2019-2020 Chestatee Academy

Strategies for Reading Notes and Annotations: Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

We are a full week into our literary nonfiction and memoir book clubs, and I’m happy to report most students completed their first required reading goal for our first book club meeting on January 17.  This past Monday I introduced four options for taking reading notes and strategically annotating their books.  I built on strategies we learned last semester and folded in a few new approaches as well that tie into last week’s mini-lesson on themes, central ideas, and issues—I feel like all of these were doable for my 8th graders, and they loved the element of choice.  I also appreciated some students had some creative interpretations of the strategies and were engaged in their thinking with their notes.

You can see a tutorial video I created for my students who were absent for the mini-lesson or who needed to hear it again; I posted this video in our Canvas course LMS as well as our class blog.

The slideshow below is also available to students in both virtual learning spaces as I add student created work to showcase and highlight as the possibilities for notetaking.

I do provide different kinds of paper and a plethora of Post-It notes for my students to use.  Please enjoy the digital gallery of student work in progress below; overall, I feel like the quality of thinking and notes is much better than what I saw with my previous 8th graders.  However, I feel my instruction on annotating and closer reading has been stronger this academic year as well.

I’m excited to see what options they choose and the notes they create for our January 24 book club meeting!  In my next blog post, I’ll provide an update on our first book club meeting (held January 17) discussions and reflections on the book club meeting as well as their meeting prep work.

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Reading Workout with Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

Inspired by the always innovative Sarah Brown Wessling, I adapted an activity she shared this past December that she calls Reading Workouts for independent reading time.  I made a few modifcations to account for a shorter literacy block of time and the needs of my 8th grade learners, but here is my version that was a great success this past Friday.

My 4th period (the class I take to lunch) was the only class that completed this activity as a warm-up because we had extra class time, and I didn’t want to jump into the activity with only 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch time.  If time had permitted, I would have done the “warm-up/stretch” with all classes; this was a great way to get them thinking before reading time.

For all other classes, we began with a quick review of concepts we had worked on the previous day:

We then began the first formal part of our workout!  Our focus was on reading; I told students to NOT take notes at this point or to annotate, but they could use the “baby” size sticky notes to quickly flag passages of interest.  I provided baskets of the sticky notes needed for the day at every table to save time and provide ease of access to the materials.

We then moved to the second part of our workout.  Students could choose any partner they wanted; it did not have to be someone from their book club.  We lined up 2×2 outside the room and began our walking reps.  One partner led the conversation for the first rep/lap; the second partner led on the second rep/lap.  This “walk and talk” part of the workout is another idea I’ve adapted previously from Wessling.  For our reading workout, we did a modified/shorter version to fit the reading workout structure.

We then moved to the next part of our reading workout:

We then ended/cooled down with this graffiti wall/parking lot activity for our books:

This work was a great formative assessment to see how well (or not so well) students were understanding themes and issues in their books as well as the concepts/terms  of theme and issues themselves.  I created the gallery of book graffiti walls/parking lots with chart paper and signage I crafted in Word.  You can see the gallery and student work samples in the slideshow below.  We’ll get into the parking lots/graffiti walls for a gallery walk activity later this week and then continue adding our thinking about themes and issues as we get deeper into our books this month.

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You can see, hear, and learn more about the design of this activity in the video I made after school this past Friday.  I love this learning structure and plan to use it again later this year!  A big thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling for always generously sharing her ideas for the rest of us to use as they are or to adapt for our learners!  In my next post, I’ll share how we are moving forward with our book club thinking work this week, including choices for gentle note-taking strategies as we read.

Introducing Book Clubs with Partner Reading and Noticings About Themes, Central Ideas, and Issues

Yesterday, I introduced book clubs by issuing students their books with their reading tickets/schedules (see previous blog post, please).  Students also got new seating/table assignments when they arrived; I projected these onto the board as students arrived.  Students are either seating with their entire book club OR in a “subgroup” of a larger book club since some groups are reading different texts around a similar theme or genre (memoir, specifically).

Once we reviewed our reading schedule/assignment for the first week, we did a quick mini-lesson on themes, central ideas, and issues and how we might begin to notice these elements of our literary nonfiction/memoir books.  I used one of my favorite texts, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen, to model my thinking.  My mini-lesson and subsequent activity are modifications of a mini-lesson from the Lucy Calkins Literary Nonfiction Unit of Study in reading.

Students then broke into small groups by book club/same books or partners for subgroups of book clubs for the read aloud portion of our activity.  I have blogged earlier this academic year about the power of partner read alouds, and yesterday only reinforced my belief in their value.  Most classes were able to get about 15-20 minutes of reading time in.  Students then jotted down any initial noticings about theme, central ideas, or issues they noticed in the day’s reading.  Students will be adding to this graphic organizer as we get deeper into our books.

Yesterday was hectic, so I apologize I don’t have video for you to see/hear the partner or small group read alouds, but you can see/hear this awesome energy in my previous posts on read alouds.

Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs: Organizing Groups and Resources for Success

We just started our literary nonfiction (my favorite genre!) and memoir book clubs yesterday!  In this post, I’ll outline the “legwork” I did to get the clubs formed and ready to go.


Book Sampling/Book Tasting

We began with a book sampling/tasting in early December; compared to years past, I kept this activity pretty low key.  I basically put 5 copies of each book selection at a table or seating area, and students rotated at their own pace.


Book Voting and Tallying/Sorting Votes

Once students completed the book tasting, they voted online in a Google Form their top three choices.  I downloaded each spreadsheet per class from Google Sheeets and sorted the spreadsheet by the first choice.  I tallied how many books got the “first choice” votes and calculated how many books I would need to meet the “first choice” requests if possible based on how many copies we owned from our bookroom (or didn’t own in several cases since I picked some newer titles for the activity).

Based on the needs, I created an Amazon wish list and shared widely through social media and my blog.  I am delighted and humbled to share that my list was pretty much completed, and I was able to give every child one of his/her top two choices.  I tweaked the working book club assignment list several times based on the incoming books purchased right up through the beginning of this week to make the clubs happen.  I actually finalized the list Wednesday night on the eve of issuing books!

I organized clubs either by book title or by related topics/genres.  You can see the clubs below by class period (I teach four sections of 8th Language Arts).

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Additional Support for Book Club Readers

The other important task I tackled prior to issuing the books and identifying the club members yesterday was to create a reading schedule for each book–all 15!  I created a master handout (you can access it here), ran copies, cut into strips, and stuffed them into the matching books.

We reviewed these schedules yesterday, and students are keeping them in the sheet protector with their overarching January course calendar.  I am also going to post these colorful versions in the room later today just in case someone loses his/her individual copy on plain paper.  This task was time consuming, but I felt it was an important one to help my students be successful in staying on track so that we can finish our books by January 31.  I am providing students two full days of class time to read and do their prep work (more on that coming next week!) with an optional third day; of course, they can also work at home on their book club reading and prep activities.


Next Steps

In my next blog post, I’ll share our first day of book club learning activities and how I re-organized my seating assignments to support my book club readers.  I’ll also share our first mini-lesson learning activities that got the students into their books to give them a “boost” with their reading and thinking!

New Year, New Reading Goals

Students returned to school this past Monday, and our first day was all about goal setting with reading.  We will tackle writing goals in February since our focus will be extended writing pieces in February and March.


Quarterly Reading Goals

Our first layer of goal setting was to think about reading goals for the third quarter.  Students were asked to identify:

  • Reflect on how many books you read 2nd quarter (students enter their completed AND abandoned books on a Google Form housed in our Canvas course LMS); I downloaded the spreadsheet to Excel and then ran a “pretty” printout using the mail merge wizard in Word.  I printed these on yellow paper for the students to have and keep and to tally their reading).
  • Identify book titles, genres, or authors they’d like to read.
  • The total number of books they hope to read between now and March 11 (end of the 3rd quarter grading period).
  • How many books do you want to read in your moderate Lexile zone?
  • How many books do you want to read in your demanding Lexile zone?
  • What resources might you use to help you choose books and accomplish your reading goals?

Our students took a 2nd Lexile measure with the Scholastic SRI tool in December, and we can generate all kinds of reports for those assessments.  I created a report that showed each student’s current Lexile and their easy, moderate, and demanding Lexile bands.  I cut these into strips and gave them to the students on Monday to help them think about goals.  We then put the goal setting sheet and Lexile strip into a sheet protector (provided by me) and into their notebooks, which we cleaned, refreshed, and re-organized after we completed our goal setting.


Current Book Reading Bookmark Goal

Using the same reading goal bookmark template I blogged about last semester, I modified it and printed new ones for Quarter 3 on yellow paper.  Students then set a goal to finish their current independent read and how many pages to read per day.  Like last semester, I keep a basket of bookmarks, current quarter calendars, and calculators.


Current Read Book Ticket

I’m not quite sure where I will put them just yet, but students are completing “Current Read” book tickets this semester.  I just wanted an easy and colorful way to make our current reads visible and public.  I have some ideas for using the wall outside my room, but I’m still mulling my options.


January Calendar

I always have a big picture map in my mind of how a month of instruction will look, but because of our nonfiction book clubs, I felt I really needed to pin down what we’re doing day by day for the remainder of January so that students can stay on point with their literary nonfiction/memoir book club work and for us to finish the primary club work by January 31.  I tend to improvise instruction based on how students are responding, so it is often hard for me to stick to an exact planned instructional calendar, but I feel like we’ll be able to adhere to the calendar as is.  We reviewed these on Tuesday earlier this week and placed in sheet protectors in the front of our course binders.


Your Thoughts

How do you like to kick off the beginning of a new semester?