Friday, December 21, 2012

Looking Ahead to 2013

The end of a year is ahead of us. Many people make New Year's resolutions. Some people reflect on the past year. Here are a few thought starters as you get ready for your break:
  • My greatest wish for 2013 is...
  • My favorite New Year's memory is...
  • I'm looking forward to...
  • The one resolution that shows up every year is...
  • I'd most like to change...
Here are mine:

My greatest wish for 2013 is...that all teachers would have less stress and more time to share joys with their students.

My favorite New Year's memory is...when my son told us he was going to be a father for the first time.

I'm looking forward to...spending more time with all of the grandchildren..watching them blow out birthday candles, watching all their sports' events, playing with them at our pool, laughing at their funny sayings...

The one resolution that shows up every year spend more time reading and writing.

I'd most like to change...the pressures that the teachers feel so they can again enjoy just teaching.

I'd love to see yours.  If you have time during your break, fill these out and send them to me at    Merry Christmas!  Have a great vacation!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Love of Reading

Graham listening to a story at Story Time
One of the best parts of being retired is to take Graham, my two-year-old grandson, to Story Time at the library. Naturally, I want him to learn to love to read as much as I do. One way to do that is to let children know that all kinds of people read. They need to see their parents, grandparents, and siblings reading!

Over the last couple years I have been collecting pictures of people reading in various places. To me this is just proof that reading is fun. Hopefully, one day I will be able to pull all these pictures together for a power point to share the Love of Reading!
Reading in Phoenix

As you travel around the school or neighborhood, be on the lookout for adults, kids, anyone reading.  Point it out to the children around you. Share with them the fact that everyone loves to read in all kinds of places. It should become a habit with them, too. When you have some spare time...READ!
Yes, even Dave reads!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Looking Toward January: Informational Writing

In January many third graders will be writing informational text. This is very similar to what third graders have been doing in past years. When they were in K-2 grades, they wrote 'How-to' books and 'All About' books. That informational writing gave them the background to do the type of text they will write this year.

Students will be writing about things they are interested in and very familiar with. The purpose of informational writing is to teach others. It is important that they know a lot about their chosen topic. A possible way to begin after the topic is chosen is to separate it into subtopics. Each of those subtopics can be listed as chapters in the table of contents.
As students prepare to write this genre, it is important to have mentor texts that look like what they will write.  Books by Gail Gibbons or Seymour Simon are suggestions. These books should model the ways students will be sharing their information.
Each chapter or subtopic will have multiple pages. Students will need to decide what information they want to teach in each subtopic and how they will do that. One possible way to make those decisions is for them to try story boards in their notebooks using sketches and words. Ideas for those pages might be: "how-to" page; diagram with labeling page; compare and contrast page; or a "story" page. They would then choose paper that would be based on the structure that matches the information to be taught. Using what they have learned in previous grades about writing "All About" books, will help them know how to best present their informational writing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Opinion Writing--Persuasive Reviews

In many second grade classrooms, students will be writing opinion pieces with the focus on persuasive reviews!  Right away most of us think about book reviews. However, I would urge you to go further than that. What about movies, places they have traveled or would like to travel, or restaurants. One student I worked with decided to write about a favorite restaurant of her family. The teacher then sent the review to that restaurant. What a surprise when the student received a gift certificate from the restaurant AND was told that they framed the review and hung it by their door! So, don't just limit the writing, challenge the students to write for REAL reasons!
A book that I like to use for support and ideas is Is That a Fact? by Tony Stead.  His chapter on persuasive writing has examples and structure for K-3 students. He suggests doing a travel brochure together as a class. You might want to gather some brochures about one certain place and let the children investigate them in groups. Making a chart of what they learned about their special place, will give them the materials they need. You will then record it as a class in a shared writing.

Another idea he shared was to ask the children to look in those brochures for words and phrases that they felt were persuasive. These words would also go onto a chart. After each workshop's focus lesson, the students would work as partners or groups to develop their own brochure. Later, lessons on revision and editing would also be included.

Don't forget to check out the All Write!!! website for a set of lessons on persuasion for K-1. These lessons focus on writing book reviews, but I am sure you could use them for movies, travel or restaurants. This could become your favorite unit of study!!! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our Last Monday Read Aloud Before Christmas

The last read-aloud suggestion for 2012 is another Cynthia Rylant book. This one is illustrated by Diane Goode.  In this book, the author writes a personal narrative. She never uses her name, but the writing is in first person. Since Cynthia Rylant spent much of her time with her grandparents, this has to be taken from her life. Again, this is a perfect book to be a mentor text for personal narratives.

