Fall in Love with Reading

Our English Department requires students to read at least one ORB (outside reading book) a semester, along with reading the grade level novels on our curriculum guides. Last year I noticed because the ORB reading ended in one culminating project, my students either “fake read” or rushed to finish a book at the last minute. I was fortunate enough to attend the UCI December Conference for Teachers and the keynote speakers were Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle…I know, awesome, right? Both Gallagher and Kittle make reading in class  a priority because as Kittle suggests “engagement leads to volume leads to rigor.” The more time and encouragement we offer students to fall in love with books, the more likely they will read more and then in turn try more challenging texts. Following the conference, I made outside reading a priority. Here’s what I did:

1. In Class Time for Reading

I tried my best to offer 15 minutes each day solely to the reading of their ORBs. This was my opening activity and as soon as the bell rang, I stared my One Click Timer and everyone read quietly until the timer went off.

2. Reading Conferences

Taking the idea from Gallagher, I created a Student Reading Conference journal and called up about 3-4 students each period to talk about their reading. During this time, I learned what types of books my students loved, their favorite genres, and discussed the plots of their current books. Not surprisingly, many students said they enjoyed reading, but with all their homework and extracurricular activities they had stopped reading for enjoyment. Several of my  Honors freshmen explained that the last time they had read a book out of their own volition and not because it was a class assignment was in upper elementary or sixth grade. The conferences were extremely valuable as I felt it also helped me establish stronger relationships with each student in my class.

3. Book Clubs

Also inspired by Kittle and Gallagher, this past month, I assigned students to Book Clubs. I selected six books for the students to choose from and asked students to complete a Google form ranking their top choices; to help, I supplied a brief synopsis of each book and links to book reviews to make ranking easier. I used the results to assign students to Book Clubs in each period. Most students were assigned to their  first or second choice.

Students met once a week in Book Clubs to discuss their reactions. Each week, I provided guided questions to help support their conversations, along with assigning one task. These questions and tasks were shared on Google Slides during each Book Club meeting.

Meeting Foci (we had 4 meetings total):

  1. First Impressions
  2. Character Analysis
  3. Passage Annotation
  4. Theme/ Character Analysis (Final Meeting)
    Sample Book Talk Slides (1)
    These are samples of tasks completed during Book Club meetings via Google Slides.
    Today was our final Book Club meeting and I tried for the first time a Fictional Twitter Account activity I discovered on Twitter (ironic?). Tony Vincent tweeted this blog post. Check it out! The students made a copy of the Google Drawing template and then once they were done, downloaded the file as a JPEG and uploaded it to our Google Slides. Their creativity was astounding! As I circulated the room, I heard giggles and conversations such as “that character would say that!” How awesome to observe students having fun while they critically thought about the characters in their Book Club books.

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Book: Out of Reach

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Book: Unwind

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Book: Shattering Glass

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Book: 13 Reasons Why
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Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Next week, my students who read Out of Reach will get to Skype with the author, Carrie Arcos during lunch. This will be my first time Skyping in the classroom, so I am super excited!

I don’t yet know how I plan to follow up Book Clubs, but I do know that I care about making the love of reading in my class a priority and I hope when students leave my class this year they will be able to say that they fell in love with at least one book!


Building Background Knowledge

Our district has adopted a focus strategy this year of building background knowledge in order to help all learners access the content. I begin semester two teaching the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell. I take the following steps to help build background knowledge and increase engagement with the text.

I. Anticipation Guide: Class Discussion

I embed a Google form version of an anticipation/reaction guide that requires students to think about statements that link thematically to the novel. After filling in their initial reactions, students have a discussion about how they reacted to the statements; they are then required to complete the short answer questions related to their Lit Circle discussions. After submitting their Google Form,  I then open up a whole class discussion in which students talk about their smaller discussions.

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II. Flip Instruction w/ a W-S-Q

Typically, I would present a mini-lecture or show a short clip in class that provides some basic background on the Russian Revolution. However, now I link the video to my Haiku page and have students complete a W-S-Q via Google form (watch the video, summarize the video, and pose a question) at home. This is a strategy created by my DLC, Crystal Kirch. If you want more info see her blog!


I then get to school a bit early the next day and sort the Google Form results by their “Point of Confusion” questions. I take the top six most often asked questions and post them around the room at what I call their “parking lots” (since I have six Lit Circles per period, we have six parking lot locations). Students rotate with their Lit Circles reading, discussing and answering the questions. Once all groups have discussed all six questions, each group must share out the response to the question that is posted to their original parking lot.

We then play a review game with quizizz. I love quizizz because the game is self-paced and the questions pop up on the students’ screens. Depending on their responses, a funny meme will appear on their screen. The site tracks correct responses and time to give each student an overall score (much like Kahoot). Whoever has the highest score earns a participation point for each person in their Lit Circle.

III. Socratic Smackdown

I discovered the Socratic Smackdown one day while researching resources for Socratic Seminars. This creates a higher level of engagement with the seminars due to the competitive/game aspect of the strategy. Essentially, my students are posed with the question: what makes an effective leader? and they attempt to answer the question with peers in an inner circle. I do offer one article to start their research, but in Lit Circles students must do their own research and also reference the first two chapters of Animal Farm . In Lit Circles, they have about 1 full day to research and prepare questions on a shared Google Document.

The day of the Smackdown, there are six rounds of Socratic Seminar that are timed for six minutes. During each round, a Lit Circle must send up a new speaker for the inner circle. Each speaker is scored by a different student who is not speaking in the inner circle on a scorecard and Google Form. Each individual score is added to the overall team score. During each round, the outer circle is either scoring, giving feedback to their teams’ speaker via the shared Google Document, and/or participating in a discussion on the back channel with Today’s Meet. The winning teams each period earn 5 bonus points.

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Do you have a favorite, engaging way to build background knowledge before starting your units of study? Please share!!