Connecting Students to the World Through Reading

Posted by Josie McKay on
Lori B. Adams photography

“To curl up with children and a good book has long been one of the great civilizing practices of domestic life, an almost magical entry point to the larger world of literature.” – Maria Tatar

I must admit that reading a good book aloud to my students is probably one of my favorite parts of teaching  I love how we can get lost in a world of imagination and how they all groan with disappointment when I have to close the book for the day.  I love how their faces light up when I introduce a new story to them and how they almost immediately check out the same book from the school library or another book by the same author.  Part of the reason I wanted to become a teacher was that I wanted to instill the love I have for reading into my students.

How does a teacher do that? How does a teacher inspire students to love reading, especially those who struggle? How can a paper-bound book compete with interactive screens? First, one must choose engaging books. There are multitudes of books you can choose from, but I found in my own experience that my students have enjoyed the books I’m most enthusiastic about.  Even if they weren’t originally fans of the genre I chose or it might be a book they would never choose for themselves, by the end they had become believers. Students become excited about books when the teacher is excited about books.

What is the first thing you want to do when you finish an amazing book? Tell someone, tweet about it, share it on Facebook, or write an online review. You want to talk about it and convince someone else that they should read it as well. So how can we allow students to discuss and share their enthusiasm beyond our classroom walls?

To encourage students to share and learn from others, connect them with other students outside of their school.  It can be with students within the district, within your state, within the United States, or even globally.  With the use of technology, the possibilities are endless.  Students can use free kid-friendly, safe, and private online forums such as Write About and Padletto converse with students from around the globe, eliminating the time-zone barrier. "Student Twitter takeovers" allow for the opportunity to ask questions, without giving away their name or identity, to the authors or to others who might have read the book.  Skype is also a great way to connect students with other students around the world to have face-to-face interactions and book talks.  Can’t connect directly because of class scheduling or time-zone differences? Skype offers video messaging that will allow the teacher to show the message and respond whenever suitable to the class schedule.  

So, what does this look like in a classroom setting? My students and I have just finished reading "The Wild Robot" by Peter Brown. First, I had them connect with classrooms in North Carolina and in New York for a postcard exchange. We illustrated and wrote postcards to these classes about our favorite parts in the book and they responded with their own thoughts.

Students also wrote responses to higher-level thinking prompts about the book on Write About.  Then students from Oregon and Illinois left comments to my students. These students also wrote their own responses to which my students replied.

Along with that, the students completed word art about their favorite character from the story on Padlet to which other students added their own word art to the discussion board.  Being able to see what other students thought from around the US and if there were any similarities or differences between how they interpreted a character was an invaluable experience for my students.

To conclude our experience with this book, we connected with three classrooms, all three from different states, for a multi-classroom Skype and Kahoot game about the book.  It was so much fun to watch all of the students interact with each other before, during, and after the game.

As I reflect upon this experience, I often wonder to myself why I hadn’t thought of doing this before?  If students want to be successful in the future, they need to learn how to collaborate with others that have different cultural, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.  Introducing them to other students from different grade-levels, cities, states, and even countries puts them on the right path to obtain these skills.  What better way to help cultivate these abilities at an early age than by sharing the love of reading with the world?  

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IMG_5228.JPGJosie McKay is a 4th-grade High Ability teacher and M.A.T.H. Bowl Coach at Towne Meadow Elementary.  She earned her Bachelor’s in Kindergarten and Elementary Education with a Minor in Human Development and Family Studies as well as her Master’s in Education Leadership.  In 2017, Josie was named a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert as well as a PBS Digital Innovator representing the state of Indiana.

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