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January 11, 2012 Recharging Independent Reading – New Routines for a New Year By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    By the end of December, I began to hear many of my students grumbling that they couldn’t find anything to read. My students were still engaged during independent reading time, but I noticed that many of them were rereading books that they had read earlier in the year. Other baskets in my library were literally getting dusty. I spent a lot of my December vacation browsing other teachers’ blogs, reading dozens of new children’s books, and planning for a week of independent reading rehab. Read on for my concise plan to add some polish and shine to independent reading.


    Time for a Relaunch

    In September, I spent several weeks firmly establishing our Readers Workshop. I try to create a “readers' culture”: a classroom environment that celebrates books and readers' struggles and successes. (See my post about the read-alouds I use to launch Readers Workshop.) By October, my students were devouring books, building their reading stamina, and proudly showing off their completed reading logs. My students were leading the “readerly lives” necessary to make progress — the launch was a success!

    Several weeks ago I thought back over the components of my early autumn success. Back in September, I gave daily book talks, I left plenty of time each day for my students to discuss their independent reading with the class, and we celebrated every reading milestone. Now, as my students advanced in their reading and thinking skills, I realized that I had pulled back on the celebratory aspects of Readers Workshop. I was also spending less time matching books to my students in favor of letting them choose books independently while I conferred with readers or led strategy groups. It was time to bring some of the showmanship back.


    Phase 1: Reorganizing Our Classroom Library

    Many of my role-model teachers begin the school year by organizing all of their classroom books collaboratively with their students. While I’ve always looked at these teachers in awe as they dump boxes of miscellaneous books out to sort, this just doesn’t work for me. I carefully cull through my collection and set out neatly labeled baskets of books for the beginning of the school year. (See my post on my classroom library organization system.)

    By now, my students know how our classroom library is organized, and they have taken on the responsibility of maintaining our library. They are well prepared, I decided, to reorganize our library. I began by letting my students know that we were going to put away baskets of books that the majority of the students were no longer interested in or had outgrown to make room on our shelves for new books. I pointed out that we have a wide range of reading levels and interests in our class, so students should be sensitive to the fact that a book that may seem “too easy” to one student might be “just right” for another.

    Last Chance Book Basket LabelI gave my students these “Ciao for Now” and “Please Don’t Leave!” forms to record their personal suggestions. That evening, I compiled their suggestions, choosing a dozen series and authors that my students had almost uniformly outgrown. The next morning, I hung these “Last Chance” labels on those baskets and let my students know that they had two days to read any of those books before they were put away. Interestingly, many of my students borrowed from those baskets — the fire-sale mentality worked.

    In September, I only put out about half of my classroom library books, the books that meet my students’ levels and interests at the beginning of 3rd grade. Normally, I swap books in and out of my library fluidly throughout the year, but this year I wanted to make a bigger production of adding the new books to the library.

    A display of new books.

    I mixed a dozen new series, authors, and assorted topics of books in large cardboard boxes and set them out for the students. I explained that these were books that I hadn't felt were appropriate for them at the beginning of the year, but that they have now grown into. I then asked them to work in teams to sort the books and place them into baskets.

    The excitement was incredible. Students shouted out, “Whoa, check out this dragon series!” and “Books about WWII! So cool!” My students were begging me to borrow the new books. “Not until they are all sorted,” I replied. Phase 1 complete!


    Phase 2: Student Book Talks and Must-Read Lists

    Now that my students were buzzing about the books in the library, it was time for Phase 2 of my plan. I reminded my students about how I frequently give book talks to introduce a new book or series to the class. “As mature, mid-year 3rd graders, you are now going to get the privilege of signing up to give book talks about books you read and want to recommend to the class.”

    I set out a sign-up calendar and passed out these guidelines for giving a book talk. I also explained that I would give book talks for the next two days to give students a chance to read some of the new books and to prepare their talks. After a book talk, I always set out an index card for students to sign up to read the featured book to prevent fights in the library. I also showed the students how to record the books they wanted to read in the future on this “I Can’t Wait to Read . . . ” form.


    Phase 3: Keeping It Fresh

    My independent reading rehab plan is going really well. My students are buzzing about books again, several students have already given enthusiastic book talks that have led to long lists of students who want to read those books, and my students are discovering books that were in our classroom library all along, but that they had previously overlooked.

    I obviously want to make sure that this momentum keeps up through the rest of the school year and doesn’t get tossed aside like my gym-routine New Year's resolution. These are a couple of the ideas I have for the coming months:

    • Basket Exchange: Each month, one of the other 3rd grade teachers has agreed to swap a basket of books for a basket from my class. Student recommendations and reviews will be tucked into each of the books in the swapped baskets.
    • Book Trailers: There are so many great book trailers available online to help get students excited about starting a new book. I really need to make more of an effort to show these trailers to my students. I often turn to Scholastic’s Books & Series Booktalk videos for high quality, reliable book trailers.
    • “Shop and Tell”: On my class website I have posted a collection of links to blogs and websites that post children’s book reviews and recommendations. My students can sign up once a month to browse these websites during independent reading time to find new books that they are interested in adding to our class library. They need to fill out a “Shop and Tell” form, either in hard copy or online, for their book recommendations. Each month, I will buy some of their suggested books to add to our library. (I’m grateful that my students’ parents are willing to fund this initiative!)

    How do you keep independent reading fresh in your classroom? I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions so I can add to my bag of tricks. Happy New Year and happy reading!


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Susan Cheyney