Humans love stories. In fact, our brains are hardwired for storytelling. A good story can trigger the release of oxytocin, create empathy, and even bring our brains together through “speaker-listener neural coupling.” Humans also love Fridays, but I don’t think I need to link up any studies to prove that. So what’s better than storytelling, oxytocin, or Fridays? The combination of all 3…in other words, First Chapter Friday.
First Chapter Friday is the single best thing I have implemented this school year. In a challenging, unprecedented time, First Chapter Friday is my little spark of joy, my end-of-the-week treat, and my chance to bond with my students over our shared love for good stories.
WHAT IS FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY?
If you’re wondering what this magical thing is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Every Friday, you read the first chapter of a different high-interest book to your students. That’s it! First Chapter Friday is an uncomplicated, freeing, and just plain fun way to promote a love for reading and advertise books in your classroom. It’s every English teacher’s dream, so if you’re searching for something to remind you why you became a teacher in the first place, I am begging you to try it. It’s 2020, and we need all the sparks of joy we can get, even it’s just 10 precious minutes of reading for the sake of reading.
But it’s 2020, and even though you shouldn’t need a reason for “reading for the sake of reading,” I know the sad reality is that we often do. It can be challenging to set aside time for the things that matter most, like reading aloud to your students. I get it. For 6 years, I never tried First Chapter Friday because I didn’t think I had the time. Now, I regret the time I spent doing anything else on a Friday because I know how powerful this would have been for my former students. They deserved First Chapter Friday! But since I can’t time travel, the next best thing I can do is spread the #FCF love to you.
Whether you need the encouragement or want some claims on hand if your admin comes knocking on a Friday, here are 10 reasons to try First Chapter Friday:
10 REASONS TO TRY FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY
1. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WILL CULTIVATE A LOVE FOR READING
After all, who doesn’t appreciate a good read-aloud? Humans love stories! But it’s easy to push this natural craving for stories aside when you’re busy teaching 50+ standards to 100+ students. And any high school English teacher can tell you that something happens to our students in between their cherished elementary reading years and the time they show up at our classroom door in high school, declaring to “hate reading.” I can’t pinpoint precisely when this happens, but I suspect I know why. At some point, students see reading as something they’re forced to do, not something they genuinely love to do. Read-alouds are replaced with comprehension questions, and choice reading falls to the wayside. Reading for the sake of reading is lost to standards, skills, and data.
Ugh. This is reality, and the pressure on teachers is real. I don’t have a perfect solution to this reading problem, but I do have a starting point: First Chapter Friday. During these precious, safe minutes, you can read for the sake of reading and rekindle your students’ love for storytelling.
2. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WILL BUILD CLASS COMMUNITY AND MAKE READING COOL AGAIN.
Not only will you help students rediscover their love for reading, but you’ll be able to make reading cool again. When you feature an engaging book and you have a handful of students begging to check it out, the excitement is contagious! The First Chapter Friday feels are REAL, and reading becomes cool again. Even though you’re only reading the first chapter, you’ll build class community during these shared reading experiences. Students will be able to discuss the books, make connections, and bond with their peers who read the same books.
First Chapter Friday is every ELA teacher’s dream. I challenge you to read a first chapter with a cliffhanger and just watch your students freak out. There’s no better feeling than watching your students fight over a good book. JK, I mean, bond over their shared love for a text. But seriously, it’s game-changing, and it’s super easy. On First Chapter Friday, good books will do your job for you!
3. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WILL HELP YOUR STUDENTS ADD TO THEIR “TO-READ” LISTS.
The one question I always ask after each First Chapter Friday is: “Are you interested in reading this book? Why/why not?” (Students actually answer this on these active listening worksheets during the read-aloud). Lately I’ve heard lots of “I want to read this book but I’m already reading one” or “I have TOO many books I want to read” after our First Chapter Friday reads. These are good problems to have, I always reply!
By featuring high-interest texts during your First Chapter Friday read-alouds, you can almost eliminate the question of “What should I read next?” With a growing list of books to read and new titles to consider every week, students will learn the important skill of self-selecting books they know they will enjoy. This will make your job easier! Instead of trying to suggest books for every single student who needs one, you’ll get more bang for your buck by featuring appealing titles every Friday.
4. READING ALOUD IS ONE THE BEST THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR STUDENTS!
Yes, even for your “big kids!” In fact, they probably need it more because by the time students reach middle or high school, read-alouds are a relic of the past. Even though some might see reading aloud as a waste of time, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Reading aloud is one of the single best things you can do for your students, so think of it as an investment of time in your students’ futures! As Jim Trelease mentions in his famous Read-Aloud Handbook, “Reading aloud is the catalyst for the child wanting to read on his own, but it also provides a foundation for nurturing the child’s listening comprehension” (9).
Trelease also illustrates how read alouds can also strengthen vocabulary skills, build background knowledge, and even improve academic achievement. So whether you’re doing First Chapter Friday for the sheer joy of reading or the researched benefits of read-alouds, just know that there is evidence to support your purpose!
5. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WILL EXPOSE YOUR STUDENTS TO MORE BOOKS THAN YOUR CURRICULUM CAN.
First Chapter Friday will open your students’ eyes to a world of books that they didn’t even know existed…even if they are sitting on the shelves of your classroom library. Exposing students to book spines and covers isn’t enough; students need to taste-test the books and hear their words come alive! If you feature a different book every Friday, you will have exposed your students to 36 different books by the end of the year! That’s 36 new authors, stories, perspectives, connections, and shared reading experiences. And you can make that happen in just 10 minutes a week!
6. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WILL HELP YOU GIVE BETTER BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS TO YOUR STUDENTS.
When I moved from high school to middle school this year, I was overwhelmed with the task of familiarizing myself with middle grade literature and giving good book recs to my students. Thankfully, First Chapter Friday has made that daunting task easier. I’ve been able to explore many high-interest titles, even if I don’t have time to read more than the first chapter. After a few First Chapter Fridays, it’s easy to see what topics, styles, and genres students love. Then, you can cater future First Chapter Friday picks to their interests (and broaden their horizons with new genres and topics).
When a student is ready for a new book, you can use your First Chapter Friday books as a frame of reference. If the student liked a First Chapter Friday text, you can suggest that book, other books by the same author, or more from the same genre. For example, I have a handful of students reading The Hunger Games, and I know they’ll be hungry (get it) for more dystopian lit when they finish, so I’ve featured books like Scythe and Matched.
7. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY ALLOWS YOU TO FEATURE A MORE DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE RANGE OF AUTHORS & CHARACTERS.
As an English teacher, it’s frustrating to feel limited by the class sets of books that are available to you. Even if you can’t change your curriculum, First Chapter Friday is one way that you can make sure your students feel seen and heard through literature. By keeping track of your First Chapter Friday titles/authors, you can make sure you are equitable in the books you share.
Representation matters, and First Chapter Friday is a small but powerful starting point when you have little control over the novels you teach. (It’s definitely not a substitute for a representative, anti-racist curriculum, but it’s one change that you can implement ASAP.)
8. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WILL COMPLEMENT YOUR INDEPENDENT READING PROGRAM.
The most important part of an independent reading program is making sure students are reading books they enjoy! First Chapter Friday is the perfect way to get more good books into the hands of your students. I do First Chapter Friday at the beginning of class before I give my students 10 ten minutes of independent reading time. It’s always a beautiful thing when I can read the chapter and immediately pass the book along to an interested student. I’ve learned to round up multiple copies or at least direct students to an ebook or audiobook version of the text so they can jump right into reading the rest of it.
9. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY IS LOW-PREP AND HIGH-ENGAGEMENT.
All you have to do is select the books and READ (or find an audio version and press play). When I can, I like to read the entire book ahead of time, but that’s not necessary. As long as you’ve read the first chapter and done research to make sure it’s appropriate, you don’t need to know everything about the book! I like to use Common Sense Media to help me make decisions on what books are appropriate for my students.
First Chapter Friday is inherently engaging, but if you’d like to help your students actively listen, then check out my bundle of graphic organizers. These are designed to allow students to color, doodle, and jot down their thoughts during reading, so that they can stay focused during the read-aloud. Each worksheet contains a variation of the question “Are you interested in reading the book?” so you can keep track of the titles, authors, and genres you students love. The bundle includes 18 different organizers so you can keep things fresh every First Chapter Friday.
10. FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY IS FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO WORK WHENEVER, WHEREVER (IN PERSON OR ONLINE).
While it’s fun on a Friday, the concept of reading a first chapter is flexible. It doesn’t have to be on a Friday and it doesn’t have to be a live read-aloud. Feel free to do it whenever, wherever! I have to admit that it’s most magical in person, but it’s doable in a hybrid or fully virtual environment. You can simply record yourself reading the first chapter aloud and share the video with your students.
Better yet, you might be able to find a video of the author reading the first chapter aloud. (Click HERE for a video of Jason Reynolds reading aloud the first chapter of his book Ghost). If you can’t record or find a reading, you can send students a link to a sample of the book. You can find ebook and audiobook samples on Overdrive. Audio samples are 5 minutes long, but 5 minutes should be enough to generate interest! Ultimately, First Chapter Friday is all about sharing a sneak-peek of books, so feel free to get creative with how you make this happen.
I hope this post inspires you to give First Chapter Friday a try! To check out my collection of active listening worksheets, click HERE. If you love the idea but can’t quite commit to it, then check out my blog post on an engaging and even easier alternative: Book Trailer Tuesday. I actually do both in my classroom, so students are exposed to 72 new books by the end of the year! To follow along with all of Book Trailer Tuesday and First Chapter Friday adventures, follow me over on Instagram!
For more blog posts about teaching reading, check out the links below: