Jumping Off the Page with Social Reading

As a sixth grade teacher, I meet many students who immediately profess their hatred of reading to me on the first day of school.  While I do everything I can to draw a passion for reading out of them, nothing is more powerful than the recommendation of a friend.  Social reading, the act of one person recommending a book to another, has caused books to literally fly off my shelves.  It’s my most powerful secret weapon in the fight against reading hate.

If you take a look at the list of books my students last year thought shouldn’t be missed, you’ll see many books that might not be familiar at first glance. But they are familiar to my students. More than familiar. Each of those books was introduced to the class either by my booktalk, a personal recommendation to a particular student, or when a student found it in the library.  However, the power of recommendations from fellow students was what made  each book a “must read” for the rest of my classes.

So how does a book become a social read?  How do we harness this power and repeat it over and over, year after year?  Back in June, I took a few minutes to look over my classroom surveys and tried to find an example of a social read in my classroom.  One of the most popular student recommended books in my classroom for two years running is the Cirque du Freak series .

I read the first book in Darren Shan’s series a few years ago.  While I enjoyed it, it’s definitely not my kind of book.  (Too much gore and horror!)  However, it’s a great example of the horror genre and I booktalk it every year.  While I may not want to read the whole series, it’s the perfect book for dormant readers, especially boys.

Last year, I booktalked the series to the class as a whole.  One student raised his hand and requested to read my copy.  I handed it over and told him to let me know what he thought after reading it.  A few days later, that former dormant reader was almost done the book and couldn’t stop talking to me about it.  I explained that I didn’t love the book and he asked me why, getting me to  outline why I didn’t enjoy them.  We not only had a great discussion about finding the right book for the right reader, but also about why he loved the book.  Within the week, he had moved onto the second book in the series.  This was a reader who previously met me head-on whenever I tried to recommend a book, circumventing everything I tried.

Over the course of the week, while conferencing about his reading, I noticed a few of my other students leaning closer to us, listening in.  On the Friday of that week, I decided to take a few minutes at the end of a class period to have the students share what they were reading and some brief thoughts, thinking it might spark an interest in a few other students.  I had nothing to lose!  My dormant reader did his own book talk for Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare and man, was he good!  He talked it up way better than I could have, because he genuinely loved the book. Before I could even take out the other copies I had, 5 hands were waving in the air. Students who struggled to find a book, students who abandoned books constantly- all requesting to read Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I figured one or two of the students might finish the book, with the others moving on from the book as quickly as they moved on from other books they had attempted.  As it was still early in the year, I didn’t know my readers very well. To my eyes, Darren Shan’s books didn’t seem like the right match for them.  Having nothing to lose and wanting all of my students to try books that they thought they would enjoy, I passed out all of my copies.  The students all settled down that day with their copy of the book and began reading.

I did make one change to our reading time at that point. The boys reading Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare begged to sit near each other during reading time and I let them.  It was the best decision I could have made.  I watched as that group of boys expanded over the year, with new readers entering the fold every week and the original readers staying put, reading the rest of the books in the series.  They would quietly answer each other’s questions, discuss predictions, and jokingly cover their ears if someone who was ahead of them in the series began to talk about a spoiler.  It was amazing to watch.  The best part?  All I did was provide the initial booktalk that hooked ONE dormant reader.  His enthusiasm spread to more readers, and then to more.  It was a domino effect.  He did more than I could have ever done to inspire a passion for reading.

Over the course of the year, Cirque du Freak became a “best-seller” in my classroom.  I give all the credit to the students who spent the whole year talking to each other about their books.  At the end of the year four of my students had finished the entire series, two moved on to reading The Demonata #1: Lord Loss: Book 1 in the Demonata series, and about 10 were at various points in the original series.  Why?  Because I allowed reading the books to be social.  They didn’t talk to each other during independent reading, other than to answer questions quietly, but they did talk about the books constantly.  The students carried their books around all day, competed with each other to see who made the best predictions and who read the series the fastest, and they constantly recommended the series to other students.  While that may seem to go against everything we have been taught about SSR (one of those S’s is supposed to stand for Silent!), but allowing students to share and discuss books meant even more students READ the books!

Social reading is such a powerful concept and one of the best ways to get students to enjoy books and reading.  Howcan we capture that in more classrooms?

