Posts Tagged ‘writing’

As I put the finishing touches on a presentation made at the annual VATE (Victorian Association for the Teaching of English) Conference held in Melbourne on November 27-28 2014, I felt reignited with a passion to convince all educators of the need to inspire in our students a love of reading.   It really doesn’t matter whether we are teachers of Math, Science, History, Music, Drama, English or Library – all of us who work in schools need to actively pursue ensuring that our students not only learn the importance and value of reading, but that they see reading as an essential life skill which will be with them throughout their lives; a tool which will open doors to worlds they may never be able to explore in other ways.

Presenting on the topic Engaging Readers: Tried and tested ideas that work! I shared some of the many activities, programs and events which I have been involved in throughout my career in school libraries. If I am able to inspire just one attendee or reader of this blog to pick up one of these ideas, consider it, play with it, try it and make it their own, I will feel satisfied!   After all, being able to share ideas with each other is a fundamental spin off from attending conferences.

With an ability to share beyond the confines of a conference, I am duplicating the text of my presentation, with links to the resources shared with this session’s attendees.  It is my hope that those reading the many activities, programs and events I have initiated over the years will try and test them for themselves!  Should more details be needed, I am available for consultation, via Twitter or email: @novanews19 or bev.novak@gmail.com

This text has subsequently been published online in IDIOM: Volume 51, Number 1, 2015 where access is restricted to VATE members only.


Following this year’s VATE conference theme, I must ask:

So, how are you travelling?”

Are you finding it hard to get students to read?  Have you run out of inspiring ideas and ways to motivate students in your class or school to be interested in reading?  Are you stumped for a response when your students show total disinterest in reading beyond the first few pages or chapters of a book?

There is little need to highlight the many advantages to be gained from reading.  That reading is a source of pleasure, relaxation and enjoyment which ignites the imagination, allows escape into other worlds, the exploration of new ideas, cultures and experiences while developing vocabulary and sentence structure which directly feeds into improved writing skills are just some of the many benefits to be gained along the way.  A mantra I repeatedly share with my students states:

Read a book ….. Learn about the world!”

English teachers regularly encourage their students to read.  So do teacher librarians.  There is little doubt that parents also are on ‘our team’ knowing full well the benefits to be gained from reading.  Over the years I have seen many a ‘Recommended Reading List’ distributed by English teachers to students in secondary schools.  Most often these lists include the many ‘classics’ which were part of our formative years.  How wonderful it is to share those novels with our classes.

But ….. remember ….. the world of literature has moved on!  

An abundance of well written, stimulating, exciting and thought provoking novels which have been written over the last five to ten years are readily available.  The authors of these novels have a huge, eager, well established following of young adult fans who literally ‘hang out’ for their next book.  If you do not know which books or authors are on the current top ten list, find out!  Ask the teacher librarian in your school or check with the staff in your local public library or your local book shop to help when compiling your lists.  Best of all – ask the ‘good readers’ in your class for the names of novels and authors.  They will be thrilled to see their recommendations included on your ‘Recommended Reading List’.

Sharing with you some of the many easy to implement activities, programs and events which I have run in conjunction with secondary English teachers, will, I hope, be a source of inspiration as you grapple with how best to engage readers in your classes.  None of these ideas are the sole province of teacher librarians.  All of the activities, programs and events described here can be put into action by both a single English teachers for his/her class or by the Head of English for all classes in a year level or a campus.  Working together with the library staff in your school will, of course, have many benefits including sharing the organizational and supervision load.  The discussion should not be about who owns the ideas, but rather how we can unite to create engaged readers.

So, read on and if you get inspired just give it a go!


The range and variety of activities that can easily be put in place in classrooms are enormous.  An activity can most often be completed in one or maybe two periods.

Opportunities for students to meet and hear authors of popular novels speak are an awesome way to inspire and engage students.  Having the opportunity to listen to how authors grapple with characters, plot and setting sends powerful messages on the complexity of storytelling.  As they listen to these ‘behind the scenes’ anecdotes, intimate connection to both the author and the novel are cemented.  Watching the glee on the faces of students as they line up to either purchase books by the authors or to have their coveted copies signed is a joy.  Talk with the knowledgeable staff of booking agencies such as Booked Out, Nexus, Creative Net and Speakers Ink to get advice on suitability of speakers for your students.  Also explore the increasing availability of authors to visit your classroom via Skype.

When considering the range of visiting presenters to your class or school though, dare to be different!  Authors and illustrators are not the only presenters who can inspire a love of reading.  By including any professionals who promote the written and spoken word, the range of possibilities expand incredibly.  If you are unable to invite these presenters into your school because of cost or distance, check if they are available to present via Skype or ask if two or three presenters would be prepared to be part of a Webinar.


