I like this post for so many reasons. Especially the parenthetical “confessions”. I wasn’t this kind of kid, but I wish I was.

Nerdy Book Club

My heart sank when I saw the recent news that Britannica was discontinuing the print version of its encyclopedias.  I understand the reasons behind the decision. I do.  But I also feel like we’re losing something in saying goodbye to those clunky old volumes.

When I was a kid  (Warning: I am about to expose my true nerdiness here) one of the greatest days of my childhood was the day I got to move our family’s 1966 World Book Encyclopedias into my bedroom.  The youngest of four kids, I’d had access to them on the den bookshelves since before I could remember, but there was something amazing about having all that knowledge living in my bedroom, as if it might soak into me while I slept.

I was – and still am – interested in so many things.  It’s one of the reasons I write such a wide variety of…

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The Case for Reading Partnerships and Clubs

This is a dual post–also posted on the PolkaDotOwlBlog.  Mrs. P, (@polkadotowlblog), my partner in the #rdgPartners chats, asked me some time ago if I would guest post on her blog when she reached 100 followers. She has been dutifully keeping me apprised of her numbers. Now she is at 105 followers and the time has come. 

I’m always impressed with Mrs. P’s thoughtful posts, and I’m sure you will enjoy them as well. Click the picture to the left and give her a visit. I’m looking forward to working with Mrs. P and her classes in the future.

Forming reading partnerships and book clubs with young students is challenging. How do I partner the students—By interest? Reading level? Friend requests? And once they are in these groups, how do I help them to set reasonable goals? How can I keep their conversations moving forward? What do I do about the student who doesn’t do his reading.

Surely, there are many questions. But I’m persevering in my book clubs plan because this I believe: Some of the most powerful reading we do is partner reading.

(These pictures are the students reading on the first day after they choose their books. After this first day, reading and preparation is done independently.)

I read for myself all the time. Oftentimes my reading is to find that next great book I can recommend to a student at just the right time. (And with the NerdyBookClub, there are so many options.) But the books that are most memorable to me are the books I’ve had the opportunity to discuss.

My colleague, Brent Peterson, and I read Dead End in Norvelt in patnership. We kept a simple goal of about 100 pages a week (we were doing other reading, of course) and got together during a free period to discuss. These were awesome discussions.  [You can follow these links to see our conversations… if you’re really interested. Talk 1. Talk 2. Talk 3.] We came prepared with some Post-it notes and lists of things we wanted to talk about and off we went. The half hour was barely enough time. It was great how we each brought different ideas and insights to the conversation. Brent saw things that I never would have on my own. Discussing a book brought it to life and made it more interesting than it would have been had either of us read it independently. (Who else would have laughed with me about paraffin wax hands and deterring deer with bodily functions?)  I think these conversations are why, though the public response to Norvelt has been lukewarm, Brent and I liked it so much. You can get more of a summary of our conversation on our Nerdy Book Club Blog post.

Brent and I also read and discussed Wonder a lot. And then we started passing it along to others to read. My mom read it. Then my dad. Then my sister. Then her book club. Then other reading teachers at my school. Students and their parents. And we read it aloud to our students. (And finally my wife is reading it.) And it was like Wonder became part of the social fabric of my life. It was something I could talk about with anyone around me. Family dinners were filled with conversation of Auggie and Daisy and Via. Being able to then talk with the Maker of these characters and this WONDERworld was awesome.

And this—THIS—is why I want to persist in pushing my students into partnerships and clubs. As I’ve told them, book clubs are social opportunities wrapped around a book. (Hmmm… good pearl analogy there.) I want my students to experience the joy of a book coming to life. Of understanding a book better together because they talked about and cleared up confusions and saw things from different points of view. I want my students to know the richness of literature.

