I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: First Chapter Friday is the BEST thing I’ve done all year! I’m officially obsessed, and I have a lot to say about it…which is why this is the third post in a series! If you’re new to the idea of First Chapter Friday, then definitely head back to read 10 Reasons to Try First Chapter Friday and First Chapter Friday: Frequently Asked Questions, too! These two posts will help you understand what First Chapter Friday is, what it looks like, and how you can make it happen. This post is full of all the hacks and tips I’ve learned after implementing this in my classroom. While I am currently teaching middle school, I previously taught high school for 6 years, so I am confident that all of this advice will translate well to that setting, too.
If you have more questions about First Chapter Friday after reading the three posts, please let me know! I do have plans for another post with a running list of the titles I’ve featured this year. So stay tuned for that. But let’s get started: 15 tips and tricks for a successful First Chapter Friday!
1. KEEP IT ENJOYABLE
First Chapter Friday is all about enjoying the shared experience of a read-aloud, generating interest in reading, and exposing students to more books than your curriculum can. Protect the precious minutes you set aside for the first chapter of a book every Friday and resist the temptation to tie too much work to it. Like I mentioned in my first blog post in this series, First Chapter Friday should be an uncomplicated, freeing, and just plain magical way to bond with my students over your shared love for a good story. It’s a way to model real reading habits: you know, just opening a book and reading it for fun without analyzing the plot structure, character development, and theme!
By the way, if you’re worried about justifying your use of instructional time for First Chapter Friday, head back to this post to read more about 10 reasons why this just might be the BEST thing you do for your students all year.
2. OFFER STUDENTS SOMETHING TO HELP THEM FOCUS
While I recommend resisting the ELA teacher temptation to have your students analyze the text during your read-aloud, it’s still a great idea to give students something to help them focus. My First Chapter Friday goals are simple: Engage my students with a good story, and hopefully hook a few on that book! Because students need to be actively listening for this to happen, I designed some graphic organizers to help students concentrate during the read-aloud. I let students color, doodle, and jot down their thoughts on these active listening sheets. There are no comprehension or analysis questions: just some space for thoughts, questions, predictions, or connections. The one question I always include is “Are you interested in reading this? Why or why not?” This helps me get to know my readers and tailor my future First Chapter Friday selections to their interests.
My students enjoy completing these active listening sheets because they are simple enough to not feel like a chore or busy work. I created a total of 18 different organizers so I can keep things fresh from week to week. Sometimes, I make copies of multiple sheets and let students choose which one to complete since each organizer is a bit different. To check out my classroom-ready bundle of these active listening sheets, click HERE.
3. CHECK OUT OVERDRIVE FOR FREE SAMPLES OF BOOKS
If you don’t have the books you want to feature for First Chapter Friday, don’t limit yourself to what’s on your shelves. Use Overdrive to access free ebook and audiobook samples! The ebook samples always include the first chapter, and the audiobooks include the first 5 minutes of the text. While 5 minutes might not cover the whole chapter, it’s enough time to spark some interest, which is the goal of First Chapter Friday anyway!
3. USE AUDIOBOOKS TO SAVE YOUR VOICE
I started this year reading my First Chapter Friday books aloud, and then I quickly realized that it was absolutely draining to read for that long in a mask. I turned to audiobooks, and I couldn’t be happier. First Chapter Friday is easy and stress-free when I let the professional narrators run the show. Many of the audiobooks I’ve found begin with music or sound effects, which make for an even more engaging experience.
I have found most of my audiobooks on Overdrive (free with a public library card) or Scribd (a paid audiobook service that I use anyway). If you don’t have an account on Overdrive, you can browse books and quickly see which library provides access. Sometimes, a book is not available via one library’s online collection, but it is available through another nearby library.
Scribd is helpful for when the books I want are checked out or unavailable from the public library via Overdrive. If you’re interested in Scribd (it’s unlimited and cheaper than Audible), you can use this code for 2 free months. You can play Scribd audiobooks from anywhere, including your computer and phone.
