Language Arts Ideas
~ Reading

 Book Club Wisdom
~ Gina Nunley

I've come at book clubs in a variety of ways and for what it is worth here is the wisdom that now guides me.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility holds true here.

The first club is organized by me. I do give choice, but only between 3 novels and the groups are organized based on instructional reading levels the first time, so I assign the members. Usually this ensures a better chance for success in the first go round.

I use "jobs" the first time because it gives me a chance to model the kind of thinking and discussion I want to eventually see students lead on their own.

I look for lots of ways to observe. The most obvious is a schedule that ensures I'll be sitting with each group once that week. When I realize a group "gets it" I'll do a fishbowl meeting, in which the rest of the class sits around their club and listens to a discussion.

I tape record a book talk of a group and listen later as I meet with the group in the classroom. These often are the best discussions! I start tape recording lots of groups just to raise the level of interest in getting in there and talking.

Each time we do a new book club it becomes more of the students' responsbility. By the end of the year they are forming books clubs, no matter their reading level, based on their own reasons; by now they have a full understanding of what it requires and so choose with learned wisdom.

 Documenting Favorite Books
~ Sally Thomas

At the beginning of the year I had kids write a list of their 10 favorite books - just casually on a piece of paper. I kept that stack in my desk drawer. Many didn't even have 10. Then in February, not long before spring open house I had them choose their top 10. Oh my -- such deep conversations. Could they choose a book they had totally loved in first grade? Of course if it deserved a spot. Many found ways to include many by just saying everything by Roald Dahl or Ray Bradbury or.....

First, I noticed that week at library time the kids came back in a buzz. Many as it turns out had gone and checked out childhood favorites. The whole class had a ball revisiting and talking aobut those.

Second they created visual posters including their book titles and we posted them for open house.

Third, we took them down later and I gathered them in a single book to put in the library. Those books were SO important in motivating readers the following year. Kids saw their brothers, sisters, kids they looked up to.

Finally I passed back their list of 10 from fall and they reflected on the changes. Again much great dialogue. They learned about themselves and about each other, and I think I learned most of all.

Retelling Stories
~ Stacey Lund

Several of our teachers have made retell beads with their class, which is a set of colored pony beads on a ribbon, then used as a bookmark. The beads are strung on so they slide, much like a golf counter. Kids can then keep it in their independent reading book and practice the skill on their own after the teacher has modeled how to use it.

Each bead is a different color, representing a part of a retell:
Blue (three different colors of blue)-3 main events

We made an anchor chart for students to refer to as they are learning what each color means. You could also add a picture cue next to the color and story element, especially to support ELL students. 

Making Inferences
~ Pam Cucco

I keep trying to make the point that these strategies of comprehension are not just for reading text but are necessary life skills that help everyone to think deeply and carefully so.....

I brought in five unfamiliar kitchen gadgets and asked them to sit at a power table so that four kids looked at the same tool. EAch was given a recording sheet where they drew pictures (visual image), labeled their observations,(determined importance) made connections to other tools that they were reminded of, and listed questions they had about the tool. Then they shared their questions and observations and came up with a power table inference. It was a fun project because although only one group actually guessed what the gadget was really used for....many used their recordings to think creatively and critically. Although not correct.... many had wonderful alternate uses. Then I asked each group to make an inference about their group work. The overwhelming response was that their own thinking was enhanced by sharing not only their individual inferences but that their questions were the ones that drove their thinking. They also eluded to work habits and body language that either made or broke their power table's initiative. Not bad for first graders!

 Book Experts
~ Christine Check

There is a great SHORT picture book called, Read Anything Good Lately? by Susan Allen.  I read it to my class at the beginning of the year and then took the jacket off and taped it on the cabinet.  I put post-its by the cabinet.  I told the students when they read a good book to write down the title on a post it and then on the bottom write "Ask+their name"  then if someone wonders about that book they can ask the "expert" about it...It was amazing what happened!  It is filled with suggestions all the time and kids refer to it continually.  I have left it all year and it has only gotten better with time.  Kids now are writing "if you want to read about ______, check this book out" or "Read this book slowly because you have to really infer but it is worth the reading work", etc.  Those are actual quotes from the post-its! This is just something that they have evolved with on their own and they are only 2nd graders!  Try it!

