Category Archives: Mentor Text

I can be ANYTHING!


As most often happens, my plan for writing goals for ourselves didn’t go according to – well plan.  We came back from winter break and needed to readjust ourselves to school by reviewing routines.  We came back from winter break just to have a late start to school one day. We came back from winter break and we just needed to get used to each other again.

So our goal setting conversations shifted to this week.  This actually worked out better because goal setting ties in well with our character trait for the month Commitment.  Our guidance counselor teaches a lesson each month about a particular character trait.  Monday, she spoke with the children about commitment and what it means to our goals in kindergarten and for when we grow up. Tuesday, we quickly reviewed commitment in a “little chat” about trying our best and doing our job as students in the classroom. 🙂 Wednesday brought our read aloud, I Can be Anything by Jerry Spinelli.

In this charming picture book, the little boy dreams of all the things he can be – from a make believe critter to a cheek-to-cheek grinner.  The kids loved all the things and giggled at many of the pictures. We talked about each of the things the little boy could be.  One student said “Um, he needs to pick one!” This led to a discussion of how each of us can be more than one thing.  I am a teacher, book lover, cupcake baker, etc.  To help prepare us for our writing, we used the app Popplet to create a web on the Smartboard of all the things we can/want to be now and when we grow up.

From there, we went into small group writing.  Students made the outline look like themselves as whatever they wanted to be.  We have many future police officers, a few doctors, a couple cheerleaders, and even a unicorn! We CAN be ANYTHING!

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Goal Setting and Picture Books


As the return from winter break approaches, I am thinking of how I can continue to motivate some of my reluctant readers and writers.  Before we said goodbye for the holiday break, I had conversations with a few of my students to see where their minds were at.  We talk a lot about our interests in the classroom and I try to provide as many resources as possible to supplement these interests.  And yet – I still have a couple students who have the knowledge they need but seem less than motivated to use it.  They are still relying on teachers and others to help with unknown words.  They still need a little hand holding.

I tell parents that January starts our “crunch” time  – meaning we really put to use what we learned those first few months. With the application also comes to relinquishing of responsibility from teacher to students.  More and more independence becomes encouraged and required of our sweet kinders.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drop them in to the deep end of a difficult assignment and yell “Swim!”.  But I do release their hands, little by little, until suddenly they find themselves accomplishing it alone.  For my littles who still aren’t ready, they stumble a bit.  They become frustrated and sometimes down right upset that “no one” will help.  Then….

The light bulb goes off.  The fire catches.  The connections are strengthened and extend beyond their wildest dreams.  They realize they are doing it – all by themselves.  And. It. Is. Amazing.

To help get us ready for the “CRUNCH”, I’m calling on a few of my favorite picture book friends:









After reading and discussing what we would like to accomplish, each student will create a GOAL board.  I’m not sure of the format yet, but I’m sure Pinterest has tons of printables if I decide to go that route rather than using their iPads. Goals can be easily incorporated into data notebooks if those are a part of your classroom.

What’s your goal to make it through the CRUNCH?

Happy 2015!


Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Read Alouds

As the pages turn…


Around this time last year, I posted about ending the year with a BOOK!

This year, I have found myself automatically gravitating toward books that leave the impact of making memories.  At first, it was completely subconscious – I chose a book I love and had not yet read aloud for one reason or the other.  And later that same day, I chose another book.  And the next day another… Looking at the selections – left on my easel for students to enjoy – I realized there was a theme.



Thoughtlessly, I was plucking books from my shelf that captured my mood – nostalgic, retrospective, idealistic, hopeful, inspired, and that bittersweet feeling of finishing a chapter in life.  Our year is coming to a close – and while summer looms on the horizon filled with trips, family time, and a small moment to breathe – I’m not quite ready. My year has been challenging.  Challenging in all the ways you don’t appreciate at first.  Challenging in all the ways that exhaust you.  Challenging in all the ways that remind you why you love your job. When I’m left without words of my own, I turn to the words of others.

Our last books of school:

Our Tree Named Steve

Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zwiebel and David Catrow


The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka


Someday by Eileen Spinelli and Rosie Winstead


The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammel


Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

For our end of year celebration:

(We read First Day Jitters on the first day)


Last Day Blues by Julie Danneberg and Judy Love

And some I can’t help but read once again:


Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow


Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas



Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Uncategorized

What the Pigeon Wants



In my opinion, the Pigeon series by Mo Willems is the literary equivalent of a Hollywood triple threat – he can act, dance, and sing.  He does all of these things to get what he wants – ahem, NEEDS! The Pigeon provides great examples of persuasion techniques (yes, more than one, just ask any fifth grader), creativity, economic principles (needs/wants), and powerful illustrations.

