Are you ready to join in the national celebration of reading, Read Across America Day, on March 2? From simple classroom activities to schoolwide celebrations, here are some of my classroom-tested ideas to use in planning your own special reading event.
In 1998 the National Association of Education (NEA) held their first Read Across America on Dr. Suess’s birthday to raise awareness about the importance of children’s literacy. After all, if we have parades for winning sports teams and weeks to celebrate kindness, doesn’t reading deserve a day? Read Across America is now celebrated at schools, libraries, and community centers across the country every year. In this video from last year’s national Read Across America event, Michelle Obama and other honorees read Green Eggs and Ham to a group of 300 students.
One great thing about Read Across America is that you can plan a reading celebration as extravagant or simple as you’d like for your students. There is no set agenda for Read Across America, so you can structure your reading celebration to best fit your school. If your school is not yet participating in Read Across America, you still have time to plan a special reading celebration for your class this year. If your school already has a game plan for Read Across America, perhaps some of the ideas below can add an extra punch to your festivities. And if you have an exciting activity planned for Read Across America, please share it in the comments section below to give us all some more inspiration!
Read Across America is held on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and Seuss’s iconic striped hat and his picture books often take center stage in Read Across America events. In my school, the preK through 2nd grade classes all plan Dr. Seuss activities for the students, and our principal and assistant principal, dressed up as Thing 1 and Thing 2, visit every class in our school to read aloud Dr. Seuss books. This year The Lorax movie comes out on March 2, so the greedy Once-ler and the sad Bar-ba-loots will be getting extra attention.
However, your Read Across America events do not have to be Seuss-based. In the upper grades at my school, we focus on other reading activities. In fact, my activity suggestions below are all Seuss-free. However, for plenty of ideas for Seuss projects, check out Nancy Jang’s blog post on Dr. Seuss and Read Across America and Scholastic’s "Dr. Seuss: Everything You Need" page.
Invite your students to dress as a favorite book character. Use this planning page to help your students work out the details of their costumes. A few days prior to Read Across America, I give the students some time in class to work on creating accessories for their costumes using simple craft materials. This takes some of the burden off their parents. Of course, some of my students and their families get very into the costume making and they devise very elaborate character costumes.
Then, in class, we make life-sized character-trait webs. Each student takes a turn lying on the rug while wearing his costume, with character-trait words on sentence strips coming out from his body like spokes. We take a photo of each student in his or her character-web pose, and then we create a bulletin board with the photos.
I have previously dressed up as Camilla Cream with a "bad case of stripes" and as Amber Brown.
Pair up with another class and take turns visiting each other's classrooms to read together. My students always feel very grown-up reading with their kindergarten buddies, and I know that the kindergarten teacher loves the one-on-one reading support that my students provide her budding readers. This is one of my favorite ways to build a sense of community among my students.
For Read Across America, all of the teachers in my school coordinate a schedule of mystery guest readers to visit classrooms throughout the day. We invite the faculty to sign up to read a picture book to another class during the teacher’s break period. We also invite the rest of the school staff to read to individual classes. The students simply love it when the school nurse, our crossing guard, or one of our custodians arrives at the classroom door ready to share a book. We provide several baskets of picture books for nonclassroom-based staff to choose from to make their book selection easier.
Many teachers in my school also invite an extra-special guest reader. For my class, our super-surprise reader has been family members of mine, a retired teacher the students all missed, and one of my students’ older brothers who video-chatted with us from Iraq to share a book.
Can’t get a guest reader to visit your classroom? (Or just want one more?) The Storyline Online Web site by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation features famous actors reading aloud some of their favorite children’s books. Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog or James Earl Jones reading Romeow and Drooliet is sure to add some fun to a day of reading.
My husband was one of our surprise guest readers last year.
For the first time this year, we are holding a book swap at my school. We’ve asked all of our students to bring in the books that they have outgrown. We’ve been tagging the donated books with these bookplates, printed onto self-adhesive labels. During Read Across America, volunteers will organize all of the books and display them on tables in the gym. Classes have signed up to visit the book swap, and each of the students will leave the swap the proud owner of a “new” used book. I’ll let you know how our book swap goes!
One of my favorite activities to do with my students is to have a no-holds-barred read-a-thon either during school or after the school day has ended. My students are always amazed that they have enough stamina to read for nearly five hours straight! Last year, Ruth Manna wrote about read-a-thons, and her blog post has some really helpful suggestions.
Most of my students don’t have sleeping bags, so I invite them to bring a pillow, blanket, or stuffed animal to get cozy for our read-a-thon. Parents donate healthy treats and a class mom arranges a hot cocoa delivery to sustain the readers. To create a sleepover-at-school feeling, my students wear their pajamas, and we hold the read-a-thon into the early evening. Make sure to get signed permission slips if you plan on having your students stay after hours. It really does make it more special, though, for the students to get to stay at school during the “night.”
A lot of my students wanted to prove that they could read for even longer than the five hours I had set aside for the class, and parents have been telling me about impromptu read-a-thons at home. If a read-a-thon doesn’t fit into your Read Across America schedule, consider holding a read-a-thon another time this year. You’ll be amazed at how much enthusiasm it generates for reading.
My students are cozy in their pajamas during our read-a-thon.
We celebrated with a cake and another read-a-thon after my students collectively read more than 100,000 pages! Every reading milestone is worth a celebration.