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Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Skype

Have you found teaching the 50 states and/or geography to be a bore? Well, I've got a solution for you! Last year, I introduced my students to Mystery Skype and found it to be a fun and engaging way to increase their geographic knowledge and map skills. It encourages critical thinking skills, communication, and deductive reasoning. In fact, when asked about their top 3 favorite memories of fifth grade, Mystery Skype made the list of more than half of my students!

What is Mystery Skype?

So, what exactly is Mystery Skype? If you've ever played 20 questions or were a fan of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (I know I might actually be showing my age here), it is similar! Students connect via Skype or Google Hangouts with a class in a mystery location and take turns asking yes or no questions that will help them to figure out the location (country, state, city) of the other class. Some classes guess only the state, but others will also attempt the city. I like to do this because we're in California and our state is pretty easy to guess. Guessing to the city gives my students the chance to guess something first! Some classes even guess to the exact school, but I haven't tried that piece with my students yet! This should be student led and can take 45-60 minutes.

"Are you east of the Mississippi River?"

The questions students ask should help them to narrow down the location. They should also be specific. I don't allow my students to ask near/close questions because our own definitions of near/close can greatly differ. I've included a compilation of some sample questions that we've used since we started, questions I've gathered from peers and our past connections. You can grab them by clicking the image below.


Your students will need map skills to be successful. We spent about a month reviewing/learning major U.S. rivers, mountain ranges, regions, cardinal directions, geographical terms like landlocked and coastal, reading maps, and learning to read longitude and latitude. Speaking of which, the one thing to consider about Mystery Skype is that your students have to be knowledgeable about their own area as well because they have to be able to answer the questions of the other class. We had some real stumpers last year (especially those longitude and latitude questions). If you plan to go to city, Google Maps is really helpful. We also use Mapquest and ask distance questions (Is your city less than/more than 50 miles from ______.) We are lucky enough to have laptops that we can use during our Mystery Skype. We've done some mock Mystery Skypes in class where I chose a place and students asked me questions to figure out my location. I think this really helped them to be prepared for the real thing.


I have laminated maps that my students use with dry erase markers so that they can mark off areas as they ask questions and gather information. If you don't have this, simply print out a copy of a U.S. map and give that to your students.

I have a double-sided easel in my room and have a student on each side of it. One records the answers the other class gives, and one records the questions they ask. This way, students have a constant reminder of what they already know and questions to consider when we debrief afterwards.

Google Maps, Google Earth, and even Mapquest can be great tools during a Mystery Skype so you'll definitely want to have access to technology. You will, of course, need a computer that has a webcam and microphone (this is built-in to most computers now) to use Skype or Google Hangouts.

I also have atlases, a state road map (a great tool when we are being asked questions about our location), and a folder filled with resources that students can access during the Mystery Skype. I try to be as hands off as possible during these, so I take a lot of time to prepare my students with everything they will need. Of course, there are times that a question really throws my students and I have to point them in the right direction, but preparation is definitely the key.

It's helpful to have signs to hold up for the other class to see. It can get a little noisy in the room and it helps to communicate your answers and whose turn it is. I created some that I'm happy to share. Click the image below to grab them!

It is extremely helpful to assign students roles during each Mystery Skype. I had an administrator observe our last session and she commented on how well organized my students were. I explained to her that each student was assigned a role ahead of time, with some roles being assigned to multiple students, and that students were informed of the expectations for their roles ahead of time. Last year, I even put duct tape around my floor to mark the sections of the room different roles were assigned to. It kept them focused on their own role and prevented them from attempting to do the work of others. I do rotate the roles each time.

I compiled a list of the potential roles you can use in list format and on cards that you can print and laminate. I pass the cards out to each student when I assign the roles so they have a reminder of what I'm expecting from them during the Mystery Skype. I honestly don't use every role on the list, but you can adapt it and make it work for your classroom in the same way I did for mine. You can click the images below to grab the roles resources.

