Creating Reading Plans Help Students Develop Healthy Lifelong Habits

By Donalyn Miller, sixth-grade teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, TX

This week, my students and I participated in what has become a classroom ritual: planning for reading over an upcoming school break. We will be out for two weeks, and my students know that I expect them to continue reading. We discussed and made reading plans over Thanksgiving, so the children dove into the task early this time—swapping books, carrying out piles, and recording titles in their readers’ notebooks. At this stage of the year, my expectations aren’t necessary—students eagerly look forward to the extra reading time and plan for it.

Ashley begged me to lift my three-book checkout limit because, she said, “I need at least 10 books.” She didn’t have to beg much. Blake promised Kamron he would finish Scorch Trials, the sequel to The Maze Runner, so that Kamron could take it over the break. During our library visit, my students headed for the book carts, eager to grab the hot titles before our librarian reshelved them.

Dashing from child to child—making recommendations, lending book bags, and digging into closets for extra copies of NERDS, The Hunger Games, and Chains— I overheard conversations between my students that made me smile:

“Ben, you should take all three books in the Boy at War series. You would hate to finish one and not have the next.”

“Can I please borrow your copy of The Knife of Never Letting Go?”

“I asked my mom for books for Christmas. She looked surprised.”

“How many books do you think I’ll need? We’re driving to Colorado to see my grandmother, and we will be in the car forever.”

Working to encourage children to read both in and outside of school, I notice that many children haven’t picked up this lifelong reading habit of making reading plans. Adult readers, however, download books to Kindles, reserve books at the library, and pre-order books before their release dates. We pack books for trips and always keep a book in the car or in our bags. We must work to foster that same mindset in children.

During reading conferences, my students and I discuss their current books, but I often guide students to consider what they could read next. How can their reading experiences and preferences lead them to the next book and the next?

Developing a reading plan is a twofold process:

Finding Time to Read: When do you have some downtime in which to read? Are you traveling during the break? How much time will you spend sitting in the car or at an airport? How can you keep up your daily reading habit over the holiday? Considering their holiday schedules gives students an opportunity to set realistic reading goals for the break.

Choosing Titles: What books have you been reading? What books are you considering reading next? What are you looking for in your next book? Are you in a reading rut? How can you challenge yourself with your next book? Setting aside titles they want to read, looking back over their reading experiences, and planning to move forward, my students continue to develop their reading habits.

After looking at our holiday schedules and choosing books, my students and I record our reading plans into our notebooks—setting goals and sharing them with each other. Writing down these plans and verbalizing them to each other makes these plans concrete and real for my students. Reading isn’t something we may end up doing during the holidays: We have reading plans.

When we return from the winter break, students will reflect on their reading habits over the past year, celebrate their growth as readers, and set reading goals for the year ahead. We write down our reading resolutions and share them as a plan for the upcoming year.

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. Her articles about teaching reading and education policy have appeared in such publications as Educational Leadership and the Washington Post.
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