The first few weeks of school are busy with building routines and community. But just as important – building relationships with books is critical in setting the tone of a classroom full of readers. Here are some practical ways I accomplished both – building friends with books and with each other.
Choose the “just right” read alouds everyday. Children find comfort and purpose in the texts we read. From the shy student who thought it was hilarious I didn’t have a purple tounge like Mrs. Watson to the class conflict we resolved from sharing our scales like the rainbow fish, books build threads that tie a classroom community together. Picking books that represent your goals, classroom community and big ideas remains pertinent to this selection. The second week into school I started my first chapter book read aloud to lay the foundation for important comprehension strategies and effectively refocus students when their stamina and attention lags. Below are some of my favorites and a unique list from Nerdy Book Club to explore.
Bring books home the first day and every day. I took a risk here and opened my classroom library before establishing clear boundaries and expectations. My purpose was twofold. The classroom library is not mine, it is the readers. Having access to books builds interests, investment and connections to home. It has given me plenty of teachable moments and potential ideas for lessons to come. Yes, students are picking books way above their independent levels, but they are reading, talking about books and developing an important habit of taking books wherever they go.
Watch and talk with kids. In a recent blog post Jennifer Serravallo shared ways to get to know your readers. She recommended kid watching while documenting observations on a class checklist. After two weeks of this I know which kids think every book is too easy and which ones worry about picking one that is too hard. I know their interests, their engagement and possible reading goals. I also know who is able to sustain working for more than 10 minutes and who will need scaffolding. I will get to the more formal assessments of reading skills, but strategic kidwatching has given me information about my students as readers that no diagnostic could. Here is a blank checklist for observations or an Excel editable option to use.
Partner kids based on interests, not reading levels. This idea came about through kid watching. When building a community of readers, children need opportunities to talk about books with others. As the year goes on they will be strategically paired with readers who have similar needs. But right now, as we all become friends, reading next to someone who has the same interests, regardless of their reading level is a powerful human connection.
Above all, focus on building a community of readers and writers, not a community of rules and procedures. Students thrive in a space where learning is not governed by rules and compliance but the universal need to communicate. A love of literacy conveys the need for routines and expectations within a classroom community.