What Next?

What should you do after the Mystery Skype? I definitely suggest debriefing to discuss what went well and what could be improved. This year, I'm using a bulletin board to showcase our connections. I've placed a U.S. Map on the board and I'm putting a sign up with the location of each place we connect with. Often, there is time for each school to share some facts about their location. Although I haven't created one yet, I was thinking that it would be fun to create a log where students document these facts for future reference. There's just so many possibilities. Make it work for you!

Last Thoughts

Be sure to communicate with the teacher you are connecting with about your expectations. For example, I might not allow near/close questions, but another teacher may be new to this and not have encountered the problems associated with these types of questions. I always make sure to mention that I'd like to avoid those type of questions. I also let them know that we want to guess to their city in case they are not prepared for this. As with anything, if you communicate your expectations ahead of time, you have much better chances of success!

Also, test everything out ahead of time and do your best to follow through on your commitment. Nothing puts a damper on things worse than technology woes

I hope that helps you to understand the ins and outs of Mystery Skype. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. I'm not an expert, but I'm happy to share the knowledge I do have to help you to prepare this fun and engaging activity for your students. I'd also love to connect my fifth grade class with yours! Leave a comment, or send me a message on my Instagram or Facebook account anytime!


Group Work Rules Printable

Eeeeeeeek!!! I'm just a few days away from my first day so this is going to be a very quick post. I wanted to share a group work rules freebie. I glue them on card stock (the cute striped paper is from Michael's) and set them up on each table during group assignments. It never hurts to have a visual reminder of the rules! Click on the image below to grab it.


Accountable Behavior for Upper Elementary Classrooms

At the end of each year, one of the many things that I reflect upon is my behavior management. Last year, I finally said goodbye to my behavior chart and though I was so nervous to do so, it actually went really well. I created some easy Behavior Punch Cards and actually found them very successful, but throughout the year, I took notes on what I could improve the following year. With the new school year less than two weeks away, I began to make some changes. I now feel I have an even better plan in place as I prepare for my thirteenth year of teaching!

I believe that the key components to successful behavior management include student accountability and parent communication. It was with these in mind, that I came up with the following changes:

Change #1: New Behavior Cards With the behavior punch cards, the only person assessing the daily behavior of each student was me. However, I'm teaching fifth grade. That means that my students are old enough to understand expectations and assess themselves based on these expectations. My new cards reflect this, as I've added a 1-5 rating scale with definitions for each rating, and I've added two scales, one for the teacher, and one for the student. Students will be marking their behavior at the end of each day. I will then mark their behavior after they leave so that they can see how our scores compare when they return the next day.

You might be wondering how much paper I will be going through. The answer: not very much. There are two of these cards per page and I laminate them. At first, I thought I'd have to use cardstock and laminate, but I actually didn't. Laminating a regular piece of paper is just fine. I give each student a skinny expo and a baby washcloth (4 in a box for $1 at the Dollar Store) to keep in their pencil box with their card. I'm thinking I will need to make a new card each month, but that remains to be seen. It may be that some students need it replaced sooner than others, and some take such good care of theirs that they never need it replaced at all! I do like the idea of changing out the colors monthly, though. I did my first ones in my favorite color!

Change #2: Tracking Behavior Last year, I felt like students weren't held that accountable for their daily behavior because they'd look at their punched/unpunched card, understood they had a good or bad day, rarely approach me to talk about why they didn't get a punch, and then just move on. Now, I'm all for starting the next day with a clean slate, but I also want my students to be working towards having good behavior each and every day. I decided to create a daily log where students will record the date, their score/rating, my score/rating, and their total points for the day (their score + mine). I also created a section where they have to explain differences between scores. This is the accountability piece I really wanted, where students will have to reflect on their choices and explain why our scores did not match. I'm hoping that this will be increase our chances of communicating about their actions and discussing what they can do differently as they start a new day. These will be kept in a folder and will be a part of their morning routine as they enter the classroom each day.

Changes #3 & #4: Monthly Reflection & Improved Communication to Parents The last thing that I wanted to improve was the way that parents are kept in the loop on communication. I created a monthly behavior report to tackle this. Now, let me be clear for any newer teachers, when behavior is out of control, referrals are written, students are sent to the office, and parents are contacted that day. However, I think that all students should be responsible for tracking and sharing their behavior with their parents from month to month (and in some cases, week to week). If their behavior has then wonderful, then they have something to celebrate, if it has been inconsistent, they have something to discuss, and if it has been awful, this is also something that you have to support you in future conferences with parents or meetings with administration. You'll notice that the top part of this report includes their points, the maximum points possible, the number of days, and then their average points per day. (Bonus points for a little practice with mean here! Younger students could just use a calculator.) For me, I see the goal as the average goal, not the total points, mostly because you are always going to have absences and so an average points per day in attendance makes things a whole lot easier for everyone. 

Now, do I think that every child should have an average of 10 every day? No, I'm realistic. But I'd also have a long discussion with any child who attempts a goal lower than an 8, maybe a 7 in certain situations. I don't believe that I should lower my expectations, and I don't believe my students should, either. 

These will obviously be sent home at the end of each month for parents to review and sign. When they are returned, I will keep the monthly reports and logs in each student's file. Again, this is an important piece of data for future conferences and meetings. When you have a student who is troublesome and a meeting is set-up, everyone wants data. Doing these monthly reports means you will always have behavior data on file if and when it is needed. I've also created weekly behavior reports in the same format for those who need it. 

I'm feeling very good about the changes I've made. I think what I like most is that it puts more responsibility on my students and requires them to think about the choices they've made. I'm very excited to give it a try in less than two weeks! 

If you're interested in grabbing these, I do have them listed in my store. Click on the picture below to check them out.


Book Reviews: An Alternative to Book Reports

For many of us, just hearing the words book report gives us a flashback to tedious reports that we were tasked with completing when we were in school. I remember standing in the front of my class, reading my book report, being bored by my own review, and just as bored by the reviews of the others. The big problem was that they lacked creativity. There was an exact format and so even though we did different books, they all sounded exactly the same. 

So needless to say, I don't want to be THAT teacher, but I do want to know that my students are reading, especially since we do a 40 book challenge. So I started to play around with the idea of book reviews. I'm a voracious reader, and Goodreads is one of my favorite websites. I love to keep track of the books I want to read, the books my friends are reading, and also write book reviews when I've completed a book. I like getting my voice heard and sharing my opinion. 

What's that? A book review is opinion writing? That's right! This doesn't just cover reading comprehension, it's also going to cover opinion writing. Don't you just love it when you can double dip? I know do! 

Now, there are tons of formats for book reviews. I know this just from reading reviews on Goodreads, but I also saw that teachers are doing these in many different ways. I did a lot of reading on what others are doing, and then decided what I wanted to see in the reviews of my students, as well as what was appropriate for fifth grade (which ruled Goodreads out). I knew right away that I wanted students to share their reviews so that they would serve as recommendations and encourage their classmates to select the books they were reading about. 

The first thing I did is decide what components I wanted to see, or what my requirements would be. I decided I wanted the following, not necessarily in this order, but pretty close to it:
  • a creative review title
  • an introduction with the title, author, and genre
  • a short summary that DOES NOT give the ending away - again, I want these to serve as recommendations, so it's important that they not give the ending away so others will actually want to read and find out what happens
  • the above bullet can still apply for nonfiction, but the summary would be focused on the main topics
  • a detailed description of the main character or characters/a more detailed description of interesting topics if nonfiction
  • their opinion of the book with a rating on a five-star scale 
  • two personal reactions - reasons why they rated the book the way they did, with supporting evidence
  • a recommendation - a sentence or two describing the perfect audience for this book
Students had two options for presenting their book reviews, Kidblog, which I love because it is private to just our class. You can get a free membership, but I did the paid one just so that I would have all of the perks since I used it for more than just book reviews. 

