Jumping Off the Page with Social Reading

As a sixth grade teacher, I meet many students who immediately profess their hatred of reading to me on the first day of school.  While I do everything I can to draw a passion for reading out of them, nothing is more powerful than the recommendation of a friend.  Social reading, the act of one person recommending a book to another, has caused books to literally fly off my shelves.  It’s my most powerful secret weapon in the fight against reading hate.

If you take a look at the list of books my students last year thought shouldn’t be missed, you’ll see many books that might not be familiar at first glance. But they are familiar to my students. More than familiar. Each of those books was introduced to the class either by my booktalk, a personal recommendation to a particular student, or when a student found it in the library.  However, the power of recommendations from fellow students was what made  each book a “must read” for the rest of my classes.

So how does a book become a social read?  How do we harness this power and repeat it over and over, year after year?  Back in June, I took a few minutes to look over my classroom surveys and tried to find an example of a social read in my classroom.  One of the most popular student recommended books in my classroom for two years running is the Cirque du Freak series .

I read the first book in Darren Shan’s series a few years ago.  While I enjoyed it, it’s definitely not my kind of book.  (Too much gore and horror!)  However, it’s a great example of the horror genre and I booktalk it every year.  While I may not want to read the whole series, it’s the perfect book for dormant readers, especially boys.

Last year, I booktalked the series to the class as a whole.  One student raised his hand and requested to read my copy.  I handed it over and told him to let me know what he thought after reading it.  A few days later, that former dormant reader was almost done the book and couldn’t stop talking to me about it.  I explained that I didn’t love the book and he asked me why, getting me to  outline why I didn’t enjoy them.  We not only had a great discussion about finding the right book for the right reader, but also about why he loved the book.  Within the week, he had moved onto the second book in the series.  This was a reader who previously met me head-on whenever I tried to recommend a book, circumventing everything I tried.

Over the course of the week, while conferencing about his reading, I noticed a few of my other students leaning closer to us, listening in.  On the Friday of that week, I decided to take a few minutes at the end of a class period to have the students share what they were reading and some brief thoughts, thinking it might spark an interest in a few other students.  I had nothing to lose!  My dormant reader did his own book talk for Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare and man, was he good!  He talked it up way better than I could have, because he genuinely loved the book. Before I could even take out the other copies I had, 5 hands were waving in the air. Students who struggled to find a book, students who abandoned books constantly- all requesting to read Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I figured one or two of the students might finish the book, with the others moving on from the book as quickly as they moved on from other books they had attempted.  As it was still early in the year, I didn’t know my readers very well. To my eyes, Darren Shan’s books didn’t seem like the right match for them.  Having nothing to lose and wanting all of my students to try books that they thought they would enjoy, I passed out all of my copies.  The students all settled down that day with their copy of the book and began reading.

I did make one change to our reading time at that point. The boys reading Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare begged to sit near each other during reading time and I let them.  It was the best decision I could have made.  I watched as that group of boys expanded over the year, with new readers entering the fold every week and the original readers staying put, reading the rest of the books in the series.  They would quietly answer each other’s questions, discuss predictions, and jokingly cover their ears if someone who was ahead of them in the series began to talk about a spoiler.  It was amazing to watch.  The best part?  All I did was provide the initial booktalk that hooked ONE dormant reader.  His enthusiasm spread to more readers, and then to more.  It was a domino effect.  He did more than I could have ever done to inspire a passion for reading.

Over the course of the year, Cirque du Freak became a “best-seller” in my classroom.  I give all the credit to the students who spent the whole year talking to each other about their books.  At the end of the year four of my students had finished the entire series, two moved on to reading The Demonata #1: Lord Loss: Book 1 in the Demonata series, and about 10 were at various points in the original series.  Why?  Because I allowed reading the books to be social.  They didn’t talk to each other during independent reading, other than to answer questions quietly, but they did talk about the books constantly.  The students carried their books around all day, competed with each other to see who made the best predictions and who read the series the fastest, and they constantly recommended the series to other students.  While that may seem to go against everything we have been taught about SSR (one of those S’s is supposed to stand for Silent!), but allowing students to share and discuss books meant even more students READ the books!

Social reading is such a powerful concept and one of the best ways to get students to enjoy books and reading.  Howcan we capture that in more classrooms?

  • Start with teachers who are enthusiastic about books!
  • Booktalk, booktalk, booktalk.  Make your students aware of their choices.
  • Allow kids to be passionate about their book choices.  Maybe they don’t choose to read the books you think are “literary” or otherwise worthy, but they are reading.  And those books will be a gateway to more books.
  • Kids are social creatures by nature.  If they are talking about books, encourage it!  Give them an opportunity to talk about their books, but without doing a book report or graded booktalk.  Attaching these social opportunities to a graded assignment makes it a pressure-filled situation for the kids and they won’t enjoy it.  They’ll be too busy worrying about their own grade to listen to what anyone else has to say.
  • Cultivate those scenarios where kids are talking about books.  Whether it’s in the hallways, at lunch, or in your classroom- keep the conversation going!  Don’t talk down to your kids or pass judgement on their reading choices.  Just let them read!
  • Make sure books are available!  If they fall in love with a series, figure out a way to get copies of the books.  Let their parents know what they are reading, have the school librarian order more copies, scour garage sales, etc.  I also have my students make book donations at the end of the year, donating books to the classroom that they no longer need.  Needless to say, I now own more than my fair share of Darren Shan’s books.  ;)  But do everything you can to make books available to your students!  My current students are currently passing around The Lightning Thief.  Everyday another student asks for a copy, so I own 4 copies.  I just placed an order with Scholastic for 5 more copies.  Anything to keep them reading!

Social reading is so very powerful.  It’s also so easy to grow in our classrooms and homes.  Kids are opinionated and they know what they like.  While they love to hear our ideas and recommendations (as long as they believe in us and know we aren’t being fake), they love to hear from their peers even more.

When my students leave my classroom and move on to the middle school they express concern that they won’t have me to rely on anymore for books.  My response?  I’m just a crutch they are used to having.  Most of them are long past the days of relying solely on my booktalks and recommendations to choose their books.  I remind them that they will always be surrounded with peers and friends and classmates.  That’s a huge pool of resources just waiting to be tapped!  As long as everyone does their part, continuing to read and share their books, my students will always have books to read.  It’s a culture- a reading culture- and we need to start cultivating it in our schools!

*A version of this was originally posted over the summer

Share a Story-Shape a Future Literacy Blog Tour- “It Takes a Village to Raise a Reader”

Share a Story Shape a Future is an annual blog tour aimed at promoting literacy, celebrating books, and providing resources for teachers, parents, librarians, and readers. This year the theme is “It Takes a Village to Raise a Reader.”

Please join us March 8th to March 12th as we celebrate literacy!

Each day a different blogger serves as host.  I will be hosting the 3rd day.  We’ve really been working hard on this year’s event, so be sure to check in!

March 8th: The Many Faces of Reading

Host: Terry Doherty at Scrub-A-Dub-Tub

Topics of the day will encompass the relationship aspect of helping children learn to read: parent-child and teacher-parent partnerships, literacy outreach; and libraries, to name a few.

March 9th: Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way

Host: Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook

Creative literacy in all its forms (writing, art, computers) will be the topic of the day.

March 10th: Just the Facts: The Nonfiction Book Hook

Host: Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone

This is the day for exploring the different genres of nonfiction (biography and memoir, science, nature, math, etc), as well as the use (or not) of historical fiction.

March 11th: Reading Through the Ages: Old Faves & New Classics

Host: Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer

Bloggers will share thematic book lists that include newer titles and the classics we loved as kids.

March 12th: Reading for the Next Generation

Host: Jen Robinson at Jen Robinson’s Book Page

Join us as we talk about how to approach reading when your interests and your child’s don’t match. It may be that you don’t like to read but your child does, how to raise the reader you’re not, and dealing with the “pressure” of feeling forced to read.

** The Share a Story, Shape a Future logo was created by Elizabeth Dulemba, children’s book author and illustrator, and SaS/SaF contributor.

Share a Story-Shape a Future 2010

Has it really been a year?!  Apparently, it has! The Share a Story-Shape a Future blog tour is coming up again in just a few weeks- March (8-14).  This year’s theme is “It takes a village to raise a reader.”  The tour will last five days and each day will be hosted by a different blog.

Schedule:

Monday,  March 8: The Many Faces of Reading

Hosts: Brian and Steven at Book Dads . Brian, Steven and their guests will be focusing on how we each play a role in helping our children or students learn to read, no matter their age.

Tuesday, March 9: Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way

Host: Susan Stephenson at The Book Chook. 
Susan and her guests will be sharing creative literacy ideas. Susan will not just be focusing on reading but on all forms of literacy in the 21st Century- writing, art, computers, music.