5. HOST A BOOK LOTTERY TO RAFFLE AFTER THE READ-ALOUD
When you start First Chapter Friday, be prepared for your students to BEG for a copy of the book. I recommend having a copy of the book or a quick way for students to access it, such as Overdrive. If you have a physical copy of the book, take names and enter them into a “book lottery” for the lucky reader. Since I usually do not have a copy for each class period, I will take names on Friday and then draw the winner/s on Monday. It feels cruel and unusual to make my readers wait a whole weekend, but it’s better than going broke from books.
6. WORK WITH YOUR SCHOOL AND LOCAL LIBRARIANS
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about librarians, it’s that they are always excited to help English teachers. All you have to do is ask! Don’t be afraid to ask your school or local librarians for recommendations! You might even consider asking your school librarian to come in as a “guest reader” every once in a while.
When I am preparing to feature a book for First Chapter Friday, I always check our school library’s catalog. If it’s available, I’ll request it, and my librarian will deliver the book the very next day. When I pass the book on to a student, I email her, and she transfers the book to their account. She’s awesome, and she makes the process so easy! All I had to do was ask, and the next thing I knew, we had this convenient system in place.
7. SEARCH FOR HIGH-INTEREST TITLES THAT STUDENTS WILL LOVE
This is the key to keeping your First Chapter Friday from flopping! Search for high-interest titles that will give you the most bang for your buck by appealing to the widest audience. Think of the books that you know students will love. Feature the books that can’t stay on your shelves, the ones that are tattered, worn, and well-loved from all the readers they’ve visited.
To find high-interested titles, stay up to date on new releases, look at the best-seller lists, check out your local library’s displays, chat with a librarian, follow book review accounts on Instagram, research popular authors, and browse as many bookshelves as you can! As you feature books, you’ll quickly learn about your students’ tastes and be able to tailor your First Chapter Friday picks to their preferences.
8. KEEP A RUNNING LIST OF THE BOOKS YOU FEATURE
In addition to searching for high-interest texts, you’ll want to make sure you are seeking out a diverse collection of authors, voices, and genres. To hold yourself accountable, I recommend keeping a running list of your First Chapter Friday titles. This way, you’ll be able to expose your students to multiple perspectives and make sure all students feel represented. Keeping a list will also help you avoid the common mistake of sharing the books you love, rather than the books students will love.
To keep myself accountable, I created a table in Google docs with the following columns: date, title, genre, and notes. In the notes section, I jot down if students enjoyed it, how much we read, and any other reminders for my future self. I use this doc to reflect on my reading choices and plan for my future First Chapter Friday selections. I have the same sort of system for my Book Trailer Tuesday titles, so I cross-reference with that doc, too.
9. TAKE TIME TO TARGET STUDENTS IN NEED OF A GOOD BOOK
While my voracious readers eat First Chapter Friday up, they’re probably the kids who need this the least. Even though I try to feature books with a wide appeal, I often keep specific readers or groups of readers in mind. When I’m planning for my next read-aloud, I often think of the few students who aren’t really into their current book and are looking for an excuse to abandon it. I also think of students who are still discovering who they are as readers and what kinds of books they like to read. All it takes is the right author or series to hook some students! So take the time to target your readers who are in need of a good book recommendation. It’s easy to feature books that your book-lovers will love, but it’s more rewarding to feature texts that will trick your non-readers into loving literature.
10. FEEL FREE TO FEATURE DIFFERENT BOOKS IN DIFFERENT CLASS PERIODS
In addition to targeting specific readers, you can tailor your First Chapter Friday books to your different class periods and their interests. For example, most of my students are obsessed with the dystopian genre, but after featuring a few of those titles, I noticed one class wasn’t as into it. After getting to know them a little better, I realized that their genre of choice is realistic fiction. So I’ve dialed back the dystopian and featured more realistic reads in that class.
