My Classroom Library Shelves went from Empty to Full . . . and Yours Can, Too!

My family took a big plunge five years ago, and made the decision to move from our placid, beautiful Central Oregon to Amman, Jordan. So much about Jordan was wonderful, but part of our decision to move away from our home, from Oregon, was about traveling the world. So after four years in Amman, we decided to move away from Jordan, to Managua, Nicaragua.

Between making the decision in January to move to Nicaragua and actually arriving this July, Nicaragua’s travel advisory from the US State Department went from level 2 to level 3 because of civil unrest, crime, and limited healthcare availability. Of course that travel advisory rating, combined with what we were reading in the news and hearing from people who lived in Managua gave us pause, and we carefully considered the choice we were making. Ultimately, we decided to move to Managua, and we are happy with our choice.

I share this background because I want to point out that while private schools often don’t share exactly the same issues and concerns found in public schools, private schools are not always utopian. Our school is wonderful, students are eager, teachers are welcoming and caring, and our facilities are beautiful. But with the current situation in Nicaragua, some families have chosen to leave the country, which ultimately means revenue from student fees is down, and the budget reflects that situation.

Everywhere I have ever taught has had budget concerns, public or private. I’m sure all teachers can relate to budget issues, which is why I bring it up.

Even in a time of budget concerns, my classroom library grew from empty shelves to full shelves in a matter of weeks, and it didn’t cost me an extra dime.

I walked into a nice, big, but empty classroom. The bookshelves were beautiful, but bare.

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Within a day or two of being in my new space, at my new job, in my new city of residence, I was having conversations with administrators and coworkers about how to build classroom libraries.

Our first step was to visit the book room. I think most schools have a book room, and in my experience they are full of books that are rarely in the hands of students for any length of time. We decided to gather a copy of each book for each of our five classrooms, and if a teacher needed one of those copies for teaching a whole-class-novel, we would give it to that teacher to use during that particular unit.

There were also books in the book room that were not being taught as whole-class-texts, and that weren’t available in high enough numbers to be used in that way. They might be titles that could be used in future book clubs, but we decided that getting these books in the hands of students sooner rather than later was the right choice, so they were distributed as well.

My classroom library was greatly improved by visiting the book room and reimagining the uses for all of the wonderful reads that could be found there.

I found some small white boards in the closet in my classroom and repurposed them as book displays so that I could highlight titles that might be especially interesting to my students. I think the same thing could be done using repurposed cardboard and printer paper, so I want to encourage others to use what’s available in order to highlight high-interest books. There are many other ways to focus attention on desirable titles, but sometimes simple is easiest.

After raiding the book room, it was time for step two. We checked in with the main library at our school. The shelves in our library were packed tight, full of great titles, and because shelves were so full, we had the ability to pull books out of the library and redistribute them to our classroom libraries.

Our librarian has spent the last several days pulling titles from the shelves and delivering them to our classrooms. Every other day or so, a basket of books arrives, and we never know what we are going to get. What we do know is that we will have more and more books as this process progresses. There will be additional books in our classroom libraries and more room on our school library shelves. Reallocation of resources is working in a very positive way in our school.

Once I received the books from the book room and the library, I implemented step three. I organized the books. I don’t think it matters how the books are organized, just that they are organized.

I categorized my books into the following sections, and used markers and printer paper to make my labels:

  • award winners
  • historical fiction
  • classics
  • mystery
  • fantasy and sci-fi
  • contemporary fiction
  • nonfiction
  • romance and other fun reads
  • “orphan” series books (books that are #2 or later in a series when the others aren’t there)
  • short stories and essays
  • poetry and verse

As you can see, I didn’t spend a dime on any books. I didn’t ask anyone else to spend any money, either. I used what was already in my school and simply helped to redistribute resources.

In some schools or districts, asking students to bring in books, applying for grants, and asking the parent-teacher groups to support classroom libraries will be great options. However, I wanted to share that sometimes, maybe often, classroom libraries can be built with what we already have.

What do you do to help build your classroom library? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments below.

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Four Ideas for Starting a Workshop Classroom with the Right Momentum

Beginning the year is fun and intimidating, exciting and daunting, full of possibility and potential, and fraught with road bumps that we haven’t even foreseen. I find that if I can set my classroom up with the right atmosphere and environment, and my students with deliberate routines and habits, the school year will be better for it.

Below are a few things I’ve prioritized in the last couple of weeks in order to help ensure a smoother school year.

  1. Anchor Charts

I have a few posters I like to hang in my classroom for students to reference on a regular basis. The Book Head Heart poster comes from Disrupting Thinking, one of the most useful professional texts I own. Even though we are only five days into the school year, my students have already started to reference the questions that are listed for each of the three categories. As they have read different memoirs, I have asked students to respond to their reading by choosing the questions they find relevant, and responding in their reader’s/writer’s notebooks. It’s been great reading over their shoulders and listening in on their conversations as they decide which questions and categories are most relevant to respond to.

The fiction and nonfiction signposts are also essential in my classroom. These posters come from Notice & Note Strategies for Close Reading and Reading Nonfiction, also by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. When I ask students to annotate texts, these are the best go-to ideas for students to annotate. After they have practice with these types of annotations, students start to personalize their annotations and figure out what works for them as individuals. But this is one of the best scaffolds I’ve found that helps students make their thinking transparent.

I also included a new anchor chart this year. It is inspired by Writing America, a book I picked up over the summer in preparation for teaching AP Lang. These particular questions refer to Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue, but I generalized the questions and I think they are probably good for all levels and a variety of texts.

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2. Reading Agreements

This is technically another poster, but I think the purpose is different enough that it deserves its own category. reading agreements

I had all of my students, grades 7, 11, and AP Lang, copy these agreements into their reading/writing notebooks on the first day of class. If they didn’t have a notebook, they wrote the agreements on paper, and then pasted that page into their notebooks later. It’s important for students to start to internalize these agreements right away so that we can get that good momentum rolling.

3. Book Talks

Students should feel like the reading agreements are realistic before they can internalize and believe in their ability to follow the agreements; it’s my job to ensure that students feel capable and confident. So on the second day of classes I took all of my students to the library, one class at a time.

I had been in the day before and pulled different stacks of books from the shelves, organizing my stacks roughly by grade level. I pulled some that specifically were geared toward middle school students, and then some for my regular eleventh grade class, and another stack for my AP Lang students. But some of the titles can move from stack to stack, class to class, student to student. I don’t worry about Lexile levels or AR levels or anything like that. I just look for high interest books for a wide range of readers. And then I talk to my students about them.

Students brought their reading/writing notebooks with them to the library and wrote their Next Reads Lists as I presented the books. The books were passed around so that each student got to hold, feel, peruse, read, and look at each one. After about thirty minutes of being inundated with a variety of genres, levels, topics, and types of books, students were instructed to check out at least one book they were willing to start reading.

Many students chose books that I had book talked, but many of them went to the shelves and found something else. By the end of each class period, my students were reading their new books, which was the goal, of course.

Now that they have had the “book talk jump start,” they can begin to authentically work on staying true to our reading commitments.

4. Classroom Library

I’m at a new school, teaching new classes, new students, in a new country this year. This means I’m also building a new classroom library. My new classroom was a blank slate when I walked in on the first day, which meant I got to get creative and have fun with it.

One of the first things I got to do was visit our school’s book room. Together, with colleagues and coworkers, we made a plan about how to respect what other teachers want to do with the books that are there as far as whole-class-novels and shared texts, but we also made a plan to distribute the underused books from the book room to our secondary English Language Arts classrooms. This quick process didn’t cost any additional dollars, respected the work of the teachers who have been here and had made plans for the school year, and also made it easier to get books into the hands of our students. classroom library

I placed the books on the edge of the shelves so they are easy to see and reach, and used small white boards to display titles more prominently. I’ll rotate these displays regularly. The captions I write on the white boards come right off of the books’ covers, so I don’t have to reinvent any wheels in order to try to drum up some interest in these titles.

None of these priorities will be a magic pill or a silver bullet; there is much more work to be done. However, I do believe that these four priorities work. They are strategies and tools that I have used in the past, that others have used, and that students have admitted themselves that they have benefitted from them.

What are some of your “must dos” in your classroom at the beginning of the year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

 

Five Ideas for Encouraging Summer Reading

When the classroom doors close for the last time until the fall, we teachers reluctantly relinquish our authority and influence over our students, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. We hope that our students will keep reading, will remember the community that was developed in our classrooms, and we hope they will transfer that community and the good habits in an authentic manner. There are no guarantees about summer reading, but we can at least try to set our students up for summer reading success.

