Author Archives: scotton23

Book Bingo – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Let’s talk genre. What is it? Why should we teach it? How does it help kids read better anyway?

Genre is a French word that means a kind or category. The English word gender comes from the same root. The word genre (plural genres) is generally used for artistic works. Music has different genres, and so does literature.

That’s all pretty interesting, but why spend precious time teaching about different genres? Well, as a teacher, part of my job is to unlock the different academic disciplines for my students. I want them to think like historians and scientists and artists. Genres unlock the organizing principles of the discipline of literature. As students learn about genres, they come to a deeper understanding of how texts work. And that leads to deeper comprehension.

The first thing to teach is some basic vocabulary. All books fit into the main categories of fiction and non-fiction. Please don’t teach your students that fiction is stories and non-fiction is facts. Instead, teach them that fiction comes from the writer’s imagination, although it can be based in reality. Non-fiction is literature that focuses on real people and real events and reports them factually. However, a good non-fiction writer can weave a story into the facts that can make it just as compelling as the craziest fantasy story!

Fiction comes from the writer’s imagination. Non-fiction focuses on real people and real events and reports them factually.

I begin teaching genre on the first day of school. For more about that, read this blog post on how I get students engaged with books right away, and every day. Once students have some familiarity with genres, we play Book Bingo with the whole class. Feel free to use your own Book Bingo, or check out this one on TPT. The first time we play, I use the included Caller Cards to name the genre for students to mark. That builds familiarity with the different genres and helps students grow their vocabulary.

The second time we play Book Bingo with the whole class, I don’t use the Calling Cards. Instead, before we play, I go to my Book Nook and grab one book to represent each genre. As we play, I place the book under the document camera and students use clues from the cover, the blurb, and even the inside of the book to infer the genre. The resource on TPT includes this Recording Sheet so that you can keep track of the books you have shown your students and easily know if they have a Bingo!

The second version of the game has several benefits. First, students are using the characteristics of the genre to make inferences. That is great critical thinking! Second, you are introducing students to 25 books from your classroom library, and they often find one they want to read. After we finish playing, I leave the books on the chalk tray for a few days, and most of them disappear into the hands of my students!

It is great to have students identifying books by their genre, but it’s not enough. I also want students to read widely across different genre. Wide reading is essential for building background knowledge. So, the next activity I use is an Independent Book Bingo card. Each student has their own Bingo Card and Recording sheet, and their goal is to Read-a-Bingo. Once they have read a book, the record the title and genre and cross it off. Five in a row is a Bingo!

The first time I use the Bingo cards as an independent activity, I ask the students to read five picture books. That lowers the affective filter and helps all students feel successful. Reading five picture books across different genres is also a great way to introduce the genres to students. A high quality picture book is not a huge commitment, and is a great way to build background knowledge and also to expose students and help them learn which genre they really enjoy.

Book Bingo is a fun way to bring genre to life in your classroom. This video post gives you a few more tips on bringing it to your classroom. Happy teaching!

Book Pass – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a more Literate Classroom

Book Pass is a really simple idea to hook kids on books, and it’s perfect for launching your Book Clubs or for having kids do a Book Project. By the end of 15 minutes, every student in your class will have a book to read. But better than that, they will likely have one or two more that they would LIKE to read. And helping readers build a reading plan and live a reading life is one of our greatest privileges as teachers. Read on for the simple how-to!

For a Book Pass, all you need is one book per student and about 15 minutes. I use this strategy to launch Book Clubs, so I gather multiple copies of each title – usually I offer 5 choices for a Book Club. So, I need about 5 copies of each book. Arrange the books in a circle on the floor, putting the books in a repeating pattern. You want the books to be organized so that students will see each book but not preview a book more than once.

The students sit behind the books and begin by previewing the book in front of them. Remind them that good readers preview a book by looking at the cover, reading the blurb and opening the book and reading an excerpt. Set a timer for two minutes. In that two minutes the students are quietly perusing the book and asking themselves one question. “Is this a good book for me?”

Once the two minutes are up, students pass the book to their right. Then, they take their new book, and spend 2 minutes with it. Keep to a two minute timer. I’ve found that it is long enough for a student to get a good sense about a book but not so long that they get bored and start talking. 🙂

After 10 minutes, every student in your class has previewed 5 books. I then collect the books and pass out a sticky note to each student. On the sticky note they write their name and their top three choices, in order. Within a few minutes, I can sort through the sticky notes and most often can get a student their first or second choice of book. Just like that, we are ready to get started with Book Clubs!

