The Genre Reading Challenge

It has been several years since our library was reorganized by genre. Having books grouped together by genre has helped many readers browse our library shelves and discover new books based on their interests. Each November, we typically celebrate Picture Book Month by highlighting the picture book section and hosting a reading challenge. The challenge has ranged from having students read 1 picture book from each genre section to students setting their own goal and working toward that goal in November. Some past feedback from students and teachers was a hope for challenges that stretched beyond just the picture book section. Since the past year has put some barriers in place for book access, I thought it was a great time to introduce a new reading challenge and get students exploring all of our library genres throughout the whole year and rediscovering where sections are located.

For this year’s challenge, students choose between 3 challenges: picture books, chapter books, and informational books. They receive a bookmark for their challenge that has pictures of each genre section. This picture matches the signs and labels in each area of the library. As students read a book from each section, they get a sticker on their bookmark. When the bookmark is full, that part of the challenge is finished and they can move on to a 2nd or 3rd challenge. Students read at their own pace. There is no deadline to finish.

The bookmarks were created in Canva. Educators can sign up for free access to Canva. I’ll be honest. I’m terrible at graphic design. I’m also not that great at using Canva, but they have added so many tools that make it easier to use. Canva has templates for so many types of projects, including bookmarks. You can print the bookmarks just as they are, or you can choose a template and make some edits. I ordered the bookmarks online rather than dealing with printing and cutting them myself.

I’m not a huge fan of prizes for reading, but I gathered some feedback from students about what some good “rewards” could be for finishing the challenge. We tried to keep things connected to reading, and we might make some adjustments as we go. For now, if students complete one challenge they get a shout out on our morning news show and a choice of bookmark. For completing 2 challenges, students get another shout out and a “Barrow Reads” backpack clip that was made on our 3D printer. The backpack clip was designed in Tinkercad by me with some input from students. Students also get their name entered into a drawing for several prize packs of books. For completing all 3 challenges, students get one more shout out and get entered into a drawing for an autographed book.

I introduced the challenge to the whole school on our morning news show.

Right now students are mostly coming as a class for lessons and checkout so I’m explaining the challenge again and letting students pick their first bookmark if they want to start. Grades 2-5 are starting with any challenge they want. K/1st are starting with picture books or informational books. As students check out their books, me or the teacher help them get their name on their bookmark and add stickers for the books they are checking out. When they return to the library, they have to bring their bookmark back to get their next stickers. The trickiest part of this challenge is going to be keeping up with that bookmark. I can look back a student’s history if they lose the bookmark, but hopefully that won’t happen too much.

When students finish a bookmark, they fill out a quick Google form that can be reached on an iPad through a QR code. This will help me keep track of who has finished 1, 2, or all 3 challenges so I can track any shout outs or other rewards.

What has happened so far this week?

  1. Most students who have visited have been excited to start the challenge.
  2. I’ve seen that students are confused about the difference between picture books, chapter books, and informational. Also there has been confusion about sections that have the same name in each of those areas. It has been a chance for me to clarify misunderstandings and also think about changes I could potentially make to sections.
  3. Students have discovered sections that they didn’t realize existed. This has helped me see sections I might need to teach more about.
  4. Books that haven’t been checked out in a long time are getting checked out.
  5. Some students aren’t interested in the challenge. They want to read what they love the most from just a few sections. That is ok because this challenge is a choice and not a requirement.
  6. Some students have been frustrated that they can’t do all 3 challenges at the same time. I’m thinking more about this.

As I’ve been sharing the challenge with students, we’ve talked about stretching ourselves as readers to try new things. I remind students that they can still get books from their favorite sections while also doing the challenge. The main purpose is to try sections you may not visit often in order to see if you find a new favorite book, author, or genre. I never want to discourage kids from reading what they love.

It has only been a week, so we’ll see where the challenge takes us.

Using the I-PICK Strategy in the Library

Our teachers LOVE the I-PICK strategy for finding good fit books.  I must say that it is a strategy that just makes sense.  It doesn’t focus on one aspect of locating a book that matches a reader and it adjusts to whatever the purpose is for finding a book whether it’s independent reading or reading with a partner.

The I-PICK strategy stands for:

  • I choose my book
  • Purpose: Why am a I choosing a book today?
  • Interest:  What are the things that I like or want to learn about?  What holds my attention?
  • Comprehend:  Do I understand what’s going on by reading the words and pictures?
  • Know:  Do I know enough of the words to understand what’s going on?

Students often learn this strategy in their classrooms, and I typically do a follow-up lesson in the library to build a connection that this is a strategy that goes beyond the classroom.  This year, it seems I’m doing this lesson with almost every grade.  I’m trying to build connection even beyond the school during our time together.

