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Uncategorized   |   Jul 26, 2010

Book review: The Daily 5

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Book review: The Daily 5

By Angela Watson


I’ve never had so many web visitors ask for my opinion on a book as I have with The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. And as soon as I started reading, I realized why.

“The sisters” are obviously long-lost relatives of mine.

Let’s run down the list of similarities here, shall we?  Gail Boushey and Joan Moser were classroom teachers when they wrote the book and tell about systems they created with their own students, they don’t advocate one ‘right’ way to teach that requires you to throw out everything else you do, and they show you how to teach your students to run the classroom. Check, check, and CHECK. I’m totally on board.

Most of you reading this review are already familiar with the Daily 5 (it’s been out since 2006), so I’ll make this less of a book summary and more of an opinion piece. I loved how readable the book was.  The tone was conversational and easy-to-understand. I loved the ongoing discussion of how their teaching practice has changed and evolved over the years. Not only does this make the sisters seem like real people who didn’t start off as master teachers on day one, but it gives permission to the rest of us to grow and let go of ineffective practices we’ve become attached to.  I also love how the book emphasizes the element of choice for children. This truly is a student-centered way to run your literacy block.

But mostly,  I love the way the sisters emphasize modeling and practice for routines. This is something I’ve been droning on about for years, but I’ve never seen the concept so perfectly explained for the context of literacy routines.  Even if you’re not using the Daily 5, the procedures the book advocates for teaching children to be independent is applicable to whatever literacy tasks you have them regularly complete…and would work for math routines, too. The explanation of how to model and practice is definitely the crown jewel of The Daily 5.

There were two aspects of teaching routines in The Daily 5 that I had never thought about.  The first is doing 3 minute practice periods to build stamina. My practice periods were usually starting at 10 minutes for 3rd graders, but the sisters point out that you must stop before any children have a chance to get off-task: start small so they can be successful and train their ‘muscle memories’ to complete the procedure correctly. The other new concept for me is the premise of not managing with eye control or proximity (my two favorite techniques) when practicing literacy routines. This was a radical idea in my mind: What, no raised eyebrows and the ‘um-i-don’t-think-so-buddy’ glare when a kid starts picking at his shoelaces instead of reading? Not during the Daily 5 stamina-building sessions. Instead, you’re supposed to stop the whole class and revisit the anchor chart so kids can reflect on their own practices. We’re talking student ownership on the next level.

Obviously since I’m obsessed with teaching routines and procedures, I really keyed in on that aspect. As for the Daily 5 elements themselves (Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work)…I can get with those, too. The concepts aren’t anything revolutionary, nor do the sisters claim they are–they’re just best practices that focus on authentic reading rather than teacher-contrived busywork. These elements have been going on in classrooms for a long time under many pseudonyms, and they work. I found yet another commonality with my long-lost sisters in that I, too, started making the switch from assigning reading activities to having kids READ after studying Regie Routman’s Reading Essentials. That book changed everything for me, and it heavily influenced the sisters, too.

The only downside of The Daily 5 being such a short and easy read is that it’s possibly TOO short–personally, I would like to have read a lot more than 100 pages on this topic.  The book left me with a number of unanswered questions. For example, the recommended daily schedule shows whole-group reading instruction being completed solely in four 5-7 minute mini lessons.  How could that be possible, especially if you’re mandated to use a basal or complete daily test prep practice? Wouldn’t longer lessons be needed in the upper elementary grades in which skills are more complex? I headed over to the website to look for support, but was disappointed to find that the online resources are available only for members at the rate of $39 for a 3 month subscription or $69 annually (um, ouch.)  So I started a Daily 5 discussion on Facebook and found, as usual, that teachers have all the answers I’m looking for. Not only did they explain that the Daily 5 Structure is highly adaptable and it’s the teacher’s choice how long the mini-lessons run, they explained just how they use the structure in their own classrooms and gave practical tips.

Wonderful, practical, and free advice from teachers on how they implement The Daily 5 is abundant on the web (especially on the ProTeacher message boards).  I’ve researched their reviews extensively, and the overwhelming response from classroom teachers is that IT WORKS. The Daily 5 has an incredible following of teachers whose students can’t wait for the literacy block each day because they’ve developed such a deep love of reading that’s totally independent of adult direction. What more could we want for our students? Go ‘head, sisters.

*review copy provided by Stenhouse Publishers

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Angela,

    Thanks for your opinions on the Daily 5. I will be starting this along with CAFE using my basal next year. I’m excited for the challenge. I have to get my kids to pass the FCAT and last year (after reading Reading Essentials too) had my kids read more in a reader’s workshop style. Every one of my kids, including my ESOL child who was reading at 1st grade level, passed! I can’t wait to use this format so I can reach more kids individually while the rest are doing authentic reading tasks. I’ll also be starting the Responsive Classroom approach that ties in well for behavior management. I do agree that the cost for membership to the sisters’ site is steep. Thankfully Iwork at a Title 1 school and they were able to purchase it for me. That’s an idea for anyone else who works at a Title 1 school. Thanks again for your thoughts!


    1. Marlene, that’s great to hear how well your kids did last year with the reader’s workshop style! It was very hard for me to stick with that when I taught at Title I schools in Florida–there was so much pressure to test prep all. the. time. I’m proud of you for knowing what’s best for kids and doing it! I think you’ll LOVE Responsive Classroom–I really can’t speak highly enough of that approach, especially for low-income schools. And good idea to try to get Title I to pay for the Daily 5/CAFE membership costs. Thanks for that tip!

