Let’s Make Reading Fun Again! Here’s How!

Is reading drudgery or fun for our kids?  I’ve been pondering this a lot lately.  With state testing about to begin and all the push to get those CCSS learned, I can see the look of drudgery on the kiddos’ faces.  It makes me sad.  As teachers we have to be all rah rah for higher standards, but which of us in our hearts hasn’t said…all this pushing is crazy!??  They are kids after all!  If we are honest with ourselves, it is a constant struggle between pushing “rigor” and nurturing the love of reading and learning in our students, isn’t it?

 I met a former student today at the grocery store.  He was the checker….all grown up!  He didn’t go to college, he’s not going to be a physicist or head of a billion dollar computer company, but he is happy!  He has a plan for his life!  He says he doesn’t need to be rich and that he makes enough money to do what he wants to do in life with opportunities to advance.  He didn’t do well with reading when he was in school, but he graduated.  And did you catch the most important part….HE IS HAPPY!  After all, isn’t that what we want for our students?  To grow up and be happy with the plan THEY have made for their lives, not that someone else told them they had to do?  Well….that all gets me back to the point that reading…and school…and learning…should be fun first of all!  It should make kids happy!  Even when they have to struggle through a math problem or a story….it should be a good struggle…the kind that makes you happy that you didn’t give up and worked through it…..because you WANTED to!

And that all brings me around to the ideas I’d like to share today.  Maybe they will help you bring the fun back to reading…..or maybe….they will give you permission to think about making learning fun first of all.

Many years ago, a wonderful teacher at a conference, (whose name I have long forgotten….apologies!!!!), suggested giving kids touchstones that matched the book you were reading with them.  These are little trinkets or dealybobs, or whatnots…that help them remember the story.  I loved that idea.  Something they could keep that would remind them of the story whenever they saw the touchstone.  I’ve done that over the years with great success, and since then the ideas have melded together with other great strategies for using realia in many ways.  Now I am careful to bring in real stuff for “hooks” at the beginning of a reading lesson, or touchstones to remember the story, or even real stuff for projects that follow up on the story.  The point is, it makes reading fun….and the kids understand then, that reading isn’t just about finding the main idea and details, or answering a question with evidence!  Yes, I know that is all important, but we’re trying to add the fun back here, too. First of all and most of all….reading’s something we do for fun!  And it’s something we do because we want to! The rest will come along. So here are some things that we have done in reading intervention groups lately.

Hook ’em in!

5th graders were about to read  a “procedural text” about how real maple syrup is made.  Before reading, we had a little taste of REAL maple syrup….not the kind we all buy in the plastic bottles.  I just told them it was syrup at first….most liked it even though it tastes completely different than what they are used to.  “It tastes like it has coffee in it” they said.  Then I explained what it really was.  Were they hooked?  You bet!  They voraciously read the book, and even the ones who have great difficulty attending to the text well enough to remember and discuss it, were hyper focused! Ha!  WIN!!!  After reading it, they had the greatest debate about whether it was better than Mrs. Butterworth’s!  Oh yes….we went on and worked on the standard that we needed too, but it was fun for them.

Give Them a Touchstone!

2nd grade groups were reading variations of The Three Little Pigs.  I use squeaky pigs, and ducks, and frogs, and just about any squeaky animal I can find….with my groups.  The kids LOVE them!! Yep, the squeaks are annoying, but that’s why they love them! We were working on “attending carefully to the whole word so we don’t make silly mistakes”….a common issue with students who struggle in reading.  We use them to squeak when our reading partner makes an error that he or she doesn’t self-correct.  So much fun!  But this time, I gave them their own squeaky pig to take home.  It reminds them to “Be like the smart pig and don’t make silly mistakes.”  We think the pigs who used straw and sticks made a silly mistake. We don’t want to make silly mistakes in our reading….like saying a for the, or come for came. Fun?  You bet!  Memorable?  You know it!

Give them an “If you want to” project

3rd grade groups were going to be reading a book from a humorous series called The Fixit Family. In this book, they are trying to fix the bird feeders so the squirrels can’t get all of the bird food!  Ha! I can relate to that in real life!  Before showing them the book and before reading, I gave them a baggie full of bird seed, but didn’t tell them what it was. (Our students don’t have a lot of experience with things like this.)  It took awhile and some prompting, but they finally figured out what it was. I asked them how they thought it might connect to the book we would read that day.  They had lots of predictions and boy were they thinking!  Were they engaged and ready to read?  You bet!  Once again, this group devoured the book to see if their predictions were right. And yes, we did work on our standard/learning target too. At the end of reading groups, I sent the bird seed home with them with directions that “if  you want to, you can make a bird feeder and put this in it at your house, but watch out for squirrels!”  You would have thought I had given them a baggie full of candy!  And the stories they told about the bird feeders they made? Priceless!

Another “If you want to” project

5th graders are reading a series about art and artists.  This book is about a sculptor who uses toothpicks to make some amazing creations.  For this group, I gave them each a box of toothpicks and a little bottle of glue before bringing out the story.  Once again, I asked the group to talk about how they thought the two things were connected to a book we would read.  They came up with some wacky ideas I must say, but they were engaged.  The book is amazing in itself, as the man makes the Golden Gate Bridge and other fantastic things from toothpicks.  After our lesson was finished, they got to take the toothpicks and glue home to try it out for themselves….”if they wanted to.”  Of course they all did, and they found out it is a lot harder than it looks!

So there are four ideas to get you started.  Do you see how engaging and fun reading becomes when you bring in “real stuff?”  If you are still not convinced to do it on a regular basis, here are some more reasons for doing it.

1. It lowers the affective filter so the learning can get into the brain easier.
2. It highly engages and motivates the reader.
3. It “hooks ’em in” to stories and books.
4. It connects reading to real life.
5. It helps kids see that reading can be a springboard to lots of fun projects and other things.
6. It begins to turn around negative attitudes towards reading (especially in strugglers)!

So what do you think?  Is it worth the few dollars it might cost (use your PTA grant) and the extra minutes to put things in baggies to show kids that first of all….reading is fun?  I think so!  Give it a try.  You have permission to make reading fun again!

Happy teaching and big smiles to you for all you do!


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