Camp Read-a-Lot

The Benefits of Camp Read-a-Lot

One of my favorite traditions in my classroom every year is our Camp Read-a-Lot day.  We work all year to develop reading habits and a love of reading, and this day almost seems like a celebration of that.  We know that we don't need a thematic day to love reading, but why not mix it up sometimes?  Why not create one more positive association with reading that the students will always remember?

Setting Up Camp Read-a-Lot in the Classroom

Each year I tell my students that they may bring a pillow, a blanket or sleeping bag, and one flashlight.  They always look at me slightly wary, as if they cannot believe that I am letting them bring all of these things.  What they don't expect is that I will go all out for our big day.  They don't expect to walk into the classroom and see a large tent, seemingly reaching the ceiling, taking up most of the space of our classroom library.

Our tent for Camp Read-a-Lot: It makes quite an impression!

You certainly do not have to go as far as I do to create a memorable day, but I do believe that the more out-of-the-ordinary touches that you can integrate, the more memorable it will be.  My goal is to create memories...positive memories and the kind that involve reading.  

In addition to the large tent, I also cover our classroom tables with plastic red-and-white checkered tablecloths and set out lanterns and cast iron skillets full of goodies.  If you can, create some type of campfire in the middle of the classroom.  If you can use lights to make it really glow, that is great, but if you cannot, simple construction paper also creates a great campfire look.  

The Structure of Camp Read-a-Lot in the Classroom

When the students first arrive, their mouths drop open and they realize that this is going to be a very different day.  I tell them that we will have a set number of students in the tent at a time (depending on the size of your tent - I typically have 6 at a time in mine) and that we will rotate throughout the day.  Rest assured that the tent flaps are always open and I can see into the tent from any angle so every student is always being supervised. I choose our first set of students to be in the tent, and everyone else finds a place to lay out their pillows and sleeping bags.  They gather the books they would like to read that day and get comfortable next to their friends.  The excitement just radiates through the classroom.

We lay and read for a while with our friends before I start passing out the first snack.  I love to gather a variety of camping-related treats for the day that also don't break the bank for me.  Typically the first snack I pass out is a small baggie of goldfish crackers with a couple of gummy worms thrown in.  Sometimes I staple a cute saying to the top of the baggie about fish and worms and the kids really get a kick out of it.  I typically give them some more time to read and discuss their books with their friends before we start having to leave for specials and lunch.

The first of our day's camping-themed snacks.

When we come back, I like to do campfire story time.  We gather around our fake campfire, turn out the lights, and get out a couple of flashlights.  I start out reading a scary story to the class and then I pass the flashlight over to another student.  We go around until several, or possibly all, of the students have gotten a chance to read.  My favorite books to read from at this time are the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books from when we were kids. The students love them too!  If you can, it is also fun to project a video of a campfire from YouTube to create the sound effects and lighting of a campfire.  Creating this ambiance is certainly something you could have going all day, or just save it for the campfire story time and nighttime reading.

As we finish and get settled back into our sleeping bags and I rotate students that are in the tent, I usually pass out the next snack.  This is often a small baggie of trail mix with a note attached that says something cutsie like "On the Trail."  We read until we have to leave the room again, usually for recess.

Later in the afternoon it is time for our nighttime reading.  The students get out their flashlights and I usually pass out those colorful little "finger lights" that you can buy in packages at dollar stores or other department stores.  The kids LOVE them.  We turn out the lights and the kids read by flashlight, by themselves or to a friend.  For some reason flashlights make everything more exciting!  Around this time I usually start making our last camping treat of the day.  Can you guess what it is?

Nighttime reading with flashlights and "finger lights!"

S'mores, of course!  Since our campfire is actually made out of paper, we simply make them in the microwave. Regardless, the kids still think they are pretty amazing.  Eating s'mores while you lay in a sleeping bag and read by flashlight is the kind of thing that creates memories.  

