Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

March 20, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

Case of the Missing Sequels

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.


I shooed the last students from my room

and raced to the library

in a desperate search

for a missing book.

Destiny said the single copy should be on the shelf,

but no matter how many times I raked

my eyes back and forth across the books

standing tall and straight on every shelf,

this title did not appear.

Next I hunted through the display case

when a glimpse of yellow and black

gave a glimmer of hope,

but the historical fiction tome

would not replace the dark and twisted–

and downright funny–fantasy I needed.

Just as I was about to give up hope,

I spied a different missing book

that had proved as elusive as the killer

lurking within its pages.

I snagged it from the shelf

and delivered it to an unexpecting student

who had never given up the longing

to read how the sequel spun its tale

while breaking bad news to another

that another sequel went missing.

March 17, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff

To Read, or Not to Read

imageI’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by  Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.

That’s not really the question since I’m always reading.  But believe it or not, I don’t wish to read every book I’ve come across.  When I came across this post from Deb Day, I knew I wanted to share it with my students and write it myself.

The assignment is inspired by a quote from Oscar Wilde:

Books, I fancy, may be conveniently divided into three classes: 1. Books to read 2. Books to reread 3. Books not to read at all.

That reminded me of a quote from Sir Francis Bacon that I first encountered in high school.  I’ve never forgotten it (or the gist of it, anyway.  I had to look up the exact words).

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

These quotes do describe how I read books.  Some books I devour quickly in one sitting.  If it is a really good book, I might reread in order to digest it more slowly.  Some books I scan and skip through, looking for just the information I need.  Occasionally, I will find a book that forces me to slow down and savor from the very beginning.  It doesn’t happen often, but I have found books that I’d just as soon not read.  Here are my selections for each category as of right now. If you ask me the same question tomorrow, I just might have different answers.

Books to Read

This is the hardest to narrow down.  I have books to read stacked on my desk, stashed in boxes,  and listed on GoodReads–all waiting for me to read them.  These are the books that are nearest the top of my TBR pile that I will be reading over spring break next week.

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth

imageI must be the only reader left in the world who has not read this trilogy yet.  It’s not that I don’t want to.  I just haven’t found time amongst all the other books, but now that the movie is upon us, I don’t want to put it off any longer.  I ordered the complete set last Saturday and look forward to reading them from beginning to end all at once.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

imageIt was so hard to choose just one from the box that has the books from the latest book order.  All of these titles are ones that I’ve been hearing such good things about from my Nerdy Book Club friends.  The Mighty Miss Malone comes to the top because I loved Bud, Not Buddy.  When I heard that Curtis gave Miss Malone her own story, I knew I wanted to read it.

Books to Reread

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

imageI first read Jane Eyre when I was in middle school.  I can remember curling up with a stack of pillows and blankets in the bottom of my closet, reading by the light of the lamp I drug in.  (Don’t judge me.  The closet was the only place I could escape my brother and hide the soul-wracking sobs that the end of story brought on.  Jane was so brave and smart and feisty.  And Mr. Rochester was so mysterious.  I still pull this book out every few years to read again.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

imageA friend lent me her boxed set of the entire Chronicles when I was in the hospital in fifth grade.  Peter, Susan, Edmond, Lucy, and all the rest kept me company during those long days and nights in the hospital. (And caused my doctor much frustration because I preferred reading to resting.)  As soon as I got home, I begged my parents to buy me my own set.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve reread them in the years since.  They were the first chapter books I wanted to share with my daughter, and I still love them.  Whenever I need a break from my life, I know a trip to Narnia will give me a fresh perspective.

Books Not to Read at All

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

imageYes, I’m an English major and an English teacher, and I have never read Moby Dick.  I tried.  I got about a third of the way into it (when the main character–I’ve forgotten his name and refuse to look it up–finally makes it onto the deck of the ship.  I found I had no patience for the lengthy detours and details on the way to the main story.  I did read the graphic novel version about the time I gave up on Moby Dick.  Comparing the graphic novel to what I did read, I can’t say that the graphic novel left out anything important at all.  I will not be going back to this one–ever.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

imageTrue confession.  I actually did read this book.  I didn’t get it.  I tried it more than once.  But I still don’t get it.  Why do people say it is a great love story?  Who could possibly fall in love with Heathcliff?  I just don’t get the appeal.  It’s dark and depressing.  I have finally given up.  This love story is not for me.  I will never get it.

November 19, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Why Read for Pleasure?

I’ve been growing more and more concerned with the discussions roiling around literature and reading with the coming of new Common Core State Standards.  Voices are clamoring that students engage in close reading (not a bad thing–as long as it’s not the only kind of reading students engage in) and that teachers increase the rigor (Do we really want more rigidity in schools?) of their classes.  In the debate over how much nonfiction versus fiction students should read, the whole idea of reading for pleasure seems to be forgotten or outright rejected.

