Tag Archives: teaching

Blog Hop: Unleashing Readers Launch Week



I am so excited to be part of a blog hop to introduce Unleashing Readers, a new blog collaboration with Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg. Their goal “is to be a go-to resource for all levels of teachers to find resources for utilizing the best pieces of literature and nonfiction in their classroom,” and I cannot wait to be inspired by their insights!

When reviewing books, their goal is to recommend books for a specific purpose in classrooms: read alouds, close read/analysis, literature circle, and classroom library. To celebrate their launch, I am sharing my favorite books for each of these categories.

Favorite Read Aloud Book

Boy21  Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit”, the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.

Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space.

As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need. (via Goodreads)

When I first read the synopsis of this book, I have some students tell me, “I really don’t like sports…why would I want to read that?”

My response is that it is so much more than a book “about basketball.” If you’re a Friday Night Lights fan (Texas Forever y’all!!), this book is as much about basketball as the show is about football. The sports aspect is secondary to the exploration of friendship, loyalty, family, and selflessness vs. selfishness, which leads to great discussions and writing.

My students quickly realize this, and they all end up absolutely loving this book. Even after we’ve shared it as a read aloud, students will check it out to reread on their own. I recommend you have a coupld of copies handy!

Favorite Lit Circle Book

Mexican WhiteBoy Danny’s tall and skinny. Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile per hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at his private school they don’t expect much from him. Danny’s half Mexican. And growing up in San Diego means everyone else knows exactly who he is before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. To find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front of his face. (via Goodreads)

This book became a lit circle book because it was so popular in my classroom. It seemed if anyone was reading it, others wanted to talk with them about it. The majority of my students are Hispanic, so most of their conversation was about how true (or to some, untrue) the story was. The fact that it’s a semi-autobiographical story seemed to spark their conversation even more. There was so much discussion, it was a natural fit to move this into our lit circle rotation so that more (organized) discussion could take place.

Favorite Classroom Library Book

Okay, so here is an area where I just cannot limit myself to just one book 🙂 Below are some of the most popular titles in my classroom library–the books that I just could not keep on the shelf. (Clicking the cover will take you to Goodreads where you can read a synopsis and put the book on your to-read shelf!)

Boy21  Mexican WhiteBoy  What My Mother Doesn't Know (What My Mother Doesn't Know #1)  Runner  Smile (Smile, #1)

Amulet, Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper  Jumping Off Swings  Perfect Chemistry (Perfect Chemistry, #1)  The First Part Last (Heaven, #2)  If I Lie

In Honor  Twisted  Make Lemonade (Make Lemonade, #1)  The Fourth Stall  Legend (Legend, #1)

My Favorite Book

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1) His eyes, Katsa had never seen such eyes. One was silver, and the other, gold. They glowed in his sun-darkened face, uneven, and strange. She was surprised that they hadn’t shone in the darkness of their first meeting. They didn’t seem human….

Then he raised his eyebrows a hair, and his mouth shifted into the hint of a smirk. He nodded at her, just barely, and it released her from her spell.

Cocky, she thought. Cocky and arrogant, this one, and that was all there was to make of him. Whatever game he was playing, if he expected her to join him he would be disappointed.


In a world where people born with an extreme skill—called a Grace—are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone. (via Goodreads)

This book is so amazing, and it completely changed my thoughts about my stance on high fantasy. I had always skimmed over this genre, thinking I didn’t really like it, but Graceling showed me just how wrong I was! I buy this book as a gift and recommend it as a great read any chance I get!

Many of my students still with realistic fiction and are scared of fantasy (like I was), but I always recommend this when they’re ready, and it finds a new audience every year.

So what are you waiting for? Add Unleashing Readers to your “blogs I must read list” to receive great book recommendations all the time!


Teachers Never Really Have a Break


Can you believe that it is almost CHRISTMAS?! This semester has absolutely flown by. For those of you who don’t know, I teach 8th grade writing and 9th grade English at a choice alternative school (you can read more about my school in my About Jenn section), and I can’t believe that tomorrow is our last day of school before Christmas break!

As I think back on this semester, I’m both amazed at how much my students have learned and grown AND frantic about how much I still need to cram into the second semester. It’s simultaneous feelings of joy and disappointment. My students don’t know any better; they’ve written reflections on how much they feel their writing has improved and how they “actually like reading now,” but little do they know, we still have a loooong way to go!

I started blogging with my students this school year (thanks to Andrea!), and it has been a learning experience for all of us. I am planning to blog next year as well, but looking back I feel that I need a lot more front-loading for students as far as looking at model examples, writing paper blogs (I can never remember where this idea came from, but it’s from a Twitter friend!), and looking at good examples and bad examples of grammar/mechanics used in blog posts. My students are all below level in their reading and writing, but blogging has given them a chance to write for an authentic audience. They really love it, and I think that their writing will improve even more than when we were only “paper-writing” in class.

Another set of tools I introduced this semester was the use of Biblionasium (with my 8th graders) and Goodreads (with my 9th graders), where students can keep track of book they are reading and books they plan to read. We just started with these right after Thanksgiving, so my hope is to extend the use of them during the second semester. I am creating a group within Goodreads where I can post discussion questions for students as they’re reading. There are many groups that teachers have created for their classes, and one teacher was kind enough to allow me to “join” their group so I could see how she was utilizing the feature!

As I looked around my classes while students were taking finals, I could pin a book with each face…either the book they were currently reading or a “THE” book that convinced them reading wasn’t so bad after all. We made reading goals for Christmas break, students (and some teachers) checked out armfulls of books. However, there are still the stragglers that are still bouncing from book to book, not committing, not finishing, still with the “I don’t like to read” mentality. It’s my challenge over Christmas break to try to find a book for each of these dormant readers (as Donalyn Miller calls them in The Book Whisperer). There is a book there for them…I just have to find it.

So I will take the next two weeks of “vacation” and work…work on planning for next semester, for building on the foundation we’ve created, for growing my readers and writers. Because teachers never really have a “break” 🙂