Engaging Readers with a Picture Book Study & Tournament


Want to engage readers? 

Host a Picture Book Study & Tournament! 

Confession Time: During first semester I had a lot of 8th grade students who abandoned books on a regular basis regardless of how many book talks and read alouds I planned. As we got closer to Thanksgiving, I  knew I needed a plan to really create an environment of positive reading experiences immediately or I might lose them for good.  I thought that if I could supply them with great books that they could finish quickly, it might boost their reading confidence levels, and thus, our first picture book tournament was born. We held our picture book tournament between Thanksgiving and Winter Break and it was a multi step event where students continually hit all of our daily reading goals in room 213: 1. read texts, 2. talk about texts, 3. write about texts and 4. listen to a fluent reader. It was one of my very favorite things I have done during my teaching career and I highly encourage you to try it!

Here’s a step by step walkthrough of how I undertook this project. I’m certainly not the first teacher to have a book tournament, so I encourage you to seek additional sites and resources if you are unsure how to approach this activity.

Step 1: Select and gather books – I wanted to get a variety of picture books from the same authors so that students weren’t just exposed to random picture books, but to an author’s collection of books. They were able to study authors’ and illustrators’ styles much more in depth this way.

The authors/illustrators used: Mo Willems, Dan Santat, Oliver Jeffers, Peter Brown, Chris Van Allsburg, and Jon Klassen. There were 36 books total for students to select from.

Step 2: Figure out what you want students to learn and do – I wanted students to 1. be exposed to a lot of quality books and have a good time reading them 2.  to acknowledge and study characters and plot, 3. to appreciate the text and pick out their favorite lines while citing them correctly and lastly 4. I wanted them to be critical and rate each book. Additionally, I wanted students to start talking about these texts, but knew that once we got going this part would be inevitable.

Students were invited to read at least 20 picture books from the collection. Some read less and some read more, but the majority read right around 20 on their own. I also read a few aloud for modeling purposes and to encourage talking about text.

Step 3: Picture Book Study Form – Students used the form below to capture their thoughts about each book. I copied it on large paper so they had more room to write.

photo (2)

Step 4:  Complete study and tally results – Students were given several days to finish this study in class. As time when on they looked forward to selecting books from the cart and this was not a quiet activity. While students were respectful of others while reading, there was also a lot of “Hey, you should read this one!” and “This one is my favorite so far”. Students started figuring out who their favorite authors and illustrators were and gravitated to those books. I did, however, make sure that students read at least one book from every author so they had exposure to different styles and writing.

Step 5: Rank the tournament seeds – After almost 2 weeks of working on the PB study, (we were also doing a read aloud at the time, so it took longer than I anticipated)  students ranked their favorites 1 to however many they had read. I then created an excel sheet and awarded points to each book, depending on how students ranked them. This was tricky, and I am not sure if my methods were mathematically correct, but points were awarded as follows – 10 points for 1st through 8th, 5 points for 9th through 16th and 1 point for 17th through 24th.

Step 6: Set up the bracket – I searched online for a free 24 team bracket that enabled editing and simply added the names of the books, printed it off and gave it to my student observer from a local college (who actually is a pre service social studies teacher!) with the instructions “Can you make this on the bulletin board by my desk using materials in the room?” He was up for the challenge and did a fantastic job coming up with a giant bracket as you can see below.

photo (1)

Step 7: Choose a winner – Before we started voting, students wrote down the book they thought would win the entire tournament on a notecard and I kept them until the very end to see how many of them chose correctly.

Step 8: Fill out the brackets – With the bracket that I chose, the first 8 teams got a bye during the first round. This was perfect vocabulary for a teachable moment because some of the students didn’t know what a “bye” is and honestly, most needed a tutorial on how a bracketed tournament even works. I liked that some real world know how was spontaneously incorporated into this project by using a real bracket.  I gave students their own copy to use as their voting ballot, and during each round we went through each match up and revisited the books one last time before they marked their favorite and I tallies the results. Lots of talking about texts happened and it was awesome! 8th grade boys arguing between Picture Day Perfection and Knuffle Bunny books was definitely a highlight.

