I have come across a few good book lists lately and wanted to pass them along. 

1.  The first one is from a blog called Nerdy Book Club and the post addresses reluctant readers.  The link below does not appear to be a live link so you have to cut and paste into your browser. 


2. The second list is from a blog from the National Council of Teachers of English and this one has some great ideas for sharing cultural diverse materials with your students.  There are some great thinking/writing prompts as well.  Again...you have to cut and paste into your browser. 


3.  This last list caught my eye because of the hashtag on Twitter.  #thatbookthat  The list is a compilation of favorite educational reads from a school district in California.  They created it in Padlet.com which is an awesome site (try it!).  It is visually appealing and has some interesting choices for professional reading, as well a few favorite novels and picture books.  There are a few religious choices in there as it is was a Catholic School summit.  I love the idea of compiling a list of favorite reads for our staff.  



1. "What would you do?" Continuum Activity:  This is an example of a scenario that can be used to begin a class discussion or a continuum activity.  This activity has all students get up and from a line/continuum according to the way they would answer the question asked.  Then as students share why they put themselves where they did on the continuum, students can move along the continuum as they hear the arguments and explanations of their classmates.  

2. "How Certain Are You?", A what do you think/believe activity:  This type of questionnaire can be used to start a class and then the responses are used as the basis of the class discussion- in pairs, small groups or as a whole class (students are given a paper with several statements and are asked to rate their validity from Inconceivable to absolutely certain it is true)


Here are two strategies to improve comprehension.  

1. Hot Seat : This is an activity where students take turns being in the “hot seat” while their classmates write character traits on the board behind them.

Place names of characters into a container to grab.

Send the "hot seat" student out of the room and then choose a character name

Invite the “hot seat” student back into the room to sit in the hot seat facing away from the white board.  

Meanwhile, each person silently writes one character trait on the board 

When they are done, the “hot seat” determines what character is being described.  

Take turns by choosing other characters names.  Each round takes about five minutes once you get going.  

2.  Question the Author during your read aloud.

This is a strategy to use during your read aloud.  The goal is to model that readers stop and think while reading and to know that someone wrote the text and they need to be engaged in trying to figure out what the author is trying to tell them by working to understand their ideas.

Here are some prompts to begin your own questions:

How does the author make you feel when…

Why does the author tell you that…

Why does the author have this character do…

What does the author want you to think…

What does the author mean when she/he says…


I wanted to share a flexible discussion strategy to have with students that would work best when you have completed a book.  I included an organizer from Read, Write, Think that you could use to guide the discussion or you could model the discussion the first time through and then ask students to try it on their own with a second character or the next novel you complete.  

The topic is “People Do Change”  

1.  Open the discussion by reflecting on a character’s personality and other notable traits and ask students if they think the character has changed over the course of the novel.  

2.  Describe what the character was like in the beginning of the book - You will want to have a particular passage marked that reveals his or her personality. 

3.  Ask students to determine or make inferences for how and why the character changed.  Was the change in personality traits?  In values?  Did he or she learn a lesson?  Did they show a new understanding about life or people?  

4.  Select a passage from the end of the book that shows the change OR ask students to select passages they think shows the change. 


As we head towards April, which is National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a lesson where you could teach or discuss narrative story elements using a poem. You could keep the lesson focused on elements or you could search for a poem that relates to your Ignite topic or one that corresponds to themes in your novels. There is poetry relative to everything out there. 

I have included the poem, “Hey” by David Harrison as a sample poem - Reading a poem like this will help build understanding as students explore meaning, make inferences, and identify elements through a new genre. There are clear settings, a protagonist, an antagonist, a problem, and possible theme ideas to analyze. 


Here is a bingo game to practice parts of speech. I included four parts of speech but this can be adapted for any others. This can be adapted to practice other skills - I have used bingo to practice story elements. 


