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Choosing a "Just Right" Book

Students will need to choose a book that is at the best level for them in order to be successful in their independent reading. To introduce the idea of choosing a "just right" book, I bring in several reading materials to show and talk to the class about.

First I introduce a children's book. I read it aloud, reading quickly and finish the book within a couple of minutes. I ask the class if they think this is a "just right" book for me. With some direction, they will come to the conclusion that this book was too easy for me. I read it very quickly and was almost "bored' with the reading. We place emphasis on the fact that a book that is "just right" should challenge you a bit to help you become a better reader.

Next I show the class a book from my bookshelf at home - in the case of the photo, a Dan Brown book. I open the book up and read from a page. This time I read at a good pace. The kids think this book is just right, but I tell them that it actually isn't. I emphasize again that I brought the book from my bookshelf at home to give them a hint. They tell me that I must have already read the book and that is what I am looking for from them. A "just right" book must be new to them, not something they have already read. I do explain that it is great to read favourite books more than once but for independent reading, the book must be something that hasn't been read before.

My next book is a book from my husband's bookshelf (usually a car care guide) and I read from it to the class. I act bored and the kids laugh telling me that I'm not really interested in it. I add a sticky note to the front that says "Not interested in it".

Borrowing from my husband's bookshelf again, I next pull out a physics text book. This book is key to teaching the kids the importance of being able to understand what you read. I open to a page and begin reading the difficult terms and equations out loud. The kids look puzzled and confused as do I! I explain that this book is not "just right" for me. Even though I can read all of the words, I do not understand what I am reading! This is so important as kids often choose books that are too tough for them because it is something they would like to be able to read, but just aren't ready for.

Finally, I introduce my last book. I show the class that it is from a series. I mention that I've read the first book from the series and I enjoyed it. I read some of it aloud, I read smoothly for the most part, but make a show of slowing a bit at some of the more challenging words . I show excitement about the book. This book is the one! Again, I reinforce that I am interested in it, it's new to me, and I can understand it.

Once you have completed your lesson, create a bulletin board that you can keep up for awhile. When your students bring a book to you that is not "just right" for them you can bring them to the bulletin board and reference your lesson.


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The Important Book
by Margaret Wise Brown

This book is terrific for the beginning of the school year as a getting-to-know-you activity! I read this story aloud asking the kids to listen for the pattern in the words. They quickly recognize it as each page repeats. We then use this pattern so that each student can write their own "important" page. I give them the 'rough' copy page (click here) after demonstrating on chart paper how to write a page for myself. Once the class is all done writing their 'rough' drafts, I help them edit them.

We then re-read the book on another day and this time, we look at how the illustrator placed the words. The students quickly see that the words are often on objects. We then plan for their own pages. We emphasize large, bright pictures.

Once everyone is done their final page and they have all been checked over for correct spelling, etc., we publish our pages into our own class book!

I have done this with grade two, three and four classes and once it is published it is a class favourite!

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Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
by Mercer Mayer Published by Rainbird Press ISBN: 1-879920-04-2

Professor Wormbog collects Beasties. He has a wall of pictures which is found on the second and third page of the story. On this wall is an illustrated picture of every beast he has found from A to Y. However, he has yet to find Zipperump-a-Zoo. The short story chronicles his search for the missing Zipperump-a-Zoo. He knows what it looks like, but he has not found one yet.

- Before reading the book, I cover any illustrations of the Zipperump-a-Zoo so the children do not see Mayer’s depiction. After reading the story, I have the students draw their version of the Zipperump-a-Zoo. As with all of Mayer’s books, the pictures are large, bright and vibrant. The children’s work embodies the 4 Bs of my art program: big, bright, bold and background. When their creative ideas are well developed then I share the actual Zipperump-a-Zoo.

- Students can design a Zipperump-a-Zoo trap to catch it alive.

- At the beginning of the book is the beasties’ wall with one beasties for every letter of the alphabet. Have the students build their own class alphabet wall of beasties. Each student can take a letter of the alphabet and design a new beastie with a new name. Habitat profiles could be written for each beastie.

