The world is full of big challenges for the next generation. As educators, we’re in a unique position to teach our students how to turn those challenges into opportunities for change. A powerful way to inspire students is through literacy.
During a time when political and social issues were greatly affecting my students, I wanted to encourage them to read books that promote social responsibility. I started by curating a list of diverse books, and I’m proud to say this evolved into the Read Woke educational movement.
Here are 10 of my favorite social justice classroom activities that use diverse books to inspire students to take action for positive change.
1. Curate a list of diverse books
Start by polling students and teachers about social issues they feel are important. Then create your book list. Make sure to include a diverse selection of books that reflect the demographic of your school, as well as options, like Read Woke Books, which provide information about other cultures.
2. Encourage students to recommend books
Now that you have your initial curated book list, invite your students to add more titles. Encourage them to analyze their own favorite books for inclusion in your list. This is called “justifying a book.” A title becomes a Justified Book when it meets the 5 Pillars of Read Woke:
- Amplify the voices of people of the global majority (people who are of African, Arab, Asian, and Latin American descent and who identify as not white).
- Provide information about groups that have been disenfranchised.
- Share perspectives of people who have been underrepresented or oppressed.
- Challenge social norms and disrupt the status quo.
- Encourage readers to take action in their community.
3. Launch a Read Woke book challenge
I’ve had many reading challenge themes in the past, including Harry Potter and Grand Slam With Reading. However, in 2017, I decided to make the theme for our annual reading challenge related to something more impactful, and the Read Woke Challenge was born. It was a big success. Teachers even got involved, and circulation increased in our school library.
Once you’ve curated a list of books that matter to your students, determine prizes for the reading challenge. Simple prizes can go a long way to encourage young readers. At my school, when students complete the challenge, they win a Read Woke t-shirt, a picture on our Read Woke wall, and a free book.
4. Plan a book-themed fashion show
One of the most popular events at my school is a book-themed fashion show. Students dress up in their fanciest attire and feature their favorite Read Woke book list titles as they walk the runway. To make your fashion show even more exciting, consider asking local businesses to donate time and resources like refreshments and clothes to make your event special.
5. Organize community read-alouds
This is a twist on traditional community service projects. Reach out to local child care providers or retirement communities to see if your students can share age-appropriate books with local youth and elders. What better way to bring your community together than discovering socially relevant stories like these?
6. Play book Bingo
Use a site like My Free Bingo Cards to create a traditional grid for your students to gamify the titles on your Read Woke book list. You can also use Bingo games with squares marked with characters or authors from favorite titles. Book Bingo is a fun way to encourage reading diverse books in your classroom, as well as a way to help students track their progress.
7. Host a game night
Host a trivia night based on the Read Woke books students have read, and invite families to participate. Alternately, you can have a game day during class. Between Kahoot, GimKit, and classic Jeopardy game builders, it’s almost too easy to turn your students’ favorite books into a little friendly competition with social justice classroom activities like these.
8. Plan a book tasting
This takes the idea of a book pass to a whole new level. You can even invite families to your book tasting and offer food and beverages. Everyone at the event gets to “taste-test” an assortment of diverse books. During the event, you can offer suggestions or help students make connections to genres or authors they might not have considered before. This simple graphic organizer, created by library media specialist Lindsay Cesari, is the perfect companion for your book tasting.
9. Create inspiring music, artwork, or poetry
Not everyone needs to create their own music video, but my students had a lot of fun doing it. What can your community of creatives put together? Can your young musician or artists work on something to express their love of reading socially conscious books? If you have poets or rappers in your midst, offer a space for them to use their creativity to share what your school is doing to promote social change and literacy.
10. Make posters or PSAs
Read Woke is, ultimately, a call to action. When the movement started, we were happy for the chance to discuss these issues with students. When we learned how other young people were working for change, the students at my school were ready to take a stand, too. Find out which social issues speak to your students, and be their guide. If you’re looking for simple social justice classroom activities that encourage action, have students create posters or PSAs to address the issues that are important to them and share them with your community.
Fill your library with diverse books
Want to introduce your students to more diverse books? Read Woke Books was created in partnership with Cicely Lewis, the Read Woke librarian. Inspired by a belief that knowledge is power, these books help students examine tough topics facing our society—from gun violence to immigration. Through these books, students learn how problems developed and hear from underrepresented persons involved in these struggles. Reflection questions help readers challenge their perspectives, while an activism toolkit and a Read Woke reading list empower readers to make a difference.