The Book Fort

Instructional Ideas for Immediate Implementation

Welcome to The Book Fort! Vol. 1 Issue 10

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 previous issues? Find them below:

Issue 1 Issue 2 Issue 3 Issue 4 Issue 5 Issue 6 Issue 7 Issue 8 Issue 9

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Week Ten: Cross-Content Literacy

As I was unpacking the select books that travel with me no matter where I move, I re-discovered 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy (2011). While the title raises hope in teachers of all content areas that the text will be filled with strategies to assist them in moving students forward in reading, writing, speaking, and listening skill development, I of course come to the text with an ELA background.

Re-reading the 50 strategies reminded me that we must work together to teach literacy strategies that transcend the content areas; everyone is a literacy teacher because students must communicate in some way in every class. I was passionate about this as a teacher leader, recruiting my content area friends to try literacy strategies with shared students in an effort to provide continuity in our instructional approaches and to increase transfer of skills from class-to-class. We were largely successful, but it was often a frustratingly small group of teachers and students. We need each other, folks, if we are going to make lasting, positive changes in our schools. Literacy strategies are just one not-so small way to start.

Fisher, Douglas, et al. 50 instructional routines to develop content literacy. Pearson, 2011.

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Practical Applications

Reading Strategy: Anticipation Guides

An anticipation guide is not a new reading strategy; that being said, I remember loving them in “teacher school” and never really doing anything with them once I started teaching beyond the shared classroom texts. I did similar things, such as using guiding questions for open discussion or writing that captured the themes of a shared text,but the anticipation guide got lost somehow.

Chapter 2 of 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy (2011) re-acquainted me with why I loved anticipation guides in the first place. No matter what focus text is on the agenda, pre-reading it before students do and developing relevant questions or statements that address universal themes or ideas will not only set the stage for student thinking but will prepare you to teach. #winning

To extend this work, students can certainly develop their own anticipation guides for independent reading texts. What a useful way to assess their ability to identify themes! These can then be shared with other students who might want to read the same book as a preview. Below is a sample for a commonly taught high school text, Of Mice and Men.

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Writing Strategy: Found Poems

I know, I know, you might be wondering what poetry has to do with content area literacy or college and career readiness, but student composed found poems are actually a clever way to assess high-level skills that doesn’t involve a traditional test.

Chapter 10 of 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy (2011) provides a quick step-by-step guide (which I adapted here) on how you might first model this writing strategy with students using shared class text:

  • Circle strong or important words in the text; take a quick moment to review connotation, tone, and/or parts of speech here.

  • Choose the two most important lines in the text, determining this as a class by evaluating and coming to consensus.

  • Begin a poem with one key phrase or line from the text.

  • Fill in the rest of the poem with newly created lines that each contain at least one of the previously identified words or phrases that reveal important plot events or details.

  • Alternatively, only use words or phrases from the text that capture the overall meaning or message of the whole text (could be an excerpt).

To extend this work, students can write found poems about their independent reading texts; again, a useful and interesting way to assess student ability to truly summarize and/or determine theme or main idea. This activity pushes students to consider what is important, to determine what details are key to overall understanding. Bonus: these can be creatively built with craft supplies and/or technology and shared with the larger school community. Below is an example of a found poem about a commonly taught middle school text, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

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Vocabulary Strategy: Self-Awareness

In Chapter 46 of 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy, the four authors hit the nail on the head with this line: “Students bring a range of word understanding to the task of reading (138). Vocabulary self-awareness is a simple strategy but one that promotes student responsibility for learning and transcends subject-matter and genre. For shared text:

  • Teacher identifies key vocabulary for the lesson and provides this for students; students add as they read.

  • Students rate each word as to their prior or current knowledge before reading (see below).

  • Teacher can also give definitions, or students can write them using context clues.

  • Students record an example of each word as it is used in context within the shared text.

  • Students add to their list as they read and interact with this shared text and others; the end goal is all plus signs.

To extend this work, students can create these vocabulary self-awareness logs with text they read independently, identifying key terms on their own. This is an excellent way to assess their ability to determine key ideas and details, but also to determine if more whole class (or individual intervention) work is needed in vocabulary development. Below is a sample chart that could be used for any text from L. Goodman's Creative Vocabulary (2001).

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Classroom Tool of the Week


If you haven't checked out FlipGrid yet, you are missing out! This collaborative web-based tool prompts participants (either students or colleagues) to record a short video of themselves responding to a prompt or task. What an innovative way to capture diverse voice and keep a record of the collection! The best part: it is free to make an account and anyone with an Internet access and a camera (phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop) can respond! Check it out here and follow @Flipgrid and #flipgridfever on Twitter for new ideas for instructional applications.
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If you are in the market for new educational technology for your school or district, or looking for resources to improve student achievement, the quality control experts are EdReports. This organization completes systematic, rigorous reviews of new curricular resources and the reports the offer are completely readable. Take a look at programs you are interested in or that you already have as you align to state standards and best practices. Follow @EdReports on Twitter for updates on new releases. Bonus: there are frequent opportunities to apply to be a reviewer, which is not for the faint of heart, but provides very valuable professional learning and networking.
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What Kids are Reading

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