We start with a quick brainstorm of all of the places where we can find books.  Students have named places such as school library, public library, bookstores (Barnes & Noble and Avid Bookshop), yard sales, thrift shops, and online.  Then, I shared a story about my own visit to the bookstore this summer to choose a book.  I wove in several things that I see students do, but honestly, that I also do.  After each bullet point that I shared, we paused and asked: “Does that make this a good fit book for me?”  The answer was usually “no, not completely” because each of these bullets is a piece of the puzzle of finding a good fit book and they all work together in order to make the puzzle complete.


  • I went to Avid Bookshop to choose a chapter book, so I focused on that section of the store
  • I pulled a book off of the shelf that had a red cover because that’s my favorite color.  (The book happened to be Circus Mirandus)
  • I took the jacket off because there was a picture hiding underneath and I started to notice things like the flying girl, the mysterious man in a jacket and hat, the tent with a sun on it, etc.
  • I read the inside jacket flap about the book
  • I read the first three chapters of the book because they were short
  • All along the way, I stayed interested in the book.  I felt connected to what it was about.  I understood what was going on.
  • I bought the book and loved it!

I don’t want to pretend that the I-PICK strategy is a linear process because it’s not.  I don’t go from beginning to end of this strategy every time I choose a book.  I often bounce around in the process.  However, most of these pieces are usually there when I pick a book.  I don’t pick a book because it’s on my Lexile level.  I don’t choose a book because of how many points I get for the book.  I don’t choose a book because someone puts it on a list and tells me that I have to read it.  I choose my book because I’m genuinely interested in it and it speaks to my personality as a reader.  I think the I-PICK strategy surfaces some of the steps that readers often do and puts them into an easy to remember formula for readers to think about as they select books.

The purpose can always change.  Sometimes a reader may be looking for a book to read with a family member, so the independent comprehension or “knowing the words” doesn’t matter as much.  The interest step is always there no matter the purpose.  I want student to always seek books that interest them or spark their curiosity.

After our quick brainstorm and bookshop story on the carpet.  I moved students to tables.  On the tables are stacks of books pulled from all areas of the library.  The idea is for students to practice the IPICK strategy in a small setting first.  I know that not every student is going to find a book that interests them on the tables and that is totally ok.  I do let them move from table to table if they aren’t finding an interest.  Most students do find something because I choose such a variety, but some just don’t connect to what they see.  The teachers and I roam around and ask students about what is catching their eye and what they’ve done to see if it’s a good fit.  We might listen to them read a bit, talk about their interests, or share something they’ve learned from the book.

The next part is my favorite.  I ask students about what else interests them or what else they hope to take with them from the library today.  This is where I really get to focus the library on their individual interests.  Sometimes it’s very broad such as “a picture book” but sometimes it is extremely specific like “Pete the Cat”.  No matter what they say I direct them to a part of the library with their shelf marker to start searching for that good fit book using the IPICK strategy.

In the end, many students do in fact find books that fit their “reading level”, but more importantly find a book that they are excited about as they leave the library.  Some students still leave the library with a 300 page book even though they are reading on a lower level, but to me, it’s part of the process.  I can continue to share strategies for choosing books, talk about purpose, and most importantly help readers make a connection to the books that truly interest them.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a big step in how we each choose the books that we read.



Book Tasting with Kindergarten Using IPICK

ipick kinder (3) The Daily 5 I-PICK Strategy is a tool that many of our teachers use with students to find a “just right” book.  I’ve found this strategy to be so much better than using the 5-finger rule because it takes into account the many ways that we all choose books.  Usually 1st grade teachers are among the first to teach this strategy, but this year Kindergarten is very interested in what this might look like for our youngest students.

I-PICK stands for:

  • I choose my books
  • Purpose:  Why am I reading?
  • Interest:  What do I like to read?
  • Comprehend:  Do I understand?
  • Know:  Do I know most of the words?ipick kinder (4)

For Kindergarten, most of these pieces are obtainable except for knowing most of the words.  We’ve also been teaching the students the ways that we read which have included reading the pictures, reading the words, and retelling the story.

After some email conversation with a Kindergarten teacher, I proposed that we leave off the “know” part of IPICK for most of the students.  In class, students reviewed all of the steps of IPICK, but they specifically focused on “interest”.  Each student was interviewed about what they like to read and the teacher and other helpers wrote down about 3 interests for each student.  These cards were then given to me in the media center.

IPICK Kinder (10)I took each card and created a personal stack of books for each student.  I tried to find books that matched the interest and had plenty of pictures for students to practice reading pictures in a book.  I won’t lie.  This was very time consuming.  It took me about 45 minutes per class to pull books.  However, for the first time I could honestly say that I helped every student in a class find the books that they were interested in.

