The Sunday 7: Author visit, independent reading, the need for diverse books & more

In case you missed last week’s post, one of my goals for 2018 is to get back to writing. The plan is to publish a weekly blog post, the “Sunday Seven,” where I share classroom strategies, book recommendations, Project LIT Community updates, and other literacy and education thoughts.

1.  Project LIT Book Club Announcement

It’s official: Best-selling author Nic Stone will be joining us for our next book club on February 2! Check out this announcement video and you’ll get a sense for how much this means to our students.

The video also highlights what Project LIT Community is all about – empowering students to increase book access (and access to diverse books, in particular) and promote a love of reading.

Give students daily time to read, discuss and celebrate books like Dear Martin, and this is what happens. Not only are our students becoming more passionate and proficient readers, they’re also gaining valuable real-world skills (event planning, social media and marketing, graphic design, communication, leadership, etc.) as they continue to transform our community.

2. Book recommendation: I Am Alfonso Jones

This book hit me hard. I’m going to be thinking about Alfonso for a long time, and plan to add multiple copies of Tony Medina’s graphic novel to my classroom library. (It also could make a wonderful #ProjectLITBookClub selection for 2018-19).

Alfonso Jones

3. Making the case for independent reading

Thanks to Tatiana DeWitt (@TatianaDeWitt) for posing this question on Twitter recently:  “Middle and high school ELA teachers: What are your thoughts on sustained silent reading? Do you use it in your classroom? Is it effective?”

It was wonderful to read through all of the responses and see one educator after another speak to the importance of giving students daily time to read.

As the amazing Lauren Deal (@lpdeal) tweeted: “If I tell students that reading is important but then say I don’t want to use valuable class time for it, I’m undermining my own message.” Exactly!

In my classroom, students spend the first 20 to 30 minutes of our block reading, and it’s a game-changer on so many levels. I shared more thoughts on this in a recent podcast with the wonderful Linda Dunnavant and Education Conversations.

book stack

4. Four takeaways from Kelly Gallagher’s workshop

I recently attended a full-day workshop with Kelly (thanks so much to Lipscomb Academy for organizing the event) and as I reviewed my notes, a few lines were worth repeating here:

“You can teach every single standard, but if students don’t read and write more, it won’t matter.”

“With the 4 x 4 approach – 4 big essays, 4 books (which students often fake read) per year – a student’s ability will stay the same, not improve.”

“Time is the currency of education, so we need to ask: How do we spend the limited time we are given? Is this the right lesson for these students right now? Is this learning experience worthy of the time it will cost? Is there another way to approach this that will be better?”

“To increase the volume of reading and writing, we have to change the structure of our class.”

Couldn’t agree more. Thankful, as always, for Kelly’s work!

5. We have to make it easier for teachers to add diverse books to their classroom

Project LIT Community is sending three copies of Dear Martin to a lucky Twitter follower. The fact that more than 400 educators have entered in the giveaway over the past two days reminded me that we have to make it easier for teachers to get these important books into students’ hands.

What’s it going to take? Two things: Funding and support!

Teachers should not have to purchase these books (or spend countless hours fundraising) for their classroom libraries. Additionally, teachers should not have to waste energy defending/justifying why their students are reading and discussing diverse books. Instead, they should be encouraged and supported.

Shout out to all of the educators who are making it happen despite the obstacles. Our students are thankful!

DM copies

6. Nothing better than talking to students about books

One of last week’s highlights: Rodrea, upon finishing Jason Reynolds’ masterpiece, Long Way Down, calls me over to her desk and says: “How Reynolds gonna do me like that?!” My thoughts exactly…

Another highlight: Olivia coming by my classroom in the morning to talk about Tiffany Jackson’s Allegedly. She’s been reading it at home and wanted to know if Mary was innocent or guilty. I told her there was no I way I was going to spoil it for her (or you, if you haven’t read it yet), while adding that the ending will leave her speechless!

olivia allegedly

7. ICYMI: Last week’s #ProjectLITchat

Check out all of the resources and strategies shared during last week’s amazing Twitter chat. (We’re hosting our next chat on January 21 — 7 ET/6 CT).

ProjectLITchat 1-7 SUMMARY 1

Inspired by a suggestion from all-star teacher and Project LIT site leader Kimiko Pettis (@kcpteachertips), I had students create mind maps for Justyce, the protagonist of Dear Martin. Great way for students to demonstrate understanding of characters in any novel…

mind maps

Wishing everyone a wonderful week, and as always, happy reading! And if there’s anything you’d like me to address in a future blog post, don’t hesitate to reach out via Twitter, email (, or in the comments below. Thanks!



The Sunday 7: #OneWord2018, Dear Martin, #BookSnaps, Quick Writes, Mentor Sentences & more

My One Word for 2018? It’s simple: Write.

So, here we go. The goal is to publish a weekly blog post, “The Sunday 7,” where I share seven reflections/strategies/activities/book recommendations that I hope educators will find helpful as they head into their classroom Monday morning.

1. What’s your #OneWord2018?

I know there are lots of outstanding #OneWord2018 lesson plans out there, but I kept it pretty simple with my high school students. We brainstormed for a few minutes and helped students decide on just one word. The key is to make sure that these words remain visible for students, and that we take time to revisit our words and goals throughout the semester. Otherwise, these words end up just like most of our resolutions – useless.

OneWord182. Another easy & engaging writing activity is the six-word memoir.

Students had fun capturing their mindset/approach to 2018 in exactly six words.

The six-word memoir also works great as a warm-up (Sum up your weekend in six words) or exit ticket (summarize today’s lesson in six words) or independent reading response (describe the main character or central conflict in six words) in any lesson.

6word183. Don’t underestimate the power of a shared text

I’m obviously a huge fan of choice, but we decided to start the second semester with a shared text – Nic Stone’s Dear Martin – and it has been incredible! Here are a few of the comments I overheard this week as we read aloud the first four chapters:

“I’m gonna finish this book tonight!”

“Wow, I didn’t realize how much we read because we were so into it!” “ I wanna read the next chapter so bad.”

“Can we keep reading?”

“I didn’t think it’d be so much fun to read it together.”

Priceless. (Side note: This is what happens when you let students read books that matter, books that they can see themselves in, books that are relevant and realistic, books that make them laugh and cry and question.)

We also were able to have awesome discussions re: this question: “What makes a good story?

Elements of Story

4. #BookSnaps are a game-changer!

Seriously, check out what students came up with in a matter of minutes. After we finished reading, I had students go back through the text and find a page that spoke to them and “annotate” it. Some were so excited with their #BookSnap they went ahead and shared it on their personal Instagram and Snapchat accounts (which has the added benefit of getting their friends excited about reading). NOTE: Since I don’t have Snapchat, students send them to me via email.

5. Another 2018 goal: 10-minute quick writes every class period

With lots of choice and lots of sharing. For example, this week, after reading Dear Martin, I listed the following options on the board:

-Write a “Dear Martin” or “Dear ______” letter

-Write a letter to the author, Nic Stone

-Write your own short story or script

-Write a poem from the point of view of Justyce or one that explores similar themes

-Anything else that you feel like writing!

I then set a timer for 10 minutes and let students go. I sat at an open seat in the middle of the room and joined them. When the timer went off, we stopped and shared. The result? Page after page of INCREDIBLE writing (I’ll be sure to share examples throughout the week on Twitter).

Why? Reading Dear Martin gave students the confidence to write openly about issues they care about (yet another reason reading and writing should always go hand-in-hand). The 10 minutes of complete silence, along with the opportunity to then share their words with others, provided students with the structure, environment and community they crave.

Dear Martin Nic Letter

Also, for the teachers out there who spend too much time lesson planning, here’s the first 35 minutes of my block EVERY day: 20 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of writing, 5 minutes of sharing.

6. Mentor sentences are magical

One of the major takeaways from Kelly Gallagher’s workshop earlier this week – “revision should happen at the sentence level first, not the essay level.”

He’s exactly right! And so, we’re going to spend time analyzing mentor sentences, particularly great lines from some of our favorite books. (Shout out to Jared Reck for sharing this idea on Twitter!)

For example, in our analysis of this opening sentence from Dear Martin, we were able to discuss colons, commas/appositive phrases, and vivid words in a matter of minutes. Much more engaging – and effective – than a grammar worksheet…

Mentor Text DM7. Let high school students sleep!

In our Nashville high schools, the doors open at 6:45. First period starts at 7:05. Due to the cold temperatures this week, we had a couple of two-hour delays, and wow, what a difference it made! My first block, which started at a reasonable 9:05, was livelier than it’s been all year. You could even argue that students were just as productive in five hours (9-2) than the normal seven (we shortened classes and eliminated our RTI block).

All of the research says teenagers need more sleep – let’s make that happen.

Thanks to all of you for reading and sharing! Hope you can join us tonight for our #ProjectLITchat on Twitter. Have a great week!



Best books of 2017 and 8 hopes for 2018

Happy New Year, everyone. One of my goals for 2018 is to get back to writing, so here it goes!

Best books of 2017

2017 was an incredible year of reading! While I have a hard time ranking books (it’s like ranking ice cream flavors), here are some of my favorites:

2017 Reads Amato

Several are 2017-18 Project LIT Book Club selections – All American Boys, The Hate U Give, A Long Walk to Water, Solo, Dear Martin, March, Refugee, Long Way Down, Wonder, and Patina – and I have a feeling others may end up on next year’s list…

Three tips I have for educators looking to read more in 2018:

  1. Give students daily time to read in class. They’ll crave the routine, and so will you! Although I spend some of our independent reading time circulating the classroom and checking in with students, most of my time is spent reading alongside them. Modeling matters!
  2. Read what your students are reading. Looking build relationships with your students? Talk to them about what they’re reading and then grab yourself a copy. (Side note: Teachers can’t be “selfish” readers. If you’re not reading what your students are reading, or worse, you’re judging/criticizing students’ selections, you’re doing it wrong.)
  3. Start or join a book club: Because we all need a little peer pressure and accountability! Also, if you’re a K-12 educator, complete this form if you’re interested in learning more about Project LIT Community.

Project LIT Community

Happy New Year

Thanks to everyone who has supported Project LIT Community over the past year, particularly the 50+ educators across the country who have launched their own Project LIT chapters! Cannot wait to see what 2018 has in store for us…

It’s pretty surreal to re-read this blog post, and see how much we have already accomplished. More thoughts on this later, but in the meantime, here are some of our 2017 highlights:

Mr. Amato receives Penguin Random House Teacher Award for Literacy

First Book Blog Post: Seeding Book Deserts with Diverse Books

Tennessean: ‘Project Lit’ takes aim at Nashville’s book deserts

There’s a (Project)LIT Movement Spreading Like Wildfire and I’m Here For It

The Horn Book: Reading Is LIT: How a Classroom Project Can Impact an Entire Community

8 hopes for 2018

Pic 5 12


  1. That all students have daily time to read high-quality, culturally relevant books in school.
  2. That all students have daily opportunities to discuss these books with caring peers and adults.
  3. That all communities commit to increasing access to diverse books.
  4. That all schools commit to creating a positive reading culture, and that all leaders take time to be readers.
  5. That more adults and community members spend time reading and talking about books with our young people.
  6. That we listen more to teachers and students, particularly when it comes to literacy.
  7. That we spend more money on what matters – great books for our students.
  8. That we refuse to take shortcuts or search for quick fixes, and instead focus on doing the little things day in and day out that it takes to build lifelong readers.

What are your hopes for 2018? Share them in the comments or on Twitter using the #ProjectLITchat hashtag!

Happy New Year, and as always, happy reading!


What an English block should look like: Making second-half adjustments

The purpose of this post is to revisit this piece I wrote back in July and reflect on what worked well during the first semester and what needs to be tweaked as we get ready for the second half of the school year.

Going into the year, I had five priorities:

  1. Increase the volume of student reading and writing.
  2. Commit to 20-30 minutes of self-selected, independent reading every class period.
  3. Read and write poetry with students all the time, not just in one April unit.
  4. Implement the “Article of the Week” with fidelity.
  5. Design meaningful grammar/ACT prep.

Here’s how I fared in each area.

Goal #1: Increase the volume of reading and writing in my classroom.semester-i-reflection

How’d it go? I’m extremely proud of the quality and quantity of my students’ reading and writing. I’m a firm believer that students have to read and write a lot (and enjoy both) in order to improve, and they certainly did.

I’m proud that my sophomores were able to write three well-developed essays during the first semester — one explanatory, one argumentative (on the future of self-driving cars), and one narrative (an original short story) – in addition to their Article of the Week responses, poetry, independent reading tasks, and other smaller, less formal pieces.

Students also had multiple opportunities to write for authentic audiences, whether it was their persuasive letters to local businesses asking for their help to eliminate book deserts, or their heartfelt and informed letters to President Obama with their take on the Syrian refugee crisis.

Furthermore, students constantly evaluated and revised their own writing thanks to a) color-coding their work in Google Classroom, b) student-friendly checklists, and c) constant self-reflection.

One area I want to get better at in 2017: allowing students time and space to read one another’s work and offer meaningful peer-to-peer feedback.

Goal #2: Commit to 20-30 minutes of self-selected, independent reading every class period.

How’d it go? For my sophomores (many of whom I have now taught for two or three years), we hit the ground running and never looked back. I provided my students with comfortable seating, choice, and time, and they responded by reading an average of three novels apiece each quarter. (Here are 54 of the books that we enjoyed in 2016). books-read-2016

With my freshmen, the process of nurturing enthusiastic readers has taken a bit longer – as expected. Changing reading attitudes and mindsets doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s a process that I love!

As I got to know my students better, it became easier to match students with just-right books. While we’re not at 100 percent engagement just yet, my students are beginning to embrace our reading routine, and I’m looking forward to seeing things “click” for even more freshmen this semester.

I’ve also had great success with informal book clubs, where groups of students have chosen to read and discuss the same novel. Over the past few years, I’ve been intentional about adding multiple copies of high-interest, diverse books to my classroom library.

Following independent reading, students completed short writing tasks related to their novels. For example, students enjoyed writing:

  • journal entries from the point of view of their favorite characters
  • critical book reviews that analyzed plot, conflict, theme, setting, etc.
  • letters to the author (that many were actually able to email to the authors)

I have found that creative writing tasks like the ones above, as opposed to reading logs or worksheets, are a great way to a) check for student comprehension, b) teach or re-teach important reading and writing standards, and c) increase engagement and appreciation for reading.

Goal #3: Read and write poetry all the time, not just in one unit.poem

How’d it go? This one was hit and miss. Again, the process of writing and sharing poetry with my sophomores was much easier. Each sophomore wrote at least seven original poems, and we plan to publish an anthology in the spring. I can’t wait to share them all with you – they’re outstanding.

As for my freshmen, I think I underestimated how much relationships matter when it comes to poetry. In order for students to open up and be vulnerable, they need to have complete trust in their teacher and classmates – and that takes time. I need to be better about creating that environment in the new year.

Here’s the first step: I plan to read Kwame Alexander’s Crossover with all of my classes in January as part of Project LIT Community’s first book club. I’m willing to bet that a number of students will love poetry by the end of the month.

Furthermore, I’m looking to dedicate at least 10-15 minutes each week to poetry – this will include sharing a “Poem of the Week” and giving students quiet time to write their own.

Goal #4: Implement “Article of the Week” with fidelity

How’d it go? Thank you, Kelly Gallagher! The AoW has been one of the best additions to my classroom, and I highly suggest all secondary English and History teachers find a way to make it work with their students.

Here’s a look at what we’ve read and discussed this semester thanks to the AoW:

  • “A Survivor Remembers 9/11”
  • “Obama says Colin Kaepernick is exercising his constitutional right”
  • “Anne Frank is the new Syrian girl”
  • “The travesty of book deserts”
  • “The dark side of going for gold”
  • “An Ethiopian medalist just led a protest that could land him in jail”
  • “The significance of Simone Manuel’s swim is clear if you know Jim Crow”
  • “Too much TV and chill could reduce brain power over time”
  • “Here’s how much your HS grades predict your salary”
  • “NBA superstars give powerful speech at ESPY Awards”
  • “Reading books can help you live longer”
  • “Future of self-driving cars”
  • “Trump elected 45th president of United States”
  • “Cleveland’s Unthinking Racism”
  • “Teen pregnancy on the decline”kaep-1

Usually, I’ll have students read and annotate the article (usually between 600 and 1,000 words), and then write a 2-paragraph response. The first paragraph is a well-written, objective summary. The second is an opportunity for students to share their thoughts, make connections, and ask questions.

When the topic is particularly intriguing or controversial, we’ll extend the assignment further and engage in a class debate/discussion and conduct further research on the topic. I loved the fact that a few of these articles naturally evolved into 1-2 week mini-units.

Two other assignments that my students enjoyed related to the AoW:

  1. Our final essay of the first quarter asked students to identify a common theme in three of the texts we read. As a result, students ended up writing about the hypocrisy of America, the bravery and heroism of athletes, and the power of reading, among other topics.
  2. Recently, students summarized the top news stories of 2016 to write a “Year in Review” poem or rap. Highly recommend it.

Goal #5: Design meaningful grammar/ACT prep

How’d it go? This year, I tried to focus on one or two specific skills each week. As a result, by the end of the semester, my students were much more comfortable identifying dependent and independent clauses, combining sentences, fixing run-ons, using proper subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement, incorporating commas, semi-colons, and colons correctly, and citing quotes from the text.

By committing to 20-30 minutes per week of targeted grammar instruction and practice, my students’ writing and ACT English scores improved, and I plan to continue with this approach (with different skills) in 2017.

What changes do I plan to make this semester?

Based on student feedback from December, here’s what my classroom will look like in 2017:

  • Daily independent reading, including our monthly book club selection
  • Even more student choice and opportunities for creative writing, including poetry and short stories, and self-selected research assignments
  • Continue assigning Articles of the Week that expose students to current events, world problems, and technological debates
  • Additional opportunities for class debate and discussion
  • Better peer review protocols
  • Meaningful, targeted ACT/grammar practice

What am I missing? What does your English block look like? I’d love to hear your feedback. Wishing you and your students all the best in 2017!

The 54 books I read in 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to revisit the 54 books I had the pleasure of reading (and then recommending to my students) over the past 52 weeks.

In short, all 54 are phenomenal. I have no problem quitting on a book  (life’s too short to read books we’re not into), and all of these kept me hooked from beginning to end.

Whether it was to help us empathize or escape or to allow us to better understand others or ourselves, my students and I are better people because of these books.

Perhaps the best part of putting together this list was thinking about the students that I now associate with each book. For example, I know that Selena loved Pax and that Jakaylia sprinted through Ghost, while Rodrea adored Full Cicada Moon and Zach devoured The Serpent King. Chelsea read everything by Kiera Cass, David loved Response, and Adrian and Sean read everything by Matt de la Pena. Lauren’s favorite was Copper Sun, Desiree enjoyed The Absolutely Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Jay flew through Boy 21, and Kiara is now a huge fan of Kwame Alexander.

While I know many of you are just scrolling down to the list, so you can add books to your “TBR” pile or classroom library (and I don’t blame you one bit), here are a few final takeaways:

  • By exposing my students to the books on this list (along with hundreds of others), they are now much more likely to see the lifelong joy and value of reading.
  • By giving my students TIME to read in class + CHOICE in what they read, I’ve seen their reading attitude & ability improve dramatically.
  • My passion for reading rubs off on students. My students know (and see) that I’m a reader, which makes it easier for me to sell them on it, too. They trust my recommendations and appreciate that I practice what I preach.
  • I love playing the role of matchmaker: connecting students with books that I know they’ll fall in love with.
  • Here’s a sequence that never gets old: Step 1. Student asks, “Mr. Amato, what should I read?” Step 2: Knowing that student, I suggest two or three books that I think he/she will enjoy. Step 3: Student picks one, and begins reading it (both in class and at home). Step 4: When student gives the book back a week or two later, I ask what he/she thought of it. “I loved it. Any recommendations for what should I read next?” Step 5: Repeat!
  • We have a responsibility to expose ALL of our children to diverse books. Our students need to see themselves in the books they read, and that can only happen if we give them the opportunity. The list below is a perfect place to start!


Books Read 2016 2.jpg


Books Read 2016 4.jpg

Books Read 2016 5.jpg

Before you go to Amazon or your local bookstore to order some of these books, I have two final requests:

1. Let me know what books my students and I need to read in 2017!

2. Order one (or more) of these books for Project LIT Community, an organization my students and I started this year to increase book access and spread a love of reading in Nashville. You can ship them to:

Maplewood High School (attn: Jarred Amato)

401 Walton Ln

Nashville, TN 37216

Happy holidays!

10 Things I Learned from my Students’ End-of-Semester Reflections

semester-i-reflectionAt the end of each semester, my students organize their writing into a portfolio in Google Classroom. The portfolio includes a table of contents page, all of their major writing assignments, and most importantly – a self-reflection.

After reviewing all of their writing from the semester, students answered the following questions:

  • How did your writing improve this semester?
  • What writing assignment was your favorite this semester, and why?
  • What writing assignment was your least favorite this semester, and why?
  • What kind of writing would you like to do more/less of next semester?
  • How can Mr. Amato help you improve your writing?

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Students love to argue. Shocker, I know. But, as teachers, why not capitalize on that?! Nearly all students said they enjoyed arguing for or against the use of self-driving cars. As one sophomore wrote, “I loved the topic and being able to give my opinion about what’s going to happen in the future.” Another added, “I feel like argumentative essays bring out the best in my writing.” You can bet that we’re going to continue reading, writing, and discussing relevant, controversial texts next semester.
  2. Students crave – and deserve – choice. Their favorite assignment from the semester, even more than the argumentative essay, was the original short story. Why? “Because we got to completely make up our own story with our own characters and events,” wrote one student. “I enjoy writing about topics of my own rather being told what to write,” reflected another. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Choice + support = engagement.
  3. To that end, we need to trust students. Confession: I almost didn’t assign the short story because of how open-ended it was (I gave my students some general requirements, but for the most part, left it entirely up to them). I was afraid that my students would get stuck, that they would need more structure or direction, that they would “fail.” I’m so glad that I overcame my own fears and desire for control and empowered my students to use their imagination. As one student wrote, “My favorite assignment this semester was the short story because it gave me a chance to be creative…It was the first story I ever wrote so it’s special to me and I’m really proud of my story.” And to think that I almost didn’t give her that opportunity…
  4. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand. While this is a no-brainer for most English teachers, I loved that students made the connection between reading & writing in their reflections. In fact, one wise student wrote that “reading really helped me change the way I write.” YES, yes it did!
  5. Creative writing such as poetry and short stories has tremendous social/emotional value. A number of students asked for more time to read and write poems, while others enjoyed writing stories based on their own lives. As one student said, “I put my life into a story and writing it took some relief off my shoulders.” I firmly believe that an English classroom should be a safe, therapeutic place for students – where reading and writing are tools to help them through this crazy thing we call life.
  6. Volume matters. It wasn’t one particular essay that helped my students improve dramatically from August to December – it was the fact that we were always writing. As one student put it, “The more we wrote, the more my writing flowed.”
  7. Students appreciated outlines and graphic organizers. Writing is not about meeting a certain word count or number of paragraphs. It’s about being to organize your thoughts in a clear, logical manner. To that end, several students said they enjoyed having different outlines, depending on the task and purpose, to help them “sort out my thoughts before actually writing.”
  8. Authentic audiences matter. A number of students said they enjoyed writing letters to the authors of books they read this semester. Why? “Because I could tell them how I felt about their books,” wrote one student. “I enjoyed praising his book,” said another. Main takeaway: students need opportunities to write for real audiences – not just their teacher.
  9. Targeted grammar instruction that students can apply to their writing is still important. For example, one student wrote, “Learning subject-verb agreement gave me a leg up and it’s still improving by the minute,” while another added, “At first I only knew how to use commas, but now I know how to use semi-colons, too.” I spent 10-20 minutes per week on a few important skills – commas, semi-colons, subject-verb agreement, combining sentences, fragments/run-ons, etc. – and based on student feedback, will continue with a similar approach next semester.
  10. Their reflections will shape the writing we do next semester. You can bet that I’m going to take their suggestions into account as I sit down and plan over winter break. Here’s what my students said they’d like even more of next semester:
  • Creative writing, especially short stories
  • Poetry to read and write about
  • Writing that I can put my imagination into
  • Writing about things that I’m interested in
  • Essays on current events and problems in the world
  • New technology debates
  • Controversial topics and argumentative essays
  • ACT grammar practice

I can’t wait to get started!

Proud to announce Project LIT Community

This post will explain:

  • The inspiration for Project LIT Community
  • How Maplewood students plan to increase book access in Nashville, so that all children can become lifelong readers
  • How you can help! (If you’re short on time, this video would be a great place to start)

    Growing up in a book desert significantly decreases a child’s chances of becoming an avid reader or writer.

Problem: Over the summer, I came across this article in The Atlantic, which described the immediate and longer-term effects of growing up in a “book desert,” or community with limited access to books.

According to childhood- and literacy-education researcher Susan Neuman, “when there are no books, or when there are so few that choice is not an option, book reading becomes an occasion and not a routine.” Consequently, the likelihood that children growing up in book deserts become avid readers and writers is slim.

Book deserts are a nationwide problem. Unfortunately, Nashville is no exception. While we are fortunate to have a wonderful public library system and several phenomenal non-profit organizations, the reality is that many students still struggle to find books outside of school.

Solution: Despite living in a book desert, my sophomores at Maplewood High School (many of whom I have now taught for two or three years) are voracious readers and deeply understand the joy and value of reading. Now, I have empowered them to ensure that more children in our community love reading, as well.

We recently launched an organization, Project LIT (Libraries in the) Community. Our mission is to inspire all Nashville children to become lifelong readers by making books more accessible and creating excitement about reading.

So, how are we going to do it?

Phase 1 – Research: Students began the year by researching book deserts and understanding their impact on communities, including their own. Students listed places in Nashville where they could currently purchase or check out books, and brainstormed other locations that would benefit from more books. From there, students wrote persuasive letters to community members and business leaders, which described Project LIT Community and how they could help.fundraiser goal.jpg

Phase 2 – Book Collection: We recently launched a book drive with the goal of collecting 5,000 new and used books to place in little libraries. Thanks to the generosity of community members like Shereen Cook, Liz Eskridge, Amy Phelan, and Matt Rubinstein, and foundations such as PENCIL and the Nashville Predators, we have already gathered more than 1,000 books, and a recent grant will soon allow us to double or triple that amount.

Phase 3 – Build and Design Little Libraries: Thanks to a generous donation from Gannett, the plan is to transform USA Today and Tennessean newspaper stands into little libraries. Once the stands are delivered to Maplewood next week, we will begin to paint and decorate them with the Project LIT Community brand. In addition to converting newspaper stands, we will also build little libraries with the help and support of the Nashville Public Library and Turnip Green Creative Reuse.

Phase 4 – Forming Library Partnerships: No one knows the community better than our students. Therefore, students have already begun to form partnerships with local businesses, churches, hospitals, community centers, barbershops, restaurants, daycares, etc. Once the little libraries are ready (painted and stocked with books), we will begin to place them inside these organizations.

Phase 5 – Sustainability of Libraries: Students will work with partners to ensure that the libraries remain functional. While the libraries will operate with the “take one, leave one” model, we recognize that we may need to deliver additional books to some locations where more individuals are checking out books than dropping them off.

Phase 6 – Spread Love of Reading: My students will also be charged with inspiring other children in their community to become avid readers. This will happen in formal and informal ways. We plan to partner with a local elementary school to create a reading buddies program, where our students will read to elementary students at least twice a month. We also plan to create reading “teams,” with my students serving as “reading captains.” The goal is for Maplewood students to get other children (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) to a) join Project LIT Community and then b) read, read, read! We will have lists of recommended reads (books that we know will hook even the most reluctant reader) and fun events such as our reading marathon to create a reading-going culture throughout the community. There is tremendous power in positive peer pressure!

Phase 7 – Share Successes: In May, we will present our year-one accomplishments (including a documentary), plan improvements for year two, and discuss ways to bring the project to scale (city, state, and nation-wide).

True Project-Based Learning project lit class pic.JPG

In addition to solving a serious problem in their community, students will gain valuable real-world experience in several areas. Every student will utilize his or her strengths and passions to make this project successful. ALL students will gain valuable skills while also receiving mentoring and support from adults in their desired professions. Possible work teams include:

  • Design & Engineering Team: D& E team members will be responsible for designing, constructing, and decorating the Little Free Libraries. Whether it’s creating a logo, brochure, or poster, these students will also utilize their art and graphic design skills to enhance the project.
  • Fundraising Team: These students will lead the fundraising efforts, coordinating the book drive and contacting potential partners for financial donations.
  • Logistics Team: These students will inventory and organize books upon collection, tag each book with a Project LIT Community sticker, and coordinate the distribution of books into the community.
  • Site Managers: These students will be responsible for identifying organizations that agree to display little libraries, and communicating with these partners to ensure sustainability of the libraries.
  • Marketing and Advertising Team: These students will be responsible for creating buzz and awareness about the project, and running the Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts. They will create a social media campaign to generate buzz and awareness about the project. They will also create and run a website.
  • Media Team: These students will contact local and national media for press coverage, and conduct all interview requests. They are comfortable in front of and behind the camera.
  • Reading Team: These students will be responsible for reading to younger children in the community, formally in elementary schools, as well as informally their homes and communities.
  • Reading Captains: All students will be charged with spreading their love of reading and encouraging others to join Project LIT Community.

How can you help?logo

  • You can donate used or new books (for readers of all ages) to Maplewood High School (401 Walton Ln, Nashville, TN 37216). You can mail them or drop them during school hours.
  • Encourage friends and colleagues to donate, as well!
  • Let us know if you would like to place a little library in your business or organization.
  • Email Mr. Amato ( with any questions or suggestions!