Book Thoughts: LOVE by Matt de la Peña


Yesterday, we read Love as a class for the first time. This important book, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long, brought about thoughtful discussion and challenged some thinking. For our first read yesterday, I slowly read the book aloud once straight through pausing to allow students to spend some time with each image. Students thought and turned and talked a few times during this first read.

Today, I read it aloud again. As I did, students freely jotted and sketched their thinking in their notebooks.  Then, we had a great discussion. After our discussion, students jotted and sketched again.

Here are a few of those thoughts from their jots and sketches…


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Book Thoughts are the unedited jots and sketches from my readers during and after a shared read aloud and discussion. Reading, thinking, and jotting together is perhaps one of our most impactful classroom activities.




Book Mingle!

I’ve been thinking lately that my fifth graders need more opportunities to talk about books that they are reading  and learn about books that may be new to them. We often do book talks as a whole class and partner talks, but I wanted to incorporate a more fun and casual way to chat about books. So, last week in class we started a new activity to get us moving and quickly talking about books. We call this activity The Fifth Grade Book Mingle! Book Mingling happens in a few simple steps.

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Step 1: Students come in at the start of the school day and get right to our morning soft start (thank you, Sara Ahmed!). During soft starts, students enter the room, put their things away, and settle into reading a book of their choice for 15-30 minutes. It is a great way to start the day! All of my students read and I get to confer with them as they do. We do this every single day.

Step 2: I ask students to come to a good stopping point in their books and then announce,”Get ready to mingle!”

Step 3: Music starts and students move about the room while holding up their books in view of their fellow minglers.

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 9.58.36 AMStep 4: Music stops, students talk about their books and ask each other questions! To get students going with this, I modeled talking about my current read, Love by Matt de la Peña, with a couple different students. I talked about what I really liked about the book and how it made me think and feel. I also asked questions about the books my temporary book mingle partners were reading.


Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times!

Book mingling is such a fun way to get kids up and moving, talking about their books, and then learning about new books their friends are reading- which will grow their to-read lists. My goal is to do this with my fifth graders two to three times each week. With book mingling, engagement is high and the talk around books is natural and authentic.


Thanksgiving Reading Plans

Thanksgiving reading Blog ImageThanksgiving break is upon us! So, of course this was a great time to do a healthy reading habits check in with my fifth graders. During the past few days, I spent time conferring with each of my fifth graders around their at home reading habits. As a class, we discussed how Thanksgiving break is the perfect time to truly dig into a good novel… the weather is cooler, lots of in-between moments for reading abound: travel time, waiting time, after dinner time, etc, and no other school work, extra classes, or lessons will be scheduled that may get in the way of the important work of reading.

There’s no need for a cutesy worksheet, dreaded reading log, or homework assignment to get kids reading outside of school. In fact, using those methods to assign reading make reading about complying with the teacher’s expectations rather than reading to grow, learn, and enjoy as an individual. Instead, provide kiddos time to find and take home a great book (or a few in the younger grades), support each reader in creating a reading plan through conferring, and talk about it! Not only did we discuss our reading plans during reading workshop, but also we discussed them in our opening and closing circles at the start and end of the school day.

Each of my fifth graders now have a great, self-selected read or two to delve into over Thanksgiving break. In addition, they also have a plan for reading and friends to come back to after break to chat about the book.

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This reader spent some time choosing a book to dive into over break! He and I then conferred around strategies he’ll use when reading the text and putting his plan for reading into place.

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This is his plan- on a stickie note stuck inside the front cover of the book. No need for a purchased worksheet- plans should be authentic and come from each individual reader.


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During our closing circle, these are the readers who said they already read The Lost Hero.  So, here is who my reader will check in with after break to chat about the book. This stickie note is also inside the front cover of the book. The best motivation to read is a self-selected book and other readers chat with about the book. No need for stickers or points when the motivation is authentic and intrinsic!


Happy Reading & Happy Thanksgiving! 

Our Community of Readers

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 9.12.43 AMThe current school year with my fifth graders is now three months in, and I can safely say, we are a community of readers! This past Thursday, I took a step back while conferring with my readers, looked around the room, noticed someone giggling in a corner with his head in a book, saw two readers sharing a book and whispering behind the pages, heard the beautiful buzz of pages turning, pencils jotting, and realized everyone was fully engaged in their reading. It was an amazing moment! My mind quickly thought, “We have arrived!”

But, I know better. We have arrived and gelled as a community of readers in this particular moment, but there will be moments ahead when one of them will struggle through a text, or painfully search for a book without success, or just disengage from reading for another reason. This is why the hard and important work of choosing books and talking about our reading is never over. So, while we didn’t necessarily arrive on our journey, we were in a really nice place along the way this past week.

So, what are the tricks and methods that helped get us to this point on our journey?

We read twice a day everyday for a sustained period- no matter what. A couple years ago, I heard Sara Ahmed speak about how she does “soft starts” with her class everyday. This is where kids arrive at school, put their things away, and settle in to read for 20ish minutes to start the day.  I’ve been implementing this in my classroom ever since I heard her speak about it. It’s been such a fantastic way to start our everyday.  My students come in, put their things away, and read any book of their choosing- everyday no matter what. We then also read during our reading workshop time- in reading workshop students read for roughly 25-45 minutes after a short lesson. This time in the morning also gives me a chance to check in with everyone, say good morning personally to each student, and get a good grasp of how everyone is doing at the start of the day. I will never ever start my days in any other way.


Reading is not homework- it is a way of life. At parent conferences a couple weeks ago, one of my classroom parents mentioned now that their child is not assigned reading

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Readers bring classroom library books to and from school/home each day so they can really commit to falling for a book!

homework, they are reading more than ever at home. Don’t get me wrong- I fully expect my kids to read at home. But, I don’t phrase it that way. Rather, my kids are asked to work on their personal reading goal everyday outside of the classroom. For some, that will be to kick back, take a break from all of their extra curriculars and laugh along with Raina Telgemeier. For others, it may be to read in what Donalyn Miller calls reading in the in-between moments- this includes always having a book at the ready and reading in the car, in line, or even while waiting at a sibling’s sports practice. For many, it includes carving out a sacred 25-40 minutes at home in a quiet space and continuing on in their current read from class. So, when reading is no longer seen as something they have to do for their teacher, and instead something they get to do to grow, love, learn, and enjoy on their own terms, kids start to read more.


We don’t log our reading, rather we keep track of it through visual, authentic kid-made representations. Reading logs are a complete drag. Really, there is no better way to simply say it. Years ago, I ditched the reading log in my classroom. Honestly, reading logs make reading about complying with the teacher’s requirements rather than falling in love with a book. However, I believe that kiddos still need to have an idea of their reading patterns and a record of growth. So, enter our personal bookshelves and book stack photos!


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One student’s personal book shelf, showing her reading from August through October.

With personal bookshelves, kids create a page in the front of their readers notebook to visually keep a record of the reading they’ve done all year. Fully colored in books are read, partially colored in books are partially read, and books not colored in are to-be-read. Each child makes their own, and the design of the shelf is completely up to them. I’ve seen pre-made worksheets being sold on some websites with the same idea, but I honestly think that is misguided practice. The personal bookshelves work because they are just that- personal. Each child creates and maintains their own shelf. The motivation is high because is is 100% kid created! There is no reason any teacher should waste their money on a pre-made worksheet for kids to fill in when students can create their own.

I first learned of book stacks when I saw Penny Kittle speak at a conference a few years

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One student’s October book stack photo. Students can choose to be in the picture or to feature the books alone.

back. She does book stack photos with her high school students so they can see how much they have read and grown as readers over a period of time. I loved the idea so much, I started using it in my fifth grade classroom! We take book stack photos at the end of every month to show the books we finished that month. At the end of the year, all of my students have nine photos of their books read all year. It’s amazing to see the smiles on kids’ faces when they see all that they have read and accomplished. However, what really can’t necessarily been seen is how they have transformed into avid, happy, and engaged readers hopefully for years to come.