      1. Marlene,
        I used Daily 5 for the last 2 years in my former district, along with Responsive Classroom, with great results. All of my students passed the state test- and better yet, they LOVED reading and writing. Our principal often commented on how involved the kids were with what they were doing- half the time they wouldn’t even notice that someone new had walked into the room! Good luck- and remember to really follow the Sisters’ steps…building stamina is key. First we get started, then we get better!

  2. Hi Angela,

    Thanks so much for posting your comments about the Daily 5. I stumbled upon this book last summer and I enjoyed it, but I had the same issues with it that you had. So, I decided to put it aside. After 4 years of teaching 2nd grade, I’m still looking for the ultimate Reader’s Workshop/Literacy Centers. After reading your post and checking out the other teachers’ suggestions on proteacher.com, I have found renewed inspiration and will revisit this book and attempt to apply the Daily 5 this year! Thank you so much!

    Sylvie (a.k.a. Headless Chicken)

    1. Headless chicken, huh? LOL! I think as you revisit The Daily 5 book, you’ll definitely find some concepts you want to try out this year. There is sooo much online support around the web, and when you post your questions for other teachers to answer, you’ll get replies right away that inspire you to jump right in. I’m a little sad that I don’t have my own classroom anymore so *I* can try it out! 🙁 But, I definitely will be recommending the strategies to the teachers I coach.

  3. Hi Angela,

    It has long been my opinion that you would be right on board with the Sisters’ philosophies. In fact I’d wondered why you hadn’t mentioned them before! Last year I started the Daily 5 and CAFE in my classroom, and after seeing the Sisters speak in Iowa I shelled out the 70$ for the website access. Because I was doing this all on my own, I felt it was worth it to get that support. Recently the time came for my membership to expire and I had to think about that 70$ again–and I just had to renew it. So much new content has been added, (they’ve been posting videos and book excerpts for the Math Daily 5) and the videos are SO helpful, and to top it off the Sisters are so sweet and funny–sometimes after a crazy day, clicking on a video of Joan Moser explaining how she organizes her Word Work materials just calms me right down and helps me refocus. If she can do it, so can I! 🙂 I think it’s crazy that as a teacher I have to spend my own money (which, ahem, is less than it should be! Inner-city Catholic school teacher here!) for this kind of thing, but for me it’s a worthwhile expense because it really has helped me improve my practice, and I’ve seen great things from my students, which is what it’s all about! Honestly, if you started posting videos of model lessons and room tours, I’d probably pay for that too! (Joking aside, maybe you would consider posting a video or two in the future?)

    Thanks for writing about this subject. I would definitely recommend you read the CAFE book too—for the longest time I stayed away from Daily 5 and CAFE, because I thought they were just cheesy acronyms for another product someone was trying to sell us teachers. But it’s the real deal and it really helps teachers achieve what we all strive for every day! On a side note, I want to let you know I really appreciate and enjoy your devotional posts. They always seem to come at exactly the right moment…funny how that works, isn’t it? 🙂


    1. Hi, Amy! You know, I never had any interest in the approach for the same reason you ignored it–I assumed it was some new-fangled reading program that I couldn’t possibly implement because my school district already prescribed everything down to the way I breathed. And I love the reader’s workshop approach and figured nothing could top that. But once people started explaining how The Daily 5 works (and how it works WITH your current reading program), I was definitely intrigued! It’s good to hear your opinion on whether the web resources on the two sister’s site are worth the money. Thanks for sharing that! And yes, I do plan on posting some videos! I’ve been putting it off for a few reasons (getting parental permission to show kids is one reason, not liking to watch myself on video is another, heh heh) but I really do need to just get with the program! At this point I don’t imagine charging for that–I really, really want to keep everything on my site free, and the cost of shooting and uploading short video clips is pretty low. Thanks also for the encouragement about the devotions: I definitely believe the ideas are placed on my heart at a certain moment for the benefit of very specific people. It’s awesome to hear from those people from time to time. 🙂

  4. Hi,

    I’m going to be the odd-duck here, but I’m a homeschooling mom- sitting in Barnes & Nobles right now with a copy of the sister’s The Cafe Book- and looking for more info on the Daily 5. Your review is extremely helpful, I’ll be heading over to your fb page.

    I’m a very unscheduled artsy/feeling person, but I know kids do better with a routine..I keep trying to wrap my brain around some kind of routine I can keep- and independent learning is totally possible with my group of 5…I just need a routine that is easy to implement and not too complicated. This looks adaptable to my daily needs. I have a reading challenged student, I do need a way to track our goals and accomplishments. Thanks for writing this. 🙂

    1. Hah, Jenny, sounds like you do what I do–get online in the bookstore to read reviews! I can’t even shop in bookstores now, I’m so dependent on Amazon reviews and other online sources to tell me if something’s worth buying. Somehow I do think the Daily 5 will be useful for you as a homeschool mom. It will help you teach your kids independent reading and writing skills. Let me know how you implement–I’m interesting to see your take on things. 🙂

  5. Kinda crazy–seems this review was written just for me! A series of strange coincidences led me to this article today, and I was already planning to start reading The Daily 5 on Monday since we are implementing it (and CAFE) in my school in the fall! This has given me the encouragement that I needed to start “back-to-school” planning.

    1. Hi, Letitia, that’s awesome that you feel inspired to plan now! Trust me, Daily 5 is an easy and fun read. Once you start, you’ll *really* be in the mood to get started for the fall! 🙂

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