Getting into chapter books

How to use chapter books in guided reading

Chapter Books

Using chapter books in a guided reading lesson takes a bit more planning, but can enhance your students' reading skills.

As students get older they need more advanced reading material. So in march the chapter books. They provide more in-depth plot development, more action and more opportunities for your reading students to develop better and more complex reading comprehension skills.
You usually only have 45 minutes to an hour to work with your reading students. In that time you need to discuss new vocabulary terms, literary devices the author is using, as well as the story itself as it unfolds (to make sure your students are comprehending the plot). Even if you are a homeschooler, you don’t want to spend too much time on a reading lesson in order to keep interest level up.
So, if you want to introduce chapter books into your students’ reading repertoire, you will need to break the books up over several reading sessions.

How to divide a chapter book into bite-sized reading sections

While it may seem obvious to break a chapter book up into its individual chapters, that tactic doesn’t work for all chapter books. Some beginning chapter books have very short chapters and your students may be able to read two or more chapters before you need to move on to comprehension discussion. Some more advanced chapter books have very long chapters and you will need to break one chapter into two reading sessions.
So this is the part where I tell you to use your best judgment. Because you know your reading students better than anyone, you really do have to make the call. However, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
  • Make sure the reading material is at your students’ reading level and, more importantly, not too far above their grasp in terms of vocabulary as well as maturity. Too many references to events or experiences they may not know or understand will make the book too confusing for them. This would slow reading down too much if you are trying to explain too much about the story itself.
  • If you are working with good readers, you can test to see how much you read in 20 to 30 minutes and use that measurement as a gauge for your students. Remember, however, that you will need time to discuss new vocabulary terms and visual clues before reading starts and stop during reading to discuss events as they happen.
  • If you are working with struggling readers, know that you will need extra time to help with the act of reading as well as reading comprehension. In these cases, you will need to have students re-read certain sections to help them learn to correct their own mistakes. Choosing a book that is at their reading level is extremely important in this case. You may want to figure that your students will get through half of what you did in the same time just to be on the safe side.
Of course, you could just keep close watch on the time during your first reading session and just see how far you get. This will give you a better idea of how long it will take to get through the rest of the book. I don’t really recommend this method because planning is so important to guided reading. But if you feel you will be better able to plan the rest of the reading sessions for a chapter book by judging the first session, be my guest. At the very least, however, do have a plan for comprehension discussion.

Discussing the book before reading

If you recall from my post on before reading activites, before you start reading a book with students you need to introduce the topic and vocabulary words. The same holds true for chapter books.
First introduce the theme and topic by asking open-ended discussion questions. Discuss with your students what experiences they have had with the topic or allow them to use their imaginations about what it would be like (if they haven’t had any experiences relating to it). For example, if you are reading a Flat Stanley book, you will want to ask students what it would be like to be flat or what they would do if they were flat. If you are reading the one of his adventure in Egypt, you will want to discuss Egypt a little and maybe even bring a map and some pictures.
Along with reading the title to gain a little insight, you can now read chapter titles to gain some clues as to what might happen in the book or what it’s about. Be sure to read the summary on the back cover (if available) as that will help give your readers more clues about the plot.
While chapter books will not have as many illustrations as early readers do, they are still there in the beginning chapter books, so you can still look through the book to see what clues they give your readers. Of course, discuss the cover illustration first and then go through the book to look at the others.
Then make sure to discuss new vocabulary words your students will see as they read. For chapter books, however, you will want to only discuss the vocabulary words they will see in the session they are currently going to read. If you have 20 vocabulary words, but your students will only see two in each reading session, only discuss the two they will see just before each session. Discussing them all in the first reading session will likely overwhelm your students, and you run the risk of your students forgetting the words and their definitions before you get to the session that actually uses them.

During-reading activities for chapter books

Your guided reading activities for chapter books during reading are really no different than reading any other book. You will want to pay attention to how your students are reading to make sure they are reading correctly, self-correcting and re-reading as necessary. You will still discuss plot development and characters as students are reading as well.
With chapter books, however, come new literary tactics used by authors. As students come across imagery, allusion or foreshadowing, you will want to point these out and ask your students how they feel, what they envision or what they think will happen. For a really thorough list of literary devices authors use, click here.

