Ideas in Selecting "Just Right" Books

One of the hardest thing to help students understand is choosing a "Good Fit" book. Here are some ideas how I work with students and parents to have students in a "Good Fit" book more times than not.

Students choose books for independent reading for many different reasons: “I just saw the movie,” “I like the pictures,” “My friend just finished it.” Students usually choose books that appeal to them visually. The front covers are designed to capture their interest and emotions. However, many students do not choose a book that they can actually read independently and with success.
A teacher or parent can provide feedback by matching the book to the reader. This can be done by having the student read aloud while the teacher listens and records the miscues. Typically, I count the errors on a page. If it’s more than five-the book is too hard.

If the book is too difficult, it will lead to frustration; too little of a challenge will lead to boredom. So the book needs to be “just right.” A just right book is one that provides a little bit of a challenge for the student. It should be a book that the student finds interesting and can be read with a small amount of assistance with the text. Spending time reading just right books during independent reading time will help students become stronger.

It would be acceptable, occasionally, for a student to choose a slightly difficult book they are interested in a specific subject and finds a difficult book that centers on this subject. However, providing a steady diet of books that are too difficult for the student will cause more harm. The student needs to understand and enjoy the book for reading success. Many students who choose hard books give up on the book out of frustration.

Reading lots of easy books will build confidence and fluency. Pattern books, predictable stories, and familiar books will provide the student with the opportunity to work on building a level of comfort and self-reliance. Reading fluency and comprehension are linked. Students who spend a great deal of energy on decoding lose all meaning of the story. A student who has difficulty with fluency may have been reading at a frustration level for quite some time. Finding the right level of books for this student is essential. Matching the book to the reader will provide an opportunity for the student to read with comprehension and relative ease. Reading is about gaining meaning, so students should be reading manageable texts and understanding what they read.

Easy books allow students to focus on the meaning and think deeper about characters and plot. However, too much easy reading will not promote growth in reading. This is when teacher input is vital. Observing the students closely and monitoring their progress will give the teacher the information to move the student gently to more difficult books. As the student moves to just right books, he or she will continue to develop reading skills. The text should be challenging enough to allow the student to work out problems or learn a new strategy.

What to do:

Children need to learn how to choose a book. Giving them the opportunity to choose from a small group of books is a beginning. Modeling how to look through a book--looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, and scanning the illustrations--will provide students with an excellent example. Many teachers explain the five-finger rule to their students. This rule reminds students to count on their fingers every time they miss a word in a particular book. If they miss five words, the book may be too hard. If they miss three words or fewer, it might be “just right”.

A just right book is a book the student finds interesting and can confidently read and understand with
a small amount of support. These books also make the student stretch a little bit so that they have opportunities to apply the strategies they have been learning and to experience new vocabulary and different genres.

Another way to help students choose an appropriate book is to teach them about the “Goldilocks” strategy. This strategy has three categories: Too Hard, Just Right, and Too Easy. The students answer several questions for each category. If the answers are “yes,” the book probably fits into that category. Modeling this strategy for students will help them understand before they have to apply it independently. This strategy has been modified from its original to meet the needs of primary students.

Too Easy

  • Have you read it lots of times before?
  • Do you understand the story very well?
  • Do you know almost every word?
  • Can you read it smoothly?

Just Right

  • Is the book new to you?
  • Do you understand a lot of the book?
  • Are there just a few words on a page you don’t know?
  • When you read, are some places smooth and some choppy?

Too Hard

  • Are there more than five words on a page you don’t know?
  • Are you confused about what is happening in most of this book?
  • When you read, does it sound choppy?
  • Is everyone else busy and unable to help you?

Developing criteria with your students for choosing a just right book is an additional effective activity. Students develop the guidelines along with the teacher. This can be accomplished during a shared writing activity. Students naturally include enjoyment and understanding as items on their list. The criteria can be listed on a chart and kept in a prominent spot as a reminder.

