The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 2

In an effort to systematically study relevant research and stay connected to the teachers I greatly respect and with whom I have worked for years to successfully implement independent reading, this newsletter came about. It will offer research and practical ideas for quick implementation and may prompt further discussion or study with your colleagues. I hope you'll find it useful and thought-provoking; I also hope you will stay in touch if you implement any of the ideas with your students. They are, after all, why I do what I do!


Missed Vol. 1 Issue 1? Find it here.

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Week Two: Strengthening the Foundation

This week, one of the five articles I studied was written by Julie Ann Mix of Wayne State University. In "Wedding Reading and Writing in the Basic Writing Classroom: The Power of Connection", Mix spends a significant amount of time outlining the characteristics and skills of successful college students. She says, "...college students must ultimately be challenged beyond the boundaries of familiar, established ideas and terminology to grow as readers, writers, and thinkers" (44). As such, part of our jobs as teachers, no matter the content area or grade level, is to strengthen whatever skills students come to us with.


Mix mentions the work of Tierney and Pearson (45), who recommend not only the tapping and building of background knowledge, which was featured in last week's newsletter, but also the predicting of what is to come in the reading that students do. This can be done as a whole group, in small groups, and/or individually, but it is beneficial all the same. The following strategies draw on Mix's research and on my own experience.


Mix, J. (2004). Wedding reading and writing in the basic writing classroom: The power of "connection". Language Arts Journal of Michigan,20(2), 44-52.

Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Predicting

We all struggle to teach students to make inferences, particularly when they cannot seem to comprehend what they are reading. However, the next step in the Cognitive Strategies approach mentioned in last week's newsletter is predicting, which if you really think about it is inference. When students preview a text by reading the title, about the author, the back cover of a book, reviews about the author and/or text, examine headings, and other text features, they judge it without necessarily knowing that they are. That first impression will prompt students to predict what the text is going to be about, and might be instrumental in the choice to read it or not.


As such, we must encourage students to predict often. Not only does this force them to infer, but it also gives students something to read for, a goal to reach, a question to answer. Did their predictions come true? Why or why not? So, make this a part of all reading, but especially independent reading. Ask students to focus on one line or section of text and make a prediction about what will happen next, how it will turn out in the end. Then, revisit this to confirm or change the thinking (reflect, if you will). Students will be inferring with less and less problem if this becomes a regular habit of mind in your classroom.

Writing Strategy: Wonder Journals

One of the most difficult parts of the teaching of writing is effectively assisting students in building background knowledge. They come from such diverse backgrounds and experiences that often, when faced with a timed writing test, they just cannot seem to think of what to write, how to get started. The easiest way to encourage students in this endeavor is to make writing a part of your everyday curriculum as much as possible. This doesn't mean the students write an essay a week (WHO WANTS TO GRADE THAT?!), but it means routine writing for a variety of purposes.


The Wonder Journal is an effective way to encourage writing about a variety of topics and the collection of artifacts to support the building of background knowledge. As the National Writing Project advocates, the development of "seeds" over time will spark growth, and potentially develop into longer writing pieces.


Using any kind of notebook, prompt students to write something every, single day in class. This can be prompted with essential questions, it can easily be tied into independent reading or class texts as a K-W-L type activity, and/or it can be free writing. Better yet, it can be all of these! The Wonder Journals below are excellent because they have an envelope in them for collecting interesting artifacts. Wonderopolis is an excellent place to prompt students about nonfiction as well. Check it out here!


Bonus: This is a strategy that works across the curriculum and could be shared with your colleagues in an effort to unify the literacy instruction at your schools.

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Vocabulary Strategy: Word Nerds

After meeting Brenda Overturf at the University of Louisville and listening to her speak at the KY Council of Teachers of English (KCTE) Conference, I immediately wanted to adapt her approach to vocabulary to high school. Word Nerds: Teaching All Students to Learn and Love Vocabulary is geared toward elementary students, but I have successfully used an adaptation with grades 10 - 12 in high school as well. Basically, students study roots and parts of a small set of words (domain two words as defined in the Common Core ELA Shifts), create context for them, assign images to them, USE them, and they retain much more than with traditional methods. I have an outline of the adapted approach here, and of course the book itself is a wonderful professional resource.
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San Diego Quick Assessment for Reading Ability

While this is by no means the end-all-be-all, this quick assessment is a free and easy way to get a baseline on the reading levels of your students early in the year. Particularly if your school does not have another, more formal pre-assessment (like SRI or SRA), this would be an excellent way to help students set goals and choose books. If you set up stations in your classroom and have students rotate through them, or if you are already doing independent reading conferences, this can be managed with one teacher. If you are fortunate enough to have a Literacy Specialist or another support staff member to assist, brief pull-outs could be done over a couple of days to complete this testing. I have observed it used in both ways.
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Penny Kittle's YouTube Channel

Penny Kittle is one of the most insightful and most practical educators who writes about independent reading. A colleague and I facilitated a professional study of her book, Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers in 2016 and I fell in love with her work. She even Skyped with us for an hour! On this channel, you will find student interviews about literacy, information about The Book Love Foundation, which Kittle sponsors and can benefit you as a classroom teacher, and countless other resources that you may find useful, particularly for faculty development.

What Kids are Reading

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