After-reading activities for chapter books

After you are done reading a section of a chapter book, you will not be doing a hands-on project every time. You will want to save the hands-on project for the end of the whole book as a way to wrap it all up.
What you will do at the end of each session is go back over important details that will help students continue reading with more comprehension in the next session. This means making sure they know how the characters are connected and what main action has taken place so far. For example, if you read the first two chapters of the first Flat Stanley book, you would want to make sure your students know that Stanley is the boy who was flattened by the bulletin board, that Arthur is his sometimes jealous brother and that his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lampchop, are finding ways that Stanley’s flatness could come in handy (have your students give examples).
You will also want to discuss the literary devices the author used in the part of the book your students read. They need to know that these are tactics authors use time and time again to help develop the plot and make the story more interesting. Ask your students to point out instances where the tactics were used to ensure they understand them and their importance to the progression of the book.

When the next session comes around

When you are moving on to each session, remember to cover any new vocabulary and review what happened in the last reading session. Then go straight to during-reading activities and after-reading comprehension discussion. Continue this way until you have finished the book. When you have finished the book, be sure to wrap it all up with a fun hands-on project.
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School is just around the corner

Are you ready for the coming school season?

Summer is coming to an end

With summer winding down, it is time to start looking at good guided reading books to share with your students.

Summer is winding down and the preparation for a new school year is beginning. Whether you are a reading teacher or homeschooling parent, the time is now to prepare for a whole new year of learning.
The following is a list of good guided reading books divided by age range. These are just general guidelines; be sure to know the reading level of your students before putting any of these before them. It will be important to note that these are my own age guidelines as well. Some books are marketed to an age group whom I feel are not emotionally ready for the topics in those books, so I put those books at higher age levels. You should certainly try to locate these books at a library or book store and read them yourself to make your own decisions about age appropriateness.
If you need more information about these books or would like more suggestions, check out

Ages 4 – 7

These are great books for beginning readers. They are good for reading to younger students, allowing them to help with the high-frequency words, or you can have your first- and second-grade students read them to you.
Lucy, a young brown bear, finds the most adorable little boy in the forest one day. She takes him home and begs her mother to keep him, promising to take full responsibility for his care. Lucy’s mother warns her that children make terrible pets, but Lucy is determined to prove her mother wrong. Lucy and Squeaker, the name she gives the boy because of the sound he makes, do everything together. But Lucy soon finds that her mother’s warning is right: the boy refuses to be potty-trained and destroys the furniture. When Squeaker goes missing, Lucy tracks him down and finds he has returned to his natural habitat. She realizes that everyone is better off if he remains there.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Owl Moon is a beautiful story both in words and illustrations that describe a girl and her father going out owling. They are searching for the Great Horned Owl on a snowy night and walk slowly and quietly in hopes of seeing the majestic bird. The book creates excitement and suspense as you travel along with the pair, getting wrapped up in the beauty of nature at night and hoping that any minute you will see the giant bird before you.
Mystery Vine by Cathryn Falwell
Children plant a garden and care for it well. But a mystery vine shows up and they are puzzled by it. When fall comes around they see that it is producing pumpkins. This is a good book for early guided reading lessons because there are a lot of clues to help young readers know what the vine will produce. The book also has great suggestions for after-reading projects.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Sal and her mother go to pick blueberries to preserve for the winter at the same time a bear cub and his mother go. As the young ones are eating as many blueberries as they can, they get mixed up and start following the wrong mothers. Eventually they find their way back to their own mothers and everyone goes home safe and sound.
No Pets Allowed by Morgan R. Persun
No pets are permitted in Percy’s apartment building, but he still wants one. He wishes for one as he writes the word "peacock" and suddenly a peacock is in his room standing on his bed. And every new animal name he writes produces more and more animals that fill his room. Eventually he finds a solution to clear them all out as it gets too crowded. This story is a wonderful tale of how imaginative and clever children can be.

