Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Archive for the tag “novels”

Having a Summah

Tomorrow I report back to Deer Creek, my district since 2005 when I entered the teaching profession. I’m starting my new role as the secondary curriculum instructional technology integration specialist. I know, it’s a mouthful. The acrostic is SCITIS, which my funny friend Debbie says sounds like a back problem. In this new position I’ll be helping teachers at the high school and middle school levels improve their craft. Once students return, I’ll just be SCITIS in the morning, and then I’ll still teach for three hours in the afternoon: student council and 2 sections of creative writing. I’m happy to still be in the classroom with students. They are why I got into this teaching gig to begin with. It will be strange not teaching English, but I’m embracing this new opportunity. Since I won’t be in the classroom for the full day, I have to move out of room 136, which has been the name of my blog. I suppose I should change it now. I’ll have to think about that. I’m hoping this week I can move a lot of my things (including my classroom library) into my new classroom. I will also have an office in DCHS library, so I also need to get settled in there.

I’ve made the most of my summer, or summah, as Howard Kramer pronounces it on the Who Charted? podcast, which I started listening to this summer. My hobby of listening to podcasts continues to grow. I’ve also added Invisibilia, More Perfect, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, Revisionist History, The Sporkful, Freakonomics Radio, and Criminal to my list of go-to pods. It’s kind of ridiculous how many podcasts I listen to, but they help me pass the time on my walks and doing chores around the house. If I’m being completely honest with myself, podcasts also feed my need for conversation in the summer. As a single man, I get information and entertainment from podcasts as well as some companionship. As an English teacher, I feel a bit guilty for not reading more books in the summer and listening to so many podcasts instead. I tell myself this is okay, though, because by listening to podcasts, I am learning more about our world, which can in turn lead to writing prompts and lesson ideas for my creative writing class.

And I have read two books this summer (as well as various articles from The New Yorker). We started a teacher book club and met in June to discuss All the Light We Cannot See (New York Times‘ review), and we met this month to chat about The Serpent King (Kirkus Reviews’ review). Both of these books were excellent, and I’m glad to have emerged a bit from my reading rut. I find it all too easy to watch shows on Netflix and Hulu or play Fire Emblem on my 3DS while listening to podcasts. They are fun ways to unwind, but I know I should be reading a little bit more. I actually did read the play The Humans after it got so much buzz at the Tony Awards. I’m sure seeing the play is way better than reading it, which did not impress me a whole lot.

I’ve continued to meet with my writing group this summer as well. We started back in the fall at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, committing to meet every month to share a meal and share some writing for honest and critical feedback. This summer I’ve written some on a young adult novel about Oklahoma’s panhandle being sold off to a mysterious investor who will eventually open it up to all the anti-vaxxers in the nation. I’ve barely started, but it’s been fun to write it.

Speaking of writing, my summer would not be complete without some involvement with the Oklahoma Writing Project. I went through their summer institute in 2009, and I’ve been faithfully involved ever since. This summer I got to present two different workshops to the SI, speak at their learning symposium, and create their anthology for the summer institute. The final draft is now complete. These are good summer side-gigs to have. I also got to work with Norman teachers on two of the new English language arts standards, and I also recently attended the OWP stakeholders meeting.

On top of education-related things, I got to go on two trips. I traveled to Houston for my friend Liz’s wedding, which was lovely. It was good to be together with our crew of friends. I also fulfilled a tiny dream of visiting my grandpa’s hometown of Kirksville, Missouri. I initially planned to road trip alone, but then quickly decided to invite my mom since it would be her daddy’s hometown. Plus, she just works on Mondays, so it would be easy for her to get away. My dad decided he wanted to come too, so it became a family affair. We made sure to drive through Kansas City on drive there, so we could hit up some barbecue places like Jack Stack and Q39, both excellent. I had ribs at both places. I liked the meat more at Q39 and the sides more at Jack’s Stack. (Cheesy corn, you are bad but also very, very good.)

