Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Weekly Reading Response Letters: Part 1

One of the components of my reading class is a weekly reading response letter.  Each week, I ask my friends to write me a letter about their reading.  This is one of the more important grades I take, but more importantly they really provide great insight as to how my friends are thinking.  I can tell right away if there is just a lot of surface level thinking or if they are thinking deeper.  They know I'm looking to see how they apply what we learn in class to their reading.

What they aren't allowed to do in their letter is give a detailed summary of the book and simply say, "I did/didn't like it."  I tell them that I don't need them for that.  I could get a summary by Googling it or reading the back cover.  What I can't get without them is how and what they think about the book.  Only they can tell me their thinking.

Now, I would like to say that they instantly get it, and I get great letters right off the bat.  If only!  Getting them to write about their thinking of the book and not just about the book takes a lot of modeling.  Due to some new initiatives in our school, I'm just getting to the letters in my reading instruction.  We've done a lot of work on how reading is thinking and how it helps us make meaning and enjoy what we read.  This week, I've begun modeling the reading response letters they will begin doing.  I thought I would share one with you the letter I wrote yesterday and a second one tomorrow.

Here's the one I wrote yesterday.  Please keep in mind, I wrote it fairly quickly on my prep period.  I probably wouldn't use the word friends as much if I had time to revise it.

I put up the letter and read it to the class.  Then, we discuss basics.  Did I use friendly letter format?  Let's review the parts.  Those are what the yellow Post-Its note. We note how it is written in paragraphS.  I don't know about your students, but mine can be Kings and Queens of the One Giant Paragraph!   Then, I read the letter again asking my friends to think about how the letter shows my thinking as a reader.  This is where the pink Post-Its come in.

The letter has to begin by telling the title and author.  This should be followed by a BRIEF summary.  Remember, if my goal was to get a summary of the book, I wouldn't need my friends.  I'm clear to then that this summary is no longer than 4 sentences tops, and is just to give me a feel for what the book is about. 

We then go on to find how the letter shows thinking.  I chose to focus on making a connection, asking a question, and what my mental images were.  They have a section in their notebook labeled "Thinking Stems."  It has a huge variety of areas/topics they could focus on in their letter.   What I need them to do is understand that they have to show how those things shaped their thinking. 

As I said, it's not easy and that's why I spend a few days modeling different types of response letters.  In this letter, I wrote it as if I had finished the book, and I addressed a few different thinking stem thoughts.  Tomorrow, I will share with you the letter I wrote today.  That letter was written as if I was only half-way through the book, and I chose to focus on just one thinking stem: character traits.  It's important to model letters for students who are at different points in their books.  In a few weeks, I will also model a response for non-fiction texts, but for now we start out with fiction.

There was a time I didn't spend as much time on modeling the letters, and what I got wasn't good.  I found that devoting a little more time on what the letters should be in the beginning really pays off.  If you are doing something different with your reading response letters, please comment and let us know.  I'm always looking for ways to improve mine.  :-)

And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

You can find part two Weekly Reading Letters by clicking HERE.


  1. Awesome. I am about to have my kids write one and you remember to do an example or two first!

  2. I do this and it has been frustrating having students not use I liked it or I didn't like or tell you the summary. I feel that I should have modeled more for them. Thanks for posting this, I now realize that I need to go back and spend more time on this area.

  3. This is really helpful - thank you for posting it. Can I ask if you have a link for the 'thinking stems' you mentioned? I would really like to look at them. Alex (British but teaching in country Australia!)

  4. This is a great example of how to model! I realize you wrote this almost a year ago, but I just found it on Pinterest. I would love to have more info on your list of Thinking Stems. If you share them my e-mail is, or if you sell them please tell me where to find it.

    1. Hi Anon! If you look over to the right side of the page, there is a column for Popular Posts. Click on "My Reading Notebooks." In that post, I explain more about how I set up my reading notebooks and use the thinking stems. There is also a link to download the thinking stems. Thanks for reading my blog!

  5. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! YOU HAVE SAVED ME! I am really scared about how to do this and you really spelled it out for me.

  6. Hi there
    I have just found your blog and particularly your reading log ideas. I teach a Yr4/5 class in NZ and am always looking for creative ways to extend my students thinking. Thank you for your examples and this is an idea that I am going to look at implementing in 2013 when we start back. I of course will be looking out for your rubric as an example for my students. Looking forward to seeing how this would work in my class.

  7. NANCY, I know this may be too sooon... but I am a new teacher starting mid year and I am going full throttle with reader's/writer's workshop from DAY ONE because my kiddos NEED IT...and I just wanted to say I LOVE YOU and everything about this blog.

  8. Hi,
    Thanks for your sharing. Do you have a rubric you use for the reading letters? I have tried many and can't seem to find one that "fits".

  9. LOVE this! Your teaching style seems very similar to mine...I always like to include notes and explanations for EXACTLY what I'm expecting of my kiddos. I love the idea of having them write you a letter each week as well. I did this with my second graders last year as part of an opinion writing unit, and they turned out well.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  10. I agree with your opinions on the reading responses and why everyone must know how to write them. Writing a reading response is not an easy task but it is very important. It gives the ability to summarize the already written book and you must know how to structure the content of your response and how to make the right format for it. Your tips are very good and can be easily used for future writings. But I think if you want to start writing professionally you should get help from the specialist who will show you how to write correctly.

  11. My friend mentioned to me your blog, so I thought I’d read it for myself. Very interesting insights, will be back for more!I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it! Thanks, very good post.
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