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Help your students become lifelong readers

By Rachael Worthington Walker

Sixteen years ago, a reading task force at NEA headquarters wanted to answer a big question: If pep rallies got students excited about football, and ethical values were learned via Character Counts school assemblies, why couldn’t something get them excited about reading?

And that’s how NEA’s Read Across America was born. Today, the event—which also marks the birth of the Cat in the Hat creator, Dr. Seuss—is the nation’s biggest celebration of reading. It involves a variety of activities—from school-wide choral readings to pig-smooching principals—all aimed at teaching students about the information and adventure they can find in books.

Studies show that children who love reading get a head start toward becoming lifelong readers. Here are ways to keep your students motivated.

Provide Choices

Children are more likely to spend time with a book—and enjoy it—when they’ve had the chance to independently select an appealing title that’s on their reading level. Entice students with well-organized high-quality reading material from different genres, and encourage them to visit their school and public libraries.

Book ownership is another motivator. Book drives, DonorsChoose, and organizations like First Book and the Heart of America Foundation provide students with new books. Flood a classroom table with books, and let students browse and make selections.

Reading Role Models

Students who see and hear teachers and other adults reading and discussing books will understand that reading is a fun activity that’s worth talking about. Read aloud to students, and let them see you reading, using the library, or making a reading recommendation to colleagues and students. As NEA’s official reading policy puts it, “The teacher is the key to successful reading.”

Special Books

Create a themed book display in your room, and showcase titles that will appeal to your students. Read book sections aloud to introduce titles that are new to the display, or include student reviews of the titles you’ve put out. Remember to follow the example set by booksellers: An attractive presentation gets attention. Be sure to refill your display with fresh material as readers snap up titles.

Make Time for Reading

Whether you know it as SSR (Sustained Silent Reading), DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), or something else, personal reading that happens during the school day is time well spent. Provide students with a daily opportunity to read their chosen book at their own pace. They’ll get excited about reading, gain confidence in their ability, and be encouraged to read at home.


Students enjoy socializing at school, and the activity directly impacts a child’s language and literacy development. When students are able to read with their friends, talk with them about books, and share knowledge, their development gets a boost and reading turns into a fun, social activity.

Book clubs and peer-led discussion groups inject additional social interactions into the school day. “Book Buddies,” “Reading Buddies,” and other projects pair young students with an older peer who reads aloud and listens to the younger student read, opening the door to a valuable social interaction with a reading role model.

High-Interest Reading

Talk with your students to learn which books capture their attention, their interests, and their feelings about reading. Talk to their parents, too.  As a result, you will be able to connect what you learn to classroom activities, and use their interests as a springboard into quality fiction, informational texts, and poetry.

Hands-on activities and real world experiences can also introduce students to new interests and build background knowledge or provide culturally significant information. After a field trip, consider introducing topics related to what your students learned away from the classroom. Relevant topics can create excited readers.

And remember to use these ideas to support struggling readers whose early enthusiasm for reading may have waned because of feelings of failure and embarrassment. With their interest and excitement rebuilt, you can motivate these students to accept help, try new strategies, and focus on reading skills.

Rachael Worthington Walker is a curriculum specialist with more than 20 years experience in children's literacy. For more tips, visit

Keep Students Reading at Home

Encourage parents to follow the examples set in your classroom: Provide choices, model good reading habits, make reading material accessible, build reading into the family schedule, talk about books, and indulge children’s interests. Be sure parents understand their important role in reading motivation, and provide them with resources for making reading fun at home, especially during summer vacation. Some parents may not come from a tradition of home-based reading, so you’ll need to encourage them and provide them with resources that will make reading part of their family routine. Here are a few options:

Start with a Book—Builds on the interests of young children—dinosaurs, building, animals, sports, superheroes, music, and more—and gives parents the opportunity for meaningful interaction with their children. Share these ideas for using books and related downloadable activities to help parents get their children thinking, talking, creating, and exploring.

Library Programs—More than a place that’s filled with books, the local public library is also the site for a year’s worth of special programming aimed at children, including summer reading challenges and other special events. Ask your librarian for a list of events and resources, and make it available to parents.

First Book—Before they read at home, students must have books at home. First Book has several programs that can help you distribute books to low-income families at little or no cost.

Raising A Reader—An early-literacy and family-engagement program for children from birth to age 8 that helps families develop book-sharing routines. Visit this website to find this award-winning program in your community, or learn how to start an affiliate program.

Reading Is Fundamental—For more than four decades, this program has provided children with the opportunity to choose and keep books and participate in fun activities. The site provides information on how parents can motivate children to read and explores a variety of topics, including how families can help children make summertime reading a priority.

Featured Pin

The reusable, DIY Post-it Note Plan Boo

Pinterest burst on to the social media scene last year, becoming one of the fastest growing social networks ever. And educators jumped right on board

Think of Pinterest as an online bulletin board. Users create “Pins”—pictures and links originally found on other websites—and put them on “Boards,” which is another term for categories where the users save and organize their various pins. Users can also comment, like, and share the pins of other Pinterest users.

The site can be useful for educators looking for fresh ideas for their classroom, and there’s even some inspiration to be found within school subjects. For example, math teachers can create boards centered around teaching times tables using creative math games.

Victoria Wise (left), the blogger behind the Wise & Witty Teacher, uses Pinterest.

Tired of typing, retyping, printing, and reprinting lesson plans when things change last minute, she created a do it yourself (DIY) Post-it note plan book, took a photograph of it and pinned it to her Pinterest board. The lesson plan book has color-coded Post-it notes that are easy to reuse year after year, and notes can easily be moved to different days or different pages.