iPods and Fluency
~ Julie Santello

I am currently using iPods in my classroom. If you can get ahold of some of these through your IT dept., they can be used for fluency. You need to have the mic that attaches and you can then have kids use them to read into. I have them do a pre-reading and then assess themselves with a rubric. Then they practice and use them again to post assess. The last reading is then saved and burnt to cd. The final step (haven't started this yet, is to save them as an mp3 (through iTunes) and post online with a picture of the book so that kids in their classrooms can click on the book and hear it read to them. They are LOVING this!!!! If you can't get ahold of iPods, this can be done with a program on the computer or laptop. It is called Audacity (free download, you also need to find lame lib for transferring the product to mp3. An IT person can help you with this if your district provides them.) and is rather easy to use. If you are running Apples, you have a built in mic on the computer. I think you need a plug in mic on a Windows based. These cost about $10.00 at Walmart. I suggest one even for the Mac for better sound quality. Another thing I just started this week was in my nonfiction groups is to justify a fact they found in the book. They chose a fact that they want to prove is correct and then they go online or use the World book on the laptop to find the fact. One girl, on her own, made a t-chart and showed how they were the same and how they were
different. She then stated that the fact was correct, but needed to have more information to explain it better. This was guided with my help(the tech/searching part), but they LOVED it as well! Research is another key part that they can be working on. We often put research in the Sc./SS range, but it is pure reading/writing. Can they be researching something as a task once they are trained? If they are reading a fiction book about, say, an adventure in space, could they, during worksho time support the facts found in the text in a similar style to the nonfiction piece (hum - new book club job!!!!!) This may not work for every story, but for some it will!!!

~ Get the Student Oral Reading rubric here ~ (.pdf)

Browsing Boxes
~ Lori Jackson

A browsing box is a collection of books which are a sort of personal library for each individual student. With younger children, the number of texts varies with student reading ability. My children keep 8 books in their tubs,which are self-selected with guidelines. I require diverse reading, so they have 3 fiction, 3 nonfiction and 2 poetry (which can be stories based on songs, stories told in rhyme or a collection from our extensive poetry library). I also ask students to
be mindful that that can do REAL reading with the books they use. That is, that they are able to use the WORDS to tell the story. We talk about how we are being respectful of other writers when we use their words. The exceptions are the wordless books and I do allow one book to dream on or browse through. My kids typically keep animal reference books.During Reading Workshop, my children are expected to have these with them at all times. I keep my theme books, my records of student progress, running records, conferences, etc., in individual browsing boxes. That w3ay I can simply pull it out when I sidle up to a reader for a conference. As the year progresses, any texts used in guided reading are added to this collection. I understand that some folks may 'stock' those boxes differently.

As to the box itself, many folks in my building use heavy duty ziplock bags or cardboard magazine boxes. One uses covered and cut-off cereal boxes. I used cheap garbage cans for a long time, but this year wanted to condense the space. While I am shopping for just the right plastic containers, I garbaged fancy, smancy packaging boxes for National Geographic themed units purchased for reference bookcarts throughout the school.

I have a very long counter, it runs the whole length of the room and I am blessed with a big room. I have kept them on the counter in the past and this year I am keeping them on shelves under the counter. I can adjust the shelves, as they need to be tall for my boxes. The narrow top shelf houses shoe boxes of unifix cubes. Some teachers who assign seats use a larger tub per table. One in our building has those chair sleeves, and those become the browsing boxes. I think the container you pick has to do with the size you have.

 Book Sharing
~ Renee Goularte

Have one student each day share a book they're reading to the whole class. Have the student tell the title, author, and a short synopsis, included how the book begins, a short statement about the main character, the problem and solution, and how the story ends. For non-fiction, have students tell the title and author, a one sentence statement about the book's topic, and three or four facts they learned from the book. After the student shares their book, have other students ask questions about the story to get more details. This takes only about five minutes, and helps all children learn to speak in front of the group, recall information about the stories they read, and summarize their reading. A good way to organize this is to have an alphabetized list of students and to have a small calendar posted with students' names on the dates they will be sharing books. This enables students to plan ahead.

Story Wedges
~ Lori Jackson

I read Hattie and The Fox to the group and then distributed to groups of 6 or 7, six wedges from a huge circle. They were asked to number them from 1 to 6 and work together to create an illustrated retelling. The wonderful thing about being in my own room is that all my art supplies are handy. It was fun, they were so inhibited at first at the idea of drawing but then really got into it. As the students then negotiated how they would retell the story, there was thirty minutes of discussion, retelling, revision of retells as someone brought out an idea that had been left out. Then the wedges were assembled into the circle and the group did a retelling. They were so in to it by now, the retellings were animated and hilarious. We then spent a bit of time talking about how this idea could be used in different ways and with more complex reading. This was not originally my idea.