We kept our lesson very short.  On the floor, I reviewed IPICK and set our focus on comprehension.  We looked at some previously read books like Chalk to remind ourselves how to read the pictures in a book.  We also looked at informational text to practice reading a photograph and attempting to read the captions on pictures.

Just like in a cafe where you place your order and they call out your name, I called each student’s name and handed them the stack of books.  I reminded them that sometimes in restaurants we don’t like what we ordered and that it is ok to send it back or spit it out.  I reminded them that they would probably find several books that they liked but they needed to pick the one that tasted the best.IPICK Kinder (9)

As students sat at tables, the teachers and I walked around and had conversations with students about their books.  They told us what they were reading in the pictures.  If we saw a student quickly breezing through pages, we had a longer conversation and modeled how to slow down and carefully read a picture.  I loved how finding the book didn’t get in the way and we were actually able to have quality conversations rather than spending our time running around the shelves looking for books.

ipick kinder (6)In the end, each student chose a book.  When we asked them why they chose the book, interest was usually the winning reason.  It just reminded me of how important it is for students to find the books that they love to read even if it is Spongebob or Disney Princesses.  Every student left with a smile on their face.  I know that students missed the experience of actually finding the book on the shelf, but in the end, I felt like this experience was positive and rewarding in other ways for the students.  This is not something that I would or could do for every session, but I think it’s important for students to come to the library and find the perfect match of a book at least part of the time.ipick kinder (1)

Book Choice Champions Unpacking Time

Today, the 11 boys of the Book Choice Champions enrichment cluster gathered today to unpack the first shipment of books that they ordered for the library.  Each student had a job to do during this process which included:

  • Unpacking books and checking for damage and correct processing
  • Highlighting the packing slip
  • Stamping books with the media center stamp
  • Displaying books on tables
  • Taking pictures of books for marketing on BTV and our enrichment fair
  • Repacking books into boxes for the enrichment fair

It was an efficient process that took about 20-25 minutes.  Two students agreed to come back during their lunch & recess to work on an Animoto video of the books and a video of the process.  Here’s their final products:


The Book Choice Champions will share their process at our enrichment fair tomorrow Tuesday November 29, 2011 at 5:25PM at Barrow Elementary.  Once the fair is over, these students will have first choice of the books to checkout and the remaining books will be available for checkout Wednesday morning.  I can’t wait to see how fast they all get checked out this time!

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Book Choice Champions Begins

Surveying students using iPad and Google forms

Once again, I’ve set out on a journey with a group of students to make decisions on what books are purchased for the library in a project called Book Choice Champions.  This year, I set aside $1500 in book fair profits for a budget that is completely decided on by students.  Once again, our school is doing enrichment clusters on Wednesdays, so from 9-10AM I have a group of 11 students in grades 2nd-5th that come to the library to work on this project until late November.  The students self-selected which enrichment cluster they would be in based on their interest in the cluster topic.  The surprising part of this is that the group of students I’m working with is all boys.

On day 1, the boys immediately noticed that no girls were in the group and they saw this as a problem.  How would they buy books that were supposed to be for the whole school without having girl representation in the group?  They decided to survey students from the whole school and felt that it was important to know how many boys and how many girls answered the survey.  They also wanted to know what grades students were in so that all grades were represented in the decisions.  Two students in the group were in a similar group last year and they talked about the problems that we had with surveying, especially using blank paper and simply asking people what they liked to read.  For this reason, they decided to develop a Google survey that could be done on laptops, desktops, smartboards, and iPads.  They felt it was important to ask about various categories of books such as animals/sports/fairies/etc, kinds of books such as chapter/picture/informational/etc, and to give students a chance to request specific books or series.

The next problem was when would students take the survey.  We knew we didn’t want to interrupt instruction, so we thought of the least disruptive process we could.  They came up with several idea that they are now trying:

  • Ask their teachers when they could come get an iPad from the media center to survey their own classes
  • Ask 3rd-5th grades to take surveys on the iPads and desktop computers in the media center during morning arrival time before going to homerooms.
  • Ask K-2nd grades to take the surveys on iPads in the art room during morning arrival time before going to class.
  • See which grade levels seem to be missing from the survey results and ask specific teachers if there is a time to come into their room to do surveys
  • If needed, email the survey to teachers to use on their smartboards
Today, we asked PreK teachers permission to pull students to survey.  Members of the book choice champions read the survey to them and filled in the results on the iPad.  Also today, several students have come to the media center throughout the day to borrow an iPad to take to their classroom and to recess to do more surveys.  At the beginning of today, we only had 14 results and by the writing of this post 85 students out of 500 have been surveyed.  That’s pretty impressive for a group of 11 students.
Our next steps will be to look at this data and make decisions about where we will focus our time.  I’m so excited by the energy and passion that this group has.  All 11 boys truly want to be a part of the process and they’re stepping up to offer ideas and make decisions.

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