Favorite titles of AP Lang and other 11th Grade Students

I recently asked my 7th grade students to share the titles of their favorite books of the school year so far. I asked them to do this in response to some posts I had recently seen on facebook and twitter asking for “must-have” titles for classroom libraries. I thought I would also ask my classes of eleventh-grade students the same question. I teach one class of AP Lang, and one regular eleventh-grade English class.

Here’s how they answered:

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Odd Girl Out; Broken Things; The Things they Carried; A Long Way Gone; Ghost Soldiers; The Secret History; Why Nations Fail; Sold; The Good Earth; Catcher in the Rye

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been passed around by a few students, and they have loved it. I have one copy of it in my classroom library, and it sat there for months until I book talked it. It hasn’t spent much time on the shelf since, and that’s because a couple of AP Lang students have passed it around between them. It’s become a “huggable favorite” of one of my students, and her smile is wide when she talks about it.

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My AP Lang students have such a diverse list, and I love that. They are willing to talk to each other (a lot!) about what they are reading, why they like their books, and why they think others should read the same titles! It’s developing into a healthy reading community, and I’m getting great recommendations from some of them at this point.

11th favorite titles
Sold; Burned; Divergent; Educated; Gone Girl; The Element; American Sniper; Playing for Pizza; Everything We Had; The DaVinci Code; Station Eleven; The Rose that Grew from Concrete; The Secret; The Mediator; Always and Forever; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Eleanor & Park; The Unwanteds; Soccernomics; The Prophet; Six of Crows; El Popol Vuh; Ender’s Game

I love how this list represents my class of diverse readers and learners.

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When I was back home in Oregon over the winter break, a couple of people I have a great deal of respect for independently recommended Educated by Tara Westover. So when family came to visit us in February, I asked them to bring a copy down with them, and I wasn’t disappointed with this book.

I book talked it to my eleventh-graders as soon as I finished reading it, and it’s been in the hands of students ever since. In fact, as soon as I book talked it, it left the shelf; the book itself is provocative and fascinating, and coupled with my enthusiasm for it, my student couldn’t resist it.

My biggest take-away from these lists is that none of the favorite titles on the chart paper are titles that we read as a whole class. Every title comes from their own reading lists made from their own choices as independent readers. When students are allowed to have choice, that means they learn what they like, what they don’t like, and what they love. As readers, don’t we all have these types of preferences? And don’t we want to provide that opportunity to our young and emerging readers?

I’m happy with the answers my students provided for me and for each other. The lists are posted on our classroom walls, and the students can refer to these posters when they are trying to find their next books or add to their next reads lists. I can also readily see what my students are interested in, and what “like reads” I can add to my library, as well as check in about gaps that I can fill in for them as far as what’s available.

How do you decide what books to purchase for your classroom libraries? Or for book clubs? I’d love to hear about your ideas in the comments below.

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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Book Talking the Newbery Honors and Winners with our Middle School Readers

Living in Nicaragua is amazing – it’s a beautiful country full of stunning volcanoes, unique wildlife, and lovely people. While there are many fantastic reasons to live here, it’s still sometimes a challenge to find new books for my classroom library. Luckily, my parents recently came for a visit, and before they travelled, they hit up some local second-hand shops and library sales. They ended up filling extra suitcases with 95 “new” books for our classroom library!

As I was shelving and organizing our new books, I noticed that there are several Newbery Honor and Winning books in our collection.

Newbery books
Brown Girl Dreaming, 2015; The Voice that Changed a Nation, 2005; Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001; The Ear the Eye and the Arm, 1995; The Thief, 1997; The Bronze Bow, 1962; The Egypt Game, 1968; Anpao, 1978; Miracles on Maple Hill, 1957; The Witch of Blackbird Pond, 1959; Hitty Her First Hundred Years, 1930; The Door in the Wall, 1950; Savvy, 2009; Walk Two Moons, 1995; The Giver, 1994; The Westing Game, 1979; The Dark Frigate, 1924; Indian Captive, 1942; Al Capone Does My Shirts, 2005; Dear Mr. Henshaw, 1984; The Crossover, 2015; The Trumpeter of Krakow, 1929; The Wanderer, 2001; The Road From Home, 1980

I also realized that I needed a quick way to get my seventh grade students familiar with the new titles.

