Capture Their Interest

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10

Objective: Use a variety of reading strategies to access complex texts

What You Need: Book box for each student, sticky notes, student journals

What to Do: Becky Hanson, a second-grade teacher in Hanover, Minnesota, likes to bring visuals into her reading lessons. “A beginning reader can have a wealth of information on a topic, such as sharks,” she observes. “When the student looks at the pictures, even if the book is at too high a reading level, she can make a connection to what she knows and can comprehend new information from the pictures.”

Hanson begins by encouraging students to select two “just for interest” books for their boxes, in addition to level-appropriate books. They use sticky notes to mark pages they have questions about in the high-interest books and write “I wonder…” questions in their journals. This helps them avoid frustration when reading a high-level book independently. Then, during small-group time, Hanson discusses the questions with students.

“Including more challenging books that students have picked out based purely on interest helps to keep them excited about going to their book boxes,” Hanson explains. “It also gives them something to aspire to in terms of reading skill. And this helps them stay focused—and read longer—during independent reading time!”

Project Read-a-Lot

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10; CCRA.W.8

Objective: Build reading stamina through research projects

What You Need: Large selection of nonfiction books on a given topic, journals, markers, various other supplies  

What to Do: Lisa Kaszycki, a third-grade teacher from Cary, North Carolina, finds project work to be “incredibly motivating” in building students’ reading stamina. She has connected projects to her science curriculum, but projects could connect to social studies as well.

Project work takes six to eight weeks to complete and has three phrases, all of which involve reading/literacy.

  • Phase 1 (one to two weeks): Students learn the basic information on the curriculum for the topic (e.g., plants) and share what they already know. Kaszycki models thinking to help students connect the topic to themselves. “What is the most interesting thing to you?” And “I wonder about ____. What do you wonder about?” Students record notes in a project journal.
  • Phase 2 (four weeks): Students review their journals to select a subtopic. Then they research the subtopic by reading nonfiction books and websites, hearing from guest speakers, and going on field trips. They make notes in their project journals and start thinking about what their project will be—a poster, a trifold, a PowerPoint presentation, or something else.
  • Phase 3 (one to two weeks): Students create their project, practice presenting it, and then present the results to an audience that includes parents.

Kaszycki devotes 40 minutes each day to project work. But, she says, kids always want to spend more time on it: “When students are personally interested in a topic, they’ll read forever!”

The Right Weight

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10

Objective: Independently select level-appropriate books

What You Need: Several two- and five-pound weights, chart paper, markers

What to Do: “If you can’t see it, you can’t achieve it,” says Paula Bourque, a National Board Certified K–6 literacy coach from Augusta, Maine. To help students visualize what building reading stamina looks like, she suggests using hand weights.

Begin by explaining that lifting weights builds muscles and helps you become stronger. Have students lift up their arms with no weights. Ask: “Can you do that for a long time?” Most students will answer yes. Then ask: “But are you building any muscles?” Most students will say no.

Then, have small groups take turns lifting two-pound weights. Ask: “Can you do that for a long time? Can you feel your muscles working? You’re making your arm muscles stronger!”

Next, have students lift five-pound weights. Ask: “Can you do that for a long time?” Most will answer no. Point out that if they can’t lift the weight for very long, their muscles won’t get the chance to become stronger.

Use the weight analogy to help students pick out books for independent reading time. For a student who picks a book that is very easy, say: “Our goal today is to read for 15 minutes. Will you finish too quickly? Do you think you need a longer book to strengthen your reading muscles?” Conversely, for a student who picks a very challenging book, say: “Think about the weight. Are you going to be able to stick with that book for a long time so that you can grow your reading muscles, or should you start with something easier and work up to it?”

Record independent reading time on a chart that is decorated with drawings of weights, arm muscles, and books. As more time is marked on the chart, point out to students that their reading muscles are getting stronger.

Draw It!

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10

Objective: Express understanding of a text through visuals

What You Need: Sticky notes, drawing paper, crayons

What to Do: The idea of sitting still and reading silently for 15 minutes or more can be daunting to some students. Help make the daily independent reading goal feel more achievable by allowing kids to break up the time with purposeful drawing.

When setting expectations for independent reading time, explain that stopping several times to draw something from the book is an option. For students who choose this option, differentiate the page goal to meet individual needs. Some kids may need to draw after every two pages to stay focused. Others may be able to read in four- or six-page chunks before needing to stop and draw.

Before reading time starts, set a drawing purpose related to the story. For example, you might say, “Where does the story take place? Draw something from the setting.” Then, guide students to place a sticky note at the end of their first reading chunk in their books. During reading time, encourage students to return to reading if they are spending too much time drawing. Help them move their sticky notes to the next “drawing” page.

After reading time ends, call on several students to share one of their drawings with the class. Discuss how what they’ve drawn relates to setting, characters, or action in the story.

Each week, increase the page goal by two or more pages. Continue using the strategy until all students can read for the entire independent reading time without needing to take drawing breaks (though you might want to add them in from time to time!). Then, refocus the entire class’s goal to reading for a longer period of time.


Photo: FatCamera/Getty Images

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