If we reject reading for pleasure and teach in such a way that turns students off of reading all together, we are making a grave mistake.  As Mark Twain is credited with saying, “A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who cannot read.”  Encouraging students to read for pleasure is crucial in getting them to choose to read, even long after they leave our classrooms.

The good news for those who champion increasing rigor and accountability is that reading for pleasure has definite advantages.  It only makes sense.  How can you get better at doing something if you don’t practice it?  Students are much more likely to practice reading if they enjoy it.  Several studies have come out recently that illustrate the academic benefits of reading for pleasure.  Scholastic published a study done in the UK that links reading for pleasure with increases in  reading and writing attainment, text comprehension and grammar, and breadth of vocabulary as well as increases in general knowledge, understanding of other cultures, and insight into human nature.  Jeffrey Wilhem and Michael Smith echo these findings in their study of fourteen eighth graders, reported in The Atlantic.

I am constantly enticing my students to read:  I talk with them about the books they are reading.  I share with them the books I am reading.  I book talk books and share book trailers.  I get to know my students so I can match their interests to books they just might love.  I give students opportunities to talk with each other about the books they are reading.

I also challenge my students to read more than they ever thought possible.  I borrowed the 40-book challenge from Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.  (No, I haven’t yet read Reading in the Wild, but I hope someone will get it for me for Christmas.)  I still have former students come back to me and brag about reading 40 books in one year–and they are still reading.  I have students this year who are already surprised that they have read 10 or more books before Thanksgiving.  Check below for the updated totals so far this year.

I also borrowed the reading homework from Penny Kittle’s Book Love.  It helps me keep track of what my 120 students are reading, and it reinforces for them that reading needs to become a daily habit.  The record keeping is fairly simple (no more signed reading logs!)  Every Friday, students read for 10 minutes and record their starting and ending page.  They do some simple math to determine a reading goal for the week.  It looks like this.

  • Subtract the beginning page (10, for example) from the ending page (15).  That means the student read 5 pages during the 10 minutes.
  • Multiply the number of pages read in 10 minutes by 6 to determine how many pages could be read in an hour (5 x 6 = 30).
  • Multiply that answer by 2 to determine how many pages could be read in two hours (30 x 2 = 60).
  • The student’s reading goal for the week is to read 60 pages.
  • I figure the students’ grades based on what percentage of their goal they reach.  If the goal is 60 pages and the student reads 60 pages, the student earns 100%.  If the goal is 60 pages and the student reads 30 pages, the student earns a 50%.

I love that this individualizes the homework for each student.  Slower readers aren’t “punished” by having to spend twice as long on an assignment.  Faster readers are challenged to keep reading.  Neither are students penalized for attempting to read a more challenging text.

Each day in class I pass around a sheet listing each student and the title of the book they are reading.  Students simply write down what page they are on while they are reading.  I can scan the sheet to see who is nearly finished with a book and who is bogging down in the middle or having difficulty sticking with a book.

By reading just 15-30 minutes a night for homework, along with the in-class reading, students are reading more than they thought possible.   Just check out the totals so far:


  • 1st Period:  24 students have read 220 books, for an average of 9.2 books per student.
  • 2nd Period:  19 students have read 185 books, for an average of 9.7 books per student.
  • 3rd Period:  21 students have read 228 books, for an average of 10.9 books per student.
  • 4th Period:  19 students have read 200 books, for an average of 10.5 books per student.
  • 6th Period:  20 students have read 198 books, for an average of 9.9 books per student.
  • 7th Period:  15 students have read 105 books, for an average of 7.0 books per student.


That’s a grand total of 118 students have read 1,136 books, for an average of 9.6 books per student!

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s an impressive amount of books to read before Thanksgiving!  What have been your favorite books so far?

May 8, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

What do you recommend?

What have been your favorite books this year?  Which books do you think your friends and classmates should read before the summer ends? Where can you turn when you are looking for your next great read?  It’s all right here.  Fill in the form below with your favorites.  Then come back later and click on the “F

April 2, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Why Do I Make You Read?


I’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.


Today in class as we finished with independent reading and were getting ready to continue with our read-aloud, one of my students asked, “Why do you teach reading so much instead of language?”  He insisted he didn’t mean to hate on me, and I wasn’t at all insulted.  I thought he deserved an answer.

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question, though it always surprises me.  I usually feel like I give reading the short end of my classes.  After shocking students on the first day of school by challenging them to read 40 books, I do give them 10-15 minute to read in class. Reading is almost the only homework for class, and I even ask them to read over breaks.  I never feel like I give reading enough class time.  We spend time every day with a daily grammar practice.  Most of the rest of class time is spent writing or blogging (more writing).

