- Begin Together - Quite often, students have trouble "getting into" a chapter book. Read the first couple of chapters together. Make sure students understand who the main characters are, and where/when the story takes place. Ask questions, make predictions, and make connections. Talk about the story like it is the latest, most popular TV show.
- Relate to TV - Speaking of TV... Before reading the next chapter of a book, have your child come up with a summary of what has happened already, like the "Previously On..." part that usually introduces the next show in a series. You'll be surprised how well they choose the most important parts of a story to remember. You could even videotape it, so they feel extra important.
- Props & Costumes - I use many of these in my classroom, and it makes a HUGE difference in how well students participate in reading/book clubs. Whatever the book is, find a way for your child to become a part of it! I found a mystery unit idea from Scholastic.com a few years ago, and it has been a success! I bought cheap detective-looking hats online (see photo below), and students wear them every time they read. I also give them a "Case File" and they keep track of suspects and clues. I used various Boxcar Children mysteries, but any good mystery would be fine. They had great discussions as they tried to solve the mysteries. While reading Charlotte's Web, my students have dressed like they were going to the farm, or sometimes they bring their favorite stuffed [farm] animal and read to it. After reviewing a book, try to think of a way for students to become a part of it. If students read biographies, have them dress like the person. Kick off the reading of a nonfiction book about animals with a trip to the zoo! I know there is a Magic Tree House book set in the time of the dinosaurs. Maybe the reading area could be transformed into a dinosaur nest. I actually have to admit that it is sometimes easy to get inspired by going into a big party store, THEN find a book to fit your theme! My students actually beg me to read their mysteries so they can wear their mystery hats!! Try it!
- Food - This is something you can REALLY have fun with at home. I have to be careful using food in the school setting, but there are SO many opportunities to pair food with literature. If you have a book club, have something special (related to the story) whenever the group meets. Or, you could make something together before or after reading and discussing the book. I can imagine reading the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, while snacking on something chocolatey each time the book is read. It doesn't always have to be obvious pairings. For Charlotte's Web, students could make spiders from Oreos, webs from a corn syrup concoction, or they could have "carnival food" to go along with the chapters set at the fair. Sometimes, a really creative group of students might come up with their own food ideas! Maybe after finishing the book, each child could bring a food that is in someway connected to the story. If a recipe is required, there is always that opportunity to talk about fractions!
- Lights, Camera, Action - Have students act out a scene from the book. Encourage them to write a script, and even videotape it. Variations of this could include: acting out character interviews on a made-up talk show, creating a news report about a major event, or filming a music video about the story (complete with original songs/dances). These do not need to be huge productions. In fact, I would encourage you to allow the kids to do as much as possible. Sometimes when grownups try to take over too much, the activity is no longer cool. Let the kids at least THINK everything is their idea! If it isn't perfect, it is okay. At least they read the book!
- Let the Games Begin - Have students create a game (or games) based on the book. They could make board games, card games, or more physical games (think Capture-the-Flag style). I once had a student create a simple Charades/Pictionary-like game based on a book, and it was perfect! Don't forget to have them write down the directions (see how we sneak writing in there--shh). Then, have another get-together so they can play those games. If any of the games require score keeping, we have math!! Fun!
As summer vacation approaches, one of the most common questions I hear is, "How can I get my child to read over the summer?" Oftentimes, the question is accompanied by stories that paint quite a picture of the drama that can take place in a household-- all over reading! Parents, I completely understand. It is a challenge to keep many students interested in reading in the school setting. I can only imagine what it is like when most days are the perfect day to play outside, go to the pool, sleep over at a friend's house, play video games, watch TV, play in a baseball game, go to the park, have a cookout, or do ANYTHING EXCEPT READ! Some parents have said their children will even offer to clean house to avoid reading. So how can you compete with all that, and make reading sound appealing (or at least reasonable)? I have a couple ideas, so I hope there is something that will work for you. Most of these ideas work best if you can get a few friends involved. Have them come up with a name for their own book club to give them a little ownership. They can even change it when they start a new book. If you can pair something positive with reading, then eventually their feelings about reading may become positive!
Colleen Hinrichsen has been teaching since 2004. She taught first grade, third grade, became a technology coach, and is now a STEAM teacher. It is her goal to be as effective as possible, so self-reflection is a must-do. She enjoys the challenge of balancing rigor with fun, and choosing resources to best meet the needs of diverse learners.