Ages 8 – 11

These beginner chapter books are longer and will require several reading sessions to complete. While a few are part of a series, most can be read individually without having to read previous titles in the series to understand the plot. The exception might be the Magic Tree House series where the first four books and a few others later on in the series need to be read in order. The best part of getting children interested in books in a series is that if they really enjoy them, they will want to keep getting more in the series (and thus their love for reading will blossom).
Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
A not-so-humble mouse, Amos, tells the not-so-flattering tale of the real Ben Franklin while taking credit for all of Ben’s inventions and ideas. Amos claims he helped Ben Franklin, with every detail, create the famous Franklin Stove. Thrilled to have such a great mind in his presence, Franklin works out an agreement with Amos so they may continue to live and work together. This book provides a humorous introduction to Ben Franklin and the founding of the United States.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater
Poor Mr. Popper dreams of far-away places and adventure. He is a painter in a small town but dreams of polar explorations. One day, in response to a fan letter from Mr. Popper, the famous Admiral Drake sends Mr. Popper a penguin. From there, Mr. Popper adopts a female penguin to keep his new friend happy. They have babies and before you know it, Mr. Popper and his family have a road show of performing penguins. This is a delightfully funny and dramatic story that will keep children on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe
Bunnicula is a hilarious story told from the point of view of the Monroe family dog, Harold. The Monroes go to see the movie Dracula and find a helpless young bunny in one of their seats. They take him home and name him Bunnicula in honor of how they found him. But there’s something odd about this bunny and Chester the family cat, the smartest and most well-read of them all, is determined to uncover the truth. The more he finds, the more he fears for the family’s safety. The results of his attempts to warn them and even save them create many laugh-out-loud dramatic scenes.
Stanley Lambchop is a regular boy until one night a bulletin board falls on him while he is sleeping. When he wakes up, he realizes he’s flat as a pancake! He takes it in stride and makes the many adjustments needed to live life as a flat boy. He even finds it is useful in many cases like slipping through grates to recover his mother’s lost ring and even disguising himself as a painting to catch museum robbers. Stanley becomes a two-dimensional hero and gets to go on many adventures in the series as people around the world need his help.
Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne
Jack and his little sister Annie discover a mysterious tree house and soon learn that the books inside the tree house can transport them to faraway places and times! They go back to the age of dinosaurs, explore pyramids and even space as they help solve mysteries and learn more about the places they are visiting. Children love the adventures Jack and Annie find themselves in and enjoy tagging along. As a bonus, the official Magic Tree House website has lots of activities for children as well. You may even want to utilize the Teachers section for in-class activities to share with your students.

Ages 12-14

These books are perfect for middle school students who can understand and handle topics such as death, debt, violence and loss. These books can be very emotional but are very good at keeping children interested with their suspense and drama.
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
A boy finds out his grandfather owes a lot of money in taxes and decides to enter a dog sled race. He hopes to win the money to get his grandpa out of his deep depression and save their home. The title character Stone Fox is determined to win the money to buy back land taken from his tribe. While this book can be very depressing at times and provides a pretty harsh reality, there are lessons to be learned. I recommend reading this book first and truly getting to know your students and their temperaments before offering it to them. It is a very moving tale, but one that is sad.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
A young girl stumbles upon a spring and is kidnapped by the family who knows the dangers of drinking from the spring. The Tuck family is immortal and are trying to convince the girl it is not all it is cracked up to be. In this tale readers explore the meaning of life and death and learn to appreciate the cycle of nature. There are some pretty intense parts in this book that keep the readers guessing and wondering if eternal life is really worth the trouble it seems to be for the Tuck family.
A country cricket, Chester finds himself lost in the big city in the subway station at Times Square. A young boy finds him and begs to keep him. Chester soon makes a name for himself as the most famous musician in New York City, performing concerts for those packing the subway station. Despite all his adventures and the kindness of the friends he has found, he soon longs to go home to the peaceful countryside.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A young girl who finds it hard to fit in is swept up into a mystery where she eventually finds her father who was rumored to have run off. Along with her brother and their new friend, the group embark on a dangerous quest through space. This timeless classic is a sci-fi adventure that pulls you in from the very beginning and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you are reading. It is especially welcome to children who feel like they don’t fit in as well. They can relate to the characters who are not necessarily superheroes but save the day anyway.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
A widowed mouse with a sick child, Mrs. Frisby must turn to some strange rats for help. She soon finds herself caught up in an extraordinary plan to help more than 100 brilliant, laboratory-enhanced rats escape to their own civilization. It is a story of courage, gratitude and humanity as the mouse and rats work together to help each other.

