Spice Up Your Novel Study, Part Two: Six Word Summaries


Six Word Summaries 2Earlier this school year, I started doing something in my classroom that has forever changed how I assess my students’ understanding of the novel we use for our read aloud. This activity is easy to implement, requires just an index card, and allows your students to showcase their creativity. It’s the six word summary, and it is amazing!

What is a Six Word Summary?

The six word summary is exactly what it sounds like. You write a summary of a book in exactly six words: no more, no less. If done right, six word summaries accurately convey the plot and deeper themes of a text, and pique the viewer’s curiosity about the book.

Our second round of Six Word summaries, posted in the hallway for the rest of the school to enjoy!

Why Should You Use a Six Word Summary in Your Class?

After doing this activity twice with my students, I am convinced that is the perfect alternative assessment for students to complete after finishing a chapter book read aloud.

Why should you give this a try with your students?

  • Six word summaries are a creative alternative to a quiz or test on the book, and they can supplement cumulative projects that you may have your students do after finishing a novel.
  • They are quick (my class of 27 was able to finish in about 20 minutes) and the perfect activity for any awkward amounts of time that you may find on your hands.
  • They’re fun! Students enjoyed coming up with the phrases and helping each other take their original ideas and make them fit into exactly six words. It’s also a great way to get students to practice rewording their sentences without them even realizing it.
  • They make a great display for your classroom or the hallway. You can show the rest of the school what you’ve been reading, and showcase how many different ways your students came up with to summarize the same text.
Our first round of Six Word Summaries. My favorite type of student work is the type that doesn’t look the same!

How I Use Six Word Summaries

I was first exposed to the concept of six word summaries by a photo I saw on @elaeveryday‘s Instagram feed. She had her students write a book review in exactly six words, and they were posted in the classroom library for their peers to see. When I saw the clever phrases that the students were able to come up with, I knew I had to figure out a way to use this in my own classroom!

I got my chance when we finished our first class novel, Zane and the Hurricane. My students hadn’t yet started their novel project, and we wouldn’t be starting our next novel until the following day, so I went ahead and tried it out. I told my students that I had a challenge for them: to summarize the book in exactly six words. I showed them an example I had made for Harry Potter and they were instantly hooked. I gave them about 15 minutes to come up with their phrases, and decorate an index card with the phrase and an image that represented it. It was a fun way to recap what happened in the novel, and it made for an engaging bulletin board display! Students loved reading what phrases their classmates had come up with.

The spelling isn’t perfect, but the message is! 

Fast forward a few weeks, and we were finishing up our second novel, A Long Walk to Water. I knew that I wanted to use six word summaries again, but I wanted to up the rigor a bit since my students had already been exposed to the summary format. This time, I had them come up with a phrase and decorate a card, and on the back, they had to write at least three sentences explaining their phrase and how it connected to the events and characters in the book. This simple writing addition helped students extend their learning, and helped me better assess how deeply different students were able to think about the text.

This one might be my all time favorite. I mean, come on! This card was simple but really got at the deeper themes in the text. 
This student used a lot of pictures to supplement her phrase and her explanation on the back. 

We are currently just one day away from finishing our third novel, The Crossover, and I’m planning to use six word summaries again with my students. This time, I’m going to extend another challenge: to write their six words in the form of a poem, since The Crossover is a novel in verse. I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

If you’ve never tried out six word summaries before, I highly encourage you to take the plunge. Your students will blow you away with what they are able to come up with!

P.S. If you haven’t read my first installment in this series about novel studies, be sure to check it out here!


Spice Up Your Novel Study, Part One: Virtual Field Trips


Happy Thanksgiving break, everyone! It’s been a hot second since I have blogged (a new subject area plus larger class sizes has me struggling, y’all!) but I am finally making my triumphant return. Today, I’m starting a new series of posts that covers one of my favorite subjects: class novels!

Class novels (otherwise known as a chapter book read aloud) serve many purposes in my classroom. They are a mentor text that I use to teach skill-based mini-lessons. They are a way to expose my students to new genres, topics, and formats that they otherwise may not experience. They are a common literary experience that we share and refer back to all year long. And most importantly, they are a chance for us to pause our daily instruction and enjoy a really awesome book!

I think class novels are amazing, but I am careful not to turn them into an obligation. I want my students to develop a true love of reading, so I am cautious about assigning too much work that is related to our novel. I don’t want it to feel like another thing they HAVE to do; instead, I want it to be something they look forward to each day (and they do!). Plus, filling out character maps and answering comprehension questions after each chapter isn’t reflective of how real readers read. When was the last time you, a grown adult, paused between chapters to answer questions? Exactly. If we don’t do those sorts of things as adult readers, we shouldn’t be asking them of our students.

