This is not to say that whole class units do not have a place in the English classroom. For example, I love whole class drama units. To me, they lend themselves to whole class study for the engaging way roles can be assigned and acted out. Whole class novels absolutely can be done effectively, but from this point on, I knew I wanted to try something different. Here’s how I do it:
1. Define the Objective
- inspire students to enjoy reading
- engage students in creative and critical thinking related to their reading
2. Establish the Parameters
However, just because I couldn’t give the students free reign on their choices, didn’t mean I couldn’t give them a choice; it didn’t have to be all or nothing. The answer was simple: a book list. The decision to use a book list solved a number of problems. A well-researched book list would give them choice, but I wouldn’t have to worry about complexity or appropriateness. With that many students, I wouldn’t have the time necessary to review each selection. The challenge was giving enough choices. Here is the criteria I used to when constructing the book list:
- at least 20 copies available
- represents a valuable perspective
- fits a unique genre (different from the other selections)
- is age appropriate
I searched every inch of the high school to find sets of books that could work for this project. I decided on eight options that represented different perspectives.
*UPDATE: After this first trial run, I spent the summer building my classroom library and asking the high school library to order new books. Over the years, we’ve managed to create a 100% free choice reading unit. I do set some parameters, and you can read about those below.
- The book must be on the approved book list set forth by the school board. (If you do not have an approved book list, this one might read, “The book must display literary merit.” This is something that is subjective and will require your approval; however, I would still give them a chance to argue their case.)
- The book must be age appropriate. By age appropriate, I am referring to complexity. I do not use page numbers as a requirement, but rather focus on the appropriate complexity for their age group.
3. Design a Reading Survey
My reading survey is included in Literary Lenses Unit in both digital and print sources.
4. Build In Discovery Day
I like to build in a day at the beginning of my unit to give students time to explore selections. This is the perfect time to do a book tasting, an activity that gives students time to “taste” or read an excerpt from different selections.
I always give students the opportunity to change their selection if they don’t enjoy the book they selected. After all, I do this in real life all of the time when I start book and realize it’s not worth finishing, and I bet you have too. Discovery day might help them make a better selection from the beginning so that they don’t have to change their books later.
5. Plan Reading Activities
Once you have the general plan, it’s time to create reading check points that align to your objectives. The goal is to create activities for reflection, analysis, and sharing. These activities can relate to literary concepts, like characterization, symbolism, and tone, and rhetorical concepts, like tone, organization, and claims/support.
Throughout the unit, I like to mix up the activities that involve personal reflection and sharing, so that students are learning about their classmates’ work while having an opportunity to share their own work. This also adds an accountability piece.
I know this step can be daunting at first, so I created a complete unit that works beautifully with choice reading. Like all of my reading units, I use literary lenses as the overarching concept to create reading activities. There are literary studies, interactive activities, and an engaging project-based assessment at the end. You can check out my entire unit by clicking here.
If you’re interested in literature circles, which can be a variation of choice reading, check out this blog post on how I facilitate literature circles.
6. Provide Reading Time In Class
As you’re creating your choice reading unit map, I suggest building in as much class reading time as you can. I’m still amazed how quiet my classroom gets when students who are usually quite talkative, dive into their choice selections. Also, it’s a great opportunity for you to build in a small accountability piece. As well as, obverse when students might not really be into their first selections.
If you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do while they’re reading, the answer is simple: READ! Modeling is an important strategy, so while they’re reading, you should read too!!