Ages 15-17

These books are filled with mystery and adventure, perfect for older teens who are looking for less childish themes and characters. They touch on some pretty serious topics such as murder, dysfunctional families, religion and more. They are full of suspense to keep readers hooked but also full of lessons that all can learn from.
It appears the Baskerville family is haunted. The head of the family is killed under mysterious circumstances, apparently by the hound of a legend. Sherlock Holmes and his partner, Dr. Watson, begin their investigation. As soon as the estate’s heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, arrives in London, strange events begin to occur. Watson must accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall, situated in a foreboding moor. The sounds of a wailing woman, the ruins throughout the moor, an escaped killer at large on the moor, the phantom hound and more add to the mystery, suspense and level of fear of the story.
Jacob held a strong connection to his grandfather, enthralled by the old man’s strange tales of growing up with children who had unusual powers and evil monsters lurking about. But when his grandfather dies and leaves him a cryptic message, Jacob finds himself on a journey to the Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. As Jacob unravels more about his grandfather’s childhood, he discovers the stories may be true. He also fears he is being followed by a monster only he can see. The old photos dispersed throughout the book set the tone for this thriller.
Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe
Maya’s con-man father ends up in prison when one of his bad deals catches up to him. Maya ends up in foster case and decides she’s better off going it alone. In search of some kind of normalcy, Maya devises a plan to locate an aunt in Idaho whom she’s never met and isn’t sure really exists. She didn’t anticipate being joined by two other displaced teens and ends up taking on the role of caregiver (not unlike her role in getting her dad out of trouble most of the time). A gritty story that does not glamorize life on the streets but brings to light the plight of displaced kids.
The Shadow Project by Herbie Brennan
Danny breaks into the wrong building, one that houses a secret government operation. However, the government quickly realizes Danny has just the skills they need to help them track terror suspects using paranormal activities. When the project is in danger, Danny and his teen partners must secure an ancient weapon and take it to an alternate universe where nothing is as it appears. One false move could end everything. This story is packed with action from the very beginning and never slows down. If your students are into sci-fi thrillers then they will love this book.
Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
Faith was the good sister. After her sudden and mysterious death, her sister Brie and her parents must learn to cope. But they don’t cope well. Brie lives with regret not knowing her sister well and always living in her shadow. She can’t reach out to her parents because they have become quiet and distant. Now she searches for answers and finds much more than she bargained for. This story is very emotional but not tearjerker emotional. We are led along as Brie learns to grieve over a sister she’s not sure she really knew. The plot takes a few unexpected twists, making the book a good, suspenseful read.
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Added fun for reading lessons

I was reading a story posted by a former teacher and homeschooling mother which gave me a great idea for making guided reading lessons more fun for younger children.*

Puppet narrators

Gingerbread man puppet

A quickly put together puppet of the gingerbread man for a reading of the story.

While I usually save hands-on projects for after reading to bring home the lesson and solidify comprehension of the story, the idea with puppet narrators is to make them before reading so children have them throughout the story. Your readers will then lend their voice to the puppet character while they are reading the story.
The puppet does not need to take a lot of time to create. You should be prepared with precut shapes that the children can color or quickly decorate with stickers, foam forms (with sticky backs to save drying time) or other add-ons. If you have a guided reading group, you could have your students do all the same character or have them choose from a different set of characters.

How do puppet narrators help?

The puppets will help with your lesson in a couple of ways. First, it adds fun to the lesson and a fun lesson makes for more eager readers.
More importantly, kids enjoy acting out a character. This is important because they will go back and read a line with more inflection if they feel their "character" needs it. They are paying more attention to their own reading and will self-correct which is what we want. I’ve seen children do this in theater group when they are reading their lines. They focus on how their character should act, react and sound as they are going through the lines. A puppet in the hands of your readers will create the same reaction.

*Why just younger readers?

