Most of what a literacy teacher does comes down to figuring out how to show instead of tell. If I want students to understand fluent reading, I show them better read alouds. If I want students to understand revision, I show them real peer feedback. So when it comes to developing real reading lives, I have to show students the specific steps that real readers take.
All students will like the right book, but not all know how to find it. In the beginning of the year, I do the following activity to specifically show students how to systematically find books that they will enjoy. This process is adapted from chapter one of Hacking Literacy.
The purpose of the digital scavenger hunt is to show students where they can find and read books online. This will help them grow their To Read lists, and it shows them how to look for books at any time with a mobile device. This activity works well as a scavenger hunt because it includes specific tasks for students to complete in a determined sequence. The students bring back artifacts from the scavenger hunt in the form of screenshots, indicating that they’ve completed the tasks.
Typically, our scavenger hunt includes the following tasks:
A. Access Goodreads.com:
- Create a Goodreads account.
- Join the class Goodreads group. (This is not imperative, but it allows students to communicate easily about their reading choices.)
- Add books to your bookshelf, placing them on “read,” “to-read,” and “currently-reading” lists.
- Write a short review of a book you’ve enjoyed in the past.
- Find the teacher’s account and the school librarian’s account and friend them. (Goodreads is fairly devoid of personal information, so many teachers feel comfortable letting their students connect with them on this platform in a way they might not on other platforms, like Facebook, for example.)
B. Search for a book recommendation list that appeals to you, like Time’s The 100 Best YA Books of All Time:
- Skim through the list.
- Find two to three choices that look interesting.
- Add these to your To Read list.
C. Open Amazon.com:
- Search for one book you want to read and use the “Look inside” feature to preview it.
- Look at the “Customers who viewed this item also bought” section to get additional book recommendations.
D. Sign in to the school library’s digital catalog:
- Look up a book that you want to read.
- Determine if the book is checked out or available.
E. Go to Feedly.com*:
- Create an account.
- Click on topics that you are interested in. (The site gives students many options, such as gaming, sports, and fashion.)
- Find the individual sites or blogs about those topics.
- Add as many of those sites to your feed as you’d like.
- Click into an article, preview it, and visit the website where it was originally published.
*Feedly is an online RSS (really simple syndication) reader. When news websites or blogs are updated, an RSS reader automatically takes those updates and posts them in a user’s RSS feed. When students set up their Feedly accounts and select topics and sites that interest them, they are creating a personalized nonfiction reading list. Each time they log into Feedly, their feed will be populated by the most recently published articles related to all of the topics they have selected.
To provide evidence that they’ve accomplished each task, students show the teacher screenshots of their work. For example, when a student makes a Goodreads profile and fills the bookshelf, he or she takes a screenshot of the online bookshelf and adds it to a Google Doc. The assignment is finished when the student has completed all of the tasks on the scavenger hunt, has taken a screenshot of each task, and has added new books to his or her “To Read” list based on recommendations they have discovered.
Like everything in the practice of teaching, one and done doesn’t cause change. The real work comes throughout the year, as students use this foundation to continuously find books that they enjoy, talk with each other about them, and work with the teacher to improve.
How do you cultivate students’ reading lives? Share in the comments.
PS: Thanks to Katie Cubano, Amy Gazaleh, Casey Fox, and Carrie Ross for sharing activities with me that inspired this idea.