I found this list of prompts and questions for specific issues or topics.  I thought they might be broad enough to use or help inspire some ideas.  I apologize for the grainy photocopy!  These are from the book Differentiating Reading Instruction by Laura Robb and it is a fabulous resource.


As reading teachers, we often ask students to recall specific story elements and events to create a “story map.” Some questions we ask might be literal recall but students need to know that stories follow a structure. So it might be necessary to practice using a framework to help them think about and understand what they are reading. I created a bookmark that will help students establish and solidify the elements. This might give them the confidence to think more deeply and eventually begin talking about the story more. This idea came from O’Donnell and Wood; Becoming a Reader. 


The strategy I want to share today is Challenge Envelopes and it can be very versatile outside of the outlined procedure below depending on what you want the focus to be.  Challenge Envelopes build comprehension and the questions are student generated.  

Challenge envelopes require small group work. Each group is required to think of a challenging question about a specified topic. Then, the question is written on the outside of an envelope and put into a pile of other questions. The questions are scrambled and each group gets a different envelope. They are required to discuss and provide responses to their question(s) and check it against the original provided answer. 

Purpose: To facilitate review and/or higher level processing of a topic or concept.

Description: This activity is designed to provide students with opportunities to formulate challenging questions regarding a topic or concept and to be challenged by the questions of others.  You might need to coach students on types of questions; they should aim for thicker questions that inspire discussion and require text evidence for support.  Coach them to avoid thin questions that can be answered with a simple yes/no or just a few words.  


  • Divide the class into small groups.
  • Give each group of students an envelope.

Have each group write a challenge question on the front of the envelope. Encourage higher level questions that have prompts like:

What might be…?

What could be…?

What if…?

  • Have each group generate the answer or criteria for a response and include a sample response. These should all be placed inside the envelope.
  • Scramble the envelopes and distribute the envelopes through the class. 
  • When a group receives an envelope, the question is to be addressed and then can be checked against the answer or criteria inside the envelope.
  • Have each group put their own response to the question inside the envelope when they are done. They should then send the envelope back into circulation.
  • As the envelopes begin to fill with responses, the groups are to compare their responses to the others that are in the envelope.

Alternative Challenge Envelopes

  • Teacher writes questions on the front of the envelopes, then each group will put their responses in the envelope. 
  • Write an emotion on the outside of the envelope and students can cite text evidence where characters exhibited this emotion.
  • Write a vocabulary word on the outside of the envelope and students try to define it and determine context in the novel.


Here is a strategy called Walk Around Survey.  It is very versatile as far as topics and can foster some independence in student discussions while you take some time to sit back and observe. At the end of the directions I have offered some ideas for topics and provided questions but you can tailor this survey to any topic or set of questions. This activity can be used as either an activating or summarizing strategy. You can limit to a chapter or the entire novel. I have provided the template for students to copy or write their own questions and capture answers from those they survey.

PURPOSE: To activate students' prior knowledge through conversation and movement

DESCRIPTION: Walk Around Survey can be used as an activating or summarizing strategy.  In this activity, students are given a topic of study and asked to move around the room for the purpose of conversing with other students.  During these conversations, students will share what they know of the topic and discover what others have learned.


1. Assign a topic for the Walk Around Survey.

2. Pass out a survey form (blank template) to each student in the class.

3. Allow students an allotted amount of time to survey three classmates (informers) on the given topic.

4. When students are completing the survey form, the soliciting student should write the name of the informer on his/her worksheet in the left-hand   column. He/she will then interview and record three facts from the student informer on the worksheet in the three empty blocks. He/she will then move on to find a second and third informing student to complete the survey worksheet.

5. Have students return to their seats and complete the Survey Summary. (This is optional!)



1.     What is the most positive trait you could use to describe the main character (name) in our novel?

2.     What critical mistakes has a main character (name) made? 

3.     How has the main character (name) changed throughout the course of the novel? 

4.     Is the main character avoiding something or someone? 


1.     What is one important setting detail from the novel?

2.     How does the main character feel when he or she is in a part of the setting?  

3.     If your best friend informed you he or she would be moving into the setting of this novel, how would you react? 

4      If you had to label the setting as one type of mood…what would it be?    


This is a vocabulary strategy for using context clues to determine meanings.  