If you would prefer to use a Book Pass to launch a Book Project, it works pretty much the same way. If you limit the choices for a Book Project and use a Book Pass to launch the projects, you get a couple of benefits.

  1. You don’t have to read 27 different books – just 5 or 6!
  2. Kids who are reading the same book can meet to talk and share ideas.
  3. Students will get excited about reading the books their friends are reading.

After the project or Book Club cycle has finished, I always make the copies available to the whole class. Intermediate students are a little like lemmings – if their friends are reading it, they are happy to go along and read it too.

Book Pass is a really simple strategy that helps your students find a book to read – you will hook them on at least one book, and maybe more! Try this strategy every month or so to expose your students to new books and keep them reading!

The Book Nook – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Every year my students walk in on the first day of school and are confronted with piles of books on their tables. And empty tubs. I put my students to work organizing the Book Nook (what I call my classroom library) on the first day, and for several days after that. Here’s why:

  • If the students come up with an organizing system, they will understand how to find the type of book that they like.
  • If the students organize the books in the first few weeks of school, they will be able to maintain that organization for the rest of the year.
  • Giving this task to students helps them feel ownership in the classroom, and especially, in the books.
  • This task is one of the best ways I know to teach kids about genre – something that is a pretty bedrock literacy understanding. For more ideas about that, check out this blog post!
  • This is a great strategy for Getting Kids Thinking About Books and also for Selling them on books!

This literacy strategy takes about 30 minutes on the first day, and then 10 minutes a day until all of the books are organized. The first day, students walk into the classroom (usually after recess) to find approximately 20 books on each of their table groups. My group size is 4-5 students, so that’s 4-5 books for students.

First, we gather on the rug to talk about what we are going to do with the books. I tell the students that they are responsible for figuring out how to organize the books in a way that will make them easy to find and easy to keep organized all year. Then I ask them, “What ideas do you have about how we could organize the books?” Often, no one answers. Sometimes, someone volunteers a way they have seen another classroom library organized. If they do give me an idea, I respond, “What do you all think? Will that help you find books and keep them organized?” I don’t endorse any system of organization because I want this to belong to the kids. Using a question focuses them on the criteria for success and builds that sense of ownership.

After a few minutes of discussion, I send them to their tables. I have chosen the books for each table purposefully. In each stack, there are different connections that students can make, and some books that may not fit together at all. I am deliberate in the books that I give to each group because I want to foster discussion and critical analysis of the books. How do these books fit together? Which books don’t belong?

For instance, if students found this book stack on their tables, they would probably notice that “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Witches” are both by Roald Dahl, and suggest book tubs organized by author. They would also notice that this stack has a significant number of historical fiction books: “Sarah, Plain and Tall”, “Across Five Aprils”, “Sounder”, “Our Strange New Land”, “Sophia’s War”, and “Big, Bad Ironclad” could all fit in a tub labeled historical fiction. But, “Ghosts” and “Big, Bad Ironclad” are both graphic novels, so maybe that should be a tub too. Once they noticed that, I would ask them, “Where should you put the books so that you can find them and keep them organized? Which label will be more helpful? Is “Big, Bad Ironclad” mostly a graphic novel or mostly historical fiction?” That question causes kids to critically analyze themselves as readers AND the book!

Once a group has found several books that belong together, I give them an index card and a tub. Someone in the group is responsible for making the label for the tub, which I attach with clear Contact Paper or book rings, depending on the style of tub. I don’t expect them to finish the label in the 30 minutes because I want it to be high quality. The student just keeps the index card with them until it is finished, and then we attach it together.

Of course, there will be books on the table that the students don’t fit into any tub. Before we complete the work for the day, I ask the groups to leave the tubs on their tables, with any books that belong in the tubs. Books that don’t belong should be laying face up on the table. Then, one student from the group stays at the table to explain the group’s thinking to the other kids in the class. Groups rotate around the room. As they do, students start to notice that a book from one table might fit into a tub on another. In this example, “Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls” would fit nicely in the Adventure Tub on another table. When students make those connections, I encourage them to take the book and add it to a tub.

To finish up, students bring the books that are organized to the Book Nook, and place any books that are not yet organized in a tub by my desk. There are always several kids who discover a book that they would like to read, and of course, they can borrow that for Independent Reading! The next day, we continue the process. I have a lot of books in my classroom library, so this generally takes us about 3 weeks. On average, the kids organize about 100 books a day.