The Kirksville trip allowed me to explore my roots. We found the 1930 census records on microfiche at the Kirksville Public Library, and I set to work reading the cursive entries at a 90 degree angle. As luck would have it, I found my great-great-grandma fairly quickly. After a little more searching, I also found my grandpa and his family’s entry as well. This was all on our first day in town, and we’d already hit the jackpot. (I was only about 15-20% of the way through the microfiche at this point.) The next step was to look for the addresses of the homes listed on the census. Only one remained and was now a frat house for one of the local colleges. The other house (my grandpa’s rent house, which his family paid something like $16 per month for rent) was now gone, a parking lot for the college. Later on, we discovered the old high school where my grandpa attended as well as the gravestones for my great-great-grandma and my great-grandparents. We also visited the historical society to find out more about the shoe factory where my great-grandpa worked as a man and my grandpa worked as a boy. One of the final significant places we found was the old theater my grandpa used to attend as a boy, which was now an antique mall. The fancy tile work in the lobby still stood as well as the flash ceiling decorations.

With one day left of our trip and everything checked off our list, we drove the hour or so to Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River–the boyhood home of Mark Twain. It was a fun but hot day of exploring and visiting historic places, including Twain’s boyhood home. As an English teacher, I was grateful we got to see some sites. My parents were not up for exploring one of the Tom Sawyer caves, but we still got to see a lot. The town of Hannibal is very charming.

I guess this blog post is here to say that teachers need time to unwind and recharge in the summer but also time to learn. It’s a balance, and I feel pretty good about how I’ve spent my time. So teachers, how do you spend your summers? Anything you’re proud to have already accomplished? What’s on your summer list of things to do? Have you even allowed yourself to start thinking about school yet?



Book Pass: Day One

Student arrive in the classroom the first day of school eager to make a good impression. We teachers want to bring our A-grade, too. Earlier this August, I had my tenth first day of school as a teacher. I had arranged my 31 desks into pods of 3 and 4 and piled books in the center of each pod for a book pass.

Book stacks waiting for my students at each group of desks.

A post shared by Jason Stephenson (@teacherman82) on

On the very first day of school, my students would sample books, finding titles to read in the coming months. This activity would set the tone and environment for the year. In this classroom, we read. We share books with one another. We are a community of 1

I wondered how many books my students would be able to check out in a 50-minute class period. I aimed for 10. Each pod had around 6 books in its stack, and there were 8 pods of desks total. After quickly taking roll, I told my students that would be doing a book pass. I’ve heard this activity called speed dating with books. One of my colleagues on Twitter suggested I turn down the lights and play some romantic music, but I couldn’t do that on the first day of school. It would seem too silly to my sophomores. At least most of them, I think. This sampling of books could easily be called a book buffet as well. I had done this activity with librarians in the past, and I used to do it when I taught the reading for fun elective at our high school.

photo 2

In her guide “Tools for Teaching Content Literacy,” Janet Allen calls this activity a Book Pass. She recommends that students use a chart with these three columns: Title, Author, & Comment. For my purposes, I tweaked the columns and used Title, Notes, & Rating. I told students not to worry about taking a lot of notes on the book–just enough to remember something important about it. They would not be graded on how detailed their notes were. These notes were for them, not me. For rating, students used a scale from 1-5, with 1 meaning the students had no interest at all in the book and the 5 meaning they couldn’t wait to read it. Instead of running copies to create these charts, I had students fold notebook paper twice vertically to create three columns. Even on the first day of school, almost all of my students had notebook paper and writing utensils for this activity. I was pleasantly surprised!

photo 3

Students gravitated to their friends when they originally sat in their pods. I gave 2 or 3 minutes with their first book, and then had students grab a second book from the pile. Now that they had sampled 2 books, it was time for my students to get up and move to a new pod. So that they could meet other people in class, I asked them to sit at a new table group with at least one person of the opposite gender. We sampled two more books in the same manner, and then moved to a new pod with people who had similar eye color. Students scanned two more books, and then we established which months fell in each season. Spring birthday students would sit together next at a new table, summer together, and fall and winter. That rotation was a little complicated, but it didn’t take as long as I thought it would. Books 7 & 8, and then students rotated to their final pod where they could sit with anyone from a common elective–a sport, band, choir, drama, media production, foreign language, etc. We finished up books 9 & 10 with only a few minutes to spare. I had my students put a star by the best book they found and smiley faces next to any books they would consider reading.

book pass chart

I had students turn in their charts, so I could see what sort of ratings they gave to the books I selected. I gave them back a day or two later, suggesting that they hold onto their charts, to remind them of good books they could read this school year. I have already had a few students browsing my classroom library while holding their charts. It occurs to me now that I should have had students label which tub their favorite books were from, so they could easily find the books later. I was very pleased wit how this first-day activity went, and I plan on doing it again at the start of next semester, if not before.

