As the year comes to an end it feels natural to celebrate the books we've loved. In previous years, I invited my students to list their favorite books on a form. They fill the page pretty easily, just writing down names of titles that were on the shelf that day or ones that I had recently read. It started to bother me that this "list" felt like a worksheet they just wanted to finish.
This year I tried some new strategies to help my readers spend time with the books they have loved and think about why they loved these books. I knew that I wanted to balance the time I spent at the beginning of the year building their identity (finding out what, where, and when they like to read) with time at the end of the year making choices about books and knowing why and what they want to read. Here are some strategies we used for rediscovering our favorites.
So that we could have a good look at all our favorites, I asked my students to empty their book bins (legal size cardboard file caddies students use to keep track of their books). Kids first sorted their own books from their personal bin back into our classroom library. Our library is a basket system where books live according to genre, subject, author and other categories we've created (rhyming books, picture books we can read, etc.). The students have practiced sorting books bi-monthly, as they frequently put back the books they've practiced and search for more.
The second sorting involved individual baskets of books. Students worked with partners to sort a few baskets each and brought the misplaced books back to the circle for discussion. Alissa and Marco sorted through the Kevin Henkes basket and the rhyming book basket, finding that the Little Three Bears and Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie were accidentally misplaced there. During share, we discussed where the misplaced books belonged, and put them back into the "Fairytales" and "Good Friends and Citizens" baskets.
I knew that by sorting through books the kids practiced categorizing, and getting their eyes on titles they may have forgotten throughout the year. This was the first time in the year I asked that their book bin books stay in their respective baskets and out of individual bins. I knew that it would allow us to display and have ready all of the titles and favorites so that we could see them all again.
After the sorting was accomplished, I re-displayed many of the books, just like a librarian brings attention to the newest title. I made executive decisions about what I remember my kids loving and started to stand books around the room on chalkboard ledges, book shelves, windowsills and every little spot that could hold a book. This helped the kids see again and remember. "Oh yeah!" or "Will you read Chester? "Will you read ___?" echoed in the room.
I started with my favorite read alouds I knew everyone would be successful with independently (New Socks by Bob Shea, Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard, Bossy Bear by David Horvath, and Tanka Tanka Skunk! by Steve Webb). We would talk together briefly about why we liked the books, and then I would listen to their suggestions about what to read aloud next.
Reviewing and Sharing
As the book bins were emptied and the favorites displayed, I decided to teach a more formal minilesson I used earlier in the year, where partners explored a basket of books. We talked about how this exploration would feel different reading through books we already know. I asked a student to model reading a familiar book, and we had a quick chat about how fluency is easier with books we know.
We decided to practice reading books with fluency (smooth reading and grouping many words together) and expression. Students found many titles that had sparked their interest earlier in the year. I asked each student to bring a book to talk about at the end of workshop for share (though time only allowed 2-3 kids to share). This lesson had them rereading, practicing fluency, and thinking about many titles they loved this year.
Spending Time with Old Favorites
As their minds were filled with many of the books we've read, I knew I was ready to ask them to think individually about the books each one of them had loved. After taking time to sort, display and sit with baskets, I felt I was ready to introduce them to a form for recording books they loved. Knowing how important rereading, fluency, and thinking about books remains for primary readers, I asked students to spend time with each book they wrote on their list. We came up with new ways to enjoy old books.
One morning we visited the students across the hall and shared a favorite with a partner. Another day the students added another title to their form, reading that favorite book and sharing why they liked the story with their third-grade buddies. One day, reading partners reread and acted out the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. This time spent recording favorites was much more meaningful than just writing down books that happened to be spied on the shelf. Students had time to notice forgotten books, sort through and find books they loved, and spend time enjoying old favorites.
Reflecting on Our Most Loved Books
As the forms were finished I collected them, tallied the favorites, and compiled a short list of the class favorites. I wrote the six most popular titles on chart paper and invited students to choose their favorite book and write why they chose it. I modeled choosing my favorite (actually choosing a book not on the final list, so as not to sway any of my readers to vote my way), thinking aloud, and writing why I liked the book on a big post-it. Then they were off to choose and write. They happily placed their post-its near their favorite titles and they counted up the winners! They begged me to read aloud their picks and comments. We enjoyed finding out who officially liked what and why. Here's what our results looked like:
Night of the Veggie Monster by George McClements (7 votes)
Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo (6 votes)
Bossy Bear by David Horvath (3 votes)
Tanka Tanka Skunk! by Steve Web (3 votes)
Maybe a Bear Ate It! by Robbie Harris and Michael Emberly (1 vote)
Summer Reading Plans
The last step was to get my kids thinking about what old and new books they could explore this summer at the library. The form that each student filled out was easily added to their report card folder with a note to help remind families to revisit these favorites. I also included three suggestions for new books or series books in the comments section of the report card. Thinking through the books we loved and sharing them with each other and our families was much more time-consuming this year than last . . . but well worth the effort!