This year, my class has truly fallen in love with this author.  In the media center they did an author study and in our classroom we continue to revisit Willems’ stories when the mood strikes us.  The week leading to Spring Break put us in one of those moods.  We wanted to hear the Pigeon books again.  When I read these books, the Pigeon has the voice of a very stereotypical 1940’s gangster.  I try to pattern my voice after a media specialist friend (Sharon Mitchell), but hers is truly better than mine. Anyhow – the pigeon pleads, begs, and yes – stomps his feet with my attempt at a voice.  We have fun with these books.  Students respond back with NO! and other answers to his persuasive questions.  Even my fifth graders in past years would respond to the persistent guy.

The Pigeon helped us discuss needs and wants this go round.  We read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. We discussed the difference between needs and wants and created a class T chart.  In the students’ schedule for the day, their word work option was to complete a Pic Collage using the words need and want.


During her writing rotation, Emma chose to create her own version of The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, The Pigeon Wants a Kitten.  She used the books to model her drawings as well as the pattern of her sentences.  We talked extensively about using the books as models – not copying.  The words in the books belonged to who?  Mo Willems.  And the words on her paper belonged to who?  Emma.  She indeed did some creative editing and the end product was quite cute.


So – when searching for a mentor text that is worth its weight, and in my case the cost of multiple copies – consider The Pigeon series.  He’ll be your best friend!


Ideas span grade levels:

  • Persuasive techniques – does the Pigeon beg/whine/wear down, plead, negotiate, bargain, give an ultimatum to get his way? Also compare with techniques used in the Click, Clack, Moo et al series by Doreen Cronin , I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloffand Earrings by Judith Viorst.
  •  Use of illustrations and how Mo Willems shows feelings
  • How illustrators use the technique of hiding characters from other books ( a la Pixar/Disney) – Knuffle Bunny, Elephant, Piggie, Edwina, and Leonardo find their way into the Pigeon books.
  • Needs versus wants – also use The Pigeon Needs a Bath
  • Voice – characters shine through when saying few words

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Über Books for Upper Grades


“Our Land is alive, Esperanza…This whole valley breathes and lives…He picked up a handful of earth and studied it. Did you know that when you lie down on the land, you can feel it breathe? That you can feel its heart beating.”
― Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising

If a stranger glanced at my book shelves at home, he or she would never know that I currently teach kindergarten.  An entire shelf plus a row of the next contain chapter books – Multiple copies of the Harry Potter series, Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, and Christopher Paul Curtis wave to me each day.  They are old friends from previous teaching years who have the privilege of being on my shelves at home.  Their spines are worn, well loved, by children and by me.  Occasionally, one finds its way back into my hands to be read once again.  Even better, one is loaned out to a teacher friend to be shared with students once more.

When teaching fourth and fifth grades, I would often stray from the traditional guided reading approach and use literature circles.  With practice and support, these groups would become amazing environments for reading and learning.  They could function independently while I worked with other students or I could sit in and participate as a reader as well.  Being an active participant in the groups meant that at times, I could be reading 3-4 chapter books at once.  I found the juggling of multiple characters and story lines to be worth it in the end though.

As a student, I liked learning about history, but in a round about way.  I enjoyed documentaries, first person artifacts, journal entries, and – most of all – historical fiction.  My love for historical fiction carried over into my teaching.  If you have ever paid attention to the span of time upper elementary school teachers and students are expected to cover in one school year, you know it is absurd.  Yes – students will hear the material again in future years.  Yes – students will go more in depth in future years.  But the fact still remains that an expectation to cover 200+ years is there.  Exploring history through historical fiction proved to be a savior for me.  We could cover content material and students could (hopefully) identify with a character and enjoy themselves along the way.

Some of my favorite historical fiction titles:

Watsons1963Christopher Paul Curtis is, by far, one of my favorite authors of all time.    He has an amazing ability to connect readers with issues of long ago in a relatable, non frightening way.  In The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, 1963, we are transported into the Watson’s home and travel with them to Birmingham at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  Many teachers I know, use this as a read aloud in order to edit some of the content and language (few curse words).  I made a judgement call, and used this for a literature circle group two years ago with fifth graders.  I’m so glad I did.

6702075-MWhen teaching about World War II, I find it important and beneficial to share as many experiences as possible.  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes  tells the story of a young girl and the impact radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima has on her life.  She uses her knowledge of a Japanese legend to bring hope to herself and her country.  Without fail, each year I read this, we made paper cranes.  I discovered that origami is not really a strength of mine – but there is always a student who excels and helps others fold the cranes.

