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Fire up your Choice Reading Program, with Abby Gross

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Today on the podcast, we’re sitting down with Abby Gross from Write on with Miss G, who has become known for her thriving reading program and the wonderful tools she has developed to support other teachers with their own reading programs.

After spending the first part of her career teaching high school English, Abby unexpectedly fell in love with teaching middle school ELA. With her switch to the middle came a new goal of creating a community of readers and helping all of her students find books they enjoy. For the last four years, she has built a classroom library and independent reading program from the ground up, watching her readers flourish with choice, time,

The co-author of a guidebook for teachers, Keeping the Wonder, and a picture book for young readers, The Magic of Wonder, Abby is committed to fostering joy in learning and literacy. In addition to being an advocate for independent reading, Abby is a big believer in the power of curiosity and student-centered learning. support, and good books.

I enjoyed our conversation so much – this is truly a value-packed episode. I think you’ll love Abby’s practical, doable (and fun) advice for building more reading and book PR into your weekly routine. Get ready for quickly actionable tips on building strong Book Trailer and First Chapter programs, creating book posters and brochures, selecting and organizing your classroom library, and rolling out fun hybrid book tastings on the regular.

You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Creating a Culture of Reading

The first step in creating a reading culture in your classroom is to create an environment full of great books. Abby’s classroom revolves around reading.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is that there are books everywhere.  There’s an overflowing classroom library, books on display around the room, book posters on the wall, and book recommendation brochures. If you walked into Abby’s classroom during the first ten minutes of class, you’d see a class full of students who are completely engrossed in their choice reading novels. This is what a reading culture looks like in action!

Organizing a Great Classroom Library

A classroom library with practical organization will be a major asset to your choice reading program. 

One practical way to organize your classroom library is by genre. This makes it so much easier for students to find the types of books they’re looking for. For example, if a student is looking for a dystopian book, you can easily point them to the dystopian section of your library.

Having a systematic check-out system is another step in creating a organized classroom library. Abby uses Booksource (it’s free!) to help keep track of where all of her books are and who is reading which books. You might also like this tool.

Another way to organize books in your library is to also create topic-based book bins and place them on top of your bookshelves. These topics can be swapped out as students become interested in different topics and you notice they’re asking for different topics of books.

Selecting Books for Your Classroom Library

The most important part of choosing books is to choose tried and true, high-interest books for your library. Having one hundred GREAT books is better than having several hundred mediocre titles that students aren’t very interested in. 

When you’re adding new titles to your library, prioritize books that fill gaps to create a diverse, inclusive collection.

How to Keep Students Exploring the Library

As you progress through the year, keep listening to your students’ interests and updating your classroom displays and book bins. 

Continue to make new stacks and displays of books to help students notice books that they may not have paid attention to in the past. 

Using a book tasting is a great way to bring the books to the readers and help them find some new great titles they may not have been drawn to in the past. Speaking of which…

A Simple Approach to Book Tastings

The key to a low-stress book “tasting” is focusing more on the books than the “tasting.” 

Although you can really make a production and play up the tasting theme, it’s ok to keep it simple so you can use it frequently as a book sampling. This simple approach makes it more sustainable, and that’s Abby’s preference!

Simply grab a selection of books for the topic, genre, or theme you’re focusing on in your classroom. Create a bookstore-esque display to invite students to notice the books. Go through different rounds for the students to check out the selection of books and ask them to note what they notice and what they wonder about the title they’re exploring.

Students can notice things about the content, the text style, and whether they’re drawn to the plot and characters.

Another idea is to incorporate a digital element to create a hybrid-type of book sampling. In addition to having the physical copies of books, you can include a digital menu of book samples available to students. This allows you to expand book access to book titles you may not have available in your classroom library.

This also serves as a way to teach kids how to gain access to books from the school library, the public library or other online resources to find books (like overdrive or libby). Overdrive is a great resource where you can check out a sample of a book or even the first chapter with the free version. It’s a great resource for book tastings – be sure to check it out!

Inviting your local librarian into your classroom to help all students gain access to a library card (and digital reading resources) and to teach students how to use the library is a great way to connect students to great books that they can access when your library is no longer available to them.

Book Trailer Tuesday

Similar to First Chapter Friday, Book Trailer Tuesday is another great way to bring more authors and perspectives into class. It’s a simple way to expose students to great books. This is also another great way to discover new titles yourself if you don’t have time to read as many Young Adult titles as you might wish.

Simply pull up a stellar book trailer from YouTube and push play. After students watch the book trailer, take a quick poll of the students to see what the students thought about that book title, and hopefully, check the book out to a student who is excited about it.

If you’re using Book Trailer Tuesday and First Chapter Friday, you’re exposing students to up to 72 new book titles per year!

This is a great way to help connect students to a range of books without spending too much of your class time. Abby has shared a fantastic set of book trailer links for the entire year that you can grab for free!

Creating Book Brochures

Book brochures are a great way to share book recommendations in a more independent way.

Abby has created book brochures for each genre (which complements her library, which is also organized by genre).

At the beginning of the brochure, she includes a little personality quiz that mimics the types of questions she would ask them when trying to match a student with a book. These answers will point students to book recommendations in the brochure, which automates the book recommendation process.

You can find her editable book recommendation brochures for Middle School and High School in her TPT shop, Write on with Miss G.

Using Book Recommendation Posters

Create your own list of book stacks that you would recommend for students. Better yet, you can have students create their own book stacks of the year and print them off to post for students the following school year. This is a fun, creative way to help your students notice the books that they will love.

How to Keep Up with New Book Titles as a Busy Teacher

It’s difficult to find the time to keep up with reading all of the new, upcoming YA or middle grade level books. But it’s a powerful element in building a strong program. Consider starting your own reading journey, if you can. In finding the time and figuring out how to start your own reading habit, it will help you to guide your students toward their own reading journey as well. No time to sit and read? Try audiobooks! The kids will notice that you’re making reading a priority just as you are asking them to. This will be helpful for recommending books, but also to connect to your more reluctant readers as well.

Creating a Successful Choice Reading Program

You can have all of the books in your library and all of the time in your day to allow students to read, but if you don’t take the time to really build the culture of reading in your classroom, you won’t get most of the kids (especially your reluctant readers) to enjoy reading.

Supporting students in finding great books and providing the time and supports to help them get invested in the books is key to a successful independent reading program. It might take the entire year, so stick with it and devote more to your students’ needs than just the time and the books.

If you’ve wanted to try independent reading, or have tried it but haven’t found much success, now is a great time to get started! You don’t have to wait for the beginning of the school year to get started. Start now, make changes as you go along, and by next year you’ll be a whole semester ahead!

Connect with Abby

When she’s not teaching, you can find Abby creating resources, blogging on writeonwithmissg.com, hanging out on Instagram, presenting workshops for Keeping the Wonder, and reading.

Check out her blog posts on Why You Should Try a Book Tasting, 10 Ways to Use Book Recommendation Posters, and Book Trailer Tuesday: How to Hook Students on Books in 3 Minutes to go even deeper on this subject. And be SURE to grab her FREE Book Trailer Tuesday Links for the Entire Year.

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