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A Newbie’s Guide to First Chapter Friday

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    Learn how First Chapter Friday can help you create a literacy-rich classroom. Get ready to dive into the end-of-the-week treat teachers are raving about and learn how you can (and why you should) implement First Chapter Friday into your classroom.

    Welcome to First Chapter Friday, my teacher friends. Both you and your students will love it.

    First Chapter Friday is all the rage among elementary school teachers. From Pinterest to Instagram, this book-introducing technique is everywhere. And now, I’m happy to say it’s finding its way to the secondary classroom as well. (Finally!)

    As ELA teachers, we face the challenge of engaging students with literature. I don’t know about you, but getting my students to see the value of a good book (and want to read one on their own) was one of my biggest goals when I became a teacher. I quickly realized it wasn’t that simple. Students weren’t naturally drawn to literature like I was. But I wanted them to want to read. To get excited about finding a new book. To moan and groan when it was time to put the book down.

    The hard part? Figuring out how to get them to that point.

    The answer? First Chapter Friday.

    What is First Chapter Friday?

    Is it exactly what it sounds like? You bet. First Chapter Friday is when you read the first chapter of a high-interest novel to your students at the end of each week. (Though, you can really do it any day that works best for your classroom.) That’s it! It’s that simple. It’s good old reading for the sake of enjoying a good book. No analysis necessary. (If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of students cheering at that one.)

    First Chapter Friday is a great way to expose your students to new books with varying authors, genres, themes, and topics. The whole idea is to give them a sneak-peek into the book by reading the first chapter aloud. You’re able to pique their interest in a new book in around 10 to 15 minutes. So, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase some of your favorite YA books that you can’t quite fit into the curriculum, as well as dive into new and high-interest books together.

    However, the real beauty in First Chapter Friday is that you can make it whatever you and your students need it to be. Read more than one chapter? Sure! Do it once a month? It’s better than nothing! Just sit back and get ready to share your love for books with even your most reluctant readers.

    “How Do You Choose Your Books?”

    There are really no rules here. (And what a wonderful thing that is!) However, of course, you want to keep your audience in mind to keep engagement high (and to avoid any angry parent calls to the principal). But, aside from making sure the book is appropriate for your audience, the possibilities are endless. However, I recommend reviewing the chapter (even if you’ve read it before) to note any inappropriate language or controversial topics. This will help you avoid any awkward surprises.

    Additionally, don’t be afraid to read new books too! You might not have time to read the hot new book that was just published, but I do recommend reading (at least) the first few chapters. You can also turn to online reviews for help.

    Lastly, remember the goal behind First Chapter Friday is to encourage your students to engage with new books. So, be sure your First Chapter Friday roster isn’t full of only books you like. And yes, that might mean choosing a book you wouldn’t typically go for.

    Ask for help.

    If you’ve run out of ideas or aren’t sure where to start, turn to your fellow teachers or the librarian for help. Ask them if they have any book suggestions that your students will love. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to share.

    “How Do You Introduce Each Book?”

    This is a matter of personal preference and depends on how much time you have. Sometimes you might give a little bit of background about the author for context. I’ve shown a movie trailer (when applicable) and have read some raving reviews to build momentum. There have been times when I’ve recapped a social issue or defined a new genre. Then there are also times when I simply read the synopsis on the back cover and then dive right in!

    “Should I Assign Work with First Chapter Friday?”

    Nope! I treat First Chapter Friday as a time for enjoyment and relaxation and prefer to keep it simple. (Honestly, I think my students appreciate that about this activity.) Instead, keep the focus on the enjoyment of the story at hand. Might we engage in a meaningful discussion post-read? Sure! But I never turn First Chapter Friday into an assignment. However, I encourage students to keep track of any books they’d like to read over the year. Provide students with a “Book List” handout at the start of the year, encouraging them to add First Chapter Friday titles to their list throughout the year.

    Now, a room full of students with their heads on their desks might not be the best look for administrators poking their heads in. However, that doesn’t mean you need to turn First Chapter Friday into a strenuous activity either. Instead, you can keep students engaged with a mindful activity. I’m a fan of mandalas, coloring pages, and bookmarks, for example.

     The (Many) Benefits of First Chapter Friday

    You mean, besides simply reading for fun? Yes.

    1. Expose Students to a Variety of Literature.

    I know what it’s like to feel constrained by a jam-packed curriculum and limited time. Thankfully, First chapter Friday is a great way to introduce students to a plethora of new genres, authors, characters, and perspectives that would otherwise be pushed aside. (If you do the math, you can expose students to over 30 new books in a year.) Therefore, it allows teachers to show students the wide variety of literature available to them. I love hearing students admit they probably wouldn’t have picked one of the books from the shelf on their own.