This strategy definitely is a bigger time investment than some of the other strategies we’ve been learning about, but it really gets kids Thinking (with a capital T) about books AND it hooks kids and builds motivation. It is well worth your time! Plus, you get the added benefit of gaining time back because you won’t have much work to do to keep your classroom library organized. The kids will do it because they know how!

For more easy-to-implement ideas, be sure to check out the other blog and video posts in 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom. Happy teaching!

Image by Annata78 on Deposit Photos.

Book Chats – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today I want to talk to you about a really fun idea for connecting readers. Book Chats is a perfect activity for Back to School, and I use it when I want to strengthen connections and make new ones – for example, in January after the long break. To make this a no prep activity, grab my Book Chat resource from TPT. Just print and go or use on Easel!

The idea is simple – two readers interview each other about their interests and reading preferences, and then they choose books for each other! This is a powerful literacy strategy because:

  • Students make connections and talk about books!
  • It builds the idea that students should help each other find books that they will love. I’ve noticed that, weeks later, some partners are still bringing each other books!
  • As students are choosing books for each other, they often find books for themselves.

You will want to give yourself a little more than 10 minutes for this idea (I know, but still, it’s pretty quick!). I do this over two days, about 15 minutes each day. Spreading it out helps keep my Book Nook from getting too congested and it helps me fit it into a quick moment during the day. Here are the steps. Feel free to click each step if you want to read practical tips for bringing this to your classroom.

Students interview each other.

I usually spread this over two days. So, Day One, the first person interviews their partner and then goes Book Shopping. They try to put two or three books in their “shopping cart” for their partner. They present the books to their partner and explain why they think it’s a suitable book for their partner. You can purchase my Book Chats resource on TPT and use my Student Sheets, or create your own!

Students use what they have learned about each to choose 2-3 books that their partner will enjoy.

This can be tricky for some students and easy for others. One pitfall is the student who wants recommend every book. That student is having trouble discerning, and they may need your help narrowing things down for their partner, and maybe for themselves as well. Lots of unmotivated readers actually suffer from reading too many of the wrong books.

The shopper presents the books to their partner and tells them why they think they are a good fit.

This is the heart of the activity. As students are presenting to each other, you will hear a buzz of excitement in the room. Kids are discovering new books and new friends, and it’s a good moment to be a teacher!

The shopper is responsible for putting away any books their partner does not want to read.

Be sure to have the shoppers do the re-shelving. In theory, they removed the books from the shelves and should put them back!

And that’s it! It should take about 30 minutes total for kids to connect over books, but the connections they make to each other will last far longer. With a small commitment of time, your students will make some new connections and find new books to love. Grab your copy today and use it tomorrow!

Watch the video for more tips and a clip of me modeling the strategy with a fifth grader.

Nab Some Non-Fiction – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

In yesterday’s post I reviewed five essential fiction picture books for starting the school year right. The CCSS calls for equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction in the intermediate grades, and that means picture books too. So today, we will dive into five essential non-fiction books for starting the year right. These are books that I have used multiple times and they each offer a different insight for the beginning of the school year. Again, the links are to Barnes and Noble or Amazon in case you need to add any to your classroom library.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau Book for Kids, Children's Ocean Book, Underwater Picture Book for Kids)

Manfish by Jennifer Berne

This is a truly marvelous book about an amazing pioneer. I read this story to students every year to launch my Writer’s Workshop. To get the FREE lesson plan, click here!

The book follows the life story of Jacques Cousteau. Not only was he an intrepid pioneer exploring the sea, he also had deep interest and knowledge in inventing, writing and film making. The writing is lyrical and the illustrations are vibrant. You will love this wonderful biography and your students will be inspired by him too.

The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery from History

The Mary Celeste by Jane Yolen

This book by the same author as Encounter is a beautifully written account of a true story – the disappearance of the Mary Celeste in 1872. The mystery has NEVER been solved, and students will have a blast keeping track of the clues and trying to solve the mystery. The last 2 pages of the book give 6 popular theories, but no one knows which one, if any, are correct.

When I read this book, I ask students to try to solve the mystery. It is an illuminating peek into their inference skills. Plus, it’s such a terrific read and it will fly off the shelves as students puzzle over the illustrations and continue to try and solve the mystery.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It

Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak

This book is full of charming illustrations and amazing facts about the human brain. It clearly explains how the brain grows and changes over time, and how mistakes are an important part of that. This is a perfect book to launch a growth mindset classroom. Your students will be stretching their brains in no time!