This book is full of writer's craft that teachers can use with their students. She uses the senses to add details: "...I pulled boxes of ornaments from her closet, which smelled like wool and mothballs."  She uses the power of three: "There were silver icicles and white glass stars and soft angels."  Also, notice the use of and in that sentence! A definite craft move. She teaches us how to use punctuation as a craft move, too.  "Every Christmas Santa gave me just what I wanted: a new doll."

There also is a circular ending with..."But in that closet of wool and mothballs, there would be boxes of old ornaments, waiting."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Looking Toward January: Opinion Writing

You just have to admit that even six or seven year olds have an opinion.
Ask them:
  • Do you want to stay up late at night?
  • Would you like ice cream or spinach for dessert?
  • Do you want a longer recess?
Yes, they have opinions! The difficult part is defending those opinions or even persuading someone else to agree with their opinion or change their mind in favor of their opinion.  That is why next month's unit of study for many first and second graders is going to be hard.

Since we are looking toward January, there are a few things teachers can do to get ready for that unit. One thing is to expose children to that type of writing now! Here are a few books you might want to use as read alouds to introduce and discuss what these authors are doing:
  • Can I Have a Stegosaurus, Mom? Can I? Please!? by Lois G Grambling
  • I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaugman Orloff
  • Earrings! by Judith Viorst
  • Dear Bear by Joanna Harrison
  • Should There Be Zoos? A Persuasive Text by Tony Stead
  • Dear Fish by Chris Gall
  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by mo willems
  • Click, Clack, Moo! Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
  • Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague
Doing read alouds to expose children to opinion writing, will help them have a vision for what it looks like. Making an anchor chart of their noticings now, will be helpful when they begin to write later.

For first graders, this unit is made up of writing letters and speeches. You will begin with letters so it is important that your writing area has stationary and envelopes in it. The stationary can be made with simple lines appropriate for letters. It can even have decorations or clip art on it. This is something you will want to have ready at the beginning of the month.
A great support for this unit is the book by Sarah Picard Taylor: A Quick Guide to Teaching Persuasive Writing-K-2. This is a small $8.00 book with loads of information including samples of kids' work. Check your professional library. You might just have one in your building! More to come next week for second grade persuasive writing!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Looking Toward January: Historical Fiction

Both fourth and fifth grades in many districts will be writing historical fiction in January. Now would be the time to begin immersing the students in that genre. Using historical fiction in read alouds. literature circles, and whole group teaching will allow children to become familiar with that type of writing.

There are two ways students can learn about a time period. One is to use the unit of study happening in social studies. As the class is studying a historical era, set all of their writing stories within that one era. They can use not only the social studies text book, but also film, photographs and stories set in that time period. It is important for them to develop images of  the time and place to draw upon as they create stories set in that context.

Another option is to set the stories students will be writing in the era of the Read Alouds they will be interacting with during whole group reading time. All of your read alouds for this month would be the time and place in history you have chosen. Material for this option can also come from folders of articles and photos from the time period the teacher has gathered.

I am including, in this blog, a list of historical fiction picture books that could be used for this unit. For my Monday book suggestions next month, I will be using these books and going deeper with descriptions of those books. For now, here's a list to get you started:
  •  Lewis and Clark and Me by Laurie Myers
  • Smoky Nights by Eve Bunting
  • Delivering Justice by Jim Haskins
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
  • January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco
  • A Good Night for Freedom by Barbara Olenyik Morrow
  • The Harmonica by Tony Johnston
  • The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
Choosing books that fit your era of choice will give students a good starting point for writing this genre. Making anchor charts with lists of things they notice in this reading will also give you a place to start when you begin the writing workshop in January!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How's That Working For You?

 At the beginning of the school year, I did a blog on community in the classroom. In August, I talked about using various read-alouds to build a community. By now, teachers should know their students very well. They probably have been collecting all kinds of data and have talked to parents about how the students are doing in their academic lives. Another way teachers should be aware of their children is a more personal, individual way.  So, how well do you know your students?
In the book Sea of Faces by Donald H. Graves, he asks the teachers to make a list of their students. Next to each of the names, he tells them to put one thing they know about these children.  Not the data or academic information your grade book tells. Instead, what is something you know about that child's life?  Try it!  Since it is December, you should know something about each child.
Another book that shows the growth of students and  how they change with the great teaching and community the classroom brings is Writing Through Childhood by Shelly Harwayne. I love the cover of this book because it shows the students as kindergarten students and then again as fifth graders. She talks about how to tap into the interests and attitudes the children bring into the writing workshop.

Do you know your childrens' goals? What is their goal in writing? What is their goal in reading? What are they working on right now? Do they have dreams for the future? What do they see themselves doing as adults? How well DO you  know your students?

