Reading Plans: The Power of a TBR List

In every spare minute of time I’ve had with students for the past month that hasn’t included standardized testing, I’ve tried to talk books with them.  I’d recently given them a reading interest survey and when I was conferencing with them individually about their responses, one thing struck me as being the same among all of them.

It was the way they answered the question, “What do you plan to read next?”

They all replied in one of three ways:

1) “I don’t know,” or

2) they listed a familiar (and very independent level!) book, or

3) they simply left it blank.

The beginning of our year was very exciting, particularly with the “Grand Opening” of our classroom library.  I cordoned off the shelves with yellow CAUTION tape and we utilized the first couple weeks of school to become researchers in our own library. We had mini-lessons about how it was categorized and  the maintenance and care of the library, while pulling out a few labeled bins at a time to scour the contents, and share with each other titles, authors, and series of interest that the kids wanted to read or recommend to others.  The library officially opened, students enthusiastically engaged with texts, and reading stamina was rising. Things were on a roll.  But that’s not good enough.

As a reader, I am constantly getting recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, and students about books or authors they think I should check out.  If I don’t happen to have my iPhone with me, I frantically grab for a pen and piece of paper so that I can record those recommendations to prevent them from becoming lost in the daily minutia that’s filed in my brain.

Enter… my To Be Read List.

My TBR List is a critical tool for my reading life.  It keeps me going… it fuels my literary fire.  It prevents me from falling into reading slumps. It gives me options and a plan, when I may not be able to decide where I want to focus my attention next as a reader. My TBR List keeps me current with new and popular books and authors. It keeps me in touch with what my friends and colleagues are reading, as they share theirs with me and vice versa.

So to hear that my students weren’t formulating a plan for where they were headed next as readers meant that I had to re-examine my instruction.  I needed to help them understand what an important lifelong strategy… what an important habit it is.  I shared my TBR List with them.  I shared the stories that led to the stories on my list- how each title had “made the cut,” how I categorize my reads: personal, professional, & children’s texts.  We talked about the benefit of having those written down, in order to be an efficient, well-prepared reader.  I also shared with them the times that I chose to edit my list… moving titles up or down on it, adding to it, deleting from it.

And then we set to work.

Each student got their own blank TBR List to be kept in their reader’s/writer’s notebook.  We dedicated an afternoon to crafting our TBRs and when we were finished, we talked about our choices.  I even added a couple more books to my own list that day.  One student, who has not truly viewed herself as a reader prior to this year, happily shared with me 7 titles she had added, through browsing and talking with others.  Students are now diligently maintaining their TBRs and as we come together for book talks, we make sure to bring them with us, pencil in hand, poised for the next great addition to our reading life plan.


This was one of my favorite places to record my TBR Lists,

prior to switching over to my iPhone. 

Old school, but I still love it!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?



Please be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”


When word gets around that Sharon Creech has written a new book, it’s a sure bet among the education community that it’s going to be worth a read!  This was definitely the case with “The Boy on the Porch.” 


As soon as I picked up this 150-page text yesterday, I couldn’t put it down.  I burned through it in less than a couple hours!  This is a fantastic middle grade read! Here’s the premise:

One day John and Marta, a married couple, find a mysterious young boy sleeping on their front porch. They have no idea where he came from or who he belongs to. The only clue they have comes in the form of a note, which says,

“Plees taik kair of Jacob.

He is a god  good boy.

Wil be bak wen we can.”

Despite wondering, as I turned each page, what was going to become of Jacob and when his “people” were going to return, I also became intrigued by his many special talents and idiosncrasies.  Unable to speak, Jacob has an uncanny way of communicating with animals and unique artistic abilities.  During Jacob’s visit, Marta and John are individually transformed and their life as a couple undergoes a dramatic change as well.  They become a family. But the question always looms… How long will Jacob stay and how long can their family last?

Sharon Creech creates a tale with with a sense of urgency and mystery on every page. For that reason, “The Boy on the Porch” would make a wonderful read aloud for third and fourth graders and a delightful independent read for fifth and sixth graders, or for that matter, readers of all ages!


The other new (to me) series that I’ve been reading is the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka.  This graphic novel series is hilarious and totally accessible for readers in grades 2 and up! Boys and girls alike will find these books enjoyable and funny. Hector, Dee, and Terrance team up in Book #1 to discover the mystery behind the school superhero with a spatula. As the book says, “she’s not only serving up lunch, she’s serving up justice!” I just purchased the first five books in the series and I can’t wait to share them with my students!

That’s it for this week… I’m hoping to get more reading in this week, as I have some new titles on their way! 

Happy reading, everyone!




It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


As always, be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

I am so excited to share with you what I’ve been reading this week! One of my favorite (and my students’ favorite!) authors had a “book birthday” on Thursday! Ame Dyckman, author of “Boy + Bot,” released her second picture book, “Tea Party Rules” and I have been so anxious to read it.

Tea Party Rules

A wayward bear cub’s nose leads him to some yummy cookies and a young girl’s backyard tea party.  Cub quickly realizes that there are certain rules- tea party rules- that he must follow. Will Cub comply with the girl’s code of conduct in order to snag the delicious treats or is it all too much for him to bear? (ok, pun intended!) The illustrator, K.G. Campbell, uses wonderful pastel hues done in colored pencil which contribute greatly to the mood of this lighthearted tale.

Tea Party Rules is a delightfully giggly book about friendship, imagination, and childhood fun!

 What Readers Really Do

Professionally, I’ve been reading “What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making” by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton.  I bought this book on the recommendation of my friend and Maine Reading Association colleague, Susan Dee.  She is one of my “go to” sources for what is new and great in the world of education and from what I’ve read so far, her latest recommendation is spot on!  You know you’ve got a great text on your hands your hands when you start highlighting it on the first page of the Introduction!  Here are some gems that I have read so far from the authors…

“…researchers have now discovered that, more than smaller class size, more than better funding, more than higher standards or benchmarks, what affects student performance the most is the classroom teacher” (p. 2).

“…we don’t want students to take on or consume our own interpretations of texts; we want them to construct their own. This means that we need to teach each student the way readers think as they read, not what to think, helping them to experience texts as readers, rather than putting specific thoughts about a text in their heads” (p. 7).

Another aspect of reading that Barnhouse and Vinton address is the issue of a declining focus on narrative texts.  With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the call for students to be college and career ready, there has been increased concentration on expository texts. However, the authors point out that instruction on narrative texts is imperative for several reasons. They are the texts that contain several layers of meaning and, as a result, lead to deeper thinking and higher levels of comprehension.  The authors state that narratives are also a vehicle for teaching empathy… readers get a chance to become someone else, live their lives through another character, and learn from that experience. “This is no small matter in educating students who will be citizens, leaders, and caretakers of our world” (p. 11).

I can’t wait to delve deeper into this book!

Jenn Felt is a certified K-8 teacher, K-6 Literacy Coach, and K-12 Literacy Specialist with 17 years of experience in the field of education. In addition to her work in elementary classrooms, she is an adjunct faculty member for the College of Education at the University of Maine. Jenn facilitates workshops on a variety of literacy topics at the local, regional, and national level. Currently, she is on the executive board of the Maine Reading Association and is pursuing her National Board certification in the area of literacy. Jenn is passionate about putting high-quality texts in the hands of young readers, creating learning environments for optimal student achievement, and developing strong family-school-community relationships. She can be contacted at:

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