My department was lucky enough to get a little more than an hour’s worth of face time with all of the students in our high school during the last week of the school year. The purpose of the time was to launch our summer reading program in an authentic, realistic-for-teenagers kind of way.

We had about an hour with each group (of about 40 students), and we wanted to provide an interactive, student-friendly experience. Instead of asking the students to meet us where we want them to be, we tried to meet them where they are.

#booksnaps

My brave colleague and friend @jtlevitt talked to our students about booksnaps, demonstrating both her willingness be vulnerable, and her willingness to meet students where they are.

She challenged our students to read, think, and then reach out to authors and to each other, using twitter and snapchat. Students responded with chuckles and enthusiasm as they watched her stumble through snapchat, but with interest as they realized they could continue and develop reading communities with this tool.

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We challenged our students to create small groups, using this app, with the deliberate purpose of supporting each other with their reading over the summer. Students connected with each other using their phones, which once again, is what teenagers already do. Our aim was to make a summer reading plan easy and natural.

book bingo

Our fearless colleague, Vicky, created a bingo page for students so they could talk and develop next reads list for summer reading.

 

The activity took around fifteen minutes, and it got kids talking to each other about titles, authors, books they love, and most importantly, books they might want to read over the summer. Some of the categories were: book in verse, graphic novel, book about food, and so on. The categories aren’t important. What’s important is that students are talking to each other about books, and are discovering their own curiosity about books they hadn’t already known about.

book tasting

Book tastings were another fun activity. Students once again had to get up out of their seats, make some choices, and talk to each other.

My esteemed colleague, Phil, selected several (a couple hundred?) books and set them on the surfaces of the shelves in the library. He instructed students to get up, choose a book, and learn as much as possible in a minute or so. Students then shared the books with each other – about four students per group – and had their phones close by so they could add titles to their next reads lists.

Summer Assignment

The final activity in our session was to revisit the individual reading lists for the summer reading assignment.

summer reading
The summer reading plan includes a combination of clear expectations and flexibility.

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Students had previously planned their summer reading, but were given the opportunity to modify their plans based on the new books they had just discovered. Since all of the English teachers were in the room, any modifications could be approved and encouraged.

Summer reading can be delicate and dicey, to be honest. I am encouraged that some students were really excited about new titles they had just discovered, or were looking forward to finally getting to some books that had been on their next reads lists for a while. But I’m also worried about the students who still struggle to make time to read during the school year. I know that with the freedom of summer comes a lot of choice, and sometimes students choose not to read. My hope is that with the encouragement of teachers, friends, and peers, along with a healthy dose of excellent book choices, our students will continue to flourish and grow as readers. My heart is with them, even if they no longer report to my classroom.

Student Choice and Accountability in a Summer Reading Plan

We all know that summer reading is important, but it’s hard to ensure that our students will continue nurturing their reading lives over the summer break.

Our department decided to try something new this year, and give a summer reading assignment to all students in place of what we have traditionally done, which has been a summer assignment for only AP students.

Because we value student voice and student choice, we are allowing the students to design their own summer reading goals and plans. The plan we developed has requirements, but with built in flexibility to allow for personalization.

The requirement is that they must commit to reading over the summer. As a department we decided that our “secret” minimum would be three books for summer reading. We didn’t want to put that number out there to the students though, as we knew some of them would go higher with their personal goals if we didn’t give them suggestions and left them to their own thoughts. Thats where the flexibility comes into play.

On the other hand, a few students had to be gently prodded into adding a third book to their lists, but they didn’t push back too hard. Because they were allowed to choose their titles, it wasn’t too difficult of a sell. They all have next reads lists based on recommendations from each other and from daily book talks. Many students planned summer reading based on their own lists.

summer reading
The summer reading plan includes a combination of clear expectations and flexibility.

Students were encouraged after totaling their pages for the school year. I had one student walk into class and proudly announce “Sixteen-thousand-three-hundred-seventy-one!” While not every student had read this amount, these numbers still helped students realize how much reading they would be capable of over the summer.

After the students chose their titles and wrote them down, they conferred with their current English teachers who talked them through their choices and eventually signed off on the plans.

