50 Things About Me as a Reader

(Note: I used a version of this post over at our iAnthology social networking site for the National Writing Project, and folks are sharing their own, too.)

My blogging friend, Franki, at A Year of Reading, wrote about the brainstorming ideas behind self-reflective readers. She had students trying to create a list of 100 things that explain them as readers, and then she did the same. She noted that almost no one got to 100 on their list, but maybe the list is always growing?

I thought I might give it a try over the last few days and got myself to 50 Things About Me as a Reader:

  1. The first book I remember reading independently was Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss.
  2. When I was a kid, the trip to the town library used to make me so excited, I always had to use the bathroom when we got there. Always.
  3. I used to collect comic books, more for the characters than for the art.
  4. My favorite comic book series was called “What If …” that morphed stories together in strange ways.
  5. I never thought it strange as kid that I was always reading something
  6. One of my favorite book series as a kid was Encyclopedia Brown mysteries but I could never figure out how to solve the mysteries.
  7. My mom read all the time and there were books everywhere in our house.
  8. One of my best memories of read-aloud was my mom reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator to my brother and I on our couch.
  9. On rainy days, my mom would make us go read and we could not come downstairs until we had read at least three books (or three chapters). She read then, too.
  10. I have always been a fast reader; maybe, too fast at times
  11. In High School, I took a Power Reading course, which in later life played a huge role in being able to skim through informational text with ease.
  12. I didn’t like the Hardy Boys all that much as characters, but I read just about every book in the series because I loved book series that never seemed to end.
  13. We used to travel to a used book shop called The Red Barn, which was this massive old barn filled to the brim with books. I loved that place.
  14. I read Archie comics but never understood the girls (such was life).
  15. It wasn’t until college that I read a poem that I enjoyed and could understand.
  16. I was stunned to find Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run lyrics in a college text for poetry and then came to read lyrics a bit more closely.
  17. As a saxophone player, I read notes pretty fluently but is that the same as reading words?
  18. I picked up a book of Bob Dylan lyrics once (and still have it) and read it as a text, without the music in my head.
  19. My childhood mornings were often spent reading the backs of cereal boxes. They seem so less inventive these days.
  20. I had to write a play skit myself in order to appreciate the literacy elements of reading a play.
  21. For a long time, I only wanted to read science fiction.
  22. Then, I moved on to mysteries.
  23. Now I try to mix it all up so that I am always off-balance with my genre expectations as a reader.
  24. Why do movie versions of books I like always disappoint me?
  25. The most difficult thing I ever read was an obituary, for a close family member. I read it once and then packed it away.
  26. Long after I had forgotten about comics, I came to rediscover graphic novels and found beauty and power in the good ones.
  27. The best thing about being a staff writer for a site that reviews graphic novels it that every so often, a huge box of books arrives on my doorstep, and my sons and I wrestle over who gets to look at which book first.
  28. Sometimes, when I am stuck writing a song, I pull words and phrases and plot lines from my memory banks of books that I have read as inspiration.
  29. Reading the scribbles, lines and swoops of my sons while they were emerging writers is a wonderful mystery: what is that word? They know and I need to figure it out.
  30. I think I am pretty adept at “reading” people.
  31. I read this bumper sticker for a local bookstore that is like The Red Barn — it’s a farmhouse on a river in a town not easily accessible — that stated: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find” and thought that was a brilliant way to capture the place.
  32. I wonder about my reading when I have jumped through five hyperlinks and completely abandoned the first page where it all started.
  33. I submit stories to short story contests but then never read any of the winners. They don’t often interest me. Or maybe I am just jealous that it wasn’t me.
  34. I need to read every night before I go to sleep, or else I don’t sleep very well.
  35. When I am at the beach, I sneak peeks at what people are reading. I can’t help myself.
  36. Becoming a teacher allowed me to read young adult fiction again and I love that.
  37. I love wordless picture books, where the art is what you read.
  38. Reading political signs on people’s lawns is interesting because it gives you some insight into the neighbors you think you know, and may not.
  39. Mostly, I read magazines during the day and novels at night.
  40. If I owned a bookstore, I would have cats that would lounge around in the sunny window amidst the books because that scenes says something to me about the joy of reading.
  41. I was a newspaper reporter for a long time and now, when I write by hand, I can’t read my scribbled notes if any amount of time has elapsed.
  42. Movies with subtitles that I have to read while watching doesn’t suit my fancy all that much. I’ll do it but only if the movie is really engaging.
  43. When an author I like puts out a new book, I lose my sense of conservative monetary policy and usually splurge, even though I should wait for the library to get it.
  44. One of the worst thing that I imagine happening to me is losing my ability to read, like that guy in the Twilight Zone episode who crushes his reading glasses.
  45. I don’t get the same pleasure out of audiobooks that I do out of reading books myself.
  46. No magazine I get on a regular basis lives up to the excitement I first experience when seeing it in my mailbox. Why is that?
  47. I used to read the newspaper first, and then check my email and read online. Now, I read online first and then look at the newspaper. Things change.
  48. I do enjoy non-traditional books done in the form of epistolary (letters, notes, memos, emails, etc) style so that the story unfolds along different crevasses.
  49. I love reading The Onion news because they skewer headlines, which is an art unto itself, really.
  50. I’m more likely to abandon a book now that I am older than I was willing to do when I was younger, and I’m not sure which is better (slogging it out or waiting for the magic).

