First Chapter Fridays with Secondary Students

Try a First Chapter Friday with your high school students! Students love being read to by a teacher, and they will experience different genres, authors, narrators, and more. #HighSchoolELA #FirstChapterFriday

First Chapter Fridays work well in my secondary classroom. Here are some tips I’ve learned.

(First, I want to acknowledge that I did not invent First Chapter Fridays. I saw teachers talking about the process on Instagram. I searched for ideas and couldn’t find solid ideas for high school students. I took the idea and developed the guidelines below. If you know who indeed created First Chapter Fridays, let me know, and I will credit them.)

I want my classroom culture to be one of language, of appreciating the written and spoken word. Like so many of you, I want a literacy-rich classroom. This past summer, I decided that one way to achieve that would be through First Chapter Fridays.

Honestly, deciding to read aloud with my high school students was the best decision I’ve ever made as a teacher. (It really might be the singularly best one.) My relationships with students improved, and therefore my classroom management was smoother than in previous years. My students shared books that they treasure across their lives. I heard stories of Jack and Annie, Gooney Bird Greene, and Ready Freddy. I learned that under a lot of teenager-ness, I have readers. We discussed literacy openly and honestly.

Our overall lessons improved too. I suddenly had a plethora of mentor sentences from books that we had shared. If students were stuck on a literary piece, I had shared knowledge to build upon. If we overwhelmingly disliked a book, we again had important conversations about what we expect from plot structures and themes. Literary time periods and devices that I hadn’t thought about since college came back to me, and I shared those ideas with students. One student checked out a college book of mine that detailed time periods. (I was ecstatically happy.)

Finally, as a teacher, there really is not a better feeling than doing something that students enjoy. After a few weeks, students would ask on Thursday what book we would read. Students would provide me recommendations. Students who moved to other classes would return and talk about a book we had shared.

Overall, First Chapter Fridays were a smashing success. Below, I’ve detailed the process I used.

First Chapter Friday Starter Kit

Overview

Students love it when I read to them. Every Friday, I read one chapter of a new book to my students. Hopefully, one of them asks to read it. If no one takes the book, that’s ok! Students relaxed while I read, and they experienced a new author, genre, point of view, and on.

My general goal of First Chapter Fridays is to introduce students to new books. By doing so, I am also showcasing new genres and authors. Many ELA teachers feel like their curriculum is jam-packed. By spending ten minutes a week reading a new book, you can experience some freedom and choice.

Process

This process has worked well with my freshmen, and I hope you can adapt the process to fit your needs.

Find an assortment of books. In my post about building a classroom library, I discuss ways to find inexpensive books. If you don’t own books, borrow some from the library. Share books with colleagues.First Chapter Friday can be a great experience for secondary students. Your first step: choose your book. #SecondaryELA #HighSchoolELA

Pick your book!

For choosing a book, I have a general process. First, I consider the goal of new exposure to books. I want my students to see different genres and both male and female narrators. I want them to experience meaningful topics about refugees, blended families, bullied teens, and everything! 

Second, I keep a running list of my First Chapter Friday books. I search for ones that will address new criteria. Maintaining a list also prevents me from an uneven exposure to one type of genre (for example). Finally, I read books that I might not like. I don’t mean inappropriate books, but rather books I would not personally read such as fantasy. First Chapter Friday should not be a display of my favorite books.

After you choose a book for First Chapter Friday, research a bit about the author and book. Be sure the book will work in your community.

Research your book

Only you can judge what will work in your community and school. Be sure that the subject matter is acceptable. You can normally find a quick review online or ideas from Amazon.

Read the book, or at least read a few chapters. If you’re like I am, you’ll read the whole book. It’s fine; stand in the hall and read and greet students. I actually believe this small act of stepping into the hall to read has improved my classroom culture.

After you choose your book for a read aloud, plan your presentation. What will engage your secondary students the most?

Plan the presentation

Sell your book! I do a bit of a “book talk.” For instance, when I used Deadly Design for a First Chapter Friday, I planned my presentation ahead of time:

I read the first chapter. We “met” the twin brothers. The brothers were genetically modified, and one was kept frozen for two years. The twins were actually born two years apart.

I read the back cover that explains how one twin will die of a genetic condition, leaving the younger twin two years to find a doctor to fix the problem. At this point, students were hooked.

I read the second chapter. They were so hooked!

Plan ahead what will work for your book and best engage students. I have also opened my reading with a short video from the author, an Instagram post from the publisher, or a book trailer. Students might not know those outside resources exist, and part of making First Chapter Friday meaningful is showcasing the larger world of literature. 

Read alouds with secondary students: encourage independent reading with your high school students.

Read the book

As you continue with First Chapter Fridays, you’ll find your comfort zone. When you read the first chapter of your book, stay positive. As you continue throughout the year, you might find yourself adding voices or giving dramatic pauses.

The first time I animated a chapter, my actions were not planned. I simply jumped into a goofy voice. Immediately, I wondered if my kiddos would laugh at me, but instead, they were focusing on me. This makes sense! Humans listen to podcasts and radio shows. We listen to authors read their books. My students expect me to add emphasis now.

I do want to emphasize though that if you feel uncomfortable, don’t add that to your repertoire. I think that when students see an adult read, they are already benefiting from the experience, with or without voices. 

Finish, and ask if anyone wants to borrow the book. Often, I do have students ask me to borrow the book. If I have a student who looked interested, I will ask that students quietly as the bell rings. They normally take the book.

If a student takes a book from first hour and I still need tor read for second hour, I grab another book. Since I keep a pile of books in my classroom library, I always have “next” books that I want to read. Having a few on hand solves the problem.

What books belong in your secondary classroom library??

Choose a new book for the next Friday!

Start the process over again. Now that I have implemented First Chapter Fridays a few times in my classes, I have a system. I continually place books with intriguing first chapters in a pile. (My pile sits behind my desk on a shelf.) I rotate those books and add sticky notes for what books students have read from what classes. (This might be overwhelming your first year with First Chapter Friday. My point is that I never stop searching for new books.)

Post your book on Wednesday or Thursday so that students can look it up online. I add a picture to our Google Classroom. I also showcase the book on our chalkboard ledge. Sometimes students will find the author on Instagram and Twitter. They will come to class knowing a little bit about the author.

Books

My librarian is fabulous, and when I have multiple students who want to read the book, she borrows extras for me. My first suggestion to finding books for First Chapter Friday is to collaborate. If other teachers, administrators, or parents will share books, ask to borrow them.

If you don’t have more than one copy of a book, find similar books or give students a similar book. For instance, I once read a Sarah Dessen book for First Chapter Friday, and I ended up distributing several of her books to interested students. The point for me is that I was putting books into the hands of students.

Those are my thoughts and processes behind First Chapter Friday with secondary students. Have you tried First Chapter Friday? What worked for you? What concerns do you have? I’m interested to see other high school teachers’ processes. 

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22 comments

  • Meredith

    Love this! I have implemented 10-15 minutes of independent reading in my freshman class but am having trouble getting students hooked.

    What do you do if you have several students who want to read the same book? How do you decide who gets it first?

    • Lauralee (author)

      Hi Meredith,

      I get more copies of the book! When this happens, I am thrilled. I had one book (I think Revived) take off, and I returned to the dollar store and bought some more. Other times, I ask my librarian to borrow books from other libraries. She knows what I do every Friday, and she helps me.

      Try it! Students really enjoy getting hooked. Let me know how it goes for you!

    • Kate

      I guess a wait list would work too, although you may risk interest dwindling. However, you might heighten anticipation as they await their turn!

      • Lauralee (author)

        I’ve seen teachers do that. I’ve also seen teachers draw names.

  • Marie

    I can’t wait to start this with my 9th and 10th graders next term! I am currently picking which books I want to highlight during our first 9-week quarter and it is SO FUN!!

    Do you ever have your students respond to the chapters they hear? I’m thinking of a way I can incorporate some brief writing practice into the mix…

    • Caitlin

      Don’t do it. Just let them enjoy the experience!

  • Sarah Kruckeberg

    This is such an awesome idea! I can’t wait to start this with my 5th graders.

    • Lauralee (author)

      Let me know how it goes! I love to hear ideas to add to my classroom.

  • Jill Shelton

    At a high school, you have several periods of the same course. Do you read the same book each period, then let the borrower take it the next day? Switch to a different book after letting a kid borrow it first hour?

    • Lauralee (author)

      I read the same book, but I have backup books. Oftentimes, the librarian has other copies waiting for students because we collaborate on First Chapter Fridays. Other times, I read the same author to different classes. For instance, I have about 20 Sarah Dessen books, and if I read one of her books, students may choose a similar one. Finally, I will send students to the library, and she will send out a request to borrow books from other libraries.

      If students borrow all my copies, I do choose another book for my other classes! I just keep reading. 🙂

  • Dionne

    This is a great idea! I homeschool twin teen boys that are starting 9th this year. Can’t wait to head to the library and make our Fridays more interesting.

    • Lauralee (author)

      Have SO much fun! I don’t have teenagers yet (as a mother), but I love reading with my own kids too. Let me know how it goes!

  • Josephine Rose

    Do you read to them at the beginning or end of class?

    • Lauralee (author)

      Hi! I read as soon as the bell rings. It sets such a nice feeling for the day.

      Thanks for asking! Have you started First Chapter Friday?

  • Lisa

    Do you have a list of books you used? I love this idea! Thanks!

  • Pingback: How to Create the Classroom Library of Your Dreams  | It's Lit Teaching

  • Kate

    What an absolutely fabulous idea! Share it with my Grade Three team and they love it! We’re also thinking of inviting parents and other staff to come and share the first chapter of a favourite book (providing we have it in the library).

    • Lauralee (author)

      Oh, good! That’s so awesome, Kate. Have loads of fun with FCF.

      Lauralee

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