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310: Rock the Reading Block
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100: How to Run a Virtual First Chapter Friday Program

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In this strange season of transition, in which you may be teaching in person one day, remote the next, and blended the next, it’s important to have some consistent programming set up that can give you easy wins weeks after week. No matter what scenario you’re in. 

These are the flexible programs I shared with you in podcast episode ninety-seven, A Flexible Plan for Blended Learning. I hope you’ll give it a quick listen if you haven’t yet, because a lot of teachers have been telling me it’s helping them feel more comfortable with the uncertainties of fall. 

Today we’re diving into how you might run a First Chapter Friday (or Monday, or Wednesday, etc.) program online. If you set it up for Fall 2020 online now, you can share it in any scenario, adjusting smoothly to whatever changes come. 

You can listen to this (100TH EPISODE) on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, the player below, or the podcast player of your choice. Or, read on. 

Let’s start with the basics. First Chapter Friday is a chance to share many different books with your students so they become familiar with more authors, more voices, more styles, and feel more inspired to read new books. Ideally, it’s part of an independent reading program so you channel that inspiration right into reading. Normally, that would look like a classroom library and a structure to go with it, but right now that probably looks like great access to ebooks and audio books and a structure to go with them. 


On the day you choose to share your first chapters, you crack open a great book, read out loud, and kids listen and sketchnote, so they have a colorful record of the first chapters they’ve heard and might want to read later. (You can read all about the basics of doing this during a normal year right here). 

It all seems clear enough, right? But of course, taking the whole thing virtual presents a few twists! So let’s look at some FAQs I’ve been talking with teachers about over in my membership program this month.

Let me say up front that I’m not an expert in copyright or a copyright lawyer (I think you knew that!). But it seems to me that if you have a copy of a book that you were going to read to your students in person, then it is OK to read it to them using technology so they can hear it from home. However, I would keep these videos and audios private to your students, much as I wish we could work as a collaborative educator group to put a library of thousands of first chapters in place for teachers around the world to use. (Pausing here to daydream about how awesome that would be. Yes, I did contact my friend at one of the big publishing houses to try to make that happen. No, they did not go for it). 

OK, so let’s dive in to the FAQ.

Does First Chapter Friday have to be on Fridays?

Nope! In fact, if you’re in a blended learning scenario where everyone is online one day a week, I think the online day would be IDEAL for FCF, whatever day it is. Then you have a plan in place for that day every week. 

How can I prepare for a successful program now?

I’m so glad you asked! Now is the perfect time to sit down with your phone or your mic and record a BUNCH of first chapters. This is called batching, and it’s going to make your life a lot easier for the next three months. Get your lighting and set-up and reading outfit ready for video, or your mic and recording software revved up, and hit record! You’ll save a ton of time by not setting this up every week the night before you need to deliver a new chapter. 

Once your program gets going, you can add MORE choices by inviting students to submit audio or video first chapter clips of their own. This was one of the wonderful ideas that came out of discussion of this program inside my membership this week, and I LOVE it! You could make this an assignment partway into the term, offer it as an extra credit option, or just throw it out as a fun option and see if you get any takers. 

How can I deliver the First Chapter Fridays to kids at home and kids in class at the same time?

Once you have your recordings, you have a choice to make. 

Do you want everyone to listen to the same one, the same week? In that case, play the recording for your kids in class at the same time that you share it with your kids at home through your learning platform. 

Do you want everyone to get to choose which chapter to listen to based on their interests? In that case, get all your recordings linked up on a hyperdoc or Google Slide show with short blurbs about the books, and let kids make their own choice each week. 

What if I’m required to be synchronous with students who are at home? 

Go ahead and have the kids at home log into class for attendance and hellos, then have them mic off and go listen to the chapter. If you’ve got some students in class at the same time, you can either play a group chapter to them (if that’s what you chose) or let them make their own choices and listen with headphones on their devices. 

How can remote students do the sketchnotes?

Having something to do as you listen is a critical part of FCFs, because otherwise it can be hard for students to focus. Especially if they’re sleepy. Easy templates (like these and these) help sketchnote-wary students get more comfortable with the process. But they’re not absolutely necessary. 


Here are a few options for helping remote learners successfully sketchnote. You might just want to let them choose which one they prefer: 

#1 You can give students simple templates through Google slides and let them try their hand at e-sketchnotes (playing around with fonts and shapes, etc. to put down their thoughts). 

#2 You can show students a template, then ask them to simply sketch something similar in a notebook at home. It’s good for them to look away from the screen for a while. 

#3 You can teach students the basics of sketchnoting with this quick video and then let them create their sketchnote series in their notebooks, skipping the templates. 

Whichever option you choose, consider having students share their sketchnotes with you through a quick photo or screenshot at the end, then share some of the best back to the class the next week before getting started. Seeing others’ sketchnotes will help inspire better work for kids who are feeling a little hesitant about their artistic skills. Be sure to remind them of what Mike Rohde, inventor of Sketchnotes, always says. “Ideas, not art!” That’s where it starts. All they need to do is begin by getting their ideas down on paper.  
OK, are you ready to dive in? Here are your steps to success:
1. Choose a day for your program and schedule it into your calendar.
2. Record your videos or audio tracks in one epic batch session. 
3. Choose whether you’re going to provide one book to everyone or let them pick from a menu. (Create your menu if you’re going with that).
4. Think about how you want your students to do sketchnotes. Set up your system and materials from the get-go and return to it week after week. 
5. Integrate this program with your plans for independent reading. If FCF doesn’t take your whole period, this is a great time to transition kids into their own books for the rest of the time. 
Good luck!
By the way, wondering about this membership program I mentioned? You can get on the waitlist to hear about it the next time it opens right here. 

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • Another great episode, Betsy! I’m looking forward to trying FCF with my students. Congratulations on achieving 100 episodes!

  • Curious what resources you use for ebooks for your students. Do you have something paid for by your district or do you have free resources?

  • For your FCF are you using physical books or audio books? If a student is interested in a book from our classroom library I am concerned that I would not be able to get it into his/her hands since we are totally virtual.


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