Tag Archives: Larry Ferlazzo

Carving Out Time In Our Classes For Reading Is Key

This week’s blog post is a guest blog post that I wrote for Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo – Education Week Teacher as part of a four part series: “Give Students Choice When It’s Time to Read” with additional insight from Laura Robb, Pam Allyn, and many more.

I have reposted the post I contributed below but you are going to want to read the entire blog series on teaching readers and reading on the Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo – Education Week Teacher webpage.

There is nothing like a great book to engross the reader, travel to another time or  place, offer a new perspective on  history, provide another  perspective, bring new awareness, and hold up a mirror to one’s  own life. As an English teacher, reading is a passion and pastime for me. But it wasn’t always this way. When I was in middle and high school, I was a reluctant reader. I disliked so many of the assigned books I read in my youth. The classics and canonical texts filled the reading lists.  I found myself procrastinating summer reading requirements until days before school would begin again only to be faced  with more required reading of people I did not connect with. 

Today,  it is the complete opposite in my own classroom. Students are given choices when it comes to school reading. Whether independent reading or working through our thematic units of instruction, students have book choice, and this leads to an increased motivation to read. To help them choose a book that piques their interest, I read aloud excerpts from books, share book trailers, and play audio selections of popular and poignant books I want to share with my students with the hope to match the right book at the right time with a reader. I share with my students books I am reading, listening to, and that comprise my ‘To Be Read List.’  Students have time to read every day in our English classroom. My classroom library is bursting with advanced-reader copies (ARCs) I collected at conferences like NCTE, ILA, and NerdCamp. Plus I am always purchasing books on Amazon after I read a new book review and get a recommendation from my professional learning community. 

Educator and author of BookLove (Heinemann, 2013), Penny Kittle states that to motivate readers, students need choices, book talks, time to read in class, book clubs, access to books, and to see teachers passionate about reading. Literacy is a schoolwide initiative.  When students see the adults in their life reading, talking about books, and share their reading life, they have positive reading role models. Similarly, carving out time in our classes for reading is key. When we flip reading time during class time rather than assigning reading outside of school, we allow students to practice reading in real time, promote discussion, and apply reading in the classroom. If we are going to help cultivate students who are avid readers of text—print, visual, digital, audio—then it means we are intentional about creating a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms. 

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Hook ’em First: Best Suggestions for Walk-In or Do Now Activities

I recently sat down with Larry Ferlazzo, Nancy Sulla, and Matthew Homrich-Knieling to discuss the best suggestions for walk in and do-now activities. We are talking about the academic work before the bell rings and the teacher’s mini-lesson.

You can listen to our conversation from Larry’s podcast Classroom Q & A on BAM Radio here.

There is no one do now or hook that works for all teachers and students. Nancy spoke about offering choice activities in the learner active classroom. And choices for teachers and students are important to personalize learning for the diverse students in our classrooms. I tend to change up the hooks in my classroom so no one activity is the same. I also like the idea of putting do-nows on task cards so students can choose to complete or a teacher can have students choose a new task card each day from a set. There is no one correct way to start the class, teachers need to connect with their content and consider the learners in their classroom.

Here are ways that I have my students working before the bell rings:

Poem A Day – Everyday begin with a poem. It can be based on current events, content material, or beautiful language. The teacher can read aloud the poem, post on the SMARTboard, share a paper or digital copy, or show a video of performance poetry for students to read and respond.

Gallery Walk with Text or QR Code Links – During a dystopian unit we look at rebellion, revolt, and revolution. I begin the class with QR Codes around the room linking to videos from the news and popular movies like Hunger Games as well as images throughout history for students to identify as rebellions, revolts, or revolutions. Some of the pictures include Arab Spring, the Boston Tea Party, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Viewing these images help students to create a definition of the three terms and help lead us to a discussion of these concepts and how they play out in the dystopian texts students are reading. You can also do this activity with excerpts from passages of a book students are reading or key quotes that students read and respond to.

Quick Writes and Journaling – Begin with a question or practice what Julia Cameron titled in her book, The Art’s Way (2016), morning pages. “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. – There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page.

Sentence Work – For more formal writing practice I reference these sentence activities in the podcast with Larry Ferlazzo. This is not something my students do everyday, but are grounded in the the reading students engaged in. You can read more about sentence work strategies in my blog post Building Better Sentences. When students were reading the short story Most Dangerous Game, students completed this sentence frame:

Internal & External Conflict

Lastly, Do Nows and Walk in are Hooks. That means they are meant to hook the students into the lesson and excite them about learning in your classroom today. Engagement is key. Taking inspiration from Dave Burgess and his book Teach Like a Pirate, hooks can be  based on music, art, movement, games, play, involve the students, student choice, sensory. So, when thinking about your next lesson, how might you get your students thinking, engaged, and excited for today’s lesson?

Draw – A storyboard, a picture, sketch notes.

Taste – When we are reading about Scout and Jem finding Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum in To Kill a Mockingbird, I gave every student a piece of Wrigley’s Gum as they entered the classroom and we did some detective work in the text who might have left the gum in the Tree Knot.

Games – Take it digital or old school and have students answer questions, play Guess Who? or even design a quick review from yesterday’s lesson with Quizlet Live, QuizZ, or Kahoot.

Get Dramatic – Give small groups of students a scenario or props and they have to create a tableau (a frozen picture) or act out a key scene or potential scenarios presented in a text. Before reading Midsummer Night’s Dream and to introduce the play I give small groups of students different scenarios that take place in the play and students have to improvise a short scene how the situation plays out.

Music and Mozart – Bring in music, teach a song or play a song for students to listen to and make connections with. Have your students write a song or stanza to convey an idea or concept.

Get Crafty – Use legos, play dough, or any craft materials for students to create a 3-D image or representation of a concept, idea, or scene in a book.



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