I mentioned above that this would be a good tactic for younger readers. For the most part, older students might feel childish coloring a puppet and even if they would secretly enjoy it, they won’t want to admit that.
If you are using a book like The Strange Case of Origami Yoda which is geared toward slightly older readers (grades 4-6), then by all means see if the students would like to try creating an origami Yoda character to narrate. The Yoda puppet in the story does a lot of "talking" and even older kids love to use his voice, so it may work for you. You know your students best and know how they would react, so use this knowledge to decide if this will be a good project to start off a guided reading lesson with or not.
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Summer reading

Summer is the perfect time to give struggling readers some much-needed practice without the pressures of school and deadlines getting in the way.
Of course, convincing young readers to practice when regular school is not in session is difficult. You need to bribe them.
Most libraries have summer reading programs that offer prizes for successfully completing a certain number of books, and a big prize after completing the program. Check with your local libraries to see if they have a program like this in place.
If you aren’t near a library with such a program, you may want to consider instituting your own summer reading program. You and your young reader can establish the goals and rewards and then get started. Rewards will be appreciated more because they will be more personal. This tactic works especially well with older readers who may not be interested in the color-changing pencils or totes offered by the library.

Choosing books

When choosing books for summer reading, it is OK to use books that are slightly below your reader’s level. We want our struggling readers to have fun and not feel frustrated or want to give up. Choosing books slightly below their reading level will give them the practice they need and boost their confidence and reading comprehension skills. They will still need to use their decoding skills and clues found in the books to interpret the plot of the story, so choosing lower-level books will not set them back at all.

Hands-on projects fun, but not necessary

For summer reading, you can do complete guided reading sessions, concluding with a hands-on project, if you wish. But if you are just focusing on reading practice, the projects are not necessary. If your reader really needs help with reading comprehension, you will want to be more thorough with your discussions and you may need to do a hands-on project or at least provide more visuals.
My son is reading a book on sea life and we have the computer (and Google images) handy to look up some of the creatures for different views and a better idea of size. After reading each section, I sometimes have him write out what he found most interesting about what he read (we are working on his writing skills too) or draw and color a picture related to what he read. It isn’t much and doesn’t take up much time, but it does help with his comprehension.

Happy reading!

Soon you will have many happy readers running around with newfound knowledge and skills. Have fun with summer reading so they can go back to school in the fall prepared to succeed.
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High frequency words

Help struggling readers by studying high-frequency words

To help beginning or struggling readers improve their reading skills, it is important to go over high-frequency words you come across in your guided reading lessons.
High-frequency words, many of which are sight words, are the words we run across most often in the English language. These are words like "the", "of" and other articles, prepositions or pronouns. Some nouns and verbs are also high frequency words such as "water" and "said".

Why go over high-frequency words?

Going over and over words your students will see most often as they read will help them commit these words to their long-term memory and make future reading faster and easier.
Sally Shaywitz, M.D., author of an extensive study on dyslexics and co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention, mentioned in Overcoming Dyslexia that most readers have a memory bank of words they have encountered before, but dyslexic readers struggle because every word they come across seems to be an entirely new word, even if they have seen it before. They have a hard time reading because they do not have many words stored in their long-term memory bank. Shaywitz was able to show this by doing fMRIs on the brains of nonimpaired readers and dyslexic readers while they were reading. The scans allowed her team to see which areas of the brains were activated during the act of reading. For all early readers the front area of the brain is active, as readers use their decoding skills to tackle new words. For nonimpaired readers, after seeing the same word a few times, they had committed the word to memory and the back section of their brain became active when they saw these words again. However, the brain scans of dyslexic readers showed that the front area of the brain was used most often and the back was rarely used, even when they were reading words they had encountered a few times.
To help new and struggling readers commit words to memory, it helps to go over them, break them down, study them, analyzing them and their parts. It is especially helpful to dyslexic readers to be able to take a word apart and put it back together. This can be accomplished by using letter magnets or large cards that have the sounds of the word separated (for example the word "boat" would be separated into /b/-/oa/-/t/). In this way, a dyslexic reader can have that extra sensory education (sight and feel) he or she needs to learn more easily.

When do you go over high-frequency words in a guided reading lesson?

It is best to cover the high-frequency words your students will encounter before beginning reading. You can discuss them as you are discussing vocabulary.
One trait most researchers have noticed about dyslexic readers is that it is often the small words that trip them up (such as "that" and "from"). While the explanation is not exactly clear as to why these words are difficult, we cannot assume that just because the words are small they will be easy for readers to pick up and commit to memory. Keep that in mind as you are going through your guided reading book looking for words to cover.
Click here for a list of high-frequency words.
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