Tag Archives: read alouds

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

Über Books for Upper Grades 2


For me, books have always been a trusted friend.  A friend that is just like me, the complete opposite of me, or me transformed in another world.  Books are mirrors or windows (I think I’ve said this before).  In books, we see ourselves or through to something else.

Reading realistic fiction with my students, picture or chapter books, has always provided opportunities for connections in my classroom. Honest questions are asked, discussions are had, and at times – tears are shed.  And if we are lucky, a student falls in love with a book.  Magic.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about some of my favorite historical fiction books.  Today, I hope you add some of these realistic fiction books to your classroom.

9780142405444_p0_v1_s260x420 bird by Angela Johnson

A sensitive story of a girl trying to keep her family together.  Bird is thirteen and cannot accept the fact that her stepfather has left.  She follows him to Alabama to try and convince him to return to Cleveland to rejoin her family.  In searching for security, she becomes security for two young boys with problems of her own.

9780399239892_p0_v1_s260x420 feathers by Jaqueline Woodson

Two things led me to pick up this book at the bookstore – the author (one of my favorites) and the main character’s name (characters never have my name!).  Woodson is one of my favorites because she speaks to readers with honesty, compassion, and understanding.  Her books tackle difficult topics such as race, gender, and relationships.  In feathers, Frannie begins to view the world around her in new ways after hearing a quote from a poem at school – “Hope is the thing with feathers”.  A powerful read aloud or book club selection, Frannie helps readers realize the beauty of looking deeper.

9780689866968_p0_v1_s260x420 deaf child crossing by Marlee Matlin

This book is a window for most students.  The perspective of a deaf child is a rare one in children’s literature and Marlee Matlin does a beautiful job.  Megan and Cindy become fast friends when Cindy moves into the neighborhood.  They are inseparable.  As summer approaches, their friendship becomes tested when they go to camp together.  Matlin explores friendship and all its facets through the eyes of two young girls.

9780064472074_p0_v1_s260x420 Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

I love a book that is told from several different perspectives.  Some readers find it difficult to follow, bouncing back and forth from character to character, but I enjoy getting the whole story from all those involved.  Seedfolks uses a vacant lot to connect neighbors, stories, and lives together in an inner city neighborhood.  Two years ago, a group in my fifth grade reading class chose to read this book together.  I had to make a judgement call.  I knew some of the content was heavy (pregnant teenager), but I also knew where my students were coming from.  I knew why Valerie connected to it after skimming through the pages (pregnant sister).  I knew Eric would idenifywith Kim’s optimism. I knew that Seedfolks was going to be a mirror and a window for my students. Just as the characters saw promise in the soil, I saw promise in this book.

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Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Caulder Game:  A trifecta of awesomeness!  Although considered more mystery than realistic fiction, Blue Balliett’s series sends readers on journeys through art and architecture, friendship and hardship, trials and tribulations.  Secret messages and codes are woven into each story with pentominoes, riddles, mazes, and more.  Readers are exposed to the art of Vermeer, the architecture of Wright, and the sculpture of Caulder while following friends as they investigate mysteries throughout Chicago and England (Caulder Game).

Maybe you have already read some of these with your students, maybe you’ve never heard of them, but I hope you give them a chance.


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Filed under Literacy, Read Alouds, Reading Workshop, Upper Grades, Writing Workshop

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

Gender Reveal Party


It all started with our phonics lesson today – I stumbled upon a soapbox.  I felt called to climb on top of it.   Rest assured, it was a five-year-old appropriate soap box.

We began learning about the letter u.  Our district purchased the Journey’s series and I incorporate the Alphafriends into our phonics lessons each week.  Each Alphafriend has its own song and I try my best to make up dance moves to each one.  They function as great cues for students when sounding out words or locating letters.  Often, I can prompt with the Alphafriend and the student will point to it and its letter.

If you notice, I referred to the Alphafriends as it.  While some are clearly supposed to be male or female, there are some characters that are not so clear.  I have noticed this year, more than others, that knowing the gender of the character is important to the students.

When Umbie was introduced today, almost IMMEDIATELY, a child asked “Is Umbie a boy or a girl?”  Another student started searching the words of the song looking for “he” or “she” – none.  So she looked for “his” or “her” – none.  This stumped the students.  I couldn’t resist… I sat down with the students and asked “Why?” – why is it so important to know whether Umbie is a boy or a girl?

Well, this question had them silent.  I could see the wheels turning in their heads.  The little girl wasn’t sure how to answer or what to say.  So, I gently probed again, “Why is it important to know whether Umbie is a boy or a girl?”  With sweetness in her face, she finally said, “I don’t know.”

I asked, “Will Umbie’s song be different or less fun if Umbie is a boy or a girl?” All the little children said, “Noooooooo.”

I asked, “Will the letter u make a different sound if Umbie is a boy or a girl?” And all the little children said, “Noooooo.”

I finished by saying simply this, “Sometimes we like to know if someone is a boy or a girl.  That is ok.  But, it’s not important.  I knew we would all have fun even before I knew who was a boy or a girl.  Being kind is what is important.”

Cue music, I slipped off the soapbox and we went about our lesson.