In the final round, our top seed This is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems faced off against our dark horse #14 seed Chowder by Peter Brown and Chowder ended up winning by just a few votes. Two boys in the same class were the only ones who had chosen Chowder to go all the way and they received “Championship Ring Pops” for predicting the winner. I think all of the students that participated really learned a lot about what it takes to write and illustrate picture books and came away with a better appreciation for them. There was a whole lot of #booklove happening and it was fantastic!

One last note – During the book study & tournament my classes of 6th and 7th graders kept a close eye on the bracket and were very interested in what the 8th grade classes were doing. What an amazing opportunity I now had in front of me! When they would ask me questions,  I’d explain exactly how it worked, give them updates on each round, and offer to read one or two books, but “only if they wanted me to”. (Cue semi-evil reading teacher laugh) Of course that got them excited and they begged to be read to, especially my 6th graders, who wanted to read the entire “final four”. They then decided who they thought should win and were shocked (and a little distraught to tell you the truth) when This is Not a Good Idea lost. This was just an added bonus to an awesome project that will definitely be a tradition in room 213 from now on!

(Top picture found on creativecommons.org)

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 1/27/14 #IMWAYR


It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

Here’s what I read last week:

(Click on the book covers to add these titles to your Goodreads TBR piles)

rosie project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Contemporary Adult Fiction
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Don Tilman is oddly charming and socially challenged. He’s a genetics professor who never met an experiment he didn’t like. He’s starts the Wife Project was hilarious and sometime disastrous results. I loved this quirky little book so much that when I was only a quarter in, I searched online to see if this had been optioned for a movie yet. And of course it has been because I think this will be a fantastic hit! Crossing my fingers for Bradley Cooper as Don.  He would be absolutely perfect for this role!

city of ashes

The Mortal Instruments Series, Book 2: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
YA Fantasy
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5
I was a little nervous when I started this one and was hoping it would live up to how good The City of Bones is and I actually found myself liking this one even more! Lots of action, angst and more Magnus Bane.

the naturals

The Naturals, book 1 by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
YA Mystery
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
This book reminds me of a little milder version of I Hunt Killers, and I really liked it. I was a little disappointed in who the “bad guy” was, but it still kept me guessing the whole time. This series has a lot of potential. Will definitely pick up the next book when it comes out.

wait for you

Wait for You by J Lynn (Jennifer L. Armentrout)
Contemporary NA
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
This may be my favorite NA book that I have read so far.

faking it

Losing It #2: Faking It by Cora Carmack
Contemporary NA
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
This is the second book in the Losing It series and it was a pretty good read. I like Carmack’s style of writing and these characters.

Here’s what I plan to read next: (Click on the cover for more info from Goodreads)

bomb hollow city

shatter meunravel mewhy we broke up

Bomb is STILL on my list to read but I would really like to get to the rest of these books this week. Shatter Me and Unravel Me (One of my favorite series EVER! Warner…. sigh) are rereads in anticipation for Ignite Me which comes out very, very soon and Why We Broke Up is my other Random Read for January.

Happy Reading!

Making Thinking Visible #3: 3-2-1 Bridge

making thinking visible

This year my school district has embraced the book Making Thinking Visible and we are required to use  three strategies per quarter. You can read about the book in more detail and check out other thinking strategies called Chalk Talks here and Headlines here.

3-2-1 Bridge

This thinking routine is fantastic for activating prior knowledge before and synthesizing it with new knowledge after a topic or unit has been covered. It encourages students to take their thoughts of the “big picture” and narrow them down to the heart of what is being studied. It also gives them a chance to think about “what this reminds me of” which will help them remember key concepts in the future.

Supplies Needed:

  • appropriate content – any key concept or idea, part of a book, a movie, a field trip, a particular lesson in class, any learning experience
  • 3-2-1 Bridge routine instructions (see below)

Before the Routine:

Put the following on the board, in students’ notebooks or whatever works best in your classroom.