book pass chart 2

Classroom Library Reboot

Yesterday I made some of the final touches in preparing my classroom library for another year of use for my Pre-AP English 2 and creative writing students. I have had a classroom library since my first year of teaching back in 2005 when I taught 7th and 8th grade literature. I still have a few books in my library that my middle school students bought for me at our school’s book fair. I know because I saw the donation sticker when I was sorting. My library was much smaller then, and I have grown it over the years in a number of ways:

  1. buying used books online for pennies (the $3.99 shipping is what costs)
  2. buying books at the Friends of the Library sale for super cheap (maybe your state has something similar)
  3. using Barnes & Noble gift cards to stock my shelves
  4. books gifted to me by students
  5. Scholastic Warehouse sales
  6. spending my hard-earned cash on hardcovers I can’t wait for (titles have recently included Winger by Andrew Smith and We Were Liars by e. lockhart)

Back to the revisions that I made to my library. I have my books divided by genres into tubs, which something I saw firsthand in a classroom of my colleague Kari Steele when we taught middle school together. Until this summer I had tubs devoted to Chick Lit, but I decided this was unfair because I discovered I had guy students who enjoyed the occasional romance story. Chick Lit tubs became Romance tubs.


In my efforts to weed my library, I discovered some duplicate titles, but I didn’t want to get rid of all of them. In fact, I thought I would create a tub called “Read with a Friend,” an idea I remembered reading about in this Franki Sibberson article. Now, I realize I teach high school, not elementary, but I think my teens will enjoy this tub. I’ll have to keep you posted on how it goes. If you look at the picture closely, you’ll notice there’s currently only one copy of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but that’s because I have the other copy at home for a presentation next month.

friend front viewfriend side view

I already had tubs dedicated to nonfiction and memoir, and I think it was just this past year that I decided to organize my memoir tubs a little more. Subcategories included men, women, intense, humor, war and adventure, and classics. I realized my copy of Bossypants was missing when I looked through my tubs yesterday. This happens, and I usually replace books when I can.

memoir war intensememoir women menmemoir classics humor

My nonfiction books, on the other hand, were scattered across four tubs with little rhyme or reason. They needed the same treatment as my memoir books, so I came up with war and crime, American history, sociology, and science. My goal is to add another tub or two of nonfiction this coming year, but I’m not sure yet what those will be. Maybe a psychology tub?

nonfiction sociology science nonfiction war history

My final change was to expand my singular Oklahoma author and setting tub into two distinct ones. This past school year I required my students to read either a book set in Oklahoma or written by a current or former Oklahoman. In order to make the books easier to find, they got a tub, but as I increased my search of these books, they no longer fit into one tub. Voila!

Oklahoma author setting

In all, I have 66 tubs in my classroom library, and it took nine years to get to this point. I’m sure I will make other tweaks and changes in the future, but what will not change is my dedication to giving my students an opportunity to become lifelong readers.

Tour my House through Books

Do you stash books throughout your house like me? I started thinking about all my book stacks in my condo and decided to make a video, showing off all my books and talking about some of them. I just used my iPhone to record, and I had a hard time getting the video to upload to YouTube. I wanted to use the highest quality setting, but it somehow ended up as a basic quality. Throughout the video, you’ll hear my phone alerts go off twice. I wish I had thought to silence my phone before I started recording. This video is in fact a second draft. My first recording was shakier than this one, and I walked into dark rooms, realizing I should have already turned the lights on.

I think I might use the Vine app tomorrow to show off which books my English students are reading. Vine is a lot easier to use than YouTube. I might use Instagram instead, since it now has a video option, and I can post Instagram to both Facebook and Twitter. Plus, you can record more seconds in Instagram.

Enjoy my book tour!

Visual Reading Biographies

On the first day of school on Thursday, August 15, I introduced myself to my sophomores through a visual reading biography. I displayed it on my SmartBoard and briefly talked about each book. My most influential (and favorite) professor in college introduced me to One Hundred Years of Solitude. I devoured all the Ramona Quimby books as a kid. My second grade teacher, Miss Rice, read Charlotte’s Web aloud to us in 2nd grade, and I’ve reread it on more than one occasion. The funniest book I read over the summer was Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat. And one of my favorite YA authors is A. S. King. I think my students quickly caught on that I loved books and reading, and that I would expect them to be readers in Pre-AP English 2 with me. I wanted to use this assignment as a way for my students to start thinking of themselves as readers.