    1. Spread the Love of Reading.

    It breaks my heart when students claim to “hate reading,” but then it dawned on me: Students are so used to being told what, how, and when to read. Perhaps, I thought, they simply forgot how to read for pleasure. First Chapter Friday gives them back a sense of freedom around reading and is a fantastic way to cultivate a love for reading (again). So, yes, in just 15 minutes a week, you can make reading fun (and cool) once again! And if that isn’t music to your ears…

    1. Teach Students How to Choose Books.

    Even if students like reading, the truth is, many students don’t know where to begin when choosing an independent reading book. First Chapter Friday is an excellent opportunity to model how students can select books they would want to read. Aside from showcasing the benefit of reading the first chapter, you can model strategies like analyzing a book jacket or doing a finger walk through a book to gauge one’s interest. (Plus, each week, students will be exposed to a book they very well may want to read on their own! And then it’s as simple as writing down the author and title.)

    1. It’s Low Stress and Low Prep, but High Engagement.

    I don’t know about you, but that would be enough to have me ready to give First Chapter Fridays a go. Seriously, all you have to do is read. If you’re already an avid reader like me, you won’t have to spend a lot of time or energy putting together your list of books either. As for those books you haven’t read but want to share, a quick online search can help gauge if it’s appropriate to share with your students. Additionally, students love being read to no matter how old they are. And as proof of how engaged students are, they’ll be beginning to read juuuust one more chapter.

    1. Improve Class Culture and Community.

    Sharing your genuine love for a good story is such a special moment. In fact, reading without any specific standard in mind breaks down a barrier between students and teachers, making room for a new type of bond to form. Honestly, this activity improved my relationship with my students and, in turn, made classroom management a heck of a lot easier. And it’s not just about my improved relationships with students. First Chapter Friday cultivates meaningful shared reading experiences throughout the year, giving students new opportunities to connect or bond over the love of the same book.

    1. Compliment Your Curriculum with “Leisure” Reads.

    If you’re anything like me, you have a list of books you wish you could teach, but they don’t fit into the curriculum or, one of my favorites, they’re not “academic” or “rigorous” enough. (Are you rolling your eyes too?) I love using First Chapter Fridays as a way to introduce my students to more modern and engaging stories that align with our unit’s theme or essential question. It’s a great way to step out of consignments of the literary canon and expose your students to all sorts of diverse literature. Do I choose “just because” books too? Absolutely.

    1. It’s Totally Flexible!

    First Chapter Friday works whenever, wherever you can fit it in. The beginning of the week? The start of class? You can adjust the “rules” to fit your needs. And in the wonky world we live in, it’s great to know this activity can work in both hybrid and completely virtual classrooms as well! You can read aloud on a Zoom, post a prerecorded video, or share an audio clip– the choices are endless!

    Tips to Bring First Chapter Friday into Your Classroom

    • Represent your students. Unfortunately, our curriculum doesn’t always reflect our student body as well as it should. First Chapter Friday can change that. As you pick your books, be sure to include books that reflect their various interests and backgrounds.
    • Welcome student suggestions. You don’t have to find all the high-interest books on your own if you ask students to submit suggestions for First Chapter Friday. Simply keep a suggestion box in your classroom or post a simple Google Form to your Google Classroom. Not only will this take some pressure off of you, but it will also give them ownership of the activity.
    • Allow for student guest stars. Why should you have all the fun? As the year progresses, feel free to invite students to read one of their suggested readings aloud. Just be sure to preview the text ahead of time.
    • Consult the school librarian. Not only can you rely on the librarian for book suggestions, but you should also consult them with the books you decide to read. That way, they can ensure they have a copy or a few on hand for students to check out.
    • Make it cozy. There’s nothing quite like cozying up with a good book, right? Consider setting the mood by turning off the lights or projecting a crackling fireplace video on the board.
    • Don’t be afraid to use audiobooks. You talk all day. Maybe reading aloud is the last thing you want to do some days. (Totally understandable.) There’s nothing wrong with using an audiobook here and there! You might even find one of the authors reading their book, which is pretty cool. I also love finding recordings for any spooky books come October.
    • Create a First Chapter Friday Features wall. Keep your book choices fresh in students’ minds all year long with a Feature wall.  Simply print out pictures of the covers to hang on your wall near your classroom library.

    A Final Note on First Chapter Friday

    I get it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of jam-packed curricula and the literary canon for your course. However, First Chapter Friday allows us to step back into reading for the sake of a good book. It allows us to step back into reading “just because” and enjoying a fantastic story. (No hidden agendas involved.)

    As if we need another reason to love First Chapter Friday? It’s backed by research! Reading aloud has been linked to benefits such as heightened vocabulary skills and overall academic achievement. So, I guess you could say there really isn’t a reason you shouldn’t bring First Chapter Friday to your classroom, right? Looks like it’s time to start thinking about your book list!

    What will your first First Chapter Friday book be?

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