Creating enthusiasm for reading is one of the greatest things a school can do for its students. Well-planned Literacy Nights, where parents attend with their children, can boost that enthusiasm enormously. As a picture book author, I’ve had the opportunity to attend numerous literacy events at elementary schools. Some were a raging success, and others fizzled. I’ve paid close attention to what I feel worked and what didn’t. Without naming any particular schools, I thought I’d share my observations.
Ideas that Worked :
1. Cheap Dinner: Serve a free dinner at the school to start off the night – such as hotdogs and chips. The most recent literacy night I attended offered this cheap hotdog dinner on a first come, first-served basis. The response was overwhelming, and the school was packed. Food, especially food based on a literacy theme (see themes below) will draw more people to the event.
2. Attendance Prizes: Prior to the evening, announce that there will be prizes awarded for the classes with the most students who show up. Awards could include a brand-new book for their class library—or an ice cream sandwich party on a later date. That night, have the students sign in under their teacher’s name at the entrance.
3. Bring in an Author (or several): What better way to get kids enthused about reading than to invite an author to your school? An author can have a tremendous impact on students by demonstrating that books are written by real people. Even reluctant readers can connect with a book in a personal way when they meet the author. Authors can serve as mentors to students. A book signed by an author can be a powerful souvenir to encourage reading. To learn more about arranging an author visit, click here.
4. Entertainment: Is there a local magician or band that could perform at your event? Perhaps they would donate the performance or reduce their fee for the cause of literacy. Make sure the entertainers somehow tie-in their act with books and reading.
5. Good Advertising: Send the students home with fliers well in advance, and make plenty of announcements. Set-up an automated call-out to the parents. Make a school-wide announcement timed just before the final bell on the day of the event…”Don’t forget…tonight is Literacy Night and it’s going to be SO FUN, tell your parents!”
6. Students Performing: A sure way to get parents to a literacy event is to have their children scheduled to perform that night. Could you create a mini-play based on a book the children have been reading? What about arranging a children’s choir to sing some songs that could start off the night?
7. Theme with Costumes: I’ve seen this done several ways and every time it drew an enormous crowd. One was “Spooky Literacy Night.” The school did a Halloween-themed event with trick-or-treating in the classrooms. Teachers who answered the doors were wearing costumes which went along with a particular book, and they took a moment to talk about it. Students wore costumes as well, and spooky music was playing. What a fun night! Another themed Literacy Night I attended was “Knight at the Museum.” The principal and teachers dressed as knights and fairytale characters, and held their event at a local children’s museum. You had to have a special ticket to attend, and the museum closed to the general public. It was a madhouse! Anytime a principal is willing to dress in costume for Literacy Night, kids will want to be there.
8. Writing Competition: Have students submit entries for a writing competition, to be judged by a visiting author or other volunteers. The prizes will be awarded at the literacy event. Entries could be stories or essays based on a theme.
9. Junior Author's Fair: Have students create their own "books" at their reading level. Teachers could spend time talking about the elements of a good story in the days or weeks leading up to the fair, by reading examples of good books to the class. Then have the children make their own books with or without illustrations. The finished pages could be put into binders with sheet protectors, or laminated, or put into folders. These books would only be worked on at school, and not taken home for homework. Then parents would be invited to the "Junior Author's Fair" where their child's book would be proudly displayed in an open-house setting, with goodies served. The children would be asked to read their story aloud to their parents.
10. Face-Painting, “Book Walks” and Games: Set-up a mini-carnival with activities at “stations.” Children could choose their own stations or rotate at certain times. Activities could include a coloring contest, book-mark making station, "write a letter to an author" station, puppet shows, storytelling, a reading station with headphones and books available, book-swap where kids bring books from home and swap with other kids, "fishing" for books, book-character charades, and a “book walk” where music is played and students win a book is always a hit.
11. Two-School Competition: I saw this work well for two principals who partnered up and created a competition between their schools. The school that met their reading goals first would be the winner, and the losing principal had to kiss a live pig. (Substitute your own consequence.) The students cheered with delight at this idea. Both principals had an assembly and “dared” each other at the beginning of the year, bringing the pig to the assembly. Then, the principals would occasionally visit each other’s schools to tease each other about their progress. The students were thrilled to watch the losing principal kiss a pig on Literacy Night. The loser wore big red plastic lips to kiss the pig. The students screamed with laughter, and both schools met their reading goals.
