Getting started with choice reading.

book-passImplementing a successful choice reading program takes so much freaking work.
This year, since I’m teaching in a new school, it’s been even more work to get us started.

I’ve known quite a few teachers who give up on choice reading when they see that their students aren’t reading at home, or that they’re just abandoning books, over and over again.

We need to help our unmotivated readers find the books that they want to read.
They don’t know how.  That’s why they don’t read.   If every book you’d ever tried was too hard, or too boring, would you read for fun?  Me neither.

We need to read, too.
If you’re an English teacher who hasn’t read a book for pleasure since 1994, how the heck can you inform recommendations for students in 2016?  The first year that I implemented choice reading in my class, I read 85 books during the school year.  I read for ten minutes every night, and instead of killing time with my phone, I brought my choice book instead.  Because I read so much that year, and continue to read so much each year, I know exactly which books fit which students.

And guess what?  YA Lit is REALLY GOOD these days.


Our first book pass in American Studies.

Getting started.
I don’t know this community or students as well as I did in my last school, which makes matching students and books a lot harder.  I started us off with book talks and a book pass in my writing elective right away, but it took us a bit longer to get started in my co-taught American Studies class.

Despite waiting a few weeks to kick-off choice reading in that class, students had already started noticing and perusing my bookshelf, anxiously asking when we’d start reading their “private books.”

(Side note: Isn’t “private books” the cutest term for “choice books” you’ve ever heard?  They came up with it, and I’m going with it.) 


Our reading log.

We read for the first ten minutes of class.  I check in with them and monitor for understanding.  (Sometimes I model, but I usually don’t have time to!)


They do have a reading log, where they track their pages, but I don’t grade it.  It’s data for me to inform recommendations and conferences.

Some students have tested the waters and tried just not reading, but when they realize that I’m just going to keep suggesting book after book after book, and they see that I won’t give up…they keep trying new books.

Some students have already finished a book (or two!), and others have already abandoned a book or two.  But the best part?  They look forward to our reading time.  

After they finish a book, they don’t do a project.  They don’t write about their choice books.  We just celebrate their reading achievements with a high five and a link on a paper chain.

We read to get better at writing.  We read to get better at reading.  We read to build competency in reading the things we might not like, or that we might not understand the first time around.  We read to reread, to connect, and to learn new things.

We read to remember what it was like to love to read.


After just a week, we’d already read 13 books! 






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.