Students need access to books at home, and I don’t want to assume they have it. The volume of books read is the greatest predictor of student reading success (Allington). Knowing this, sending home 4-7 books each week is a priority in my planning/schedule/book acquisition.
With that said, I needed a routine that became a natural part of our classroom. Something that wasn’t crazy orchestrated or controlling. I wanted to provide students access to high-quality trade books, but didn’t wanted to spend hours logging, trading-out, or managing which books went home with what students. It was all too much.
Filling Our Book Bags
- Every student gets a plastic, gallon bag. (this way when bags get torn/dragged through mud/lost), it truly doesn’t matter. I just grab another gallon bag.
- Add this blurb to the front. Cover with clear packing tape to secure.
- Spread high-interest books from Half-Price Books, Scholastic, Good Will, or Chickfila on the ground.
- Have students sit around the perimeter of the carpet or area where the books are spread.
- Call on groups of students to fill (pick a nonfiction/fiction book you want to read, a book that looks funny, a book an adult in your house would want to read, a book you could read by yourself etc.)for a total of 4-6 bookish.
- Put book bags in backpack and let families read.
- Each Friday morning (6:30 AM) send a Remind text to encourage the return of the bags.
- Children set bags on their table when they get to school.
- Play “Musical Book Bag” to get new books bags each week. To play Musical Book Bag, students stand around the tables (with book bags on the table) and cake-walk it until the music stops.
- Once a month, return to Step 2 and resort/pick books.
- Boom. Done. It’s a simple, no-stress way to make sure students have lots of books to read. The books are books students wants to read and can be read by themselves, with an adult, before school, or even with a friend.
What If Students Forget Their Book Bag?
I keep 4-6 “extra” fully-stocked bags for friends who forget, lose, or misplace their bags. Everyone goes home with books every week, no questions asked.
Realistically, there are some bags that I never see again. The books remain at a student’s home and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to police or shame book bags. Our kids are little and so many times our students aren’t responsible for their own bags. It’s a family/home/life issue way beyond their control. Additionally, my priority is sending books home…even if they don’t return.
How Do Students Use Their Book Bags?
In our classroom, these are for at-home or just-for-fun reading. Students keep them in their backpacks for reading in the “spare” moments. From bus rides to waiting in the gym in the mornings to afternoon dismissal students know they can grab and use these bags at home or at school. I want reading to be a daily part of every student’s life, and these bags help students build this routine.
What About Book Bins?
Great question! Our book bags and book bins are two separate entities. Book bags remain in our backpacks and at home. These are books I’m completely okay with losing and are pretty loosely managed. Students choose books from a pre chosen 200+ plus books put on the classroom carpet. Our book bins are choice books from our classroom library. They are a mix of topics, levels, and interests. You can read more about our book bins here.
I don’t number books bags or systematically rotate them between students. Since we’re changing out the individual books in the book bags each month, students won’t get the same combination of books each week. A random book or two might be the same, but not all 4-6. Additionally, once students snag their book bag, they always have the option to trade-out individual books or book bags with a friend. I have no dogs in this fight. It’s cool. We use these bags in conjunction with our unhomework calendars.
Where Do I Get Books?
Awesome questions! Typically the books from our book bags are $1 books from Scholastic or books from our Half-Price Book boxes. With that said, I have a huge blog post HERE about all the places I snag low-cost and/or free books for our classroom. You could also investigate Scholastic $1 Books and Scholastic Warehouse.
I’m all about systems and routines…but I’m not about being high-maintence. I love routines that are simple, meaningful, and eventually run themselves. So, this book bag routine works for our classroom. Do you have a book-bag routine that works for you? Would this routine work for you? I’d love to hear your experience!
Get Free Teaching Resources!
Join me for weekly classroom updates and free resources that are just-right for your guided math classroom!
joyce densmore-thomas says
I so appreciate your posts! I also send books home every week. I include a couple reading strategy bookmarks in a plastic envelope for parents to use with their child. I think it’s one of the best routines I do in terms of supporting reading development, love of reading and also a positive relationship between my students, their families and me. My students bring their book “envelope” back every Friday. During guided reading, I call them individually to bring their books to me. They select one to read (a few lines/paragraphs/pages depending on the amount of text) and we have a quick comprehension talk about the book or I teach/review a quick strategy. I take a brief note about successes and struggles on a recording sheet as the student heads to the book boxes to select a couple leveled books and “free reading” books to refill their envelope. Their job is to read, read, read throughout the week and bring them back the following Friday. It’s the best part of my week!
I am always looking for cheap books. I haven’t been very pleased with Scholastics books for a dollar. The ones that are 25 for $25. They seem to be ones that aren’t very popular. I had found a link that had cheap books but when they came, they were used and some were old. Any suggestions?
Hey Michelle! It’s definitely a catalog-by-catalog roulette. Sometimes the books are awesome and sometimes, not so much. Typically in November/December and April/May I have the best luck!
Love your suggestions and we are looking to implement at home book bags next year. Thank you!
Vicki RW says
Hi, I read your blog about at home book bags and I love the idea of students picking out the books but how do you differentiate the bags when you play musical book bags?
Hey Vicki! Honestly, these bags aren’t differentiated. Just full of lots of awesome, fun books!
Liiy Rose says
Hi sir, I read your blog about at-home book bags and I love the idea of students picking out the books but how do you differentiate the bags when you play musical book bags? really this is very informative for me. thanks for you.
Such an awesome system and I’m so going to try it!!!! Thank you so much for this blog post!
I read your post regarding at-home book bags on your blog. Your post has given me so many great ideas. Your ideas are wonderful, and we are looking to implement at home book bags next year. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
Hi! I am loving this idea. I’m new to primary after years of upper elementary and I have not yet been able to find a system that is quick and efficient! This sounds like a win for all invovled. I also love the unhomework calendar idea -just awesome! I’m curious, do you have students and/or parents log in any manner what they were able to read that week? As a bit of an accountability tool? My gut is saying no with this method, but checking in on this!
Thanks so much.