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February 28, 2013 Celebrate the Joy of Reading All Month Long By Genia Connell
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Every teacher knows reading is at the forefront of all we do the entire year, but March’s designation as National Reading Month provides opportunities to explore reading in whole new ways aimed at motivating students to read while having a bit of fun in the process.

    In Michigan, schools all over the state plan literacy-related activities for what we call "March Is Reading Month." This week I’ll share some activities that we have done as a whole school and a few more I have done in my classroom. Hopefully, you will find one or two new ideas you want to try to make the month of reading a great celebration of all things books.


    Pick a Theme and Set Your Calendar

    Each year our school selects a theme to go with our March Is Reading Month activities. While it’s not necessary, a theme does make it a bit easier to tie all the reading-related activities together. Some great themes we have done recently include a Reading Is Out of This World space theme and a Wild About Reading jungle theme. One of my favorite themes we use every four years or so is a patriotic American theme. While the activities I’m sharing here are mostly named for that theme, they can easily be adapted to other themes you might choose.

    After you select a theme, choose a few activities to highlight reading in fun and perhaps even unusual ways. Below you'll find a list of 20 different ideas that you might like or give you an idea for something entirely different. Once you have set your calendar of events, notify parents. They appreciate a calendar or list of dates they can post for easy reference. 


    Set Goals and Track Reading

    For our Read Across America theme, we set a classroom goal of reading 50 chapter books. When students complete a book, they fill out a star with their name, book title, author, and number of pages read that we display on our classroom door. We also track reading on a blank map of the United States — one state is labeled and colored for every book read.

    Every page a student reads also counts as one mile, and students use those miles (along with Google Maps) to visit different cities of their choice using our city as the starting point. At the end of the month they add up their total miles and we chart how many miles the whole class “traveled” with books.

    Students set individual goals for their reading that are displayed near our large U.S. map. Their goals might include books, pages, or number of total minutes read.

    Click the image above to download a customizable reading goal suitcase. Add your own state's license plate from Word clip art.


    Mystery Caller

    Each week during March, I pick two or three evenings to call students at home in an attempt to “catch them reading.” On their weekly homework sheet, students are given the days and the 30–45 minute time frame in which I’ll be calling. Excitement for this is so high during the beginning of the month that I do my best to call every student at least once in the first week. By the end of the month, I try to have “caught” each student at least twice.

    I’ve been doing this about ten years now, and I have learned to set a few guidelines. I let parents know ahead of time that my calls are on a very tight schedule, and I unfortunately won’t have time to chat or discuss their student’s progress. I also tell them that if I call and they miss my call, do not call me back — I’ll be sure to try and “catch” their child next time.

    Click on the images above to download customizable Mystery Caller notes and tickets.

    Every time I catch a student reading they find a "Got Caught" ticket on their desk when they arrive in the classroom the next morning. These tickets are displayed in our room until the end of the month.


    Reading Month Incentives

    To put it simply, kids like prizes and most are motivated by them. On the very last school day of the month, I take all the stars they filled out for finishing books and tickets received from Mystery Caller, and they become raffle tickets. The students win reading-related prizes that range from Dr. Seuss pencils and bookmarks to certificates for free books from the next Scholastic book order thanks to bonus points and the $3 coupons from online parent orders. Many times, parents will also donate small prizes for our raffle, expressing how happy they are to see their children reading so much. 

    Also, it's a good idea to check with merchants and restaurants in your area to see if they offer any incentives for reading. Many are happy to donate free kids meals knowing those kids come in with paying parents. This year we have received generous March Is Reading Month prizes for our whole school from Rainforest Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dairy Queen, and Pizza Hut. 


    Mystery Readers

    Many of the lower-el classrooms in our building have mystery readers visit all year long, but in 3rd grade, I reserve it for this special month. Parents are notified about mystery readers via email and a note, and I schedule and send home a confirmation. It is also fun to have the principal and other staff members pay a visit as guest readers.







