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Finding those “just right” books

Oh. How. Those. Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…have gone! One second you’re basking in the June sun, releasing the tension off your shoulders as the school year comes to a close. Then, suddenly, you blink and summer officially reaches its end. Not only have I had to prepare for another year of teaching third grade, but I’ve also had to set up an entirely new classroom in another school district, and embrace a completely different curriculum. Talk about a whole other meaning to the word “hazy!” It’s been an exhausting, but exhilarating blur, and I have so much I want to share with the Horn Book community.

Most teachers start off their year by assessing their students’ reading, writing, and spelling through some sort of mandated progress monitoring system. I can see why some find these routines monotonous — checking off word accuracy as students read from a list of high frequency words, asking the same questions over and over as students recall prescribed comprehension passages, and having to record even the slightest of miscues to obtain the most accurate scores. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret of mine: I love assessments. I find it akin to detective work — scoping out my students’ strengths and weaknesses, processing the meaning behind their errors, and ascertaining their guided reading range of levels. It’s really a means to an end, as the results help me provide my students with the best level of instruction possible.

Now, while I am monitoring assessments, I often have my students engaged in DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time. I love to walk around and see my students snuggled up in my reading corner, noses buried inside a text. In between my assessing, I take note of the choices my students have selected for their “just right” books in order to gauge their reading interests. Yet, as I take a closer look at the titles, there are some students whose text choices aren’t exactly aligning with the instructional range at which I’ve scored their assessments.

I struggle with this dilemma often, particularly as students reach the third grade. Eager to relinquish themselves from the Frog and Toad types of series, many third graders are reaching towards books that are way above their reading level. It’s not possible to just remove the books from the classroom library, as I have students who are in those particular stages in their reading lives. I so admire their longing to reach towards books with a little more “meat” to them, and so I’m just wondering if there are books within the Guided Reading “K to N” range that have deeper themes and messages for my students to hold on to. I’m also wondering how teachers go about having the conversation with their students in guiding them towards more appropriate texts for their reading ability.

What are your thoughts?


Stacy Tell About Stacy Tell

Stacy Tell received her undergraduate degree in Childhood/Special Education from New York University, and her master’s in Language & Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is passionate about helping students to become lifelong readers and is currently teaching in a third grade classroom in Weston, Massachusetts.



  1. It’s hard to tell from this post, but you don’t seem to actually state the problem with these kids who reach above their level. I get that their titles don’t match your assessment, but are you finding that these kids get discouraged by the harder books? Or do they read what they can and are missing large chunks of the story and they’re distressed because they’re confused? My (non teacher) thought is that as long as they’re enjoying themselves and not getting overly discouraged…?

    Anyway, I love The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, which comes in at an M. There’s two more titles on the way in the series. The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin is an N, and I think there’s at least two books with the same characters. No Willems is also coming out with an early chapter book – The Story of Diva and Flea – that looks like it could be good, but no idea where it falls on Guided Reading. Good luck!

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