Recurring Lesson

Choosing the Right Book: Strategies for Beginning Readers

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Recurring Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 20- to 40-minute sessions
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Choice is a powerful and motivating teaching tool. But young children need help learning how to make good reading choices. Book-matching strategies helps students select appropriate books independently. Students explore the different purposes readers have and how to determine what their purpose for reading is. Students also learn how to evaluate whether a book is at the right reading level and length for their abilities.

From Theory to Practice

  • A book is "just right" when a student thinks about a purpose for reading and can evaluate a text for its ability to match that purpose.

  • Students are more likely to be able to choose an appropriate text when they know a variety of ways to evaluate it.

  • Students who can effectively choose appropriate texts will be less likely to abandon books they choose and more likely to spend more time in engaged reading.

Clay notes that students eight and under who are learning new or complex information benefit from teachers who observe how students problem solve and then use that knowledge to tailor individual instruction. She also stresses text needs to provide the right level of challenge for additional learning to occur. Consistently reading texts that are too difficult may cause students to become less confident as readers.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears retold by Jan Brett (Putnam Juvenile, 1996)

  • A variety of books

  • Chart paper and markers

  • Small boxes or bags

  • Sticky notes



1. Before you teach this lesson, you will benefit from knowledge of your students' reading levels. You can get this by using Reading Recovery numbers or a similar leveling method. (If you are not familiar with these techniques, your school or district reading specialist will be a good resource.) Knowledge of your students' general reading level and behavior will help you better guide their choices.

Note: Lexiles are not an effective tool for beginning readers because emergent texts generally have a sentence structure, overall lower word count, and other qualities that the Lexile formula cannot measure. For emergent readers, readability depends on patterned language, predictability, strong picture support, high frequency words, overall text length, the number of words on each page, and the font size.

2. Obtain and familiarize yourself with a copy of Goldilocks and The Three Bears retold by Jan Brett. You may choose to use a different version of this fairy tale but will need one that emphasizes the language pattern too big, too small, and just right.

3. If you use the Jan Brett version, read it aloud to your class just for pleasure before this lesson (you'll want to do this recently enough that students will still remember and be familiar with it). Let students suggest and use some hand motions to illustrate too hot, too cold, and just right.

You should also practice reading the book aloud using the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Think Aloud sheet. You may choose to cut out the think-aloud ideas and clip them to the appropriate pages. If you will be using a different book, you should prepare to read it to students using think alouds. These should model the connections a reader makes while reading a text, which has been shown to help students in learning to make their own connections, thus increasing their comprehension.

4. Using classroom interests and your students' ability range as a guide, select two distinct purposes for reading. If possible, include one purpose that will lend itself to fiction and one that lends itself to informational texts. For example, the first purpose might be to find a story about animals and the second purpose might be to find a book that will tell you how to make cookies. Choose three appropriate texts for each purpose: one that is too hard or too long, one that is too easy or too short, and one that is just right. Texts do not need to be books – brochures and magazines work as well.

Some examples for the first purpose might include:
  • Too easy/wordless – Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day (Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 1991)

  • Just right – Spot Goes to the Farm by Eric Hill (Puffin, 2003)

  • Too hard – Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman (Putnam Juvenile, 1995)
Examples for the second purpose might include:
  • Too short – A recipe card with one recipe written on it

  • Just right – The DK Children's Cookbook (DK Publishing, 2004)

  • Too long – The Joy of Cooking by Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker, and Irma S. Rombauer (Simon & Schuster, 1997)
It may work best to talk about these books in guided reading groups rather than as a whole class so you can choose an appropriate range of books for the reading-level range of specific students. This will prevent inaccurate labeling (e.g., calling wordless books too easy when they may be just right).

5. The more books you have in your class library the better. Assemble multiple browsing tubs of books of assorted genres, length, and difficulty, including texts you make of songs, poems, numbers, words, or stories that your students are familiar with already so all will have several texts they can read successfully. Plastic dishwashing tubs make great bins. Use your students' interests as a guide when sorting the books; you might sort books topically, by favorite series (e.g., Arthur or Little Critter), or by genre (e.g., wordless books, ABC books, riddle or joke books, informational texts, fairy tales, chapter books, or magazines). Tub labels should have pictures on them to support ELLs or nonreaders. Books do not need be marked with a reading level but some students may look for level markers if they are taught to use them to track their progress.

You should also make storage spaces for individual students to store books they have selected for independent reading time. Cardboard banker's boxes labeled with each student's name are good for this purpose. Gallon-sized plastic bags also work and can be stored in the students' desks.

6. Print out the Is This the Right Book for Me? and What Readers Ask posters. Enlarge or illustrate them as desired. If you are working with special education students or English-language learners, you might add pictures to the posters to make the content more comprehensible. You might also want to make bookmarks with the words Too Easy, Too Short, Too Hard, Too Long, and Just Right with pictures to help cue to the meaning of the phrases such as a snake on the Too Long bookmark.

7. Make one copy of the Purpose for Reading worksheet for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Develop an understanding, through teacher modeling and whole-class discussion, that readers make decisions when choosing which books to read

  • Learn to think aloud about the appropriateness of a text by observing teacher modeling

  • Apply what they have learned by picking a reason for reading, selecting a book, and sharing their reasons for choosing the text with a partner and/or the entire class

Session 1 (30 to 40 minutes): Finding out what students do when choosing books

1. Give students five minutes to browse the book tubs and choose books. Have them put their choices into their individual boxes for independent reading.

