Teachers and parents get excited when they are able to help a child find a book that interests them and one that will keep them reading all the way through to the last page. But then comes the age old question, “I’m finished, now what do I read?”
For early readers, this question is easily answered by telling them to choose another book in the series or pick another book by that author. This is why I spent much of my childhood reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary, and Francine Pascal.
But what about intermediate and adolescent readers who should be moving beyond simple series books into novels or more challenging chapter books?
How do we keep them reading for the long-term rather than for the short term?
If I can keep students interest high in a particular topic, or get them asking questions as they read, I can keep them reading throughout the entire school year.
When students know how to tap-into their own curiosity about the world around them, one book choice will automatically lead them to the next.
You can help keep them reading by:
- Increasing their experience and background knowledge.
- Encouraging students to ask questions while reading.
- Using literature to ignite their interest in a topic.
I vividly remember a trip my family took to Victoria, BC during my fourth-grade year. We participated in all the tourist activities, including taking a trip to the Royal BC Museum. I remember the Modern History Gallery, especially the display of the coastal first nations. Shortly after that visit, I picked up my first Scott O’Dell novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Life experiences often lead readers to choose profound literature, just as the trip to the museum led me to Island of the Blue Dolphins. When we cannot take our students to museums or on other fieldtrips, we must find a way to bring these experiences across the threshold of our classrooms and keep them reading.
One way to keep them reading is to expose students to current events.
I love the classroom magazines like Time for Kids and Scholastic News because they serve this purpose well. My students love to read about what is happening in the news, and often these news stories will spark their interest in literature.
After reading about the earthquake in Japan, our class gravitated toward books about earthquakes. I brought in the book Earthquake Terror by Peg Kehret as an instructional read-aloud text. Soon my students were reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts about earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Keeping our students questioning as they read will also encourage inquisitiveness and lead students toward interesting book selections. While reading the book Holes by Louis Sachar, my students wondered, Was there really a drought in Texas 100 years ago?
A little researching led us to the dust storms in the Panhandle during the time of the Great Depression. Next thing we knew, we were knee-deep in books about that time-period.
Asking questions of literature can send readers into non-fiction titles, a genre that is increasingly important to instruction. Do not hesitate though to let non-fiction draw readers back into fiction.
It is in fictional texts that readers take on the feelings of the characters. A real interest in a topic or time period is born when readers sense they are part of the story.
After reading Children of the Dustbowl by Jerry Stanley, I was impressed by my student’s eagerness to hear this non-fiction story told from the fictional standpoint. As a class, we selected Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse for book club reading.
Despite its prose structure and serious content, many of the students in my classroom chose it as their favorite book of the year. I’ll never forget my student, Itzhel, who brought in the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, hoping to get approval to read it as her independent book choice.
When fifth graders are begging to read The Grapes of Wrath, I know I’ve done something right.
No, I didn’t encourage Itzhel to read The Grapes of Wrath, but I easily enticed her toward other classic titles that matched her interest. This I believe is my role as a literature teacher—to inspire students toward rich, quality literature and keep them reading.
With my guidance, students read books they never would have selected on their own. They devour them with pleasure when their curiosity is encouraged and met.
Sarah Collinge has taught in intermediate classrooms for eleven years, and has also served as literacy coach in classrooms K-6. She is now a literacy consultant for Read Side by Side Corp., working in schools across the United States. Sarah holds a Masters in Literacy Instruction. Her extensive knowledge of current research and standards, as well as her practical experience in the classroom, brings credibility and resonance to her contributions to the field of literacy.
Sarah has authored the book Raising the Standards Through Chapter Books: The C. I. A. Approach. She has also written units of study that provide curriculum for listening comprehension, vocabulary, speaking and writing. All her work has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards. To learn more about Sarah’s publications and consulting visit her website: ReadSideBySide.
Other articles that keep them reading: Curious Critters