Building a Community of Readers in the High School Classroom

This past week my high school held a professional development summit with two other neighboring high schools. It was a fun way to kick off the school year since teachers had the opportunity to learn from and present to other teachers throughout the day. My friends, Lindsay Grady and Amanda Canterbury and I ran a two part session about the importance of a reading community in the high school classroom.

Lindsay, Amanda, and I are voracious YA readers and love fostering a love of reading in our students. It was my principal who suggested that I put something together for the summit; it was just the nudge I needed to make an inkling of an idea blossom into something more. I had been thinking about creating a PD session that was interactive and revolved around reading, but I wasn’t sure how or where to make that happen. Once my principal mentioned the summit, I knew I wanted Lindsay and Amanda working with me.

Lindsay's Read AloudSince each session ran for 50 minutes, we decided to run it in two parts. The first part would be the why we do what we do and the second part would be the how we do what we do. We focused on read alouds, book talks, a book pass, independent reading projects, and sustained silent reading (SSR). During the first part we explained what each of these are and tips/tricks/books to use. When we moved into the second session the teachers experienced a read aloud, book talks and a book pass. It was relaxed and really fun. Lindsay read aloud the first twelve pages of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which will definitely hook readers. Amanda book talked Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby and shared why it made her cry. I book talked All the Rage by Courtney Summers and read the first five pages when Romy provides readers with a powerful flashback. We also shared pictures of our classroom libraries, book displays, and different projects students have created in response to reading. The three of us also made sure to express the importance of CHOICE; our students wouldn’t be nearly as excited about reading without choice.Amanda's Book Talk

As the three of us worked on creating this session, I couldn’t help but think about how powerful it would be if the attending teachers could leave with books to add to their classrooms. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and reach out to a few publishers for help. I’ve requested books from publishers, but I have never requested enough books to hand out to a large group before. I didn’t know what to expect and I felt awkward sending the emails. My friends, YA publishers are awesome and generous. Thanks to their overwhelming kindness, the teachers who attended our session left with roughly 10 books each! At one point this summer, I think I had close to 400 books in my basement.

Bags of BooksGrocery bags of books lined the front of the room where we presented. We waited until the end of the second session to surprise the teachers with the books and I really wish I would have taken a picture of their faces. They were SO EXCITED when we told them what was in the bags! A few were excited that the books Amanda and I book talked were included. For the rest of the day teachers approached us to thank us or to say that they were disappointed that they missed our session. It’s priceless knowing that those books are going to reach students across three school districts. I’ve tweeted it a few times already, but I’m going to say it again: Thank you, HarperCollins, Little, Brown & Co, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Candlewick Press!!!

Summit Books

I uploaded the presentation we created onto Slideshare and am including the link here if you’d like access to it. Lindsay, Amanda, and I included a link to Penny Kittle’s Book Love Grant and to ALAN’s website. We also have links to class library book recommendations, graphic novel recommendations (after it was requested by an attending teacher), and read aloud recommendations. If part of the presentation doesn’t work or if images are missing, please let me know.

Unleashing Readers Blog Hop–Reading Favorites

Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg created a new blog called Unleashing Readers.  It’s designed to help teachers find the resources they need when teaching reading and various types of literature.  A group of us (teachers) have been asked to participate in a blog hop and share a few of our favorite books that we use for different types of reading.

Unleashing Readers LaunchWeek2

1. My favorite read aloud–This is a tough one because I’ve read so many books aloud and I always get a different reaction from every class.  Right now Boy 21 by Matthew Quick and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate are tied.  They couldn’t be more different in terms of audience, plot, and characters, but my students have loved both for many reasons.  And I love reading them aloud and how I feel while reading them.

Boy21The One and Only Ivan

2. My favorite close read/analysis book–I’ve been thinking about this one for a few days now, and I’m still not sure.  My YA Lit students read Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn and almost every time I teach that class, my students find something different to discuss or analyze.  We spend a lot of time comparing Nick in the past (based on his journals) and Nick in the present (after the restraining order).  We also discuss his future, his family background, how society reacts to stories like his, and so on.

If I’m choosing a classic, I think I’d go with Lord of the Flies and Hamlet.

Breathing Underwater Original Cover

3. My favorite lit circle/book club book–I’m honestly still navigating lit circles because I never feel like I get them right.  A lit circle book works best when there’s plenty to discuss.  According to my students, it can’t drag on and be too slow either. 😉  My YA Lit II students appeared to really enjoy discussing Unwind by Neal Shusterman in their lit circles.    There are multiple points of view, plenty of big issues, lots of action, diverse characters, etc.


4. My favorite book for my classroom library–I had to pack up all of my books this summer because many of us are switching classrooms, myself included.  I counted up my books and I think the final total ended up around 1,300.  So this is a tough one to decide on because I have so many books to choose from!  I’m cheating, again, and choosing more than one.  My favorite book for girls who want to read something edgy even though they don’t like reading would be Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.  It hooks them almost every single time, but this is a TOUGH read. I’ve had more than one student put it back, but almost all of those girls want to read another book after they finish it.  For my boys who need something funny to hold their attention, I am choosing Swim the Fly by Don Calame and Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach.  Both are funny books that hook my reluctant guys, but there’s also something more than humor in each book.

livingdeadgirlStupid FastSwim the Fly audio

5. My favorite book in general–I don’t have kids yet, but that is like asking me to choose a favorite child. Oh my goodness.  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was one of the books I read for my college YA Lit class and it struck a cord with me.  I remember being so disappointed that I wasn’t going to be in class the day we discussed this one because I had so much to say about it.  After finishing it, I wanted to read more books like it.  I’ve read it aloud multiple times to my freshmen classes.  Laurie Halse Anderson was the first author I’ve Skyped with.  Whenever a new edition of Speak comes out, I buy it.  I don’t connect with it on a personal level, but it stayed with me.