Below is what the main Kidblog page looks like. It displays all of the book reviews for our whole class. We did talk about coming up with more creative pictures for their headings (as well as copyright issues related to that) and I plan to more strict about that this coming school year. 

T his is what the student book reviews look like when you select one from the main page. Students are required to comment at least one review per week. 

If you are interested in using Kidblog, you can grab a copy of my step-by-step directions for creating their post by clicking the picture below: 

The other option was a video review and womp, womp, womp - no one did it. 😞 But, I did give the option, and even made my own example video (after about 200 takes...thanks to my extremely patient hubby). Maybe this year will be the year of the video review. My fingers are crossed! 

As these are graded, I did create a book review rubric. You can click on the picture to download the rubric. 

If you are interested in grabbing everything I created, I recently listed my book review pack in my TPT store. You can click the picture below to see the listing. 


California Dreaming Giveaway

Many TPT sellers are preparing for a trip to California for the annual conference, being held in Anaheim this year. You're probably thinking that I will be headed there since I'm currently living in California, but I won't actually be attending. However, I have a really good excuse to not attend - my husband is coming home after a six-month deployment! I haven't seen him since January so as much as I love all things TPT, I'm perfectly ok with missing out this time!

But...I don't want to miss out on all of the fun so I've joined up with some amazing sellers to bring you a fantastic giveaway. We've teamed up to offer 6 gift cards, each one worth $50 to the place of your choice! Eyeing some flexible seating options at IKEA? We've got you! Need to stock up on those $1 Crayola crayons, markers, and colored pencils at Target? We've got you! Maybe you just want to treat yourself to a nice dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. You can do that, too! If you win, you choose! Pretty awesome, right?

Our giveaway runs from July 8-14. Winners will be announced after the giveaway closes. The best part is that each time you follow a seller, you get another entry, and you'll want to follow these amazing sellers because together, we've got everything you need to be prepared for another amazing school year! Are you ready to get your entry on?


Using Book Journals for Accountable Independent Reading

I'm in a lot of teacher groups on Facebook and one of the questions that pops up most often is, How do you hold students accountable for independent reading? This is a question I have pondered throughout my years of teaching and I've struggled to find the perfect solution. Last year, when I read The Book Whisperer, I read about book journals and I was intrigued. I loved the idea of having a book chat with a student using a weekly journal and so I gave it a try. This post will explore my first experience with weekly book journals for independent reading.

I purchased a composition book for each student and handed them out on the first day. I told students that this book would be a conversation between us about the books they were reading. I presented them with a model book journal and I gave them a list of journal ideas should they get writer's block. I explained that they only needed to complete one thoughtful entry each week, to be turned in by Friday. They were excited to not have weekly logs, but I also told them that while they were not writing nightly, they should still be reading nightly. 

Now, let me digress for a minute. As a teacher, I know that the question that you want to ask is But how did you know they were reading nightly? The answer is that I didn't. I've become realistic after 12 years in the classroom. Some students are going to read every night and some students are not. The fact is, their lives outside of the classroom are sometimes chaotic with sports, helping with their siblings, and other family engagements. What is important to me is that they are reading at some point and I'm pretty confident that I build enough authentic excitement for reading in the classroom that most of my students will actually want to read on their own. As teachers, we're responsible for introducing students to new books daily and showing them that reading can be an enjoyable adventure. I also happen to be a voracious reader so there is not acting in my classroom, I am truly passionate and excited each time I get a new book in my hand! I also open my classroom early to readers who don't have a quiet space at home and yes, students do show up! 