You may want to limit choices for struggling or nonreaders to a narrower range of books including wordless books, board books with few words, known patterned text or song books, or books you know are appropriately leveled to provide a greater opportunity for success. Direct more advanced readers to the chapter-book tub to broaden their browsing choices.

2. Allow students five to ten minutes to read their books.

3. Have students bring their books to circle time.

4. With students in a circle, discuss the following questions:
  • What about the book you chose helped you decide to choose it?

  • Did you like your book or not? Why?

  • Was your book one you want to keep reading? Was it just right? Why or why not?
5. Write student responses on chart paper during this discussion. Review and discuss them, pointing out that everyone makes errors when choosing books: It's okay to make a mistake. We can just put the book back and try again. Explain that the right book for one person may not be the right book for someone else.

6. Share that there are things students can do to help insure the book is a good one for them. When readers ask certain questions before they choose a book, they can find "just the right book" more often. The two important questions students should remember are:
  • What is my purpose for reading today?

  • Based on that purpose, is this the right book for me?
Show students the What Readers Ask poster, and hang it up where they can see it.

Note: With larger classes, Kagan's Think, Pair, Share cooperative learning strategy may help more students share more effectively in less time. (Students need to have experience with this strategy prior to the lesson so learning it won't distract them from this lesson's objectives.) To use a modified version of this strategy:

  • Match each student with a buddy. Students alternate being the sharer and the listener for each question.

  • Pose the thinking question. Allow at least 10 seconds of think time.

  • Have the first partner share his or her answer using the modeled answer structure. For example: "I chose my book because __________." Listener gives feedback by saying "Thank you (partner's name), you chose your book because (restates partner's purpose)." Students then switch roles.

After all students get to share their responses, ask for a few volunteers to share theirs with the whole group.

Session 2 (20 minutes): Reading and thinking aloud to create vocabulary connections

1. Tell students that you will be reading a story that is an old friend, explaining that readers often reread books they have enjoyed before. Let them know they need to listen for a pattern in the story. Something will happen over and over. Later they will learn to use the pattern to help choose a book that is "just right" to read.

2. Read aloud Goldilocks and The Three Bears by Jan Brett, pausing at each think aloud. Be sure to turn the book facedown when you pause so students know you are sharing your thinking, not part of the story. Invite a few students to discuss their connections to your thinking during the pauses. (Use discretion. Too much discussion will cause the story to lose momentum and focus.) Have students make the hand motions they developed during the prior reading for the patterned responses of Goldilocks (see Preparation, Step 2). Connecting body movement with learning often enhances it, particularly for exceptional learners.

Note: If you have more time, you may choose to combine Sessions 2 and 3 (see the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Think Aloud sheet).

Session 3 (30 to 40 minutes): Modeling how readers choose a text

1. Discuss the sample purposes you have prepared (see Preparation, Step 4) and show students the three books you have selected for each purpose.

2. Ask students to help you choose just the right book for each purpose. Hold up each book and discuss whether they think it might be too easy or too hard and why. Students may not agree; be sure to point out that this is OK and to record individual rationales. After students have developed a consensus opinion, label the books with sticky notes. (Remember that this step might be more appropriately done in guided reading groups so the three books may be more closely linked to individual students' reading level range. See Preparation, Step 4.)

3. Show students the Is This the Right Book for Me? poster and model the "Goldilocks" and "Five-Finger" rules using one of the books you just showed them. Leave the poster up for future reference.

4. Ask a few students to demonstrate either rule by applying it to the books they have chosen. Provide supportive feedback.

Session 4 (40 minutes): Establishing a purpose for reading

1. Tell students they are going to learn how to establish a purpose for their reading. When readers set a purpose for reading they can more easily decide whether a book is "just right."

2. Gather students in a group in front of chart paper for recording responses. Brainstorm and record different purposes a reader might have for reading. Examples might include:
  • To learn how to do something.

  • To locate something funny,

  • To read a story by a favorite author,

  • To learn facts about something they wonder about, or

  • To have fun.
Save the chart for later reference.

3. Have students think about which reading purpose appeals most to them and why and then share their choice with a partner.

4. Distribute copies of the Purpose for Reading worksheet.

5. Students should fill in their sheets and save them for Session 5.

Session 5 (30 to 40 minutes): Applying a purpose and the "Goldilocks Rule" to book choice

1. Have students review what they wrote on their Purpose for Reading worksheet.

2. Remind them how to use the "Goldilocks" and "Five-Finger" rules, referring to the Is This the Right Book for Me? poster. If it is appropriate for your students and library set-up, explain to them the reading level range they might look for.

3. Allow students time to browse for books to read that fit their individual purposes and seem just right.

4. Give students time to read their choices.

5. Talk with students as they work, answering questions, giving feedback, and testing results of the process. Some questions to ask might include:
  • Which rule did you try? Show me how you did it.

  • Did it help you? How?

  • Was your book just right for your purpose for reading this time or not? Why do you think so?

  • Did you want to keep reading this book or not? Why?


Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Following the next independent reading time, during whole-class circle time or meetings of guided-reading groups, discuss and chart what the students have learned about how to select books. Allow them to share their selected books and their reading purposes and discuss how the strategies worked for them. Reteach strategies and give supportive feedback as needed.

  • When you feel students have had ample opportunities to practice this method, you might also have them periodically fill out the Was This the Right Book for Me? worksheet to monitor how things are going.

  • During independent reading time, monitor student selections by talking to individual students about the books they have chosen, how they used the strategies you showed them, how the strategies worked for them, and how they may need to refine them.