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September 7, 2016

5 Tips for Building a Set of Anchor Texts

By Julie Ballew
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    I’m sure I can be described in many ways, but I hope that those who’ve met me know that I am a lover of books. Picture books, chapter books, titles in nearly every genre — I just love books! As a language arts teacher, I believe that there is no greater tool at our disposal than a high-quality text. When I am lucky enough to find a book that seems to be exploding with teaching possibilities, I make sure to add it to my set of anchor texts in the classroom. An anchor text is any book that is read and referred to often throughout a school year because it can be used as a model to teach a variety of reading skills and strategies.

    Why Use Anchor Texts?

    One of the most common questions I am asked is something along the lines of, “Do you know a good book to teach [insert reading skill here]?” I have seen some fabulous lists on the Internet of books sorted by skill so that you can hunt down a book to teach "inferring" or "summarizing." Unfortunately, this can quickly lead to frustration if you can’t find the exact book listed. Instead, I believe in building a set of 5–10 books that provide ample opportunities to teach any skill you can imagine. These books, which you can rely on to provide teaching opportunities all year long, are your anchor texts. In Lester Laminack’s fabulous new book, The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource, he calls these texts “Best Friend Books.” He says that a Best Friend Book “is a rich, robust deep text that allows us to see more each time we visit, to gain deeper insights, and to come away knowing more about ourselves as readers and writers.”

    So how do we go about building this set of books? Where do I find that list? I will link to a few of my favorites below, but first I’d like to give you a few tips for choosing your own.

    Image of 5 Tips Printable

    1. Know your standards and your scope. It is much easier to choose a book with lasting power if you know what standards you will address throughout the year. No need to walk around with a list of your standards tucked in your pocket, but having a good sense of what you’ll need to address across the year will help you recognize a good anchor text candidate when you see it.

    2. Look for a book that you love. If you don’t love it, I don’t care how many lists it’s on, don’t put it in your stack. Anchor texts are at their most powerful when they are used again and again. If you haven’t fallen in love with it yet, reading it again and again won’t make it any better. You’re also likely to see more teaching opportunities in books that you love. You can respect a book’s quality and reputation without adding it to your go-to set of titles. You are a professional. Trust yourself!

    3. Picture books are great for any age. Even if your students are reading chapter books independently, picture books make great selections for anchor texts because they can be read in one sitting and still pack a powerful punch. Don’t be afraid to use a picture book with older students! You might be amazed at some of the higher-level vocabulary and inferring possibilities wrapped up in seemingly simple picture books.

    4. Any time you enjoy a book as a reader, read it again with your teacher eyes. How many times have you strolled through the book fair or your local retailer, thumbing through books to see what catches your eye? Some of my favorite anchor texts have been found by happy accident, but only when I loved them enough on the first read to go back and read it again while hunting for teaching opportunities. Once you’ve built the habit of reading with your standards in mind, it’s hard to turn it off. I rarely read a book anymore without spotting pages or passages that would be great to model self-monitoring or synthesizing.

    5. Make note of the teachable places when you see them. When you think you’ve found a good candidate, make note of the places that would be good teaching tools. Mark these with a sticky note flag so that they are easy to locate when you need them.

    Once you’ve chosen your first few anchor texts, you’ve got an important job: the first read. The first read of an anchor text mustn’t be interrupted by frequent stops to discuss the plot or examine the author’s purpose. Those tasks have great purpose, and their time will come later. The first read, though, is more about enchantment. If this is a book that you will use again and again, you want your students to love it as much as you do. I love how Lester Laminack calls this a “movie read.” He’s right: you don’t use the pause button the first time you watch a movie. You allow yourself to be enveloped in the story all the way through before analyzing the acting or the cinematography. Don’t rush those analytic conversations — they will come soon enough. Let the first read be magical.

    Instead of constantly searching for a new book to teach a single skill, choose a high-quality set of texts and be prepared to revisit them all year. Weave them into the fabric of your classroom community. Your students — and your sanity — will be better for it.

     

    A Few of My Favorite Anchor Texts

    Note: I currently teach fourth grade, but I have used these with multiple grade levels. I don’t believe that any author writes a book with the intention that students would only have access to it after they reach a certain grade level. Remember the tips above, and if these books meet your needs, the grade level shouldn’t matter.

    Cover of Those Shoes book

    Maribeth Boelts has given us a powerful story about a boy who wants a pair of popular shoes that he cannot afford teaches a valuable lesson on wants vs. needs and the power of giving.

     

    Cover of The Relatives Came book

    This seemingly-simple classic by Cynthia Rylant tells the story of a family reunion. It is PACKED with examples of excellent craft to share with your student writers.

     

    Cover of Come On, Rain! book

    Karen Hesse somehow turned a blistering day and impending rainstorm into a beautiful story of hope and renewal.

     

    Cover of Our Tree Named Steve book

    I love this book for so many reasons. The text by Alan Zweibel is endearing and so relatable, and the illustrations by David Catrow make for some incredible conversations.

     

    Cover of City Dog Country Frog book

    This sweet, poignant story of unlikely friendship is another story that allows for so many levels of conversation.