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The accountability piece comes into play in September, as these goal sheets will be passed on to next year’s English teachers and will be the basis for the first reading conference of the school year.

Our students seem keen on their summer reading planning. It’s a gentle requirement, and I believe it will nudge them into some healthy independent reading habits.

What are you doing in your classes and departments and schools to ensure summer reading? There are many ways of doing it, and I’d love to hear more ideas.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the world to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Fitting It All In: The Think-Aloud Book Talk Combo

One of the questions I often hear about the workshop model (and truth: that I have often had myself) is how do I fit it all in?

We are “supposed to do” quick writes, independent reading, notebook work, small group discussion, whole-class discussion, think-alouds, read-alouds, writing along with students, conferring, anchor charts, building writing stamina . . . the list goes on.

Oh, and we need to do that while mastering assessment literacy, fostering positive relationships with students, offering timely and relevant feedback, developing units beginning with the end in mind, finding time to do our personal reading and writing, participating in our PLNs, developing collegiality with our coworkers, and staying current with our own professional development and practices.

It’s overwhelming to look at the list of “musts” and think that teachers are expected to do it all. The good part is that we don’t have to do it all every day. However, there are two things I find non-negotiable on a daily basis.

One of the non-negotiables is time in class for independent reading.

We do this every class period after the book talk. It’s predictable to my students that I will say “If either of these books sound like something you’d like to read, put them on your next reads list.” And then they start their silent reading.

book talk lists

The above exchange between teacher and students implies that we always have book talks, and that is in fact the case. But I find that book talks take more time than I want to take when I do them justice . . . three to five minutes can go by fast. I tried to speed them up, but I felt less engagement from my students, and fewer books were being checked out. So then I decided that instead of speeding it up, I’d try to incorporate some other “musts” into the book talk time, thereby getting “more bang for my buck” when I spend important class time.

I decided to try doing a cold read-aloud/think aloud as a book talk, sharing my thinking, questions, connections, and wonderings as I read the inside flap, discussed the cover, and read the first paragraph or so aloud.

I started with statements like, “I picked up this book because the cover caught my eye, and I don’t know anything about this book.” Or, “I am wondering about this book because I know it’s written by an award-winning author, and I’d like to know more.” Then I would deconstruct the cover, noting any awards and/or endorsements it might mention on the front or back cover, along with graphics, pictures, and blurbs.

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Then I opened to the title page, checked the publication date, talked about the implications of the time during which it was published, mentioned any dedications, forwards, prologues, and prefaces.

1421 mapCharacter lists, timelines, family trees, and maps are also useful to talk to students about, and I would share my thinking as I went through these pages. (This is where the document camera is handy – projecting a larger image of some of these pages is quite helpful.)

 

 

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I read the first few paragraphs of Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brian recently. I was able to explain to my students that while I know the author, I am not familiar with this particular text. I talked about what I know about the National Book Award since it is mentioned on the cover. I essentially just talked about what I can learn from the title, author, and cover before I even open the book.

My students liked the vulnerability I showed because I honestly didn’t know everything I should know about the book. But the exercise helped them to understand that they don’t need to know everything when picking out books, and that it’s okay to ask questions, be unsure, and to take risks.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 6.17.12 PMAnother title I picked up was In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod. No one had picked it from the shelf all year, and it still sat there as a brand new book. I asked students what the cover could tell us, and we started to guess that it could be about marathons, cross-country running, or anything else. They didn’t realize that Axelrod is a journalist, but as we read the back cover together, we learned a lot. I had a student take it and read it that day.

Developing lesson plans has to be prioritized because the reality is that the kids will show up every day. When we prioritize book talks, we usually think we need to get ready for them, to prepare for them in advance. I assert that it’s not necessarily true each time we share books with our students.

It’s why I think the cold read-aloud/book talk combo is useful. Students have a window into the thinking of a “master reader” as we choose books and talk about them authentically.

***My one caution is that as teachers, we have to know a little bit about the book we are reading from (being careful not to learn too much in advance in order to stay authentic). But I will admit I recently had a small embarrassing mishap when reading the first few paragraphs of So Anyway . . . by John Cleese. Be forewarned.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the world to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Reading Partnerships instead of Book Clubs – Using CommonLit in the Classroom

I tend to get a bit reflective toward the end of the school year. Somehow, even with the fast pace of trying to fit everything in, my mind starts to think about what I wish I would have made time to do with my students. This year, the answer is that I wish we had read more short stories together.