I decided to pull all of the Newbery books and set them out on my students’ desks before they got to class. Between what I already had, and what was new, I had more than enough copies for every student to have at least one to learn about!

Instead of a book talk from me, I asked my students to get to know the book that was in front of them. After a few minutes with the book, they would pass it to the next person, and repeat the process a couple of times.

Anticipation had already been built for the new books before they even arrived, so when my students walked in to see new books on the desks, they were eager to get started.

I reminded my students what I include when I share our daily book talk:

  • I take a look at the cover and look for title, author, medals, and endorsements.
  • I read the inside flap or the back of the book.
  • I read the first sentence, paragraph, or page.
  • I check the publication date.
  • I read “about the author” if the option is there.
  • I look to see what the original language is, and if the book has been translated.

They jumped in, eager to look for the items we usually include in a book talk, but finding these items on their own, quietly. After a minute or two, they rotated books, and then repeated the process a couple of times.

After they had gotten to know three or four books, they partnered up with someone in the room who hadn’t had any of their same titles. That meant that with each partnership, there were six to eight titles they could discuss. I directed them to choose a partner A and a partner B, and that they would continue with a knee to knee conversation about the new titles in our classroom library.

By the time they were done with their conversations, they had each added a title or two to their Next Reads Lists, and some had even picked up a new book to start reading immediately.

While I love sharing nontraditional books with my seventh-grade students, I also think it’s important to share some of the classics and soon-to-be classics with them. This was a fun, quick, method for sharing several new, high-quality titles in an efficient way.

How do you ensure that you present a variety of titles to your students? I’d love to hear about it 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

Popular Titles for Middle School Students

Lately I’ve seen several twitter and facebook posts asking for “must-purchase” titles for classroom libraries and book clubs. It’s that time of year – the time when we order for next year and cross our fingers that it all arrives by the first day of school.

Ordering titles for our classroom libraries is no joke, so I love seeing how thoughtful people are about it.

I thought I’d check in with my students to find out how they might answer that question, so I asked them what their best books of the year have been so far. They wrote about it and talked about it, and then I had them publicly post their titles so that other students could get inspired to read new titles, add to their next reads lists, or think about new titles for summer reading.

Here’s what we came up with:

Block A Best Books
Bad Kitty, Norse Mythology, Pugs of the Frozen North, A Wrinkle in Time, Hitler Youth, The Martian Chronicles, To the Field of Stars, All Fall Down, Echo, Auggie and Me, Our Surprising Love Story, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Long Way Down, The House of the Scorpion

All Fall Down by Ally Carter has been a big hit with several of my seventh grade girls. All Fall Down Cover

It’s the first in a mystery series, and three of my seventh-grade girls have read all three of the books in the series since I added it to my classroom library in January. It’s led one of them to read some of Ally Carter’s other books, and they have had some fun and authentic discussions about these books, which is always fun to witness.

Block C Best Books
The Fault in our Stars, Twilight, Long Way Down, Memoirs of a Geisha, Turtles All the Way Down, Sarah’s Key, Everything Everything, Big Foot, Looking for Alaska, American Sniper, Smile, Booked, Guinness Book of World Records, Anne of Green Gables, Perfect, Out of My Mind, Insurgent, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe moved one of my readers to tears.

Aristotle and Dante cover

This student literally hugged her copy when she was done with it, and while she is a prolific reader, this one made it to her “top book” award. If this student recommends it, then I’m sold.

Block E Best Books
Eleanor and Park, Everything Everything, The DaVinci Code, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 3:59, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Crossover, The Maze Runner, Out of My Mind, The Hunger Games, The Perfectionist, Taste Test, Love that Dog, The Alchemist, Slappy New Year, Between Shades of Gray, Star Wars, The Popularity Papers

Out of My Mind seems to be a game changer for a few of my seventh grade readers.

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Somehow, this sweet story of an eleven-year-old girl who is drastically underestimated has reached some students who I never would have pegged as liking “this kind of book.” One boy in particular has said it’s the best book he’s ever read, and if I could translate the look on his face into words, you wouldn’t doubt it.

Hopefully these titles my students shared will help with some of your purchasing choices this spring.

One thing to notice is that these titles aren’t the latest or newest publications, but they are fairly recently published, for the most part.

