Blog Post
5 Things Teachers Can Do To Improve The Classroom Culture of Reading

As an English/language arts teacher with over a decade of experience, I can no longer tell you how many students started off the year in my classroom declaring, “I hate reading.” In my early teaching years, nothing discouraged me more. But over time, working at schools with limited resources and incredible urgency to improve literacy, I learned from students the best ways to create a joyful culture of reading in schools. By the end of each school year (or often the first quarter!), more of my students reported enjoying reading more than they had in a long time. All it took was a mindset shift on the part of myself and my students, and a refusal to give up by meeting students as the readers they already are. Here are five things that teachers can do right now to improve the culture of reading in their classrooms:

  • Eliminate barriers to reading: This might be controversial to some teachers or administrators, but one of the best things a teacher can do to improve the culture of reading in a classroom is to welcome a wide range of stories. This means that audiobooks count as reading. Comic books and graphic novels count as reading. Poetry, plays, manga, novels-in-verse, and more are all valid texts for students to read. Too often, students are told that some things do or do not “count” as reading. Why? Because there are fewer words? Because there are images to go along with it? Because they are listening? Much of our young people’s lives are lived on the internet now, which is filled with audio and visual components that boost engagement. Why can’t our students also get this boost from the stories they read? The truth is that all stories regardless of format require critical thinking and deep levels of engagement for understanding. If we want all students to love reading, we have to start with what they love most already.

  • Eliminate stigma around reading: When students have told me that they don’t like reading, I always encourage them to consider this: perhaps it is not the act of reading, but the fact that they haven’t found the right book yet. A beloved librarian at my former school used to say that she hated certain foods and that if it was all she could eat, she’d never eat again. But give her a wide range of foods to try, and you would never hear her complain about eating ever! And the same goes for reading. If you haven’t found the right book yet, that’s perfectly normal. That does not mean we need to throw out an entire experience, but it means we have to keep searching. Because not every book is written for every person, and so it’s our job as educators to help young people find the stories that do speak to them.

  • Eliminate language around “good readers:'' For many students, they’ve internalized messaging that good readers read fast, always finish books, and love everything they read. But this isn’t true! Naming this reality for students is useful, but modeling it is even better. As teachers, it’s so important that we are open with students about our reading lives. That means we should share with students about how we go through reading “droughts” (or periods where we get very little reading done!) or how we don’t finish a book because it bores us. We should share our excitement when we find the right books, and how it can be hard after to find something that lives up to it. Modeling the many experiences of readers is a great way to undo some harmful messaging young people may carry with them. This also means letting students abandon independent reading books without shame. If you find a student who constantly abandons books, make it an opportunity to meet individually with them to coach them towards the most engaging text for them. But for many students, fear of being seen as abandoning books may make them stall out in the wrong stories when the right stories might exist on another shelf! Let them know, “It’s okay to try something new.”

  • Read. A lot. This, perhaps, is one of the hardest and most important things that teachers can do to improve the culture of reading in the classroom. Teachers need to read. Read new books. Keep up with the stories that are coming out for your students’ age groups and demographics. For years as a teacher, I read 2-3 novels a week, partially for my own enjoyment but more so that I could become an expert book matchmaker. When you learn a student and you learn a book (or enough of a book to get a solid sense of it), there is such power in saying to a student, “I read this book and it made me think of you.” It takes a lot of time and energy to read so much, so I would sneak moments on my commute, on my lunch break, before bed, or even while students were reading their own independent books so that I could model for them and share my excitement with them about newly published books all the time.

  • Center joy. As much as possible, I encourage teachers to limit the paperwork proof (reading journals for example, which can be tedious for students and teachers alike) and instead center on-going daily active conversations between students and with the teacher about how their reading is going. Make time in the class period (even 10 minutes to start each class) to read together, give time for quick book talks with the class, and check in with students who might need support. I often found that students were the best at hyping up books to other students. Building that culture of joy means making meaningful time for kids to express their real excitement in ways that feel engaging to them.

Now more than ever, great stories are a shelf or a click away thanks to a boom in children’s publishing and sites like Storyshares, which can provide students with access to meaningful, relevant texts. But texts alone cannot do the work. Teachers can take small but powerful steps towards building a culture of joy around reading by meeting students where they are and helping them to create authentic reading lives.


Kate Fussner is a novelist, teacher, and accidental poet living in Massachusetts with her wife and dramatic dog. When not reading or writing, Kate can be found baking, spending time with her family, or singing her favorite musicals. Kate believes in the power of a good laugh and a good cry, and hopes her stories will provide readers with both. Her debut novel, The Song of Us, will be published on May 30, 2023 by HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books. 


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