Saturday, April 28, 2012

Choice Reading--I'm a believer!

This year, I completely revamped my English 10 Choice Reading program. Scratch that--this year, I created a Choice Reading program. Before this school year, I had an expectation and requirement that students would read one "choice" book per quarter, but I did not have any guaranteed built-in time for students to read and work with these choice books. That all changed this school year, thanks to some inspiration from Kelly Gallagher and a friend and colleague of mine, and the results of this new program have been amazing! 

Here are the basics:

  • Students are required to read at least one book of their choice each quarter. (This expectation has not changed.)
  • The first fifteen (15) minutes of every English 10 class is "Choice Book Reading" time. Right after I greet the class with "good morning" or "good afternoon," we all settle in with our choice books and I start the timer for 15 minutes. ( Note: We all read our choice books. I read, too!) Students must read their choice book during this reading time, not the required reading text we're studying as a class. I started the 15-minutes of choice reading on the first day of school (we all read a short story that day since I knew that not everyone would have a book), and I have stuck with it despite schedule changes, shortened class periods due to late openings, etc. Consistency is key! It would be too easy to find reasons why we "can't" fit it in the schedule. The reality is that it is just as essential as any other activity we do in class.  
  • Within the first couple of weeks of school, our class took a trip down to the library where the librarian gave book talks and had them complete an activity which involved exploring different books. Some students found their 1st quarter Choice Book on this library visit.
  • Each quarter, students complete a creative assignment and present their book and project to the class. The first quarter project was a book review, the second quarter was a bookmark project, and third quarter was a choice between a bookmark (because it was quite popular), a poster for a movie adaptation, or a soundtrack for the book. Regardless of the activity, students discuss key motifs and themes as part of their presentation, and they share a key passage from the text. All of the activities require more thought and analysis than mere plot summary.

the choice reading bookshelf in my classroom

The collection has grown a bit since I took this photo a couple of months ago. The bookshelf is now overflowing and I have an basket of books that sits beside the shelf, and some additional books are on one shelf of another bookshelf in the room. At the beginning of the school year, I asked for donations from friends and family. (Thanks to all who donated!) I've brought in books from our bookshelves at home, and some of the books are from the Choice Book Room that our English Department is blessed to have. I also pick up books from the bargain section at Barnes and Noble from time to time and purchase some from Amazon, especially when students share a title that becomes very popular in the class.

Here are some of the results of this Choice Reading program:
  • Although they are only required to read one book each quarter, the majority of my students are reading several books each quarter. I have one student who checks a new one out at least every other class! Some students are developing a love of reading while others are rediscovering this love that had become lost in the craziness of their teenage lives. Students are learning which genres and authors they like. Of course, I do have a few students who do not really enjoy the gift of fifteen minutes of reading each class, but the vast majority do.
  • Since the students present their books and projects each quarter, they are also working on their presentation skills. And since I videotape each presentation and students watch and reflect on these presentations, their public speaking skills are continuing to improve.
  • My students love talking about their books! They enjoy sharing their thoughts about the books, and they frequently read books that other students have recommended. Books tend to trickle through the class and then students have discussions about these common texts.
  • The students ask me about what I'm reading, and they love to suggest titles. A few months ago, when I added Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to the choice bookshelf and told them a bit about the novel, several students recommended that I read Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life because they thought I would find some similarities. That YA novel became my next choice book, and the students loved the fact that I read their recommended title.
  • My students are more open to the required reading in class, and they are making more connections between texts.
  • My students' vocabulary skills are improving, as are their discussions about assigned readings.
some of the popular titles in my classes right now

Here are my three favorite Choice Reading moments from this school year thus far:
  • When the timer goes off at the end of fifteen minutes, I ask the class to find a stopping point and take out their vocabulary (or whatever it is we're working on next). One day, as the timer went off and I quietly said "go ahead and find a stopping point," one of my most reluctant readers moaned, "But I want to keep reading!" The whole class looked at him and then he looked up from his book and said, "Yes, I admit it. I like reading!" It was one of the best moments of my teaching career! 

  • Back in January, a new student joined one of my classes. Before we started our choice reading time that day, I asked the student to introduce himself and tell us what kinds of books he enjoys reading. When he didn't tell us about what books he enjoys, I asked him again and he replied, "Oh, no, I don't read." The entire class gasped and turned to look at him, their mouths wide open. Then one of the students picked out a book for him to read and we started our fifteen minutes of quiet reading. The reading time had become such an understood part of the culture of that class and the class clearly enjoyed it--I was thrilled.

  • When I add books to the shelf, I do a mini book talk. A couple of weeks ago, our department spent our monthly meeting time sharing nonfiction titles. The next day, I went to our Choice Book Room and picked up some of the titles which I thought my students would find the most interesting, and then I shared a bit about the books before we started our reading time that day. As soon as I said, "okay, go ahead and grab your choice book and get ready for our fifteen minutes of choice reading," four or five students literally ran to the front of the room to grab books that I had just finished sharing! I must say, I loved seeing my students arguing over who grabbed the books first! The one out of that list that is most popular in my classes right now is Half a Life: A Memoir by Darin Strauss.  
The fifteen minutes dedicated to choice reading means that some time is being taken from focusing on other activities and skills, but, as a whole, I see so much improvement as a result of this new program that I believe it is well worth it! 


  1. Sounds like a great idea! I love the idea of asking for donations for friends and family. I know that many of my relations have stacks of books in their closets!

  2. Great idea! I so wish that my English teachers had implemented a program like that. I LOVE the results that you are seeing too. Reading is such a gift, and I am glad that you had the vision to make it a part of their everyday educations. I will keep you in mind next time we are cleaning out our bookshelves!

  3. Sorry for the delayed reply...
    Ms. Scott--Now that back-to-school sales have started, I'm thinking it's about time to start asking for donations again. :)
    Meredith--Thanks! I'll take anything you want to get rid of! :) This coming school year I am going to work in Choice Reading time with my IB classes.