Aim to excite passion about reading.  Invite another teacher into your class to start the ball rolling.  Have your students observe as the two of you excitedly and passionately share details about a book you have both read or a book you would love the other to read.  Then get your students to do the same, either in pairs or small groups.  Involve other teachers, members of your non-teaching staff, your school admin, students, parents and grandparents.  Create situations, sessions or events where book chats are shared.  You will be amazed at how contagious this kind of event can be!

One of the most exciting events I ever initiated was sending a pair of teachers into a Year 10 class with the instruction to ask each other, in front of the students, ‘Have you read a good book lately?’  Students were not only surprised to see an unlikely pair of teachers enter the room – the art teacher paired with a legal studies teacher, a physics teacher paired with a music teacher, a math teacher paired with a drama teacher – but were astonished when one of the teachers walked in with an overnight bag literally stuffed with books off her bedside table!

Considerable reading engagement can be gained in cross age reading activities in which older and younger readers are paired.  A very effective activity was run with one of our Year 10 English classes who were taken into the junior library where the teacher librarians discussed salient points of picture story books and how best to read to young children.  The students were then asked to borrow a couple of picture story books and, for homework, to practise reading the story out loud.  A week later, each of the Year 10 students returned to the junior library and read their selected books to one, two or a small group of Prep children.  The event was excellent and reaped great dividends for both the Preps and Year 10 students.  Some of the most enthusiastic participants in this activity were those students noted to be reluctant readers!

Competitions which raise the profile of reading are a dime a dozen.  Trivia quizzes, guess the number of pages in a bundle of books, matching books with authors and writing competitions are some of the obvious ones.  Having worthwhile ‘bookish’ prizes goes without saying.  You’ll be amazed how passionate some of the Year 11 and 12 students can get about a very simple competition.  I’ve overheard some pretty amazing conversations between senior students as they have tried to guess the number of pages in a well wrapped up bundle of books!  Although reading competitions are most commonly associated with the school library, there is no reason they cannot also be adopted by English teachers in a class or year level.

Treasure hunts are another way to spark interest in reading.  Incorporate QR codes into your treasure hunt or tie them to book trailers so students can explore novels that are in your classroom, the school library or scattered around the school.  QR Codes are easy to create and easy to read.  If you are unfamiliar with them check out this link and download a QR Code Reader/Creator for your smartphone, then let your imagination fly!

Additionally, there are a host of opportunities to explore ‘online’ activities.  Magnetic poetry and Jigsaw Planet are just two that come to mind.  With no need to create accounts or sign up prior to using, it is easy to set aside class time and have students work on their own, in pairs or small groups to complete these mind challenging activities.  Written or oral reflections make for a great follow up to tease out focus questions.

For time immemorial, English teachers and Teacher Librarians have asked students to write book reviews to demonstrate their understanding of the plot, characters and setting of novels read.  Web 2.0 has changed the way we can elicit this kind of reflection.  Have students use some of these tools to encapsulate their response to books read by having them create a book trailer, a word cloud or a cartoon or have them submit a written review online to a school, class or library blog.  Consider having students upload their response to websites such as Inside a dog administered by State Library of Victoria or or Spine Out, established by Good Reading magazine.


Unlike activities which usually require no more than one or two periods to complete, programs are often run over a few weeks or a term.

The Global Read Aloud program which is held once a year in October/November is an amazing way to not only inspire and encourage reading but creates the opportunity for young readers across the world to connect with each other.  Over a stretch of six weeks, participating teachers read sections of the same book aloud to their class.  The students then, either individually or in small groups, create some kind of response – often using Web2.0 tools – which are shared with any number of other classes anywhere in the world.  The GRA is managed globally via a Wiki. Teachers sign up and share ideas and contact via the wiki and/or a range of social media platforms.  Starting just four years ago, this program has grown from a mere 60,000 to more than 300,000 this year and is a very exciting way for both teachers and students to share the joy of reading.

Engaging an author to be a Writer in Residence to come into the school and run writing workshops is another fabulous way to engage readers.  Over the course of a week, writing workshops can be held for each class in a year level.  Including an opportunity for a small group of keen writers to participate in additional intensive master classes may also be an added option offered.  If funding is an issue, check out the availability of local and state grants.

Book Clubs are a traditional program often offered by either the library or English staff.  With many other school wide events vying for students’ interest over lunchtime and after school though, it can be hard to maintain numbers in these kinds of programs.  While traditional face to face events are most popular, explore the online book clubs in places like the Inside a Dog Book Club.  Alternately you may be inspired by the Global Book Club to create an online book club for your class.

Literature Circles, is another exciting program in which students can engage and share.  This is the kind of program which can be implemented in either lower or upper secondary English classes.  Traditional Literature Circles programs are highly structured.  It is possible however to vary the format somewhat from the original and adapt it to suit your own class needs.  Moving this program to an online environment can add spice and excitement to an already super way to inspire students’ reading interest.