Why do I insist that my students read and read so much?  The short answer that I gave my student in class is that reading gives you more benefit than anything else you could do.  Reading not only makes you a better reader, it also improves your language and writing.  When you read, you see how words are spelled and begin to recognize correct spellings withh all its idosyncracies.  When you read, you see how good writers use language to craft sentences.  When you read, you become a better writer as well.

There are also many other things I hope my students gain from reading this year:

  • I hope my students discover that books can shine a light on their own lives and reassures them that they are not alone in whatever joys and trials they face.
  • I hope my students discover that books can open vistas to entire worlds they didn’t even know existed–worlds that disappeared long ago, that travel across the globe, that imagine possibilities only dreamed of right now, that are filled with magic and intrigue and danger.
  • I hope my students discover the joy and power of words to change their reality and even the world.
  • I hope my students discover that reading–and reading well–can protect them from cheated or taken advantage of.
  • I hope my students discover that reading can provide a temporary escape from the immediate world and give them resources to deal with their world.
  • I hope my students discover that reading can give them more understanding and compassion for people who are different from them.
  • I hope my students discover that reading can allow them to learn anything they want about anything at all.  The possibilities are endless.

March 20, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Wow! Look what we’ve been reading!


I’m taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers. I hope to write every day for the month of March and then continue weekly each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.



It is time to celebrate.  The first day of school I shared a quote with my students from Joseph Addison:  ”Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”  Then I told my students that I expected each of them to read 40 books from a variety of genres by the end of the school year, as Donalyn Miller suggest in The Book Whisperer.  Most of my students thought I was crazy.  Many of them have shared that they hadn’t read that many books in their entire life. (They are using hyperbole, right?)

We are now three-fourths of the way through the year, and by golly, we are doing it.  I am so proud of my students and what they are reading.  Shhh! Don’t tell, but some of them are even enjoyng a few books.  We have read picture books, graphic novels, middle grade and young adult novels and nonfiction.  Here is what we have read so far:

A total of 133 students have read 3,192 books.  That’s an average of 24.0 books per student.

  • 2nd period:  31 students read 1,097 books, for an average of 35.4 books per student.
  • 3rd period:  22 students read 686 books, for an average of 31.2 books per student.
  • 5th period:  25 students read 357 books, for an average of 14.3 books per student.
  • 6th period:  29 students read 627 books, for an average of 21.6 books per student.
  • 7th period:  26 students read 425 books, for an average of 16.3 books per student.

March 18, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Let the games begin!


I’m taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers. I hope to write every day for the month of March and then continue weekly each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.



When I arrived at school this morning, I grabbed the dry erase markers and started drawing our brackets on the white board.  After filling in the names of 32 of the toughest characters found in YA literature, I added book covers to match each one.  Then I stood back and listened to the chatter begin.

“The Hulk is going to win it all.  I know he will.”

“Look who’s against Day.  It’s Haymitch.  There’s no way we can let Haymitch lose.”

“Who’s Poison?  I haven’t read that book.”

I must admit I had too much fun creating the brackets.  Who could resist a face-off between two great wizards–Dumbledore and Gandolf?  How would Edward, who can read minds, fare against the Lunar Queen, who can control minds?  Which heartthrob–Jacob Black or Ponyboy–will win the hearts of eighth grade girls?  Which superhero–Ironman, Batman, Superman, or Hulk–will come out on top?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions yet, but I can’t wait to find out.  Who do you think will win it all?

March 14, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

10 Things I Love About Library Day


I’m taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers. I hope to write every day for the month of March and then continue weekly each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it. 


After a week and a half of standardized testing and a snow day, we are getting back to a normal routine.  Part of our routine is a visit to the library every two weeks, and today is finally LIBRARY DAY again.  In honor of our library visit today, here are my Top 10 Reasons I love our school library!

