Engaging Kids With Reading

engaging kids with reading

Research tells us that reading and writing are deeply intertwingled. Engaging kids with reading develops their writing skills, and vice versa. Kids have amazing story ideas in them.

Hi, I’m Lauren Lynne, author of the young adult action/adventure series The Secret Watchers. This post is a condensed version of a speech I gave at the Oregon Reading Association’s Winter Institute. Originally, it was written for teachers, but you know what? There is something in it for anyone who wants to help kiddos of any age with literacy. I’m a certified teacher who has worked with students from preschool through adulthood and I want to talk to you… yes you, about engaging kids with reading.

Let’s start by talking about reading, writing, and choices. I’m a firm believer in choice whenever possible. I never enjoyed writing when I was a kid because someone was always telling me what to write. Now I get to make the choices and it makes all the difference. When I want to get students motivated to write, we go on a journey of “let’s pretend.”

Look around the room you are in at this moment, now imagine… Do you see a cupboard or door? What’s behind it? Where does it go? If that doesn’t grab you, look at nature. What is appealing? Let you mind wander. This is a way to make writing take flight. Kids have amazing story ideas in them. Give them an opportunity to write without rules. Let it flow out of them.

I recently worked with a 5th grade class where they all got to share ideas. They had lockers along the back wall of their classroom and together we formed the start of a story. There is a banging at the back of the room and your teacher is gone. What do you do?

“The teacher had vanished and the students became aware of a muffled banging at the back of the room. After some arguing they convinced each other to quiet down and listen… the noise was coming from the lockers… a couple of them approached. Slowly they opened the locker door. A hush fell over the room. This was no ordinary locker… behind the door was a set of stone steps, slick with algae and slime. Water ran down the walls in tiny, sparkling rivulets. The cool damp tickled their noses as another muffled bang burst into the room coming from deep below…” What are we doing with this? Sensory details can build suspense and also add flavor – think Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor.

Some of you may be asking, “Why talk about writing?” Research tells us that reading and writing are deeply intertwingled. (Yeah, it’s a real word.) I love that… deeply intertwingled… you can almost see it, like a plant just pulled from the pot, that’s a little root-bound. Reading and writing are also bound together, or twisted in knots. We cannot have one without the other, and improving skills in one, improves the other.

Back in 2012, Jane Johnson, editor of the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, shared her top three tips for writing on the Bestseller Labs website. And you know what? They’re true for reading too.

  1. “Write with a fire in your heart…” If you read and/or write what you love, you’ll stick with it.
  2. “Authenticity is key…” When we read what we are familiar with we have a connection to self. That connection makes things feel real. Take eating spaghetti – you twirl it on a fork, some of the sauce splatters leaving freckles of red on the edges of your plate. You take a deep breath and smell the rich aroma of tomato, garlic, and basil. What is it like when it touches your tongue?
  3. “Your words should be a transparent window for the reader to look through, not a fireworks display or an obstacle course.” Like the “Three Bears” keep it “just right.” Not too wordy but be wordy enough. For reading, keep it at the right level – not too hard and not too easy – though some of each is good for us. An easy read can build confidence in young readers and a difficult read can present a challenge.

One of my favorite ways of engaging kids with reading is through Lit Circles and time to just read – when we can, we need to give our students time to… wait for it… just read. I’ve been in lots of classrooms with lots of kiddos and it’s rare that I come across a student who doesn’t appreciate a little quiet time in a hectic school day. I’ve also found that kids of all ages enjoy being read to now and again.

They also like to share a book with others. Raise your hand if you’ve been part of a book club. Kids benefit from sharing books with peers as well as folks both older and younger.

Now let’s talk about a little thematic music – Why music, you ask? Some say it soothes the savage beast, I say it activates the mind. There is a lot of research on the positive effects of music, but stop for a minute and think about how it makes you feel. When we can lock onto those feelings, reading and writing become so much MORE. Music can be a powerful tool to use during reading, writing, and art because they are all places where we engage feelings. Keep it soft and low – think background. I am a fan of instrumental movie music. I just finished a young adult dystopian that is now in the editing process. What did I listen to? Music from The Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the T.V. show Arrow, and some general “Epic Movie Music,” via ITunes.

I want to leave you with a thought – you can make a difference! Share your love of reading, share a book, read something every day and let people catch you doing it, have a chat with others about books and/or helping kiddos, listen to your favorite music, and most importantly, remind yourself how very important you are in the life of a child.

Image of students via ShutterStock.com.


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