A Second is a Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins

This is a delightful book about time and perfect for launching the beginning of your time together. The book begins with all the things that you can do in a second and continues through a minute, and hour and so on until you reach a full year. And, it rhymes! If any of your students are still working to sort out time, this is great for them. But I like to read it and then do a little dreaming together. After reading the book together, we work through the Hopes and Fears protocol as we think about the year we will spend together. I learn a lot about my students, they learn about each other, and most importantly, the students start to feel some ownership in our classroom.

Unstoppable by Art Coulson

This is a biography about Jim Thorpe, an unstoppable Native American athlete. This story will really grab your athletes, and all of your students will resonate with the story of the underdog defeating the favorite. Many students will also resonate with Jim Thorpe, a young man who didn’t find school engaging. As I read, I watch the body language and listen carefully during turn and talks. The book and our discussion often open a window into how my students are feeling about school. At the beginning of the year, that information helps me build relationships with my students.

There are so many amazing picture book biographies in addition to the two I’ve mentioned here. Bringing non-fiction picture books into your classroom will help you meet your standards and expose students to new content, different perspectives and interesting ideas. And, you can do it in about 10 minutes!

Five Fiction Picture Books to Start the School Year Right! – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Why use picture books in the intermediate classroom? Won’t the kids think they are babyish? Well, that might have been true once (although I could make the case that it was NEVER true), but in recent years, authors have been putting out some amazing picture books aimed at older readers, and even for adults. A high quality picture book has sturdy paper, brilliantly colored illustrations and engaging text. I use picture books in my classroom all year long. Here is why:

  • I can read them in about 10 minutes!
  • They are easy to reread. I often read a picture book for one purpose, and then revisit it for another purpose.
  • The pictures help carry the meaning of the story and provide important scaffolding for ELLs and students with low language skills.
  • Students love to reread them. A picture book doesn’t feel like a major commitment. Even in fifth grade, some students feel overwhelmed by reading chapter book after chapter book. High quality picture books can fill a gap and give students a little rest while still keeping them reading!
  • Students need to be exposed to a wide range of non-fiction, and picture books are a great way to bring that into the classroom. Over the 25 years I’ve been an educator, content standards have narrowed considerably, and it is causing students to be less engaged in school. I don’t blame them! Picture books are a great way to widen their horizons and help them find topics and content that interests them. I meet required reading and writing standards AND engage students in interesting content at the same time.

Following is a list of my favorite fiction books for starting the school year. Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post to get the list of my favorite non-fiction picture books for back to school. I will read all of these books to my fifth graders in the first month of school. There is a lot of junk out there, but I promise, these will all be great reads in your classroom too! Links are to Barnes and Noble in case you need to add any to your classroom library.

Odd Velvet

Odd Velvet by Mary E. Whitcomb

This book was published in 1998, and I have probably read it to a group of students every year since it was published. There is plenty here for all ages.

The main character, Velvet, is odd. It’s not just her name, it’s everything about her. She doesn’t have fancy clothes or a big box of crayons, and she doesn’t even like talking dolls! Then, using just eight crayons, Velvet wins an art contest, and the kids begin to see her with new eyes.

This is a lovely story for the beginning of the year because it is a story of learning to accept those who are different from ourselves. As you are building your classroom community, it’s a terrific message to send.

I use this book to launch my Graffiti Wall every year because the language is so marvelous. Be sure to check out the blog post and video where I explain how to do that!

Enemy Pie (Reading Rainbow Book, Children's Book about Kindness, Kids Books about Learning)

Enemy Pie by Derek Munsun

It’s shaping up to be the worst summer ever. Jeremy Ross has just moved into the neighborhood, and he is public enemy number one! When the protagonist (who is not named) explains this to his dad, dad instantly gets it and helps hatch a plan – to invite Jeremy Ross over and feed him enemy pie. Dad makes the pie, and all the boy has to do is spend one day being nice to his enemy. As the boys spend a fun day on the trampoline and in the tree house, the protagonist realizes that Jeremy isn’t so bad after all, and he warns him not to eat the pie – the act of a true friend!

This is a wonderful book to share with kids at the beginning of the year and talk about friendship. What makes a good friend? How can making assumptions about someone stop us from noticing their good qualities? Your kids will love the fun illustrations (by the same illustrator as Odd Velvet!) and you will love the way the discussion moves your classroom community forward.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein

Chances are, you will have at least one perfectionist in your class this year – one student who is afraid to take risks because they might fail. Chances are, it will be one of your highest performing students. This book is for that student.

