No, this activity isn’t astrology…but it's a great way to steer first grade readers forward. Here’s the background: there’s a magical moment for most young readers when all that early kindergarten phonics seems to join forces with all those hours of guided reading practice…and then it just clicks. Suddenly, you may find that it’s almost hard to keep up at home, as kids begin reading for themselves and also asking you to read, read, read to them as well.
In all the excitement, it’s crucial to remember that the central goal of reading is comprehension. Nobody wants to create a “reading robot” who can decode anything but never seems to “get” it. Instead, it’s important for young readers to stop and reflect on what they have read and understood.
Here is a way to keep track of new books, mark the achievement of reading them, and most importantly, step back and think: Which ones were really, really great?
What You Need:
- 11" x 17” sheet of paper
- Package of shiny gold stars
- 12" x 17” sheet of construction paper in a favorite color
What You Do:
- Explain to your child that every week in the newspaper, you can find ratings for all kinds of things. There are so many movies, for example, that we often rely on other people to help us narrow the choices by telling us what’s good, what's bad, and why. Sometimes that means we talk to friends; other times, we look in a newspaper, magazine, or TV to read the words of a critic. You might even want to look a review up together in a local paper!
- In this activity, you invite your child to be a literary critic for the family. In this exciting new world of books, which ones are the very, very best? Which ones were just okay? Which ones were unbelievably, well, bad? And most importantly in every case: why?
- Take your sheet of 11" x 17” paper and start by folding it vertically in thirds. Across the top, in block letters, help your child write a catchy title using her name, such as “Becca’s Best Books.” Your child may want to do the printing, but it’s also okay if you help.
- Now take out those gold stars. Your left column is for the big winners—three gold stars! The middle column is for the books that were okay but not great—two stars. And the column on the right has no stars at all—that’s for books your child decides aren't worth the time or trouble to read.
- In clear writing below each category (parents, you may want to help with this), write your child’s explanation of criteria. What makes a book really good? (This is obviously a conversation that will continue for a lifetime—and now’s a great time to start!) For first graders, expect simple, concrete answers—that’s just fine.
- Mount your “star chart” in a construction paper frame, and invite your child to decorate it as she likes. Then, tape it to a wall near a place where you and your child often read.
For the next several months, whenever you read together, stop and have a chat. How was that book? What column does it belong in? Write your “critic’s choice” selections, and celebrate them. When the chart is full, write the dates it covers, and keep it. You and your child will have marked two marvelous accomplishments: a long list of books read…and the start of a lifelong conversation about what makes a book really great.
Julie Williams, MA Education, taught high school English and History for seventeen years. For the last six years, she has worked in elementary classrooms while working on a master's in school administration. The mother of two young sons, she has also been a local PTA leader.