Possible Read-alouds

I recently began thinking about what I will read aloud to my 6th graders this year. While I don’t stick to any prescribed list (including my own) I do like getting some ideas before the school year starts. My lists change as new books are published and as I get to know my class and their needs. But here are the books I am already considering:

Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher- I love starting the year with this book. I usually only read it with my homeroom, during the week before we begin switching classes. It’s a great book about a class that has to work together when their school forgets to call a substitute for their teacher. The characters and situations are very realistic and it is a great community-building story. We talk about expectations, behavior, routines and procedures, and respect while reading it.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (review)- Like FLYING SOLO, this book is also a definite. I will read this aloud, though I might wait until later in the year. It’s a gorgeous story, but I think I have to get my students to love reading before I can get them to understand THE UNDERNEATH. This is a non-negotiable, though. I will be reading it aloud!

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- I love ending the year with this action-packed tale. My students are learning about Ancient Greece in Social Studies at the same time, so we are able to do a lot of cross-curricular activities. Plus, most of them end up running out and buying the next books in the series, so it is a great way to start off summer reading.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (review)- I love this book. And the edge-of-your-seat events really pull kids into the story. I am not sure if this makes a better read-aloud or literature circle book. But I will definitely use it in some way. And it is a survival novel, which I love to use as our first theme.  Hmmm.

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson (review) or Peak by Roland Smith (review) – I like to start the year with a survival or environmental themed book. LEEPIKE RIDGE is a great adventure/survival story. As is PEAK. I love them both, for different reasons. But I can’t decide which one to use!

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry (review)- I am considering doing an author study of Lois Lowry this year in Reading Workshop. THE GIVER is one of our district reading requirements (and one of my favorites) and I would love to begin with THE WILLOUGHBYS, discuss NUMBER THE STARS (which is read in 4th grade) and other Lowry works, and then go into THE GIVER. Does anyone have any suggestions?

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (review)- Another favorite. This is a great character book, and it appeals to middle schoolers because it does such a great job describing middle school life. I really want to share this with the entire class.

Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (review)- Most likely a non-negotiable. We read this aloud while preparing our Hope Chests for the Center for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders. It’s too perfect not to share as class, especially during that time.

Wow, that’s a lot of books!  Especially when I know that even more books will be added to the list when I begin reading the Fall publications.  Eep!  But I love the looks of this list so far, so it is going to be a great year!

Reading letters/essays

On a recent post about my reading workshop, Jenna asked how I handle letter essays in my class:

I just finished The Reading Zone Recently. I”m curious to hear how you handle the reading letters. I have such a hard time keeping up with the grading. How do you do the reading letters with your class?
Jenna

Now, keep in mind that I have anywhere from 35-50 students for language arts each day. When I read The Reading Zone: HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS
I knew that I wanted to begin using letter essays in my class.  However, I also knew that I could not handle responding to almost 50 letters on a weekly basis (without losing my sanity).  So I modified the assignment for my classes.

At the beginning of the year I introduced the letter essays by letting my students know that we would be working towards writing them independently.  However, I did not begin assigning them until closer to December.  My students do not come from a workshop background, so I had a lot of work to do before they would be capable of producing the type of letter essay I was looking for.  We spent a few months really digging into talking about reading and then writing about reading.  I shared examples of letters I wrote and examples from Atwell.  Together, my students and I developed a list of sentence prompts to help with their thinking/talking about reading.  I typed the list up and it was placed in their binders.  Finally, I began assigning the letter essays.

I divided each class into 4 groups.  In my morning class, Group 1 was due the first Tuesday of the month.  Group 2 was due on the second Tuesday.  Group 3 on the third Thursday, etc.  My afternoon class was divided the same way, except their letters were due on Thursday.  This allowed me to collect between 5-7 letters on Tuesday, respond to them, and return them before getting the next class’ letters.    It was overwhelming at times, and I admit I often fell behind.  But each student always received a letter back from me, with a response to their thinking, my thoughts on the book, and sometimes a recommendation.  The kids loved it.  And their letter essays only got better as the year progresse.

In order to keep them accountable, I assessed each letter essay out of a 4-point rubric.  The rubric was very simple- 0 meant no letter essay was handed in, 1 meant there was no thinking (just summary) and it didn’t follow the directions (at least 3 paragraphs), 2 was a good effort but not quite there, 3 was almost there, and 4 was perfection.  I do my grades on a point system, and the letter-essay grade worked out to be about 20 points/marking period.  Just enough to make the students accountable.

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