Tag Archives: readers

3TT Talks Gifts: What books will you give this season?

If you know me, you know I live by lists. I make them. I collect them. Sometimes I even stick to them. I raised seven children, you know. I had to keep track of who needed to go here, there, and everywhere and who needed what and what and what just to survive and thrive in our robust and rowdy family. Christmas shopping, often on a bone of a budget, gave me hives.

Gift-giving has never been my strong suit. Perhaps my practicality, and my history of stretching dimes into dollars, gets in the way of thoughtfulness. (Not even kidding, my kids got socks and underwear wrapped in cute paper. To their credit, they never complained–at least not to me.) I know it is possible to be both practical and thoughtful, but I am still working on that balance.

So what does any of that have to do with a blog about teaching readers and writers? Not a lot — except, I asked my fellow writers to help me craft a list for literacy teachers. Maybe you’ll find something to gift yourself, a colleague, a friend, or a perfect stranger. (I like the idea of gift-wrapping a book and giving it to one of the Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteers and saying, “This is for you.”)

Part 1 of this literacy teachers’ list is below. I’ll post about professional books, and favorite writer’s notebooks, pens, and other clever things for literacy lovers over the next few days.

BOOKS. What are the top titles students love in your classroom library right now? (Remember, we work with a range of readers from middle grades to AP Lit. There’s old and new, non-fiction, YA, and just some really good recommendations here, in no particular order, that would make great gifts for any reader or want-to-be reader or you-want-them-to-be a reader in your life. )

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Long Way Down Track Series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu) by Jason Reynolds
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Graphic novels (Ghosts, Smile, Babysitters… by Raina Telgemeier
Love that Dog/Hate that Cat/Moo by Sharon Creech
The 57 Bus:  A True Story of Two Teens and a Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed


Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson & the version adapted for YA
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood & the graphic novel version by Nan A. Talise
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Ghost Boys By Jewell Parker Rhodes
The CrossoverBooked & Rebound by Kwame Alexander
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The Greatest Stories Never Told:  100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir & the whole trilogy
Looking for AlaskaTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

NOTE: Get this book free with a donation to Book Love Foundation

We Should Hang Out Sometime:  Embarrassingly, a True Story & Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Because I was a Girl:  Trues Stories for Girls of All Ages by Melissa de la Cruz


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Martian by Andy Weir
1984 by George Orwell
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Charleyboy (editor)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

For more book-gifting ideas, check out the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2018; 15 Life-Changing Middle-grade Books; and here’s the School Library Journal list of best children and YA audiobooks of 2018.

What’s Your Book?

I spent most of Monday trying to organize my books. It’s a bigger deal than it sounds. I love books. My husband loves books. Together we have a massive book-loving marriage. And a problem:  Room.

Recently, we moved across town into a space that is just a tad bigger than the one room apartment we lived in as newlyweds almost 33 years ago. So, today we’ve sorted, remembered, donated, and pledged.

“I read more when the books are our in front of me,” my husband said as he put his favorite sales and marketing books on the shelf. “These are the ones I read again and again.”

“I think you should read this book,” he said, showing me Paradigms. “It’s a fundamental


Just one of my to-read-next towers. I’ve also got the AP Lit and Book Love Summer Book Club towers.

book for anyone who is an innovator.”

It’s now atop my to-read-next tower.

“What’s the one book that hooked you as a kid?” he asked as I tried (and failed) to narrow my children’s book collection.

Anne of Green Gables. Easy. ” I said, “Yours?”

My Side of the Mountain.”

Most readers know that one book.

And isn’t it a treat that by definition of our jobs we get to help kids find their books — the ones they want to read, the ones that helps them fall in love with reading — if they haven’t fallen yet?

Today, I’d like to ask you:  “What is your book, the book that made you want to read?”

Our books

Amy Rasmussen lives and works in North Texas. Her classroom library is home to books, books, and more books — all selected to help inspire a love of reading in every single student. Btw, she and her husband have had numerous conversations about the books that made them readers. It was pretty much a first date prerequisite.

Why I Applaud The Student Who Reads Only Two Books

imageedit_5_2583117499Author, teacher, and reading-writing workshop guru Nancie Atwell recently won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. I have been a fan of Atwell’s work since I read her book In the Middle during my first year of graduate school. In fact, I was star struck two years ago when Atwell sat on the floor next to me during an NCTE workshop (note my shoulder proudly photo bombing Shana’s picture of the goddess herself). While I have subscribed to Atwell’s philosophy since I began my career in education, I was shocked to read in the media coverage that her students on average read 40 books per year.

My students do not.

Don’t get me wrong; the majority of my students read a large amount, yet while I could calculate the average, it would grossly misrepresent the true value of their accomplishments. I have some students who breathe books and complete them at breakneck speed. They add leaves to our book tree at an astonishing rate, yet admittedly not all my students are like that. By the end of the year, some have only completed two or three independent books in total. As a first year teacher (last year), I felt like I had failed these students. As far as I was concerned, the good teachers didn’t run into this problem. They only spoke about the record-breaking kids, not the ones that kept me wracking my brain for a solution. It felt like I was the only teacher who had the two-book-reader.

Last year, mine was TJ. TJ couldn’t seem to make it through a book. Many of my hesitant readers have learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders; in past classes, they have felt little success in reading whole class novels. When they arrive in my classroom they are resistant to choosing their own independent reading books. TJ was no exception; he had ADHD and struggled to focus on his reading both in and out of class. I’d watch him stare at a page for five minutes straight without being able to settle his mind and read a line. During conferences TJ discussed his book and claimed he was interested in it, yet he moved at a snail’s pace. By the end of his foray with Jarhead, I couldn’t imagine him undergoing the same tedious process with another book. I thought he’d quit. But he didn’t. Through reading conferences, daily reading time, and check-ins with his parents, I was able to help TJ develop a routine and gradually become a reader. Yet the greatest influence was TJ’s friends. Seeing so many of his peers reading on a daily basis motivated TJ to continue working towards his goals.

By the end of the year, TJ had read two independent reading books and three whole class reads, “more books than [he] had ever read before.” This was a feat arguably equal to if not mightier than some of my students who read 80 or more books. TJ developed persistence and stamina even if he couldn’t keep up with many of his peers. He was proud of his accomplishments and determined to become a better reader the following year. As a teacher, that’s what I want for my students—to push them to succeed and accomplish more than they thought they were capable of.

We all have those students (or maybe it’s still just me) but we must praise and hold these students in high esteem. We must brag about their successes and triumphs just as much as we praise the work of our highly motivated readers. After all, every book is a learning experience and an accomplishment.

Do you have a “two-book reader”? What is your story, and how did you work to motivate that student?

Growing Readers

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

In New England, where I teach, time is measured by temperature. New Englanders cherish Indian summers (the bout of warmth before fall settles in); we sense the bite of autumn, and can smell an oncoming snow. We are a community of seasons, and ultimately these changes dictate the course and development of our year. In turn, to show the development of my classes’ reading progress throughout the year, I drew my inspiration from what New England is famous for—its foliage. To visually represent my classes reading progress within the reading workshop, I developed a reading tree.

The concept of the tree is simple: for every book read, students received a leaf. On the leaf they wrote their initials, the book they read, and the author. They would then staple the leaf to their class’ branch. In turn, students had a visual representation of their individual progress (because they put their initials on the leaves) as well as their class’ progress. They would look to the tree to see what books were the most popular/appeared on the tree most often.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The reading tree exhibits student work and promotes individual success. In addition, it also reinforces teamwork since students look to see how their class is doing as a whole. Furthermore, the tree inspires friendly competition between classes. When I first introduce the tree, I tell students that the class with the most books read wins an ice cream party at the end of the year. This year, due to increased federal health regulations on snacks during the school day, my rules have changed. Instead, students will be able to drop two of their lowest reading scores. Unlike last year, I will tally the total books per class every quarter instead of at the end of the year to determine each quarter’s winner.

Construction for the tree is relatively simple and can be used from year to year.


