Flashlight Fridays

As a teacher, one of my main missions in life is to introduce my students to the joyous world of reading.  I want to find that one book that hooks them and makes them realize how fun reading can be.  I want them to meet characters that they will still love as adults.

We know that they don't all come to us already hooked on books.  So I spend everyday recommending new books that they would enjoy, talking to them about my reading life, and connecting them with other students that love the same books that they do.  Along the way, I want to include as many positive associations with reading as I possibly can.  One very simple way to do that is to institute Flashlight Fridays into your classroom.


The first thing you will need, of course, is flashlights.  The colorful finger lights can work well, and can be found pretty inexpensively these days. However, I prefer true mini flashlights because the white light is more conducive to reading for longer amounts of time.  I started collecting flashlights a few at a time from the Target Dollar Spot, Walmart bins, and Dollar Tree.  I even made a drawer behind my desk labeled "Flashlights" that we can pull out and carry around the room while we are passing them out.



Each Friday, when it is time for silent reading, I walk around and pass out a small flashlight to each student. They know that is their signal to begin moving around the room and getting comfortable for reading.  It is just novel enough that they get even more excited about reading than they usually do.

The first time we use them, we have a little talk about the appropriate use of the flashlights.  I always give them about 5 seconds when we first turn out the lights that first time to shine them on the ceiling (because for some reason that is so much fun for them!) and then they know that their light needs to stay on their book, and never, ever in anyone's face.  It is amazing how intent on reading they become as soon as the overhead light goes out.

The first year I used this idea with my class, I was surprised to see something else happening.  The students that sometimes struggled to stay focused (no matter how hard they tried!) suddenly had an increased level of attentiveness.  With the lights out, the visual stimulation around the room practically disappeared.  With the other students excited about using their flashlights with their books, the incidental noises almost disappeared as well.  I do have several lamps in my classroom that I also turn on, which gives me a slightly better view of each student, and gives the students the option of sitting under a lamp if they prefer not to hold a light while they are reading.

Flashlight Fridays is really a small thing, that requires no extra prep on my part or unnecessary prizes for reading.  The reading is still the motivator, but the flashlights help them to focus, give them something a little extra to look forward to, and create positive memories associated with reading.  

Yes, Graphic Novels are REAL Books

"My mom told me that I should stop reading comic books and start reading real books.  I told my mom what you told us: that graphic novels ARE real books and I explained to her the difference between them."

Little can make a teacher's heart happier than hearing this from a student in your class.  I have made it my mission over the last few years to have an abundant (and always growing) graphic novel collection in my classroom, and to be sure that my students truly understand what they are.  Yes, there are similarities between graphic novels and the comic books that many of us grew up with.  And yes, when you search "graphic novels" on many websites, most of the search results pop up comic books instead.  There is a real misunderstanding about what graphic novels are and why they are beneficial to students.  Let's talk about a few of them.



1.  "Graphic Novels are just comic books."

Comic books come in a variety of forms and I certainly do not want to disparage them.  I am sure that there are many adults out there that discovered reading as a means to read their favorite comic books.  Reading comics IS a form of reading and I would never discourage a child from choosing to read a comic.  However, graphic novels are not the same as comic books.  Graphic novels are full novels, with accompanying graphics.  Oftentimes they are designed as an alternate version of a book.  My students cannot get enough of the graphic versions of some of the books that I grew up with: The Baby-sitter's Club, Goosebumps, The Boxcar Children.  They also love the graphic novel versions of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine novels.  The books themselves are written for students a bit older than my 4th graders, but the graphic novels allow them to access those stories in a way that is appropriate for them.  And that leads us to the next misconception.

2.  "Graphic Novels aren't real books."

As I discussed in the previous point, graphic novels are true novels.  There are many books out there that were written specifically as graphic novels, and have a complete story and just happen to also have illustrations to accompany the text.  My students are obsessed with anything that Raina Telgemeir writes (Smile, Sisters, Drama, Ghosts) and anything that Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm can put on our shelves (Babymouse, Squish, Sunny Side Up).  Even without the illustrations, these stories would still be engaging stories that my students would love.

What the graphics provide (in addition to incredible visual illustrations) are access to a story that may have previously alluded a child.  I cannot think of a teacher I know that has not hooked a child on reading through the use of graphic novels.  Last year I had a student that wasn't internally motivated to read.  He would read if I asked him to, but he rarely picked up a book if I wasn't standing near him.  One day I introduced him to the first Amulet book.  You would have thought that a whole new world opened up in front of him...and it did.  He read all six Amulet books, and when the seventh came in the mail on release day, it was waiting on his desk the next morning.  He read every graphic novel in my classroom and begged me to buy more on a regular basis.  He became our resident expert on graphic novels, and many that are in my classroom library now can be attributed to him.  A child that read one book during the first half of the school year, read more than thirty in the last few months.

Suddenly he was hooked on reading, and he had access to new worlds.  Now, when I have students that have previously not had access to the same books as their classmates due to their independent reading abilities, I immediately direct them to our graphic novel display.  The colors and illustrations catch their eye and hold their attention.  They are able to finish books more quickly than they have previously so they feel like rockstar readers and incredibly proud of themselves.  Suddenly they are able to read the same books as their friends and they are able to join in on book conversations.  Those shared experiences have created friendships in my classroom that were not there before.


3.  "My child/student shouldn't be reading so many graphic novels.  He/she needs to branch out."

While it may sound like graphic novels are a bit of a gateway book, leading the way to other books, that is not always the case.  Oftentimes students fly through the graphic novels in my classroom, feeling successful and accomplished in reading for the first time, and move onto other, longer novels.  I cannot count how many times this has happened in the last few years.  However, graphic novels are not necessarily something that they leave behind and move on from.  Since graphic novels are true novels with engaging, memorable characters, they always remain part of the reading repertoire.

If I had a student that read nothing but graphic novels, I would be thrilled.  That means they are reading, and they are enjoying what they are reading.  How can I ask for anything more?  Eventually they will discover other series and books that they also enjoy and will begin to read them as well.  As they move through the grades and through their life, they will be introduced to many new worlds and characters.  Reading graphic novels now does not mean they will never read the book that you hope someday they will love.  It just means that they are reading.  End of story.