OK, picture this. It’s August, and you’ve just gotten your classroom picture-perfect for the new school year. You’ve worked hard to make sure your library has a little bit of everything—graphic novels, picture books, historical fiction, mysteries, biographies, nonfiction … you name it! Then, the end of the year rolls around, and you realize that some of your books are a bit dustier than others (biographies, I’m looking at you). Did those books even get touched this year?
It’s a classic case of bypassed books syndrome. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone, and we’ve got a secret weapon that can help. It’s easy, effective, and will have your students eager to grab those underappreciated biographies off your shelf. As teachers, we know that any reading is good reading, but some kids need a little encouragement to branch out beyond their 16th read of Dog Man.
Much like secret messages in a bottle you might find washed up on the shore, my Message in a Book strategy is the perfect way to inspire wonder. You’ll spark greater enthusiasm for reading and encourage your students to diversify their reading choices.
Setting it up
First, grab a stack of books (be sure to include some favorites and some that need a bit more love). Next, flip to a random page in the book and leave a secret message with a reward or encouraging note in the middle for your students to find. This can be as easy as writing or printing on a sticky note (check out my free printable template here!).
Once you’ve stuck in the message, put the book back on the shelf. And then the waiting begins. …
Soon enough, one of your readers will find the message, your big secret will be out, and the excitement will begin as your students will be motivated to find a Message in a Book for themselves. Knowing that these notes have been hidden throughout your library might just make your students pick up something they wouldn’t normally go for!
What about the page-flippers?
We know what you’re thinking: Won’t my readers just flip through all the books to find a note? Let’s be real: They might. Here are two remedies to help with that:
- When a reader brings you the note, hold them accountable by having a quick book chat. Ask them how they are liking the book and for a quick summary of what they’ve read so far. (Keep it casual to avoid it being a “gotcha” moment. Remember, we want them to enjoy reading, not be afraid of it.) If their response is along the lines of “The character who went to that one place was really nice,” you know you might have a page-flipper on your hands. Simply let them know that you are excited for them to continue reading, and for them to come back to you once they’ve read more. When they come back with more details to share, you could give them their reward then.
- Talk about the perfect time to integrate some SEL into your day! Have a quick lesson about integrity and model how it applies to this situation. As we all know, setting those expectations up front can save us a headache later.
Whether you tell your students the secret book messages are out there, or you let them tell each other once the first has been discovered, your students will be begging for independent reading time to never end. Consequently, you just might be pleasantly surprised at how they begin to diversify their reading!