They read a ton of novels for independent reading, read classics and books in verse for book clubs, and we read a lot of poetry together as a class. They read several nonfiction essays, magazine articles, and books, but we did not have a big focus on short stories.

I decided to fill this gap and use CommonLit – a website with a great selection of texts with all different themes, grade levels, and genres.

I assigned a classic ninth grade short story: The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. I printed and made copies for my ninth grade students, told them to annotate as they read, and gave them a week to read it outside of class, bring it back, and be ready for discussion.

One of my students came in a few days later holding her annotated story and said, “Miss! This is amazing! I need more of these!”

I couldn’t have paid her to say something more timely and appropriate. I was already thinking about assigning more short stories, and she convinced me.

However, the problem with assigning more short stories was that I had found myself teaching the story rather than the reading skills and habits. I wanted to tell my students about Zaroff’s ideas about what it means to be civilized, and that they should pay attention when Whitney and Rainsford are talking about hunting when they are on the yacht. But upon reflection, I knew that it wasn’t the right way to go. I wanted my students to realized those things because they had the skills to read any story, not because I had told them what to ask or what to think.

I asked myself how I could assign classic short stories and resist teaching those stories at the same time.

One of my students answered by asking me a question. She said she liked The Most Dangerous Game, but was hoping she would have more choice in the next short story assignment. That was the breakthrough question for me. I realized I could offer choice and expect that my students would read and analyze classic short stories.

Short Story Partnerships

Because they had already found success with book clubs, this was a pretty natural thing to do, and CommonLit makes it easy.

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Texts are organized by genre, grade level, lexile, and theme. Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 4.30.57 PM

CommonLit will connect to Google Classroom, which means students can log in with their school gmail accounts. It also means that I can choose which grade level texts I want specific students to read – for a couple of my students, I went one text level band below, and assigned them a selection of stories that would be a bit more accessible to them, but still be challenging and that would provide ample opportunities for thoughtful conversation.

Their assignment was the same except for the short story options. I gave them the following options:

Thank You, Ma’am
The Monkey’s Paw
The Veldt
All Summer in a Day
The Treasure of Lemon Brown
Lamb to the Slaughter
Hearts and Hands
The Gift of the Magi

My students were told to choose four of nine texts. This meant that many of them read all of the stories before they decided to “really read” the four chosen ones (oh my happy heart!) and their choices were thoughtful and deliberate.

They were more excited to read the ones they had chosen with their partners and have returned to class talking to each other about the stories with a greater level of enthusiasm, than when I have simply assigned the same story to every student to read on the same day.

I also gave a large chunk of time for the assignment so they could budget their class time and homework time over a couple of weeks, plan to meet with their partners, and make the assignment authentic and thoughtful rather than rushed.

I think about how I used to teach any of these stories. The Most Dangerous Game, or The Necklace for example could take up to a week as I would guide them through each word, each sentence, and explain the meaning as we went along. Because my students have been given a wide range of choice over the last year or so, they have become independent readers, and can not only access these classic short stories, but appreciate and enjoy them while they are at it.

I’ve loved watching their independence blossom this spring as they tackle harder and harder texts. These are texts they often have very little background information on, but they are learning to find it themselves, use context clues, and talk to each other in their reading communities.

CommonLit has been a helpful tool as I have watched their progression.
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It functions in many ways as an online textbook, but doesn’t feel cumbersome like a  textbook can. There is a brief bio/intro with most texts, the lines are marked, and there are footnotes for difficult vocabulary. There are questions to answer as students read, and more thoughtful questions at the end of each selection.

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A Sound of Thunder Questions
from “A Sound of Thunder”

What I really like about the questions on CommonLit is the discussion questions at the end of each selection. Students don’t need to write an essay or a formal short answer; instead they prepare for discourse, for literary discussion.

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We’ve had great success with book clubs (and now story clubs) this year. I’ve loved the conversations I’ve overheard, the more “official” discussions the groups have had, and the individual conferences I’ve had with students. The classroom “talk” has been steadily increasing in quality and stamina, and our summative video discussions should be knock-out.

