Ignite Your Passion for Reading: Hot Reads, Book Chats, Tech Tricks

Summer is fast approaching and if you’re a teacher, it’s the ideal time to make a summer reading list.  I want to encourage you to think about what titles might be just the ticket that reaches that reluctant reader in your class next year. Maybe you’re changing grades, changing schools or just need a little inspiration beyond the Chapters display. I also want to share some ideas to help you use the books you read over the summer to capture the hearts and minds of your students next year. In this blog, I’m going to share:

  • a sample book chat (for Orbiting Jupiter)
  • potential titles for your ‘to be read’ list (grades 4-8)
  • tech tricks to engage readers

Book Chats

Our portfolio has been peddling the strategies found in Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading because we’ve witnessed their power.  In fact, you have experienced an extraordinary speaker who sparkles with passion if you came to TVLitCon16 last year where he was our keynote speaker. Layne’s idea of a Hot Read is a book at the students’ level that a teacher reads and then ‘sells’ to students. He talks about the power of a book chat to hook readers into wanting to read a book.  Now this isn’t just any book chat where someone drones on giving a summary and sometimes a spoiler alert of the book. Below you can find a book chat that I created for the novel, Orbiting Jupiter.  I have shared this title with many teachers this year who in turn have ‘sold’ it to many students. When you take a risk and become a character, the world is your oyster. Teachers AND students hang on your pearls of wisdom from a great introduction to a story…

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt

book chat orbiting jupiter.jpg


Structure considerations for a book chat:

  1. 6-8 minutes in length
  2. Hook: some way of engaging your audience: could be a question that is relevant to the class; could be asking a ‘what if’ question; could be you talking in accent/role; could use props or costumes
  3. Excerpt: brief reading aloud…does not need to be opening. But has to be a part that doesn’t require a lot of framing for people to appreciate
  4. Talking about the book can be done in one of 3 voices: 1st person; 2nd person; 3rd person


Have you ever been on the receiving end of some act of kindness you didn’t really deserve? Somebody, maybe a friend, or a teacher, maybe a stranger, they did some kind thing that just helped you out. I was a single mom of 3 youngsters when we headed up to Orillia for Christmas. We drove into a wall of snow in Barrie and with very near bald tires, I was a stressball! I just couldn’t make it up a hill and feared colliding with other cars dotting the highway and ditches. I pulled over at a side road and just parked. I probably cried. And through the snow this man walked towards us, an angel. He’d been shovelling in the midst of the storm and must have seen me. Once I rolled down the window, he took one look at my face and the 3 girls (7, 5 and 3 years old) and invited us home for supper.  A Muslim family whose house was brilliantly decorated for the season. We talked, shared supper and they invited us to stay overnight. But once the weather cleared, we set off again, a second chance to get to our destination. A gift of kindness from a stranger I will never forget.

Random acts of kindness remind us to pay it forward.  Sometimes second chances in life can be even more powerful. We all have personal stories that might surface when thinking about second chances.  I would invite you to share a story that echoes an unexpected kindness , or second chance, with your class and then ask them to think of a time.

Because … this story is about second chances. It’s about a family that gives a boy a second chance …as his foster family.

Excerpt: Opening pages

Becoming the character, 1st person perspective:

“I’m Joseph. I’ve seen my share of crazy. I’ve lived a whole lifetime and I’m not even 14 yet.  My family, well, my dad…he’s an angry man, doesn’t want me around, well unless he’s got a point to prove. He doesn’t really know how to be a dad.

But then I met Maddie. She gave me hope, she gave me purpose. I’d walk miles just to see her through the window.  I mean yeah, she was way outta my league…rich people…but I knew it would work out…because we loved each other.

But then shit happened. The world just fell apart. I don’t know. One minute you’re planning a life and planning for a baby, and the next, you’re on a wild ride and you’re in juvie. I don’t know why Jack’s family took me in, or why they believe in me. But now all I gotta do is get my daughter. All I want to do is get a piece of what Maddie and I had. You know?”

Themes the story explores:

Grace and forgiveness, the power of love, assumptions about people, quiet strength of the father, loyalty, the ‘I got your back’ mentality. Something unique about this story is the brooding mood vividly matched by the harshness of winter. In fact, it’s like the setting is a character in the story, intertwined with the events.  Kids will appreciate the age of the characters, the raw emotions and events (bullying, teen pregnancy, etc). You will cry.