     

    How do you choose books to share with your class? I would love to hear from you!

    I’m sure I can be described in many ways, but I hope that those who’ve met me know that I am a lover of books. Picture books, chapter books, titles in nearly every genre — I just love books! As a language arts teacher, I believe that there is no greater tool at our disposal than a high-quality text. When I am lucky enough to find a book that seems to be exploding with teaching possibilities, I make sure to add it to my set of anchor texts in the classroom. An anchor text is any book that is read and referred to often throughout a school year because it can be used as a model to teach a variety of reading skills and strategies.

    Why Use Anchor Texts?

    One of the most common questions I am asked is something along the lines of, “Do you know a good book to teach [insert reading skill here]?” I have seen some fabulous lists on the Internet of books sorted by skill so that you can hunt down a book to teach "inferring" or "summarizing." Unfortunately, this can quickly lead to frustration if you can’t find the exact book listed. Instead, I believe in building a set of 5–10 books that provide ample opportunities to teach any skill you can imagine. These books, which you can rely on to provide teaching opportunities all year long, are your anchor texts. In Lester Laminack’s fabulous new book, The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource, he calls these texts “Best Friend Books.” He says that a Best Friend Book “is a rich, robust deep text that allows us to see more each time we visit, to gain deeper insights, and to come away knowing more about ourselves as readers and writers.”

    So how do we go about building this set of books? Where do I find that list? I will link to a few of my favorites below, but first I’d like to give you a few tips for choosing your own.

    Image of 5 Tips Printable

    1. Know your standards and your scope. It is much easier to choose a book with lasting power if you know what standards you will address throughout the year. No need to walk around with a list of your standards tucked in your pocket, but having a good sense of what you’ll need to address across the year will help you recognize a good anchor text candidate when you see it.

    2. Look for a book that you love. If you don’t love it, I don’t care how many lists it’s on, don’t put it in your stack. Anchor texts are at their most powerful when they are used again and again. If you haven’t fallen in love with it yet, reading it again and again won’t make it any better. You’re also likely to see more teaching opportunities in books that you love. You can respect a book’s quality and reputation without adding it to your go-to set of titles. You are a professional. Trust yourself!

    3. Picture books are great for any age. Even if your students are reading chapter books independently, picture books make great selections for anchor texts because they can be read in one sitting and still pack a powerful punch. Don’t be afraid to use a picture book with older students! You might be amazed at some of the higher-level vocabulary and inferring possibilities wrapped up in seemingly simple picture books.

    4. Any time you enjoy a book as a reader, read it again with your teacher eyes. How many times have you strolled through the book fair or your local retailer, thumbing through books to see what catches your eye? Some of my favorite anchor texts have been found by happy accident, but only when I loved them enough on the first read to go back and read it again while hunting for teaching opportunities. Once you’ve built the habit of reading with your standards in mind, it’s hard to turn it off. I rarely read a book anymore without spotting pages or passages that would be great to model self-monitoring or synthesizing.

    5. Make note of the teachable places when you see them. When you think you’ve found a good candidate, make note of the places that would be good teaching tools. Mark these with a sticky note flag so that they are easy to locate when you need them.

    Once you’ve chosen your first few anchor texts, you’ve got an important job: the first read. The first read of an anchor text mustn’t be interrupted by frequent stops to discuss the plot or examine the author’s purpose. Those tasks have great purpose, and their time will come later. The first read, though, is more about enchantment. If this is a book that you will use again and again, you want your students to love it as much as you do. I love how Lester Laminack calls this a “movie read.” He’s right: you don’t use the pause button the first time you watch a movie. You allow yourself to be enveloped in the story all the way through before analyzing the acting or the cinematography. Don’t rush those analytic conversations — they will come soon enough. Let the first read be magical.

    Instead of constantly searching for a new book to teach a single skill, choose a high-quality set of texts and be prepared to revisit them all year. Weave them into the fabric of your classroom community. Your students — and your sanity — will be better for it.

     

    A Few of My Favorite Anchor Texts

    Note: I currently teach fourth grade, but I have used these with multiple grade levels. I don’t believe that any author writes a book with the intention that students would only have access to it after they reach a certain grade level. Remember the tips above, and if these books meet your needs, the grade level shouldn’t matter.

    Cover of Those Shoes book

    Maribeth Boelts has given us a powerful story about a boy who wants a pair of popular shoes that he cannot afford teaches a valuable lesson on wants vs. needs and the power of giving.

     

    Cover of The Relatives Came book

    This seemingly-simple classic by Cynthia Rylant tells the story of a family reunion. It is PACKED with examples of excellent craft to share with your student writers.

     

    Cover of Come On, Rain! book

    Karen Hesse somehow turned a blistering day and impending rainstorm into a beautiful story of hope and renewal.

     

    Cover of Our Tree Named Steve book

    I love this book for so many reasons. The text by Alan Zweibel is endearing and so relatable, and the illustrations by David Catrow make for some incredible conversations.

     

    Cover of City Dog Country Frog book

    This sweet, poignant story of unlikely friendship is another story that allows for so many levels of conversation.

     

    How do you choose books to share with your class? I would love to hear from you!

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