Class Books: Let Them Read What They Write

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It’s possible that my love for class books originated from the one I received from the class that I student taught on my very last day of teaching them. It was a simple production: letters on notebook paper, crayon/colored pencil/marker drawings, and their school pictures. The fanciest thing about it was the laminated pages and plastic binding. Of course, the simplicity of it is part of what makes it so precious to me. Their sincere letters and drawings alongside their school photos still touch my heart. Since then, it has been in my classroom library in my “Student-authored Books” bin. For years, I was surprised by how the students I’ve had since then have been drawn to it even though they didn’t know my first students at all. In fact, every year, nearly all of my students read the Thank you, Ms. Vigna book at some point during the year; sometimes revisiting it more than once. Without even knowing my very first students, my later students couldn’t resist reading the book they made!

A purposeful, authentic audience motivates writers. Fortunately, our classrooms have built in audiences: students! There is no shortage of content for class books: With the volume of writing students are producing in our classrooms, you could easily stock a classroom library shelf with student-authored books. In Writers’ Workshop alone, it’s possible that students have penned several pieces already.

It’s just a matter of putting the book together: Print out or copy all of their personal narratives, create a simple cover, and bind their work into a class book! Nothing elaborate–no need to ship them off to Blurb or Shutterfly. Just fold an 11×18 piece of construction paper in half and staple it down the side to bind it. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add some decorative duct or Washi tape to cover the staples.

Class books can be made outside of Writers’ Workshop, too. A Math Workshop station could have students write their own word problem for the concept being studied and a separate explanation of the answer. I’m imagining a class book made out of envelopes: the problem written on the envelope and the answer and explanation on an index card  inside the envelope. In science, students can create an alphabet book for the current topic or a timeline of a historical events for each time period studied in social studies.

Teaching students how to make books on their own would be empowering and motivating also. Look to Katie Wood Ray and her protege, Lisa Cleaveland, for inspiration, especially for our youngest writers in the primary grades.

Class books motivate students to READ! I have found that students love rereading their work and the work of their classmates in these class books so much that I often have to “discard” the totally worn out original copy and replace it with a “Second Edition” OR I end up making copies of especially powerful class books to GIVE to my students to keep. My authors have even gone around the room collecting each other’s autographs and asking for inscriptions like we would at a professional book signing.

Regardless of its form, class books are powerful and useful reading and writing tools. They are treasure-filled memories for all of the stakeholders and promote reading and writing in our youngest readers and writers.

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