  • One concrete form tube sawed in half. I purchased mine from Home Depot and they sawed it in half for me
  • Two cans of brown spray paint. I used a textured spray paint similar to Rust-oleum’s multicolored textured spray paint, but you can use any type
  • A ream of brown paper—the same type you use to cover bulletin boards
  • A staple gun and staples.
  • Four packs of different colored paper for the leaves.
  • Brown or black duct tape
  • Bulletin board


  1. Spray paint the concrete form tube with the two cans of brown spray paint. This will serve as your trunk.
  2. Pull large sections of the paper of the ream and begin twisting the paper. As you twist the paper, begin stapling it to the concrete tube using the staple gun. Continue ripping off multiple pieces of paper from the ream, twist and intertwine them as you go along. This will make your trunk look three-dimensional and more realistic. Leave long ends on the bottom. Twist these to a point to create the roots of the tree.
  3. Before you get to the top of the trunk, fashion what looks like a strap. I did this by taking a piece of the brown paper and folding it to make a 2’ X 6” rectangle to wrap around the top of the trunk and affix to the wall. I reinforced the back of the piece of paper with brown duct tape. I then put this strap around the front of the trunk where the bulletin board first meets the concrete tube. I stapled the strap to the tree then the excess ends of the strap to the bulletin board to ensure that the tree wouldn’t fall over once it was complete.
  4. Finally, I continued twisting individual brown pieces of paper and then layering them by twisting multiple pieces together to create a thicker branch. Make sure to create a branch for each of your classes that will be participating.
  5. As you create the larger branches, staple them to the bulletin board. Because the paper is pliable, it is easily to manipulate to look more like a tree. Add smaller branches by twisting additional paper scraps.
  6. Cut out small leaves and store them in a jar or bag to give out to students as they finish their books. I usually have a volunteer cut them out for me so that I have a bulk amount for each quarter.
  7. Get excited to watch your tree (and readers) blossom!
    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

While the tree may look complex, it does not take an extraneous amount of time to complete or teach to students. Last year, I allowed my classes to pick which branch they would like to use. Furthermore, I color coded the leaves based on the quarter. Each quarter, I would let my students pick the new leaf color. Green was the first quarter, red was second, orange was third, and yellow was fourth. Just as fall foliage shows the change of seasons in New England, the changing leaves showed my students their development and growth as readers throughout the year.




What is a Reader Anyway?

Guest Post by Marla Robertson

As a teacher of undergraduates in a pre-service teacher course for future 4-8 teachers with various goals for future endorsements – Generalist, English/Language Arts, Math, Science, etc., part of my community building/getting to know you activities this semester included having each student fill in two surveys – one each about their Reading and Writing habits. I ask similar questions when I am presenting at teacher conferences to get a feel for where my audience is in their beliefs about reading and writing and about themselves as readers and writers.

I have noticed a pattern in the type of answers that I get to these questions in particular:

Are you a reader?

Are you a writer?

No matter what context I am in – at a conference with practicing teachers or in a classroom of pre-service teachers – the majority of participants say, no I am not a writer. This answer has been universal. I’ll address my thinking about writing beliefs at a later date, but….

Most participants usually acknowledge that they are a reader to some degree but often qualify that answer in some way. Like, “Yes, I am a reader but I don’t have time to read because I’m in school”, or “Yes, but I only read _____(insert type of reading here), or “No, I only read …..”

These responses about reading led me to wonder – just what is the definition of a reader?

Google says that a reader is a person who reads or who is fond of reading. That’s it! That’s the

My daughter took this photo after a library visit.  If the books were turned around so the titles were visible, her sophomore Pre-AP English teacher would have been appalled at the types of books Courtney was reading because they weren't considered good literature in her eyes.  That teacher never cared that Courtney was an avid reader outside of school, only that she didn't like to fill out the worksheets and read the assigned readings for class the way her teacher wanted her to. Luckily Courtney never cared what that teacher thought and continues to devour YA fiction anyway.

My daughter took this photo after a library visit. If the books were turned around so the titles were visible, her sophomore Pre-AP English teacher would have been appalled at the types of books Courtney was reading because they weren’t considered good literature in her eyes. That teacher never cared that Courtney was an avid reader outside of school, only that she didn’t like to fill out the worksheets and read the assigned readings for class the way her teacher wanted her to. Luckily Courtney never cared what that teacher thought and continues to devour YA fiction anyway.

dictionary definition – no qualifications, no buts or exclusions. But when asked that question, what do people really think? Do people narrow that definition to exclude the types of reading that we do as a part of our everyday life, like reading the newspaper, surfing the web, reading our favorite magazine, etc.?

What about the reading that people do for their job? Does that type of reading qualify them as a reader? A friend of mine told me once that her husband doesn’t think of himself as a reader because he only reads non-fiction. If we as adults qualify ourselves as readers by the type of reading that we do, then it’s not surprising that our students may do this as well.

So, is a student who reads comic books/graphic novels a reader? How would they answer this question?

Does a student who reads about hunting (insert personal interest here) by perusing articles in the latest hunting magazines qualify as a reader?

Is a student who gets online and searches out all the information they can find about their favorite boy band, One Direction (or any other topic of personal interest), a reader?

Is the person who scans Facebook posts, reads Twitter feeds, loves roaming around Pinterest (or any other app) – are they a reader?

Can a reader be someone who is in school and is constantly reading textbooks, articles, or other assignments related to their coursework,

… or do they have to be reading a novel to be a reader?

So what do you think? How would you answer this question….

Are you a reader?

Whether your answer is yes or no or qualified in some way, switch to wearing your teacher hat and think about your students – what is your definition of a reader….for them?

Is it the same or is it different?

I know for myself as a teacher, I have to be careful that I don’t narrow the definition of “reader” to mean a person who reads novels, which is probably my definition of being a reader when applied to myself.

What do you think? In our role as teachers do we need to consider our perspective of what it means to be a reader and how we apply it to our students?

How can we help our students come to believe that they too can be a “reader” if they do not consider themselves as one already?

Marla Robertson currently teaches undergraduate literacy courses at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas to budding teachers.  She is a Teacher Consultant for the North Star of Texas Writing Project and strives to keep current on the latest research and trends in reading and writing instruction.  She is passionate about advocating for authentic purposeful writing opportunities for students of all ages and believes that everyone has a story to tell. She can be reached at mkrobertson2009@gmail.com.

Prior Knowledge: Helping our Struggling Readers

book depository

Every day we must make decisions, and somehow, whether we realize it or not, we are accessing our prior knowledge to make these decisions.  For example, there is a restaurant that I will never eat at again. 15 years later, I still remember the time I got violently ill after consuming one of their calzones. Now, someone brings up that restaurant–I cringe.

Sometimes my prior knowledge doesn’t come from real life. Sometimes it comes straight out of a book. A few weeks ago I had to make a really tough decision. As I sat weighing the pros and cons of my choices, Beatrice, from the book Divergent, and the struggle she had making a difficult choice came to mind. I found myself relying on her experience because that in fact was exactly how I felt.

Prior knowledge can come from a multitude of places, but it is the experiences I have had–along with the books I have read– that fill my storehouse of prior knowledge.  So what about prior knowledge and our struggling readers? Their storehouse of prior knowledge is barren. In talking specifically about early literacy, Nancy Lee Cecil explains that, “What readers bring to the activity in terms of prior knowledge … determines how well they will be able to derive a rich meaning from the text,” (Cecil, 2003). So, what about our students who do not have a rich background of prior knowledge? Whether it be a lack of experiences or a lack of reading–my question is:

What are we doing as educators to support students creating a bountiful array of prior knowledge experiences?


The most important thing teachers can do to help equip their students with a wealth of prior knowledge is provide opportunities for them to read–and read a lot. It isn’t about assigning book after book as a whole-class novel. It is about Independent reading. “Independent reading is all about capacity building,” (Kittle, 2012). By allowing students the time to vicariously live through the lives of characters in books, we in turn are allowing them to store up experiences. As teachers it is our responsibility to, “pay attention to the quantity as well as the quality in their reading lives (Kittle, 2012).” If students are to truly live culturally rich lives, then we must be more intentional about how we are making this happen in our classrooms.

Cecil, N. L. (2003). Striking a balance: best practices for early literacy (2nd ed.). Scottsdale, Ariz.: Holcomb Hathaway, Publishers.

Kittle, P. (2013). Book love: developing depth, stamina, and passion in adolescent readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Photo credit: TunnelBug / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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