Outside Reading: Getting My Students Interested

As an English Department, a few years ago we set forth a very flexible outside reading policy. Teachers could monitor, assess, and grade however they pleased, but freshman were supposed to read 500 extra pages a semester, sophomores 600, juniors 700, and seniors 800. Our department chair gave teachers total discretion; ultimately it was to get the kids reading more (always a good thing). 

As an IB (and sometimes AP) teacher, my plan was a little more strict. I require all my students' titles to be approved, and when I do so I will only sign off on books I deem literary- ones that would be challenging, well-written, and perhaps potentially taught in college (think Jeffrey Eugenides or Oscar Wilde as opposed to Nicholas Sparks). Each semester one of their books has to be from a certain genre (first semester was memoir, autobiography or biography and this semester it's sci-fi, drama, or a graphic novel) and they have to have their parents sign off on their choices, to waive me from potential familial conflict. 

The biggest roadblock? Kids really just don't know what to read. I have a huge interactive bulletin board in my classroom, a list of student read books on the wall, and a few other lists posted. But still, they struggle to find books that intrigue them. So, I thought. And thought. And then it came to me:

[it's a ginormous binder, in case you can't tell]

Starting at the beginning of the year every couple of weeks I make copies of the first page or two of books I think will intrigue them (I won't list them here because my research into Fair Use Copyright Laws was a little confusing). After I give them my little commercial on each book (which I physically bring in for the day so they can see it), I pass out the passages. I find that being able to talk from personal experience really helps sell the process and of course makes my recommendation more genuine. 

Each group gets four different handouts and every three minutes they trade. If they are interested, they write the title and author down in their provided logs and it's up to them to find it at a local library on buy it (I have noticed a lot of kids will buy one book a semester and then share, which I LOVE!). If they're not interested, no skin off my back. Recently, I finally got it together and compiled the passages in a binder for the kids to look at when they need suggestions. I also created an in-depth table of contents that includes some genre information, in case they're in the mood for, say, a sci-fi book that's humorous or a coming-of-age novel that's modern. It's saved, so every time I give them new passages I can add to my list and simply print out a new table to replace the outdated one.

I was really surprised last semester when so many kids read the books I gave them passages on in this ongoing activity (I'd say over half of my 140ish students read at least one of the books they had seen a passage from). And, even better, they enjoyed them! I conference with each kid individually during the week before finals, and an added bonus of them reading these binder books is that I've also read them and can really converse with them (and see if they've read). 


  1. What a great idea! Since they can't read just anything, this sounds super helpful.

  2. Wow, this is super cool! I wish my schools had been this flexible about reading material when I was a student. I love that you have dedicated time for kids to explore such a wide variety of literature in class!