I think the important piece is not that we have the newest and hottest titles (not that it doesn’t help!), but that we realize that variety and availability are what matter. To illustrate this point, I’ll share an example: I purchased about 150 “new” books for my classroom library over the winter break, brought them back to Nicaragua in my suitcases, book talked them daily, and made them available to all of my students.

Variety and availability have made a significant difference in the reading habits and attitudes of many of my students. I didn’t spend a lot of money – some of the books I purchased second or third hand for fifty-cents apiece. I’ve reinforced the paperback covers with packing tape, and it helps. The point is that the books are readily available, and I know what I have in my library, I know my readers, and I can do my best to play matchmaker between book and reader.

How do you choose books for your classroom library? What are some of your must-haves?

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

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Knee to Knee Book Talking

This year, I’ve been consistent with a framework for each day’s classes. I follow the Penny Kittle model of Read – Write – Study – Create – Share which is described in both Write Beside Them and Book Love.

A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that while my students do talk during the “study” and “create” part of class, I could still incorporate more deliberate academic conversation. I was inspired by Buffy J. Hamilton’s twitter post about “knee to knee” conversation in her own classroom.

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Her post inspired me to do some “knee to knee” work in my classroom, too.

Instead of the “write” portion of our schedule, I changed it to “talk” and we had some deliberate, structured, academic talk.

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It didn’t take long, and the directions went like this:

  1. Partner up (for some classes, I chose the partners. For others, I let them choose. It was based on class dynamics).
  2. Take one minute to think about this: What’s worth talking about in your book? What do you notice? What matters?
  3. Partner A begins by talking about their independent reading book while partner B listens. Nonverbal communication is all that partner B can offer during this two minute section.
  4. Partner B responds with paraphrasing and offering their own opinion.
  5. Partner B continues by talking about their independent reading book while partner A listens. Nonverbal communication is all that partner A can offer during this two minute section.
  6. Partner A responds with paraphrasing and offering their own opinion.
  7. The class debriefs the experience together, and shares out their partner’s books when they think the class would be interested in adding these titles to the Next Reads Lists.

During the conversation, students should be “knee to knee” and not allow their backs to touch the backs of their chairs. This ensures that they are “leaning in” toward one another, and focused on communication with each other. It minimizes distractions and “noise” and encourages eye contact.

My seventh grade students enjoyed this structured conversation. They commented on the fact that it was difficult to sustain two minutes of talking sometimes, but that they also enjoyed sharing and listening when it comes to independent reading books.

They made connections with each other – for example, one set of partners discovered similarities with their books, as one student was reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and another was reading a nonfiction book about WWII.

 

Overall, the feedback from this activity was positive from students. It was good practice, getting over the “awkward” part of the conversation pushed them, and they were able to add to their next reads lists. They’ve asked if they can do it again, more often.

This simple activity doesn’t take much class time, and it doesn’t require any time to plan it in advance in the form of copies, accessing resources, etc. It’s something that can even be done on the spur of the moment.

I encourage teachers to put this simple strategy into their “back pockets” and pull it out and modify it on the fly. It’s fun, and kids learn.

How do you encourage “talk” in your classroom? I’d love to hear about it 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

Developing Common Language between Disciplines

I work with some great people. We are usually on the same page: we all want what’s best for kids, we respect and support each other, and do our best to communicate with each other. Even with all of theses good intentions and practices, we sometimes are reading different words off of the that same page.

Our school has set us up to meet as small groups every week in the form of PLCs. In my 7th grade PLC, we talk about students and curriculum, about days of service and classroom environment. Through these conversations we realized that we ask students to write similar types of texts in many of our disciplines.

While students are asked to write similar types of text, we were all using different language when describing and teaching it. While none of us felt that we needed to use the exact same language all of the time, we realized should at least make it clear to students that these writing tasks are related, and that they should transfer their new skills from one class to the next.

So today we created anchor charts for each of our classrooms. We gained new understanding from one another through the task, and our students will benefit with new clarity and understanding of vocabulary and writing strategies.

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Our group represents four disciplines: electives, science, English, and Spanish. Many of our students speak Spanish as their first language, so between the fact that we have Spanish speakers and students taking Spanish classes, we were sure to include vocabulary not just in English, but also in Spanish.

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Our final product looked like this:

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We feel as though now we teachers, and soon the students, will soon be reading the same words off of the same pages, and we will have common language between our classes. It’s a simple anchor chart to hang in all of our classrooms, but it will be a valuable tool for our young writers.