Sophomores, Third Graders, and Picture Books

This past school year one of the third grade teachers in our district, Ms. Dumas, approached my assistant principal about arranging high school students who would read to her class of students.  When I was informed of this, I immediately told my Honors Sophomore Seminar students who were quite excited about the idea.

Ms. Dumas and I started emailing back and forth right away and decided that Mondays and Wednesdays at the end of her school day would work out best.  I organized a sign up sheet for my students, borrowed lots of picture books from the library, and was off and running.  My students are familiar with read alouds since I read aloud to them every day, but they aren’t used to reading to kids.  Every Monday and Wednesday I read them a different picture book and provided them with different read aloud strategies for them to use.

The third graders LOVED it when we visited them.  Ms. Dumas told me that Mondays and Wednesdays became their favorite days 🙂  Something that made me proud is that my students weren’t getting a grade or extra credit for doing this.  Some of them were able to use the hours for community service, but other than that they simply did this because they enjoyed it.  It made them feel good to see the kids so happy and excited.  I truly had some fantastic sophomores this past school year.

Hannah B.Marisa L.Megan T.
Matt P.

Here’s a list of some of my students’ and the third graders’ favorite picture books (I apologize for the goofy cover layout):

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown (Goodreads)
You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown (Goodreads)
Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman (Goodreads)
Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee (Goodreads)
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Goodreads)
When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore (Goodreads)
Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds (Goodreads)
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (Goodreads)
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (Goodreads)
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt (Goodreads)
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems (Goodreads)

Children Make Terrible PetsYou Will Be My Friend!Boy + Bot
Boot & ShoeI Want My Hat BackWhen a Dragon Moves In
Creepy Carrots!Dragons Love TacosInterrupting Chicken
Scaredy SquirrelGoldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

My students read to these students for about six weeks or so, and on the last day the third graders read to my students.  They had been working on writing and polishing informational texts for a couple weeks, so they were thrilled to switch roles.  Ms. Dumas also brought in popsicles for all of us to eat when everyone was done reading.  It was a really fun way to celebrate such a positive all-around reading experience.

3rd grade readersReading to MarissaReading to Matt LReading Day Group
Ms. DumasMy Kids @ Reading Day

Next year we’d like to have two groups of students come in to work with Ms. Dumas’s new group of third graders.  She wants her students to be stronger writers too, so we’re thinking about pairing up her students with some of my students as pen pals.  Next year we’d also like to arrange the read alouds to fit more with what she’s teaching her students.  We talked about doing an author/illustrator study, comparing ways of telling fairy tales, etc.

To all of my Twitter friends who suggest titles for us to read–THANK YOU!  I had so much fun sharing the books you recommended with my students and watching them share them with the third graders.

Flash Reviews (17)

Title: I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

Flash Review: I’ve been wanting to read I Am the Messenger for a while, but it hasn’t made it very far in my TBR pile until I assigned my Sophomore Seminar students to read Printz novels over the summer.  I know a couple of them chose it for their summer reading, and I’m sure a few others did as well, so I felt a little more obligated to read it this summer.  I’m glad I did.  I couldn’t finish Markus Zusak’s other book, The Book Thief, so I was wary when I started this one.  The writing style and language took some time to adjust to, especially the Australian slang and terms.  Once I got into the flow of the book I didn’t want to put it down.  I really like Ed.  He’s completely ordinary and really doesn’t have anything going for him.  I was almost surprised he accepted the challenge of the cards, but he does and it’s wonderful to watch.  The more Ed focuses on the cards and his missions, the more dynamic he becomes.  It’s no surprise to me that I Am the Messenger was a Printz finalist; it’s a wonderful, beautiful book.

Title: The One and Only Ivan

Author: Katherine Applegate

Source: Borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads): Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Flash Review: Have some tissues handy when you read The One and Only Ivan because it will most likely make you cry.  I did.  I love that Katherine Applegate from this story from Ivan’s point of view; I don’t think it could have been written any other way.  My heart was breaking within the first pages of this book.  Ivan hasn’t been around any other apes since he was taken away as a baby.  His narrative of this made me teary.  He’s not what the humans who come to see him think he is; he’s a gentle soul.  Ivan’s an artist.  Every time he described his drawings I thought about apes in the zoo and wondered if they think in a similar way.  I know that Applegate wrote this and gave Ivan human-like thoughts for the sake of the story, but it still makes me wonder.  I’ve never liked the circus and after reading this I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never go to one again.  Ivan’s cage/domain/life is tragic and sad, but there’s hope woven into the story.  Ivan, the other animals, and the reader may not always feel it, but it’s there on every page.  The One and Only Ivan is a feel-good book that I hope you’ll read.  I’m really considering reading this to my sophomores and hoping they’ll enjoy it as much as I did.


As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

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