Teaching your students how to select “Just Right” books

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Often times during my teaching career I would ask my students what do you have to do to become a good reader. And a lot of times I’d hear responses such as read hard books and big words. I’d end up telling them that what would be the point of reading nothing but hard books if you couldn’t make sense of what you were reading.

After all, the reason we read is to get information. But I’d also tell them that reading nothing, but easy books doesn’t help you either to grow as a reader. Though I will say that easy books are great for developing fluency in beginning readers.

When it came to teaching my 4th and 5th grade students how to select a just right book, I outlined some factors for them to consider. And to that point, I prepared an anchor chart of things to consider that I kept posted in a visible place in the class so they could always refer back to it if needed.

So, I told my students that to continue to grow as readers one needs to read “just right” books. And of course, when I told my students this, they would have a puzzled look on their faces. So, I further explained just what I meant.

In the first place a just right book has to be a book that you find interesting and perhaps has a captivating title.

Perhaps you are familiar with the author and enjoy reading their kind of books. For example: Kate Dicamillo who wrote Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The Tiger Rising,and more. Barbara Park: The Juni B. Jones series.

It’s a book that you can read without too much difficulty and more importantly you understand what you are reading.

The print size is not too small or too big.

You understand the plot and can easily predict what may happen.

There are just a few words per page that you don’t know. I would have my students always perform this test when they were about to select a book from either the media center or my classroom library.

I would tell scan over the first few pages – usually about 5 pages or so and if there were

5 words on every page that they didn’t know, then that book would be too hard for them to enjoy and comprehend. But on the other hand, if the student scanned the first 5 pages and found no more than 5 words on any one page that they didn’t know, then that would be considered a just right book.

Conversely, if a student knows every single word on the first 5 pages [providing they can tell you what they’ve read] then the book would be considered too easy.

To be clear, it’s important to challenge children just a bit to keep them growing and learning new vocabulary. But the key here is that the student must be able to understand what they are reading.

The approach I always took with my students was to explicitly teach how to choose a just right book by thinking out loud, and model just what that looks like. This is something that I practiced with them often until I felt that my students could demonstrate good judgement in selecting just right books.

I feel this point needs mentioning, if a child was really interested in a book that was way to difficult for them to read right now, I would tell the child that perhaps later on in the year that book might be appropriate for you. Another thing that you can do is get with the parent to see if they could read that book to their child.

Now I feel that this point bears repeating:

Let your students choose the books that they want to read in your classroom just as long as it’s appropriate.

That’s why it’s crucial that you have an excellent classroom/school library for students to have lots of choices for selecting books.

I will tell you that providing choice for your students will contribute to their growth as readers.

Reading competence is closely associated with the amount of time that children spend reading. That’s why I feel strongly that students (grades 4 & above) should independently read books of their own choosing for 30 minutes every day – Monday through Friday.

Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful,and enjoy hearing about my personal journey.



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Steve Hiles

I am a retired military and elementary school teacher living in Tennessee. I am an avid reader and love to write. I am very passionate about helping teachers. I hope you find my educational tips and strategies useful and enjoy hearing about my personal journey. Thanks for visiting!

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