Four Steps to Creating a School-Wide Reading Culture

By Donalyn Miller, 6th grade teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, TX

Donalyn Miller As we move into another school year, we must consider how to set the tone for a new year and how we impart a vision for what we value to our students, parents, and staff. Sending a message that you think reading is important begins before the first day and influences your school culture in explicit and implied ways. Here are some easy-to-implement tips for kicking off a year of reading at your school.


Reading Role Model
As reading expert Stephen Krashen reminds us, “Children read more when they see other people reading.” We hope that children have reading role models at home, but many don’t. We must surround children with reading role models throughout the school day – not just in Language Arts class.

Showing children that adults choose to read a wide range of texts for a variety of purposes sends a strong message that reading is important after formal schooling ends. Sharing your own reading life with your students and staff reinforces that you believe reading enriches your life. As much as possible, you should participate in the reading initiatives at your school, not only as a school leader, but also as a reader! Ask students what they are reading when you visit classrooms, take their book suggestions and share what you enjoy about the books you read.

Talk with your staff about the books they read and the books that help them grow professionally. Your interest and enthusiasm support the development of the literacy culture at your school.

Book Commercial
When I ask readers how they find out about books they would like to read, they tell me that the main way they discover new books is from other readers’ recommendations. A book commercial – a short testimonial sharing a book – promotes new books to readers and reinforces that reading matters.

Ask staff members to share book titles at the start of every staff meeting. This includes any topic that your staff is reading for personal enjoyment or professional development, or children’s literature they read with their students or children.

Invite students to share brief commercials during school-wide announcements. You can even record these commercials as podcasts and post to the school website or ask readers to share informally.

Reading Doors
Teachers often create classroom bulletin boards and door displays to celebrate the new school year and share with students what their classes are like. Some personalize these displays with family photos or information about themselves, or share what they did over the summer.

You can tap into these “beginning of the school year displays” by creating school-wide reading doors. Ask teachers to design their displays around a “My Reading Life” theme. Each faculty and staff member showcases the books, magazines, web pages, newspapers, and comics they enjoy reading.

Copy book jackets and screenshots, and create a collage. Enhance the display with photos of your staff members enjoying their favorites. Reading materials can tie back to content areas or personal interests like cooking, sports, and travel.

Locker Tags
Invite students to share and celebrate the books they are reading with their own displays. Create laminated locker or cubby tags with messages like “I am currently reading ______________. Ask me about it,” or “My favorite book (author, series, genre) is ______________.” Click here for a downloadable locker tag to share with your staff.

Encourage your staff to create these signs for themselves and display them prominently in their classrooms, offices, or in parent communication. Use a label maker or software program to create nametags for an Open House, Literacy Night, or Book Fair week.

Activities like these celebrate and promote more reading at your school and communicate that every reader and type of reading has value in the school community. Teachers, administrators, librarians, nurses, counselors, parents, and students — we are all readers here!

Take Advantage of READ 100K, a FREE online program to track student reading
Donalyn Miller is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and writes The Book Whisperer blog for Education Week Teacher (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer/). Her articles about teaching reading and education policy have appeared in such publications as Educational Leadership and the Washington Post.
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