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Literacy Partners

Tapping into Kids’ Passions

Want to build a love of learning? Start learning what they love!

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I get a lot of recommendations from my students! Whether it’s during recess or dismissal, I’m always curious to hear what “awesome new thing” I’ve been missing out on. And without sounding too much like Amy Pohler’s character from Mean Girls, I don’t want to be a ‘regular teacher,’ I want to be a ‘cool teacher.’  

Getting to know your students actually serves a WAY more meaningful purpose than upping your ‘cool factor.’ When you have a strong pulse on their interests and passions, you can build a more engaged and choice-driven classroom culture. 

Here are a few ways to discover what your kids are into! 

  • Keep track of the book titles and writing topics they gravitate toward
  • Use a reading or writing interest survey 
  • Have lots of touchpoints with your students throughout the day 
    • Think conferences, morning meetings, and/or partner shares 

Now, let’s dig into a few ways to tap into your kids’ passions inside your classroom. 

Curate Your Library
After reading It’s All About The Books by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan, it finally clicked that my classroom library should constantly adapt to the changing needs and interests of my readers. If you want to provision your library with titles your kids can’t get enough of, keep these in mind as you organize:

  • Create library book bins by using your students’ favorite topics, genres, and authors 
  • You don’t have to have all the books out at all times! Titles should be cycled in and out depending on what kids are gravitating towards and what you’re currently learning. 
  • Order multiple copies of classroom favorites 
  • When new books are added to the library, highlight them to your entire class
    • Tip: I used to do  First page/chapter Fridays. At the end of the week, I would read the first page or chapter of a new book I was about to add to our library!

Demonstration Topics
Before each writing unit, I make a list of possible demonstration piece topics. Once I have around 5 to 7 options, I narrow it down to the 2 to 3 topics I know my writers are going to be interested in. For example, while generating topics for the How-To unit, I landed on how to make slime because my 1st graders were OBSESSED with bringing in homemade slime. 

Your demonstration piece should excite and inspire your writers! You will likely have students approximate your topic in their own piece.

Choice Units 
Developing choice reading and writing units is perhaps one of the most impactful ways to tap into your students’ passions. If our kids are constantly in a genre chosen by the teacher, some may never get to write what they feel like writing or in the genres they love to read and write in. Before designing your unit, decide on your objective and what you want students to take away. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Independent Writing Projects Unit: Lessons in this type of unit will be focused more on the writing process and using the strategies they know from these genres. This could be a 4-6 week unit focused on boosting writer engagement and stamina OR  you could have Fridays be a day where kids can work on their independent writing projects and they can keep a separate folder or notebook for it.
    • Mentor Text Study Unit: In this type of unit, mentor texts are used to study craft techniques and conventions. Once you discover your students’ favorite authors and genres, select texts that you can mine for teaching points. 
      • For example: If your students are obsessed with graphic novels, you can highlight craft moves the author uses to inspire writers to try them out in their own work. 
    • Writing Clubs: You can also set kids up in writing clubs once they decide on a genre so they can support each other.  Kids writing spooky scary stories, for example, will sit together and need narrative charts and resources.  Kids writing informational books will need information charts.  Kids writing poetry will need poetry charts.
  • Choice Book Clubs: When you know your student’s favorite topics, genres, and authors,  you can gather text sets that match their interests. Teaching points in this unit will focus on how to track and compare across different texts and structures. 

Book Recommendations

Take your learning to the next level with these book recommendations.

A Quick Guide to Reaching Struggling Writers, K-5 by M. Colleen Cruz
A Teacher’s Guide To Mentor Texts Grades, K-5 by Carl Anderson
It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers by Tammy Mulligan and  Clare Landrigan

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