Unlike activities which can be run in the library or classroom over one or two periods and programs which run over a few weeks or a term, an event is characterized as being a huge one off occurrence and often involves a large number of participants and a considerable amount of planning.

Events never fail to garner excitement and interest from staff and students alike. In many cases, the excitement generated spills beyond the library, capturing the imagination and interest of the wider school community.  Although it is unlikely that either English teachers or Heads of English have the time or capacity to stage these kinds of events alone, they give a glimpse of what can be done, especially if the skills and knowledge of English teachers and library staff are combined!  I’ve written at length about some of these events: Book Launches, Books ‘n Bikkies, Poetry Showcase, Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, Australian Books for Children of Africa, Read around the World, National Simultaneous Storytime, Speed Book Dating, The Great Book Swap, Literary Lunches and Staging a Literary Festival.

Characteristic of all of these events has been an attempt to create a ‘buzz’, an excitement and a ‘can’t wait for this day to come around’ kind of anticipation.  I regularly use every form of media to publicize upcoming events that are available in the school: posters, displays, newsletters, flyers, bookmarks, library webpage, school webpage, school blog and social media.  There’s no such thing as too much publicity!  At events I often use IWBs as a backdrop to project inspirational visuals related to the presenter or books.  I regularly incorporate Book Fairs into events as they lend an additional dimension to the event.  And music!  There is nothing nicer than having a small string ensemble playing at the start or mid-way through an event to add to the atmosphere.  Screening just one of the many promo videos or book trailers that can be found online can be a great hook to attract attention.  I have some of my favourites listed under the Promo Ideas tab above.

While there are a host of ideas to engage and excite interest in reading on BevsBookBlog look further afield for inspirational ideas on Inside a Dog  as well as the great publication Good Reading which is available both digitally and in hard copy.

The best inspiration though can come from sharing with each other, so share your thoughts, comments and ideas on this post so that others can benefit from your expertise.

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I recently came across a fabulous list complied by Isaac Bashevis Singer which was reproduced on Futility Closet.  It was part of his 1978 Nobel banquet speech.

Why I began to write for children”

  1. Children read books, not reviews.  They don’t give a hoot about the critics.
  2. Children don’t read to find their identity.
  3. They don’t read to free themselves of guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion, or to get rid of alienation.
  4. They have no use for psychology.
  5. They detest sociology.
  6. They don’t try to understand Kafka or Finnegans Wake.
  7. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation,, and other such obsolete stuff.
  8. They love interesting stories, not commentary, guides, or footnotes.
  9. When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.
  10. They don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity.  Young as they are, they know that it is not in his power.  Only the adults have such childish illusions.

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My warning to you is if you decide to start exploring the booktrust website, be sure to have at least an hour up your sleeve.

I found myself intrigued by the wealth of choice and information contained in this comprehensive website.   With options to read short stories or even submit your own, clearly this site is living up to its byline of ‘Inspiring a love of books’.

With an amazing range of events and competitions highlighted, the avid reader/writer can even tap into tips and pointers on how to become a better writer or take advantage of learning from the online writer in residence.

This UK based website has certainly set itself some grand goals.  Just have a read of this snippet from its ‘About’ page:

Booktrust is an independent reading and writing charity that makes a nationwide impact on individuals, families and communities, and culture in the UK. We make a significant positive contribution to the educational outcomes of children from the earliest age. We work to empower people of all ages and abilities by giving them confidence and choices about reading. And we want individuals of all backgrounds to benefit from the wellbeing that a rich and positive engagement in reading and writing can bring.

A great site!

And if you happen to be on the look out for more great ‘short story’ websites – take the time to check out this list put together by makeuseof10 websites where you can enjoy reaidng short stories and flash fiction.  Some of the sites are really awesome!

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I came across this video some time ago, but just last week, as I was listening to a pep talk a colleague gave to a Year 9 class about the value of reading, I later that day happened upon this video again.

It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it, to consider that so many children around the world are unable to enjoy the sort of opportunities that our students take for granted.  The United Nations defines an illiterate person as someone who cannot read or write a short statement about his everyday life and estimates that 49% of children in developing countries will never learn to read.

I’ve lost track of how many students I’ve spoken to over the years about the value of reading.  It’s a topic I am passionate about.  Reading is a gateway to the world.   Not only does it provide the conduit to explore concepts and experiences that are otherwise unattainable, but as we read, the vocabulary and sentence structure to which we are exposed soak into our minds and provide us with the fodder for our own writing.   Encouraging our students to write is as important as encouraging them to read.  The two processes go hand in hand.

As we move further into the 21st Century, where arguments continue unabated about the worth of eBooks and whether they will soon replace the books we’ve grown up with, the one constant is that the power of words will remain.   Reading begets writing.  Literacy begets literacy.

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