Choosing books that are just right for students and teaching them how to choose for themselves is an essential piece of a successful reading program. Struggling readers as well as successful readers need to have the opportunity to practice what they have learned. Teachers have the opportunity to make this happen in their classrooms. Choosing books that are appropriate for students involves many various considerations. Student interest, reading purpose, and reading level are just a few of those considerations. Independent reading combined with read-alouds, shared reading, and guided reading can provide students with a variety of experiences. Students benefit from daily opportunities to read books they choose for themselves for their own purposes and pleasures.

October Show and Tell

This month has been a crazy fun filled adventure. The year is getting into full swing with students creating systems they need to be successful and show they understand what they are reading. Here is a view into my room this month.

This set of posters was added last month to help all students check their behaviors. I love this as I set a visual expectation for each task like "Group Instruction" or "Test." Students are aware of what the expectations are before I start talking. YEAH!!!

I love putting things in pictures. Pictures move faster to the brain than words. This one has become our Problem Solving Rubric which shows not tells students what is needed to score a 3 on the rubric. Problem Solving is one skill I want students' to take back to the classroom. The picture helps remind them what it needs to look like.

Book Tasting any one? This was how students' showed they created meaning from what they read. We even shot videos that show them out at a picnic. The fun they created with a green screen. It was amazing to see what they liked and disliked about what they read. The picture was the hardest (yes, the hardest) thing for them to create as it needed to show something from what they read.

This month has been about putting in place systems. I have two groups moving more towards being a grade level and need more time to work in a rotation schedule. In their time with me, they will over a week work through three stations plus guided reading. As they also need to have time to show how they create meaning strategically in what they are reading with each book. We'll see-this could be a big fail.

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Best Practices: Number Sense

Number sense begins very early and must be a focus of primary math. This is the solid foundation in math that all kids need.

A sense of numbers is critical for primary students to develop math problem solving skills.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics increasingly calls for districts to give more attention to building this skill, and studies have found that number sense accounts for 66% of the variance in first grade math achievement.  The council have also addressed five critical areas that are characteristic of students who have good number sense:

  • Number Meaning
  • Relationships Between Numbers
  • Number Magnitude
  • Operations Involving Numbers
  • Referents for Numbers/Quantities (referents are words or phrases that denote what something stands for)


Having a sense of how numbers work is a very broad topic that covers all numerical thinking. At its core, it is making sense of math concepts and mathematical reasoning.

Operationally, it is counting skills, having number knowledge, using estimation, and the ability to use problem solving strategies.

Knowing the why of how numbers work is of utmost importance, and children should not be shown the how until they understand the "why."   Techniques such as using ten frames and using concrete models to show place value concepts are daily necessities for young children.

Inquiry-based approaches (such as math dice games) to teaching children mathematics should be utilized as primary teaching methods in the early grades.

This is not to say that explicit teaching of sense of numbers skills is not essential, especially for those students from low socio-economic status.  We absolutely need to do this.

It is saying that teachers should provide multiple opportunities for students to experience numbers and make connections before putting the pencil to paper.

Carefully consider your objectives and the type of learners in your room when choosing a math game to include. NCTM also suggests you consider:

  • the type of mathematical practices involved in each game (there should be more than one)
  • how feedback will be given
  • does the game encourage competition, collaboration and communication?
  • the types of strategies students will have to use to solve a puzzle or to win

Seven ways teachers can directly impact a developing sense of number.

1. Link school math to real-world experiences
Present students with situations that relate to both inside and outside classroom experiences. Students need to recognize that numbers are useful for solving problems.

2. Model different computing methods
Focus on what methods make sense for different situations. There is no one right way to compute. We need our students to be flexible thinkers.

3. Mental Math
Real life requires mental computation. Students need to be able to move numbers around in their heads and discuss their strategies.

4. Discuss Strategies
Students must be able to explain their reasoning. This not only will give you insight into how they think, but also will help the children to cement their own ideas and reevaluate them.

5. Estimate
This should be embedded in problem solving. This is not referring to textbook rounding. Real life estimation is about making sense of a problem and using anchor numbers to base reasoning on.

6. Question Students About Reasoning Strategies
All the time, not just when they make a mistake. Constantly probing sends several important messages: your ideas are valued, math is about reasoning, and there are always alternative ways to look at a problem.

7. Measuring Activities
When teaching children mathematics, measuring activities should be front and center. Make students verify estimates through doing.

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.

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