How do you ensure that your students understand the relationships between writing tasks in different disciplines?

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

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Helping our Students Develop a Reader’s Identity through Reflection and Goal Setting

It’s the time of year when it’s important for students to reflect on their identities as readers. There is so much growth to celebrate – whether it be in disposition, habits, knowledge, fluency, or attitude.

Even though I see their growth, it’s important for our students to own it themselves, and to develop their own sense of identity instead of relying on my impression of who they are.

So we spent a little class time thinking and reflecting.

I asked them some questions to get them started. Who were we as readers when we started the year? How do we identify as readers now, and where do we want to be as readers at the end of the school year? What might that look like?

Now remember, I live in Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes.

We have lake and volcano views from our school. It’s stunning, and it’s part of our daily landscape. It’s what we know.

 

As we discussed what it means to have a reader’s identity, some of my seventh grade students struggled. They weren’t sure how to describe themselves, and they weren’t seeing their growth over the first half of the year.

Somehow (some moments in teaching defy description) we got to the idea of volcanoes. That we can all be a different type of volcano, and that it can describe who we are as readers.

We discussed four types of volcanoes: extinct, dormant, active, and exploding NOW. We soon decided to toss out the extinct volcano as a possibility, because there is no one in the class who never reads.

We described the three remaining possibilities, connecting reading identities to types of volcanoes:

  1. Dormant — Rarely reads, but lots of reading potential. Might remember what it was like to be active and erupt (in other words, be excited and enthusiastic about books and reading), but it might have been a long time ago…

  2. Active — Sometimes/often reads in spare time, enjoys reading, and has preferences about books, authors, genres, topics, forms, etc…

  3. Erupting NOW (we first used the word exploding, but switched to erupting because it’s more of a “volcano word”) — So excited about a topic, series, author, or genre… can’t get enough and won’t stop talking about it! We realized this category isn’t sustainable – we should actually move between the active and the erupting categories often.

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This illustration helped student visualize who they are and where they want to be as readers. They started to reflect and set goals, and realizing that they have identities as readers, and that those identities can improve and evolve.

Some of the initial reflections looked like this:img_2716-2.jpg

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I took our class ideas and created a simple reading volcano infographic that now hangs in our classroom library:

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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

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Three Non traditional Titles for our Middle School Readers

I share new titles with my students every day in the form of book talks. Often, at least a couple of my students will put those titles on their next reads lists, and on great days a student will grab one of these titles and immediately begin reading it. However, there are still reluctant readers who aren’t yet sure what they love to read, and are nervous about taking risks with long or traditional books.

In the never-ending quest to find fun and high-interest titles for my reluctant middle school readers, I’m always on the lookout for something different yet relevant for them. Today I book talked three nontraditional titles, and they were well-received by my two groups of seventh graders.

three nontraditional titles

The first one is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It’s a beautiful book of black and white illustrations that are whimsical and fantastic. It inspires imagination and internal story telling. I’m sure it will be fantastic for inspiring quick-writes and other longer narrative writing, and today, a couple of my students enjoyed it during silent reading time.

 

I book talked Postcards From Camp next. It’s a heartwarming story told through correspondence between a boy who goes to summer camp, and his father, who is always encouraging. It was a huge hit in both of today’s middle school classes.

I’m fairly certain it is the first epistolary story many of my seventh grade students have read, so I’m happy to introduce this new form to them. It’s accessible and fun, as it has removable ghost stories and lists, and the story is told primarily through these postcards between father and son.

 

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Here there be Dragons is the last title I shared with my middle school students today. It’s a collection of stories and verse, and it has beautiful illustrations sprinkled throughout. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t have to be read in its entirety, so students can feel a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment even when they read only a couple of the sections out of the book.

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As far as I can tell, getting students to feel comfortable and confident with books in their hands is the first step in developing strong and healthy reading lives in our students. It’s okay with me if they start with small, or fun, or non traditional titles and work their way to other genres and authors.

Yes, it’s all about the books. But it’s also all about the students. After all, we don’t teach books, we teach kids. I think it’s important for teachers to meet students where they are instead of insisting that they reach up to intimidating expectations. After enjoying some non traditional titles, students will build confidence and enthusiasm they need for trying out new titles. And I think that’s the whole point.

How do you reach your dormant readers? I’d love to hear other strategies!

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