51zqk1y72TLJust add Laurie Halse Anderson to the list of authors I am obsessed with.  I love how she dives into history and creates strong, dynamic, female characters that are heroines any student can identify with and admire.  Yellow Fever does not usually get much attention in elementary history books.  However, it is a fascinating piece of our history.  I read Fever 1793 out loud to my students.  We then connected it with the nonfiction text The American Plague.  Through the eyes of Mattie, we learn about the spread of the fever and how no one (not even famous historical figures) could escape.  Anderson writes in such a way that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.  Fever 1793, is part of her historical fiction trilogy.  Other titles include Chains (amazing) and Forge (on my to read list).

weedflowerFollowing the attack of Pearl Harbor, the lives of Sumiko and her family are thrown into turmoil.  Once flower farmers, they are separated and sent to internment camps.  Sumiko is sent to a camp in Arizona on Mohave land.  Readers are able to gain perspective of two other groups during World War II through Weedflower.  Cynthia Kadohata writes with genuine emotion and addresses very complex issues while still leaving room for readers to make connections.

51YxIHMJa1LThe Great Depression affected all parts of this nation in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  In elementary history texts, attention is mainly placed on the stock market crash, Hoovervilles, and the New Deal.  In Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan brings us a “riches to rags” story of a Mexican family forced to flee to California after a tragedy.  Once part of a wealthy family, Esperanza becomes a migrant worker.  Poetically told through the growing seasons, with Spanish intertwined, our heroine’s story takes us through different ethnicities and the organization of labor during the Great Depression.

UnknownThe spring after 9/11, I chose this book as a read aloud for a class I was student teaching in.  I was teaching in a rural area, where closed-mindedness still had a home.  Students were making comments about middle eastern people that they didn’t really understand.  My hope was to show students another view of a side of the world completely foreign to them.  The Breadwinner is one of three books by Deborah Ellis that tells of Parvana, a young girl living in Kabul.  After her father’s arrest, Parvana puts her life at risk to take care of her family.  Ellis spent several months with refugees researching young girls’ experiences in Afghanistan.  Parvana is a hopeful, strong, and determined heroine.  Her voice shows that even in oppressive climates, humanity can shine through.

al-capone-does-my-shirtsDiscussions of the 1930’s always led to students becoming intrigued by Alcatraz, Al Capone, and the original “gangsters” of that time.  Gennifer Choldenko created an entire series around Moose Flanagan and his family’s experience on Alcatraz Island.  The spirit of the era shines through Al Capone Does My Shirts and acts as an additional character.  The characters are well rounded, developed, and relatable.  Readers close the pages and immediately want to do research to learn more.

Stay tuned for more über picks – up next, realistic fiction!

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Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Reading Workshop, Upper Grades

Hickory, Dickory, Tot

Last week, we began discussing word families and rhyming words. In the past, I have focused on different word families for a few days and then moved right on to the next few – Usually progressing through the short vowel word families.
The first day, we started discussing what it means when words rhyme and if anyone could think of rhyming words. I read I Can Read with my Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss and we showed a thumbs up if we heard any rhyming words. Following the read aloud, the –at word family was introduced. –At words tend to be easiest for students to pick up on and they immediately felt successful as we listed all the words on an anchor chart. They practiced with –at words the next two days at writing and word work centers, with books, flip charts, and word wheels.
During shared reading time, we were reading nursery rhymes. Of course, these timeless rhymes lend themselves to word families very well. Last Friday, we read through some classic rhymes on the Smart Board, such as Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Then, students took turns circling the rhyming words they heard.
Once the rhyming words were circled on each rhyme, the fun really began. Students were able to choose any word they wanted to replace the first rhyming word. I modeled scribbling out the original word and writing the new word on top. Each new rhyme was student generated and I did the writing. We sounded each word out together. When a rhyme was particularly difficult, we talked about nonsense words. To make a new rhyme, using a nonsense word, a student would choose a beginning letter and we would add the rime. Since we were focused on practicing with rhymes, we decided the words we came up with did not have to be real words. We made sure each word rhymed with the appropriate partner.

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After the modeling on Friday, my students asked this morning if we could do silly nursery rhymes again today. Of course, I said yes. I pulled up the slides from Friday and erased the rhymes we created. This time, the students were in charge of coming up with a rhyme and writing it on the smart board. This activity proved to be enjoyable once again. A student even reminded a friend that nonsense words were ok – we are focused on rhyming!


Humpty Dumpty sat on a brig(j)
Humpty Dumpty had a great thig(j)
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s babes
Couldn’t put Humpty together zabes


Little Boy Blue
Come blow your shoo
The sheep’s in the meadow;
The cow’s in the boo
Where is the boy who looks after the donut
He’s under a haystack, fast blonut”

*The student who contributed donut was thrilled as he often shouts out donut as an inappropriate answer and this time it was ok.


Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of dogs
Jack fell candy cane
and broke his ane
And Jill came tumbling ogs

We will continue working on word families and writing well past our holiday break. Being able to apply this new skill to familiar text helps the students make connections. The use of nonsense words helps them feel successful. We have more activities to come… Writing our own rhymes and creating word family displays with our iPads. Stay tuned!

For more fun with familiar rhymes and songs check out Alen Katz’s and Bruce Lansky’s popular books:

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Writing as readers, reading as writers

Today was one of those great days – where so much learning happens that you’re not sure how you’ve gotten them there.  I owe this type of day to listening – listening to my students.  Since the end of last school year, I have been exploring what personalized (student centered) learning means in my classroom.  In the end, what it means to me is listening to my students.

This week, we have been talking about fall.  The season of fall led to discussion of other seasons.  We read A Tree for All Seasons at the beginning of the week.


The book follows a maple tree through all seasons of the year.  Winter captured their attention immediately.  Hands flew up in the air – syrup comes from trees?  The discussion took another direction, syrup.  Their scientific minds were churning, asking questions and thinking about how it all could work.  Our inquiry continued today with an experiment, but that will be another post…

In the theme of following the turns my students take on our path to learning, the writing mini-lesson for today was completely based on their questions.  Often, when teaching my kinders writing concepts, I can get caught up in the process.  When really, deep down, all I want them to do is consider themselves writers.  It was how I was taught to teach writers.  Yes, I was taught the writing process and writing workshop.  But the main point driven home to me by JoBeth Allen (near and dear) was that our stduents must see themselves as writers.  We are all writers – whether we like to write or not.  We do it every day.  It is a part of our everyday life.  Whether we are texting, tweeting, blogging, emailing, journaling, listing, or writing stories – we are writing.  We. are. writers.  Even as I know these things, I have “off” days.  Days when I ask myself – what would JoBeth do?  What would Katie Wood Ray do?  What would Lucy Calkins do?

My literacy class reminded me with a quote from Katie Wood Ray (jumbled and shortened – but this is the jist): “Focus on your writers, rather than a finished piece.  The process is not something you do, it is something you use.  Writing is an amazing, powerful tool to rock the world.  What are you going to do with it?”

Wednesday, I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  This book is a good reminder that we all have bad days – that was my point for reading it.

download (1)

However, my kids noticed something about the illustrations that shocked them.  “Why do the pictures not have colors?”  Of all my years of reading this book, no child has ever asked me that.  I admitted I didn’t know.  We have been tweeting everyday and one student suggested we tweet and ask.  Judith Viorst is not listed on twitter, but we hashtagged it to see what would happen.  This one question sparked a mini-lesson in my mind.  We would connect reading and writing (yet again).

So today, I brought good ole Alexander back out and asked what we remembered about the story.  The students gave great summaries.  Then, I opened the book and showed the pictures.  “Oh yeah, there are no colors!”  We discussed why the author may have done that.  We discussed why we didn’t like it.  I then held up two photocopies of a page from the book – one untouched and the other I colored.


“Which version do you like better?”  All said the one with colors.  The reasons varied from “It’s prettier” to “I know what he looks like”.  We then explored another Judith Viorst book.  We wondered if all of her books were like this.

download (2)Super, Completely and Totally the Messiest has a different illustrator.  However, the illustrations are half color/half black and white.  We noted that the important parts of the pictures (the parts that matched the words) were color and the rest (background) were black and white.

All this student led exploring brought us to the mini-lesson for the day.  Details.  Using details in our writing in kindergarten most often starts with our picture.  I told the students I wanted to write about a day I went to Battery Park with my family.  While we were looking at the water,  we saw dolphins.  I started drawing.  I drew the fence that blocks the sidewalk from the water and stopped.  I asked if I included everything I told them in my picture (No).  I added water and dolphins, then asked again (No).  I continued with this process until I completed my picture.  The details of pictures became very important.  We couldn’t see anyone’s eyes because everyone was looking at the water.  My nieces are seven and three so they were smaller, etc.


After checking my pictures for all details, we began to craft my sentences.  First I wrote, “My family went to Battery Park”.  I said I was finished.  Most students argued that point by reminding me about the dolphins.  I then modeled adding a second sentence by writing, “We saw dolphins”.


I know it seems long – but honestly, the entire mini-lesson took no more than a mini-lesson should (15-20 minutes).

From this point, the students went into center rotations ready for writing groups.  Using the guided writing method, my assistant and I are able to conference with children everyday.  Today was no different – “What do you want to write about?” was the question of the day.  Our more confident writers sat down and immediately started writing first.

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Our more self-conscious writers, started with their picture just as I did.

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Even writers with developing motor skills found success today.


Today was one of those days – a day you love your job, you love being a teacher.  The only difference is, I wasn’t really the “teacher” in the traditional sense.  They were in control of their learning – and that makes all the difference.

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