Choosing just-right books is a major focus during the first few weeks of school, but with readers continually growing, just-right book choices continually change. For years I have done the “shoe” lesson, a classic lesson created by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (also known as “The Sisters”), which is designed to help students find books that are a good fit for them. I drag a bag of shoes to the front of the room and talk about how shoes are like books. Different shoes fit differently and have a different purpose, just like books!
This year, I did the lesson, but instead of dragging in a bag of umpteen shoes, I composed a PowerPoint presentation of various shoes and books. I was so proud of myself for incorporating technology into what I knew would be a captivating lesson. In the past when I did the lesson, I felt like students really made the connection between shoes and books. But all classes are different, and for this class of third graders the concept of shoes and books seemed too abstract. I needed something more concrete. I also realized my third-grade students were ready for some more sophisticated discussions about reading fluency and what it sounds like. That day during reading workshop I voice-recorded several reading conferences.
The next day I opened reading workshop with these words: “I want you to hear what just-right, too-hard, and too-easy reading sounds like.” With that, I played three pieces of audio and let them be the judge of which reader was in a just-right, too-hard, or too-easy book. To avoid embarrassment, the too-hard piece of audio was a recording of a student from a previous year that I’d saved for assessment purposes. After I played the audio of each reader, I asked the class, “What do you notice?” Their answers included, “That sounded robotic,” “That was smooth,” and “Wow! She zipped through that—toooo easy!” These answers were a gateway to conversations about fluent reading and what just-right reading sounds like. As a class we analyzed and discussed what each reader was doing as they read books that were challenging, easy, and a good match. Students also made references to the I-PICK good-fit books anchor chart to justify their analyses.
As I sent students off that day to read, I asked them to spend at least a minute reading a portion of their book aloud. I asked them to focus on two questions: “Are you working so hard on reading the words that you can’t see a movie in your head?” and “Did you sound like a robot or smooth?”
Helping students learn to select just-right books is a yearlong job. Just when you think you have it mastered in your classroom, a child finishes a book and is at a loss for picking a new one (it reminds me of the arcade game where you bop the fish head that sporadically pops up again). As students become stronger readers, they become more self-sufficient in this task, but the sooner they understand what just-right reading sounds like, the better they can help themselves choose good-fit books.
This lesson is one I plan to repeat throughout the year, highlighting the students who are discovering just-right books along the way. I imagine sharing audio footage of conferences with the whole group will be inspirational, fun, and keep the goal of choosing just-right books at the forefront of our reading workshops.
Quick Tips for a Just-Right Books Lesson
1. Use your phone to record the audio (apps like Evernote work well). To project out to the class, plug speakers into the phone.
2. During independent reading time, record three or four students you know are at different levels to give yourself variety. For the “too-hard” example, don’t use a student from your class, to avoid embarrassing anyone.
3. Record each student for up to two minutes.
4. Review or repeat this lesson throughout the year whenever you notice students are struggling to pick books.