January 13, 2014

Motivating Kids to *Finish* Books

I don't know about you, but one of the things that drives me just plain bananas is my kids starting 50 different books and finishing NONE of them.  Have you experienced this phenomena in your classroom?  I have no problem with my kiddos reading a few books at a time--I do this too!  But when they're not finishing any of them, clearly reading comprehension is not happening the way it should be.  I've tried a few different things over the past few years to try to get my kids motivated to actually complete books from start to finish.

I had tremendous success a few years back with my Reading Record Books.  I modeled these after Beth Newingham's Reading Notebooks and had kids set monthly reading goals, record the titles they read each month, and graph their genres.  I collected the Record Books and graded them each month.  I really, truly loved them, and my kids were motivated and accountable.  The only problem was that this process took some time!  While the kids could record their titles independently during Daily 5 time, we took class time to set goals and reflect on them at the end of the month.  It was only about 15 minutes each time, but as things became more and more scheduled to the minute in the past couple of years, I found that I was no longer able to successfully utilize the Record Books.  Last year I gave them up. :(

I tried a few different systems early on last year to get my kids tracking their books--logs, genre bingos, etc.-- but wasn't too successful.  In Spring, I went a different direction. I brought in a clear glass jar and a bag of glass stones and told the kids that for each "just right" book that we finished, we could add a marble to the jar.  Then, every day after our morning announcements, I took 30 seconds to have the kids turn and talk to their neighbors and tell them a little bit about what they read last night.  Then, any student who had completed a book could share the title and add a marble to the jar.  This literally took 1-2 minutes each day.  When the jar was filled, we celebrated by having a "reading party."  I brought popsicles, and we brought our books outside to read on the field.  So much fun.  I did this again this fall, and we celebrated with another reading party, this time with pillows, stuffed animals, and popcorn in the classroom.
Of course, like anything, the novelty of this wore off after we filled the jar the first time.  I decided to change things up in December and rolled out a new reading challenge.  Each student's goal is to complete 4 "just right" books each month with a couple of exceptions: Picture Books count as 1/2 of a book, and books that are over 300 pages count as two books.   
This time, I decided to create a classroom display for kids to record their finished books.  This way, they are motivated to share what they've finished with classmates, and I can easily check in who is finishing books and who is not.  I laminated the cards, and the kids love using vis-a-vis markers to write their books down.  At the end of month, each student who reached their goal gets a reward.  (Our school is participating in Book It through Pizza Hut, so those are currently my prizes.  Would love to have a reading-related prize when Book It ends...maybe Scholastic coupons??)  
Additionally, students can decorate a slip of paper with the title of their book and some illustrations.  I then attach it to an on-going chain we have hanging from the ceiling.  I challenged the kids to make the chain reach all of the way around the room by the end of the year.  I really like the way this is going currently--as long as the kids are motivated, we'll keep it up!  

What strategies do you use to keep kids motivated to read and finish books?  I know a lot of people use the Forty Book Challenge--I haven't done that before but am interested in trying it at some point and would love to hear your thoughts if you have tried it successfully!


  1. I actually just got frustrated today with a few of my boys who go to my library multiple times a day to find new books. These are both great ideas!

  2. That sounds like a great idea! I teach second graders, so to read just right books is such a struggle at times! Some want to read chapter books, but are not ready for those on their own, while others can read chapter books, but would rather keep reading those picture books! Scholastic has a deal where you can buy a pack of 25 book coupons for 20 or 25 bucks, but each coupon lets the student choose any book that is $5 or less. They say Happy Birthday on the coupon, but I gave these to my students for Christmas, and the first day back to school we shopped in the January catalogs. Many of my kids do not get to order books (so sad!) so they were SO pumped to pick out their own book. Good luck!!

  3. I love this! I have a hard time as well and fell out of doing my highly successful Book Whisperer techniques for the same reason you fell out of doing Newingham's. Sigh. I think I'll have to try this out for next year for sure. Thanks for posting about it!


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