    Decorate Your Doors

    Every year we decorate our classroom doors to match our themes. Check out Pinterest to see a great collection of decorated doors that are sure to inspire.


    Decorate Your Walls

    We are fortunate to have a very talented staff member, Mary Jane Butler, who makes our hallways dazzle every March with her reading-themed works of art. Our ELL students are very lucky to have her working with them and we are very lucky she decorates our halls. Here are a few of her posters from last year to inspire your inner artist.



    Download Some Fun Fonts to Use This Month

    I love using different fonts, as long as they are free! For reading month my favorite fonts are of the Dr. Seuss variety. Find links to a few different fonts below.


    Pick a Few Theme Days

    When it comes to choosing themed days for a reading month celebration, you know how many, and what type, are best for your school or classroom community. Students love to dress up, so I like to include a few of those days, but they know the expectation is that all clothes are school-appropriate and will not be disruptive to learning. Most of the reading activities take place within our regularly scheduled language arts time and become a part of literacy instruction.


    1. National Read Across America Day

    Wear red, white, and blue today or dress like your favorite Dr. Seuss character. Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday by choosing any of the hundreds of activities on the official NEA Read Across America site. At our school students bring Dr. Seuss books to school to share/read on this day and many like to dress the part as well. Last year students were allowed to dress as their favorite Dr. Seuss character. 

    Blogger Alycia Zimmerman posted some great ideas for this event, in "Five Ideas for Perfectly Bookish Read Across America Celebrations," that you should definitely take a look at. We also do a book swap and read-a-thon at my school as Alycia describes and both have been very successful. 

    2. Road Trip — Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 

    Take your class to another room for shared reading time. Upper elementary classrooms can partner with lower elementary classrooms for this 20–30 minute long activity. The older students read picture books from their classrooms or home to their younger buddies and younger students do the same.

    3. Where in the World Is My Teacher?

    Without letting students know ahead of time, each classroom teacher switches places with a teacher in a different grade level. Teachers read aloud a book of their choice to the class they are visiting. Teachers may like to select a book that takes place in a specific geographic location or has an unusual setting that can be discussed with the students.

    4. DEAR America Day 

    Surprise your students sometime during the day by telling them to Drop Everything And Read! You may want to explain this concept to them ahead of time if they are unfamiliar with it.

    5.  She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain With Some Songs

    Print off copies of lyrics to children’s songs or popular songs appropriate for school. Have students practice reading fluency using these songs. Your first stop to help prepare for this activity is Shari Edwards’ amazing Top Teaching post "Using Music to Improve Reading Fluency."

    6.  Mush! Field Trip to Alaska for the Iditarod

    The 2013 Iditarod starts Saturday, March 2. Create a theme day around this race or other winter activities.

    The Iditarod Education Portal presented by Exxon Mobil has educational ideas and lessons to use all across your curriculum, many aligned to CCSS. The IditaRead portion of the site offers several literacy ideas shared by teachers from around the country.

    You can also download a nonfiction reading comprehension sheet from Scholastic Printables that focuses on both comprehension and following multi-step directions.

    7.  State Pride Day

    Students wear something imprinted with words that say they are proud to be from their state, which might include shirts or hats with city, college, or local team names. Students mark a state map showing all the places their clothing represents. We also read stories by Michigan authors and legends about places in our state and region.  

    8.  Camp Out!

    There are over 15,000 campgrounds in the United States, but many students have never experienced a night in the wilderness. Visit Camping USA to find the nearest campground and national park to your school. Brainstorm a list of what you would need for a weekend camping trip. Make s'mores around a "campfire."

    Students bring their favorite books, sleeping bags or blankets and flashlights to camp out in the classroom or library for their independent reading time. My students love to use furniture to build their “tents.” Whole grade levels or buddy grades sometimes get together for group campouts. Fellow blogger Shari offers a step-by-step formula for a family reading night campout.