1.  You share a list of possible unknown words with page numbers for students to refer back to.

2.  Students decide the degree to which they know a word and share an idea of the definition.  

3.  This is designed as partner work.  

4. A variation might be to have students read a chapter or section and jot down unfamiliar words with page numbers and then switch with their partner.  


This is a strategy where students can jot notes about a person in a non-fiction text or a fictional character. This pyramid offers one way for students to see the complexity of characters/people and the many ways authors reveal information directly or indirectly. The prompts can be modified to spotlight different methods of characterization or ideas you want students to notice.  


This is specific to my survival reading group, but it is a book mark and a place for students to collect or scavenge connections to the books we are reading. It has a lot going on so if you have any questions let me know. It contains a few of Amy’s ideas including Clicks or Clunks, Highs and Lows, Vocab, and survival theme categories. It also has a place for an incentive where I stamp their bookmark. You could add to or change it to fit in with your theme.

When we have discussion circles we focus on one of the parts on the brochure, as students volunteer they read the paragraph they are connecting to, then add their connections or we define and discuss the vocabulary word in it, etc...

I print it in color front to back… and I have copies if you want to see one.


This strategy can be open ended, such as choosing a passage or quote they like in order to share with the group or you might ask them to prove an inference or support an idea with their choices.

Purpose: To explore a text while staying focused and at the same time build on one another’s thinking.


1. Each group is given time to look over the text briefly, and note a passage/sentence or two which has particular meaning for them.

 2. The group then chooses one person to be a time keeper. 

 3. The first person begins by reading his/her quotation, sharing where in the text it is from and explaining why they chose it (approximately 5 minutes).  

 4. Proceeding around the circle, the remaining people get to respond briefly (approximately 1 minute each).

 5. Then the first person has the “final word” to respond to what was said (approximately 2 minutes).

 6. Repeat steps 1-5 for each group member.


There are no rules or guidelines for this strategy (except that it should happen on Wednesdays). Just have some fun with it and take some time to compare and contrast anything. You could think about characters, setting, or story lines with current events or movies. You could use the template provided or just draw a huge Venn Diagram on your white board. This could become a Wednesday routine. 


Students can try turning vocabulary ideas into a game. Students can review and summarize words and concepts to increase comprehension.


Divide your class into two different teams. Write a vocabulary word on the board. The students who think they know the answer can stand up. Also, students who are bluffing that they know the answer can also stand. The teacher calls on a student at random to define the word. If the student gets it, his team gets points for every team member that is standing. If the student does not get it, the team loses points for every team member standing. The team with the most points at the end wins.


Eliminator is a game of speed and it can get your class really excited about vocabulary. Have two students come to the front of the class and sit in chairs. You read them a word and the players race to see who can get their hands up the fastest. The player who gets his hand up first gets to answer. If he/she answers correctly, he/she gets a point and stays up and a new challenger comes up. Give a new word and if the person who got the first one right gets another he/she gets 2 points. The point total keeps doubling the longer the winner stays up. If the challenger wins, he/she gets one point and a new challenger comes up. At the end of the class, the student with the most points wins.


Write a word on the board (Rainforest) and kids have to come up and write (going up or down) words related to the book, starting with (or containing if you want) the letters from the word you wrote (see image under resources).

Game 1: Second letter

Class divided into 2 teams. You start with a word related to the book somehow and team one has to come up with a word (also related to the book somehow) that starts with the second letter of the previous word.

Game 2: Two or more part phrases

Two teams or more if you want. I start with a phrase that has two parts (sometimes it's more than two words): pencil case. Team 1 has to come up with a phrase that starts with CASE: Case manager. Team 2 has to come up with a phrase that starts with MANAGER: Manager's special. And it goes on: special event / event coordinator, etc. etc. The kids came up with some pretty darn good phrases.


