Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Filling Book Bins on the First Day of School

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016.

Reading Workshop is one of the first things I want to have up and going by the end of the first week of school.  We get started with Reading Workshop on the first day of school and I want every child to have books for independent reading time. I want them to know right away that they own their reading.  

Our Reading Workshop is in the afternoon, so sometime before that time, we'll build our book bins.  I have empty 24 book bins set up in a few places around the room. (I purposely do not put them all in the same area to help with traffic.)  These bins are waiting to be filled!

I make sure that the first day of school is fun, slow and happy.  I want kids to have time to know the room, know each other and play a bit to transition into the routine. So for the first few days of school we have about an hour to explore various things in the classroom--Legos, Math Games, Straws and Connectors, Apps on iPads, Pixie on Laptops, etc.  During this exploration time, I meet with 3-5 kids at a time at a table to build book bins.  Each child finds a book bin in the room that they'd like to claim for their own.  We label it with a sticky note--knowing that our photo will be printed to label it later in the week.

Then we do a quick tour of the library--just to get the basics--picture books, series books, nonfiction, graphic novels, author baskets, etc  Kids often see a familiar book to add into their bins, others seem to have a specific book in mind that they'd like to read. Still others have no idea where to begin when it comes to choosing a book to read.

I take time with each group of children, pointing out books, asking about old favorites and what they read in the summer, suggesting titles. I suggest that kids have a variety of books in their bins--short books, long books, fiction, nonfiction, familiar books, new authors, etc.  My hope is that each child has 3-4 books in their book bin before our first Reading Workshop.  I'll take a picture of the child and their books to keep as our first piece of assessment.

This is a great time for me to listen in. It is my first conversation with individual readers and their first time talking to me about books. It is an important time. I know that every child will not have the right books in their bins--that is all part of the process.  My big goal is for them to know that they choose the books--that they are in charge of their own reading and that I will support them along the way.

As the week goes on, we'll have lots of reflection about our book choices. Many of our share sessions during those first few weeks of school will be about the books they are choosing. We'll reflect on questions like:

Did you have enough books to keep you reading the whole time?
Which book had you hooked?
Which book didn't seem right for your right now?
What kind of book did you wish you had in your bin today?
Did you find yourself sticking with one book or moving between books?
Is there a new book or author you discovered today that you are excited about?
Did anyone read a new book by a familiar author?

My rule for the independent reading portion of the Reading Workshop those first few days is that everyone Stays Quiet and Stays Put. It sounds a bit harsh but it starts as only a 10-15 minute time period. I want kids to feel what it is like to find a spot with books. I want them to determine how many books they might need. I want them to get used to not getting up and down for drinks or restroom breaks or even new books during this time. (Later I loosen up but these first few days are important to establish a routine that we can build on.

This means that kids can trade out books when they arrive in the morning. I'll also have many mini lessons around book choice and they'll be able to switch out books between the mini lesson and independent reading time. I'll confer with kids during this time to help them refill their book bins.  

I'll also be keeping an eye on kids who are comfortable with the books they chose.  I'll watch their engagement and behaviors with the books they have.  I'll ask them how it is going? I'll do a lot of observations during this time.

Throughout the year, the student book bins remain critical. Kids have their daily reading in these bins but they also have books they hope to read next. The book bin becomes a visual reminder of each child's current life as a reader.  After the first few weeks, readers change out their book bins whenever needed. After the first few weeks of learning what a 30 minute independent reading period feels like, reflecting on which books keep us engaged, meeting with me about the books in their bins and mini lessons around book choice, kids choose books very naturally. The lessons on book choice are critical and the book bin helps so much with this learning.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook starting September 1 by joining our group here.)
Our new edition of Still Learning to Read will be released on August 15 but you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse!


  1. Teachers might like to check out my book reviews and activities at -- www.ToniRhodes.blogspot.com.
    Have a wonderful school year!

  2. I freakin' love this post. I'm pretty excited to try some of these things with my readers.

    1. Thanks! I love getting to know readers those first few days of school!

  3. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Wonderful ideas! Thank you for sharing your process for populating book boxes. I plan to give this a try!

  4. I work with middle schoolers, and we don't have book boxes, but I love how you conference with kids and the questions you ask.

    1. I bet middle schoolers don't need the tactile/visual support that book bins provide younger readers. I bet your conferences with readers are so interesting early in the year!

  5. Anonymous6:50 PM

    Just adjusted tomorrow's plans to include library tours and pictures with our book bins. We filled them today and I love the idea of documenting this. This series has been SO helpful to me!

    1. I so love first-week-of-school photos! They are so fun to look back on later in the year too. And I am glad the series is helpful to you. It is helpful to me as it's a good way to reflect and think through decisions. Love documenting the learning and teaching of a year! Thanks for letting me know.

  6. Thanks Franki! I can't wait to try starting out my workshop different this year. I am excited to try book bins (boxes). Thanks for examples of your thinking and questioning.

  7. Moving from K/1 to 2nd this year. Any suggestions of blogs I should follow?

  8. I'd follow Cathy Mere (http://reflectandrefine.blogspot.com), Deb Frazier (http://deb-frazier.blogspot.com), Katie DiCesare (http://creativeliteracy.blogspot.com) to start!


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