  • Start with teachers who are enthusiastic about books!
  • Booktalk, booktalk, booktalk.  Make your students aware of their choices.
  • Allow kids to be passionate about their book choices.  Maybe they don’t choose to read the books you think are “literary” or otherwise worthy, but they are reading.  And those books will be a gateway to more books.
  • Kids are social creatures by nature.  If they are talking about books, encourage it!  Give them an opportunity to talk about their books, but without doing a book report or graded booktalk.  Attaching these social opportunities to a graded assignment makes it a pressure-filled situation for the kids and they won’t enjoy it.  They’ll be too busy worrying about their own grade to listen to what anyone else has to say.
  • Cultivate those scenarios where kids are talking about books.  Whether it’s in the hallways, at lunch, or in your classroom- keep the conversation going!  Don’t talk down to your kids or pass judgement on their reading choices.  Just let them read!
  • Make sure books are available!  If they fall in love with a series, figure out a way to get copies of the books.  Let their parents know what they are reading, have the school librarian order more copies, scour garage sales, etc.  I also have my students make book donations at the end of the year, donating books to the classroom that they no longer need.  Needless to say, I now own more than my fair share of Darren Shan’s books.  ;)  But do everything you can to make books available to your students!  My current students are currently passing around The Lightning Thief.  Everyday another student asks for a copy, so I own 4 copies.  I just placed an order with Scholastic for 5 more copies.  Anything to keep them reading!

Social reading is so very powerful.  It’s also so easy to grow in our classrooms and homes.  Kids are opinionated and they know what they like.  While they love to hear our ideas and recommendations (as long as they believe in us and know we aren’t being fake), they love to hear from their peers even more.

When my students leave my classroom and move on to the middle school they express concern that they won’t have me to rely on anymore for books.  My response?  I’m just a crutch they are used to having.  Most of them are long past the days of relying solely on my booktalks and recommendations to choose their books.  I remind them that they will always be surrounded with peers and friends and classmates.  That’s a huge pool of resources just waiting to be tapped!  As long as everyone does their part, continuing to read and share their books, my students will always have books to read.  It’s a culture- a reading culture- and we need to start cultivating it in our schools!

*A version of this was originally posted over the summer

About these ads

11 Responses

  1. That’s a great story about the boy’s reading circle getting bigger and bigger as the year went on. Excellent.

    I saw something similar with 2nd grade boys in the school library (where I’m a volunteer) with The Magic Tree House series as three of them talked excitedly about which were their favorites, and all chose a book from the series.

  2. [...] Sarah Mulhern will talk about the teacher-student relationship at The Reading Zone. This morning she is talking about social reading. [...]

  3. I love your classroom stories, Sarah. They are inspiring for the rest of us … and you make it look so easy! I especially loved how you demonstrate that you’ve got to be flexible to hook a reader. You let a few boys sit together and it turned into a group. Talk about empowerment. Bravo.

  4. I love this post!! I love that you talk about letting the kids read what they want and letting it take off from there . . . to find what they enjoy will get them talking and will spread the book love!! Thank you for the ideas!

    I think that books can be a great connector and can build bridges for many things. This is just another demonstrator of just that!

  5. I love the whole idea of “social reading”, Sarah. I think that it’s very powerful, and I wish that thousands of teachers would read this post.

  6. I believe with all my heart that much of the pleasure those kids experienced came because it was their CHOICE, rather than an imposed text. Wonderful to think they sold each other on the books! Yes, teachers and librarians need to have input too, bring new books to light etc. But if we truly want kids all fired up about their own reading, social recommendations are the way to go.

  7. My boys love Cirque Du Freak also but how do you keep them from disappearing? I have bought the first 3 at least twice and used to have 1-12. I am now missing at least 5 of them and got the librarian to order a set but still have boys waiting in line and gaps in my collection.

  8. I always love to see students passionate about books and sharing their excitement with their friends. It is always fulfilling to hear a comment or read about a friend suggesting them a book in their notebooks.

    I wanted to let you know that over the next couple of weeks I will be posting various posts about Penny Kittle’s book Write Beside Them. Part of the posts will be that I will give away (every time someone comments on one of the posts they will be entered to win it). I loved the book, and I think you would enjoy it to. I always enjoy literacy resources specifically for adolescents. Here is the link to the posts in case you are interested in reading more: http://snapshotsofmrsv.blogspot.com/search/label/Penny%20Kittle

    I am looking forward to seeing your post on the reading blog tour.

  9. Wonderful article! This is the exact reason I didn’t read until I was mostly out of high school. I hated being forced to read things I just couldn’t stand and never had the chance to read anything I wanted to. You have a great thing going! Such a wonderful story and so promising! Thank you for sharing!

  10. “A reading culture” – that says it all! As a public librarian, I’m so grateful for all you do.

  11. I love the concept of social reading because it happens every year — sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways.

    This year, the big sellers in my 5th grade classroom are the Skeleton Creek series (mostly boys) and surprisingly, Hunger Games and Catching Fire for a handful of my girls.

    It makes my teacher heart happy when I see students handing books to one another after completing them!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,892 other followers

%d bloggers like this: