How I Turned My Students into Readers


I began teaching language arts exclusively two years ago. At the time, I imagined my classroom as one filled with students that loved to read. That was not the case. What came to me was a group of students that would do strange things like pretend to read. It was my mission to turn these students into readers, and here’s how I did it.

I made it exciting.

I pulled out all the stops. I turned my once boring classroom library into a more accessible one by using plate easels to display books. I picked books like I Survived, Goosebumps, and anything that had a movie out recently. As students checked those out, I snuck in some more difficult books and those got checked out too! I used an old student laptop (but you could use your own) and the web-based free Classroom Booksource website for my check-in/check-out system. That added a fun element to the library and helped me keep track of my books. It also helped me track which books were really popular so that I could buy similar books to add to the library.


I stumbled upon these beautiful free printable bookmarks one day while reading blogs and knew I had to add them to my Operation Readers strategy. I printed 100 of them on white card stock and all 100 were gone the first day. I started noticing them in every book the students were carrying with them, all beautifully decorated. It added another fun element to reading for my students.

kid bookmarks

Bookmarks by Dawn Nicole. Visit her to download for free!

To keep it fresh, I ordered a few copies of every $1 book from the 4th, 5th, and Tab Scholastic book orders every month for less than $10. When the book order came in I made a big deal about unboxing it and putting the new books into my library. My excitement about it caused my students to become excited. Now the day we get our book box is the most exciting day of the month!


I turned it into a reward, not a punishment.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard teachers say “That’s it, if you can’t do what you’re supposed to do, then I’m going to just make you read silently!” That’s the last thing you want to do if you want students to love to read. I started handing out tickets that said “Thank you for your hard work! You can read a book of your choice the first 5 minutes of class instead of bell work.”  I also started giving class reading time rewards. Attitude is everything when molding readers.

I started book clubs.

I let my students choose a few other students to start a book club with in class. They chose the books, pages to read every week, what to discuss, and group roles. I modeled the structure and then made them completely responsible for their book clubs.  They read whenever they can and meet every Friday for 30 minutes at the end of the class period. Since we started book clubs, my students are now reading these books in addition to their personal books they check out from my library. Some students are now toting around 3 or 4 books at a time, and loving every one of them!

Teacher your students to love to read

We used books in class, a lot.

Yes, short passages are very convenient for teaching a standard, but they’re not standalone. Read a novel as a class to see all of the literature standards in context. Try to use books to teach the standards more than printed passages. You’ll see increased engagement as well as a deeper understanding of reading and writing. For quick lessons, use pictures books as mentor text. I have a great blog post on how to do this. I recently taught my 6th graders about tone and mood using the picture book Night of the Gargoyles. Not only did I use a picture book (with they loved), but I read it with them all sitting on the floor as story time. The next day they pulled apart poems looking for how word choice affects tone and mood using what they had learned from this “story time”, and they absolutely knew what tone and mood was.

Try a free sample of my interactive notebooks with mentor text pairings:

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I ditched the reading log.

I made the decision to get rid of my reading log because I didn’t want them to see it as a chore and I didn’t want them to be limited to a required number of reading minutes. In lieu of the reading log, I had them create reading projects like book mobiles and cereal box book reports. I asked them to read every night and they did, without a reading log. Many students read several books during the book report window and did their report on their favorite of the books.

I shared my passion for reading.

The most important piece of all was MY passion for reading. If you’re passionate enough about something, that passion will spread to your students!


11 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your ideas…I have two reluctant readers at home.
    Will try to work around them using your ideas.

    1. Hi Jackie! It’s a book report where students decorate a cereal box. You can have them focus on different parts of the book on each part of the cereal box. They also put a toy that represents the book inside the cereal box – like the “surprise” you often get in kid’s cereal.

  2. Thank you for such a detailed and inspiring post! This school year I checked books out from the public library to get my kids excited about reading — IT WORKED! But the downside…no excitment for the books in our own library. I can’t wait to try all of these ideas.

    1. Thanks for your comment Emily! I feel like my students just don’t ever go to the library. It’s so magical when you check out books from the mythical community library, sadly. I make a big deal about ordering new books from Scholastic every month to add to our library and my students race to check them out. It’s a constant battle to keep them interested in our classroom library. They do love our school library. I started going with them to library time to really engage them in finding good books. They used to just use library time to goof off.

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April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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