It’s no surprise that series books are the most popular section of my classroom library. Series books provide excellent support for middle-to-late elementary students who are transitioning into the more independent stages of their reading development. From the predictable, episodic series at the earlier part of this reading band to the single story-arc dramas that dominate the more advanced series, I’ve seen students make great strides when they plug into a just-right series. Read on for tips about using series books in your classroom. Then, next week, I’ll share a list of my favorite series books for kids!
Before thinking about how to use series books in our classrooms, it is helpful to think about who will be using these books — namely, our middle to upper elementary students. In most grades 2–5 classrooms, many of the students are considered “transitional readers.” That is, they have moved past the emergent/early reading stage with its focus on decoding predictable texts. However, transitional readers have not yet reached the advanced/proficient/independent stage, and still need some supports to help them with increasingly challenging texts. They are well on their way in their reading development, and series are a great way to help them over the comprehension hurdles of this stage.
Transitional readers have wide-ranging reading needs that look very different in terms of their reading behaviors. In general, transitional readers may be tackling some of these challenges:
My students talk about their favorite book series the way some of us teachers talk about our favorite Thursday night TV programs. “Have you tried Lemony Snicket? It’s sooo cool!” one student tells his friends. Meanwhile, other students swap their Geronimo Stilton books each morning with the fervor of art house auctioneers. What is it about series books that tempt some young readers to read ten, twenty, even thirty books in succession?
In her book On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading, Sharon Taberski writes about the supports provided in series chapter books:
Children at the transitional stage read a lot of ‘series’ books. Through their shared characters, settings, and events, these books support transitional readers’ development just as the repetitive language and structure of emergent and early texts supported them when they were starting out (p. 17).
As reading teachers, we know that our students need to read many books at their independent reading level in order to make progress. (For more information about the correlation between time spent reading and reading achievement, check out Richard Allington’s research, such as this article about effective elementary literacy instruction.) However, many transitional readers have a difficult time “getting into a book,” and some reluctant readers spend more time browsing for books than actually reading them. Once a student is comfortable with a series, he will have many books with which to practice reading before having to face the challenge of finding a new book again. When a student is hooked on a series, I generally breathe a sigh of relief — he’s set, at least for now!
Stay tuned: next week, I’ll share a list of some of my favorite book series. (For more series suggestions follow me on Twitter too!) In the meantime, be sure to sign up for Scholastic’s Series Favorites Live Webcast scheduled for April 17, featuring the authors of Goosebumps, Guardians of Ga'Hoole, and Dear Dumb Diary.
I keep series books easily accessible, and I change the selection throughout the year.