When it comes to selecting texts that are just right for students, educators want to ensure that the texts will not only promote student learning and engagement, but also help students find enjoyment in reading. It is important to consider whether texts are relatable, and if the language and vocabulary will support students’ reading abilities. Texts must be developmentally appropriate and interesting to students at the same time. The more students can relate to the texts, the more likely they are to engage.
Selecting the right texts can often be a challenge, but there are several effective literacy practices that can help make the process easier.
1. Ask Questions
One of the most important steps to take when picking a book for your students is to ask questions. Find out what drives your students to pick up a book and what causes them to put a book down. No matter how many years of teaching you have under your belt or how well you think you might know your students, every learner, every class and every generation is different, so asking questions allows you to get to know your students’ personal and reading interests on a deeper level.
A simple 4-5 question survey using a tech tool like Survey Monkey or Google Forms can be shared with students at various points throughout the year, with questions like:
- What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
- How do you decide whether you want to keep reading a book or whether you want to put it down?
- Who is your favorite author and why?
- What kinds of topics do you like to read about?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how much do you like to read?
2. Consider Social-Emotional Learning
Literature is a window into worlds and cultures different from ours, while also showing us a mirror that reflects our own realities. Books bring empathy, compassion and love into the classroom by asking students to grapple with the issues we face. Every time students open a new book it’s an opportunity to take a walk in someone else’s shoes.
When picking texts with and for students, consider what woes the classroom or school faces. Are students dealing with bullying? Is there a divide between students from different neighborhoods or socioeconomic groups in your school? The answers to these questions will help you pick the best books, all with the purpose of helping to grow students’ socio-emotional skills.
3. View Book Selection as a Gift, Not a Problem
At some point during the school year, many students will feel like they can’t find the right book or they can’t relate to the book the whole class is reading. Rather than seeing this as a problem, choose to see this mismatch as a learning opportunity for everyone.
By shifting your point of view, book selection becomes a joint endeavor where you and your students come together as a team to find books that motivate and inspire them to want to become lifelong readers. Reading is a gift; if you want your students to believe this too, we have to show them that book selection is part of the reading journey, not a problem.
4. Use the Five Finger Rule
The five finger rule is a popular, quick and efficient way to check if a book is suitable for students. To use this strategy, tell students to turn to a random page in their book and read it. Instruct the students to hold up one finger for every word on the page that they do not know. The guidelines according to how many fingers they hold up are as follows:
0-1: Too easy
2: A good choice that will give students a sensible challenge and broaden their vocabulary
3: May be a bit challenging, but still a good choice
4: Probably too difficult for students to read on their own, but if reading as a class, it may be okay
5: Too difficult
It is important to ensure that the books students are reading are suitable for their ability. Texts that are too easy will likely bore students and cause a plateau in their reading ability, while texts that are too difficult can frustrate students and cause them to give up on reading. Using the five finger rule can help find a book that’s just right for your students.
5. Build a Classroom Library
Providing a variety of books for your students can help you learn more about them and help them learn more about reading. A classroom library can offer more diverse selections for students while promoting increased reading and enjoyment in reading. It also creates a safe space for students to engage in independent reading and personal exploration.
Because a classroom library is typically a resource that supports students’ reading of self-selected texts, it can help you as a teacher become aware of their personal reading interests. Additionally, it allows students to read aloud and discuss books with peers and teachers, which serves as the perfect opportunity for you to conduct informal assessments of your students’ reading. By doing so, you will become aware of which books are developmentally appropriate for their students and which are not.
Choosing the right book for students isn’t the easiest teaching task. There are many factors to consider -- their reading levels, interests, backgrounds, previous experiences with reading, aspirations and even fears. In fact, it may even be one of the most challenging cognitive tasks a teacher takes on during the school year.
But selecting the right book can be seen as a challenge and a chance to get to know your students better in order to meet them where they are, not where you imagine them to be. By being savvy and working alongside students to pick books that pique their interests, you might just set students up for a lifelong love of reading.
The College of Education at Grand Canyon University offers a diverse range degree programs for current and future teachers. From early childhood, education to secondary program, you’ll find a degree program that’s right for you. To learn more, visit our website or click the Request More Information button on this page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.