Major celebrations.

feb chain

Each link of this pink chain represents a choice novel read during February!

We read 81 books last month!  (That’s 493 so far this year.)

But what I really want to celebrate:
Today one of my students finished the first book of his life.  And he read it in two days.    

I’ve worked with this guy since his freshman year, and it has felt like the Most Impossible Task to settle him into a book.  I estimate that over the 16 months we’ve worked together, I’ve suggested 79,827 books to him, most of which were abandoned after a sentence.

3239487I knew that there was a book out there somewhere in the world for him.  And then, yesterday, when I book-talked the graphic novel Yummy, about a teenager growing up in a violent neighborhood in Chicago, it happened.  He immediately snatched it and started reading.

When our reading time was up, he groaned and said, “MS. BONIN, I DON’T WANT TO STOP READING!”  I felt like I was dreaming.  Then, today, he finished it.

He put up our first link for March this afternoon, and I wanted to pull him out onto the track for a victory lap.  But instead, we high-fived and woo-yelled.  A lot.

I never, ever give up on recommending and searching for choice books for even my most reluctant readers. 

It’s all about finding that first book.  It took 16 months of research, suggestions, and support on my part (and a lot of resistance and skepticism on his part), but I didn’t give up on him.  This could be the start of something great.



Celebration (and Accountability)

january chain

We read 112 choice books last month!

Each link of the white chain above represents a choice book finished in January.

I do the same things every month to support our choice reading:  I book talk, I model, I conference, I high five and I encourage the abandonment of books that don’t quite fit.

I also pass around a clipboard during our reading time where students mark their pages.  My students are expected to read for ten minutes every night, and they do have a reading goal they’re expected to meet each week.

Our Formula:
(pages read in ten minutes) x 12 increments of 10 minutes each week = (rate)

choice read pagesTruthfully, I really don’t care if they make their reading goal or not.
I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who get frustrated by the accountability clipboard, since it tells them that many (okay, most) students aren’t reading at night.  After reviewing the data, they lecture their students about their failure to complete their homework.  Reading again becomes WORK, and students again hate it.

As you can see from our chart, most of my students don’t meet their reading goal every week.  Some students may read five pages a week, while some read 126.

I force myself not to be frustrated.  I tell my students to be honest during the clipboard rotation, because I’m not going to yell if they’re not meeting their goal.  Because they’re still reading.   

If students aren’t progressing in their books, I conference with them more often.  More often than not, at the first check-in of a slow reader, it’s revealed that they hate their book.  So I pull new books, and we toss the boring one back on the shelf.

reading binderI keep all of my students on the same chart, because I like when they spy on what everyone else is reading.  The titles that pop up the most often are the titles that I stock in my classroom library.  (The most popular right now:  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Martian, and Stand-Off.)

Nobody in my classroom is ever without a book during our reading time.  When students write that they’ve finished a book, or just leave their space blank, that’s my cue to pull a pile of new books for them.  At this point of the year, I know exactly what genre each of my students prefers and what genres they hate, so pulling recommendations is easy.

Our choice reading also helps me get to know my students better.  I keep all of our old logs in a three-ring binder, and I use them as a reference when I’m stuck on titles, or when I want to check out old reading rates.  (This also comes in handy when I’m trying to track down missing books in June!)

I accept that my room might be the only place that my students can read, and I support them however I can.

We’ve read 412 choice novels so far this year.  




November chain
We read 70 choice novels last month!  

Each link in that brown paper chain represents a book finished during the month of November.

Each day, we read our choice novels for the first ten minutes of class.  No matter what.  I encourage abandonment of books that don’t quite fit, I conference with students, and I model reading for students.  We practice reading the things we like to get better at reading the things we might not like.  

I keep a chart of our choice novel progress on one of our bulletin boards.

Choice books read nov chartWe’ve read 208 choice books so far this year!  


(Check out our September and October chains!)


We read 74 choice novels last month!  


Each link of this purple chain represents a choice novel finished during the month of October.

(That’s in addition to the assigned novels for our genre study:  We don’t put up links for those books!)

Even while we run through a literature unit, the choice reading we do at the beginning of class is my number one non-negotiable.  No matter what, we read for the first ten minutes of class, reading the books we like to read, just to read them.

Even if students are behind in their assigned novels, they read their choice novels during the first ten minutes of class.  (Sometimes they fight with me about this, but I don’t bend.)

Even if I’m behind in my curriculum, we read our choice novels during the first ten minutes of class.

It’s important to me to separate the “fun” literacy we start our class with from the “work” literacy we do afterwards.

That’s 138 choice novels read so far this year!

The First Day(s) of School

Today marks the last day of the first week of school. I’m feeling so lucky to be able to work with the same group of students that I had a few years ago as freshmen, now juniors.

One of the best things about looping with students is that the first day doesn’t have to be about rules or the syllabus.  They know me, and they know my expectations.  We can just GO.

We spent our first day in a circle, reintroducing ourselves to each other, writing a little, reading a little, and answering the silly questions I wrote on index cards and really, just reconnected.

Just a year after they left me, my students are all over the place. Some have continued reading, some have read a single book, some have fake-read assigned novels, some have read absolutely nothing since they left me. (This made me sad. They collectively read 939 choice books just a year ago!)

If your students are anything like mine, they’ll all tell you that they hate reading in the first days of school, EVEN IF THEY READ TEN BOOKS A YEAR AGO. I tell them that they haven’t found the right book, that I can help, and they roll their eyes.

The book pass
Holding book pass is so easy, and a great “first days” activity. I pull good books off of shelves, pile them on a table, and let my students at them. That’s it.

A book pass, believe it or not, usually takes the whole period, and is a great way for
students to explore different novels without the pressure of commitment.

During a book pass, students pick a book, any book, and take it back to t
heir desk. They spend two minutes reading, then decide if they like it or not. That’s it.

The goal of the book pass is not only to find books that they’ll take out that same day, but also books that they’ll read later.  This is also a great way for me to get acquainted with my students by peeking at the books that they are immediately drawn to.

I keep their notes afterwards and reference them when they’re struggling with what to read next.   If we have time at the end of the period, we spend the rest of the time reading our newly selected books.

Choosing my titles wisely.

I try to have books of all genres and ability levels available to my students. I know that if my students aren’t feeling successful during just two minutes of reading, I’m going to have a hard time convincing them to try again for longer periods of time.

I also tell students not to limit themselves to the book table…if they’re seeing something interesting on my shelf, they can check that out too!

I keep my (positive and negative) comments to myself.
I bite my tongue so much during this activity. Instead of telling my students how great books are, I encourage them to sell them to each other between each pass. At this point in the year, my input is annoying.  I have all year to suggest titles to them (and I will).

No, seriously. I butt out. 
This student really struggled with this activity. Within the first thirty seconds with his first two books today, he was bored and disqualifying titles before time was up. At first, I read this as defiance. I wanted to tell him to stick it out for ALL OF the two minutes, but I caught myself.  I gave him room to breathe.  Hey, I totally put books back within thirty seconds sometimes, too!

I gave him space to read, to abandon, and to explore, and he left my room with a book.  Both of us felt successful, and I’m feeling ready to roll after this long weekend.