From The Wise & Witty Teacher:


•    Spiral notebook (one that has a vinyl cover since it will last longer)

•    Post-it notes (the “super sticky” ones)

•    Sharpie or black marker

•    Ruler

•   Scissors

•   Post-it tabs (optional)

•   Notebook cover or portfolio (optional)

Step 1: 

Assemble your materials

Grab your materials and clear off a space on the kitchen table. It’s time to get your DIY on.

Step 2:

Decide on a plan

I sketched out my idea of how I wanted to set up my plan book. I organized mine in a way that worked for me: the days of the week going left to right across the top, and the subject going top to bottom down the side. Technically I didn’t have to list the subject. I could have listed the time frame instead since I color coded my plans according to subject. (Blue for math, pink for reading, and green for other. I have other colors because writing, science, and social studies all get lumped into the same kind of time frame and due to scheduling, I’m not able to hit every one each day.)

Step 3:

Lay out and measure

I set up my Post-its where I wanted them (I just placed the whole pad where I wanted it so I’d have an idea of what space I needed). Then I drew my lines. If you use a Sharpie, the line will kind of bleed through, so when you turn the page over you don’t have to remeasure, just use the ruler to trace over the straight line. After tracing all the lines in the book, I went back and added tabs for the weeks. There are only 36 weeks in our school year, but I have 43 weeks’ worth of tabs just to be safe. I used the Post-it tabs and just cut them into fourths and alternated colors. Then I wrote the week number on the tab.

Step 4:

Label boxes and add the Post-It notes

I used small Post-it notes to note the math topic (blue), reading story (pink), related AR tests (orange), and week info (yellow). I didn’t want to put any of that info on the book permanently. I used light blue for math, pink for reading, and green for other (writing, science, and social studies). The teal color is for specific standards, objectives, essential questions, etc.

Step 5:

Start writing your plans

It was surprisingly easy to do this. Obviously these are not scripted seven-point lesson plans. I put down my main ideas for the lesson. Things that make perfect sense to me, and that show anyone else who might be looking that I have planned out my lessons for the day/week. I even drew little pictures for the art activities or projects that I was planning.

Step 6:

Prepare for changes

This is a perfect example for what to do when something unexpected happens that changes your plans. One week we had a field trip on Thursday. So, I used star-shaped sticky notes to show my changes to my plan for the week. Obviously, I don’t expect to have the same field trip again on the same week next year. The fun shape makes it easy to see that there is a change at that time.

Step 7:

Pretty Portfolio (optional)

I happened to have an old leather portfolio hanging around that I hadn’t used in years. Since it cost a pretty penny I never got rid of it. So, I used it to cover my new lesson plan book. If you don’t have a portfolio or notebook cover, I would highly suggest using a notebook with a vinyl cover since it will last longer.

Step 8:

Daily Schedule

On the first page of my plan book I have my schedule for each day along with mini notes of parent volunteer times or student pull out times. I have my schedule memorized so I don’t print it anywhere on my plans, but I do have it in my plan book...just in case.

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Floundering New Teacher


I am struggling with classroom management and teaching to state curriculum standards. I have honestly begun to dread classes with my freshmen World Geography students.

I have 35 students in each class, and it’s a challenge to settle them down. I have tried parent conferences, detentions, etc. to correct their behavior but to no avail. Kids do not understand that they must pass the state test this year. Social Studies is all concept driven, not simply skills. 1066 will always be the Battle of Hastings, and I feel I just dump facts onto my students and then move on so we can cover everything before the test. I love teaching my content, because I have a passion for it, but I hate teaching this way.

I go home feeling like a failure and that I made a bad decision by becoming a public educator.

Kate Ortiz: The first year of any teaching position has its challenges, and I have yet to meet a teacher who wouldn’t change a thing or two—or maybe 20—if we could do it over again. Try to not be too hard on yourself and know that your teaching will improve every year.

Being able to make good use of every minute of learning time is key.

Try making memorization of facts as interesting as you can. You might put kids in groups with question or answer cards, create a game with the facts, have races with the facts, etc. If you can create the needed repetition, and provide some tricks to help memorization, that might help to engage your students. I have had some success with posting notices on the white board such as “Wow! Period 2 students increased their flash facts scores by 20 points yesterday!”

Nancy H.: When you feel overwhelmed by dumping information instead of teaching to your passion, find some passion every day. When you think of the content you are teaching on any given day, find something—an interesting fact, an awesome illustration, a bit of background information, a recorded piece of music—that you just love. Take a minute—or three!—near the start of class to share that bit with students. Let them see your interest and your love for the content. They can’t get excited if you can’t.

Patti Green: I can only tell you what has and is working for me. Each class is different, but your expectations should be the same. Set them very high. The minute students walk in the room, they should have a set of procedures to complete: Take seats, take out notebook and pencil, and begin a brief assignment. Begin your lessons by setting a “hook.” Start with a question: “Has anyone ever…? ” “Have you ever wondered about ...?” “What does a...?” This piques their interest and focuses their attention on what you will teach.

Jessica Perez: Since it’s your first year, ask your principal if you may observe some other teachers in the building, because you have some questions about the classroom and you’d like to learn from your peers. It helped me a lot when I first started teaching 11 years ago. It requires some guts to ask, but you learn so much from observing other teachers.

Need help with a classroom management challenge?

Kate Ortiz, a teacher and classroom management expert, will respond within 24 hours to your question posted online.

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