I told my students that they too would be creating visual reading biographies. This was the first homework of the year: tell me about yourself as a reader. I did not supply a rubric for this assignment, but I did provide these guidelines:

  • Use plain 8.5 x 11 computer paper
  • List your name on the poster
  • Choose 3-5 categories and label them on the paper
  • Find images of the books or create your own (a lightning bolt for the Harry Potter books works)

The reading categories:

  • Book I’ve reread
  • Book from my childhood
  • Book I want to read
  • Book I read this summer
  • Favorite series
  • Favorite book
  • Favorite author
  • Book I wish more people knew about
  • Book I was surprised I liked
  • Book recommended to me
  • Book I like more than the movie
  • Book I like less than the movie
  • Book I abandoned or struggled to finish
  • Popular book I haven’t read

(Notice I did not encourage my students to be negative. Least favorite book, author, and series were not listed as choices. This did not stop one of my students from sharing his least favorite book.)

The second day of school, a few students already had their posters ready. This was a Friday, and the assignment was not due until Monday. I kept their posters, so they wouldn’t lose them. On Monday, almost every student had their poster, and we took time in small groups to share our reading histories. This built community and reinforced that all students were readers at one time if they currently weren’t. Then every student picked one book from their poster and quickly shared it (along with their name) with the class.

By parent night, I had put up all visual reading biographies on the front wall of my classroom. For this blog post, I used pixlr to edit the posters to remove the students’ last names. I hope you enjoy their posters!

How do your students share their reading lives with their classmates?



Favorite Podcasts

I resisted getting an iPod when they became popular when I was in college. Even when I started teaching in 2005, I thought I could live without one, or any MP3 player for that matter. A few years into teaching, though, I asked for an iPod for my big Christmas present from my parents. They got me an 8GB black iPod mini–at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is.

Overtime, I expanded the use of my iPod from just listening to music by subscribing to podcasts. I quickly found Grammar Girl‘s podcast along with NPR’s podcast featuring education news. I also discovered why Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion is so popular. I rounded out my initial subscriptions with This American Life, another classic. While walking my dog, I could stay current on issues relevant to my profession as well as just enjoy some news and entertainment.

More recently, I discovered The Moth, which was featured on This American Life. The Moth features storytellers telling their stories live on stage, and they often deeply moving / hilarious / surprising.

My friend Maggie posted a picture of the Selected Shorts podcast’s logo on Instagram a few months ago, and I’ve found those podcasts to be equally entertaining, although a little challenging at times since the literature can be complex at times, and it’s hard for me not to have the text right in front of me.

Somehow a few years ago I stumbled upon Amanda Nelson’s blog, Dead White Guys or her Twitter. She was hilarious and bookish, and she wrote for a website called BookRiot, which recently started a very informative and entertaining podcast. I found out that Rebecca Schinsky, one of BookRiot’s hosts, also contributes to the Bookrageous podcast, which has quickly become one of my favorite book-related podcasts. Rebecca and her two colleagues/friends, Josh and Jenn, bring such a fun energy to their discussions about books, and there are many podcasts in the archives.

*     *     *

This summer I wanted to expand my podcast subscriptions. I reached out to Twitter (Thanks, Kevin!), and I also just browsed the iTunes library. Here are a few more podcasts that you might want to consider adding to your list of must-listen-to podcasts. I’ve organized them by topic.


  • NewsHour Poetry Series | PBS Poetry Series | PBS
  • IndieFeed: Performance Poetry
  • Poem of the Day (Poetry Foundation)
  • Slate’s Poetry Podcast
  • All of these short podcasts can be found through Stitcher, a free iPhone app that automatically downloads podcasts. You can skip the syncing and just listen to them on your phone as you get ready in the morning. I’m still downloading in iTunes in case I want to keep any of them long-term.


  • The Lit Show
  • NPR: Books Podcast
  • ReadWriteThink – Text Messages: Recommendations for Adolescent Readers!
  • I’m so glad that Kevin told me about Text Messages because it fills what I thought was a void: a podcast about young adult literature. There are a few others out there, but Text Messages is definitely the best one. I still kind of think there’s room for another one. I just don’t know if should devote the time to tackling it. Me? A podcaster? We’ll see. 🙂


  • Slate Presents Lexicon Valley
  • That’s What They Say
  • Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac Podcast
  • New Yorker: Fiction

I’m not sure if I have time for another podcast, but I’m willing to listen to your recommendations. What are some of your favorite podcasts?