Wednesday,  March 10: Just the Facts: The Nonfiction Book Hook

Host: Me! at The Reading Zone. 
I will be focusing on promoting nonfiction as a “hook” for engaging readers. Both myself and contributors will talk about using nonfiction with kids and not make it feel like homework!

  We will also talk about historical fiction and pairing it with nonfiction.  I would love to have your post here, too!

Thursday, March 11: Reading Through the Ages: Old Favorites & New Classics

Host: Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer.
  Donalyn, the Book Whisperer,  and her guests will look at books for middle grade readers.  She will be recommending “new” classics for the books we loved as children.

Friday, March 12: Reading for the Next Generation

Host: Jen Robinson at Jen Robinson’s Book Page. 
Jen has invited bloggers to answer some of the things parents wrestle with, like “What if I hate to read?” and “Am I at fault if my child hates to read?”  I am really looking forward to this day as Jen has put together a list of awesome contributors across all ages.

But Sarah, how can I help?


You can write a blog post!  Are you interested in participating? We’d love to have you post on one of the above topics!

I am hosting day 3, focusing on nonfiction.   On March 10, I want to be able to link to posts  all over the web and across the blogosphere about using nonfiction with kids of all ages. I’d love to link to your nonfiction reviews, ideas for using nonfiction with different age groups, and anything else you can think of!

If you’d like to contribute a post to day 2, please let me know. You can email me via the Contact Me page here on the blog.  Even if you just have a suggestion for my day, please feel free to email me! We want to include bloggers from all over the blogosphere.  You don’t need to be a “famous” blogger or even an old, established one.  This is a blog tour open to everyone!  Please don’t hesitate to get involved!

New from Aimee Buckner!

Be sure to check out Aimee Buckner’s contribution to the Share a Story – Shape a Future blog tour.  It’s a great read!

Aimee is the author of one of my favorite writing workshop books, Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook. I use it everywhere during our first unit of study. I am especially excited because she is coming out with a new book, Notebook Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! And if you check out Aimee’s post above, there is a link to a sneak peek of the book!

Day 4- Share a Story – Shape a Future Blog Tour

Today is Day 4 of the Share a Story – Shape a Future blog tour.  Today’s theme is  “A Visit to the Library” and is hosted by Eva Mitnick at Eva’s Book Addiction blog.

Posts:

More Great Posts
Tiger’s Bookshelf: Shopping Mall Library (Thai Knowledge Park) – PaperTigers
Time Travel in a Thai Library: A Visit to Neilson Hays - PaperTigers

 

Share a Story-Shape a Future image created by Elizabeth Dulemba

21st Century Read-alouds

Earlier this year, I was presented with a dilemma.  I wanted to read  Diamond Willow  to my students before the Newbery announcement.  But because the story is told in diamond-shaped poems with bold words throughout, I knew my students would need to see the text in order to fully appreciate it.  I couldn’t afford to buy a class set this late in the year- how could I share this great read-aloud while not going broke?

Then it hit me.  This is the 21st century!  I realized I could share the novel by utilizing my classroom document camera! On January 15th, I posted this idea on my blog.

…the students can see the poems as I read them, just like if they had the book in their hands.  It’s the first time I will be combining technology and literacy this way, and I can’t wait to see how it goes!  Will the experience of reading the book on the board, via the camera, be the same as reading the book in your lap?  It should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to find out!

I was a bit hesitant at first, as my normal read-aloud routine involves all eyes on me, the one with the novel.  I was afraid some of my students would be distracted by the document camera, the projector, or just the opportunity to stare at the book’s projection.  But as we began, all of my fears dissipated.  My students were enthralled!   They loved reading along with me and were mesmerized by the diamond-shaped poems with the embedded bold words.  Thanks to technology, I was able to share a read-aloud with my students that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to experience together. 
Both classes loved the novel.  I shared some of their reactions back in January:

“More books should do the bold words thing.  It’s so cool!  They tell you what the character is thinking deep down.”

“It must have been really hard to write a whole book using the right diamond shapes and making sure you had all the words for the bold parts.”

“This was my favorite book that we read all year.”

“This was an awesome book!  

 

Thanks to my document camera and a projector, I was able to share an amazing read-aloud with my students!

