As a fifth grade reading teacher, I am always looking for ways to develop, nurture, and encourage the love of reading in my classroom and school. With our state’s new reading initiative, I began thinking of ways to excite students to “Read to be Ready” in our school. How could I engage students of varied ages while emphasizing the importance of reading in our daily lives? Research shows that if we want our students to become better readers—they need to simply read. We want our students to read more, enjoy reading, and remember that reading builds vocabulary, fluency, and background knowledge. One way I encourage reading comprehension in my classroom is by leading read alouds. Read alouds allow teachers to expose students to more complex vocabulary and text, be a reading role model, and build knowledge required for success in reading. While I regularly lead students in read alouds, I knew I wanted to do more to enhance the love of reading.
Therefore, I decided to host an after school reading event that embodied the Polar Express theme, while focused on including read–alouds by teachers and stakeholders in our community. The event also included completing activities and crafts based on our books related to our winter theme of the classic book The Polar Express. As I presented my idea to fellow teachers and other stakeholders, they shared my enthusiasm and excitement and were eager to help out in any way possible to promote the love of reading in our community. We held our event, “All Aboard Our Reading Express,” at my school, Gordonsville Elementary, on December 8th.
To encourage participation, we sent notes home to all students explaining our special reading night, and I also advertised in our community to invite future Gordonsville readers to our school. To further increase the excitement, we invited students to wear their Christmas pajamas. Upon arrival, students enjoyed cookies and cocoa in our cafeteria with our principal, assistant principal, and Santa Claus. We gave students a handout explaining the literary stations and directions for the night and an express train ticket that was punched from station to station as they visited different literacy activities..
We hosted eight different stations for students with ages ranging from 3-12, and students could pick the four that were the best fit for them. Stations rotated every thirty minutes with the ringing of bells over the intercom to signal the change. At the conclusion of the night, students returned to the cafeteria if they had four punches on their ticket, and we concluded the night with door prizes for those students.
The night was a great success, with over 280 students and adults in attendance. We heard positive feedback in person and on social media, and some parents requested it to become an annual event. Some students were even crying on the way out because they said, they had “so much fun that (they) didn’t want it to be over.” Another student stated, this was his “favorite night ever!” It won’t come as a surprise, but I am currently planning a spring reading night after the great success of our first one to continue expressing reading is important and fun.
Laurie is a fifth-grade English language arts teacher at Gordonsville Elementary in Smith County and a 2017 Teacher of the Year state finalist. She is most proud of the way she holds her students to high expectations within a nurturing, supportive environment.