We model how incredible reading is with daily read aloud. The best marketing device

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Getting ready for read aloud! Every day after recess- no matter what. Our current read: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

for encouraging a love of reading is directly modeling it through read aloud and authentic discussion around a shared book. This can include picture book read alouds, novel read alouds, shared reads, and much more! This is something that is done multiple times a day. For example, if I look back at this past Thursday in my classroom, I read aloud to my fifth graders four times: in our opening circle (which follows our soft start) I read aloud a short current events article for all of us to discuss, after recess I read aloud from The Wild Robot for 15 minutes, during writing workshop I read aloud a students’ piece of writing to point out a particular craft move (this was actually more of a shared read as it was projected on the board), and finally during social studies I read aloud for a few minutes from a book about Jamestown. These four modeled reading sessions were not only subject specific, but also they were great marketing devices for how great reading can be! It’s important to mention that I don’t just hope my students see how great reading is in these experiences- rather, I explicitly point it out… “Wow! Did you see how Peter Brown just addressed the reader? That is such clever writing!” or “Huh. I didn’t realize that about Jamestown. It’s amazing how much this little book is teaching us!” Now, my students are pointing it out, too!


While kids are reading, I confer with them. 

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My November conferring schedule- it’s not fancy, but it helps me stay on track! The top week is Halloween week- my conferring goals weren’t met, but not for a lack of really trying!

A conference is a one to one conversation between two readers: a student and me. My goal is to hold a reading conference with 5-7 kids each day. Sometimes I achieve this, sometimes I don’t, but I always try. There are a multitude of benefits to conferring with readers. In fact, Kari Yates and I wrote a whole book about it! We’re really looking forward to sharing our love of conferring with readers when our book comes out from Stenhouse Publishers in early 2018! Taking a step back and watching a classroom full of kids transform into a classroom full of engaged readers is great, but sitting down, and getting to know each of them individually as a reader is even better!


The most important thing to mention when reflecting on our community of readers is that there are no tricks, gimmicks, or purchases (aside from books) that one can implement in a classroom to turn a group of kids into a community of readers. The absolute only way to do it is to provide books, secure and fiercely protect reading time, confer with readers to offer support, and then to let them read- no matter what. As elementary school teachers, there is no task or job that is more important. As one of my education heroes, Dr. Mary Howard often says, “It is our responsibility.” As soon as we start viewing it that way, things will fall into place- with a little hard work, rejection of gimmicks (I’m looking at you, Teachers Pay Teachers and other worksheet mills), and acceptance of the idea that “the only way a kid became a reader is by reading.” Thank you to Kylene Beers for that one.


Related Posts

Wonder: The First Few Days of Reading Workshop

Why I Ditched the At-Home Reading Log

Personal Bookshelves

Falling in Love with Books!

Reading: It’s Just What We Do! Access, Choice, Volume, Support

Wonder: The First Few Days of Reading Workshop

My first four days of school have come and gone. It’s now the weekend, and I am back in my beloved, currently fog-draped, city of San Francisco for a couple days reflecting on the past week and planning ahead for the days to come.

This morning, I’m thinking about our first few days of reading workshop. Specifically, I’m thinking of the first day.

On the first day, I gathered my class in our meeting area, and told them that my one goal this year is for each and every one of them to consistently find books that they love, find a lot of them, and happily read those books every single day in fifth grade and then beyond. And, that there is only one way to make this happen…

“The most important thing you can do as a growing reader and citizen is read. So, today, you will explore the classroom library, choose a book or two or three, and just read!”

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 9.34.42 AMAs my fifth graders sat listening to my words, I noticed many of them peeking back at the classroom library. It appeared that the anticipation for exploring all that the library had to offer was growing. After a few more brief words about taking time to choose a book they actually want to read, I set them free! I gave my fifth graders free reign of the classroom library, and just simply let them read. As they started reading. I stood back, wondered, and observed. Using my trusty clipboard, I recorded what I noticed.

What did I look for and Take Note of?

  • Who quickly found a book?
  • Who took time to carefully select a book?
  • Who had a difficult time finding a book, or didn’t find one at all?
  • Who settled into engaging reading right away and never looked up?
  • Who eventually settled in after carefully choosing a book?
  • Who had a more difficult time settling in?
  • Who never really settled in?
  • Where did they choose to read? Their tables, on the floor, in bean bags, near others, away from others, etc…
  • Which books were chosen? (I wrote each title down next to each reader’s name on my clipboard)
  • Were any conversations authentically started around finding books or reading?
  • Were any sticky notes used for jotting things down? What was jotted down?

As I stood back with my conferring clipboard, I just wondered about these new, fifth Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 9.42.31 AMgrade readers in front of me. I did not intervene, I did not jump in to teach, I simply stood back, wondered, and took notes about each and every one of them for those 30 minutes of independent reading time on the first day of school.