Day 2 Share a Story-Shape a Future: How Do We Select Reading Material

Wow!  Day 2 of Share a Story – Shape a Future is up and running!  Day 1 was a rousing success, and Day 2 looks to be just as good. :)

As Terry said yesterday, it all starts with raising readers.  By surrounding children with text and stories, we are helping them blossom into the readers they can and should be.  So maybe yesterday you decided to set aside some time every day or so to read with your children.  But now you are overwhelmed- where do you begin?  How do you find books to read?  How do you know what books your child will enjoy sharing with you?  

Today’s bloggers have fantastic ideas and suggestions for selecting reading material for different age groups.   Whether you need booklists, story ideas for pre-readers, help selecting books for middle graders, or ways to incorporate your love of non-fiction into read-aloud time, there is something for everyone today. So grab a cup of coffee, maybe a snack, and sit back to enjoy the amazing posts today.  We even have some giveaways for you!

As posts go live, I will add the links.


Day 2: Selecting Reading Material

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Great Sites about Selecting Reading Material

 

Do you have suggestions for selecting reading material? Throughout the day, I’ll be reading through the comments to post ideas here. If you have written a post, please be sure to put your link in the comment. We invite you to visit the Share a Story – Shape a Future blog to get the event image to add to your post.

image credit: Author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba created the Share a Story – Shape a Future logo.



Read-alikes and Booklists

When we share books with our students, it is inevitable that they will fall in love and want to seek out similar books.  How can you find read-alikes or booklists for popular books and series?  Why, with the wonders of the internet, of course!

Popular novels and series are frequently the source of “If you liked_________, You will like _________” lists. Earlier this year I was constantly referring to read-alike lists for Twilight in order to satiate my students’ desire for my vampire love stories.  Below are links to some read-alike booklists that you can use with your children.

The best way to have a go-to read-alikes list is to read, read, read yourself.  I am constantly reading children’s books and thinking of specific students that I think will enjoy a particular book.  Over the last few days I have given Don’t Die, My Love to a Twilight lover (she is a romance addict), The Alex Rider Collection for my Roland Smith fan, and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things for my Diary of a Wimpy Kid superfan.  The more I read, the more books I have to draw on.  I can make personal recommendations for students, based on their previous favorites.

I Don’t Know What I Want to Read Next….

It’s the statement I hear everyday.  The signs are obvious- wandering through the classroom library.  Randomly flipping through books.  That disinterested state.  Diagnosis?  A reader without a book.  A floater.  So how do we help middle grade readers  select books?  And how do we select books to share with middle grade readers during read aloud time?  Luckily, we can answer both questions the same way!

Middle graders are famously picky about their reading material.  They have more in common with Goldilocks than they would ever admit- each book they choose has to be “just right”.  Not too long, not too short, not too gross, not to lovey-dovey.  Just right- for that student.  “Just right” is, of course, vastly different for each child.  So how do I help my students choose books?  By being a voracious reader myself.  I read blogs, book reviews, trade magazines, newspaper articles, and every book I can get my hand on.  I read books that interest me and books that I wouldn’t necessarily choose myself, because I have students who might enjoy them.  When a student tells me, “I don’t know what to read next”, I can engage them in a conversation about books they have enjoyed over the past few weeks or months.  

Everyday I have one or two readers advisory sessions, based on what I know about my students as readers and recommendations I think I can make for them.  And this doesn’t have to just happen in the classroom– parents can do it at home, too!  Engage your middle grade reader in conversations about the books they are reading.  Tell them about books you enjoyed.  Have discussions!  Pay attention to what they read and enjoy, and what their friends are reading and enjoying.  Go to the library or bookstore and flip through books together.  When kids see that you take an interest in their reading, they will be more engaged.  Soon enough, they will be making recommendations to you!

When it comes to read-alouds, I approach the decision in a similar way.  Because I will be sharing the book with 50 students, I take into account their various tastes.  Obviously, I know I will not choose something they all love.  But I take the read-aloud as an opportunity to choose a book they wouldn’t normally choose for themselves, yet I know it is a book they can enjoy.  I read voraciously throughout the year and I usually have a few books on the back burner, books I might read next, after the current read-aloud.  Right now, I am making the final decision on our next read-aloud.

Earlier this year, I read Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath, after reading rave reviews on blogs. Immediately after finishing the book, I knew I wanted to share it with my class. Sometimes, a book just hits me that way. The Underneath wasn’t a book my middle schoolers would typically pick up on their own. But the writing was magical, lyrical, and provocative. I knew it was a book we could dig our heels into and have great conversations about. Because I loved the book, I knew my enthusiasm would be contagious.

And boy was it!

