My New and Improved Library

Thanks to a wonderful teacher friend, my library arrangement has been significantly enhanced!

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a little “crazy” about my class library.  I think “crazy” in a good way meaning I’m always trying to get more books for the kids, add little displays, rugs, chairs, etc.  I just want to lure the students in there and, let’s be honest, it has to look nice.  Books need to be updated constantly which is why I’m a major pusher of the Scholastic Book Orders.  I love this company’s deals!  For every student that orders online, the class gets $3 to spend on books!  What?!  One order I got over $60 in free books!  If you are not already using Scholastic, I suggest you get on it.

Back to the original point, my lovely friend gave me some new shelves and displays that actually spin (ooooooh!).  The library is looking sweet!

How do you build your class library?

Upcoming….just had a project funded on–8 kindles are being shipped to add to our library.  Details to come.

Is it crazy that a class library can make me so happy inside?
Is it crazy that a class library can make me so happy inside?
Take it in from all angles!  My class library remodeled!
Take it in from all angles! My class library remodeled!


Love the addition of the chair to the library.  The kids still love reading on the couch and in the reading cave, but another sitting spot is always needed.
Love the addition of the chair to the library. The kids still love reading on the couch and in the reading cave, but another sitting spot is always needed.

Our Holiday Party!

All the kids were dying to get their hands on a book!  Success!
All the kids were dying to get their hands on a book! Success!
This book was a hit!  I love Wonder!  It's so awesome to see the kids getting so excited about books!
This book was a hit! I love Wonder! It’s so awesome to see the kids getting so excited about books!

Even though January is coming to an end, I still feel the need to share our awesome holiday party.  The kids had such a blast and I’m always looking for new activities/crafts/games for the students.

Some teachers at my school do an ornament exchange or cookie exchange, but gor the past couple of years, I have conducted a Holiday Book Exchange.  A letter goes home asking parents for permission to bring one, wrapped book to participate.  Of course, I always have extra wrapped books for the students who are unable to bring one.  It’s important that no on misses out.  And, I must admit, I have some wonderful parents each year.   It never fails that students that are able to bring a wrapped book bring extras for those who cannot.  It’s a beautiful thing.

As far as the actual exchange activity, I put all the books in the center of my circle of students.  My students (34) all pick a number out of a hat to determine what order they will select books.  This is the fun part!  We run this with the same rules as the always-entertaining-White Elephant.  For me, this is a classic Christmas.  *Helpful Hint:  The first year I did this, I allowed a book to be stolen three times.  This made the game last forever, and for me, it was too long. So my rule is a book can only be stolen twice and it’s “dead”–meaning belongs to the person that stole it for a second time.

What kinds of activities do you have for your class parties??

My wonderful room mom setting up our book exchange!
My wonderful room mom setting up our book exchange!

Reader’s Notebook: 40 Book Challenge!

After much reading, researching, and deliberating, I have FINALLY decided on my reading incentive program for the year.  I knew that I did NOT want anything to do with AR (Accelerated Reader).  This program, while it has its benefits was not achieving my goal for the classroom, which has always been for students to love reading.

I believe I blogged about my views recently, but I’ll further explain my final program here.  First, I must give credit to the amazing people who created, published, and promulgated the idea of the reader’s notebook and book challenges.  *Note: Reader’s Notebooks, reading workshop, reading instruction, etc. ideas have been around for a long time.  I have found these three sources to be the best I have come across thus far. (Pinterest–you are amazing, but I needed to do extra research to determine how I could implement a book challenge all year.)

If you haven't read this book, go to amazon immediately and purchase it.  Loved!
If you haven’t read this book, go to amazon immediately and purchase it. Loved!
Fountas and Pinnell
Fountas and Pinnell
Check out her site ASAP if you haven't already.
Check out her site ASAP if you haven’t already.


My students were asked to bring a composition book to school for their reader’s notebook.  (Next year, I’ll be sure to specify to bring a composition book with a cardboard/paper cover, not a plastic one.  The plastic covers were difficult to adhere their pictures to, even with modge podge.)

Composition Book with cardboard cover--standard.
Composition Book with cardboard cover–standard.

After introducing the book challenge, I passed out copies of the forms to be cut and glued in their notebooks.  The forms included genre tally sheet, genre overview, characteristics of a genre (see “genre hunt”), weekly schedule accountability sheet, instructions for weekly response letter, sample of student letter, and more.  The package can be purchased in my tpt store- Reader’s Notebook Book Challenge.  

Our first lesson was introducing all the genres (genre hunt) which I blogged about already, but it was really an awesome learning experience for me and the students.  Categorizing books according to genre was more difficult then they had anticipated.  We are now in the process of sorting the entire classroom library–yikes! and yay!


So far, I am one month into my school year.  I have blocked off 15 minutes for silent reading in the morning.  (The Book Whisperer really helped in figuring out the logistics of this entire process.)  It is during this time that I conference with students individually and/or in small groups of 3.  They bring with them the book they are currently reading and their notebooks.  Sometimes I have them read to me.  Other times we are discussing the book they are reading and how it’s working for them: are they on track to complete the challenge?  If not, I try to steer them in the right direction.

As far as keeping the students accountable for their weekly response letters, I have divided the class between all five days.  I have a group of students that always turn in their notebooks on Monday, a group for Tuesday, etc.  This way I only have 6-7 students to read and respond to each day.   I’m not sure how other teachers do this, but I would never trust myself to collect all 34 notebooks on Friday and have them back by Monday.  So far, it’s working out well.  A couple of days I even took them with me to lunch and completed them before school was out.  The immediate feedback and constant writing about reading has already shown benefits.  I feel like I have learned my kids faster than I have other years.  And not simply their academic skills and abilities, but their interests and personalities.  It’s been great so I’m determined to keep it up.

The following are some photos of my students work.  I hope to see MAJOR improvements by the end of the year–fingers crossed!

IMG_6614 IMG_6613 IMG_6612 IMG_6611 IMG_6610 IMG_6609 IMG_6608 IMG_6607 IMG_6606

Reader's Notebooks decorated!
Reader’s Notebooks decorated!


What genre is this? Wait..what’s a genre?

The second week of school has come to a close for me, and I have to admit, I am pooped.  The kids have been awesome.  It’s just always an adjustment getting all your routines into place so everything takes A LOT longer than I planned.  Note to self:  Next year, try to plan less in the first two weeks so I don’t feel behind.

Well, I’ve been working all summer trying to figure out what my reading incentive plan is going to be this year.  I’ve tried AR (not a fan).  I’ve done the reading log each night (not a fan).  I’ve had parents sign that their child has read X amount of minutes each day (well…you get the idea).  These things have not achieved or fostered what my goal is —kids to LOVE reading!  I think maybe this is not the end goal for all teachers, especially the ones that don’t really read themselves.  They need the accountability piece; the signed piece of paper or test that “proves” that a student is reading.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, asking colleagues, researching, and it all comes back to what I’ve always believed–we need to have a plan to promote literacy in our classroom that truly creates a LOVE for BOOKS!  So how do we do this?  Well, what’s worked better than anything else in my 8 years is my class book club.  Every Wednesday Mrs. Cortez Book Club meets before school.  The kids bring a mug from home and I bring the hot chocolate and doughnuts.  We have read before the meeting to an agreed upon page and then come and talk about the book.  It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.  There’s no test, no book report, no nothing.  It’s just a group of people getting together and sharing opinions about the story.  (I’ll post something about book club specifically later—it starts this week.)

I decided this year that I’m taking bits and pieces from reading “The Book Whisperer”, Beth Newingham (google her), Fountas and Pinnell’s reading notebook, and a little bit of my own two cents.  I am implementing the 40 Book Challenge and I’m so excited!  I’ll post about that later this week as well along with everything I created for it.  In order conquer this challenge, the students HAVE to be able to identify different genres of literature so this was the lesson.   Using “The Book Whisperer” as my guide and Beth Newinghams free downloads (genre title pages), I had the students take notes in their reader’s notebooks.  Then I gave each team scholastic book catalogs and they had to choose 15 book covers to sort.   I gave each teach one blank sheet of paper and let them “sort” it out.  Were all the sorts correct? No, but it made for some good conversation for our intro. lesson.  The kids really got it into it.

This year is off to a good start!

Putting our extra catalogs to good use.
Putting our extra catalogs to good use.

photo 2 photo 3_2 photo 4 photo 5_2 photo 1 photo 2_2

Thank you Beth for allowing us to download these awesome genre pages for free!
Thank you Beth for allowing us to download these awesome genre pages for free!
Teams presented to class and we discussed challenges, rights, and wrongs.
Teams presented to class and we discussed challenges, rights, and wrongs.
Using scholastic book catalogs the extras), each team sorted the titles by genre.
Using scholastic book catalogs the extras), each team sorted the titles by genre.

The Giving Tree

Every year I read one of my favorite stories of all time, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.   I’m sure you all know the story and if you don’t, please do yourself a favor, click on the link and just buy it.   You won’t be sorry.  I even bought myself the phone case for my birthday last year.

My birthday gift to myself
My birthday gift to myself

Anyway, my partner teacher and I wanted to create some sort of assignment with this book.  This is what we came up with and I love it.  After reading the story the students each reflect on their own life and determine who is their giving tree.  I have them write on a post-it (obviously, I have a post-it problem) who their giving tree is and the reasons why.  I also explain that the reason has to be something deeper than…”My mom is my giving tree because she buys me stuff.”–Unacceptable.  The students are trying to make a real and meaningful text to self connection at this point.

After I correct the post-it for conventions, each student is given a red apple.  (Apologize for not have it here for you to download, but it’s on my work computer.  So sorry.)  It’s basically just an image of an apple blown up and we inserted lines over the image.  I copy of red construction paper because I don’t like to spend time coloring in class, but you could just have them color it red if you so choose.

Then, each student is given a green leaf.  On this paper, they are to reflect and decide what they are going to give to the class this year and it CANNOT be any material thing i.e. school supplies.  I post these up the whole year and revisit them so I warn the students to chose something that they are truly planning on sharing with the class.



My students came up with some awesome ideas of what they are going to share this year:  teaching origami, how to throw a football, kindness, teach organization, etc.   On back to school night, parents can find their child’s apple and so many are filled with joy to see what the students said about their giving tree.  I LOVE this activity.

Thank you Shel Silverstein!  

Click on the above link for his Giving Tree read aloud.

I LOVE Scholastic Books!

So my summer is winding down. Who am I kidding? It’s gone. I start school on Monday (year-round) and I’m sitting in the living room revising and updating all of my beginning of the year information for parents and students. I just finished my Scholastic Parent Letter and I’m already anticipating all the new books I’ll be getting with my bonus points! I LOVE Scholastic.

To any teacher who hasn’t had success with book orders, I would just say, “Try and try again.”

I promote these book orders like crazy. Here are a few of my “sneaky” strategies:

1. This parent letter goes home with all the other important information i.e. emergency contact forms, permission slips, etc.

2. At Parent Information Night (PIN), I beg and plead to all the parents that if they just order one book this year, please make it with the first catalog. This is where teachers get crazy bonus points! Last year I was able to purchase over 50 new books!! Love.

3. When I pass out the book catalogs, I do so at the end of the day. I tell all the students to circle 3 books that interest them. They then share with their table groups the books they chose and why. In a couple of minutes, the bell rings and the students are rushed to their parents with book catalogs in hand, books on their minds….that’s my sneaky move. Never give the students catalogs at the beginning of the day.

4. I put the book deadlines on my edmodo calendar, edmodo alert, and send out group emails to all parents. What’s the worst a parent can say, “She keeps pushing BOOKS on me?” I’ll take that complaint any day.

5. When the books for the class library are finally delivered, I read aloud EVERY title and most of the summaries on the back. This way the students know what’s being added to the library and the line for checkout grows immediately. The kids all know it’s my favorite delivery.

So to all who doubt, try your hardest to talk about your book orders everyday up to your deadline. Hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Happy bonus points!

*Below is the letter I send home with my kids. Scholastic Parent Letter