Choosing Just Right Books

Choosing just right books

Choosing a book for independent reading is a challenge for many students. They struggle to find a book that they can read and also want to read. Classroom teachers go over this when they teach Reader’s Workshop and the Daily 5, but it is also something I teach in the library. I discuss this concept with all grades throughout the school year. However, at the beginning of second grade is when I introduce the concept of using the 5 Finger Rule and teach a more in-depth lesson about picking just right books. 

First I begin by having a discussion with students about what the phrase “just right” means. I provide examples like picking out new clothes to wear. You do not want to pick a pair of pants that are too small and tight. You also don’t want to choose a pair that is falling off and so long you step on them. You want a pair that fits just right. I then tell them that this is what we need to do when we are choosing a book to read. It needs to be a book that is the right “size” for them.

Next, I read the book Goldi Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins. I purchased this from Demco but it is also available on Amazon. 

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians

If you have never read this book before, it is a take-off of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldi Socks is walking through the forest when she stumbles upon a house that looks like a book. She goes inside and finds all different kinds of books. She searches until she has a just right book. And when the libearians come home they are happy that she is there reading their books.

I show them these posters and we talk about how to determine if a book is too easy, too hard or just right. I model the 5 finger rule as well.

Just Right Books activity
5 finger rule

By this point, the students are more than ready to check out their books. I usually tell them to choose one book that is just right and then another book that they think looks interesting. Many times the “interesting” book will be a nonfiction book.

I give them a 5 finger rule bookmark and a coloring page as well. I will also give these out periodically throughout the year when I think they need a refresher. The posters, bookmarks and coloring page are part of my Choosing Just Right Books Product Pack. You can purchase it in my TpT store or on my website.

5 finger rule for just right books

Choosing Just Right Books – Print Breakout

Breakouts are my new favorite activity to do with my students, so I created one for teaching about choosing a just right book. This is a print breakout, not digital. I suggest using it with second and third graders. I kept a Golidlocks theme but you do not have to read the Goldie Socks and the Goldie Locks and the Three Libearians book first.

The scenario is about Goldilocks’ sister Gabby. Gabby needs to learn how to choose a book that is right for her so Goldilocks takes her to see the three bears. The bears give Gabby three challenges to complete. Each challenge is about how to know if a book is just right and using the five finger rule. This breakout is available in my TpT store and on my website.

Upper Elementary Students

With 3rd, 4th and 5th graders I also take the time to review choosing just right books. I have found this to be even more important once my school stopped focusing on Accelerated Reader. I tell them they do not have to do the five finger rule (physically hold up a finger for every word they do not understand). But I do tell them to keep track in their head. 

I also like to show them what the process looks like by having them watch me choose a just right book. I will have three books ready ahead of time. I select one book that has a really interesting cover but is also at a higher reading level. I will select one book that is a simple chapter book and one that is in between. I will pick up the first book and say: “I love the cover on this book. There is a dragon on the cover and I love dragons.” Then I will read the book blurb or summary of the book. Sometimes I will choose a random page from the book to read. You do not have to read anything out loud, you just want the students to observe you. Then say “I can’t even understand the summary of this book. There are so many words I have never seen before. Even though I think I would like this book, it is too hard for me.” Pick up the second book. Repeat the process but this time the book is too easy for you to read. Then go to the third book. This book will not only be interesting to you but is also one you can read. It is not so easy that you don’t have to think about what you are reading. But it’s not so hard that you struggle to read the words. 

I always make sure to emphasize the fact that in order for a book to be “just right” it has to be something they want to read. Having the ability to read the book is not enough. If they are not interested in the book than it is not right for them. I have very strong feelings on this subject – mostly stemming from the time when Accelerated Reader was used as a punishment and my students learned to hate reading.

Other Ideas

You can also show this video to help teach the concept. I like it because it shows real students modeling the process of how of how to choose a “just right” book. It shows the student using a shelf marker and looking at the cover and the summary. This would work well as a refresher halfway through the year as well. The video is on youtube. Video Link:

This idea I found in a librarian Facebook group (unfortunately I do not remember which one). It’s called the shoe lesson. First, ask students to remove their shoes. Then explain that they are going to go shopping for new shoes. Students will walk around looking at all the other shoes to “buy” a new pair (tell them they can not actually buy the shoes they just took off). While they do this, you will walk around helping students decide on what shoes are the best for them (making sure there are mistakes to help emphasize the point.) Then compare how finding the right shoes is like finding the right book. Each kid is different but they need a pair that they not only like but that fits them.

I also like to read the story Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler and Kevin O’Malley. It is about a boy who is unable to find a book that matches his interest and the teacher (Miss Malarkey) who refuses to give up until she finds the perfect book for him. 

Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind

Too Many Choices

I believe that many students are overwhelmed when choosing a book to read. Having too many choices is not always a good thing, especially when it comes to reluctant readers. Often I will pull books that I know will be appealing to the students but also readable. Then I put these books in a separate location for the students to choose from. This helps to build their confidence which we all know is vital in developing a love of reading in a child.

Another option for older students is to hold a book tasting.  A book tasting is a chance to expose students to different kinds of books. It is a way to expose students to different genres and to get them engaged and excited about reading. Read my book tasting blog post to learn more about how to incorporate one with your students.    

Because I thought that my Goldi Locks and the Libearians posters might not appeal to older students, I created a new set of posters and bookmarks with a fun emoji theme. They match my Emoji Themed Library Decor Packs. You can download them for free from my Resource Library. If you are already a subscriber, click here and log-in with the secret password.

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Just right book printout