  1. The books, of course!  I am always adding to my classroom library, but I can never keep up with the volume and variety of books found in our school library.  I love browsing the “new books” shelf to see which titles might catch my eye.  I was hoping to find Prodigy by Marie Lu on that shelf, but it’s too new and missed the last order.
  2. Our amazing Library Media Specialist!  She helps me pull books off the shelf for projects and activities and discussions.  When I can’t find the right book for the right student, she is there with just the right suggestion.  She is a whiz with sorting out technology problems, and gets our research projects off to a great start with lessons on sources and plagiarism.  Our students love her just as much as I do!
  3. Giving book recommendations.  I can’t think of a better way to spend my day than matching the right book to the right students.  When I find a book I love, I can’t wait to share it.  This week, I am all about sharing Legend by Marie Lu.
  4. Getting book recommendations.  I love it when my students come to me with their latest, greatest good read.  Some of my favorite books were shared with my by my students who read them first.
  5. Comfy chairs.  Our newly renovated library has the cushiest chairs to sit in.  I love the fact that my students can sit in a comfortable seat to read instead of a desk all the time.
  6. Lots of windows.  Wall-length windows let me see up and down the hallway, and high windows let in lots of natural light.
  7. Bright colors.  The library is the most colorful place in the entire school.  The carpet is filled with flecks of color, and so does the upholstery.   The walls are orange and green and red.  Trust me, it works.
  8. Book club home in the loft.  Yes, our library has a classroom loft.  It has become the home sweet home for our Survivor Book Club.
  9. Book totals.  Since this is the last week of the grading period, it’s time to check in with each student for progress toward their reading goal for the year.  On the first day of the year, I challenged each of them to read 40 books (as Donalyn Miller does with her students in The Book Whisperer).  Most of them thought I was crazy.  Now that we are 3/4 of the way through the year, many are amazed at how much they are reading.
  10. Great discussions on text complexity.  Today’s library lesson came from Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and it was a rousing success.  This morning I created stacks of books with very different levels of difficulty.   (Thank you Mrs. Marsh and Miss Bowman for your help.)  Students had to put the books in order from easiest to hardest.  Then they had to answer the questions, what makes a book harder or easier?  What do you look at when deciding how hard a book is?   We had great discussions all day long on what makes a text difficult.  As an added bonus, I had to replace books in the stacks all day long as students asked, “Can I check this one out?”

March 12, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff

Let March Madness Begin…


I’m taking part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers. I hope to write every day for the month of March and then continue weekly each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slices. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it. 


I had a brainstorm today–at least I hope it’s a brainstorm that connects two random thoughts.  March Madness will soon descend upon us.  Here in Indiana March Madness consumes all as people complete their brackets.  We also have two new white boards installed in our hallway.  I’ve wanted to use them as a space for my students to write about the books they love, but haven’t quite figured out how yet.

Then it hit me.  Why not create brackets for the biggest, baddest characters in the books we read?  We all know who wins when Harry Potter takes on Voldemort or Katniss takes on President Snow.  Who would win if Katniss took on Voldemort–or Harry for that matter?

I opened up one class (the others were still testing or ran out of time) for nominations.  So far we have over 30 suggestions, ranging from Katniss to the Lunar Queen.  It’s definitely heavy on the fantasy and science fiction characters with a dash of superheroes.  I’ll see who else gets added from the other classes and then narrow the list down to 32.  I’m not tackling a full 64.  I’ll let students speak in favor–or disfavor–of their favorite characters and then let the polling begin.

Which characters would you like to see in a head-to-head match-up?

January 4, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
1 Comment

Reading Resolutions and More

It’s the new year, and I’m not much for making resolutions.  I do like dreaming of the possibilities a new year can bring, especially when I think of all the good books out there waiting for me to discover them.

A conversation over on Twitter has got me thinking about some of those books that I might be missing out on because I get stuck reading my favorites.  If you look at the shelves in my classroom, it’s easy to tell what my favorite genres are:  fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction.  Those shelves are overflowing with books. It’s also easy too tell what my bookgaps are.  Those are the shelves that look empty and lonely:  graphic novels, sports and adventure stories, horror, and almost all nonfiction except for memoir.  I’ve gotten better at reading outside my comfort zone (and if nothing else is available, I will read just about anything), but I could definitely push myself.

Some of these bookgaps have been longstanding.  I can remember the children’s librarian from my hometown trying to convince me to read some nonfiction as part of the summer reading program.  I may have read the most books that summer, but I definitely didn’t read the most variety.  I finally gave in on nonfiction by reading a couple of biographies and lots of mythology.  Fortunately, I’ve since discovered some nonfiction books that I actually enjoyed.  I suspect the nonfiction writing is getting better!

Last year I did set a goal of reading 200 books.  Much to my surprise, I made it!  I can still remember when Paul Hankins started the Centurians group on Facebook.  I didn’t know if I could read 100 books that year (and my husband thought I was nuts to consider it), but I did it.

Rather than increase (or even set) a number of books for a reading goal this year, I want to explore some different possibilities.  Some of these explore possibilities of what I want to read.  Others explore ways I can share what I read.

  • Read more books to fill in my bookgaps:  graphic novels and nonfiction especially
  • Read some of the classics I missed.  Can you believe I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye?
  • Add more book trailers to my blog and share them with my classes.
  • Do more book talks in class!
  • Keep searching to put the right book in the hands of the right student at the right time.  I want every student in my classes to find the book that speaks to them.
  • Develop my PLN on Twitter.  I’ve been listening in on great conversations.  Now it’s time to speak up and join in the conversations.

What possibilities would you like to explore through the coming year?  Are there bookgaps in your reading life waiting for you to explore?  Are you all about the numbers?  What is your book number?