When thinking about (whatever concept or idea you are studying) identify:
Initial Response
3 Words
2 Questions
1 Metaphor / Simile

During the Routine:

Like most of the other routines, students can work individually, with a partner or small group. When this is complete, the topic or concept is studied.

After the Routine:

Now that the instruction of the key concept, idea or overall unit is over, students will answer the other half of the thinking routine questions:

NEW Response
3 Words
2 Questions
1 Metaphor / Simile

Identify how your new responses connect to or shifted from your initial response.

NOTE: It is very important for students to be encouraged to share their thinking during the activity. This will help all students see other perspectives and consider the content in a new way they might have not thought about.

Other Uses:

I have found a lot of success with using the 3-2-1 Bridge Routine during book talks in my middle school classroom. I will hold up a book cover and give students time to study it. I will then walk around the room so they can each inspect the book more closely. They then will complete their initial responses. This can be done verbally or in notebooks, or both!

What three words quickly come to mind when looking at this title/book cover?
What two questions come to mind when you look at this title/book cover?
I think this book is going to be similar to ___________ because __________.

Students share their thoughts and what other books or movies/tv shows the cover reminds them of and when everyone has had a chance to share,  I give my book talk. As I am talking, students are completing their “new responses” and it is very cool when they can’t help but shouting out “Yep! It IS exactly like _____” or “I was way off on that one. The cover is a little deceiving”. I have never had such fun, animated book talks as I have using this routine.

There are lots of possibilities with this one and I’d love if you share some of your ideas on how to use headlines in the comments section below!

Final Thoughts:

Like the thinking routine Headlines I love using the after learning part of the 3-2-1 Bridge as a formative assessment tool. I can quickly see if my students get what we are doing and who needs some scaffolding to get there. I don’t think it’s a routine you should use before and after everything that is done in your classroom, but it is something to add to your teaching toolbox that can be used alongside or in place of a KWL chart.

Next up….

What Makes You Say That is a simple thinking routine that packs a LOT of punch and can have a dramatic affect on your students’ responses to content. Post coming soon!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/20/14 #IMWAYR


It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

I can honestly say this week was a FANTASTIC seven days of reading!

Here’s what I read:

(Click on the book covers to add these titles to your Goodreads TBR piles)


Stage Dive Series, Book #1: Lick by Kylie Scott
Contemporary New Adult
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
This week’s NA read was Lick, and while the title is a bit lackluster, the book is well written and has a great storyline. I mean who wouldn’t be able to stop reading a book from cover to cover –  in two sittings – about a college student slash barista who wakes up in Vegas after celebrating her 21st birthday only to realize she got married to one of the hottest rock stars on the planet. I would read the rest of the series for sure. Fun read!

reality boy

Reality Boy by A.S. King
Contemporary YA
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5
I am a huge A.S. King fan and this book does not disappoint. It is about a seventeen year old boy whose family was on a reality TV show when he was five. You know, one of those shows where a fake nanny comes to save the family? Needless to say this particular family puts the “dys” in “dysfunctional” times infinity. Gerald is a character who you will want to root for despite all of his issues. Really hard to read in some spots but such a sweet coming of age story.

life is so good

Life is So Good by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
When George Dawson learned to read he was 98 years old. This is his story of how he started picking cotton at age four and all of his adventures through his time on earth. Such a fantastic story about working hard, family and perseverance. Fascinating look at America during the twentieth century. This book was one of my Random Reads for January, which you can learn more about here.


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Release Date – May 13,2014
Contemporary YA
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
This book will be extremely popular when it comes out and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins the Printz Award. I was really excited when I got approved to read the ARC on Net Galley and read it that night. All of it. In one sitting. This story centers around a very privileged and wealthy family that summers on their own island and four best friends. It’s about true love, an accident and a very, very big secret. I’ve never read something like this before and found it to be beautifully written and the ending will stick with me for a really long time.

this song will save your life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Contemporary YA
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
This is definitely a book where the cover sold me. I didn’t really know much about it when I requested it from the library, and I am happy to say that I absolutely loved it! This book, like the other YA books I read this week is about a teenager who is misunderstood, and is trying to fit in while surviving high school. I loved all the music references in the book and everything else about it. Great read!

Here’s what I plan to read next: (Click on the cover for more info from Goodreads)

bombrosie projectcity of ashes hollow city

Not sure I will get to all of these titles with this week being the start of a new semester, but we’ll see how it goes. I feel like I am in a reading groove right now and don’t want to stop! Have a great week!

Happy Reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/13/14 #IMWAYR


It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

Two snow days at the start of the week helped me get through some great titles!!

Here’s what I read:

(Click on the book covers to add these titles to your Goodreads TBR piles)

city of bones

The Mortal Instruments Series, Book #1: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
YA  Fantasy
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
I really, really liked this storyline and couldn’t put it down. I am definitely going to make an effort and read more of the series.

siege and storm

The Grisha Trilogy, Book #2: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
YA Fantasy
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5
The first two books in the Grisha Trilogy are my favorite fantasy books that I think I have ever read. I love the Russian inspired setting, all of the maps and unique places and elements of magic throughout. Bardugo is a master at writing characters. Sturmhond is one of the best out there, while the Darkling makes for one fantastic villain. Book three, Ruin and Rising, is scheduled to be released on June 3rd, and I cannot wait to see how this story ends.

perfect scoundrels

Heist Society, Book #3: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter
YA Contemporary Fiction
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
My third perfect rating of the week! I’ve always loved the Heist Society series and still think it would make a great TV show. This one is really centered around the meaning of family, and while I didn’t think it was as fun as Uncommon Criminals, I loved seeing what all of the characters got themselves into this go around. I hope there are more of these books.

losing it

Losing It  Series #1, Losing It
New Adult Romance
My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
I’ve ventured into the genre of New Adult, readers. For those unsure what New Adult books are, I like to think of them as books with main characters that are college age or right out of college and are facing more mature life decisions than Young Adult characters. Or something like that. It’s still pretty blurry to me, honestly. Anyway, I got some NA recs from a fellow reader on Twitter and a blog that I follow and Losing It ended up being my first pick, based on Amazon reviews and price. A lot of NA ebooks are pretty reasonable which makes me feel a tiny bit less guilty about purchasing them. The storyline is about exactly what you think it’s about based on that cover and while it was pretty predictable, I thought it was an ok read. I read it in two sittings and would read another by this author.

city of ember

City of Ember: The Graphic Novel by Jeanne D. Prau
MG Science Fiction
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
When I first read the original City of Ember way back when, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was different from other MG books and read the entire series. While I think this graphic novel version is pretty good overall, it does not go into nearly as much detail and background into the city and story as the original. But, I think it would be a great intro to science fiction for students that have never read any. I am going to read this version with my students next semester and have them compare it with the movie version and do all sorts of things with it. I do have the original book on CD too, so we can compare parts of that version as well.

Here’s what I plan to read next: (Click on the cover for more info from Goodreads)

life is so goodthis song will save your life reality boybomb

All of these books come very highly rated on Goodreads and Amazon. Life is So Good is my first Random Read for January (You can read more about Random Reads here), and the others are books I’ve been meaning to get to for some time. Bomb is a free copy I received in a Scholastic order, and the others are all library books. I’m on a major book buying freeze right now (Well…minus the PD book I bought last night) and have been requesting titles from my local library left and right! See you next week!

Happy Reading!

TTT: My Top Ten Reading (And Not Reading) Resolutions

Top Ten Tuesday

is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish


Top Ten Reading (and Not Reading) Resolutions for 2014

Ready or not, 2014 is here! I’m usually not one for making resolutions, but I am definitely always trying to get better and be better so I do have a few things for this list. Here we go!

