Using Reader's Notebooks to Connect with Our Kids
“The author wants us to feel that Cracker and Willie are sort of like siblings. I can see this on page 6 when Willie’s mom says that they are two peas in a pod.” (excerpt from my daughter’s very first reader’s notebook entry)
I began using Reader’s Notebooks during my classroom teaching days. I had longed to have meaningful conversations with each of my student’s one-on-one, but with a classroom of 24 students, all at varying levels of reading comprehension, the task felt impossible. Implementing the reader’s notebook did more for my students’ reading comprehension and ability to articulate their thoughts in writing than all the worksheets I could cram into a school week. The best part was that they could each interact at their own level, free to take risks and try out the reading strategies we were working on at the time.
Fast forward 12 years and into our One-Room-Home-School and the similarities are vivid. Readers at different levels. Time stretched thin. But sacrificing meaningful conversation is NOT an option. So I made a plan. My two oldest (Ages 12 and 10) and I, will read one book a month and converse via their reader’s notebooks. A few times a week, we will meet to read a chapter together and discuss a reading strategy or literary device. Below I have outlined our first five days of assignments so that you can see how it flows. And I really mean flows. There is nothing set in stone. The outline is more of a brain dump of some of the things I’d like to cover. We’ll see how they go and adjust accordingly. It may take 5-10 days to complete depending on how things flow. The most important thing is facilitate love of literature and critical thinking along the way.
Plans for... Cracker! by Cynthia Kadohata
Mini-Lesson 1: Focus: Introducing the reader’s notebook.
Read chapter 1 together and introduce the reader’s notebook. This is a place to gather your thoughts about what you are reading and have a written conversation with Mom about it. Sometimes you will be given a prompt. Other times, the assignment will be open-ended.
Kid’s Assignment: Read chapters 2-3 independently.
In the reader’s notebook, write Mom a letter discussing what you notice about Willie and Cracker’s relationship. What do you think the author wants you to see or feel about their relationship? Find 3 clues in what you have read so far, that show this. Include a quote, the page number and why you think this supports how you view Willie and Cracker’s relationship.
Mom’s Assignment: Read Chapters 2-3, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.
Mini-Lesson 2: Focus: Author’s choose specific words to set a mood or help the reader visualize what is happening in the story.
Read pages 28-30 together.
Look closely at the scene on page 30 where Rick begins to talk to his parents about Vietnam. “Rick had felt four sets of eyes burn into him…Rick felt his own chest heaving with nervousness but kept his eyes trained on his father’s. Then everyone was talking at once. His parents and grandparents grilled him for hours.”
Kid’s Assignment: finish reading chapter 4. In the reader’s notebook, find another place in the story that the author makes deliberate word choices and helps you visualize the story.
Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 4, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.
Mini-Lesson 3: Focus: “Golden Lines: Making reading personal.”
Sometimes we read something that stands out to us or brings forth an emotion. Capturing these lines can help us make personal connections to what we are reading. And later on, we can look back and see how a book touched our hearts.
Kid’s assignment: Read chapter 5. Look back over the first 5 chapters and find a quote that stands out to you. Write Mom a letter that includes the quote and why you chose it.
Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 5, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.
Mini-lesson 4: Focus: Let it all simmer
We covered a good amount in the first few days and I believe that resting in new knowledge is important in incorporating it into our own thought-life.
Kid’s Assignment: Read chapter 6 and write to Mom about anything you want to related to the book. Remember to answer any questions Mom asked in her letters to you.
Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 6, write a letter in the reader’s notebooks in response to the kid’s letters.
Mini-lesson 5: Focus: Keep the simmer going…
Kid’s and Mom’s Assignment: Read chapter 7. No writing, just reading.
Other literary devices and comprehension strategies to discuss using Cracker!:
Protagonist/antagonist Story elements, using chart from Teaching the Classics Continue with Golden Lines Asking questions, seeking information to aid comprehension Revisit visualization
I am purposely keeping this list small. Trying to over-analyze and cram too much into our letters will dampen our enthusiasm for the process. As we get more comfortable with this, I will move to 1-2 topics a week, giving the kids more to read and a little bit longer to respond. And we’ll still take time to enjoy in-person chats at the end of the book. Hopefully as the children grow in knowledge and experience of this process, it will become even more organic, with less guidance from me and more from them. That’s the big picture and one I look forward to.
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