So I’m willing to spend an afternoon with the book partnership/club letters they’ve written to me (Name; why I would be a good partner to someone else; my approximate
reading level [GRL]; five classmates who would be good partners for me and why) spread out all over the living room floor or dining room table. (“Dad, what are you doing?”)  I’m willing to deal with a slacker reader/partner who doesn’t come prepared with the reading complete or Post-it notes ready to discuss. Because I see so many other students benefitting from rich conversations and thought building that they wouldn’t have if they only read independently.

I’m looking forward to next year and getting these partnerships and clubs underway earlier in the year. We are already discussing how to scaffold them—giving students smaller texts with which to practice before diving into a novel. I can’t wait to see my students blossom in their book discussions.

We have a great year of book conversations behind us, a better one ahead—and the state of Book Clubs is Strong.

Your turn:  Have you experienced reading as part of a partnership or club? How did it add to your reading experience?


Planning bookmark for clubs:

Evaluation form:

Skyping with WONDER author RJ Palacio

On Friday, May 18th, RJ Palacio joined the 140 Sweet Home Middle School students on AlphaTeam and Team Possible via Skype to discuss WONDER.

It took a few attempts to connect–anxious moments indeed–but that just gave us time to raffle off some great titles that Kim Krug of Monkey See, Monkey Do brought along for the students.  By the time we connected and RJ popped up on the screen, the students were pretty pumped up.

Yeah–we teachers were too.

Here is the intro we gave RJ. (We were asked to call her RJ, just in case you were wondering.  Just another thing that we enjoyed about her:):Once in a while a book comes along that creates an unmistakable buzz.

We started hearing this buzz in 2011 on the book blogs we follow—like the Nerdy Book Club blog.

Wonder, and its hashtag #thewonderofwonder, started burning up the Twitterverse.  When we had the opportunity to get an advance copy of this WONDER, we jumped.

There are many books that are exciting. Many books that are thrilling.  Now that we’ve all read WONDER, I think we can agree that Wonder…is a life changer. It’s about being a better person. It’s about treating others with kindness.

Wonder can be summarized with two quotes from the book:

Mr. Browne’s first precept: When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.
Be kinder than is necessary.

There are not too many times that a book really makes such an impact on us that we feel as though we need to expose as many people to it as we can.  Fortunately being a teacher allows for me the forum to do so.  We hope that all of you have enjoyed listening to the lives of the characters in WONDER as much as we have enjoyed reading them to you.  We would like to thank R.J. Palacio for her willingness to offer her time to us and to allow us to discuss this “WONDER”ful book.

And with that, we give you—RJ PALACIO!

DAVID: It was a little overwhelming to hear RJ speak and answer the students’ questions. After reading WONDER 4 times (once on my own, then aloud to three classes), I feel like the characters are my friends. To hear from the woman who invented these friends of mine was amazing.

BRENT: Her perspectives and explanations as to the characters motives brought a whole new understanding to WONDER for me.  I had these ideas about who everyone was and what they intended and to hear R.J. give additional background and insight as to why she had these “friends” act how they did was very cool.We had our students create questions about WONDER ahead of time so that we could choose a number of them to be read at our Skype session.  We did this for time reasons and also to ensure that the questions asked were not repeated or things that we had already discussed.

Here are a list of the questions that ended up being chosen and asked to R.J. by our students.


  • Why did you choose to write from different points of view?
  • Why didn’t  you write from Julian’s POV?
  • Why was Justin’s section all in lowercase?
  • Who chose the artwork for the book? Why did the pictures have only one eye?
  • Why didn’t Mr. Tushman do anything about Julian bullying Auggie if he knew about it?
  • How did you know so much Star Wars stuff?
  • Where did you get the idea for the precepts?
  • How did you choose the song quotes?
  • Have you been bullied? How did you handle it? How would you now?
  • What was the most emotional part of the book for you? (R.J. said that this was one of the best questions she had been asked!!)
  • Have your friends and family been inspired by the book?
  • Is there any future for WONDER in movies or television?

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DAVID: I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to blink back tears at a few points in the conversation. RJ’s answers were insightful and thought provoking.

