Love Over Level: Building Lifelong Reading Culture

Ali Reykdal

Last year, I had a student who came in on the first day of school. I directed her towards the class vote for our first read aloud together. She gave me an iffy look, sighed and declared “I hate reading”. It felt like a punch to the gut and I instantly felt so sad that she was missing out on the joy of reading. I’ve always been an avid reader. I fell in love with stories by reading Amelia Bedelia with my mom every night before bed as a kid. One of my biggest passions as an educator is to foster a culture of reading love and appreciation.This is my why. Here is why I think it should be part of yours, too. 

Why do we need to care about students loving reading? We are in an age of constantly sifting through information. Students need exposure to reading so they are prepared for a lifelong analysis in media. [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7] Reading is also necessary for any student that is post high school education bound. Trade schools, colleges, and careers all require you to read.

Research shows that students who have a positive relationship with reading, will have overall higher levels of achievement. This is critical for building a generation of students that are college and career ready. We want students able to analyze, connect with and discuss rich literature. [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9] If we want students to be successful in academics, in life, we need to build a new culture around reading. One that is rooted in student choice and love.

Ali Reykdal (teacher) reads a story out loud to students as they sit around a rocking chair.


Here are some tips that I have used to instill a love of reading with my students.

1.     Let kids read what they want.

What? That’s it?! Doesn’t seem too groundbreaking, right? However,in today’s world I often hear people discussing their students reading solely based on their level and closing them into that reading box.  If someone made me read only at my level, I’d be stuck in academic laden vocabulary and thesis research. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to read young adult fiction or children’s literature (a personal fave!). All of these choices sound pretty boring to me. I can imagine it wouldn’t be long until I was daydreaming or avoiding reading altogether. Research indicates that student choice books are more likely to be read thoroughly and accurately. It instantly boosts student engagement!

Collage Picture 1: A form where students can suggests books for classroom library. Picture 2 shows two girls filling out form

How do I make this work in educational setting? I let them choose what they want with guidance. I explicitly teach students why they would want a “best fit” book and why they might want to choose books within their best fit. I do want them to reach their standard of reading grade level texts. Sometimes they need reminders, sometimes they need a little redirection, but usually with the freedom to choose they rise to the occasion. I see them grab a mixture of books that challenge them and books that they just enjoy. The best part, they are ALL engaged and motivated to actually finish books. I only teach leveled text during guided reading.

2.     Libraries – The biggest bang for your buck!

One way I demonstrate a love for all kinds of reading is to organize my library like a real world one, by subject, not by level. If we put kids in a box, they miss out on content rich material that stretches them and connects with them. It’s important to avoid organizing by “colors” or lexiles. Even in our school libraries, it can be important to keep books together and not organized by grade levels.

Classroom bookshelf with yellow tubs. Tubs are labeled and contain book genres or series titles.

To keep my library relevant and high interest, I give students a survey at the beginning of the year. I chat with them about their interests and try to keep an eye out for books that fit within them. I also let students suggest books that I can purchase or find for our library to keep it fun and fresh!

3.     Put books everywhere.

One of the biggest indicators of reading success, is access to books. Students with books at home are more likely to make growth in reading. If you give students books, they will read them. Put book boxes at their desk, in the car, , in the office, in the nurses office…everywhere! Allowing students to build the habit of grabbing a book wherever they are is a great way to instill a lifelong love of reading. This also applies to content areas within the classroom. Just because you are teaching science or math, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on implementing a read aloud or book into the lesson.

Collage of book bin in office, book bin in Nurse's room, and two students reading together seated.

4.Reading is the Prize

In the great words of Jen Jones (literacy guru, reading specialist, and ultimate advocate for student success over at @hellojenjones), “reading is the prize”. Ditch the extras! When you consistently assign points, prizes, logs and rewards or gifts to students it sends a clear message and takes away student motivation. You are stripping them of an opportunity for authentic enjoyment over text. Looking for  accountability? Read with them. Listen to them. Ask them how their story is going.

Conversely, reading is not a punishment. Making students read when they are in trouble for behaviors or taking away recess/fun time to read is not a great way to foster student love of reading.  When you show your children that reading is a punishment, they instantly think that it’s not something enjoyable and it becomes a negative experience. As educators, we want to build positive student experiences.

5.     Positive words, Positive Actions

Students and children, listen and watch everything! If students see you reading, they will want to read like you. I share what I’m reading with my students, and constantly show my enthusiasm for getting to go home and read. Small changes in the way we discuss reading within our culture, can make a big impact. It’s not, we have to read. It’s, we get to.

Two students sitting comfortably reading a book together.

Families and teachers can help set an example that reading is fun and part of their daily routine. Walk the walk and show them that it’s important. Any opportunity to build reading into time with children is a great way to build some quality time around quality experiences. These positive actions will be so meaningful, and students will seek to reenact those warm fuzzy feelings and will read more! It’s a win-win.

Were any of these tips familiar to you? How is your relationship with reading? What tips do you have to share for instilling a love of reading in your students? Share some ideas by leaving a comment!


  • College and Career Readiness
  • Common Core State Standards
  • Creativity
  • Educational Research
  • Literacy
  • Reading
  • Social and Emotional Learning
  • Student Engagement
  • Teacher Collaboration
  • Teacher Tools
  • Washington State K-12 Learning Standards
  • #WATeachLead
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.