Reading Resolutions:

1. Read more non fiction

2. Work on my Goodreads TBR pile by participating in the “Random Reads” meme

3. Write more book reviews

4. Use the library more often

5. Meet my Goodreads goal of 140 books for 2014

Not Reading Resolutions:

1. Embrace my two words for the year: “More” and “Less”

2. Less sweets and worrying

3. More exercise, doing things I love to do, and most importantly – having fun

4. Attend at least 2 conferences this year

5. Skype with others before the end of the year

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 1/6/14


It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

Winter break is officially over, and while I didn’t get to every single book on my list, I got pretty darn close. Last week was another great reading week, and I can’t wait to go back to school and share these titles with my students.

Here’s what I read:

(Click on the book covers to add these titles to your Goodreads TBR piles)

eye of minds

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
YA Science Fiction / Fantasy
My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
I am a big James Dashner fan and credit his Maze Runner series for helping me branch out to genres other than realistic fiction. This book, which is the first in the Morality Doctrine series, just didn’t really wow me. It took about 30 pages or so to really understand what was going on – gamers get involved in a cyber terrorist attack and are forced to go deep inside a game to save humanity – and I really thought the whole book was about 100 pages too long. Teens that are really into gaming and coding will like this one, even if it didn’t really work for me.

where the starts still shine

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
YA Contemporary Realistic Fiction
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5
I really enjoyed this book and its main character Callie. Callie was kidnapped by her mother ten years ago and has lived in horrible conditions ever since. When her mother is arrested after a traffic stop, Callie goes to live with her dad and his family in a small, greek influenced touristy town in Florida. I couldn’t put this one down.


Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill
YA Contemporary Fiction
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Really fun book that I reviewed last week. You can check out my review here.

Front and Center

Front and Center (Dairy Queen Series #3) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
YA Contemporary Realistic Fiction
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
I love the Dairy Queen series so much and this book was a great ending to an excellent series!

Here’s what I plan to read next: (Click on the cover for more info from Goodreads)

city of bones  siege and storm perfect scoundrels

I am 75% finished with City of Bones and really enjoying it. I won’t have nearly as much reading time now that school has started again, but I am hoping I can get both Siege and Storm and Perfect Scoundrels read during independent reading time this week.

Happy Reading!

January Random Reads: Life is So Good and Why We Broke Up

random reads

Random Reads was started by imlovingbooks.com. Readers pick a random book or two from their Goodreads TBR list using random.org and then read it sometime during the month they were picked.

January’s Random Picks:

life is so good why we broke up

Can I just tell you how excited I was when I stumbled upon this meme? I weeded my Goodreads TBR pile over break, but it still has almost 100 books on it. I love the fact that the books are randomly picked for me too. This adds a little more fun to my reading routine and will expose me to some great books. I mean, once upon a time there was a reason I put these on my list in the first place, right?

Life Is So Good (#16 on my TBR list) by George Dawson and Why We Broke Up (#33 on my TBR list) by Daniel Handler have been on TBR list for three years. While one is about a man who learned to read at the age of 96 and the other a Printz honor book about a break up, I am pretty excited that these two vastly different books will be read sometime this month.

Happy Reading, everyone!

Book Review: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill



Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Delacorte
0385741790 (ISBN13: 9780385741798)

From Goodreads:

Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.

My thoughts…

Being Sloane Jacobs is a really cute contemporary YA fiction book! The whole “parent trap” switcharoo works and isn’t cheesy at all. While definitely geared towards fans of Elizabeth Eulberg, Jennifer E. Smith, and Sarah Dessen, it works because the main characters are well written and the two contrasting camp worlds – hockey and figure skating – are interesting and not glossed over. The two uber mean girls, Ivy and Melody, who are out to get their new arch enemies, make for some pretty interesting (and mostly hilarious) situations for Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon to deal with and the two hot hockey players they get involved with are more than just reader eye candy.

While running away from their family drama and own insecurities, both girls learn a lot about themselves, which is my favorite part of the book and I think middle and high school readers will really like this one.

Bottom Line…

Being Sloane Jacobs would be a great addition to a classroom library. It’s funny, endearing and has a great message for girls to find their passion and not being afraid to own it.