BRENT: I agree.  I was blown away by her responses.  She took each question and responded with a very well thought out response.  It was really moving to hear her describe her characters as though they are real people.  I find that many times I feel that way as a I read a story but that usually diminishes as I get to discussing the book with others.  It was refreshing to hear her speak about them in that way.

DAVID: It was also rewarding to have my mom there to experience the interview with me. My whole family has read and discussed WONDER. My mom was thoroughly impressed with our students and RJ. We gushed about it for a long time afterwards.We concluded our time together with this:

Thanks to Monkey See, Monkey Do bookstore, we received discounted WONDER copies that our students were able to pre-order.  We ended up selling over 40 copies.

Links that you might be interested in:

Brent’s Todaysmeet blog post:
Brent’s original Wonder post:

David’s Todaysmeet blog post:

David’s original Wonder post:
http://wp.me/p28nqv-6N – original chat
http://wp.me/p28nqv-ci – video
http://wp.me/p28nqv-cJ – final chat and video

RJ Palacio’s blog.

To show how the WORDofWONDER has spread, I played around with making this flowchart.  I call it my WONDERtracker. As big as it is, it is still incomplete:

Do you want to hear the unofficial soundtrack of WONDER? 1) join PING in iTunes; 2) search for David Etkin–click; 3) click on the “Wonder of WONDER” list.
Written by:
David Etkin (@DavidAEtkin)
Brent Peterson (@BrentJPeterson) / http://bjp7834.wordpress.com

VIDEO: TodaysMeet-ing about WONDER

We did it.

We finished Wonder.  After the applause died down, it was time to chat.

In preparation for Friday’s Skype with Mrs. Palacio (OK–she said we could call her RJ, but it feels too informal), we had an end-of-book conversation using TodaysMeet.com.

The students have improved dramatically in their digital conversations since using the site two weeks ago. (Here is the video of our first session.) I was very impressed with their comments and ideas. They even learned the trick of how to string two comments together using numbers (like “1/2” and “2/2”)–just like we do on Nerdy Book Club #titletalk and #RdgPartners Twitter chats.

Here are the students working hard at getting out their ideas.

Here are the transcripts from the three classes. If you’re wondering if TodaysMeet.com is worth trying, scroll down towards the end where the students encourage you to give it a try.

(It might be helpful to know that my questions are in ALL CAPS.

Period 2/3 Chat

Period 5/6 Chat

Period 9/10 Chat 

If you have any questions or suggestion, leave a comment.

5.14 Ring-the-Bell Monday & It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

A new week, a new batch of books–both books finished and being read. Today is…

Ring-the-Bell Monday

{Wherein we share what books we have read in the past week.}


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

{Wherein we share the titles we are currently reading.}

Ring-the-Bell Monday


This week I read:

Kadir Nelson has both illustrated and authored and illustrated a number of non-fiction and historical fiction books now. Earlier this year we read A Nation’s Hope–The Story of Joe Louis and Henry’s Freedom BoxWe Are the Ship has been floating around the classroom all year.

In Heart and Soul, Nelson uses a fictional character to tell the broad arc of black history in the United States.  This unnamed woman starts her tale with African Americans’ involvement in the Revolutionary War, goes through slavery and the Civil War, and moves on to the great migration to the North. She tells how African Americans were involved in the World Wars, and then how brave black individuals and groups tried to break the color barriers in sports, science, schools, and much more. A wonderful, eye-opening, inspiring book.

Here is another video you may find interesting and helpful.


How many books have my classes read?

Class A

| | | | | | | | = 8

Class B

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | = 20

Class C:

[Check out the home of “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading”: Teach Mentor Texts — and the spin-off: Sharpreads]

This week, I am reading:

[As a read aloud to my daughters. They are loving it.]


Crow by Barbara Wright is an historical fiction book about sixth-grader Moses Thompson and the racial tension in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898. I can tell something bad is brewing…

What are the REST of you reading?

