Encouraging Reading in Elementary Grades

Many years ago in the 1980s and ‘90s, my teaching colleagues and I at Washington School in West Caldwell, New Jersey were constantly finding ways to encourage the habit and love of reading. We had D.E.A.R. time, Big Books; write your own book, read to a friend, and the Scholastic Book Club.

Using Book Clubs

Founded in 1920, Scholastic offered a book buying opportunity in schools so kids could choose books to purchase for their very own. The book order came within the pages of news magazine called the Weekly Reader. The years I taught first, second, and third grade, we made a big deal out of the Reader, modeling reading a newspaper and discussing it with our “neighbors.” Then there was the perusing of the Scholastic book offer sheet that listed titles and prices of paperbacks, hardcovers, book packs.

We had class discussions as to which we could get for our classroom with bonus points. Students learned about the existence of a (teacher) veto vote by the teacher.

Those of you who are/were a teacher or know/live with a teacher, are surely aware that a good portion of expenditures for classroom supplies comes from said teacher’s pocket. We knew some kids were not going to have any money to buy books even with a low price of $.75 for some of the paperbacks. “Somehow” there was always at least one book for each kid in the class.

Some kids decided very quickly which books they wanted. They often ran up against a  (parental) veto vote again once they got home. Their money came back in envelopes or little baggies or sometimes just pulled out of pockets or dumped out of backpacks. Their order sheet with x’s next to the titles they wanted accompanied crumbled dollar bills, quarters, and lots and lots of pennies.

Make It More than Reading

I used it as a business/math lesson.

“Have you filled in the complete order sheet? You’ll need your first and last name here. Michael is not enough; we have three Michaels in class.”

“Have you consulted with your accountant buddy to make sure you have the correct total?” Each student had a partner to check and recheck the order sheet. You just know the future teachers loved doing that and entrepreneurs in the making were advising their friends which was the best deal. I admit I was not adverse to oohing and ahhing over certain books by extolling the economics of a purchase or the intriguing plot of the story.

All orders checked, they were clipped together with a class tally sheet, all monies going in one manila envelope for the teacher to complete the master order sheet and send off with a check to Scholastic.

A Volunteer to the Rescue

Continuing the tallying and ordering at home to figure totals, bonus points and rewards could have been tedious for some of my colleagues and me. We had had enough of penny counting in the classroom. Our relief and rescue came in the person of the kindly retired husband of my second grade colleague, Jackie. Glenn had a way with numbers.

Glenn would get the word that the book orders were ready and would visit our faculty lunchroom to gather all our class envelopes. At the height of his assistance I think there were seven class orders. I always remember him dressed as if he were going off to the office. Crisp shirt, pressed pants, silver hair neatly combed and glasses perched on his nose ready to review our orders or to answer questions.

I was always impressed with his seeming enjoyment of this task. “Well, you girls work hard and I can do this easily at home after I finish the New York Times crossword puzzle.” I came to appreciate his addressing us as “the girls” even though I was fervent feminist. From Glenn it was polite and courtly. That we fussed over him and extolled his talent for handling this job with such aplomb may have influenced his generosity with his time.

Several days later he’d return triumphant with our orders all tallied, bonus points noted, and the total amount we owed the Scholastic Book Club on a slip of paper, sometimes circled in red. The mailing date and expected delivery dates were marked on our classroom calendar. The calendar person for each day would report how many days left until delivery.

Make It Even More than Reading/Math/Economics

When the book order finally arrived, there was a private conference between the teacher and calendar person about how to craft “the books are here” announcement. Public Speaking 101. Some kids just plunked the Scholastic box on the their desk with a flourish. Others had a speech prior to the unveiling of the box. At reading time we opened and divided the kids’ orders. Labeling books with names was a priority. Classroom orders were also labeled. “Look want we got for our classroom from our reward points.” Then we settled in at desks, on the reading carpet, in groups of twos and threes, or in a solitary spot on a huge cushion to read. The absorption in the pages of our Scholastic treasures was as peaceful as gliding in a canoe on a placid lake.

In my teaching career, Glenn Martin shepherded the Scholastic orders of my second grade classes. Today orders get done online, tallies automatically set, your credit card taking care of payment. I don’t know if it would have been as much fun getting the orders ready without our lunchtime meetings with Glenn. All those years of Scholastic orders and not one error.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it.