Instruction & Curriculum

Putting Books in Student’s Hands: How to Make the Right Match

Last week school started and a whole new group of 8th graders filled the desks in my classroom. Besides talking about the syllabus, creating a social contract, and handing out all of the many things parents have to sign, my biggest goal was to get a book in the hands of each student.
There’s no such thing as a kid who doesn’t like to READ. Click To Tweet
I teach ELA and independent reading is a huge part of my curriculum. I live my James Patterson’s words that “There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong book.”
I have lots of kids who, upon hearing that I love reading and that we will be reading a LOT, seem to slouch down in their seat on that first day. I assure them I will not do any of the things that have previously made them hate reading: reading logs, popcorn reading, reading quizzes. I promise them that for some of them, this may be the fresh start they need with reading. I still get skeptical side-eyes, but most at least humor me.
Then it’s up to me to help them find the right book. Click To Tweet
Some kids are excited and know what they want to read or already reading a book, but most kids need help finding that first book of the year. Over the past few years, I have come up with a variety of ways to get kids “bombarded” (as one student so affectionately calls it) by titles that could end up on their To Read Lists.
I have an extensive classroom library.
I believe that children need to be surrounded by books. If I am going to tell them that reading is wonderful and important and will help them become better, more successful people, I need to show that. As any middle schooler will tell you, “actions speak louder than words”–especially from their teachers. I need books to be readily available to my students without having to write a pass to the Media Center. The back of my classroom is lined with almost a thousand books that I painstakingly vet each summer to make sure I have high-interest titles.
I have my students Speed Date my books.
During the first week of school–after the social contract and syllabus have been signed–we have a day where we “meet” the books that “live” in my classroom library. The students roll their eyes at me as I tell them they are going to speed date six different books in my library and hopefully make a “match” that they want to “take out”.
Each student received six “Date Rank” slips. For each book they meet, they rank it out of three in the following areas:
Looks (cover art, title, over-all first impressions)
Flirting (summary, review quotes)
Getting Personal (reading the first page+)
After ranking each, they total up the points and decide if they would “take out” the book or not. They have two minutes with each book. I set an alarm and when it goes off they have to switch books.
By the end of the period, they go through and any that they said, “yes” or “maybe” to, they record on their “To Read” list that they keep in their Reader Response Notebooks.
I take my students to the Media Center.
Our school media center specialist is fabulous. She not only reads TONS of YA literature, but she keeps the shelves in the media center filled with new, high-interest books. It’s a tough job since our school has grades 7-9 and that can be a wide range of reading interests, abilities, and maturity levels. Once a quarter, I take my entire class down to hear book talks from someone other than me, get a wider range of choices than my classroom library, and have a quiet place to read while everyone else chooses a book.
I read YA Lit and I talk about it.
I give my students time in class to read silently–20-25 minutes two to three times a week. When they are reading I am either conferencing with students about their books or I am reading my own book. During the school year I try to choose mostly YA Literature from my classroom library so I can share with my students.
I create Reading Surveys.
One of the first things my students do the first week of school is fill out a survey about who they are as a reader. I ask them to be totally honest. This helps me get to know where they each are in their love/hatred of reading and what topics/genres may interest them. I also ask them lots of “get to know you” questions as bell ringers the first couple weeks of school that may help me match them with books as well.
Helping students find the right book can mean a lot of work scaffolding at the beginning of the school year. Surrounding kids with books and letting them know where to find them means eventually they will just go to them on their own. Asking them questions about themselves helps them understand how to make connections with books. And showing them how to look at a book they pick up to know if they would want to read it helps them to be able to grab a book off the shelves on their own and do the same. Talking about books constantly models for students how to talk about their own books and ask questions of each other.
Many of us “life long readers” take for granted that we know how to choose a book. I’ve seen teachers take their students to the media center and say “you can pick whatever you want!” and then get frustrated when students just wander and end up with the same Diary of a Wimpy Kid they have read since 5th grade.
After the first nine weeks of school, I don’t have to do as much hand-holding to the books with many students. They learn to listen to book talks, look for their own books, and ask questions about authors.

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