12. Turn your school into HOGWARTS! I just attended a literacy event where a school transformed itself into Hogwarts...the wizard school from the Harry Potter series! All the teachers and administration were dressed as wizards. Classrooms were transformed into "potion-making" (students made a homemade version of flubber), "story-telling" (visiting authors did dramatic readings--I read "Skeleton Cat" with rhythm instruments) "chess-playing" where kids learned to play chess, "physics" where kids did funny science experiments, and one special booth had wizards giving children their own individual wand (made from spraypainted chopsticks with beads and glue...google how to make wands with chopsticks) which was a huge hit. Kids could wear costumes or come as "muggles" (regular folks) with their whole families. A cotton candy machine, hot dogs, ice cream, Harry Potter music piped down the halls...some "mist" blowing around...it was amazing!
What Didn’t Work:
1. Unfortunate Timing: Scheduling the literacy night on a Friday before a long weekend, when many people were planning to leave town, left one school with a disappointing turn-out despite having news media coverage for their event. A weeknight may work better than a Friday night, because many adults make weekend plans. Make sure there isn’t a conflicting event in town, like a local high school championship football game.
2. Poor Advertising: Young children need frequent reminders, and a fun or unusual gimmick (like the ones above) to make the upcoming occasion stick in their minds. Create an attention-grabber from the theme ideas below. Make “Countdown to Literacy Night” posters, and prominently display them. Be enthusiastic about your event, and the students will be too.
3. Atmosphere too Serious and Instructional: Remember the goal is to get kids excited about reading. Plan something lively. If parents and students are suspicious that Literacy Night won’t be much more than a lecture and a glass of punch, you won’t get a good showing. Create a super-fun association with books. Reading is a BLAST!
Literacy Night Theme Ideas:
1. Get Jazzed About Reading
2. The Magic of Books
3. Reading ROCKS! (Rock and Roll, or Pet Rocks as Book Characters)
4. Once Upon a Page
5. Wild About Books (Jungle, Where the Wild Things Are)
6. Bookworm Bash (Gummy Worms)
7. We (heart) Books – Valentines Day
8. Spring into Reading!
9. Chill Out with a Good Book (Winter or Ice Cream)
10. Fall into a Good Book!
11. Reading is an Adventure
12. Leap into Literacy!
14. Book Bonanza (Western)
15. Reading is a BLAST!
17. Blast into Reading
18. Books Ahoy!
19. Explore New Worlds – Read!
20. Books Spark Imagination
21. Imagine Yourself in a Book
22. Books EnLIGHTen Us [Lighthouse, Sparkling lights]
23. Be a STAR--Read!
24. Meet a Hero--Read!
25. Travel through Time—Read!
26. Dig into a Good Book!
27. We SCARE about Books! (Halloween)
28. Get Absorbed—Read! (SpongeBob)
29. Books Build Brains
30. Escape into a Good Book
31. Got Books?
32. Go Bananas Over Books!
33. Dive into Reading! (Water Sports, Under Water Creatures)
34. A Book will Lift Your Spirits! (Balloons)
35. The Sky’s the Limit with Books! (Balloons or Kites)
36. (We’re) Bubbly about Books
37. Find Hidden Treasures – Read a Book!
38. Thanks to Books! (Thanksgiving)
39. A Book is a Door to A New World
40. A Book is a Journey
41. Going BATTY over Books! (Halloween)
42. Reading ROCKETS our Imagination
43. Reading is COOL at our SCHOOL
44. Read and Succeed
45. Book Extravaganza
46. Books-Around-The Clock Sock-Hop
48. Pop into Literacy Night! (Soda POP, Popcorn, Balloon Popping Games)
49. School Days Book Craze
50. Book and Pajama-Rama (Wear PJs to school,etc.)
51. Books Give us Wings
52. Read –Around-the-World (Books/Foods About Different Countries)
53. I Feel the Need to Read
54. Books and Cooks (Kids bake their own goodies and bring to the event - name the treat after a book title "Harry Potter's Disappearing Brownies)
55. Children's Reader Theater (Classes do skits, plays, or operas based on books.)
56. Ye OLDE BOOK TRADING POST (Western Theme - Kids bring a book from home to trade with other kids.)
57. Literacy Luau (Hawaiian or Beach Theme)
58. Books-n-Breakfast Bash (Kids come on a Saturday Morning for doughnuts and storytelling.)
59. Reading is an Ocean of Discovery/Fun [Hanging fish, streamers, underwater scenes]
Share YOUR IDEAS AND GET A FREE SIGNED COPY OF MY BOOKS FOR YOUR LIBRARY! Help expand this Literacy Night idea list! Send more Literacy Night-theme ideas which aren't listed above (at least ten), or tell me about a literacy event that was a huge success. If I use your ideas in this blog, I'll send you one copy of COOL DADDY RAT, BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP, or THE MIDDLE-CHILD BLUES (your choice).