Choosing the right book for your reading group can be overwhelming – especially when it can be a determining factor in the engagement and success of your group. Here are 10 things I take into consideration when choosing books for reading groups.
A student’s instructional reading level is a place to start when choosing books for your reading groups. But students are more than just a reading level. You can select books that are just below, right at, or even just above that reading level.
Your assessment data will help identify which reading skills you need to teach. If my students are struggling with summarizing a story, I’m going to reach for picture books with a clear beginning, middle, and end. However, I’m more likely to select poetry and rhyming books for students who need to increase their fluency.
This is an important factor for student engagement with a book. If I know a group of readers enjoys books about sharks, I might choose Sharks by Gail Gibbons (a nonfiction text), Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale (a picture book), or even Ready, Freddy! Shark Attack! by Abby Klein (a fictional chapter book with shark facts). I would combine their interest in sharks with their reading level and instructional goal to select an appropriate book.
Number of Books
Students need to have their own copy of the text. If you have found the most amazing book for your group, but you only have two copies for six students and the teacher to share, there will be issues that arise. If you are just starting out and trying to build up your book collection, you might enjoy these tips and tricks to help build your classroom library.
As a second grade teacher, many of my groups were reading chapter books or longer nonfiction texts. However, when we were approaching a long weekend or holiday break, I would select shorter texts or reading passages so we wouldn’t have a big gap of time in the middle of a book. I also took text length into consideration when we were approaching our assessment time because I knew I would be moving students in and out of groups. I also think it is also important for students to realize that the length of a text does not always correlate to its complexity. Being able to switch between longer and shorter texts also keeps things fresh and new for our students.
I love being able to tie in our Science and Social Studies units to my reading groups whenever possible. During our Air and Weather unit, my groups might be reading It’s Snowing! by Gail Gibbons, Magic Tree House Twister on Tuesday, or The Magic School Bus Electric Storm. This not only engages the students, but it allows us to extend our learning throughout the day.
Genre or Theme
Whether I am introducing a new genre or working to identify the theme of a story, I love to extend my whole group lessons into my small reading groups. This allows a lot of rich discussions and connections to our read aloud books.
It is so important that our students see a variety of cultures in the stories they read. If our students never see themselves represented in the books we share, what message are we really sending?
Author or Series Introduction
Sharing a book from a series or an author is a great way to get students hooked on books. When a student connects with a character or style of writing, they are sure to seek out more books on their own.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your colleagues – we all have to start somewhere! I started teaching in the intermediate grades after spending all of my college years working with students in the primary grades. I reached out to other intermediate teachers to find out what books their students enjoyed reading.
Are there any other factors you take into consideration when choosing books for your reading groups? I’d love to hear about them!