Helping Children Choose a Just-Right Book
After becoming a teacher-librarian it opened my eyes to how and why children choose the books they do. In the library, I saw firsthand the decision-making process. Some reasons for choosing a book included their friend had read it, it was by their favourite author, or they liked the cover. This is all very well, but these reasons don’t take into account a child’s reading level or ability. We need to teach strategies to help them choose a just-right book for independent reading.
I have written about how it is important for children to choose their own books. But we also want them to choose books suitable for their reading ability. Read further for more information on how to help your students choose a just-right book.
What is a Just-Right Book?
A just-right book is at an instructional level that a child can decode and comprehend. The book should be challenging enough that they will stretch themselves and learn new vocabulary. They should be able to use different reading strategies rather than only decoding words.
Easy books don’t promote growth and lead to boredom. However, they can build confidence, fluency and comprehension if appropriate. On the flip side, a difficult book leads to frustration. If the reader struggles to decode or comprehend the text, there will be a declining interest in reading. There is no point in reading if they don’t understand what they are reading. This is why a just right book is so important
How to Choose a Just-Right Book
Spend time modelling to your students how to choose a just-right book. Demonstrate how to:
- look at the cover and the title
- read the blurb
- scan the text (font size, white space)
- Look at the illustrations
- check the number of pages
- chapter titles, especially if it is a nonfiction book
- do the five finger rule
The Five-Finger Rule
It is hard for children to know if a book is too easy or too hard. The five-finger rule is a quick and easy way to help them check if a book is just right for their independent reading. The five-finger rule is only a guideline.
- Choose a book you are interested in reading.
- Read a full-page in the middle of the book.
- Hold up one finger for every word you don’t know or understand.
- When you get to the end of the page, check how many fingers you have up.
Once your students have finished reading use the following guidelines according to how many fingers they hold up:
0 or 1 FINGERS: Too easy. Try another book.
2 FINGERS: A just-right book! Provides enough challenge to complement smooth reading.
3 FINGERS: A little hard. Could be fun to try if you are ready for a challenge.
4 FINGERS: Difficult to read. You may need adult support.
5 FINGERS: Too difficult. Try again in a few months or try another book.
As well as teaching your students how to choose a book for their ability, get them to think about other criteria, including enjoyment, emotions and interests.
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Use these questions for students to ask themselves once they have completed the five finger rule. Their answers will confirm whether the book is a good fit or not.
- Do you know most of the words?
- Is the book new to you?
- Do you understand most of what you read?
- Are you interested in reading more of the book?
- Are you confused about what is happening in the book?
- Is your reading choppy or smooth?
- Do you need someone to help you read or understand the book?
We want the students to develop into lifelong readers. Being able to choose a just right book is the first step in that direction. All children, no matter if they are struggling or confident need opportunities to be taught reading strategies into practice independently. This is reinforced if they have the opportunities to choose their own books.
Do you use the five-finger rule? Maybe you use another strategy like I PICK? Let me know how you help your students choose appropriate books independently.
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