I first heard about First Chapter Friday, while listening to The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast. It can be challenging to get students to take the first step in choosing a book to read independently, try out new authors or genres, or to get excited about new books in the library. Betsy, from Spark Creativity, says whether you call it First Chapter Friday, Meet a Book Monday, Too Many Books Tuesday, We Love Reading Wednesday, or Thoroughly Into Books Thursday the premise remains the same: introduce students to a variety of different books for independent or self-selected reading.

I always loved reading the first of a series with students in my class. I would carefully choose books I loved, read the books with students and watch with joy when I saw them reading the next books in the series. I now realize that I introduced them to books I loved, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Among the Hidden, The Wild Robot, Princess in Black etc. Most of them featured similar characters and exciting adventures, but I know now that something else was missing: student voice and choice, a variety of identities and topics, different themes, etc. Maybe I, too, should have taken part in First Chapter Fridays for educators!

To prepare for this activity, choose a variety of books from your classroom or school library. In my experience, librarians always have a great list of new titles and authors and love the opportunity to co-plan with classroom teachers. Some school boards have a central lending library where you can borrow a box of different books for three or four weeks with a variety of titles or themes as an option. Then, ask yourself a few questions when choosing books to share.

Do I have books from a variety of genres? I didn’t realize my love of exciting adventure books was factoring into what I thought made a good read for the students in my class. When I looked around at the books students were reading independently, I saw that they loved comedy – Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, Dog Man, etc. Be sure to include something similar to what they are already drawn to as well as some new genres and authors they might not have met yet.

Is the language and content accessible for students at this grade level? Have a peek through the book yourself, look up suggested age range levels, or find familiar authors you know in order to make some informed choice about reading levels and content. We definitely want students to try new stories, but we also want them to feel successful and excited about reading! Ensure that during your activity, you are offering books at reading levels that everyone can access.

Do these books offer an opportunity for students to learn about themselves and others? Are there a variety of identities and experiences represented? I suggest checking to ensure that the author is writing from a place of ‘own voice’ or is, at least, working with a member of that community to tell a story or build characters. If you’re not sure which identities to look for, try looking at the different heritage months or days of significance that are celebrated here in Ontario and Canada as a place to start. Find out the identities of the students and families in your school community. Seek out student voice: who or what events the students are interested in learning about.

Once you’ve chosen a few books to highlight, get ready for reading! Plan to read the first chapter of each book out loud to the students and while they are listening, they may be sketching or writing some of the key points of the book or story so that they can keep track of the details for each book. Remember, it’s not an assignment, it’s practice for students to use as a possible way to track their thinking. I like to think of this as another way for students to engage with reading and for them to find the method (sketching, jot notes, drawings, lists) that works best to express their ideas.

What I love about First Chapter Friday is that it reminds me of the importance of connecting students with reading and using it as a practice of interacting with text. When the educator reads the text aloud, it allows all students access to the story and opens the lines of discussion as a whole class as opposed to reading being an isolating activity. Thinking about the texts with students helps to build community and model curiosity and a love of reading. Whichever day you choose, introducing students to new books and new worlds can help build a community of readers.


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