If you’re a teacher, then you know how important it is to get your students engaged in reading. One great way to do that is by using reading groups in your classroom. But if you’re not sure how to make them successful, don’t worry – I’ve got seven tips for you! Keep reading for all the details.
1. Choose books that students will love!
One of the first challenges of getting students to read is finding material that makes them *want* to read!
Some of my favorite books for upper elementary include:
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- Land of Stories by Chris Colfer
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
- Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
If you haven’t read the book, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, you should! She has lots of practical insights about helping kids learn to love reading. With an endless number of reading possibilities, there are books that will engage even your toughest students. Check out this post all about teachers’ favorites for more ideas!
2. Establish rules and procedures at the beginning of the school year. Practice them before you hold your first group reading session.
Having predictable routines and procedures helps students feel comfortable working in groups without the teacher’s presence. Plus, when the rules are clear, you will get more uninterrupted time working with individual groups. No more “Miss, what am I supposed to be doing?”
Here are some teachable rules that are great for getting started:
- Come to group meetings prepared with your book and any questions you may have. This may include a reader’s notebook, bookmark, and a pencil.
- Respect everyone in the group – this includes being on time for meetings and not talking during other people’s turns
- Participate in discussions – offer your own thoughts and insights, but also be respectful of others’ opinions
- Help keep group meetings organized by taking turns leading discussion and keeping track of time
- Be a good listener – give others the opportunity to speak, don’t interrupt, and pay attention when someone is speaking
- Keep up with your reading – it’s unfair to the rest of the group if you’re constantly falling behind
- If you choose to use literature guides (such as our lit guide for Percy Jackson or Shiloh) make sure students know the appropriate times to complete their work. Are they allowed to work with a friend? Should it be completed before the next reading group meeting? How does it get checked? Think through the processes you’ll want in place before handing out the work.
To keep students accountable, you can have students self-reflect using journals. Did they accomplish their reading goals? Did they follow the rules? Was their group successful? If needed, you can pull students aside individually, but the goal is complete self-regulation!
3. Assign jobs to each group member.
Students LOVE having jobs! When they are assigned something specific, kids begin to take pride in their own work. It is amazing!! Here are some jobs you can use for your own reading groups:
- Leader – keep the group flowing
- Vocabulary Master – look up unfamiliar words
- Time Tracker – Remind students when the group needs to start wrapping up
- Organizer – pass out and pick up student work (such as literacy guides)
- Note Taker – keep track of questions and thoughts the group has
4. Keep your reading schedule consistent
Students accomplish more when their reading time is predictable. You can use visual cues or transitions to indicate when it’s time to start or end the session. If possible, build your group sessions around natural transitions. For example, you might have your students come in from recess, grab all their materials, and be in their group by 12:45.
You can also have your students complete similar actions each meeting. Here’s an example of what you might do:
- Check in/ Is everyone on target? Are there any questions about prior reading?
- Preview new vocabulary (or pages students will need to complete in their literature guide)
- Take turns reading a page
- Pick up materials/ return to seats
- Spend time reflecting in a journal or guide
5. Create a positive reading experience.
Your students will exist on a spectrum of reading abilities. Some will be strong readers, and others might struggle. Having a positive and encouraging culture does a lot to build a love for reading. Teach your students to cultivate a mindset of encouragement. Students should learn appropriate compliments and positive ways of interacting with each other.
- What if a student can’t read a word?
- How do students help other students that are struggling with conversation?
- How do students react to a slow reader?
- Is there a place to publicly praise improvements or accomplishments?
Think about ways you can build positive classroom culture around your reading groups.
6. Be flexible!
It is possible that a student just won’t enjoy a book, and if we’re trying to instill a love of reading, we sometimes need to acknowledge that fact. I require students to give it about 50-75 pages before throwing in the towel.
Since you’re using reading groups, you could have a checkpoint at about 2 weeks. At that time, you can give students a reflective assessment that requires them to justify their desire to quit the book. If you have enough students ready to move to a new work, you could pull those students to create a new group.
Remember, the object of reading groups is to strengthen reading skills while building a love for reading. It isn’t to complete an entire packet of work over a specific book. Starting over can have great benefits for students.
7. Use book studies and lit guides!
The great thing about reading groups is that students have a much better chance of reading a story that interests them.
The bad thing is that it is really difficult to ensure all students are learning when they’re all reading a different story.
Book studies and literacy guides can come to your rescue!
These days, you can find a lit guide for just about any book! If you’re not sure what I mean, check out our Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief or Shiloh book studies.
Lit guides help students work on their reading skills, and since most contain answer keys, you can allow students to work on books you may not have read yourself.
So, if you’re looking for a way to get your students excited about reading and improve their literacy skills, starting a reading group is the perfect solution. Reading groups can be extremely beneficial for students of all ages, and with just a little bit of preparation, they can run smoothly without any problems. Have you started a reading group before? If so, what tips would you give other educators who are thinking about doing the same? Let us know in the comments below.
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