Get Caught Reading: Sharpen Your Literary Focus

Create positive reading experiences that will foster a long-term love of reading.

By Elijah Ammen

I Love Books

If I had a dollar for every student who told me they hated reading, I could retire right now. As a teacher of remedial reading in East Nashville, most of my pupils come to me with exclusively bad experiences with reading. To them, reading is not an activity in itself, but rather a dull, frustrating means to an end.

As teachers, many of us have great memories of reading as children, and it’s easy to forget that others don’t have comparable memories. Most of my childhood was spent exploring the woods in my backyard where I would reenact the adventures of Robinson Crusoe or King Arthur; in contrast, my students grew up playing live video games with strangers on the other side of the world. Reading was a holistic part of my life, not something that teachers inflicted on me. This is why programs like Get Caught Reading are valuable—not only as a resource, but because they remind us that reading is not utilitarian—it is something to be enjoyed.

While Get Caught Reading Month is officially in May, the efforts of the organization continue year round. As schools head into the last part of the academic year, this may be a good time to refocus your literacy goals and provide motivation for successful summer reading. There are several stages of launching a literacy focus: hooking interest, helping with book selection, finding modifications for different learning styles, and tracking reading progress.

The following are a few things I have found helpful throughout the different stages of reading:

Hooking Interest

Get Caught Reading has a long list of statistics on the importance of reading, but it takes some creativity to get your pupils to realize that they are the students in the statistics. You can get state-specific information from the National Center for Education Statistics.

  • Share what you love: If your class doesn't see that you enjoy reading, then they won’t enjoy it either. While Get Caught Reading provides posters of celebrities who are “caught reading,” you, the teacher, are the most tangible example they will see. One of my favorite moments in the classroom is when I scrapped my lesson plan for the day and talked to my class about how much I loved the book I was currently reading. The ensuing class discussion regarding the protagonist in my book was better than anything I could have used from a textbook. Another trick I use is tracking my personal reading and sharing it with my classes whenever I have them turn in a reading log.

Selecting Books

  • Make sure reading is appropriately leveled: Independent reading should be challenging, but not too far above the student’s reading level. This is the most frustrating thing for a reluctant reader and the reason so many refuse to read. Differentiate your reading levels and teach pupils how to measure their own reading. Scholastic has a comprehensive search engine with reading levels and this lesson plan has an excellent log for self-diagnosing whether or not a book is on one's reading level.

  • Group students by interests and find texts that appeal to them: Harness the power of peer pressure by creating groups who read the same book and come together in literature circles. While literature circles are another topic by itself, this lesson plan is a great start for setting norms for circles and assigning roles.
  • Have useful library days, not filler days: Library days are usually the lazy man’s field trip. Have learners fill out an interest report as they search for a book, or make a few of your personal favorite books available for browsing. If you can’t get to the library, bring the library to you—have a book pass where each person gets thirty seconds to skim through a book, rate their level of interest, and then pass the book along.

Modifications for Students

  • Model an environment that can be used outside of your class: Most of my reading as a child happened in a tree. I can’t expect my class to enjoy reading in the same desks that they sit in for six hours a day. Be creative—if your classroom or library doesn’t have a comfortable reading area, find a place outside to go on a mini “reading field trip.” Even small things like ambient lighting from lamps or Christmas lights make a world of difference in your classroom.
  • Use adapted texts that are still academically rigorous: The academic purist rebels against compromising by using graphic novels, and for good reason—many graphic novels pander to the reader and lack rigor. However, it is vital to teach to multiple learning styles, and for visual readers, graphic novels help sustain engagement. No Fear Shakespeare does an excellent job of keeping rigorous text and the original setting while using engaging artwork. 
  • Find audiobooks to limit distractions: Some of my most challenged readers have problems tuning out background noise. Audiobooks allow them to focus, as long as you require that they are simultaneously following along in the text. If your library doesn’t have audio books, there are online sites like Librivox and Books Should Be Free that are dedicated to turning classic books in the public domain into audiobooks. 

Tracking Progress

  • Log reading without disrupting reading time: Reading logs are tough because pupils need to be held accountable without disrupting the natural flow of reading. One of the most creative resources I’ve seen is using a bookmark reading tracker. This first bookmark focuses on tracking vocabulary and literary devices, and this second one has readers respond to what they’ve read, along with an accompanying journal template for response after reading.
  • Offer a chance to share: There are a myriad of ways to structure reader responses, but the best way to promote individual ownership of a presentation is to give them choice. Using creative student responses allows each person to pick a presentation that he feels comfortable giving. It also allows those with different learning styles to present in the way they feel most comfortable.

In addition to formal responses, engage with your students on a personal level. Ask them about their book in and out of class. Encourage them to connect events in the story to occurrences in their own lives. Ask them why they are interested in the book they are reading and why they chose it. While you do that, share your own passion for what you are currently reading. Harness the influence of the most advanced reader in the room—you.

More Lessons:

Self-Assessing Reading Levels

Help learners to determine if a book is on their reading level by giving them a series of questions in a Reading Log Scoring Guide and using the answers to choose a book on their level. The Scoring Guide uses student-friendly language, and is something they can easily remember when choosing their own reading in the future.

Literature Circles

This plan is helpful because it maps out a long-term literature circle procedure for a classroom. There are also internal resources, such as an activity that has readers think through the different levels of a story--a very useful strategy for longer texts.

Bookmark Reading Tracker

A printable bookmark with a place to write vocabulary to look up, a list of literary devices, and a few reading questions. This is easy to use, and you can use the list of literary devices to connect your standards into the independent reading.

Bookmark Reading Log/Journal Reading Log

This bookmark has more space for response to reading questions, and the journal expands on those questions, as well as giving space for sketching what is going on in the story.

Creative Student Responses

This lesson plan focuses on choice--it sets a number of points needed, and then gives a long list of activities and the point values of each. Individuals choose as many activities on their independent reading as they need in order to reach the point limit.