Beatrice Bottomwell is known far and wide for never making mistakes. She never forgets her homework, she always makes a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the perfect amount of jelly, and she has won the city talent show three years in a row. She has fans waiting to greet her as she heads to school each morning. When she slips and falls carrying the eggs for a muffin recipe, she catches the eggs before they break. She is perfect! But she can’t stop thinking about her Almost Mistake. And she is so afraid of making a mistake that she won’t join her friends as they play on the frozen pond after school.

The night of the school talent show comes again, and everyone, including Beatrice, expects that she will win. But, her juggling act goes awry, and Beatrice finds herself standing on stage, covered in water, and trying to figure out how to handle the situation. That’s when the book becomes so perfect for the perfectionist. Beatrice laughs. And the audience laughs with her. What a wonderful way to handle utter humiliation!

This book is a really great model for handling life’s difficulties, whether students are perfectionists or not. Again, read this early in the year and have conversations about handling failure. If you make failure fine for your students, risk taking will be much more likely in your classroom.

The Other Side

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

This book is told in first person by a young, black girl. As you can see in the cover art, she lives on one side of a fence, and a little white girl lives on the other. Both girls are warned not to go on the other side of the fence because it is dangerous. Eventually, the girls realize that there is no rule about sitting on top of the fence, and in that middle ground, they meet and become friends.

Woodson has such a lovely way with words, so you could easily read this book just for the language. But, it is also a great book to read and discuss the artificial barriers that keep people apart. You can easily bridge to the artificial barriers that likely exist in your own classroom: race, class, language, economic status, cool kids… I have always found that bringing up those issues early in the year before too many problems arise is the best strategy for preventing them from sidetracking your classroom community. This book will help your students find their own middle ground.

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler and Kevin O’Malley

This is the book I use to introduce my Reader’s Interest Survey. Be sure to check out the blog post about how I do that, and grab the Reader’s Interest Survey on TPT!

Miss Malarkey is determined to find each student a book they will love before the end of the year. The main character is pretty sure she will fail. After all, he hates reading. Maybe you’ve met a student like that….

One by one, his friends and classmates all get bit by the reading bug. But the main character remains completely unimpressed by books. Undeterred, Miss Malarkey keeps trying as he comes up with one reason after another to dislike her picks.

I think you can see why I love this book for the beginning of the year. I tell my students that I am just like Miss Malarkey. I am going to get to know them really well (starting with the Reader’s Interest Survey) and I am going to help them find books that they love. This book opens that door and starts to build our relationship around books.

As June rolls around, Miss Malarkey has gotten to know each of her students, especially the main character, very well. That knowledge of her students helps her find the perfect book for him. She gives him one, final book, hoping to hook him, and she does!

Using picture books in the intermediate classroom opens so many doors and helps you accomplish so many standards! I hope that these books, and the others that you will discover on your own, help you have a more literate classroom this year!

Graffiti Wall – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Graffiti Walls are a fun way to connect readers and get them buzzing about books in writing! This is another idea that I’ve implemented from Donalyn Miller. If you haven’t read her books, I highly recommend “The Book Whisperer”. You will come away feeling like you’ve made a new teacher bestie!

The idea is simple. First, you have to decide if you want a physical Graffiti Wall or a digital one. If you have a physical bulletin board, make sure it is easily accessible to kids and that you can store Sharpie markers nearby. The benefit of a physical wall is kids love to use the special markers (and you have to make sure they understand the markers are ONLY for the Graffiti Wall!) It is also really good to have the wall right there where kids can see it every day and be inspired by their friends’ quotes. However, it is pretty easy to fill the Graffiti Wall up, and I have never been good at changing the paper, which means my students run out of room on the Wall and then the momentum slows down while they wait for me to put new butcher paper.

The benefit of a Digital Graffiti Wall is that you never have to change the background. I used a Google Slide last year, and this year I am considering going digital with Padlet. More on that later (and be sure to watch the video!) The down side of a digital Wall is that you have to project it each day or somehow remind students that it is there, so it can lose its spontaneity.

Once you have chosen digital or physical, launching it with your class is critical. If you just tell them it’s a Graffiti Wall, you are likely to get lots of junk – little drawings, quotes that don’t make sense, crossing out and a big mess!

I launch the Graffiti Wall slowly, over several short lessons. First, I read a picture book that I think my students will love. One of my favorite books for Back to School is Odd Velvet. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you grab it! It is a simple picture book, and takes just about 10 minutes to read. I have used it in classrooms from kindergarten to fifth grade, and students always understand the message – Be Yourself. It’s a great message to send at the beginning of the school year. What makes it perfect for launching a Graffiti Wall is that it is chock full of lovely language that makes great quotes.

