Using Book Conversations to Motivate Independent Reading

How powerful are the conversations you have one-on-one with your students? You know the ones...in the hallway as you're waiting for your resource teacher to begin class, in the lunch line, or as you're waiting for buses to be called in the afternoon? Those moments in time are what our students remember, and they are VERY motivating. These are times for book conversations. This post includes tips on conferring with students.

How powerful are the conversations you have one-on-one with your students? You know the ones…in the hallway as you’re waiting for your resource teacher to begin class, in the lunch line, or as you’re waiting for buses to be called in the afternoon? Those moments in time are what our students remember, and they are VERY motivating. These are times for book conversations.

With my students, those conversations often revolve around what the kids are reading. One would think that the kids benefit most as we discuss, but I think I gain much more from them. Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned through conferring with my students.

Not all books are equal in the eyes of student readers. Kids want to read what other kids are reading, not necessarily what WE think is the best choice. The only way to learn what kids like is to talk to kids. I peruse Amazon and Good Reads to get ideas and that helps. However, the kids in my school probably *aren’t* perusing Amazon and Good Reads. They are talking to each other, so imagine the power of telling Johnny that Sam just read this book and went on and on about how awesome it was. How would Johnny respond? Sam is his BFF, so of course he will want to read it too, right?

Conferring Tells You Readers have Reading Preferences

Another thing you can learn from your hallway conversations is what genres and authors your students enjoy. If your student has read the entire Jake Maddox series or can’t wait til the librarian gets in the next copy of Captain Awesome, then you know they prefer sports fiction or super hero books. Then, you CAN go to Amazon and Good Reads to get other ideas. Yes, it takes time to look. No time? You can also ask your librarian for a quick recommendation based on these (or whatever your student loves).

Book Conversations Keep Kids Accountable

Sometimes, I will learn what my students haven’t been reading! Gasp! Yes, sometimes, they fall off the reading train. Hallway conversations can be helpful in pulling them back on. Kids can easily slide through the cracks and check out new books each week without opening them. (Shaking my head!) Why? Well, they think they are fooling us (and their classmates). I’ve had kids check out books that aren’t appropriate for them. They feel this practice can make others think they are reading them, and that makes me so sad. They haven’t discovered the joy of reading when that happens.

If you have a child like that, instead of making the conversation a “Got Ya!”, it’s important to redirect them to something that WILL motivate. In this case, we might pair two students to read together, give the student fancy post it notes to mark interesting parts of the book they choose, or tell the student to check back in when they finish the first chapter or two to tell how it’s going.

Book Conversations Build Reading Partnerships

This is my favorite benefit of hallway conversations. We send this message to our students:

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This is HUGE isn’t it? Our students need to know that their learning is important, and we know that the number of minutes spent reading is a predictor of student achievement. It is our responsibility to encourage all of our kids to have a book at all times for what Donalyn Miller calls “reading emergencies”. These are the few minutes we have at transitions, when we wait for buses, when we finish work early, on car trips, when we wait for the doctor appointment, or when we wait for food to come at the restaurant. Conversations can be the reminder that some of our kids need.

Classroom Strategies Based on Book Conversations

Morning Meetings:

For many classrooms, the morning meeting is a great time for conversations. If you have morning meetings as part of your schedule, perhaps you can include a 2 minute sharing time where each child shares what they’re reading and a quick status of the book…love it, hate it, or something in between. It also gives the kids a chance to hear a recommendation from the teacher too.

Classroom Read Aloud:

Each day, most teachers share a few minutes of a read aloud. This is another opportunity for brief conversations. Ask students if they’ve read other books by the feature author? Have copies of other books on hand to show them. Weave in picture books for your stage periodically too. There are wonderful authors at all reading levels.

Book Talk Thursday:

As a blogger, I love reading my friend, Andrea’s Book Talk Thursday posts on her blog, This Literacy LifeWhy not use this idea with your students? You can have students make something to highlight a feature from the book, focus on a different genre each month as a way to guide your students to “branch out” from the genre they read all the time, or simply let them share whatever they love (and hope that the love spreads in your room). Book talks should be short, but focused. Students also need to practice appropriate listening. You might encourage them to keep a reading journal handy to jot down titles they want to read next. After all, readers need reading plans.

Graffiti Walls:

What’s a graffiti wall you might ask? Well, it can be an unused chalkboard in your room or a large piece of butcher paper that you frame and hot glue to your wall. In this space, students record book titles and awesome quotes they find. You can also use a graffiti wall as a place for students to paste notecards (on the paper version of course!) that include book reviews/recommendations. If you do this, you might even covertly place it next to your classroom library and strategically place the featured books out where students easily find them.

Top Twenty Lists:

My final recommendation is something I shared over on my collaborative blog, Adventures in Literacy Land. I created a freebie that uses Lettermen’s Top Ten List idea as a way for students to work in teams to come up with top ten lists. Check out the freebie below and use the forms in ways that work for you. Narrowing a class list down to ten might be impossible, so you might do it in teams or individually. No matter how you use it, I do think it will lead to book conversations between you and your students and between your students. Win-win, right?

How powerful are the conversations you have one-on-one with your students? You know the ones...in the hallway as you're waiting for your resource teacher to begin class, in the lunch line, or as you're waiting for buses to be called in the afternoon? Those moments in time are what our students remember, and they are VERY motivating. These are times for book conversations. This post includes tips on conferring with students.
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As you can tell, book conversations between teachers and students are critical in motivating students. I hope you got a few ideas on how we can use them to motivate independent reading. Maybe you have ideas that have worked well too. If so, I’d love to hear them. 

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How powerful are the conversations you have one-on-one with your students? You know the ones...in the hallway as you're waiting for your resource teacher to begin class, in the lunch line, or as you're waiting for buses to be called in the afternoon? Those moments in time are what our students remember, and they are VERY motivating. These are times for book conversations. This post includes tips on conferring with students.

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