First Chapter Friday: Hook Students with a Ghost Story

By: OwlCrate Jr Photo By: @nowsparkcreativity

Today we are turning things over to Betsy Potash of Spark Creativity! Betsy is a former high school teacher turned curriculum developer and host of the Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast. She has a contagious passion for bringing fun and innovative ideas into education, and we are so thrilled to share her insights with you! Make sure to check out her website for tons of advice, ideas to bring into the classroom, and free resources!

Take it away, Betsy! 

As an English teacher, you’re balancing sooooo many priorities for your students. Shoring up their grammar, mixing it up with vocab, working on those stubborn thesis statements, trying to help them stay focused on discussions and writing projects. It’s not always easy to share all the books you want to, all the voices you really want to bring into your classroom. That’s where First Chapter Friday comes in.

First Chapter Friday is such an easy way to help your students meet a wide range of authors and discover books they love. You simply grab a title from your classroom shelf —a title you think your class will connect to— and read the first chapter out loud. With the right book, you’ll have students clamoring for another chapter by the end, and when they find out the next chapter is up to them, they’ll likely be lining up to borrow it from your choice library.

Now, before I give you a few trips and tricks to help you launch your First Chapter Friday program easily and successfully, let me suggest your very first book:


It’s called Ghost, and it’s one of Jason Reynolds’ (MANY) amazing works. If you don’t already know him, I suggest you dive deep into a glorious reading rabbit hole and read Long Way Down, As Brave as You, and All American Boys. You won’t regret it!

But back to Ghost.

The great thing about Ghost is that you can actually let Jason himself read the beginning to your students. Just queue up this Youtube video and hit play. If you can, take five minutes to watch it right now... (I'll wait)

This book is by turns serious and hilarious, as Ghost discovers his speed and slowly finds community as part of a competitive track team he never expected to be on. Three more equally fabulous books follow in Jason Reynolds’ full Track Series - Sunny, Lu, and Patina[Editor's note: The Track series is recommended for ages 10+)

Now, let’s talk a little about how to help students focus on the reading as they listen. Whether you’re playing a video, an audiobook, or reading aloud, it’s helpful for students to have a low-key task to guide them in focusing. Otherwise no one quite knows what to do with themselves. Try having them sketchnote as they listen, jotting down their takeaways through doodles, quotes, keywords, and sketches.

Sketchnoting adds an element of creativity and critical thinking to the note-taking process, as students decide what’s important enough to highlight and what doesn’t really matter. It also helps keep them tuned in to the book.

(You can pick up this free First Chapter Friday sketchnotes template here.)

Now maybe you’re feeling a little nervous, wondering if you can commit ten to twenty minutes EVERY FRIDAY to sharing a new book with your students. I get that! But here’s the thing, your students will love being read wonderful books whenever you can fit it in. If that means you do it once a month, that’s a great start. If Fridays are jam-packed, try “Meet-a-Book Monday,” “We Read Wednesday,” or whatever works for you. You can’t do this wrong.

You might also be worrying a bit about your voice. Maybe you teach five sections on Fridays and you’re usually drinking lemon tea and sucking on a cherry throat drop by lunch already. I get that too! That’s why audiobooks, guest readers, and Youtube videos are all great options. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Just, if you can, try to have a copy or two of the book in your class so you can send it home with an eager reader at the end of the day.

First Chapter Friday is a consistent way to feature the books on your choice reading shelves, encourage independent reading at your school, and bring a wide variety of genres, themes, and voices to your students. As your program grows, consider reaching out to your school librarian for advice about popular titles to feature and maybe even a few armloads of books to bring back to your classroom.

This article was written by Betsy Potash. She lives, writes, rollerblades and tries the wildest gelato flavors she can find in Bratislava, Slovakia. Tune in to teaching ideas from Betsy anytime on The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast