Rally Students to Want to Read

By Linda Siciliano, Principal of Stadley Rough Elementary

Linda Siciliano Choice is important to all readers, yet according to research, many students say it isn’t always easy finding books they want to read. Which begs the question: How can principals connect students with books they actually find appealing? One solution that appears to have plenty of “kid appeal” is the student-to-student booktalk, a brief story-telling session designed to stimulate a child’s interest in reading.

When children have a voice in the books they enjoy, they enrich themselves while encouraging others to read, and the teacher gains valuable insights into their reading habits and favorite books. It’s a fantastic learning experience for everyone!

At Stadley Rough Elementary School in Danbury, Connecticut, we already use booktalks in our classrooms and the media center, but we wanted to grow them in a more formal way. So we created an Earn-a-Book program coordinated by our media specialist, where students earned points for their booktalks.

During May and June, students in kindergarten and first grade earned points for their booktalks about a library or classroom book. They also earned points for returning their media books. Booktalks took place with a partner, a small group, or the entire class. The local Kiwanis Club generously donated $1,000 for the purchase of books through our spring Buy One Get One Free Scholastic Book Fair. At the end of the year, each student in kindergarten and first grade received one of the new books matched to their individual reading level. We plan to expand the program in the coming year.

We also recently had the good fortune of learning about booktalks from national expert Amy Cohn during a recent workshop. Every booktalk she gave was an invitation into another world of words. She shared theseeasy tips on how to conduct an effective booktalk and encouraged our staff to practice talks with each other. It didn’t take us long to realize we had to feel comfortable giving a booktalk before we could ask our students to give one, so our staff is working to hone its “talking” skills. In fact, our professional development days (with children’s books given to teachers as door prizes) and staff meetings are perfect times for us to practice more.

My monthly Town Meetings with students at every grade level will soon incorporate booktalks. And our teachers will continue booktalks during the literacy block in the classroom and during our media program, encouraging students to recommend their favorite books to others.

Our public address system also provides us with a great channel for delivering booktalks to a school-wide audience – in our school all 450 students. To expand our Earn-a-Book program, we plan later this year to create a committee of upper-grade students who will be involved in training their younger schoolmates to give booktalks.

While we may not be experts at booktalking, by focusing on what we love to read, any of us can give an energetic and impassioned booktalk that will inspire others to want to read.
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