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October 4, 2012 Rethinking the Book Box By Genia Connell
Grades 3–5

    What have you read today or even this week? I was thinking about this question a few Sundays ago. I had read a couple of chapters on Kindle, a professional journal article, parts of six different newspapers, a catalog, several texts, tweets, emails, and i-messages. I'd also browsed through two magazines and a few cookbooks. Pondering this, I had to ask myself why, if my own reading life is so varied and I am trying to create lifelong readers in my classroom, do I strictly regulate what my students read and when? It just didn’t make sense, and I knew I needed to make a change.

    Personal book boxes are a key component of my reader’s workshop. After examining my own reading habits, however, I decided to revisit my idea. I’ve always had tight guidelines regarding what students could keep inside their boxes to optimize reading instruction. They were allowed the one book they were currently reading and the next two books they wanted to read, all of which had to be at their “just right” reading level.

    At times, I even dictated the genre of all the books. While students absolutely love IDR (Individualized Daily Reading) time, it was truthfully the only time of day book boxes were being used effectively. In the three short weeks since I’ve changed up my idea of what a book box should be, I have seen a noticeable difference in my students’ reading habits. They are reading every spare moment they can, and I’ve even had to dissuade a few from taking reading material to every recess. This week I’m happy to share with you how my book boxes underwent an extreme makeover and to describe the differences I am seeing in my students' reading habits as a result.


    The Book Box

    For the actual book box, I've tried several different materials including cardboard boxes and even decorated, cut-up cereal boxes. (I must have had way too much time on my hands that year!) Finally, I settled on the more expensive, but sturdy boxes from Really Good Stuff, which have held up perfectly over the past five years.

    The first aspect I rethought was the name label. In the past, students decorated their own numbered label on an index card, which I laminated and taped to the front. Somewhere along the way, I decided to create adorable, themed book-box labels to give my classroom that neat, color-coordinated look I loved on so many teacher blogs. This year I went back to my old ways. Not surprisingly, there were way more oohs and ahs over their own labels than mine ever garnered. My point here is give your students ownership of whatever you possibly can in the classroom.


    The Contents

    The insides of my students’ book boxes have undergone a great transformation this year. Although we still have established guidelines for what goes into a reader’s book box, the class helped me determine what those guidelines should be, as you can see on the anchor chart we made below. The big additions to our IDR books are two new categories: microreads and short reads. In the past, students would always ask me if they could read when they had a spare minute or two, and I would usually say yes. But honestly, how easy is it to get into or enjoy a chapter book in a three-minute span? By allowing students to expand the types of written material in their book boxes, the amount of time they spend reading has expanded as well. Admittedly this book box makeover is still new to us, and our classroom list of approved materials is still in flux, but here is what we have agreed on thus far:

    book box anchor chart



    This category covers things students can read when they have just a few minutes to spare. This includes magazines, comics, joke books, brochures, catalogs, and menus. (Yes, some like to read menus!)

    Short Reads

    This category is for when they have ten minutes or less. Students decided it should include magazines, Scholastic News, picture books, almanac and record books, their writer’s notebooks, poetry books, and books that really interest them that may not be at their just-right reading level. 

    IDR Reads

    At this time of year my 3rd grade students are working towards thirty minutes of sustained reading. For IDR time, students still need two to three books at their level that they can read the entire time without needing to book shop.



    Reading Response Binder

    Students keep a reading response binder in their book boxes. As with the label on the front of the book box, I let them design the cover. Because we use computers a great deal in the classroom throughout the year for writing and projects, this was an easy way to introduce students to formatting fonts, adding backgrounds, clip art, and pictures.





    I PICK Bookmarks

    These are the first bookmarks I give my students, and most keep one in their book box the entire year. I prefer a bookmark to a poster on the wall or a sheet in their binder (I’ve tried both) because they seem to attend to it better when they have it at their fingertips daily.

    Still, students are not allowed to overload their book boxes. They must know what’s in there, what category it fits into, and when it is appropriate to read it. Thus far, students have done a great job with their organization. One boy brought two large manila envelopes he uses to separate his micro- and short reads, and another student uses plastic binder dividers to keep her box’s contents organized. Students are bringing in more materials from home now, too, whereas previously, they relied heavily on my classroom library.

    Whenever I try something completely new, I get excited when I see positive results immediately. That’s been the case with my book box makeover. With all this reading going on in my classroom, they of course need to show some accountability, so within the next few weeks I’ll go a step further and share a few of the ways I’m having my students respond to what they’re reading in their binders and elsewhere. I’d love to read your comments on how you are using book boxes in your classroom or how you have students respond.

    Some of my favorite professional books for reader's workshop include: 


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Susan Cheyney