[Teacher Tips] Keeping Elementary Students Reading over Winter Break
Some teachers like to imagine that their students curl up beside a grand fireplace while a gentle snow falls outside over the winter break, using their precious free time to cozy up with books they’ve chosen to read for pleasure, devouring story after story like holiday cookies.
However, as many teachers are aware, the reality is that, while some students may spend some time reading for fun over winter break, many will spend their time with their eyes fixed on a video game, a television, or staring at the screen of a smartphone, tablet, or laptop in the car as their parents drive to visit out-of-town relatives. The fact is that when students are out of the classroom and out of your control, it’s harder to get them to keep them reading daily.
Educators know that one of the best ways to become stronger readers and close skill gaps is to practice every day. So, how do you make sure that your students are motivated to find some time to read while they enjoy their winter break? Check out these tips on ways you can encourage your students to read at every grade level.
1. Set expectations early
Just like with everything else, when you want your students to do something, start reminding them weeks in advance. Many of your students probably started counting down the days until winter break the second they stepped back in the classroom after Thanksgiving, so it’s important to send a clear message early on that you expect them to read over the break.
Make a point to verbally remind your students before class that you want them to take time over the break to continue reading daily, ask them to write a reminder in their day planners or assignment books, and put a reminder up on the board. Your students may start to think you sound like a broken record, but they’ll be hearing your voice in the backs of their heads reminding them to read when they are not in school.
2. Get a little crafty
One cute and crafty way you can make sure that your students get the message to continue their reading is to provide bookmarks. Pass out some handmade bookmarks, or have them color and create their own bookmarks to go in whatever books they are currently reading. There are even printable templates online for winter break incentive bookmarks, which students can use to record the number of books they read during the holidays.
If you make your own bookmarks, you can simply include some checkboxes on the back where students can mark off the days during the break that they spent reading for a certain amount of time (say 30 minutes every day) or record the number of pages they completed each time they read their books.
3. Make sure that everyone goes home with a book
Eliminate the possibility of a student returning from break without having so much as cracked open the cover of a book by making sure that they head home for the holidays with one in their backpacks. Make time in the last few days before break to take a class trip to the school library, or let your students choose a book from your classroom library to borrow while school is out.
Not only is this a great way to make sure that all students have something to read while they are out of school and remind them once again that you expect them to spend some time reading while they are on break, but also, it helps ensure that your students will be at least a little interested in what they are reading because they picked it out themselves.
4. Assign some fun homework
I know, I know—no one likes a teacher who assigns homework over winter break. But, did you know that it’s possible to assign homework to your students over break in a way that doesn’t even feel like homework? The holidays are a busy time for everyone, including parents, so assigning any kind of book report or large project due immediately when you return from break isn’t going to fly. The reality is that students and parents alike blank on work assigned over break—unless you can make it something fun that the whole family will enjoy.
Ask your students to participate in a read-and-watch discussion with their families, where students read a book, then watch the movie adaptation of the book, and discuss with their families the similarities and differences between the two. Simply have parents sign off on an assignment sheet to show that their child completed the assignment, or if your class has good parent-teacher communication, you could even ask parents to email or text you a quick selfie of the family sitting together for family movie time.
Another no-fuss assignment that encourages motivation to read is to send home a traditional reading log, which parents can use to simply sign off once a day when their child has completed the daily required reading. It might not be as fun as watching a movie, but it’s just the sort of low-maintenance assignment students and their families won’t have trouble keeping up with during the holidays.
5. Turn it into a friendly competition
The holidays are all about friendly competition, right? Challenging your students to continue their daily reading over break is a great way to keep them independently motivated while they’re out of the classroom and away from each other.
You can develop a checklist of fun activities based on your classes’ reading goals, such as seeing which student can read the most pages over break or can read the most books. Taking it a step further, individualizing your students’ scavenger hunts may be a great opportunity to help target their growth areas. If you know that students struggle with sight words, for example, add in an item that focuses on that skill.
You can also send home a few comprehension prompts and see which students can write the most journals based on the number of pages they read. You might even make a class challenge, where if the whole class can read a combined number of pages over the break, you will reward them with a movie party, extra D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) time, or another fun classroom treat when they return.
This post was originally published December 2018 and has been updated.