“…my father told me that, on the day I was born, the sun was just rising over the mountains, and outside it looked as though the world had been covered with a blanket of smooth, soft, lavender velvet.”

Odd Velvet

“Sure enough, with just her eight crayons, Velvet had drawn the most beautiful apple the children had ever seen.”

Odd Velvet

“Velvet was different. But maybe she wasn’t so odd after all.”

Odd Velvet

After I read the book, I put these three quotes on the board and ask the students which quote they think would be the most powerful to write on the Graffiti Wall. The first quote is powerful because of the poetic language. The second quote is powerful because it is the turning point in the book. The final quote is powerful because it is the message of the book. We talk about why each quote is powerful. Then, I tell the kids that any of those quotes would be great on the Graffiti Wall. Any of those three are reasons why they might write a quote on the Graffiti Wall. Together, we choose one and I have a student write it on the wall.

The next day, we review the three reasons you might include a quote on the Wall.

  • Poetic language
  • An important moment in the book
  • A quote that tells the message/theme

For the second lesson, I ask the students to think of other reasons they might include a quote. They brainstorm a bit, and then I ask them to grab a partner and a picture book and see if they can find a good quote for the Wall. They usually come up with ideas like:

  • Amazing facts from non-fiction
  • Funny sayings or events
  • A quote that would convince another reader to pick up the book
  • Something surprising (that doesn’t give away the ending)

After a few minutes we usually have some quotes. But BEFORE I let anyone wrote a quote on the Wall, we have a class conversation about length. Some kids can’t narrow it down, and want to write half of the novel on the Wall. As a class, we set some limits – usually landing from 20 – 30 words. Then, I give a few kids some markers, and they write quotes from the picture books that they read on the Wall. After two days of about 10 minutes each, we usually have 5-7 quotes on the wall.

The next day, before Independent Reading, I give each student a sticky note. I ask them to write one quote (but not their name) from their Independent Reading book on the sticky note. At the end of class, I gather the notes and stick them under the document camera. Because I am displaying them publicly and we will discuss the quotes as a class, I let the kids be anonymous. The students read the quotes on the doc camera (and there will likely be 12 – 15 quotes). We classify each quote – one pile for the quotes with poetic language, another pile for quotes about surprising events, etc. Then, I give feedback on a few of the quotes. Generally, students forget to include the title of the book on the sticky note, so I give that feedback. I might also need to remind students that spelling and handwriting are important. If someone can’t read your quote, they are not likely to read the book! Finally, I leave the sticky notes on the document camera, but I let the kids know that, if they want to, they can grab their sticky note from the doc camera and copy it onto the Graffiti Wall. Most of the kids choose to do that.

So, in three days, about 10 minutes a day, you have launched a Graffiti Wall. To maintain it over the course of the year, be sure to revisit it as a class periodically. If you notice that you are not getting many new quotes, give everyone a sticky note and ask them to contribute. Sometimes, kids just need the reminder.

Book Carousel – 30 days, 10 minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today I want to teach you about a simple way to get to know your readers AND to sell books! I call this the Book Carousel.

The goals of the Book Carousel are to get books into kids’ hands and to learn about your readers. As your students participate, you are watching and taking mental notes. Pay attention to which kid chooses the first book they encounter, and then follow up. Did they choose that book because it’s a good fit book for them? Or because they just wanted to get the activity over and done with? Or because they have no idea how to find a good fit book? The next day, follow up with those students and ask them if they are enjoying the book or abandoning it. Then, ask them why. Be curious about your readers, and never judgmental.

Other students will walk around and around and around, and never choose a book. Again, pay attention to that. You will learn the most about your outliers. If a student can’t commit to a book after 4-5 rounds, stop the music and have a chat. What is making this hard for them? How can you help? Ten minutes with this activity will give you LOTS of insights into your readers, and help you plan for instruction and match kids to books. Here’s how.

  1. Begin by choosing a few more books than you have readers. If I have 25 students, I generally choose about 30 books. Make sure you choose a wide variety of genre, reading level and length. Include non-fiction!
  2. Lay them in a large circle on the floor. This is the Carousel. Space the books a few inches apart.
  3. Get some music ready! (I usually stream Disney songs from Amazon Prime Music. I know they are clean!)

4. That is all you have to prep! I often use this as a transition, but it works well pretty much anytime you have 10 minutes. Ask the kids to stand in a circle around the books (you see that I put the books facing outward so that they can easily read the title and see the cover. BUT, they don’t get to touch the books YET!

