This is the book checkout form for my Spanish classes for the first full week of school. Students are checking out bookBook Check Out List #1 News because they want to read them on their own at home. They get little to no credit for this–just the pleasure of reading a good book and my respect. I tell them over and over and in many different ways that this is different from most of the other reading they are asked to do in school. This is reading for pleasure. Reading for fun. Reading because you want to. For this kind of reading they need to pick something that is interesting and comprehensible to them–a book they like and can understand; a story that appeals to them that is written at a level where they are not struggling. they cannot get lost in a book unless they can process the words.

Last year over 50 students voluntarily checked out books and read them on their own at home. Five level 1 students read 15 or more books. This year is off to a good start as well.

Here is why I think it is working:

1) Variety. There are many books at many different levels and in many different genres in the classroom. The lower level books are written with high frequency vocabulary that even students in level 1 classes can access within a few weeks of school. A few level 1 students have checked out books to try already.

2) Time. Students have had time to browse. During this browsing time I tell them to grab a stack of books and take them back to their desks to look through–just like I do at Barnes and Noble. I want them to have this same feeling of a superabundance of books.

3) Modeling. I sit and read while they are reading. I show that reading is interesting and precious to me by my behavior. I resist the urge to update my grade book, check my email or jot down lesson ideas while students are behaving themselves and reading. When they read, I read. And I show that I enjoy reading with my attitude, body language and follow up comments.

4) Enthusiasm. I talk about the books they are checking out. I have read most of the novels in the classroom so I can say positive and things about them. I can say, “What did you think about the part when… ?”

5) Attention and Respect. Everyone needs attention and everyone craves to be shown a degree of respect. I give students what they need emotionally when they ask to check out a book to take home and I lavish them with attention when they come back to school, asking them what they thought about the story.

6) Friendly Competition. There are many teachers that that get considerable numbers of their students to read voluntarily outside of school. I respect these teachers immensely, among them Doug Stone and Alina Filipescu. I admire what they are able to do with their students and it challenges me to do try to get mine to do something similar. Although our student populations are far different, I figure if their students can do this, so can mine. That extra bit of motivation keeps me working to think of ways I can motivate my students to pick up a book.

Share your struggles and celebrate your successes with us in the comments below so that we can all get better at encouraging free voluntary reading.