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Strategies to Help Children Choose Books Independently
Young children are repeatedly in a position where adults choose their books. Teachers and parents pick books with the best intentions, usually for reading development, but not always to develop a love of reading. When children choose books themselves they have an early advantage. The process gives them the opportunities to:
- make independent choices
- develop literacy likes and dislikes
- understand their own reading ability
- choose books for specific needs
Training students to be independent, the sooner they will recognise their reading preferences. As they get older, they will have strategies to determine the best material for their own academic endeavours.
You may find children choose books that are too hard or too easy but thatis part of the process. They won’t understand their own reading until they choose books that they can’t read or don’t want to read. Of course, very young children will not choose books to read independently but they can start the process from an early age.
Children who read for pleasure are more likely to be successful in school. Part of developing this success is giving them the skills to be independent. They are more likely to want to read a book they have chosen rather than a teacher or parent.
Choosing a good book can be an overwhelming task for many children. As teachers, we can guide them through the process. With a few effective strategies, it gets easier and becomes a habit for a lifetime. So, how do we help children make appropriate, independent choices? Here are a few strategies to help.
Strategies to Choose Books Independently
The first step is to find out what your students enjoy reading. Let them loose in your classroom or school library to see what they choose themselves. You may be surprised by the choices they make.
Have a quick chat to discover their thought process. You may find you have a class of fantasy lovers or who enjoy nonfiction.
- Did they pick the book from the cover (more on that below)
- Have they read it before?
- Did they pick up any book because they felt overwhelmed by the task?
Take note of any common preferences and interests to inform your read-aloud choices.
Teachers are influential in developing a love of reading in children. This means we need to promote their access to a varied selection of reading materials. For example, graphic novels and magazines can have as much impact on reading as traditional books. Find out more in the blog post 7 Different Types of Children’s Books.
Using the Front Cover and the Blurb
Do your student look at the front cover when making book choices?
Give your students time to explore books in your classroom or school library. Ask them to choose a book just from the front cover. What book covers interest them? Colourful, bold, realistic, fantasy, muted, animals, people, etc.
Once the children have chosen a book by the cover, teach them about the benefits of a book blurb. Even though the blurb on a picture book or an easy reader is small, there will be enough information for them to make an initial decision. Does the book still interest them? If so, get them to explore random pages to further gauge their interest.
Exploring the Interests of Your Students
Exploring books opens up discussions about a child’s interests. If a book doesn’t represent a child’s preferred genre(s) they will be less inclined to choose it. They will be more motivated if the topic is something they enjoy.
Ask your students questions for inspiration and help them narrow down their interests. Here are a few examples:
- Do they like scary or funny books?
- Who is your favourite character or author?
- Do they enjoy fiction or nonfiction?
- What kind of movies and TV shows do you like to watch?
- What type of books don’t you like?
If you are lucky enough to have a school library – take advantage! Libraries are full of fiction books, but they also carry nonfiction books for all ages. You will find books on every topic that a child gets obsessed with, including dinosaurs, transport, animals, sport and natural disasters. Adding non-fiction into the mix can be a game-changer for some struggling readers and make them more likely to pick up a book for pleasure.
Find a Book Series to Follow
Another great strategy is to find a book series students can get invested in. They will enjoy following the same characters through different adventures and benefit from knowing the book is a good fit.
The problem arises when they finish the series and find it hard to move on. Do some research of your own on different series so you have suggestions to offer. Some authors write more than one series which will help children move from one series to another.
Being unable to move from one series to another is a phase for some children. A book series can be like a comfort blanket, especially if they are struggling to integrate new reading strategies. You can read more about choosing new books here.
Understanding Reading Level and Ability
Part of the process involves helping children select a book that not only interests them but they can read. This involves a lot of trial and error and is a crucial part of the process.
The 5 Finger Rule is one way for children to gauge whether a book is within their reading ability. It is a versatile strategy and can be used with any reading material.
PROCESS: After choosing a book, students select a page at random and read it. When they come across a word they don’t know or understand they raise a finger.
- If they have 4 or 5 fingers up the book will be too hard.
- If they have 0 or 1 finger up the book will be too easy.
You can find out more about the 5 Finger Rule here.
Checklist of Questions
Ask your students the following questions to support them in making appropriate book choices. Encourage them to verbalise and explain their choices.
- What type of book are you looking for?
- Are you looking for fiction or nonfiction?
- Are you looking for something funny, scary, adventurous…?
- Does the book cover spark interest?
- Does the cover provide any clues to the theme of the book?
- Does the blurb make you want to find out more about the book?
- Does the topic or theme of book interest you?
- Is the book part of a series?
- Do you think you would want to read more about the characters?
- Do you know the author?
- Have you read any of their other books?
- Does the length of the book seem a good fit for you?
There are no rules for choosing a book, but these strategies help children make appropriate choices. Each child is different so they can determine the best strategy to help them discover the best book for their needs.
Reading should be fun otherwise what is the point! As children get older they will read for learning, but we don’t want them to lose their love of learning in the meantime. That’s why we need to embed a positive attitude while they are young.
I know I am preaching to the choir, but don’t push children to read what they are not ready for. You are only reinforcing the message that reading is a chore. When children chose a book they don’t like, they can put it back and choose another one. The goal is for reading to be about pleasure not forced enjoyment.
Reading should be fun otherwise what is the point! For children reading should be about enjoyment and entertainment. As they get older they will read for learning, but we don’t want them to lose their love of learning. That’s why we need to embed a positive attitude while they are young.
If you are a parent, I recommend using a library, so your wallet doesn’t get a big hit while your child explores their reading preferences!
What strategies do you use with your students to help them make good reading choices?