For many this year, school will be virtual, so Read Across America will be too! Here are some idea for how to celebrate safely.
School celebrations and traditions may have changed but the importance of keeping readers motivated has not. Books and stories are tools children need now more than ever to discover themselves and understand that the world is far richer and diverse than just their experiences alone.
Here are some ideas to foster fun and bring exciting virtual and appropriately physically distanced experiences around books to your classroom, school, and community.
Reading aloud with students looks a little different in an online classroom, but it is still an excellent way to connect with and engage students. You can read to kids “live” or create a video of you reading for them to watch. Try to take advantage of what your technology offers. For example, with Zoom you can screen share an ebook so students can see the pictures and words, but they can still see you reading in a thumbnail video. Be sure to record yourself reading “live” in case there are students who are unable to attend meet-ups. Recorded or live, your read aloud can be lively with fun backdrops, props or costumes. You can even have a pet join your sessions!
When you’re sharing chapter books, plan to recap what has happened in the book at the start of each live session by having students take turns sharing what they remember. For older students, book talk a number of potential titles and let kids choose the book you read aloud. Or add First Chapter Friday to your calendar, reading aloud the first chapter of book to get students interested in reading the title on their own.
Many publishers have extended permissions for read alouds and recordings of their titles, but you should always check for any copyright restrictions.
Having guest readers share books with students is a great activity any time of year. And the calendar is rich in opportunities for hosting special guests who can read aloud and talk with students about the role reading plays in their lives. Add new faces to your virtual classroom by offering opportunities to parents and community members to sign up to read aloud with your students. Consider partnering with a local senior citizen organization for potential readers, or see if your school or public librarian can read.
Traditionally, Mystery Readers are special guests who come to your classroom—after a mysterious build up—to read aloud to students. Mystery Readers can be parents, grandparents, older siblings, school staff or other members of the community. Schedule virtual Mystery Readers! These guests can read aloud to students during synchronous time together or record a video to share. Build up suspense by asking Mystery Readers for clues about themselves and share these with students throughout the week so they can unravel who will be reading with them next. Try using polling or forms to share clues and get students engaged in the guesswork.
Deepen student enthusiasm for both reading and writing with a virtual author visit! Many authors and illustrators are offering opportunities for virtual visits with students. These might be short 15-30-minute interactive sessions or up to an hour for longer discussions or activities. Author visits go best when students have read their books in advance and, if appropriate, have prepared questions.
Most authors have an online presence and can be easily contacted via their websites, social media, or through their publishers—try reaching out to school and library marketing departments. Here are a few places to start:
A book talk is just a short presentation about an awesome book to get readers excited and interested in it. You can record yourself or give a live book talk or ask your school or public librarian to offer virtual book talks. You can also have students give book talks. That way students get to learn what their fellow students enjoy reading. Book talks work best when they can be conversational, with questions asked and answered. Slides can also be developed and used to add visual interest and help provide structure.
A Slide Party happens when students prepare a slide presentation (Google Slides; PowerPoint) on a topic of their choice and share it with others on a videochat platform. Slides can be about a lot of things—students can create slides to introduce themselves, share interests, make a comic, teach others about something they are passionate about, or talk about a favorite book, series, or character in detail. Host a Read Across America Slide Party focused on sharing favorite books or sharing Mirror, Window, or Sliding Glass Door titles, based on Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s metaphor that literature can offer a reflection of one’s self (mirror), provides a view of someone or something else (window), and/or a means for a reader to imaginatively walk into another world (sliding glass door).
Slides are also great for personalizing the virtual experience and many educators have been using them to create Bitmoji classrooms and libraries. Encourage students to get in on the creative fun too and have them design their own virtual personal libraries using images, illustrations, and text.
Invite families to a physically distanced evening out of reading fun! As members of your community read aloud a variety of diverse books, live stream their read alouds on a large screen set up in the school or community center parking lot for families to enjoy from their vehicles. Have readers use props, costumes, music, or interesting virtual backdrops to make the stories come alive for your audience.
StoryWalk is a fun, physically-distanced activity that places a children’s story—a deconstructed book, page by page—along a walking route in your community. Developed by Anne Ferguson in Montpelier, Vermont, a StoryWalk combines reading a children’s book aloud while taking a walk.
To make a StoryWalk, you’ll need two copies of a book. Mount each page spread on cardstock and laminate with a heavy weight lamination. You should also create a “Welcome” page that explains how the StoryWalk works and includes the front cover of the book. Depending on where you set up your Read Across America StoryWalk (library or school grounds, park, trails, or storefront windows along main street), you’ll also need wooden stakes for each laminated page spread and heavy duty adhesive-backed Velcro to attach them. Window installations can be secured using suction cups with clips or removable wall-safe tape.
Your StoryWalk could also feature student writing, photography, and artwork rather than published works. Find more StoryWalk ideas and how-tos at Let’s Move in Libraries.
Book fun, physical activity, and physical distancing all in one! Take advantage of empty parking lots or sidewalks and chalk up (or paint, duct tape) a path that gets kids hopping, jumping, spinning, balancing, marching, dancing, and zigzagging. Your chalk walk could include a variety of steps and directions based on literary references from fairy tales or folk tales, like Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters; be focused around books that really move, such as Barnyard Dance or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt; or be an inspired interpretation of a title like Firebird or Jabari Jumps.
Want more ideas for how to celebrate Read Across America? With a little imagination, these ideas from last year can be adapted for socially distanced readers.
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