Most recently, I shared Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. For the rest of my classes, I actually paused the dystopian and featured a WWII survival story, Lifeboat 12, by Susan Hood. Even in the dystopian-loving classes, I realized that there was a group of Alan Gratz fans who needed more action, war, and adventure. I couldn’t have picked better books for my different class periods; both were hits for different reasons, and all of my copies have been checked out!
11. MIX IT UP BY OFFERING STUDENT CHOICE
Another way to tailor your books to your classes is by giving them a say in which texts you feature each Friday! Bring two books to class, briefly book talk them, and then let the class take a vote for which one you read aloud. In addition to increasing buy-in, this will also help you get to know your readers based on the books they pick. Here are some ways to juxtapose different books for votes:
- Choose two books from very different genres, and see which one generates the most interest!
- Share two books with similar storylines but different approaches, and see which style students prefer.
- Find two books that thematically relate to whatever you are working on in class. Encourage students to make connections as they listen.
- Choose two books by the same author. This way, you’ll have an extra book to recommend to interested students!
Giving students choice like this is just one way to make a First Chapter Friday even more engaging and student-centered.
12. MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU AND YOUR STUDENTS
Break the “rules” and make First Chapter Friday work for you and your students! Read more than the first chapter if you have the time. Read less if you don’t. Read an excerpt from another chapter if it’s more interesting and dramatic. Read on Monday if Friday doesn’t work for you. Read every other week or once a month if you don’t have time. Read on random, spontaneous occasions when you have a spare 10 minutes.
Don’t worry about the rules because they’re not real! As long as you’re sharing books and getting your students excited about reading, that’s al that matters!
13. ASK STUDENTS FOR BOOK SUGGESTIONS
If finding high-interest books to feature each week sounds like a lot of work, let your students submit suggestions. You’ll outsource some of your work AND give students more ownership in the activity. Win-win! Students love to see their favorite books featured, and the student-recommended books are always a hit! It’s a great way to build class community around shared reading experiences!
To do this, I created a super simple Google form and posted it to Google Classroom. My form asks students for the title, author, and genre. It also asks for students to tell me where I can find the book (if it’s in our school library or public library, or if they have a personal copy to lend me).
14. USE HASHTAGS TO FIND BOOK IDEAS #FIRSTCHAPTERFRIDAY
I’m not the only one who won’t stop blogging and talking all about First Chapter Friday! There are currently over 1000 posts under the hashtag #firstchapterfriday, which I follow for more ideas! I also follow major publishing companies, my favorite authors, and YA/middle-grade book review accounts! Because of this, I can’t scroll on Instagram without seeing a book rec or two, which is great. If I’m going to waste time on Instagram, I might as well put that algorithm to work! Friday is now my favorite day to surf IG, because I get to see what everyone else is reading. 🙂
15. COMPLEMENT FIRST CHAPTER FRIDAY WITH BOOK TRAILER TUESDAY
I was tired of waiting until Friday to celebrate books, so Book Trailer Tuesday was born. If you love the magic of First Chapter Friday and have a few spare minutes every Tuesday (or any other day), try it out! Book Trailer Tuesday is as simple as it sounds. Just press play on a book trailer and generate even more reading interest! The best part of Book Trailer Tuesday is that it’s even easier than First Chapter Friday. It takes less than 5 minutes from start to finish.
While I usually feature different books each Tuesday and Friday, I’ve had success “double-dipping” by playing a book trailer on Tuesday to increase anticipation for Friday’s read-aloud. I’ve also shown students two trailers and let them vote on which book they’d like to see for First Chapter Friday. It’s fun to mix things up and watch the magic of book trailers and first chapters collide!
I hope these bonus tips and tricks help you make First Chapter Friday a success in your classroom! To check out my collection of First Chapter Friday active listening worksheets, click HERE. If you try First Chapter Friday, let me know what titles your students are loving, and what questions you have! Don’t forget to head back to the first two posts if you missed them:
If you’re looking for another way to get students PUMPED about books, check out this post: Book Trailer Tuesday: How to hook students on books in 3 minutes!