The first journals were pretty good! For me, it was exciting to see what my students were reading and how they were responding to the characters and events in their stories. Of course, my students who were already in love with books turned in journals that were much more detailed, but I was happy to see that my struggling readers and English Language Learners were also able to write several sentences about their reading. It was fun to write back to each one of them. This is also where I was able to get them to "dig deeper" with their responses. When I wrote back to them, I asked them questions that would activate more critical thinking about the text. When I first started the journals, one of my biggest concerns was that I wouldn't be able to evaluate their comprehension strategies and skills, but I did not need to worry about that. Our conversations were authentic and I was able to better activate their use of skills and strategies through these journals than I ever was with a reading log. If you're new to teaching and so these skills and strategies won't come naturally to you just yet, don't worry. A quick Google search of ELA stem starters for your grade level and state will give you lots of resources. When you find some good ones, print them out and have them handy when you are responding to journals. After awhile, it will come naturally. Here's some examples: 

Now, another question that you are going to have is Did you grade them, Mrs. O? I marked them for completion only. The point of this is not to get a grade, it's to monitor their independent reading and guide students to think deeper about the book they are reading. I don't know that there is a proper rubric for that. For me, it's more of an informal assessment that doesn't need a grade, because the proof is in the journal. 

Speaking of which, guess what else your students are doing? They are writing! That's right, book journals trick your students in to working on their writing and reading at the same time! Genius, isn't it? Now, some teachers including the writer of The Book Whisperer, do not correct grammar or spelling in the journals. Now, I do not take the red pen of death (just kidding, I use pretty Flair pens of death) to the journal, but I do some marginal corrections here and there, sometimes on sticky notes to avoid marking their journal up. I think, Hey, why not stick a quick note about too, to, and two in their journal? Though the focus is certainly on comprehension, it's also a great chance to give a little grammar and writing feedback and I'm all about double dipping! 

So this all sounds lovely, doesn't it? Well, I'm all about being honest so I don't want to leave out the stuff that didn't go so well. Here's a list of the "oh no's" (Mrs. O "Knows" - get it?) that I will be revising for the upcoming year. 

#1: Responding takes a long time. This is the biggest drawback of journals. I don't have a great recommendation for making this easier. One thing that did help was allowing the journals to be turned in on any day of the week. They were due by Friday, but I encouraged students to turn them in whenever they were done. That way I wasn't responding to all of them over the weekend, though some weeks they all turned them in on Friday so I'd try to break it up and do 5 here, take a break, do 5 more, etc. I had a recent chat with another teacher about this problem and she came up with the idea of assigning students different due days - 5 on Monday, 5 on Tuesday, and so on. I think this is a wonderful idea to make it less overwhelming! I also think if I did the journals online, my responses would be faster because I type faster than I write. I'm currently exploring online options, but haven't found anything I love yet. Plus, I'm a sucker for a handwritten journal! 

#2: Model, model, model! For some students, the freedom of writing anything about their book actually made it difficult. They needed more structure and examples. I ended up modeling for individual students throughout the year. This year, I'm going to not only model a lot more at the beginning of the year, I'm going to share good examples of their work weekly. I'm also planning to let them do their first few weeks of journals in class with me in hopes that a more gradual release will better support those students who don't know what to write about. 

#3: This is not a book report. This is not a book review. Because my students do a monthly book review or project, some of them started to write book reviews for journals. I am going to make sure that I stress the difference between the journals and the book reviews/reports so that they aren't writing a weekly book review, which is not only tedious for them to write, it's also tedious for me to read! 

#4: Model some more...and make sure you're doing both fiction and nonfiction! Are you reading a book aloud? Write a journal about it for the class to see. Did you read a really good story as a mentor text for writing? Write a journal for the class to see. Was that informational text on hurricanes mind-blowing? Model a journal! It's definitely a great idea to have your own journal that you can write in throughout the year and have on hand for students to access for ideas. Also, make sure that you model both fiction and nonfiction. I had a few students who just loved nonfiction, and my prompts were really geared towards fiction. I'll openly admit I only modeled nonfiction once. I'm going to give my students two separate pages of prompts (one fiction and one nonfiction) next year to make this easier for my nonfiction readers! 

Overall, it's the best thing I've tried yet to hold students accountable for their independent reading. I truly enjoy reading their entries and my students can't wait to read my responses! When I place their journal on their desk, they immediately open it up to read what I wrote and get these big, adorable smiles on their faces. I love it! Also, it's a great way for me to assess their comprehension of the books they are choosing and push them towards deeper thinking through our journal conversations. Although it takes a bit more time than I'd like it to, I think it's worth it. 

To grab a printable of the directions, journal prompts, and samples I included in this post, click on the image below. 


The 40 Book Challenge in My Classroom

Last summer, I picked up a book I've been wanting to read for quite some time, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It's been on my to-read list for a couple of years and since I moved to a new school, I figured it was the perfect time to get some new inspiration.

Well, this book blew me away. You see, I love reading, and it is always my goal to help my students to love reading as well. I achieve this with engaging read-alouds, but I admit that I hadn't put much thought into independent reading other than to make sure that students are reading on their level, yadda, yadda, yadda. I realized that though I've stacked my classroom library with over 1,000 books, I've never taken the time to match students with a book that is perfect for them. I don't mean right in that it's on their level, I'm talking about it being right by being something that they are actually interested in reading. As I read Donalyn's book, I realized that I've missed out on great opportunities for meaningful recommendations. I was providing students with the opportunity to enjoy books that I read, but I was not putting enough thought into the books that they were reading on their own. Now that I've read The Book Whisperer, I am vowing to never let this happen again! Reading this book not only inspired me to create my own 40 book challenge, it also inspired me to rethink the way that I approach independent reading and I'm so glad it did. Below, I'd like to share how I'm using what I learned from her book in my classroom. I will preface this by saying that I've made changes that work for me, pulling the components that were most meaningful for me and the students in my classroom.
I decided that I would keep the goal of 40 books, and I did say that they must be books that are on their reading level or above to count towards the challenge. At first, I tried to be flexible on the level because I don't want students to avoid great books that might be easy, but I found that they started to take advantage of this, so I tightened the reins on it. I did not assign certain genres as suggested in their book. The reason that I did this was A) I knew I was going to expose them to different genres through our reading curriculum. B) There are genres that I dislike reading as an adult. Put a science fiction book in front of me and my eyes immediately glaze over. I don't want to force my students to read books they aren't interested in because I believe that defeats the purpose of creating a love of reading. I want my 40 book challenge to be focused on books that my students will truly enjoy.

When I introduced the challenge, I was really concerned about stressing my students out.  I knew some students would hear me say 40, and then hear nothing else if I didn't put their mind's at ease right away. Teachers must keep in mind that there are some students in their class who don't enjoy reading yet. I knew I needed a buy-in from those students so I thought about what they would need to hear.

The first thing that I told my students was that this was not a competition against one another, but instead the same as setting a goal and working hard to achieve it. I explained to them that as long as they were completing their weekly assignments related to the challenge, I would be proud of them, regardless of whether they met their goal of 40 or not. To chart their progress,  I hung pennants each week with their updated number and they loved this and they also recorded their progress in their binders (more on that in a minute). I made sure that it was very clear to my students that this challenge wasn't about who can read the most, but rather who is working towards their goal. This conversation took a lot of stress off of their shoulders and helped them to understand that the goal is to enjoy reading.

Our pennants at the beginning of the year. Each one says _______(name)  is ready to begin the challenge.

