It’s September, you’ve got your new class and you’re eager to encourage them to be real readers. If you need to remember one thing, it’s this: consider the messages you are implying in all you do. It’s all very well saying "reading rocks", but if you don’t live it, breathe it, show it, the statement has no impact. So how can you do that?
1. Make reading time sacrosanct
This is the most important tip, and has to be my number one. There is (most definitely) time every day to read to your class and give them independent reading time. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Read to your class. Pick books together, pick books you love, pick books you know they’ll love. Do the voices, own the dramatic pauses and revel in leaving them on a great cliffhanger – you need to own it. It’s a special time for you and your class and they’ll love you for it. Remember, for some children in your class, you will be the only adult who reads aloud to them.
When you give them time to read, consider a suitable time in the day. If it’s at the end of the day, it can often get squeezed off the edge. This sends a message that reading time isn’t important, so pick a time you can stick to. Set the right atmosphere so everyone can get into their reading. If you can, read at the same time and really model what a reader looks like.
On the rare occasion that a window of time appears in your busy day, snatch it for reading. This shows how important reading is to you. Grab those bonus times with both hands. Soon it’ll become the first thing the pupils ask for.
2. Talk books
So, you’ve given them all this time to read. They will be bursting with opinions, questions and comments about what they’ve read. You’ve got to talk about books, too. This for me has two threads: formal book talk and informal book talk. Formally, you need to give children structures to support their book discussions. There are some ideas here that you can build into reading lessons, whether guided or whole-class. You can guide them into book recommending with this resource, too.
Informally, talking about books offers us a chance to create a culture in our classroom. When we share what we are reading, we really give children an insight into our character and vice versa us into theirs. We build trust and community. You can tell them about the books you’ve started but didn’t finish. Tell them why and really show them the rights of a reader. Tell them how you choose books, about other reading materials such as comics and newspapers, and show them that everybody develops different reading habits.
3. Know your books
There are just so many great new children’s books being released all the time, not forgetting the many, many wonderful children’s books already out there. There are too many for one teacher to read and to know them all, but you can know some of them. Find the genre that you enjoy and read lots of those. Then talk about those in the staffroom, or set up a teacher recommendation station. You’ll find that across your school you will have different areas of interest and expertise. Will you be the next picture book expert or non-fiction guru? Learn from other staff and ask them for recommendations.
There are a few ways to broaden your knowledge quickly. Follow some of the awesome book bloggers and recommenders on Twitter such as Simon Smith for amazing picture books, Scott Evans for year group book recommendations and Jo Clarke for a plethora of fiction recommendations.
4. Read, read, read
This seems a bit obvious really, but show the real power and purpose of reading by using books across the curriculum. If you’re signed up to a schools library service, they should support you in excellent books to support your current topics. Make sure the quality of books is great – beware the out-of-date, battered textbook. Websites like Books for Topics can be helpful to find suitable books. Encourage children to use their local library, by bringing in books you have got out from your own local library.
5. Connect with authors and illustrators
We primary school teachers are Jacks and Jills of all trades, and we are great at it, too, but there’s nothing like the inspiration that comes from meeting the real deal. Making links and meeting authors and illustrators is something that should be part of every child’s primary school experience. Author Andy Seed writes about their impact here.
We all know that budgets are tighter than tight, so you may not have a budget to get an author into your school. See if you can afford a Skype "virtual visit" which will cost a lot less, but still let your class question them and share their ideas with them, too. Try contacting them on Twitter. Authors and illustrators are a very friendly and generous bunch, I’ve found. Share the work your class has produced based on their book. How proud will your children be when the actual author comments on their writing or the illustrator likes their drawings – one word: inspired.
Heather Wright is a teacher and Reading Rocks organiser
Reading Rocks is taking place on 29 September in London and 13 October in Northumberland. For more information, click here.