Favorite Books: 2012-2013

At the start of this school year, I challenged my students to read 20 books a year, 10 books per semester. To wrap up this school year, I asked my students to choose at least one favorite book of the entire school year, not just this semester. Some students just gave me one title, but quite a few gave me multiple titles, which made me happy. A few students had to rack their brains to land on a title, but others knew immediately which book was their favorite.

I put all the titles into a PowerPoint. I initially had students add their own slides, but some of my sophomores could not handle such a responsibility. One student, instead of getting the image of his favorite book, opened my My Photos folder and inserted a picture of me that I had on hand for a bulletin board. I was working on other things in the classroom, and students were supposed to just go up one at a time and add their slides. Anyway, I quickly retook the reigns and was able to power through all my students and their titles in about two class days at the start of class. Of course, some students were absent, so I had to wait for their return and for their titles. I didn’t want to leave anyone out. Then I found this helpful video on how to convert a PowerPoint 2007 into a video.

Basically, I had to save all the slides of my PowerPoint as JPEGs and then import them into Windows MovieMaker. I did all this on my school’s computer because my laptop is way old and needs replaced. Besides, I had already created the PowerPoint during class time. It only made sense to finish the video at school. I typed up a script for the introduction to the video and recorded it using Sound Recorder, found in the Accessories > Entertainment folders. It took me a while to realize I needed to zoom in on all my slides to make the audio last the perfect length. Anyway, here’s the result, which I will share with my current and future students:

Note: My school computer could not link up to YouTube, so I had to save the MovieMaker file to my flash drive, move it to my laptop, and upload it to YouTube from my laptop.

2012 Reading Reflection

Looking back on the past year, I wonder how I read 75 books. Teaching high school English keeps me busy, and I devote more time than I care to admit to TV (Chopped, Parenthood, The Big Bang Theory, Homeland, The Good Wife, SNL, Happy Endings, Elementary to name some series). Part of my secret is that I read quite a few poetry collections (14) and graphic novels (18). I recorded four picture books toward my goal, but I read more than that. During a drive to Kansas and back, I listened to a John Grisham audio book, and I checked out and listened to two YA audio books from the Edmond library over the summer.  I also occasionally read with my students, but that is rare because most of the time, I’m having book chats with students during their 10 minutes of SSR at the start of class. Aside from those tricks, I simply carved out time to read–sometimes before bed, on weekends, on vacation. Almost anywhere I went, I brought a book with me.

According to Goodreads, I’ve grown in my amount of books I’ve read over the past five years. I think this chart also demonstrates my devotion to Goodreads, which I did not use much in 2008. I have been keeping a Word file on the books I’ve read since 2005, but now I’m pretty faithful to record my books in both the Word file and on Goodreads. I also keep a graphic reading history in Publisher and print off the titles to tape onto my classroom door. Each time I finish a book, I chronicle it 3 different ways! That might be too much. I could probably just use Goodreads to create my graphic reading history. Maybe I’ll try that this year to save myself some time.


My pages show growth as well, which shouldn’t be surprising.


Goodreads also gave me the option to see how I rated the books I read this year. Shout out to Claudia Swisher for giving me the idea to write about my ratings. (You should check out her blog!) Of the 75 books I read, I gave only 1 a score of 1 (“didn’t like it”). I gave 7 books a 2 (“it was ok”). I gave 19 books a 3 (“liked it”), 37 books a 4 (“really liked it”), and 11 books a 5 (“loved it”). That means my overall average rating for a book this year was a 3.67, which I think is excellent.

ratings_2012The above chart also shows that my longest book was Erik Larsen’s The Devil in the White City and that I categorized my books in a wide variety of genres/shelves. Currently on Goodreads, I’ve rated 620 books with an average overall rating of 3.59, so my 2012 ratings are close to my overall average. I’ve written 252 reviews for those 620 books, which I also think is pretty good.

I’ll wrap up this reflection by copying and pasting my 2012 book record from my Word file. I’ve selected 2 books from each of 4 different time periods to highlight as outstanding reads. I was very happy with most of the books I read this year, and I look forward to another year of reading in 2013.