The first week of school, I gave an interest survey. I had to do mine differently from the one used in the book because I'm elementary and hers seemed to geared towards middle school students My main goal with this survey was to find out what makes each student "tick" so that the books I recommend for them will be closely aligned to their interests. I also asked some questions to find out their strengths and weaknesses with reading to give me a heads up on their needs. As I read each survey, I went into my classroom library and started pulling recommendations for my students and leaving them on their desks. This was great for me because it allowed me to become reacquainted with my own classroom library. It excited my students to see my recommendations. As we went through the year, I would order books from Scholastic and when they would arrive, I'd immediately introduce them to the class and then recommend them to students who I knew would enjoy them! They loved it and I enjoyed using their interest surveys to get to know them as readers and seeing their wish lists grow!

Click on the image above for a reproducible copy of my interest survey for elementary students.

Click on the image above to get a printable copy of this cover for student binders. I have it in 20, 30, and 40.

I created each student a book challenge binder of their own. In that binder I placed a reading log where students tracked each book they completed, a wish list for books they wanted to read in the future, and sample book reviews, to be explained in an upcoming blog post. Of course, you are probably wondering how I knew for sure that they were reading each book, and for this, I did a combination of Donalyn's ideas, my own ideas, and what the students have already been doing. 
I decided to have students complete a weekly journal in which they write about a book that they are reading. I respond to their entry and it becomes a weekly chat between student and teacher. Their journal entry makes it clear if they are reading or just skimming. For a more in-depth post on the pros and cons of this, as well as a more-detailed explanation of how I used journals in the classroom, head over the the following link: Using Book Journals for Accountable Independent Reading

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an AR person. I wish it would go away entirely. However, my students have spent the past 5 years participating in AR and some really love it, so I didn't want to take this option away from them completely. I allowed students to take a test on their level or above and as long as they passed it (I set the goal at 80%),  I allowed them to count the book towards their 40 book challenge. I did have one incident where students were all taking the same test and sharing the answers (one of the many things about AR that I do not like), but it was an isolated incident. I monitored daily to make sure that did not happen again.
For students who don't often pass AR tests, or do not enjoy taking them, I allowed students to complete a book review with two options, a written review on Kid Blog or a video review on Kid Blog. I purchased the yearly subscription to Kid Blog and loved that we could use this format to share the fantastic books that we are reading and recommend them to others. I did my own examples of each and posted them to Kid Blog in advance to share them with my students. I also created a rubric to share with the students and walked them through their first book review on Kid Blog. I found that they were much less nervous about book reviews once they completed one together. It's all part of the I do, we do, you do model when it comes to these. I required everyone to complete at least one book review per month, but the remainder of the books that they complete can be AR tests if they choose. Overall, this went well, but I think they got a little bored of it, so I am planning to add a book project each trimester that will take the place of 1 book review each trimester so that they have a bit more choice in their accountability. Here is a link to my post on book reviews: Book Reviews: An Alternative to Book Reports
 I am very pleased with the results of the 40 book challenge. As I assured my students on the very first day, it was always about finding books they love and reading because they wanted to, not because I was forcing them to. In the end, only three students met the challenge of 40 books (with one reaching 73), but every single child surprised themselves because they read more this year than they ever had in years before. Even more importantly, they loved each book they read. Parents were a bit nervous about this challenge at the beginning of the year, but they were thrilled with it in the end because they saw that regardless of how many books they had read, all students were seeing themselves as readers and were proud of what they accomplished because of this challenge. What more could a teacher ask for?

I will absolutely do the challenge again. I will tweak a few things here and there. As mentioned, I do think that the book reviews became a bit monotonous so I need to reevaluate those. I think a project a trimester will help and I'm going to think about other choices that I can offer that students will be excited about. Also, I'm going to do a better job of modeling their journal entries in the beginning so that I get more meaningful journals from students.

Want my pennant template? Click the image above to download it for free! You will need to add text boxes to add student names and numbers. 

If you have any questions about how I did the 40 book challenge in my classroom, please feel free to comment below! I strongly encourage you to grab a copy of The Book Whisperer before starting your journey! 

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