We couldn’t put The Underneath down. The students begged to read it.  They made connections, predictions, inferences, and dug into the text.  When we finished the book, I was so immensely proud of them.  Months later, they are still referring back to the novel.  And the same thing has happened with each and every book we have shared as a class.

So far this year, my classes have read a variety of books.

Each book I was chosen because I enjoyed it, I had a connection to it, and I knew I could share that passion and enthusiasm with my students.  While each student has a personal favorite, they enjoyed all of the books.  Reading aloud together has brought us closer as a class.  It’s a tradition I would never give up and one I look forward to sharing with each new class.  If you haven’t tried reading aloud with your middle schooler, I can’t recommend it enough!

What are some of your favorite read-alouds to share with middle schoolers?  Or what books do you suggest parents read with their middle schoolers?

Making Time in the Classroom for Read-alouds

Reading aloud to my students is my favorite part of our daily routine.  I like to think it is also my students’ favorite part of the day. When I pull out our latest book, a silence descends upon our classroom.  They are on the edge of their seats, ready to begin!  Throughout the year, our read-alouds bring us closer as a class.  We laugh together and sometimes we even cry together.  (Reading Marley: A Dog Like No Other as a class was an experience like no other!)

When I mention read-alouds to most other middle grade teachers, I am usually met with a look of amazement.  “How do you have time?” they ask.   It’s not always easy- I’m the first to admit it.  In this day and age of shortened class periods and little wiggle room, it can be difficult finding time to share books.  But it is worth it.  The time I spend with my class during read-alouds fosters a strong sense of community along with modeling my own love of reading while sharing various genres with my students.  Reading aloud to my students is the #1 way that I encourage my students to read!  

Read-alouds are usually an integral part of the day for elementary school students, but the practice dwindles as students enter the intermediate and middle grades.  However, this is also the time when students begin to set aside books for video games, computer time, and various social activities.  While these are also important parts of growing up, modeling our own love of reading can foster the joy of reading in our middle school students.  So how can classroom teachers make time for read-alouds?  

1) Establish a regular routine- I share our read-aloud each day at the end of reading or writing workshop.  Our schedule is different each day, because of specials and assemblies.  But my students know that read-aloud will happen each day and they know it will be our wrap-up.  My read-aloud time is written into my lesson plans each week- nothing complicated, just a simple box with the title of our current book.  But this ensures that I include it each day.  Are there times when I don’t fit it in?  Of course.  But I make the effort each day.  And I am successful 90% of the time.

2) Choose books that you enjoy- This is so, so, so important!  Your students will be able to tell immediately if you aren’t enjoying the time you spend reading aloud.  And if you aren’t enjoying it, neither will they.  Share classics that you enjoyed as a child.  Or new favorites!  What you read isn’t nearly as important as the enthusiasm you share with your class.  Your passion will be contagious!  And when you are passionate about the book your are reading together, making time to share it will come naturally.  It won’t seem like a chore.  And your students will be begging you to read more.

3) Make connections to your read-aloud throughout the day and the course of the year-  In my classroom, we have a bulletin board where we hang up copies of the covers of books we read as a class.  Throughout the year, we refer to our past read-alouds whenever possible.  As a class, we have a group of common texts that helps bring us together.  I try to read a variety of genres, so that the students can draw on these books during various units of study throughout the year.  It’s a great way for the kids to come together and share a common pool of knowledge!  In this day and age of less time and stricter curriculums, making connections ties your read-aloud into your day and year.  It becomes an integral part of your classroom routine.

4) Read aloud books that connect with various parts of curriculum- In middle school, teachers are usually specialists in their subject area.  Because of this, we sometimes forget about the other content areas.  A class read-aloud can be an opportunity to bring content area reading into the language arts classroom, or language arts into the content areas.  Science teachers can read novels with scientific or environmental plot threads- Carl Hiaasen’s books are a great example.  Social studies and history teachers can choose from a plethora of historical fiction!  

These are just a few of the ways that I make time for reading aloud in my classroom.  Reading aloud with my students is honestly my favorite part of the day.  In fact, I am signing off now to go through my pile of possible read-alouds to begin this week.  We just finished our current book, Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie. Choosing our next book is always extremely difficult because there are so many great books to choose from!  It will take me a few days to narrow it down, but in the meantime I will share picture books and short stories with my students.  No matter what, we always share read-aloud time together!


*Be sure to check out the rest of today’s posts on the Share a Story – Shape a Future blog tour, hosted by Terry Doherty at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, the Reading Tub blog.

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