You could post a sentence from the text on the board to spotlight a difficult or important word and have the whole class do the same one or you could pass the strips out and have students complete one on their own. You could have the group share their words to the class or they could share them with a partner or in a small group There are times when they are very close and times when they are so far off but hopefully this gets them in the habit of noticing unknown words instead of skipping over them. I used to keep a bucket in my classroom and they would drop them in. Then I would draw one slip a week and give a prize to the person whose slip was drawn. The kids loved it!


I used this as a way to encourage students to notice and appreciate beautiful or powerful imagery. There are some examples on the front to illustrate and then blank lines on the back for students to record the images they find.  


I am passing along two ideas to help you check the pulse of your Ignite classes. Entry and exit slips can be really effective to gauge comprehension, they can be used for reflection, or you can use them simply to check in with those quieter learners. A link to two are under the resources tab that I have used and both can be modified for your specific needs. 


I just read an article about the benefits of podcasts to aid in comprehension. The results are stronger when students are looking at the transcript while they are listening. The article references high school students but there are many podcasts that are appropriate for middle school students as well. Here is the link to the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-benefits-of-podcasts-in-class/473925/. I thought this might a nice accompanyment to support Ignite themes, take a break from novels, and spark conversations comparing events in podcasts to events in the books you are reading. I would recommend listening to the full podcast before using in to ensure the content is right for your group.

Here are a few examples:

Katie Franzoni has a mystery suspense theme for Ignite. I found a podcast that is an old time radio detective hour with lots of different stories, http://www.otr.com/blog/?tag=suspense, and a second one that has a wide variety of historical mysteries and urban legends, http://www.strangematterspodcast.com/episode-guide/.

Wendy Day-Maynard has a sports theme for Ignite and there are innumerable sports podcasts but SI has one and they have stories from Muhammed Ali to Steph Curry to HS football in Texas, http://www.si.com/si-vault-podcast.

I am happy to search for podcasts for your theme - there are a lot to choose from.


This activity I  stemmed from a chart an artist named, Phillip Niemeyer created to interpret an entire decade with just a symbol, a word, or a picture. The work of art is titled, “Picturing the Past Ten years.” A PDF of his chart is in a link under resources. This same activity can be used for a play or novel. I have used it in the past when I taught “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I know I have some students exemplars somewhere and will send it along if I find one. For now, I included a student exemplar I found from a book. You can use this chart to capture students interpretations one chapter or scene at a time or have them complete the chart after completing the whole novel or play. Students can work individually, in pairs, or groups. I included blank templates for both novel and plays for you to use as is or modify.


This strategy is a nice litmus test to see what students are noticing about characters. I like it because it is quick yet uncovers much insight. It can be a one time check in, it can be ongoing, it can be completed individually, or it can be a collective effort. I have shared a blank template for you to use as is or modify to fit your needs. You could recreate the template onto chart paper if you wanted to complete this as a whole group. I have also included a completed exemplar for you to share with students. A PDF is located in a link under resources. The purpose is to think about what characters go through. Are students able to chart specific important events and at the same time gauge emotions a character MIGHT be experiencing even if it’s not explicitly stated? This also gives students a chance to share their own reactions as readers. It’s interesting to discuss or see students feelings, judgments, or indifference around the charted events.

Step 1 Make a list of important events in the story, chapter, scene, etc.

Step 2 Plot the events in sequential order and chart their emotions - the higher up on the graph…that happier he or she was as a result of the event and the lower on the graph is sadness or disappointment.

Step 3 Once you have plotted events and charted emotions of the characters have your readers chart their own reactions to the events on a sticky note and post them next to the event.

Step 4 Share and discuss results of graphs.


I have attached a list of generic questions you can modify to generate discussions. See the PDF link under