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Book Club Materials Management

24 Mar

Book clubs create a new materials situation.  Now you have many people joining together to talk and grow ideas–how do you organize the thinking and notes?  Jenny and I decided on folders last year, and it worked fairly well.  This year we modified (and simplified) them slightly.

Each team has a folder filled with:

  1. Sticky Note Sheets: The materials manager makes sure that every participant places two sticky notes in their square.  The first is the sticky note they initially discuss.  The second (the one on top) is the new note they write at the end of the discussion, with their new thinking.
  2. photo 2

  3. Inference Chart: Some of our lessons deal with noticing characters, and students record their thinking on this chart.  They’ll use the chart throughout the unit, so we should see their thinking about characters grow and 3
  4. Role Cards: They tuck these cards in the front pocket to use. photo 1

It’s been a nice way for them to keep track of their work, and for me to be able to follow up after the conversation to take a look at how their ideas are changing.

Reading Logs

15 Jan

Research says that students need to read at least 2 hours per day just to maintain their reading level.  Where are they going to do all of that reading?  If you’re lucky enough to have a big chunk of the day available for reading workshop, they might do 30-45 minutes of reading there.  They may do some more reading in the content areas as well.  However, to reach and exceed that two hours, students are going to need to do a significant amount of reading at home.

What kind of reading matters as well.  If a child spends over two hours a day reading texts that are fairly easy, or texts that are extremely challenging and frustrating, their growth will stall.  How, as teachers, do we monitor and guide all of this independent reading work?

Most teachers I know use Reading Logs.  A reading log is a tool to track a child’s independent reading.  Below is an example of the log that I use.


Reading Log 1st Page

Reading Log 1st Page.  On this page, I keep track of whether children are reading the same book consistently (this student is in a Laura Ingles Wilder Phase), their reading rate, and if they’re reading every night.


Reading Log: Completed Books Page.  This page tells me at a glance how many books and pages a child completes in a month.  The bottom two sticky notes are examples of thinking work from our class read aloud and from the child’s independent reading.


Reading Log: Last Page Reflection.  I ask students to set and reflect on their goals each month.  This is tricky–students tend to fall back on the “read more, read faster, write more sticky notes” goals, like the one you see here.  I’m still working on it :).

Depending on how you design your log, you can use it to learn about a variety of aspects of your students reading:

  • How long do they usually read for?
  • What is their rate of reading?  Around 25 pages in 30 minutes (which is the average rate for a reader in a just-right book) or is it much slower or much faster?
  • Do they consistently finish books, or bounce around?
  • What genres do they like to read?  Do they read a variety of literature or just one kind?
  • What level of texts do they choose?  Books at the easy level?  Just-right?  Frustration?

From these research points, you can pull teaching points.  For example, if you notice the child reads for very brief periods of time, you might plan some conferences on:

  • Setting goals for yourself as a reader (either by using a timer or setting a page goal.)
  • Choosing times and places that make it easier to read for longer.

If their reading rate is off, you might plan conferences on:

  • setting small goals for how many pages to read in five minutes and pushing yourself.
  • Reading in a place that is quiet so you can focus.
  • Slowing down if you’re a speed reader.  STOP sign sticky notes are helpful here as reminders.
  • Thinking about if the book is too difficult or too easy as the reason the rate is off.

And so on.  There are lots of different ways to do logs, but for upper grades, I prefer one that tracks their in school reading and their home reading.  That way I can tell if they’re being consistent.

Just like anything else in the classroom, the reading log is a routine.  Unless you use it everyday, and even work it into some lessons (you can have days where students study their logs like scientists, analyzing what kind of reader they are or how much they have grown), it can become a drudgery.  Encourage parents to check their child’s log too.  At back to school night each year, part of the discussion is how parents can use the log as a way to start a conversation with their child about what kind of reading work they are doing.  I’m attaching the log that we’ve modified at my school and been using for a number of years.  We decided it was important to know what book they were reading, how long they read for, and how many pages they read on the main log.  On the back we have some reflection pages that they work on each month.  The purpose is for them to constantly be setting goals and reflecting on their previous work.  I’m still working on that piece!

I’m attaching the log for those who are interested in using/modifying it.

Reading Log – 2012

What do I do With These Sticky Notes?