- Linda Miller

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There’s an Alligator Under My Bed
There’s Something in My Attic
There’s a Nightmare in My Closet
by Mercer Mayer

These delightful books, tell the stories of a little boy who has an alligator living under his bed; of a little girl who has a nightmare living in her attic, and a little boy who has a nightmare living in his closet. In each book, the parents do not believe their child and the child faces their monster and comes out victorious.

- Students can share things they fear now and in the past. Discuss strategies to handle fear. Discuss ways that fear can be helpful. Compare adult and children’s fear.
- Illustrate the something in the attic and the closet before sharing Mayer’s depictions.
- Write the next story evolving from each book, "There’s an Alligator in My Garage" "Another Day with the Monster in My Attic", etc.
- Design other ways to capture or get rid of these creatures.
- Students write and publish their own storybook, "There’s a *** in My ***"

- Linda Miller

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Sometimes I Feel Like a Mouse
by Jeanne Modesitt Published by: Scholastic ISBN: 0-590-44836-6

This is a wonderful picture book about feelings. Each page follows the same pattern "Sometimes I feel like a (animal) (verb describing animal action) (adjective describing feeling)." An example is "Sometimes I feel like an elephant, stomping, bold". Each adjective is in a colour that corresponds with the feeling. For example, the "bold" for the elephant is in a brilliant purple. The illustrations are wonderful examples of colour expressing feeling, showing the main character interacting with the animal that represents the emotion. This book opens a door to many mini studies that will help you integrate your writing, grammar, computer and art lessons.

Introducing the Book
Begin by reading the book to the class. Re-read it several times, each time drawing the student’s attention to different aspects of the book. Discuss what kinds of words are being used, the colours, the painting technique, etc. Brainstorm several examples that the students create. Work together to find the best adjectives and verbs to go with certain animals.

Activity - "Creating Personal Passages"

After creating several examples together, turn the students loose to create their own ideas. Have them write several on rough paper and share them with friends to find their best one. Have students type their selection in WordPerfect, being sure to have them put the last word (the feeling) in a colour that best represents the feeling. Print each student’s work with a colour printer.

Activity - "Class Book Making in Art"
Next, revisit the story paying close attention to the illustrations. Discuss what kind of painting technique is being used (blending colours with water together) and which colours represent which feelings (e.g. red for anger, yellow for happiness, blue and black for sadness). Create a list together. Have students paint their own picture that goes with their personal passage. Add the typed passages to the illustrations and create a class book.

Activity - "Personal Book Making"
Have students go back to their page of examples and begin to compile their own ideas for a personal book of feelings. This book-making activity could take several days while they paint or colour many illustrations for their books.

Extension "Moving Beyond Animals"
Soon after my students began brainstorming their own ideas, they came up with some that went beyond animals to represent their emotions. For example, one student wrote "Sometimes I feel like a hand, writing, tired." Another had "Sometimes I feel like a brain, thinking, excited." As an extension, your class could choose a different topic and create more books. An example might include incorporating this activity with your weather unit - "Sometimes I feel like a cumulus cloud, floating, calm." or "Sometimes I feel like a storm front, rumbling, mad." The extensions are endless! Have fun!

- Shayni Tokarczyk

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A really fun activity to do with any novel study is to complete a Wanted! poster for one of the characters. I have a template that I use all the time. Students refer to the text to gather information about ...


- the last known address of the character
- a physical description of the character
- special things you should know about the character
- other important information
- who to contact if the character is seen


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A picture of the character is then added. The kids get very creative with these and the more we do it, the better they get! For fun, have your kids try Templeton from Charlotte's Web or Searchlight from Stone Fox (see sample). This is also a neat activity to do with picture books for younger students. Another extension is to have your students do a Wanted poster for a character from their own story writing. This is a great way to get them thinking about including detail in their writing!

- Shayni Tokarczyk

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Last Updated on December 21, 2014