We wholeheartedly believe in this quote. Forming relationships with your students from day one is essential to a successful school year. A major way that we build relationships and community is through books: sharing books, talking about books, reading books together, and participating in literature circles. We are a community of readers.
Both of us at Practical Pedagogs strongly believe that forcing children to read certain novels will not guide them on their path toward becoming lifelong readers (though it admittedly took us years to arrive at this conclusion). However, reading books as a class is a great way to build community and relationships. So this past year, we committed—in July, as we mapped out the year—to do all of our class novels as read alouds. We set time aside almost every single day to read aloud from our shared novel. Students had copies of the novel and could choose to follow along or simply listen. As a class, we made predictions, answered each other’s questions about confusing plot events, used context clues to determine the meaning of difficult words, and drew conclusions about characters, setting, and plot.
Our sixth graders LOVED the read aloud part of our day, and we loved sharing our favorite novels and watching the kids fall in love with them. Holes, Freak the Mighty, Wonder, The Westing Game, and The Giver are class favorites year after year. Discussing the same book, identifying with flawed characters, teaching mini-lessons through these books, and modeling how to disagree respectfully and without making differences in opinion personal were all crucial in developing a classroom community centered around books.
Our kids also participated in literature circles three times last year – another way that we worked to create a community in our classroom. Each round of literature circles centered on a different genre: historical fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction. Groups of students set their own reading calendars, wrote and discussed open-ended questions about their books, and worked together to create products that included book trailers, elements of fiction collages, and argumentative videos. Through these group discussions and projects, we saw the students grow in their sense of community with each round of literature circles.
We did notice that in the lit circle structure, students needed some coaching in peer conversational skills—like listening and asking thought-provoking questions— to bolster their engagement, so we explicitly taught those skills in response. Also, because of the hype generated during small group discussions, many of the kids would read the other book options after literature circles ended—further adding to our reading community.
Finally, build community in your classroom by constantly talking books! Conference with students about the books they’re reading. Recommend books to students. Give your kids time to discuss the books they’re reading independently and make recommendations to each other. Talk about your favorite and least favorite books, characters, and genres. Share your emotions associated with your latest novel. Ask for input on the next class read aloud. Read the books your students recommend to you.
Building a classroom community centered around reading and books is an essential part of creating a reading culture AND a safe, positive, engaging classroom environment for all of your students. ♥Lizzy
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