5. Tell the kids this is a bit like Musical Chairs. When the music starts, they will rotate in a circle. When the music stops, they will grab a book next to them and spend one minute with it. Remind them that good readers look at the title and the cover, and also read the blurb on the back and open the book. In their one minute, they should take a thorough look and ask themselves this important question, “Is this a Good Fit book for me?” You have the freedom to define Good Fit in the way that works best for you. Some teachers ask kids to give themselves the five-finger test or check a reading level. I do not. I define a Good Fit book as one the the student feels interested in reading. That’s it. Once I read Shanahan’s research on reading levels, and I met Amy (who I will tell you about another day!), I knew that I needed to move away from reading levels. But, you may have other district expectations or ideas, and that is OK!

After students spent one minute with a book, they have a decision to make. Is this the book for me?

That’s it!

6. If the student decides that this a Good Fit book for them, they take the book, go to their seat and start to read. When they finish the book, they are responsible for returning it to its spot in the Book Nook. If the student decides a book is NOT for them, they carefully place it back in the circle. When the music begins again, they rotate to a new spot, peruse a new book, and hopefully find a Good Fit!

Generally, a few kids choose books on the first round. As I mentioned previously, these are kids to be curious about. Why did they choose a book so quickly? Was it really that easy?

Most kids go around 3-4 times before finding a book they want to read. Here are few issues to think through before you try this activity.

  1. How will you handle the student who comes to you after the third round, and asks to get the book they perused in the first round? This is especially tricky if another student has chosen the book in the meantime.
  2. What will you do with the few students who cannot, or won’t choose a book? There will be some, especially at the beginning of the year when you don’t know your readers well. How will you handle that after the 5th or 6th round?
  3. Will you require each student to walk away with a book?

I do require each student to walk away with a book. I ask them to make a 15 minute commitment to the book, and then to put it back in the Book Nook if they find they don’t like it. If a student asks me for a book that they perused in a previous round, I let them grab it if it is available. If not, I give them a sticky and ask them to write their name on the sticky note so that the current possessor of the book will know who to pass the book on to when they finish with it. However, they still have to choose another book today! Finally, if a student can’t, or won’t, choose a book, I try to be curious about that. They must choose a book, and sometimes, by asking open-ended questions, together we can find a book. Sometimes, as we chat, I realize that the fault is mine and I didn’t give them a choice they would like. So, we expand the search into the Book Nook until we find a book. But everyone MUST have a book!

So, that’s Book Carousel. I use this strategy once a month or so. It is a great way to get books into kids’ hands and keep them motivated to read. You also learn a ton about your readers, especially the kids on the edges who choose books quickly, or don’t choose! Doing this multiple times a year helps you notice changes in your readers and keep up to date! It takes 10 minutes and it feels kind of like a party because of the music. I hope you find this a helpful strategy. Happy teaching!

Using Reader and WRiter Interest Surveys – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today we are going to revisit an oldie, but goodie – Interest Surveys. You may be thinking, “Oh, sure. I can do that in a normal year. But this year? When there is so much learning to get done? I don’t really have time for that.” Or, maybe you are thinking, “Well, I have this curriculum that my district requires, so the kids don’t really choose books, so why waste time finding out what they like? They still have to read the required books, whether they like them or not!”

Well, both of those are fair points. This year, especially, with the disrupted learning due to Covid, we have so much catching up to do. And, if your district requires certain books, kids’ choices may not seem relevant.

My question back to you is this. “Is building relationships with your students important to you?” If you answered yes, read on! This is a great strategy for you! This strategy is a Getting to Know Your Readers strategy, and you will be amazed at how it moves the relationship with certain students. Just the fact that you want to get to know your kids as readers and writers will be important for some students. For some, that is not an identity that they own. For some students, this might be the first time anyone has given them that label – and that can be powerful. To say to a student, “I want to get to know you as a reader and writer,” is to give them that identity. What a gift!

If you have a curriculum that doesn’t allow student choice, you still need to know what your students enjoy reading and writing about. You can bring in read alouds that match their preferences, and buy new books for your classroom library according to their taste. You can tweak writing assignments to be more student friendly and to fit students’ writing territories (be sure to download this FREE lesson plan about discovering your students’ writing territories!) And you can bring in picture books and integrate with Science and Social Studies in ways that match your students’ interests.

