I am not usually a fan of reading activities and events. I do not enjoy the days when everyone in the school wears a Dr. Seuss hat, and I do not plan character parades for my students. These one-time events do not seem authentic to me—they are not things that lifelong readers do outside of school. So for a long time, I avoided anything that seemed like an “event” because it was a waste of time.
But over the years, I’ve come to see that there is power in one-time events and that they can change the trajectory of conversations in a community when they are used as a catalyst for conversations with readers. So I’ve learned not to roll my eyes immediately when an “activity” or “event” is proposed. Instead I’ve learned to really evaluate the event to think about whether or not it could in fact be built upon to help our students grow as lifelong readers.
I ask myself this series of questions as I contemplate which activities and events we might participate in as a classroom community of readers:
- How authentic is it? Would readers outside of school participate in something similar?
- What is the purpose or goal? Does it match the activity?
- How much time and energy will this take away from the work/thinking we are currently involved in?
- What will students gain from the experience?
- What conversations and behaviors can be built upon from this activity?
- How might we prepare for this activity in ways that readers outside of school do?
I’ve learned that one single event can have a huge effect on a classroom community, a school community, and individual readers when they fit into a bigger, authentic goal and when I am intentional about how I build on them. These are the events that have worked for me in recent years.
March Book Madness: Sharing New Books and Conversation in a School Community
Two teachers, Tony Keefer and Scott Jones, created a global platform for this year’s March Book Madness. Just like the March Madness of basketball, March Book Madness is a tournament bracket comparing great books that compete against each other until one book comes out the winner.
Many classrooms had previously participated in some form of March Book Madness, but this year, having a global audience made it bigger than ever. At our school, the literacy coach shared information about March Book Madness and filled three bulletin boards with the bracket—changing it as winners were announced each week.
Most classrooms in our school participated in March Book Madness, and the buzz around school about the books in the bracket was constant. Not only were kids across classrooms reading the same books, but many were discovering new books. And by the end of the bracket, most classrooms in the school had read the same 32 books. Rather than being a one-time event, this changed the conversation in our classroom and in the school as students revisited old favorites with new eyes, talked to students in other classrooms about books, and discovered new authors and favorites.
Books and Breakfast: Connecting Readers Around One Book
I read about Books and Breakfast on Twitter from Patrick Andrus (@patrickontwit), a fourth-grade teacher who has gathered kids before school to talk about books for several years. We built on his idea and decided to host monthly “Books and Breakfast” events in which students were invited to school 30 minutes early to enjoy doughnuts and a conversation around a common book they’d read. The events were a huge success, and a lot came out of these short conversations.
I chose the books and had them available for students who did not have their own copy. Because of this, students discovered authors and genres they may not have discovered on their own. With common book experiences, it was easier for them to talk to each other about other books. Students naturally suggested other books by the same author or other books in a genre to readers who had been part of the group, knowing they might like them.
I focused on Books and Breakfasts this year, but in the past I’d done something similar called “Lunch Bunches” that allowed students who were unable to come to school early to participate. “Grand Discussions” extend this idea by inviting parents into the discussion. All three of these events pushed readers and built conversation skills.
Global Read Aloud: Connecting with Readers Outside the School Walls
My classes have participated in the Global Read Aloud many times. This is a one-time event created by Pernille Ripp and hosted in the fall of each year. The goal is to connect readers around the world through the sharing of one book. Each year a book is chosen and classrooms are invited to read the book in their classrooms and share the experience on social media in any way that makes sense.
I’ve not always been in love with the book that is chosen for the grade level I teach, but the conversation and connections still have a positive effect on the readers in the classroom. My goal with this read aloud is usually different from others because the book is chosen for us. But I have found that connecting across the world is powerful for my students and that those connections often continue long after the Global Read Aloud event ends. Learning how to connect with and build thinking with students all over the world is a worthwhile lesson for young children.
Skype with an Author: Digging Deeper by Learning from Authors
I am always nervous on the days we have a Skype visit with an author scheduled. The technology is easy enough to use, but things can still go wrong. There are always “rock star” moments for my students and for me as we look forward to talking to some of our very favorite authors. I’ve learned that these 15-minute Skype visits are worth any amount of anxiety that comes with them. The power of these visits for my students comes from both the preparation and the follow-up conversations.
Last year, my third graders Skyped with Barbara O’Connor, Erin Soderberg, and Leisl Shurtliff. All of these authors helped my students see their books in new ways after we had read them aloud as a class. I am always most excited about the thoughtfulness with which my students prepare for these visits, thinking about the questions they most want to ask the authors to help them better understand the book, the characters, and the writing process. I have found that what they learn from one author often carries over to the next book. I am also amused when my students talk about these authors and refer to them as if they are on a first-name basis. After a 15-minute Skype visit, my students learn not only more about the book and the writing process, but that these famous authors are people with whom they can have conversations and from whom they can learn.
All-Day Read: Sharing Books from Home and from Childhood
Once or twice each year, we host an “All-Day Read” in our classroom. It is a day when reading is the only thing we do. Students look forward to this day, and they read from the start of school until the final bell rings. I often break up the time with a read aloud or by introducing a new stack of books, but my students come prepared with bags of books they are excited about reading.
I’ve noticed over the years that if we plan ahead and students anticipate a day of reading (just as I do when I have an extra vacation day), they come prepared with books from their To Be Read stack, texts that they love so much that they want to reread them, and favorite books from their childhood. Because the day is loosely structured, the books start to be shared informally as students notice books they also loved or are excited to share new favorites with others.
The day seems like a “free day” without much learning. But every year as I listen in, I am amazed at the conversations between students as they read together and share titles. It is a day when most students not only get a feel for what it is like to have a “reading day” but also learn lots about their classmates’ reading histories and discover some new favorites along the way.
Using Hashtags and Social Media: Sharing and Learning Beyond the Classroom Walls
We use social media to share our learning outside of our classroom walls. There are several hashtags out there that are meant to connect readers in an easy way. We use #readergrams, a hashtag created by Katharine Hale’s fifth graders, when we tweet out about books we are reading. We often participate in #5BookFriday, a hashtag created by Katie Muhtaris and her fifth graders to share a photo of five great books from our classroom each week.
I find that my students anticipate things like #5BookFriday and often mention it after we’ve finished a book that they think is worth sharing with others. They also look forward to learning about books that we might not know about in our school or classroom. For the short amount of time that adding a hashtag to a tweet takes, and these events take, the payoff is huge in the book recommendations beyond the classroom.
Activities are just that—one-time events soon to be forgotten—if we let the opportunity to build on the learning from them pass us by. But if we are thoughtful and intentional, these events can pay dividends all year long in building passionate, lifelong readers.