2012 Reading History

Spring 2012


  1. Scott Card, Orson. Ender’s Game. © 1985. 324 pages. Sci Fi / YA / Annoying.
  2. Dawson, Mike. Troop 142. © 2011. 150 pages. Lad Lit / Graphic Novel.
  3. Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. In Evil Hour. © 1979. 183 pages. Multicultural literature.
  4. Fey, Tina. Bossypants. © 2011. 275 pages. Memoir / Humor.
  5. Garfield, Simon. Just My Type. © 2010. 331 pages. Nonfiction.
  6. Macaulay, David. Black and White. © 1990. 30 pages. Children’s book.
  7. Janeczko, Paul. Requiem: Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. © 2011. 94 pages. Holocaust poetry.
  8. Rosenthal, Amy. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. © 2005. 225 pages. Memoir.
  9. Grisham, John. The Associate. © 2004. 434 pages. Legal thriller.
  10. Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. © 2012. 313 pages. YA: CRF.
  11. Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back. © 2011. 228 pages. YA: CRF.
  12. Borden, Louise. His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II. © 2012. 131 pages. History: Children’s Book.
  13. Kohn, Alfie. Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling. © 2011. 204 pages. Education.
  14. Greenberg, Jan, Ed. Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art. © 2001. 73 pages. Poetry & Art.
  15. Kooser, Ted. The Blizzard Voices. © 1986. Poetry: Historical Fiction.
  16. Kooser, Ted. Bag in the Wind. © 2010. Children’s Book.
  17. Kooser, Ted. House Held Up By Trees. © 2012. Children’s Book.
  18. Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. © 2011. 341 pages. YA Historical Fiction.
  19. Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards.© 1999. 237 pages. Education.
  20. Carson Levine, Gail. Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It: False Apology Poems. © 2012. 80 pages. Poetry.
  21. Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. © 2012. 304 pages. Children’s Lit.

Summer Break 2012


  1. Wilson, Maja. Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment. © 2006. 109 pages. Professional.
  2. Morrison, Toni. Home. © 2012. 146 pages. Historical Fiction.
  3. Handler, Daniel. Why We Broke Up. © 2011. 354 pages. YA: CRF.
  4. Brosgol, Vera. Anya’s Ghost. © 2011. 221 pages. YA: Fantasy / Graphic Novel.
  5. Backderf, John. My Friend Dahmer. © 2012. 199 pages. Memoir / Graphic Novel.
  6. Kohn, Alfie. The Homework Myth. © 2006. 198 pages. Education.
  7. King, A. S. Please Ignore Vera Dietz. © 2010. Audio / 336 pages. YA: CRF / magical realism.
  8. Crawford, Brent. Carter Finally Gets It. © 2009. 300 pages. YA: Lad Lit.
  9. King, A. S. Everybody Sees the Ants. © 2011. 279 pages. YA: CRF / magical realism.
  10. Hinds, Gareth / Homer. The Odyssey. © 2010. 249 pages. Classic / graphic novel.
  11. Chast, Roz. What I Hate from A to Z. © 2011. 64 pages. Illustrated / Humor.
  12. Pyle, Kevin C. Take What You Can Carry. © 2012. 176 pages. CRF / Historical Fiction / Graphic Novel.
  13. Anderson, Jeff. Everyday Editing: Inviting Students to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer’s Workshop. © 2007. 158 pages. Professional.
  14. Ferguson, Craig. American on Purpose: the Improbably Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot. © 2009. 268 pages. Memoir.
  15. Palacio, R. J. Wonder. © 2012. 313 pages. YA: CRF.
  16. Tovani, Cris. So What Do They Really Know?: Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning. © 2011. 156 pages. Professional.
  17. Herbach, Geoff. Stupid Fast. © 2011. 311 pages. Realistic Fiction.
  18. Martin, Walter & Paloma Muñoz. Travelers. © 2008. 81 pages. Art / Photography.
  19. Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. © 2003. 396 pages. History.