I’ve been so impressed with what giving students choice and voice can do. It feels intuitive after a few months of teaching like this, and not only have students developed strong independent reading lives, but now they are also able to tackle difficult, classic, canonized texts with confidence.

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

It’s better with Verse! Short and sweet book clubs encourage readers to try new format.

Student voice and student choice have been the priority this school year as we try to foster healthy, robust reading lives in our students. They have been introduced to many titles through plenty of book talks and book recommendations, so they know there are a ton of choices out there for them, but this level of choice also means we haven’t had too many shared texts.

This spring I thought it might be fun to squeeze in some shared texts and build up our reading community with deliberate talk about books. I wanted us to be able to finish in just a couple of weeks, so we are engaging in book clubs with books written in verse.

In keeping with the priorities of student voice and student choice, I provided many titles for students to choose from as they entered into this short unit. These are all books that we have multiple copies of and can be found in our classroom libraries.

Before spring break my students were given a little time to get to know a book they hadn’t seen before, and then share that book with a partner. It took just a couple of minutes for each exchange, and then both partners switched books and started again. After a few rounds of sharing books, I allowed students to flip through the remaining titles that had seemed interesting but they hadn’t had the chance to hear about yet.

They had handouts for note-taking during this activity, and when we were done, they put the notes in their readers/writers notebooks so they would have easy access after the break.

book club notes - verse

When we returned from spring break, students reviewed their notes and listed their top five choices. I assigned and handed out the books, putting between two and four students in each group.

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These are the titles students chose from.

The assignment was pretty straight-forward.Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 3.37.17 PM

Students were directed to annotate for the fiction and/or nonfiction signposts found in Notice and Note and in Reading Nonfiction, (depending on their titles) the Book Head Heart framework and questions found in Disrupting Thinking, and some poetry vocabulary (listed below).

After they started reading, but before they were too many pages in, a few students had questions about how to annotate a book written in verse. They had annotated other texts before, but for some reason this type of text had some obstacles. IMG_7697 2

I decided to do a quick, fun example of annotating a narrative poem with a simple children’s poem by Shel Silverstein. Cloony the Clown has many of the fiction signposts, poetic devices, and we talked about the Book Head Heart framework. Finding the signposts and annotating together was fun. It took less than fifteen minutes to share the example in class, and my students seemed much more comfortable with annotating their book club books when we were done with the activity.

Students then used their annotations to spark discussion, and regularly use them during the week to practice their sustained conversation.

They will be assessed next week in the form of a video-discussion, where they will meet in their book groups. Using iPads, they will record their thoughtful discussions, referring to annotations, making connections with the text, and sustaining academic conversation for around twenty minutes.

What I’ve heard and seen so far has been encouraging. Students are sharing, referring to lines and stanzas, and feel accomplished that they have read a complete text in such a short amount of time. Some of them are on their second or third-draft reading, which I think is a great strategy and habit to reinforce. They are truly getting to know their books, and in the process learning about story, poetry, and close reading.

Some students were able to read their book club book in an hour or two, and then get right back to their other choice reading. Others are encouraged by the progress they are quickly making in a full-length book because it often takes them longer than a few days to read most of a book. That’s one of the many great things about books written in verse – it doesn’t take a long time to read them, but they are rich with language, story, character, and they hold student interest. With the variety of types and titles, there really is something for everyone.

I borrowed an idea from this amazing post from Buffy J Hamilton regarding connecting text to the world around us. Next week, as one of the finishing activities in this short unit, students will each bring in a current event article which somehow relates to their books, and use these articles to launch new conversations about their books, connecting the text to themselves and to the world around us.

I’m pleased with the way these books clubs are progressing. My students don’t seem to feel intimidated by the length or weight of the books, and they tend to agree that the books are relevant and thought-provoking. While some of them have enjoyed books written in verse before their book clubs, for others this is one of their first experiences with a book written in verse. So for some students, this unit validates and supports their reading experience, and for others, it opens a door to a new form.

One student created this character chart from David Levithan’s The Realm of Possibility as she was reading. She did it not because it was required, but because she likes the book and wants to make sense of it.

I encourage others to try some “unconventional” types of text for book clubs. Graphic novels, short stories, and poetry collections are all ideas I’m kicking around for future book club units, and I’m wondering how other teachers have incorporated different types of texts in their classes, and encouraged new conversation. Please leave your ideas and experiences in the comments below!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie