One of the most fun and rewarding lessons I teach each year is the “Just Right” Book lesson. I come into K-2 classrooms with two large shopping bags. One bag contains several pairs of shoes varying in size from a children’s size 2 to a men’s size 12. The other bag contains various levels of books: baby board books, picture books, easy readers, easy chapter books, chapter books, young adult novels, adult novels, non-fiction texts, technical manuals. I set the shoe bag in front of the students and pour out the different pairs of colorful shoes. I explain that my shoes are hurting me and that I’m looking for a pair of shoes that fit. I arrange the shoes in order of size and ask the children to help me determine the right size for me. I try on each shoe and the children laugh as I stick my big toe into a ruby red baby shoe. I have a few shoes that seem to match my foot size, but I have to walk around in them a bit to really figure out if they are a good fit. I finally find a “just right” shoe.
Then I pull out the bag of books and ask the children to help me arrange the books from easy to most difficult. I read the first couple of sentences from each book and the children tell me where I should place each title on the line up. We discuss which book fits me best. I glide through the baby books and easy readers, and slow down and stumble a bit when reading the technical manuals or scientific journals. The children and I talk about how different books fit different people and what might be a “just right” book for me would not necessarily be a “just right” book for them. Students eagerly volunteer to find their “just right” books among the line of books. And then I introduce the Five Finger Method.
One child reads one page of text from a book. As she reads, she holds up one finger for each word she cannot figure out. If she holds up one to four fingers, she can take her “just right” book and continue reading. If she holds up 5 fingers, she stops and goes back to find another book.
The Five Finger Method is tried and true. We teach this method to students in Kindergarten to fifth grade. The older students employ it independently in a variety of circumstances, finding classroom and library books and selecting the most appropriate non-fiction texts.