Fall 2012


  1. Fies, Brian. Mom’s Cancer. © 2006. 115 pages. Memoir / Graphic Novel.
  2. Koertge, Ron. Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses. © 2012. 87 pages. Fairy tale poetry.
  3. Trethewey, Natasha. Thrall. © 2012. 78 pages. Poetry.
  4. Knisley, Lucy. Relish. © 2013. 173 pages. Memoir / Graphic Novel.
  5. Duffy, Carol Ann. The Bees. © 2011. 84 pages. Poetry.
  6. Thompson, Richard. Cul de Sac: Golden Treasury. © 2010. 197 pages. Comic Strip.
  7. Thompson, Richard. Shapes and Colors. © 2010. 127 pages. Comic Strip.
  8. Thompson, Richard. The Mighty Alice. © 2012. 128 pages. Comic Strip.
  9. Knisley, Lucy. French Milk. © 2007. 193 pages. Memoir / Graphic Novel.
  10. Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. © 2011. 266 pages. Professional.
  11. Ronson, Jon. The Psychopath Test. © 2011. 272 pages. Nonfiction.
  12. Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. © 2010. 328 pages. Nonfiction.
  13. Heard, Georgia, Ed. Falling Down the Page: a Book of List Poems. © 2009. 45 pages. Poetry.
  14. Scieszka, Jon. Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka. © 2005. 106 pages. Memoir.
  15. Bracey, Gerald W. Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. © 2009. 259 pages. Nonfiction.
  16. King, A. S. Ask the Passengers. © 2012. 293 pages. YA: CRF.
  17. Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me. © 2012. 237 pages. Graphic Novel Memoir.
  18. Kittle, Penny. Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. © 2012. 169 pages. Professional.
  19. Grisham, John. The Appeal. © 2008. Audio.
  20. Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. © 2008. 285 pages. Nonfiction.
  21. Regnaud, Jean & Emile Bravo. My Mommy: is in America and she met Buffalo Bill. © 2007. 118 pages. Graphic Novel / Memoir.
  22. Ryan, Kay. Say Uncle. © 1991. 76 pages. Poetry.
  23. Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends with Boys. © 2012. 211 pages. Graphic Novel: CRF & Fantasy.
  24. Ruddell, Deborah & Joan Rankin. A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk: a Forest of Poems. © 2009. Children’s poetry.
  25. Lee, Nelle Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. © 1963. 384 pages.  Literary Excellence: Historical Fiction.
  26. Chaltas, Thalia. Because I Am Furniture. © 2009. 352 pages. YA CRF: Novel in Verse.

Winter Break 2012


  1. Yang, Gene & Thien Pham. Level Up. © 2011. 160 pages. CRF/Fantasy: Graphic Novel.
  2. Moore, Alan & David Lloyd. V for Vendetta. © 2005. 265 pages. Dystopian Graphic Novel.
  3. Gregorich, Barbara. Jack and Larry. © 2012. 92 pages. Historical Fiction Novel in Verse.
  4. Bingham, Kelly. Shark Girl. © 2007. 276 pages. YA CRF Novel in Verse.
  5. Zuniga, Lauren. The Smell of Good Mud. © 2012. 92 pages. Poetry.
  6. Bragg, Georgia. How They Croaked. © 2011. 161 pages. Nonfiction.
  7. Urban, Linda. Hound Dog True. © 2011. 148 pages. CRF Elementary.
  8. Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink. © 2007. 276 pages. Nonfiction.
  9. Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. © 1961. 256 pages. Classic Fantasy Elementary.
  10. Newman, Lesléa. October Mourning: a Song for Matthew Shephard. © 2012. 91 pages. Historical Fiction Novel in Verse.

REVIEW: Book Love

Penny Kittle walks the walk. Not only does she spread a love of reading in her classrooms, she lets books invade her life outside the classroom as well. Whether it’s on a family trip to the British Isles or in an airport, waiting for a flight, Penny can be found reading. She knows that good reading teachers–even at the high school level–must read lots of books if they are to recommend them to their students. Let that sink in. If you are a high school English teacher like me, think: how many of your colleagues are voracious readers?

In Book Love, Kittle explains her rationale for the reading program she has developed for her high school English classroom. She defends her choices to prepare her students for college with young adult literature in the face of Common Core standards. She shares success stories about students, and shares tips on challenging her students to become deeper, more sophisticated readers likes using goals, reflections, conferences, and close readings. Her love for her students, for reading, and for the English teacher professional is infectious, and I found myself cheering her along.

Great quotes:
“A book isn’t rigorous if students aren’t reading it.” (xvi)
“Voluminous, voracious readers are our only hope.” (23)
“This is the calling of an English teacher for me: give each student books that teach them, challenge them, and lead them to places they’ll never know otherwise” (44).
“People will tell you there is no time for fun in today’s classroom. They will say that very seriously. Don’t buy it.” (73)
“We can’t teach something we don’t practice.” (158)

Only a few times did this book not work for me. Kittle uses different castle doors as metaphors for different book genres in Chapter 4, which was a little too cutesy. Also, a few times in the book, she mentioned different items (book lists, for example) were available on her website. Why not just make them available in the book? Or if that’s not possible, include a QR code to quickly leap to the website! The cool-sounding literature map on page 122 is not described in detail, and no picture of it is included in the book or online. Finally, Kittle’s example of a book talk on pages 61-62 was for Why We Broke Up, one of my least favorite YA books in recent memory, and Kittle seems to adore it. Of course, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but her positive review of WWBU kind of bothered me.