5.7 Ring-the-Bell Monday & It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

A new week, a new batch of books–both books finished and being read. Today is…

Ring-the-Bell Monday

{Wherein we share what books we have read in the past week.}


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

{Wherein we share the titles we are currently reading.}

Ring-the-Bell Monday


This week I read:

I know I already posted about Boy + Bot, but our class had so much fun with it–and author Ame Dyckman was awesomely responsive–I thought it was worth a reprise here.

Ms. Dyckman immediately sent us stickers and bookmarks…

…and this great letter.

 For a change of pace, instead of sharing a book I read, I’m sharing a book I abandoned. WHY? Because I want my students to see that every book is not for every person. I rarely abandon books, but there are times when a book isn’t working for me and I need to realize it as quickly as I can so I can move on to a book that does work.

Even though Code Name Verity came recommended–and because it was recommended I gave it more of a chance than usual–I finally go to the point where I was ready to put it aside and move on.

Here is part of the conversation I had with @HannahlilyS:

Have you ever abandoned a book?

Here is how many books my classes have read:

Class A

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | = 14

Class B

| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | = 18

Class C:

| | | | | | | | | | | | | |  = 14 

[Check out the home of “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading”: Teach Mentor Texts — and the spin-off: Sharpreads]

This week, I am reading:

This book by the author of the Newbery medal winning When You Reach Me is due out on October 7.

What are the REST of you reading?

Chatting about WONDER on TodaysMeet

Today in class we tried something new: using a chat room to discuss our thinking about

 We are nearing the climax of the book (and getting psyched for our upcoming Skype session with Mrs. Palacio), and I thought it would be a good place for students to share what they are thinking. (We don’t typically spend much time discussing the read aloud.)

I set up a private chat room on

and after reading aloud, the students logged in and discussed the questions I proposed. (MY COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.)

This was a first try. It took a little while to get some of the “sillies” out, but one of the things I noticed is that when students were focused, they shared some neat ideas. And students who didn’t normally share–or who had a tough time getting their voices heard–were able to get their words in the mix.

Here are the links to the archive of the chat for each class. It goes chronologically top to bottom–opposite of how it appears during the actual chat.

Class A (per. 2/3)

Class B (per. 5/6)

Class C (per. 9/10)

I look forward to “chatting” with my students again.

BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman


Boy + Bot, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino Is a clever book. It has gotten a lot of hype from the Nerdy Book Club, which is where I often find out about great new picture books and books for my students. Without the NBC, Boy + Bot would surely have passed me by. Shame.

In this tale, Boy is out playing when he meets bot. They play, bot shuts down, and boy tries to cure him in very human ways. (Applesauce, Ms. Dyckman? Really?). Then the story twists and repeats itself in a clever way. Though the story line is simple, the structure is interesting and the illustrations capture the joy of childhood play.

It’s interesting to hear 6th-graders’ comments as I read aloud. Some, forgetting that the “intended” audience (I put that in quotes because we know that books intended for youngsters often have more meaning when the reader is older), express disbelief that the boy stumbled upon a robot–that the parents don’t seem to know what’s going on at first, then are OK with it–that the boy doesn’t wake up–that the inventor knows the Boy’s number and where he lives. Others enjoy the fun of the story and catch the clever way the pictures are laid out in repeating patterns as the story folds back on itself. One boy noticed the toy robot in Boy’s room as he fell asleep and surmised that the boy was just imagining the whole thing.

With social media, so many authors are accessible and open to communicating with their readers. I knew Ame was on Twitter (since I follow her), so I gave each class a chance to compile a tweet to her:

And in less than a class period, Ms. Dyckman responded:

Pretty cool, right?


Here are a few more sites that have featured Ame, Dan, and BOY + BOT:


P.S.—(I also share picture books I get for my class with my daughters. I had just finished reading it to them and asked them to pose.)