Inspire the Desire to Read, Year Two of Transforming Readers: Basic Reading Block Structure

The 2011-2012 school year was my second year of implementing a new approach to reading, largely based on Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer.  I first implemented this philosophy of free voluntary reading, setting goals, and inspiring kids to read during my last year of teaching fifth grade.   During the ’11-’12 school year, I made the switch to third grade, and continued to implement this philosophy.   (See the Reading tab for a brief explanation of this approach).   As any teacher knows, switching grading levels can be quite the challenge as one learns a new curriculum and what exactly your new kiddos are capable of.  Because of this, I wasn’t able to implement this approach as good as I did as an eighth-year fifth-grade teacher, but in the end, many of my kids were inspired to read this year and beyond.    In this blog I will lay out my approach (some of which I was able to fully implement, others I did not have time to get to this year.  But, that’s the great thing about teaching, there’s always next year to improve on what you already do!)

In addition to our district-wide Response to Intervention block, I have an additional literacy block of about 105 minutes.   An hour of this is devoted to reading instruction, small groups and independent reading.   My basic structure is as follows:

First 30 minutes – I teach our mandated district-wide whole-group reading lessons from Literacy by Design (  While I am thankful our district has a program that ties all classrooms together with some common research-based reading skills and strategies, I also do not teach it to a T.  My goal during my one-hour reading time is to always allow time for small-groups and independent reading, which is the heart of our reading block.   I do what every teach should do and I sift through the Literacy by Design lessons, implement key components, cut out what my students already know, and fit the lesson into 30 minutes or less.

Second 30 minutes – I teach two small groups, either reinforcing the skill taught in whole group or teach those reading skills our reading program does not cover at all or in-depth enough.   These small groups are differentiated by reading levels.  The next day, I teach two other small groups.  Days 3 and 4, I teach the skill in more depth.  And, on day 5, I utilize flexible grouping and re-teach the skill to any students who continue to struggle.

While I’m teaching small-groups, the rest of the class is taking part in independent reading.  I take the first 3-4 weeks of school to set this up.  This is time well spent and so important not to rush through.  You have to teach kids to be independent readers and learners; it is not a skill they will innately have.   Below are ways I set up my independent reading.

Reader’s Notebook: This is a three-ring binder every student keeps next to their book bins.   There is no need to re-invent the wheel, especially when you have phenomenal teachers out there like Beth Newingham, who writes for Scholastic.  Instead of re-writing everything I do that is her idea, let me just refer you to her link to the Reader’s Notebook.   It can be found at   It is imperative that a good amount of time be spent on teaching students how to fill out their Reader’s Notebook.  And you need to re-visit expectations for the notebook every once in a while.  Again, they’re not innately going to know how to track their reading through this method.

Book Bins: Do you ever have students who roam endlessly in your classroom library looking for books?  Book bins help solve this problem.  Book bins are simply containers that students keep filled with books they are reading and want to read.  This way, they are always readily accessible.   Again, no need to re-invent the wheel.  See Beth Newingham’s link to book bins at

Reading Responses – My students required to complete reading responses during independent reading time.  This holds them accountable to reading and gives them time to reflect on reading (a skill we as teachers oftentimes do not allow time for).  It also is a great opportunity to get more writing in.   There’s a multitude of reading responses you can use. (I will save that for another post).

Inspire the desire to read through sharing of books: There are a few things I do to create a reading culture.  This, I think is key to success in The Book Whisperer approach.   One very important habit to take part in is reading the same books your students are reading.  This models for them that you are a reader as well, and it allows conversations to take place about books.  I have found this to be one of the most powerful avenues to inspire my kids to read.  A second thing I do is to show book trailers.  A great website for this can be found at  Below is an example of a book trailer for The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby.

A third idea is to have your students make peer book recommendations, another idea I “stole” from Beth Newingham.  For more information on book recommendations, go to  A fourth idea is to take part in a book tasting, kind of like a wine tasting, but with books.  Here is a document I used for that: Book tasting  The kids LOVED these books tasting and oftentimes begged to do them!

Setting Goals: My students get in the habit of setting reading goals.  The minimum goal set for all my third graders this year was to read 40 books by the end of the school year.  They were required to read a variety of genres, but also had a lot of student choice (something research tell us is vital in reading motivation and achievement).  Here is a document I used that helped them keep track (though I will likely alter this in the future).The 40 Book Challenge.   About half to two-thirds of my class accomplished their 40-Book Challenge.  Others were close, and oftentimes read around 30 books.  I stressed to them it was okay that they didn’t meet the 40-Book Challenge, they still likely read a ton more than they did in second grade.   Ultimately, that is what matters.   My top readers read 80-90 books this year, a phenomenal accomplishment!  In addition to our yearly challenge, we set goals each quarter and during Winter and Spring Break (times when students and parents oftentimes slack off on reading).

There’s a lot more detail I could share when it comes to my reading block, and I will in future posts.  But for now, that gives you an overview of how I set it up.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and questions!   I truly believe over my last nine years of teaching, nothing has transformed and impacted my students as much as this approach to my reading/literacy block.  It truly does create life-long readers!

2 thoughts on “Inspire the Desire to Read, Year Two of Transforming Readers: Basic Reading Block Structure

  1. Meredith Anderson

    Hi, my name is Meredith and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I think that you are doing a wonderful thing for these students. Whenever I was in elementary school, I was always asked to find a book, read it, then take a quiz on it. My only goal was to do well on the quiz. There was little instruction on reading strategies. Because of this, I don’t enjoy reading as much as I should. I’m happy to hear that things have changed and that students are becoming life-long readers. Thank you for what you are contributing to our future!
    Your friend in Alabama,

  2. Jenna Barnes

    Hello, my name is Jenna. I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I loved this blog. It gave me very interesting ideas. I love the book pins. I also liked how you broke the lesson up between the hour lessons. The idea of small groups absolutely intrigues me. I like how you make a goal for your students. I think that students like a challenge in the classroom. I am glad that your students are learning how to read, and actually enjoy it. When I was in school, I didn’t have a teacher push me like this. So to know that you are making a difference makes me happy. Keep up the amazing work. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s