My wondering did not stop with independent reading time. With about five minutes left, I invited my readers to give an informal book talk about their current read or about any book they read this summer. Two readers took  me up on that invitation! Listening to their book talks and observing the rest of the class during the talks also revealed quite a bit about my readers.

On day two, I did the same. I simply invited my readers to read, stood back, wondered, and took note of what I observed. Four more readers asked if they could give book talks that day.

On day three, I knew quite a bit about each and every one of my new readers! I was ready to give a whole group lesson based on patterns I saw. In addition, I was ready to sit down with my readers to confer- to have one to one, in the moment, individualized conversations.

It was a great start to the school year! If you have not yet started school (or even if you have), before you jump in to teach your readers, I invite you to take a step back and truly wonder about each and every one of them. Try to get to know them as the unique people and readers that they are. Look for what is going right first, and then what might need a little guiding. Really try to learn what they need before you teach. Let your readers guide you. Your teaching and your readers will be so much stronger because of it!

Happy Back to School! 


See you at ILA!

For a little over a year now, Kari Yates and I have been working on a book! As we head into the final stages of the writing process, we are excited to share some of our ideas with others at the upcoming International Literacy Association Conference in Orlando next week! If you’ll be there, we’d love to have you join us!

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What Kids Remember…

Small Writing/Big Idea

Think back to your days in school. What is it that you remember most as a student? Field trips, assemblies, friendships, great teachers, reading, writing?

You might be wondering why I tacked on reading and writing to the end of this list. Recently, in casual conversation at school, a couple people were mentioning that kids don’t remember the academics of school, but rather the “fun” stuff like field trips or field days or festivals. While I don’t disagree with this idea (who doesn’t love field trips?), I have to say that it is only part of the truth.

If academics are presented to kids in ways that both engage and empower them, that is

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Making writing engaging and memorable with Heart Mapping inspired by Georgia Heard

exactly what they’ll remember. The most powerful teachers are those who effectively inspire students to learn, wonder, create, and take chances. Kids remember being engaged in learning.

Nothing warms my heart more than when a former student writes a letter or comes back to visit and tells me that he loved reading in my classroom or that she never knew the power of writing could be so strong. Better yet, nothing is better than when they tell me that they still love reading or writing.

What do students remember? They remember what we value as teachers. They remember the passion, excitement, and community around what we choose to deem important. I know what I deem important. What is it for you? What will your students remember?



Falling in Love With Books 

Reading: It’s Just What We Do! 


Reading Letter to Classroom Families

This is a direct copy/paste of the reading letter I posted on my classroom website for my fifth grade families. Next Wednesday, I’m looking forward to sharing some of my students’ summer reading plans! So far, I’ve been blown away by what they’ve come up with. Happy reading, friends… 
Dear Room A1 Families,
               When your fifth graders entered our classroom door this past August, I told them that my biggest hope and goal for them was to not only be curious thinkers, but also to become or grow even more as highly engaged readers. Your child and I are happy to report that our mission has been accomplished!
In addition to being highly pleasurable and a great way to pass the time, study after study has found numerous benefits to reading more. This great image from my current read, Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, nicely sums up some of those findings. To continue their lifelong reading journey that they started in elementary school, it is absolutely critical that your almost-sixth grader continues to choose his or her own books for pleasure reading this summer, in sixth grade, and then beyond in the future.
            Remember, the right book to read is the book your child chooses on their own; it’s the book they can’t wait to read, the one they may read under the covers with a flashlight, or even heard about from one of their friends, or that they included on their summer reading plan (ask your child about their well developed plan for reading this summer!). The right time to read might just be those in between times (as my literacy-ed hero Donalyn Miller so smartly points out). In between times are when we’re waiting in line, sitting at a sibling’s sports practice, or even waiting for the rest of the family to wake up on a weekend morning. The best time to read certainly does not have to be a dedicated hour. Although, wouldn’t it be great if all of us could find that hour everyday- imagine how much kinder and wiser our society as a whole would be!
               It is my sincere hope that your almost middle schooler continues to read for pleasure after we say goodbye on June 1st. The academic and social demands of middle school can easily allow pleasure reading to fall by the wayside. This is why every entering sixth grader needs a reading champion to keep them going with what they started way back in kindergarten and intentionally crafted here in fifth grade. Encouraging and ensuring frequent trips to the local or school library, one of our many local bookstores, or even a few downloads on a tablet are a good start!
               Access to books, time to read, and choice in what they read are the key to keeping our kiddos on the path to lifelong reading. It has been my absolute pleasure being your child’s reading champion this year. It is an even greater pleasure to pass this baton on to you and our greater Palo Alto & Stanford community as a whole. Remember, literacy is power- all kids are capable of great things through this power!
Happy Reading!
Local Reading Resources
Middle School Library Overdrive (free digital reading & audiobooks starting 7/1)
Mitchell Park Library, 3700 Middlefield Rd.
Rinconada Library, 1213 Newell Rd.
East Palo Alto Library, 2415 University Ave.
Books Inc, in Town & Country Village
Kepler’s Books, 1010 El Camino Real