In Your Classroom

You certainly do not have to structure your day like I do mine.  In fact, you may have fantastic ideas of how to improve the day!  I would love to hear your new ideas.  If you do not have access to a tent (I borrow mine from my sister so it costs me nothing) then you can create your own reading areas in your classroom.  Drape blankets over tables to create tent-like areas or hang decorations on the walls of tents, campfires, and moons.  Anything out of the ordinary will be exciting for the students.

The most important part is to structure the day around reading.  Have the students read independently and with a friend, read aloud a scary story to the class with spooky expression, listen to you read fluently, and discuss books with their friends.  You could have your class write scary poems in the week leading up to Camp Read-a-Lot and share them by the campfire with the class in a modified poetry slam.  You could invite parents or other teachers, or even the principal, in to model fluency by reading scary stories to the students.  Float around to the various "campsites" (groups of students) and talk with them about what they are reading while you recommend new books when they finish theirs.  This year I plan to have computers set out for students to write reviews on our class book blog when they finish a book (more on our book blog in a later post!) 

If you center your day around reading, and you create excitement with sleeping bags, flashlights, tents, and camping snacks, you are sure to create engagement in reading as well.  What more could a teacher want?

Audiobooks in the Classroom

The Benefits of Audiobooks

My first experience with using audiobooks in the classroom was while doing a novel study with my 4th grade class.  We read The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis during our study of the Southern Region of the United States and I decided to try something new.  I had heard from another teacher about the fantastic audiobook, read by LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow and Star Trek fame, and thought we could use it for part of the book.  My students were immediately so enthralled with the story that we ended up listening to it throughout the entire story.

As we read, I noticed something I had never seen before.  My reluctant readers were hooked.  They couldn't take their eyes off the book pages as they listened.  When it was time to stop for the day, they begged me to keep going.  They talked about the story the rest of the day, and when they took comprehension quizzes, they got 100% of the questions correct for the first time ever.  For months after our novel study ended, they found a way to weave the story into ordinary conversations as often as they could.  For the first time, they felt confident about reading and couldn't wait to read something new.  As a teacher, it felt like a breakthrough.

The next year, I wanted to repeat what we had done the year before, but I knew it was time to integrate something more into my classroom.  I scoured library sales and garage sales for used, unabridged audiobooks of my students' favorite books.  I started researching the effects of using audiobooks with struggling and reluctant readers and found that many other teachers had found the same results that I had.  I knew I was onto something.  But how would my students have access to these audiobooks when I clearly didn't have dozens of CD players in my classroom?

My first haul of audiobooks after a library sale

Integrating Audiobooks into the Classroom

I turned to online sites like amazon and ebay and bought as many cheap mp3 players and SD cards as I could afford.  I transferred the audiobooks onto the players and provided them as part of my ever-growing classroom library, available for check-out along with the thousands of books.  The only rule was: the students had to read along with the book as they listened.  We talked often about the many ways this can help their reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension, and the novelty of using mp3 players to read really started the process of them finally buying-in.

I decided to put one audiobook on each mp3 player so that they could easily be checked out by individual students.  I labeled each player with the name of the book and kept them in an organizer with small plastic drawers, which were also labeled.  

The audiobooks are available to any student of course, regardless of reading ability.  While I have talked about the benefits for struggling and reluctant readers, there are certainly benefits for our advanced and motivated students as well.  Here is just a sampling of the potential benefits of using audiobooks in the classroom, for all readers:
  • Increases engagement through the novelty of using technology
  • Supports progress in reading fluency by modeling fluent, expressive reading
  • Introduces students to new words they were not previously able to read
  • Increases comprehension of the story by both listening to and reading it simultaneously
  • Stimulates confidence in students that previously felt unsuccessful or unmotivated in reading
  • Creates excitement in the classroom through shared experiences and trying something new
  • Provides students with access to books that they would have previously been unable to read independently
  • Encourages students to try new books that they would not have tried otherwise
As teachers, we are always looking for new ways to engage our students in reading and to improve their fluency, accuracy, and comprehension.  In my classroom, I have found audiobooks to be an invaluable resource that addresses all of these common concerns and more.