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March Is Reading Month: It Doesn't Have to Be a Circus!



Every February, I begin to brace myself. The "March is Reading Month" committee begins meeting to plan the month for our school. I get a tension headache just thinking about it. It's not that I don't love the Cat in the Hat, the reading activities, and the intent behind the month-long focus.  I love reading. I love helping my kids learn to love reading. But, I've noticed a trend in the planned celebrations over the last few years.  The teachers are working hard, and the students are not. The whole month feels like a never-ending circus, and I feel like a demented clown.

Don't get me wrong. The celebrations and special events are great entertainment. Some common March happenings are that every teacher decorates his or her door according to a favorite book. Some of the doors are Pinterest-worthy works of art. Prizes are bought and given out for meeting reading goals. Volunteers dress up as book characters and visit classrooms. Other community volunteers visit classrooms to read books to students. Sometimes, local celebrities come to read.  It's fantastic fun! Over 24 years of teaching in different school districts, the most I've seen students do during the month of March is to read across a reading calendar. 

Again, let me say it: There's nothing wrong with celebrating reading in these ways. But I have to ask...
One of the ways I've coped with the upheaval of March Is Reading Month is to make my students and their learning the center of the celebrations. If we have to decorate our door, my students decorate it, using it as a reader response activity.  It doesn't look like a Pinterest-inspired door, but my kids learned something. 

That reading calendar? I turned it into a Reading Genre Book Challenge.  We discuss how we want our reading to be as balanced as our diets.  It's normal for readers (adults included) to focus on a couple of their favorite genres when selecting reading materials. This challenge helps students break away from their reading trends to try something new. They use the month to earn a total of ten brag tags, one for each genre. They chart their success in their data notebooks, and spend time reflecting on their preferences and how they change over the course of the challenge. 



Another thing that really stresses me out about reading month is that when all of the special stuff is added into our schedule, I have a hard time keeping my instructional oars in the water. So over the years, I've learned to find ways to incorporate our day-to-day learning goals like persuasive writing, literature critique, using direct quotations as evidence, and comparing and contrasting texts.

Every year, my students and I hold an election. We review the major mentor texts that we read over the entire school year. We discuss them. We share our opinions about our favorites and our least favorites.  Then, we vote to elect our Book-of-the-Year for room 9. 

The Brainstorm

 My students create a huge mind map about all of our mentor texts for the year, up to March. We draw arrows to and from text titles to show connections. They write and talk about their connections, and then write a persuasive essay to defend their choices for the Book-of-the-Year Award.  

Some of our titles this year and in past years have included: Perloo the Bold, Tuck Everlasting, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Pictures of Hollis Woods, Bridge to Terabithia, The Poetry of Langston Hughes, Coming Home, My Brother Sam Is Dead, Between the Lines, and A Long Walk to Water.

We sit on the floor, surrounding the butcher paper and revisit each text. Our discussions focus on the characters and the themes we think are important in each text.  

I end the discussion by asking students to choose one mentor text that they wanted to nominate for our Book-of-the-Year Award. Usually, every book is chosen by at least one student.  They returned to their seats to do a flash write about their choices.



After my kids have written their persuasive nominations, they'll practice reading them using whisper phones in order to be less dependent on their texts when they orally defend their choices.  By the last week of March, we present our nominations. Students design paper party props like top hats or tiaras, gluing them on straws or popsicle sticks. They come dressed to walk the red carpet and give their persuasive speeches. I acted out the paparazzi role and take picture after picture of them. Finally, we vote. 

Once we've chosen our Book of the Year, we make covers of all our nominees and display them with our persuasive essays on our bulletin boards. I share photos of them walking the red carpet on the same bulletin board display. 

The best part about all of these activities is that my students are doing most of the work. I'm still teaching to our learning standards, but students are engaged and having a blast...and there's not a circus clown in sight.

You can find some of these student-centered ideas for March Is Reading Month below. Just click on the pictures.  

Pssssst! Hey friend! If you haven't subscribed via email to my blog yet, make sure you do! Every month, my subscribers receive a freebie in their mailboxes, exclusively for them. It's not too late  to subscribe for February!

This week, I've teamed up with some fantastic teacher authors. Their posts are filled with teaching goodness. Check them out below!




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4 comments

  1. I love the way you have your students take ownership of this month, and really focus on what's important! It may not be Pinterest worthy, but like you said - it's about their learning.

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  2. These are all fantastic ideas to create a fun and engaging classroom! I'm sure your students have a lot of fun!

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  3. I love this idea! What a great way to incorporate so many higher-level skills!

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  4. Love, love this post. I'm always so thankful reading your posts because you always bring it back to the students and their learning. Thank you, Tracy!!

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