Expert Contribution

Encouraging a zest for reading

There’s an episode of Full House where Michelle thinks her bike was stolen. Danny, her dad, thought he found the bike outside the library, so he took it. Turns out it belonged to another girl, who was now experiencing PTSD about going back to the library. She had “lost her zest for reading.” Danny murmured, “She’s zestless?” 

The way we teach English classes can make students lose their zest for reading. I’ve always been an avid reader, yet I hated English classes when I was a student. Each year we’d read about two to three books that were trite or boring, or worse yet, long. They were picked out by adults who thought we should gain something from them. Most times reading was as painful as paper cuts. In short, we were zestless. 

Teaching my 6th grade English classes this year, I had some eye-opening experiences. First, I determined that two to three books a year is way too few. So I increased the number to fifteen in one semester. Picture that class period: “This semester, you’re each going to read at least fifteen books.” This was followed by loud groans, a few cheers, and a scared sob from somewhere in the corner. 

Second, they could pick whichever books they wanted. Now they perked up a little. At least they had some freedom in the matter. And this was good news for me who had recently acquired a book shopping addiction. We now have over 1500 books in our class library. We have no more room, but I don’t think that will stop me. 

Third, no book reports. Now the whole class cheered. Book reports aren’t exactly zest-inspiring. Instead, once a week, each student writes me a book letter, discussing the plot, theme, and lessons learned. 

Fourth, each day they get fifteen minutes to read in class. Providing time in class allows students to become interested in their book. When they love their book, they want to read it at home. 

The benefits of this have been amazing. Students beg for more time to read. Students give their peers book recommendations. They make connections to what we’re learning in class with what they read in their books. It’s exhilarating for them, and for me, because they recognize their growth, and then they want to read more. The 6th grade total for books read so far this semester is 410 books! 

When a prospective family takes a tour of our school, they will see a bunch of sixth graders with a book in their hands. Some of my students have even gotten their books confiscated by other teachers for reading during class instead of paying attention. That’s what I call zest! 

By Jennifer Oertel, Middle School English, History & Drama Teacher 

About The Author

Religious Education
Contra Costa Christian Schools
Contra Costa Christian Schools

For over 40 years, Contra Costa Christian Schools has maintained its original mission to Prepare the Next Generation with Christian values and a quality academic foundation. While the instructional strategies and curriculum have evolved, the core mission of serving families in the East Bay has remained the same. CCCS provides a high quality 21st century education within a Christian context that equips students for success, whatever they choose to pursue. 

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