5 Ways to Build a Reader with Minecraft

Do you receive book recommendations from Amazon.com? I am on their mailing list, and I enjoy reading which books they are selling to their teacher club members. Over the weekend, I read an email about books they recommend for children ages 9-12. I wasn’t surprised to see Minecraft books listed half a dozen times. Amazon is pushing these books because they are the books that many children want to read. Minecraft is HUGE for many of our students right now and we need books that relate to their interests.

Why Minecraft? Why do our students like reading these books? Over the summer, I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about Minecraft books in the classroom and their potential to engage readers in the reading workshop. If you’ve ever played Minecraft, then you get it. It’s a sandbox game that has endless possibilities. It is a game that can go on forever. Plus, it incorporates building, problem-solving, and magic. What could be better?!

Minecraft can be used in the classroom in many ways. Andrew Miller wrote an article for Edutopia called “Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom.” In addition, this link will take you to a great YouTube video about Minecraft in the classroom.

Here are 5 Ways that You Can Build a Reader with Minecraft:

  1. 516P5jSg5HL._AA160_Grab Reluctant Readers’ By Creating an Appealing Display – Fully embrace Minecraft! Your students’ faces will light up when they see a Minecraft display in your classroom. Whenever I put out Minecraft books, they are all gone by the end of the day! These displays are a huge draw for many of my reluctant readers who are fans of Minecraft.
  2. Get Some Minecraft Manuals for Minecraft Hacks– This is the first type of Minecraft book that my students ask for. They want to read the tips and tricks for how to play Minecraft. Students quickly move from these tip books to Minecraft novels.
  3. How’s it Going? Confer with Students about their Minecraft Reading– Many students who love Minecraft enjoy talking about the characters, the worlds that they are building, and the choices they are making. You can leverage students’ affinities with Minecraft and discuss the main character’s motivations, feelings, and development/change. You can also discuss setting descriptions and how the setting shapes the character’s decisions.
  4. Write about Minecraft in Reading Notebooks – Students will love writing in their reading notebooks about their Minecraft reading! All that great reading will lead to some good writing!
  5. Get some Minecraft Novels– My students love to read Minecraft books during reading workshop. I recommend getting some Minecraft books for your reading workshop. I’ve found that I have many reluctant readers who gravitate toward these books. You can find these books in the children’s section of bookstores. Be prepared. These books will fly off your shelves! Here are some books that I have on my shelves:

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Getting ready to do some good reading and writing over the holiday break, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about not chewing on the Christmas tree, and playing the app, Cookie Jam. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 


Importance of Picture Books in Middle School Reader’s Workshop

Picture books are essential in the middle school classroom. Each is a short story that has a heartbeat that Theme Chartmurmurs gently, waiting to be heard. My students sit in rapture listening, smiling, giggling, and nodding as they allow the words and illustrations of picture books to whisk them away to another place. Part nostalgic, part thought provoking, these texts teach in a way that can only be described as captivating.

Some say middle school students are too old to hear and read picture books. I say no one is ever too old.

Often time teachers, including myself, steer students toward chapter books during reader’s workshop, instead of encouraging picture book reading. Of course, this is so students can build their fluency and stamina by delving into plots that unfold over many pages. We may hear ourselves saying, “You must read a chapter book. No picture books.” I have often wondered if other teachers have felt the way I have after saying these words. I feel a twang of pain and there is a small voice inside my head whispering that students should always choose what they want to read, no matter the length of the book. After all, aren’t picture books just short stories? Aren’t they the texts we use to model reading strategies, locating literary elements, and building schema? Why would I steer my students away from them during reader’s workshop? It just didn’t make sense. I knew I needed to incorporate picture books into my reader’s workshop in a new way.

A week later, I had a plan. I decided that we would dive head first into a world of reading picture books.

When I told my students that they were going to read only picture books for a week straight, cheers erupted. They shouted with joy, saying they couldn’t wait to reread childhood favorites and books by beloved authors. Sprawled out on the floor, bins overflowing with picture books from my collection and the school library, my students read voraciously.

We called it the “25 Picture Book Challenge,” and each student set a goal of reading 25 pictures in a week. Even as we set the goal, I knew it might be impossible. But I couldn’t help myself. My heart beat quickly with the hope that each student would have 25 short stories in their repertoire of texts. I couldn’t help but feel giddy thinking about all the possible text-to-text connections students could make and all the plots, characters, and settings they would read about.

Delighted squeals of “I read 5 books today!” was music to my ears each day. Enthusiasm soared as the humming heartbeats of the picture books echoed throughout my classroom. Both my avid and reluctant readers enjoyed recording their book titles on their reading logs. Everyone was reading. The joy for reading was palpable, and my students and I looked forward to reader’s workshop each day.

My minilessons could have been about many different topics- fix-it-up strategies for comprehension, Themesgetting to know characters, thinking about conflicts and solutions. However, I chose to focus my minilessons on theme. I wanted my students to think about the big ideas in each book- focus on the central messages of the stories they were reading. Exploring theme with picture books was very satisfying. My students blanketed classroom charts with sticky notes about themes. We sorted their themes based on frequency, commonalities, and uniqueness. We categorized some themes, such as family, as “Broad Themes” and webbed them to brainstorm other themes such as “sibling rivalry,” “family traditions,” and “conflicts between generations.” My students made lists of book titles that related to common themes, and we noticed how different books had similar themes across different genres. It was the type of learning that I always hope to have in my classroom.

In the end, we toppled our goal. Our total reached over 2,500 reads at the end of one week. I rejoiced in my decision to incorporate picture books into my reader’s workshop. I knew I would never look down upon picture book reading in middle school reader’s workshop again.