Hot Reads for YOU!

The benefits of reading a book and doing a book chat before sharing with your students is…you know your students best.  My colleague Jane and I were just talking about this today.  We pondered: when do you know if a book is appropriate for a particular grade? What cues do you look for when deciding its target audience?  I have just finished Ibi Zuboi’s American Street which is a jarring raw story of family ties with strong complex female leads.  Its characters face immigration, detainment, loyalty, drugs, loss of life, domestic abuse. You might think this is not a grade 8 novel. But I would answer: you have to read it because I don’t know your students.  I don’t know your community. I do know that kids need to see themselves reflected in our stories, and we can use story to launch conversations about worlds different from our own.

Here’s my current list of Hot Reads, but they’re not all recent. However, if you’re looking to grow your classroom library, perhaps this list will help you.

Tech Tricks

I’ve used book chats, padlets, video clips, podcasts, connected with authors via twitter…any means to wrap around a book that will inspire students to read the book. They augment my passion, not replace it.

You can find padlets for a selection of Hot Reads from a project I collaborated on with Jen Aston, Sabrina Tyrer and Ryan Matthews a couple of years ago.  We each generated a handful of padlets and then created QR codes to affix to the front cover so students could pick up a title and learn more about the author, the story, the background while deciding whether to read it.

A quick google search can sometimes provide nuggets like this podcast from The Yarn which offers an interview with Gary D. Schmidt, author of Orbiting Jupiter. This is a podcast that I’d save until after reading the book as it gives valuable insight into the genesis of the story.  Did I say you’ll cry already?

Perhaps you’ll find a video clip of a favourite author that gives you just a little more insight to who they are, why they write, where they’re from, like this clip of Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street.  Maybe it will inspire your students to create their own video…something to let their readers know a bit more about who they are as writers.

Students can connect with authors via twitter. Maybe you and your students might consider doing a video book review. Don’t be surprised when the author responds! Here is a clip from Woodland Heights.


Imagine students walking into your class in September and seeing a Hot Reads display with the titles of books you’ve read over the summer to now share with them.  Create some excitement around reading. We have had different projects devoted to Igniting a Passion for Reading using Steven Layne’s book. Here are the most recent:  Day 1 and Day 2.  Our goal is to inspire teachers to be the lead readers in their classrooms so we can inspire a generation of readers.

I’m also compiling  a list of books to read over the summer.  What might you suggest for me? What’s been getting a lot of buzz in your classroom recently? Have you used some engaging tech platforms to turn kids on to reading a book?

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Leaving Tracks of Impact and Thinking


Do you have a book that you associate with a particular time in your life? Maybe a saying that when you repeat it, you think of a friend? Do you have a strategy that, for the rest of your career, you’ll associate with a colleague? Me too. I want to share some work I’ve done around ‘leaving tracks of thinking’ but I can’t truly do it justice without also paying due respect to my colleague Niall Cooke.

This is Niall.  Today.


We shared our Adolescent Literacy Gap Closing results in a Regional Network for Brantfordconsultants in Brantford. This was work we had engaged in with elementary and secondary teachers from four communities of schools in Woodstock.


Niall and I share many common interests: we’re news addicts, we devote as much time to twitter moments as our twitterfeed, we teach with editorial cartoons, we (think we) are humorous, we share a penchant for devouring YA novels. We incorporate those passions into our work. And we are both desperately interested in getting to know students so well that we can put a book in their hands and then discover if they comprehend it. Our guiding question is:  how do you really know they comprehend text?

Our go-to strategy, the lynchpin, for determining whether students make sense of text has been: leaving tracks of thinking.  Perhaps you know it as annotating (in high school), or reading with a pencil. Whatever you call it, this strategy gives teachers insight into how kids are making sense of text by making their thinking visible. (For more info, please refer to Cris Tovani, So What Do They Really Know, or Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, Comprehension and Collaboration)

I like to model the strategy with a pen under the doc camera. I keep learning more about the importance of choice of text.  We’ve tried this strategy with narrative, with informational, with graphic, all as a means to inform when students, and teachers, benefit from it most. We vehemently oppose killing students’ love of reading by engaging in this strategy with their independent reading of self-selected text.