2 Jan

I have a love-hate relationship with sticky notes.  My gut says they’re good.  Having students write down what they’re thinking is good.  Having a flexible way for them to organize and re-organize their thoughts (by grouping, layering, sharing) is good.  Asking students to take a thought they jotted on a sticky note and write long about it is good.  

But the reality is so often bad.  Random thoughts jotted down in a rush of careless haste.  Pages  of sticky notes detailing every event in a book.  Seemingly endless numbers of stickies with stick-figures drawn on them, stuffed inside of a desk like packing peanuts in an Amazon box.

What to do about sticky notes?

Shana Frazen, a staff developer at TCRWP, gave a lecture where she shared the idea that “stickies are a means, not the end.”  We forget that the purpose of writing a sticky note is to get kids to think at a deeper level than they otherwise would have.  A sticky note is a tool meant to help foster greater thinking.  Here are a few things I’ve tried to support student work with sticky notes.

Problem: Students never write any sticky notes, so they have no thoughts to work off of.

Strategy – Stop and Jot During Read-Aloud

The read aloud is the time of the day that you get to up the complexity of the work your students are doing.  You’re reading and thinking-aloud from a post-it-worthy text.  I’ll frequently stop my read-aloud to have students jot down what they’re thinking.  Sometimes they’ll talk to partners and then jot, to get a larger perspective.

The read-aloud is also a great place to show students the variety of thinking and jotting they can be doing.

  • Jot down inferences and predictions
  • Stop to sketch when a particularly vivid portion of the text comes up.
  • Make lists–lots of lists!  We have lists of character traits, lists of things that repeat, lists of main events.  The kids have learned that they can grow a lot of thinking from good lists.

The read-aloud not only models for students the kinds of note-taking they can be doing in their own reading, but it gives them material to work with if they continue to struggle to take independent notes.

Strategy – Whole Class Stop and Jot Times

If students are having a tough time monitoring their own sticky noting (either with too much time spent writing or none at all) you can institute whole class stop and jot times.  I wouldn’t do this more than twice in a reading period, and I’ve cut it down to just the end of the reading period for my class.  We stop 2 minutes early, and students jot down what they’re thinking.  It’s enough time for them to flip back through their book if necessary and to spend some time reflecting on what they think are the most important ideas to record.  It’s also a good time for me to quickly remind them of the charts we have around the room, detailing good places to stop and jot.

Problem – Students Don’t See the Purpose of Sticky Notes

Strategy – Use Them!

Remember, stickies are a means, not an end!  What are you doing with them?  Are they placed in the books students are reading, only to be ripped out and torn away when the students are done?  Are they carefully placed in a reading notebook…never again to be read or used?  I’m certainly guilty of all of these.  A few ways we can use stickies:

  • Preparation for a grand conversation.  Have students go through their notes and pick out the most provocative idea that they want to discuss as a class.  Students can also use their sticky notes as evidence during the conversation.
  • Write long.  Students take one sticky, or many (see photo), and write longer about what it means.  It helps to have sentence frames for students to push their thinking when they do this work, such as “For example,___” and “This is important because ____.”  These could be done in a reading journal or reading letter.
  • Preparation for book clubs.  Much like grand conversations, students use sticky notes as jumping off points for their club conversation.  They can also put their best sticky notes together and try to see what ideas “go together” vs. if any ideas contrast.

    First page of a "Write Long" page.

    First page of a “Write Long” page.

Second side of a "Write Long" page.

Second side of a “Write Long” page.

Problem – Student Thoughts on Sticky Notes are Terrible

We’re all familiar with these.  They go like this: Annemarie and Ellen are friends.  Or like this: I have a dog like Jack.  Or this: I predict Percy will win in the end.  They’re maddening.  

Strategy – Revise Post-Its

  • Take a ho-hum post-it and revise it.  Ask students to add on with words like “___because___” or “This tells me that,___.”  If they absolutely have nothing more to say, this may lead them to their own realization that they need to dig a little deeper for the next jot.
  • Ask students to sort their sticky notes into categories.  Shana suggests the following labels: “Big Deal,”  “Kind of a Big Deal,”  “No Biggie.”  Have students think about the significance of the event, the people, or the thought, on their sticky note.

Strategy – Teach When Good Post-Its Are Likely

Books give us signals when a significant idea comes up.