I’ve also found that most worksheets and novel packets are a time suck. I’m already pressed for time each day, so if I can eliminate one more task from our to-do list, I’m a happy camper. And finally, most novel companions are usually not very rigorous and ask students surface-level questions. When it comes to assessing student learning, they are never my first choice.

Instead of worksheets and packets, I use a few strategies throughout the year to help my students develop a love of reading; to assess my students’ understanding of skills; to incorporate current events, social justice, and the real world; and above all, keep reading fun! Today I will be talking all about Virtual Field trips and how I use them to build students’ background knowledge and get them excited about they books we read.

Continue reading “Spice Up Your Novel Study, Part One: Virtual Field Trips”

Using Novels to Teach about Racial and Social Justice

blanche side eye

POP QUIZ! What is the purpose of education?

A. To give kids a solid foundation of academic skills

B. To help kids discover a lifelong love of learning

C. To help kids understand the injustices that negatively impact many groups of people in America

D. All of the above

Correct Answer: D, of course! Every teacher likes to say that we are preparing our students for the real world, but in my opinion, we’re not truly doing that until we help our kids recognize, analyze, and push back against the prejudices, inequalities, and racism that are very much alive and well in today’s society.

Now, this is a lofty goal, and one that sounds amazing but that can be hard to implement in an educational environment that is focused on test scores, passing percentages, reading levels, and about a million other data points. However, I am here to tell you that it can be done. It is possible for you to find time in your reading block to tackle these big issues that will ultimately make your students better people. Today’s blog post will give you three easy steps to help you use the class novels you are already reading to make your students more conscious of the injustices around them.

Continue reading “Using Novels to Teach about Racial and Social Justice”

Over 100 Diverse Chapter Books that Every Upper Elementary Teacher Needs

diverse books blog picture

A few days ago, a former student teacher reached out asking for suggestions of third grade chapter books. She is getting her own classroom in the fall and wanted to get a jump start on developing her classroom library. I absolutely LOVE talking about books and was eager to help out. I teach fifth grade, so I did a quick Google search to supplement the books that had instantly popped into my mind to make sure that I was giving her suggestions that were best for her grade level.

Continue reading “Over 100 Diverse Chapter Books that Every Upper Elementary Teacher Needs”

I’ve Got Books…Now What? How to Organize Your Classroom Library

IMG_1344This is the chaos that you want to avoid! 

You’ve scoured thrift shops, browsed used bookstores, and asked family and friends for donations. You’re well on your way to having an amazing classroom library for your students to enjoy! But all the books in the world are useless if your library is a disorderly mess. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing some of the ways that I keep my classroom library organized and some library lessons I’ve learned from my first three years of teaching.

FYI: I am a departmentalized teacher, which means that I teach reading and writing to two different groups of students. These organization tips would definitely work for a self-contained teacher; you just might need to tweak the systems a little bit! I also teach fifth grade, so if you teach much younger students, your students will likely have different organizational needs.

Continue reading “I’ve Got Books…Now What? How to Organize Your Classroom Library”

8 Ways to Build Your Classroom Library (without going broke)


In my opinion, having a classroom library is one of the BEST parts of teaching reading. Maybe it’s because I literally played “librarian” when I was little, but I love adding new books, organizing them in a way that students find easy to use, and watching students discover the books they love.

However, making an amazing classroom library is no easy feat, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Because I believe that all teachers who teach reading should have a robust library, I’ve put together a list of tips to help you get your library up and running. I’ve given each tip a “time” rating and a “money” rating. Building a library can be SUPER expensive if you’re shopping from bookstores, Target, or even from Amazon. However, if you invest time each week or month to seek out books for your students, you will be able to have more books for less money. Read on to see how!  Continue reading “8 Ways to Build Your Classroom Library (without going broke)”

6 Things You Don’t Need to Buy In Order to Be a Good Teacher

My summer job of coaching brand-new Teach For America corps members has me thinking about what’s really important for new teachers to know going into their first year in the classroom. New teachers are under enough stress already, and the rabbit hole of Instagram and Pinterest can sometimes do more harm than good. While these sites can be a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, they can also put pressure on your wallet and make you think that you MUST rush out to the closest Target(s) within a 30-mile radius and buy the latest letterboard…OR ELSE ALL YOUR KIDS WILL HATE YOU AND FAIL EVERYTHING! But I’m here to tell you to put down the credit card and back away from the online shopping. Take a breath and read on to see 6 items that have absolutely no impact on your effectiveness as a teacher.

**Disclaimer: This post is not meant to knock teachers who have any or all of these items. Even I have bought a few things on this list! If you like something and have the money to buy it, then by all means, knock yourself out. This list is just intended to be a guide for new teachers as they are trying to figure out how to navigate setting up their classroom, learning how to teach, and adjusting to the roller-coaster ride that is working in education.

Continue reading “6 Things You Don’t Need to Buy In Order to Be a Good Teacher”