Students begin with reading short paragraphs and stories. We offer tips to motivate them for whole books.
When students begin reading, it’s often a time of excitement and high motivation. But when it’s time to start reading entire books, students can feel intimidated and motivation quickly wanes. Luckily, we’ve got some tips to help you prepare your students for “Harry Potter” or “War and Peace” that will keep momentum going.
It’s one thing to read something that a student has chosen for themselves but another matter entirely when it’s a set-work book. Chances are there will be very little prior knowledge to give the work context, and it’s difficult to go into a new piece of literature or nonfiction selection without any prior knowledge. This is where confidence and assurance come in. It’s a bit like getting kids to eat their vegetables. Once they realize they’ve had vegetables that they’ve liked before, they’re (a little) more confident in trying new ones in new ways.
One of the most valuable starting points when introducing students to longer pieces of reading is to remind them of what they already know:
- Bring up experiences they have had that might be relatable to the piece
- Remind them of useful vocabulary and grammatical structures they have already learned
- Help them understand that they already have good reading comprehension
- Explain that an entire book is made up of the first few paragraphs building on each other
- Through using their own words, students can improve their reading comprehension and lay a solid foundation for the rest of the piece.
With these starting points, the new information that students will learn as they read will have a solid foundation on which to build in their brains. In technical terms, it’s called activating schemata. In simple terms, it’s helping students realize and remember what they already know. So before you crack open the first page of today’s book of the week, try one (or more) of these methods for preparing your students to read.
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4 Easy Ways to Prepare Students for Reading Entire Books
#1 Book Boxes
I just love creating book boxes. They are such a fun way to introduce a longer piece of literature and get students thinking about what they will read. When a book box is available, students can wander over and engage in independent reading by choosing which book from the selection they’re going to page through.
Book boxes are also hands on and tangible. They give students a way to interact with the book that doesn’t require words, screen time, or technological know-how.
When making your book box, choose a longer work that students will read. It can be either fiction or nonfiction. Get a shoebox or something about that size, and then start to fill it with objects that have some connection to the book. For example, if you were going to create a book box on “Charlotte’s Web”, you might include a plastic spider, a pig figurine, a blue ribbon, and some scraps of newspaper or magazine headlines. Whatever you decide to include, also put in a copy of the book. If you like, decorate the outside of your box.
If you’re on a nonfiction track instead of reading a novel, you can still make a book box for your students. If you were reading about the solar system, for example, you could put in models of the planet, some glow in the dark stars, and even a Milky Way bar. Don’t forget a copy of the book too. Whether you are reading fiction or nonfiction, the process of introducing the book box is the same.
Then after telling students what you will read but before giving them any reading assignments, remove the items from the box one by one and talk about them as a class. Don’t immediately name each object for your students. Invite them to share what they already know with each other. What is each object? What is it used for? Where did they see this object? How might it fit into what students will read about it in the book? Encourage discussion among your students to ignite their curiosity. Then leave the book box available in your classroom for your students to interact with throughout the unit.
One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is gift book boxes to the next year of students. You can ask your students to decorate the box or even write short reviews to get the next round of students excited to read it.
#2 Book Detectives
Before setting students to read a longer piece of writing, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, take some time to do a tour of the book or selection that you will read. Just taking a look at the non-prose items in a piece of writing can do a lot to give students an idea about what they will read.
What does the cover tell us?
We know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but we should really take the time to look at it and discuss it with students. Usually, the cover depicts the main characters, setting, and conflict, and sometimes depicts other important elements of what students will read about, such as important objects.
Even look at the choices of color scheme and the font of the title. Are they warm, happy colors, or cold and gray? What would this suggest about the tone of the book? What is the font like? Is it bold and daring, or thin and fragile? What might this tell us about the story within the pages?
A little predictions and friendly competition is harmless and fun, so why not have your students write down their predictions of what will happen in the book. At the end, read out the predictions, have a giggle, and select the “winner” of who was closest to the answer.
Hints from chapter headings
Then, go through chapter titles and see if students can make any predictions about what they might encounter as they read or if they can guess what type of book it will be. This is really helpful to circle back to when completing chapters of the book. It will remind students that a book is a journey and chapter headings act like waypoints along the way.
A picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words
Look at any pictures or diagrams included in the text as well as their titles and descriptions. Can students interpret the data based solely on what they see in the diagrams? It’s even beneficial to take a look at the glossary or index if they are included in a piece of writing. That does double duty too by preparing students to read as well as introducing unfamiliar vocabulary.
Though your students may not know a whole lot about the topic they will read about, they will have a good foundation once they complete the book detective activity. Plus, the process will jog their memories of anything relating to the topic, which is always a good thing.
#3 Watch the Movie
Despite what some might say, watching a book-made-movie is a great way to celebrate the accomplishment of turning that final page in a novel, but that’s not always the best time for watching a film. Sometimes it is a good idea to introduce the book by watching the movie first. This is particularly true when you are teaching lower-level students who you anticipate may struggle with the reading.
By watching the movie first, students will gain a good foundational understanding of the plot and characters. This way, when they read, they will have a basis on which they can build further understanding and information they encounter including specific vocabulary and grammar structure.
Besides, watching the movie doesn’t spoil the benefits that come from reading. Just because students have a good idea of the plot (and event that isn’t always the same between the book and the movie!) doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from vocabulary building, grammar exposure, sequencing and other items that students usually learn as they read a longer piece of fiction.
It’s a fun activity to discuss comparisons between the book and the movie – such as whether the casting aligned with the characters described in the book and why a director might have made that choice. What was in the book but not in the movie and vice versa? Why might those decisions have been made? This is a fun way to illicit critique and debate amongst students and broaden students awareness that books draw references from real-life.
Even if you don’t want to show your students the entire movie or if you are reading nonfiction, videos can still help prepare your students for what they will read and help them create a foundation on which they can build.
Show one or more videos related to the topic you will be reading about (they don’t have to cover the same information, nor do they have to be extensive) and do some exercises with them such as taking notes, guessing the meaning of new vocabulary words, or sequencing events. It will still serve as good preparation before tackling a longer piece of reading.
A site we love when it comes to nonfiction videos is SchoolTube. It’s a moderated site bursting with kid-appropriate content.
#4 Go on a Field Trip
It is always great to take learning out of the classroom and into the real world, and when you can relate a field trip to your reading selection, the benefits simply compound. Field trips are great for language development.
For some ideas on what language activities you can do on and after your field trip, check out these ideas. Then follow up by reading the book you have chosen for your class. The out of classroom experience will be great preparation for new vocabulary and concepts they will encounter as they read, and they will have a tangible, current memory that connects to what they read on the page.
If funding, COVID, or logistics prevent actual field trips, there are a number of virtual ones you can explore with your students. Many museums and institutes have multi-media and interactive resources on their sites. Here’s a great blog with 21 Virtual Field Trip ideas to get your creativity going in building your own.
Getting students ready to read longer reading sections is crucial, especially when they will be tackling an entire book.
So don’t skip getting ready just to have more time in the text. After all, quality is sometimes more important than quantity, and when your students are ready to read, their time between the pages will be more effective and impactful.
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