This year in our cross panel work, Niall and I collaborated with Karen Masson from our spec ed portfolio to equip teachers to see the power of annotating text in Google Read/Write. With me, she simultaneously modelled the strategy in real time. This chrome add-on provides accommodations for students to type in text or offers speech to text capabilities in comment boxes, and is an invaluable tool for students to make their thinking visible on a piece of text.

leaving tracks.jpg

Niall and I stake a claim that end-of-chapter comprehension questions deceive teachers into thinking their students understood what they read…since we can ALL fake read depending on the depth of questions. Instead, when annotating, students record what they’re thinking as they’re reading, whether questions, comments, connections, etc. Imagine the insight educators gain from leveraging this information to inform their next step with a student?

Of course, none of us invites vulnerability, so it can require coaxing and ‘trying it on for size’ when we initially model the strategy for teachers. You see, teachers are all proficient readers and barely notice what we’re thinking anymore while we’re reading. It takes persistence to slow down the process while reading to record exactly what you’re thinking. To remind myself of its power, I encourage and practice taking a cold read (text unseen) and leaving tracks of my own thinking.  In fact, I tried it again last night in Chapters…

amy tan leaving tracks

I’m consistently reminded of the insights I gain into how I make sense of text by forcing myself to leave tracks of thinking while I’m reading.  What strategies do I rely on? Where does my thinking break down? Which parts do I re-read to check for my own understanding? How does my background knowledge enhance or deter from my comprehension? Slowing down the process to record my thinking helps me pay attention to the text.

In our Adolescent Literacy cross panel project this year, we asked teachers and students to share their reflections on the impact of leaving tracks of thinking.  Teachers shared their own reluctance with modelling the strategy but found they not only learned more about how students were making sense of text, but they noted the unintended consequence of students sharing their thinking helped them build relationships.

Today was the last time Niall and I will present together. His expertise in visual literacy has transformed any power point presentation my portfolio has created, as evidenced in our slide deck from today. There are tracks of his impact across my work. And everytime I see students and teachers leaving tracks of thinking, I’ll think of him.

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Passing the Torch

Time-Flies-dreamstimeAs the end of the school year approaches, educators find themselves wrestling with conflicting emotions. We want to keep our current students whom we’ve come to know and grown to love, and yet we eagerly anticipate the arrival of another group who will no doubt grow us in new ways. Once staffing considerations have been shared, conversations swirl around what’s happening next year as the buzz of change animates our interactions. Weeks before the last day of school, we find ourselves straddling summer with one foot in this year and one foot in the next.  So it is with me and my role as I transition from learning coordinator back to an elementary school, this time as an acting vice-principal.  My pulse quickens.

I have the absolute delight of welcoming Karen McKay into the literacy portfolio. Karen has been a coach in the past, but comes directly from the classroom into her new role. As she makes the move to our team, I’ve been pondering the most essential supports I can share with her to inspire and equip her for the path ahead.

How do I pass the torch?

After four years as a literacy learning coordinator, I’ve accumulated a vast array of books, docs and files, paper clips, post it notes and powerpoints.  I’ve put my foot in my mouth, and gone out on a limb. I’ve eaten books for breakfast and risked speaking and writing my story in public. Most importantly, I’m a better person and practitioner because of the relationships, opportunities and learning from others that have shaped all my memories and my steps forward.  I am so grateful that I’ve had the chance to work hard at work worth doing, work I love.


I began to wonder though, once one walks out the door, what happens to some of that learning? I cling to the hope that many of the educators I’ve worked with are ‘living the learning’ already.  Our board is so big, I know that I haven’t even met all its teachers, let alone impacted their practice.

Over the course of the coming month, I’m challenging myself to share a curated collection of ideas, lists and content that might serve two overarching purposes: reflection for me, potential for you. I’ll be looking back over projects and collaborations to dig for golden nuggets that have resonance for the classroom. We only have so much time to devote to skimming and scanning the tsunami of ideas on our twitter feeds. As a result, I’m committing to short and sweet. I risk becoming a museum if I don’t encourage and invite you to please view, add suggestions, edit, share.  I’ll link padlets, websites, pdfs, google docs and folders on my blog. I’ll ask for your input around what you’ve done that has made a difference to your students.

By the end of the school year, I hope to have shared a snapshot of some of my work that might impact your practice.  It can’t replace the hard work of learning that happens when we get together to explore, read, create and collaborate, but perhaps it will give you, and our new learning coordinator, a panoramic view of the work that has engaged me.

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