    9.  WOW Day! Wonderful World of Words

    Students select one extraordinary word they would like to use in their writing and add to their speaking vocabulary. The word is written on an index card, along with the meaning, and brought to school to share with the class. To extend this further in the classroom, students can:

    • Sort the words by parts of speech, prefixes, and letter combinations
    • Create a word wall
    • Use the words to make sentences or stories out of them
    • Play a matching game between the words and their definitions

    10. Field Trip to Disney World

    Students wear Disney gear and bring their favorite fairy tales to read. Teachers can create an anchor chart/story map that includes popular elements of fairy tales, including mystical settings, villains, and, of course, a happy ending.

    11.  Spread Reading Cheer Throughout the Community

    Our entire student body decorates brown paper grocery bags acquired from nearby grocery stores the first week of March. Students write messages about reading, draw a picture, and sign their first name. The bags are returned to the stores and customers take their groceries home in bags that espouse our love of reading all month long. 

    12.  Wacky Wednesday! 

    Read the book Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss aloud to your class and invite your students to bring in children’s joke or riddle books for independent reading. Students can share their favorite joke with a partner or the class. This is also a fun day to invite students to dress “wacky.”  We always make sure students understand that “wacky” attire must be school appropriate.

    13. Read With a Stuffed Friend

    There are many classic tales involving a beloved stuffed animal. Read one of these aloud to the class. Students can bring in a favorite plush toy to keep with them during independent reading. The animals can also be avid listeners while students practice their reading fluency. We usually combine this day with a pajama day.

    14. Readers Make Stupendous Leaders

    Students can dress to represent a career they would like to have when they are older. Book selections for the day might include nonfiction reads about various career options. I always enjoy the variety of outfits students come dressed in, and it is a great way to learn a little more about your students' future aspirations.


    15. Blackout Day

    Challenge your students to go one whole day without any electronic entertainment. Create a list of all the activities you can do instead of plugging into the television, computer, or video games. Students can dress in all black attire on this theme day.

    16. Hats Off to America

    Students wear a hat or button with words on it that can be read by other students. Books read this day include those with an American theme like The Scrambled States of America.

    17. Do You Like Green Eggs and Ham Great American Cook-Off

    Use this day to explore the reading involved in preparing a simple recipe. Cooking combines reading and math and oftentimes involves a chemical reaction during cooking. This would be a great day to have parent helpers come in to help small groups make a simple recipe like muffins. And of course, if you have your class make muffins, you are going to need to have a Laura Numeroff book to go with it. 

    18. Climb the Great American Poetree 

    Poetry is the focus on this day. Students bring in their favorite poem copied onto the leaf paper. Poems can be shared in the classroom then get added to a bare tree trunk. Students could also write original poems in class and add them to the “poetree.” Below is leaf printable stationery for younger students from Scholastic Printables and leaf stationery that older children could use for longer poems.



    19. Knock Your Sox Off Day

    Read Fox in Sox by Dr. Seuss. Students wear crazy socks to school today. Teachers in the Boston and Chicago areas could easily fit a baseball-themed day into this one.

    20. Field Trip — Hawaii!  

    Take your students to Hawaii for a reading beach party! Students may bring in some of their favorite books for a tropical reading celebration. They may also wear appropriate warm-weather gear and bring in a beach towel to lie on to read. Of course I wonder, where would students from Hawaii go?

    All of the activities listed above can be found on this customizable printable. Click the image above to download.


    Don’t Reinvent the Wheel!

    There are plenty of ready-made printable resources available through Scholastic and many other sites. Look for things you can easily copy or customize for your classroom. Also, make sure you do not overplan. I find one or two fun activities a week is plenty — you want to make sure you and your students, along with their families, enjoy the month's activities without feeling overwhelmed. 

    What do you have up your sleeve to celebrate reading this month? Do you do Read Across America or other activities that highlight reading during these last sometimes dreary days of winter? Let me know what you're doing in the comments section below. 






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