a “read-in.” Have the students bring in a blanket or pillow, gather together with piles of books, and read (jammies optional). This was another event my students loved last year.
- Invite guests readers into your room. This can be done any time of year. Students love visitors! In November (Picture Book Month) I invited parents to read a favorite picture book to our class. The students really enjoyed having their parents visit.
- Host an author. Authors are rock stars! Many students have never met an author in person. Listening to an author talk about books and writing encourages and motivates students to read and write.
- Skype with an author. If your school district is anything like mine, you may not have any money in the budget to pay for an author visit. Skyping (or other video chatting) may be the choice for you. Many authors will Skype briefly for a nominal fee.
- Skype with another class. Technology is amazing. We can now talk with classes across the hall or around the world without leaving our room. You could discuss a common read-aloud or just share book recommendations.
- Have an author’s tea or other writing celebration.
The ideas are endless. Even small events have a big effect.
Teachers have a lot to do. Planning an extra event adds more to our plates, but they can be very effective in helping to build a culture of literacy in your classroom. They also offer a welcome break from routine. Here are a few suggestions and things to consider when planning your events.
- Start small. Look ahead and choose an event that excites you and that you think your students will enjoy.
- Plan ahead and make sure there are no conflicts in your school calendar that might interfere. I also try to avoid the day before a vacation, because many students may go on vacation early.
- If you choose a popular event such as the Global Read Aloud, visit the website for links, dates, and suggestions.
- Start planning early enough to contact any adults you might need to help you.
- Join forces with another classroom that is interested in participating.
- Talk it up, write it on the calendar, post it on your website. Anticipation builds excitement.
- If appropriate, invite your principal or other adults to share in the excitement.
- Keep the focus on literacy. Reading and writing need to be at the center of the event for students to understand the difference between a literacy event and a class party.
To help keep the purpose of these events clear, it is important to reflect briefly afterward. Let the students share what they liked about it. Would they like to do it again? Do they think it is something next year’s class will like? If so, do they have suggestions for changes?
Talking to my fourth graders revealed that the events they enjoyed the most were Skyping with another class, having a read-in, Poem in Your Pocket Day, and the Wimpy Kid book release celebration. They suggested that I invite parents into school more often throughout the year, since some of the parents were unavailable in November. They also suggested that we read to younger grades on World Read Aloud Day.
Participating in classroom events that bring reading and writing to the forefront is worth the extra effort it takes to organize them. It shows students that reading and writing are valued and worthy of recognition, and helps teachers build and maintain a classroom climate where literacy is celebrated.