Planning for Summer Reading: Read Aloud!

With only 9 days of school left, we’re in the midst of making plans for summer reading!

Today, I invited my fifth graders to recommend a book to others in class for potential summer reading. They were so excited as they raced through the classroom library to find loved books that they had read previously at some point during their fifth grade year.

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Book stacks of recommended reads!

While I sat at the front of the room in our meeting area, my students started to stack their recommended books next to the read aloud that we just finished as a class (if you haven’t yet read The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary yet, you must do it soon!).

With nine days remaining, read aloud will be a little different- either I or one of my students will give a book introduction and read the first few pages aloud to the class. Today, we enjoyed the first few pages of The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, Book one in Keeper of the Lost Cities, and Book one in The Series of Unfortunate Events.

As the pages were read aloud, I heard whispers of, “Oh, I have to read this one!” and “I’m adding this to my list!

I’m looking forward to continuing our summer reading planning over our final days of fifth grade! This coming Wednesday, I’m going to share my parent summer reading letter and more details about our summer reading planning.


Happy reading, friends!


Personal Bookshelves

I’d venture to guess that no reader ever was excited to jump out of bed after reading to fill in their assigned reading log. I’d also venture to guess that many readers have unhappily left the comfort of their beds to do so. I, for one, would not leap out of the warmth of my bed after finishing a chapter or two to fill out a piece of paper just to prove to someone else that I had, in fact, read the night before!

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Anna’s bookshelf after two weeks of school

Rather than requiring students to fill out an at-home reading log to only prove they have read, my fifth graders reflect on their choices as readers by maintaining a personal bookshelf. I first saw this idea when visiting one of my colleague’s classrooms (thank you, Jenna Segall!). The personal bookshelf is a visual representation of books read, books to read, books currently reading, and even books abandoned. Readers may choose to include any book read at home, independently at school, in book clubs, and even class read alouds. They are welcome to add picture books, novels, fiction, nonfiction, magazines- you name it! Once or twice a week, I remind my readers to take a few moments to update their shelves. Some need the reminder while others don’t. It is up to each reader to organize and maintain their shelves in they way they they see fit. Just as the name states, these shelves are personal. The purpose is for each student to reflect on their own reading preferences- to truly learn more about themselves as readers. I do not check their book shelves for completion, rather I confer with each of my readers around their choices and goals.

Steps to Creating and Maintaining a Visual Personal Bookshelf 

  • Invite students to draw shelves (lines) on a blank piece of paper- this can be done with the back of a reading folder, on a heavy piece of card stock, or even on the inside cover of their reading notebooks (our preferred spot in 5th grade).
  • When students find or learn about a book they want to read, they draw a book on the shelf.
  • When they start reading, they color in the fraction of the book they read. So, if a reader has read one out of ten chapters, 1/10 of the book is colored in.
  • If a book is abandoned, it is left partially colored. Readers may or may not choose to come back to the book later.
  • Once a book is finished, it is fully colored in.
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Anna’s bookshelf with 11 days left in the school year

Now that our school year is coming to a close, each of my fifth graders have a record of what they have read and want to read. Today and tomorrow in class, we’ll be using our personal bookshelves to reflect on our school year as readers and to make summer reading plans.

I am so excited to see how each of my readers choose to continue their journey with books!

Happy Reading Friends,



Why I Ditched the At-Home Reading Log