Great Educators Have Great Reading Lists

A synopsis from my Reading list

A synopsis from my Reading list

In this series I'm going to focus on ways that you can go above and beyond for your students, their families, and your professional identity. Once you've got your day to day responsibilities out of the way (lesson planning, assessment, classroom management, etc) there are things you can do and materials you can create that will really upgrade your overall instruction. This might be a reading list that pushes your students from GE into GT, or it might create ongoing activities that expand your pedagogical offerings past the standards and into genuine 21st century skills. In this post I'm going to discuss the reading list; Why having one is a good idea, and some great implementation strategies you can employ once you've got one in place. 

When I was going through my K-12 education I recall having a "summer reading list". These were books that my future language arts teacher picked out for one reason or another, and it was my responsibility to read all of the books on the list, or pick just a few. Essentially my only motivation for doing so was to prepare for the slim chance that this same teacher actually used the books as a jumping off point for their instruction. And since there was only a slim chance my future english teacher would actually use these materials, what I usually ended up doing was picking up the spark notes before all of the other kids in my class could. It's sad, because when I became an educator I started to think of ways to really leverage the idea of a reading list in ways that most of my teachers growing up did not or could not.

In fact, during my second year of teaching one of my more advanced students came up to me and asked what she could read after she finished the regular assignments. WHOA! what an opportunity, right? It was obvious that this young woman had a real passion for my content (biology at the time), so I took this rare opportunity to create a reading list filled with books that I thought would inspire her to think more critically than she would ever get from my day-to-day instruction and coursework.

Click this image to see my reading list

Click this image to see my reading list

What's my methodology for what's on the list?

I encourage you to click on the image above and check my reading list out. And, if you already have, here's how I decided what to put on there. 

1. A short synopsis of the book

The kind of thing you would get when you picked it up in a book store.

Make sure the synopsis is short, to the point, and engaging. And make sure it's something that isn't author-heavy, chances are they haven't read anything else by the author yet and this might be the only thing your students read if it doesn't interest them. 

2. "Why I like it" section

This is your chance to give your SHORT book review beneath the synopsis. I chose to add this as a means of describing how the book related to the content and why I loved it. You don't need this section, but if you've developed a relationship with your students then they're probably going to know why you think this book is a big deal. 

Here's an example of my "Why I like it" section.

Here's an example of my "Why I like it" section.

3. Click to buy

or... where in the library they can find it.

Alright, they like book and they want to read it, where can they go to get it? It's a good idea to include some kind of link or explanation of where the students can get the book. This will also force you to make your book list practical. If you put some rare, first edition-only book that was only published in sanskrit then it's not going to help your students. 

Checklist for creating a reading list

  • A list of books that you've finished (don't put books on the list that you've glanced at, don't remember, or haven't read for one reason or another)
  • Choose books that you're passionate about
  • Choose books that complement your instructional content (keep it related, no putting George Carlin's books on there "just because" - even though they're wonderful)
  • Make sure they're appropriately rated for your grade level - don't assume your values are the same as your student's families. 
  • Make sure they're within the reading level of the class you're teaching. One grade above or below is appropriate. (Don't put "Atlas Shrugged" on a reading list for second graders...)
  • Keep them interesting and engaging, nothing too high level or preachy. 

Instructional Implementation Strategies

You've got a reading list, now what?


Leveling up work for GT students

This one is obvious. Like the situation I described earlier, you're going to get out of this world students every once in awhile - or you're class is filled with them and you can't see it ; ) (which is more likely). You're going to lose these students fast if you aren't satiating their curiosity and igniting their passion to learn. And to make matters worse, if the content you're assigned to teach isn't compelling then this might be your only chance to prove that what you're teaching is really worth learning if you understand the true context in which they exist. For example, if you want to get students passionate about geometry (yay! shapes!) you're probably going to lose them a few hours (or minutes) into good ol' Pythagorus. If this happens, encourage them to read flatland... I promise, it will blow their mind. 


A way to build relationships with students

It's hard to really get to know your students sometimes. What books drove you to teach your subject? You can tell a lot about someone based on what books they read (or don't read). Give your students and their families this same opportunity to get to know you and why you got into teaching. 

Sharing your interests with PLC's and PLN's

Why stop with students and families? Get to know your colleagues by sharing your reading list with them as well. A culture of learning can be started by simply making book suggestions to your colleagues, and actually following up on their suggestions. These books can also inspire wonderful thematic units and team teaching across subjects. 

Keep doing what you love

You always loved reading, but since you've become a teacher you really don't have that kind of time anymore. Why not use the book list as a way of incorporating this passion into your profession? If your reading list is part of your job then you'll have no choice other than to keep going back to what you love. 

Start a book club

Book clubs are awesome ways to get students to read, and they can be great ways to work with colleagues or even extend the opportunity to parents and administrators. You can incorporate book clubs into your instruction or you can even start a club that gets together once a month to expand the reading list with books that the students loved (and why).

Encourage a culture of reading

The books that kids read in school aren't always fun to go through in class. When I was in high school my english class was reading Catcher in the Rye for the 50th time. Suffice to say, even if I liked the book I would have fallen asleep. What my english teacher wasn't aware of was that I was also reading Lord of the Rings, The Theory of Everything, and the New York Times. I read the latter because it compelled and engaged me in a way that the assigned reading didn't. In order to encourage a culture of reading - life long readers - you might want to diversify what your students are reading by making suggestions beyond the lesson plan. 

Blow standards out of the water with comic books

The Killing Joke is my favorite comic book of all time. It's written on a college-level and I blew through it in 7th grade. As teachers, we all know the standards are important and there are a million ways to cover them (especially the english standards). Ask your students what they're reading, and if they aren't reading, you might consider assigning them comic books. Now, I wouldn't assign them the Killing Joke because it might be a little rough for kids under the age of 16, but there are thousands of other options out there. You might even consider going to a local librarian for book suggestions if you're having a hard time. You can even go to the librarian with what standards you're having a hard time hitting and they'll probably offer you a wealth of advice.


That should get you started when it comes to creating your own reading list, or possibly improving/updating the reading list you already have. Please leave a comment letting me know what you think of the post, what strategies you liked/used and which ones I should add. Also, feel free to leave general feedback in the comments section, or reach out on Twitter

and remember to share, 

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Thanks for reading!

[header photo credit: Alice Hampson]