Overall, though, this is a tremendous book on making reading real in the high school English classroom. I will return to it throughout my career. Thanks, Penny. I felt the love.

Charting Book Chats

In my last post I talked about how I use book chats in my high school English classroom. In this post, I’d like to share how I keep track of the required books that my students read.

I have required my students to read 20 books this school year, which I have divided into 10 books per semester. Of these 10, my students choose 7 of them. The other 3 are mandated by our school’s curriculum. I created a chart in Microsoft Excel listing the seven genres my students need to read by the end of the school year.

As you can see, I listed the three required titles as well as the seven genres across the top row. I realize now I really didn’t need to include the required titles. When we finish each of those units, I’m going to automatically give each student credit for that particular book unless I have a strong belief that the student did not do the outside reading. If that’s the case, I’ll hold a book chat with that student to see if he or she read it. I’m thinking specifically about To Kill a Mockingbird because it’s the longest book, and in the past I’ve had students admit (or brag!) afterward that they didn’t actually read it. We will read all of Antigone in class, so I know each student will get credit for that play.

The focus here is on the different genres. When I hold a book chat with a student, I record a title or a portion of the title in the appropriate genre box along with the month the conference was held. Looking at the picture above, I realize I got so used to recording AUG that I never switched over to SEPT for all the September book talks I’ve held so far. Oops! Ha ha. I’ll make sure and change to SEPT on this coming Monday.

I then have to transfer the book chat into my online grade book. At first I tried to use sheer memory to update the book chat grades, but then I wised up and whipped out a highlighter. I highlight the books that I have added to a student’s grade. I try to update these grades once or twice a week. I probably get way too much satisfaction out of getting to highlight those books afterwards. It’s the little things, people.

The chart gives me lots of quick data: Which genres are my students reading? Which genres are my students avoiding? Do I need to do some book talks for that genre? Which students are reading the most? The least? During which month are my students reading the most? (Of course, I’ll need to update my months from now on. Ha ha.)

Let’s do a quick little case study of the class below. I’ve removed my students’ last names, so I think I’m not breaking any laws here.

Lauren has yet to read any books. She sits right by my desk, so she hears book chats taking place on most days. She’s currently reading a Nicholas Sparks book, and she told me on Friday she plans to finish it this weekend. “Can we have a book talk on Monday?” she asked me yesterday. I told her she could go first. She will need to read much faster the rest of the semester is to reach the 10-book goal.

Michelle is an avid reader. In fact, I decided to let her put some books in the bank for next semester. Since The Perks of Being a Wallflower is historical fiction and that genre is not required until the spring, I’m letting her count it now. She still has to read all seven choice genres for the fall semester, though.

Gunnar has only read one genre so far, but it was a lengthy nonfiction piece (Stiff by Mary Roach) that required more time than most other books. I’ve also discovered that he volunteers at a fire station on the weekends, so he doesn’t have as much time as other students to read. I wonder how he will fit in all the books for this semester. I need to talk to him about that.

Brett has read three books, but they have all been fairly short. Frindle is not in my class library, and I doubt it is in our high school library. It’s  more of an elementary or middle school book. I remember listening to it on tape my first year of teaching middle school reading. For his fantasy/sci fi, he selected J. K. Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard, which is in my library. This collection of short stories is very tiny, but I count this book the same as the much-longer, much-more-complex Feed that Michelle read. Brett’s third book is the graphic novel of Frankenstein, and glancing at the chart, I see that he is the only student from this page to have read a graphic novel. I have to commend him on that. I also have to wonder why so few students have tried a graphic novel. I should probably do more book talks about them, and perhaps enlist the help of our librarian. For Brett’s final books of the semester, I want him to read longer, more complex books. I know he can handle it, but maybe he wanted to get ahead on his genre requirements early in the year. He’s a cross country runner, so he’s fairly busy.

For the spring chart, I won’t include Fast Food Nation or Julius Caesar, two required whole-class pieces. Students get to choose a multicultural novel from a list of four, for the third curriculum-required book, so I will include that on the chart. I will probably do book chats for that book.

There might be better or easier ways for me to keep track of the books my students read, but this is what works for me. Any thoughts out of there? What works in your classroom?

Post Navigation