I use the Readers’ and Writers’ Interest Surveys differently, so let’s start with Writing. For me, the purpose of the Writing Interest Survey is to get kids writing. My resource on TPT includes two versions of the survey. I generally give one about the second week of school. The first week of school kids usually have lots to write about because of the kooky way I give them their writing journals and because of the Writing Territories lesson. But, but Week 2, some kids have run out of ideas. That’s where the Interest Survey comes in.

As you can see in this portion of the Interest Survey, students simply connect with their emotions about different topics. There are two different surveys, and each includes 11 topics, so you find out what your students think about 22 different topics. When students connect with emotions, their writing becomes more powerful!

It takes students no more than 10 minutes to read through the topics and make their choices. But what you do next makes a huge difference! Don’t collect them. Instead, ask the students to put them in their writing binder or journal. When you have your first Writing Conference with your student, start by asking them to show you their Interest Survey and the writing they’ve been doing about the topics on the Survey. It will be the easiest conference you’ve ever had!

The second Writing Interest Survey is great to whip out mid-year, or whenever you notice that several students are running low on ides. Another great way I use these is to have students interview each other about each topic and find out what other students feel about specific topics. It can create some great connections and bonds in your classroom.

The last page of the Writer’s Survey is great for the end of the first week. I like to give these on Friday and spend the weekend reading through them. I get so much great information from these, and it helps me know my students’ strengths and weaknesses right away.

The Reader’s Interest Survey uses the same cute graphics to ask students to record their feelings about specific genre, and also asks students questions about their life as a reader. This is double-sided, and students generally need 15 – 20 minutes because of the fill-in-the-blank. But, the extra few minutes is worth it because of how well you will get to know your readers!

I collect the Readers’ Surveys and take them home to read through them. Then, I meet with each student to talk to them about their responses and learn more about them as readers. It is so much fun to spend that time with them in the beginning of the year. I start this the first week of school, and I usually conference with 4-5 students a day during those first few weeks.

So, there are two easy to use strategies that will help you Get to Know Your Readers. Be sure to check out the other blog posts in our series so far, and watch the video for more insights on using surveys in your classroom.

Happy teaching!

Miss Rumphius’ Writing Territories
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Bring a Book to School Day – 30 Minutes, 10 Days to a More Literate Classroom, Part 3

You’ve heard of Bring-Your-Kid-To-Work-Day, right? Well, this is pretty much the same thing, but kids are bringing books to school. The idea is a really simple way to connect readers around books.

This idea builds on yesterday’s idea of using Book Talks, and this is usually the first time kids do a Book Talk in my classroom. I generally use this idea about the 3rd or 4th week of school, and then once or twice more throughout the year.

When I launch the activity, I bring in a picture book that I loved as a child, Miss Suzy. This book is one of the earliest I can remember loving, and I share with the students why I loved that book when I was a child. I chose this book on purpose. It is not a flashy new book, it’s pretty battered and old looking, and something that I have owned for years. By bringing a book like that, I make it OK for kids who don’t have the latest, greatest books, and maybe only own a few books. Any book that they have a story about is fine to bring in. Be sure to check out the sample parent letter that I send home to explain this to parents.

This book, published in the 60’s, was a favorite of mine when I was about 5.

So, what kinds of books do kids bring in?

  1. Books they loved as a child.
  2. Books they love now.
  3. The last, really good book they read.
  4. The last, really terrible book they read.
  5. A book they hate.
  6. A book that they connect to.
  7. A book they would like to read but haven’t gotten to yet.
  8. Any book!

The point of this is for students to share stories about a book and build connections with each other. I once had a student bring in a family photo album. I thought that was great. She did a quick Book Talk about making the album with her mom, and lots of kids wanted to borrow her book.

Once the kids have brought in their books, divide them into small groups. Try to give students some choices about the groups so that they end up with other kids that they trust and can be vulnerable with. Because I only have 10 minutes a day for this, we usually need 2 days for everyone to give their Book Talks. Readers gather in groups of about 4, and two kids give a Book Talk each day. For this first Book Talk, I ask them to share the title, author and why they brought the book. Then, they ask, “Does anyone want to borrow my book?” If someone in the group wants to borrow the book, they have to sign the contract promising to bring it back in good condition. Some kids do not feel comfortable loaning their books, and that is OK. As long as they bring in a book and share a story, they have met the requirements of the task. That alone is going to help them build bridges to other readers.

This simple strategy is another way I get kids buzzing about books in my classroom. And, the more they buzz with each other, the more they start selling each other books – kind of doing my job for me! I encourage you to bring this fun day to your classroom! To help you get started, check out the FREE parent letter and student sheet on TPT. And be sure to watch this video for more tips on how to bring this to your classroom!

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