Thursday, March 28, 2013

How to teach multiple books in reading class

I had a very interesting comment on my Girl vs. Boy books post (you can find it if you scroll down a bit) and I though the response warranted a whole post.

I had stated that giving students a choice in what literature they read would be a good solution to getting stuck reading only "girl" or "boy" books.  The comment basically said that that sounded really complicated for the teacher.

In reality it sounds really complicated but it's not as bad as you think.

First of all, I give the disclaimer that this will not work in all situations.  Some classes just will not cooperate with you and force you to become the dictator.  Also, it really only works in grades 3 and above and if you have really weak readers you may not be able to do it until later in the year.

Second, what I am about to describe will probably need to be modeled.  Therefore, the first book read in the year may be teacher choice but using the principles you want the students to do when you "let them loose."  If the first book fails to work properly, you may have to try a second teacher choice book and if that fails, well, you'll probably have to go into dictator mode.

This whole process is often called "literature circles."

First, you will want to give the class a survey.  The survey will have a list of books and the students need to rank which books they want to read from highest to lowest.  The number of books on the list will vary by how many students in the class and also how many copies of each book you have.  It will probably be 5-7 books or so.  After you get the survey back, you will need to sort out which students want to read which books.  This will be the complicated part as you will have to keep in mind that you may not want certain students to be in the same group and you may have one student who was the only one who wants to read a certain book.

After you have all that sorted out and the groups divided up, the work beings.  And by work, I mean the work for the students.  If you google "literature circles," you will find a million templates.  You basically print these out as worksheets and the groups work through their individual books.  At first, the teacher will probably have to set up a schedule for each book (because some books have longer chapters than others).  There are generally different "jobs" in the literature circle and the group members will rotate through the jobs as they go.  At the end of the book, there will be a "culminating project" which you can assign as a group activity or individual activities.  These activities can range from writing a paper to creating a board game. 

During reading time at school, all you as the teacher have to do is walk around and monitor the groups.  Keep order.  Make sure the groups stay on task.  Spot check the literature circle journals to make sure that they are filled in.  Check benchmarks on the projects.  If it all falls apart, you just declare reading time over and start the next subject.  If it continually falls apart, then you may have to go back to traditional reading class.

For grading, you can grade several things.  First, participation grades for your "spot checks."  A grade for the completed literature circle journals.  And also a grade for the final project. 

And yes, I have seen this actually work in an actual classroom that I was observing in.


  1. Well, that answers that question. :) The only drawback I see is that the teacher will have to know each book well. Are the books read in rotation, then, or is it a different list of books for every unit?

    And this is definitely different from "traditional" classroom work, but I think you're right -- this could work!

    1. Most of the time, knowing all the books isn't a problem. You can always read them the summer before.


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