And that’s where I am right now.

Peace (in the reading),

Moving Students to Think with Writing

Our school has been knee-deep in data from our state’s standardized testing results (a mixed bag) since the start of the year as we work to orientate our Professional Learning Communities towards using weaknesses we are noticing to drive changes in our curriculum and approach.

For me, as the sixth grade writing teacher, two things jump out. First, our students do a poor job on being able to read and use non-fiction text. We noticed this trend a few years ago and it continues. We are working to address that by teaching more reading skills across the curriculum (how to read a map in Social Studies, how to analyze a data sheet in math, how to pull out information from a chart in Science, etc.) and I am doing more current events with the students, using Time for Kids magazine for non-fiction reading as well as supplementary text. (We intend to read Three Cups of Tea for young readers later this year but more on that some other time).

Another major area of weakness is in reading a text and then answering an open response question that uses evidence and examples from the text to support the answer. Gosh. This is going to take a lot of work, I can tell, and it’s clear that they have not been asked to do this enough in prior grades. They can do literal thinking but moving them into critical thinking is a challenge.

So, a big shift for me this year is really using rubrics (that tie in to our new standards-based reporting) and paragraph writing prompts that will give them plenty of exposure to analyzing a text and give me more chances to walk them through exemplars of student writing.

On that note, I created this list of generalized writing prompts that will be more specific to the book or text that they are reading. Much of this is tied directly to standards in our Sixth Grade ELA curriculum. But I would appreciate an outsider’s opinion.

Am I missing any major points here when it comes to critical thinking in reading text? If you notice anything, please let me know.

Sixth Grade: Common Open Response Writing Questions for Literature Class

Main Questions

Character development is important and good books will often have characters “change” over the course of the story. Choose a character and explain how that character is different by the end of the novel. Be sure to use at least two pieces of evidence from the book to back up your ideas on what the character was like when we first met them and what they are like by the end of the story. Also, explain why it was important for the character to change through the course of the book.

Setting plays a large role in any story. Where a story takes place — the time, the environment, the location, etc. — will often shape how the story is being told and what happens. Identify the main setting of the novel and explain its importance to the story. Why did the writer choose this setting for this book? Be sure to include evidence from the novel to support your answer.

The theme of a book is the overall message of the story. It is often explained to the reader through a lesson that is learned by the main character. Identify the theme of the novel and explain how the characters in the book come to learn this lesson. Make sure you use evidence from the novel to support your answer. Also, in your answer, be sure to reflect on why the writer choose this particular theme to develop a story around. Why is this theme important to a reader?

Plot development is how the story unfolds over the course of the novel (remember: Exposition/Rising Action/Climax/Falling Action/Resolution). The main element is the climax of the story, which is the “main event” of a book when everything comes together for a dramatic moment or decision by the main character. Identify the climax of the novel and explain why you chose it as the climax. Include evidence from the book to support the idea that this is the main event of the story.


Symbolism is the use of a concrete image to represent something abstract (not seen). One example might be the American flag, which is a physical object that represents the United States of America. Identify the use of symbolism in the novel and explain how the writer used that symbol to tell the story. Make sure you provide evidence from the novel to support your answer. And, explain why you think the writer chose this particular symbol for this story.

Foreshadowing is when the author leaves clues for the reader early in the story. It is often only later in the story that these clues make sense to the character and the reader. Identify at least two elements of foreshadowing in the book and explain how these clues became important as the story progressed. Be sure to back up your ideas with evidence from the book. Also, explain in your answer why you think the author used foreshadowing in this novel.

It often helps a reader to connect with the experiences of a character. Choose a character from the novel and write about experiences that you have had in your life that seem similar to the experiences of the character in the book. The experiences may not be exact, but you should be able to understand the emotions, reactions or actions of the character based on your own life experiences. Be sure to support your answer with evidence from the novel and from your own life.

Peace (in the teaching),