  • Repetition is a signal.  A repeated object, line, or event is no accident.  You can teach students to notice when something is repeated and to stop to consider it’s significance.
  • Change is also a signal.  When a person does something strange, or the weather suddenly changes, it’s a sign that something important is happening.  Students should also stop at these junctures to think about the meaning.
  • Lingering is a signal.  “Lingering” is a term I learned from Shawn Murphy, a 5th grade teacher at my school.  It refers to the idea that when an author spends a long time detailing a person or event that doesn’t seem important (think about the turtle from The Grapes of Wrath) there is probably some symbolic significance behind it.  Instead of just thinking, “that was weird,” we want students to stop to consider the purpose behind the writing.
Chart for good places to Stop and Jot

Chart for good places to Stop and Jot

If you have more ideas, please share!

Organizing Small Group Materials

15 Dec
My small group table.

My small group table. The seats are storage crates from Target that I covered. GREAT for fitting lots of kids and not dealing with chair feet (and they can double as storage! Click on the picture for a link to the blog that shares how to make these.

Working with small groups requires organization.  A lot of organization.  I’m using a small, cheap bookshelf to hold my supplies right next to my small group table.  Each pencil tray holds a pencil, dry-erase marker, eraser, container for magnetic letters, and sticky notes.

Student Supply Tray

Student Supply Tray

I organize student books and writing journals by reading group.  Each group has its own book box, where their small writing journals stay.  That way, when I begin a group, one student can easily grab a pencil tray for each student, and take out the group’s box.  It’s easy set up, easy clean up.  You can grab these simple supplies almost everywhere.  If you’re looking for high-quality materials, and a lot of choice, I would recommend abcstuff.  It’s a site devoted to resources for reading and reading recovery materials.

Bookshelf near the table with student supplies.

Bookshelf near the table with student supplies.

For my own records, I currently use a binder.  It’s divided into sections, one per group, and a back section for resources, such as word-work pages and research.  Each group’s section has the lesson plan for what the book we are reading, and on the back of a lesson plan is a recoding sheet where I jot down my running records, observations, or place a student work (usually sticky notes with their jottings.)  I don’t love it yet.  It’s convenient to have everything together, but somewhat cumbersome to use.

Binder with a pocket for books to read with groups.

Binder with a pocket for books to read with groups.

It’s important to have a system that works for you, or the sheer quantity of materials will make you crazy.  I’d love to know how you organize your small group supplies!  What’s working well for you?

Organizing Your Classroom Library

11 Dec

Classroom libraries…so wonderful, so important, such a drain on time and money.  It feels like I’m never done reorganizing, restocking, and repairing mine.  I’ve tried a number of configurations over the years, some of which make me laugh when I think about them:

  • Alphabetical by authors last name.  This is when I was  a first year teacher.  It was a ridiculous method.  Children struggle with alphabetizing, so it’s out of order immediately, and it’s challenging for children to find genres they like, or books at appropriate reading levels.
  • Organized in bins by genre and author.  My second attempt at organizing my library.  An improvement over the first, but not quite enough guidance.
  • Completely leveled.  Having all of my books leveled definitely helped my most struggling students.  By fourth grade, they’re so used to reading books they don’t understand that the goal of “find a just-right book” rarely happens.  Unfortunately, this fostered in children a sense that they were “P” readers or “U” readers or “L” readers.
  • Genre, author, series, level, and partner bins.  Last year I reorganized my library into many categories.  Favorite authors have their own bins (Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl), favorite series (Harry Potter, Magic Tree House), genres (Fantasy, adventure, biography) and levels for my most struggling (J/K box, L box).  In addition, I have a partner book area.  These books are all leveled, and come in pairs, so that reading partners can enjoy books together.  I have these books leveled so that it’s faster for partners to find books (they still take forever to debate their choice) and I have them in a separate area so that they don’t get mixed in with individual books.

Book boxes organized by author, genre, or series.

So far, I’m happy with this arrangement.  Having the majority of my books organized by author, genre, and series, allows me to ask students, “What kind of a reader are you?  Who do you like to read?  What genre do you enjoy?”   I found that a relatively specific level of organization–for example, my fantasy books are divided into magical fantasy, adventure fantasy, and fairy/princess fantasy–lets children identify what they enjoy even more efficiently.


Partner books organized in levels.

Each book has a label with the name of the box and the number of the box typed on it, so that they can put the book back in its appropriate place.


Book label and book box label with the title and number of the box.

Scholastic has some more ideas about how to create classroom libraries.  Happy organizing!


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