Literature Circle Plan
~ Angela Hatley Almond

For the last 2 years, I have used literature circles in my classroom. They are student driven and after they have finished reading they get in their groups and discuss the book based on questions they formulated while reading. They use sticky notes. I have a system I created called ABC questions. A questions are "Ask a question about something you don't understand." This type of discussion should only take about 5 minutes. B questions are "Bring a good discussion question." These are questions that they can talk about and debate for some time. This part of the discussion takes about 30 minutes. C questions are "Connect what you read to another book, yourself, or the world." This part takes about 20 minutes. I teach them how to do this by using very simple books and model, model, model, model as a whole class. Then I scaffold it by having them only write the questions and the class discussing it as a whole. Then I turn it around and give them the questions and let them discuss in small groups on their own. Finally, they are free to do this on their own. We also practice "piggyback." It is very interesting to listen to their discussions. I will often hear someone say, "I am going to piggyback on what Leondre just said" or "Kylie, do you have something you want to add." It is really amazing what can happen when you let the kids have free reign over what they are learning. It usually takes me at least 1 month of modeling and scaffolding before they are finally able to discuss on their own.

For a more detailed explanation of this Literature Circle Plan, go to

Individualized Reading and Literature Circles
~ Renee Goularte

Encourage reading choices and independent work habits by having students choose their own reading material from the classroom library. Books can be categorized by level using colored sticky dots for easier appropriate student-selection. Generic or targeted literature response task cards can be used by students to help them generate ideas for responding to literature in writing.

Have each student keep a reading portfolio to bring to individual reading/writing conferences. Include a reading log, literature responses, and other written work.

Read more about using Literature Response Task Cards.
Find out more details about Individualized Reading at
Access a detailed lesson on Literature Circles at

Individualized Literature Responses
~ Renee Goularte

When students are all choosing their own reading material, literature response assignments also need to be individualized. I have used both literature response task cards and open-ended question prompts for individualizing literature responses. The self-selected literature response cards are categorized by genre and include several levels of comprehension questions. This is a method I used for years with a variety of grade levels. Then one year when I was working with a 4th/5th grade mixed-grade class of students with limited self-regulation, I didn't want to give up my Individualized Readers' Workshop but found that they needed a set structure with limited choices. I used ideas from Mosaic of Thought to develop a list of very basic question prompts. I wrote them on chart paper which I posted over a window, out of the way but very visible to all students. As part of their independent reading workshop, they responded in writing every day to their reading for that day, whether they had finished a book or not.

Read more about Individualized Literature Responses.

Classroom Library Check-Out System
~ Lori Jackson

I sure did not want to catalog my classroom library--just lazy. I bought one of those pocket calendars with spaces to slide in papers. I labeled a pocket (on the outside, with an adhesive label) one pocket for each child. I got a library check out card for each child but instead of writing down a book at the top, I write down their name. Then where the child would usually have signed their name to check out, I write down the title of the book they take home and the date taken. I initial it as the book is returned and the next book goes on the next line. I hope this makes sense and so far this year, it is working well. I am thinking the cards themselves will be interesting artifacts in the growth of my readers.

Big Reading Boxes
~ Mary Bencini

We have large cardboard boxes lying around the classroom... the kind that appliances come in. Kids LOVE to sit in those boxes and read. We had a few flashlights, and sometimes one or two kids would go inside the box with a flashlight and close it up. I once read an article written by a teacher. She told how her kids decorated a big appliance box for a reading space. They called it a Time Travel Machine. They put Christmas tree lights and buttons on the outside of the box. Whenever you read in the box, you would go to the time and place of the book you were reading. She said the kids said it really helped them visualize and feel what they were reading. I always thought that was a great idea, but I have never tried it in my classroom.

Thematic Literature Lists ~ Click here for lists of books on the following themes:
~ reading ~ writing and sending letters ~ strong characters ~ community ~ friends and relationships ~ family memories ~ personal narrative and memoir ~ point of view ~ conflict ~ war ~ collaborating ~ social issues ~ poverty ~ names ~ pirates ~ the ocean ~ music & singing ~ fabric and quilts ~ insects ~ autumn ~ winter ~ holidays ~ earth/environment ~ ABC books ~ poetry books ~ ~ books to use with Social Studies ~ books to use with Writer's Workshop units

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