Think about the last time you visited the cereal aisle in the grocery store. Did you choose something you know you like because you have eaten it before? Did someone recommend that cereal to you? Did you like the design on the box? Did you read the nutrition information? Or, did you walk out empty handed because you were overwhelmed by the options and couldn’t figure out how to make a choice?
Over the years, hopefully you have learned how to make choices. You learned that decision making is a process and there are consequences for your choices. The organic version of Frosted Flakes doesn’t taste as good but it has less sugar. You prefer Cheerios over Frosted Mini-Wheats but the jumbo box of Mini-Wheats is less expensive.
Regardless of the choice you make, if you have a purpose for making a choice, and if you are responsible for the choice, you likely feel ownership of the outcome.
Why choice matters.
The same phenomenon occurs when kids choose books. Kids need to have a purpose for choosing a book and they need to know how to make a choice before they can feel ownership of their decisions. Research demonstrates that engaging kids in choice drives motivation and motivation drives reading outcomes. This can only be achieved if kids are taught how to make choices.
Choice is a key pillar of Book Trust.
Choice, Celebration, and Consistency. These three key components of Book Trust are woven together to drive students’ motivation to read. And when kids who want to read have books that they are interested in reading, they read more and become better readers. This is what Book Trust is committed to—inspiring a passion for reading and life-long learning through book choice and ownership.
How do you teach kids to choose?
Great teachers explicitly teach children how to choose books and this instruction begins at an early age. Here are three ways teachers support kids in choosing books:
Teachers model aloud for students how to ask and answer the above questions as they are selecting a book. Having students identify their interests and having their interests drive their book selections is important. Kids are in the driver’s seat and come to understand the internal reflection process as teachers model the questions.
Just like Goldilocks found a bed that was too hard, a bed that was too soft, and a bed that was just right, kids can find books in all three categories. Developing readers need to learn that reading books in all three categories is important and that each category serves a unique purpose.
“Just right” books are the ones which are best for independent reading time, as kids should be able to read on their own and understand the content without getting frustrated.
“Too easy” books instill confidence and improve fluency and reading rates—and it’s fun to return to old favorites.
“Too hard” books provide the challenge and stretching that help kids grow as readers, and if kids have a lot of background knowledge about a topic such as Star Wars, they likely can read a Star Wars book at a higher level.
Five Finger Rule
One way to find a Just Right book is to apply the 5 Finger Rule. Teachers model this strategy with students by reading aloud a page in a book. If the teacher stumbles upon 1-2 words, it is probably a good choice for independent reading. If the teacher stumbles upon 5 or more words, the teacher can explain it might be challenging for independent reading but a good book for the student to read with someone else, especially if the student is interested in the content!
For those of you who have children at home, I encourage you to try these strategies with your developing readers. See if they are more engaged when they choose their books (while it is tempting to jump in and add to the process, try to sit back and see what happens when you equip your child with one of these strategies). They’ll likely surprise you with their reflections and assessment of book options. And while we may think these strategies only apply to children, I challenge you to apply these strategies to your own book selection process next time you are at a library or a book store. I wonder if you too will be more motivated to read the book you selected. Happy choosing (and reading)!