So, what does this have to do with literacy? Besides the fact it happened during my phonics lesson?  Well of course I”m going to give you some resources – picture books, et al, to discuss these issues with your own kiddos.  The topic is deep and mature, but in my opinion, not to heavy for our smallest learners.  Gender roles are brought up almost on a daily basis in the classroom.  Boys are playing “too rough”.  Girls are being “too bossy”.  Johnny is wearing a pink shirt – pink is a girl color.  Susie wants to play with the trucks but those toys are for boys.  Blah blah blah… Use these small moments to bring to a child’s attention that there are no such thing (in my opinion) as boy toys or girl toys, boy colors or girl colors, etc.  At least once a week, I see a story like this and my heart is broken.  I strive to do what I can to create an environment in which my students feel safe – physically and emotionally – no matter what.

A simple way to do this is to read books where male/female characters don’t conform to stereotypical gender roles.


One of my favorite books to read is The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch.  The Princess slays the dragon – not the prince.

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Love Cornelia Funke and this beauty – The Princess Knight.  This princess is as brave and strong as her brothers and she is willing to prove it to everyone. (A la Merida and Mulan)

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In William’s Doll, Charlotte Zolotow inroduces us to a little boy who wants a doll more than anything.



In Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt, Sam thinks men should be able to quilt just like women.

We are Free to be You and Me

Other resources:





Upper grades – http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/said-said-analyzing-gender-287.html


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It’s All Good



In Kindergarten, we organize our weeks around various skills, strategies, and themes.  Included in these themes are several author studies.  Last week, we immersed ourselves in the world of Eric Litwin and Pete the Cat.

Being the book worm that I am, I love a series of books that easily lends itself to integrated studies.  Through Pete, we explored all of our literacies and addressed common core standards while we were at it.  If you aren’t familiar with Pete, you are missing out on one groovy cat.  With his gaining popularity, more books are being released, but we focused on the first three in the series last week.







As far as read alouds go, the series is pretty much perfect.  They all have a rhythm (and songs!), a positive message, the opportunity for audience participation, and humor.

We started out the week by listening to the stories as I read them aloud.  The students started reading/singing along right away.  We then explored the Harper Collins website and watched animated versions of the stories.  Anytime we needed a quick time filler – I would hear “let’s do Pete the Cat!”  It amazing to find stories that the children truly love and remain engaged in no matter how many times they read/hear them.  Each time we read, a student would point out something new or make a comparison.  We were truly thinking on higher levels – all within the first few weeks of school.

Pete continued into center time where students honed scientific literacy by categorizing and sorting various tins of buttons throughout the week.  Students used magnifying lenses, sorting buckets, plates, and charts to place buttons into various piles.  The discussion regarding which pile specific buttons would go into were telling.  Students worked on inquiry and social skills by working together and reasoning through their thinking.

In Math, we played “Roll and Record” with Pete and also practiced our counting with dot to dot.  Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons introduces early subtraction skills.  We discussed counting backward, what is one more, and what is one less.

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Writing time gave us several opportunities to challenge ourselves this early in the year.  What I found was that the students worked harder because they were to engaged and motivated by Pete.  Our first writing was on Tuesday after several readings of Pete the Cat Loves His White Shoes.  Students chose a color and filled in the color word.


As a wrap up of the week, we created an anchor chart all about Pete and what we learned from him.

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This chart was used for our 4 square writing all about Pete.  We did this in small groups.  Students copied words or created their own and illustrated.

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There are so many other great ideas for Pete the Cat – many we didn’t get to.

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What I loved the most, was the willingness for all of my students to try, challenge themselves, and keep singing their songs.  Just like Pete.





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Filed under Literacy, Lower Grades, Mentor Text, Read Alouds, Writing Workshop

Being Brave with Books


Well – we finally did it!  We finished our Code of Cooperation this week and celebrated by signing with our “high fives” to being brave.  I firmly believe, we would not have gotten to this point of understanding without a little help my friends.  Picture books

I blogged earlier about how I wanted to attempt creating our code of cooperation.  And as most things go – well they didn’t go exactly as I thought them out in my head.  Let me describe our dynamic group this year (and I am in NO WAY complaining) – we have 21 bright and shining faces each morning.  7 of those faces started kindergarten this year without any experience of what school will be like.  5 of our 21 lovies have major difficulties with the structure of school and with self control (3 have diagnosis).  21 of 21 are AMAZING, LOVING, and INSPIRING to their teacher.  We work hard every day to not let our difficulties get in the way of our learning.  What are difficulties did do was drastically alter the way I thought creating our code would go.  We MODEL constantly – which is good, recommended, and expected.  So much of the reading aloud time I thought I would have was being used for modeling, redirecting, and diffusing difficulties we were having.

I had to take a moment and breathe – remind myself that what I was doing and what I wanted to do were both very important and somehow they would mesh together.  Even if that meant reading a book a little bit at a time until I could read the whole thing again.  We took baby steps with our routines, procedures, and even with read alouds.  So as I was trying to implicitly approach the ideas of what our classroom could be through picture books, I was also explicitly approaching them with modeling – trying to downplay our difficulties and highlight our strengths.  We all work together.

Long story short – these are the books we have read, and continue to reread.  We even could make connections between books along the way – which made this teacher overjoyed.

chrysChrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes


The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill


Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes


Armadillo Tattletale by Helen Ketteman

Pout-Pout page

The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


Sheila Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes


Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell


Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkeley Breathed

Our Anthems for this year: 


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