Before students can walk into school with their nose in a book — totally engrossed in the latest Dog Man or Wings of Fire — or stop to share their favorite I Survived title with friends, they need to be able to see themselves as readers, which is why cultivating a reading identity is so critical for educators and their students.

According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, 70 percent of kids list their teacher or school librarian as someone who encourages them to read for fun. Another 40 percent of kids said that they get most of their reading material from school. This is why modeling your own reading identity makes all the difference in encouraging your students' love of reading as well. 

What is a reading identity? Formed over time, reading identities are associated with how capable a student believes they are at comprehending texts and the value they place on reading. In other words, it requires an inquiry into a student’s understanding of both who they are as a reader and why they read. 

Scholastic Editors spoke to long-time teacher Julie Ballew who teaches language arts and social studies in Houston, Texas. With a background as a literacy coach, she shared her three favorite tips to help students build a strong reading identity.  

Tip #1: Start With Your Own Reading Identity. 

You are the most important role model students have at school. They are watching your every move, so make your own “reading moves” as visible as possible. 

Hang up 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!

A diverse selection of reading material, from graphic novels to nonfiction, also reminds the class that there are so many genres to explore. Themed collections and library bundles are a great way to diversify your classroom library. 

Tip #2: Reinforce That Your Reasons for Reading Matter. 

No matter what grade you teach, teaching reading is complex and requires a wealth of skills and strategies for teachers. So many in fact, that we can all get so caught up in teaching students how to read that we forget to connect with them about why to read. 

Share some of the reasons you read with your students and give them a forum to think about and discuss the reasons they like to read. Share this on a chart in the classroom (pocket charts work well in a pinch), or ask students to keep a list in their reading notebooks. 

Tip #3: Use Stems to Continue Talking About Reading Identities. 

As students start to see themselves as readers, encourage them to talk and write about their identity. This will not only strengthen that identity, but it will hold them accountable for living like a reader. A few stems you can use are: 

  • I’m the kind of reader who … 

  • I want to be the kind of reader who … 

  • My reading goals are ... 

Written responses could go in their reading notebook, or they could be displayed for the entire class to see. Much like the staff favorites in your local library or book shop, spotlight recently read books in your classroom library paired with a student’s review and recommendation. (All you need are some notecards!) Teacher and student responses that are hung up or displayed visually have the added benefit of strengthening the schoolwide reading community as a whole.  

Educators can impact reading identities in the most positive and empowering ways. Here’s to happy reading days ahead for you and all your little readers!

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