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September 17, 2012 Three Easy Ways to Help Students Build a Reading Identity By Julie Ballew
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Standing at the front doors of our school building in the morning, it’s easy to spot the students with a strong reading identity. These are the students who hardly notice that the car has stopped moving because they are so engrossed in the latest Clementine book.  They are the students who are nearly trampled by others exiting the bus because they want to tell the bus driver (or anyone who’ll listen) just one more fact from their book about great white sharks. They are the students who always have a book in hand, ready to read at any spare moment.

    Two girls entering buildingBoy entering building

    Despite the pedestrian traffic issues it might create, I wish every student walked into our building with their nose in a book.  But first, we must help students see themselves as readers.  We must help them build a reading identity. There are many ways to do this, but I’ll share three of my favorites here.

    Make Your Reading Life Visible

    You are the most important role model students have at school.  They are watching your every move, so make your reading moves as visible as possible.  Hang a list of what you’re currently reading. This can (and should) include books besides your current classroom read-aloud.  Show them that you read at home too, whether it’s a novel, a professional book, or a gardening magazine.  This gives students a glimpse of the bigger picture of reading: it’s a skill for life!

    Teacher Reading List


    Help Students Think About Reasons for ReadingNotebook Entry - Reasons for Reading

    Teaching reading is a huge undertaking, no matter what grade you teach.  There are an incredible amount of skills and strategies for decoding and comprehending that we must teach. So many, in fact, that we often get so caught up in teaching students how to read, we forget to teach them why to read.


    Name some of the reasons you read for your students, and let them think about the reasons they like to read. You could share this on a chart in the classroom, or students could keep a list in their reading notebooks. (My notebook entry is below.)


    Give Students the Language to Discuss Their Reading Identity

    As students start to see themselves as readers, push them to talk and write about their reading identity.  This will help strengthen that identity, and it will hold them accountable for living like a reader. You might use these stems:

    • I’m the kind of reader who…
    • I want to be the kind of reader who…
    • My reading goals are…

    Written responses to these stems could go in their reading notebook, or they could display them for everyone to see. At my school, teachers created responses and hung them to help strengthen our schoolwide reading community. Upper grade students created display versions as well. Those examples are shown below.

    Reading Identity LadderReading Identity LadderReading Identity LaddersReading Identity Ladder ZoomReading Identity Ladder (Zoom)

    Happy reading!


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Susan Cheyney