As I was thinking of former students in my long career, I thought of where they were as seven-year-olds and where they are now. Here are a few of them!

Laurie teaches in Las Vegas
Justin teaches in Washington D.C. & is founder of Refugees Read, Inc

Rachel is in marketing in San Antonio


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What's Your Teaching Point?

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit classrooms in a New York City school. One of the things that I came away with was how the teachers made sure the students knew their teaching point.  I always had the teaching point on my lesson plan. I thought I was communicating that point to the students in my mini-lesson, but was I?  After that trip I kept asking that.  Lately, in another classroom I have been visiting back here in Indiana, I noticed that teaching point being shown to the students. Today, I want to share some ideas as to how teachers can be sure their students know what the teaching point of the lesson is for the day. 
It is important the students know the purpose of the lesson they are hearing. That works not just for reading and writing, but any other content area being taught. Telling the children right at the beginning of the lesson what is going to be taught, is a good start.  Putting that teaching point on a chart or over head, is another way. On the charts that I saw in New York, the teacher had the abbreviation: T Pt. beside the teaching point.
Looking at the charts that I am including in this blog, you will notice that these are anchor charts and are left up for several days. Students can refer back to the charts as the continue with the unit of study.
I am also including an anchor chart used in math. Notice that the teacher is referring to the students as mathematicians. This is to help student realize they have a part in the learning, too.
The classroom I have been working with in Indiana, uses the computer and Smart Board to project the teaching point. She uses that means to interact with the students. Telling the students the teaching point at the beginning of the lesson and then referring back to it again at the end, helps the students stay focused and understand what they are to be learning.

No matter which  method you use, be sure your students know what your teaching point is...don't just assume they know it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday--Another Christmas Read-Aloud

Today's Read-Aloud suggestion is a book by a favorite author...Jan Brett. The book is also familiar to many: The Wild Christmas Reindeer.  Not only is the story one with a lesson, but the pictures are true "Jan Brett" with her special side illustrations to go along with each page.
Teeka is in charge of getting the reindeer ready for their big ride of the year. The only thing is, they will not cooperate. So Teeka does what so many of us do...she yelled at them. Day after day she tried and tried to get them to work together, but her attitude just was not helping.

Finally, she realized that their not cooperating was her fault. She promised no more yelling, no screaming, no bossing. A great lesson in how our attitudes and words affect others. 

Don't forget to take time to share the pictures, too!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Have You Tried a Book Trailer?

That's my question today...Have you tried a book trailer? I just learned about them this year, so I thought maybe, just maybe there were other busy teachers out there who also wanted to know more about book trailers.  Trailers for movies are very popular. You see them on T.V. You see them when you go to a show before the actual movie comes on. Yes, it is an advertisement, but why not advertise books?

I have seen teachers use these trailers to get kids interested in the next read aloud they would be introducing. The trailers are called "teases" to grab the children who might be reluctant readers. Or the trailers could be just to see what a book is about before taking it to read and finding out it isn't what you thought!  Today, as I was researching sites for this blog, I came across a trailer for the book: The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy. I watched the trailer and made a note to check out that book!  Students could do the same thing!

Here are a few sites that I found easy to use and with books that I would use with children...

The first one is from the children's book guild.  It is very easy to use. This is where I found the book I am interested in purchasing. Take a few minutes to check it out. The trailers are short and appealing to young readers.

Another one that I like is called story line online.  On this site, the book is actually read to the young students. I listened to one read by Betty White. That might not be as interesting to young children as it was to me, but she does a wonderful job! There are many books for the young reader on this site.

The last site I would recommend is book trailers for readers.  These trailers are very short, less than a minute. They give a tease and not a lot of information. They are cute and short. The one I listened to was Guinea Dog. A very cute book about a boy who wants a dog, but gets a guinea pig instead. The animal turns out to be more like a dog than you would think. Looks like a good one.
Okay, I better not spend too much time looking up these sites...I will be living at the library or buying too many books. I think I need to revise my Christmas list!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Coach or Being Coached

A new event has taken a part of our lives lately. It is going to wrestling matches and basketball games. We have three teenage grandsons in high school and middle school sports, so we are busy traveling the area to games and meets. This is another benefit of being grandparents (and retired to have the time to do it!).

As we were watching the wrestling match on Tuesday night, I couldn't help but notice the coach. I always said, "Being an instructional coach is just like being a coach of sports." This was very evident at this meet. I would watch the coach and think: "That is just what I do as a coach. Or at least I hope I do!" Here are a few things I learned.

Coach is seated second from left.
The coach observes what is happening. When I visit classrooms with the intent to coach the teacher, I sit back and watch. I take notes of things that I see...things I notice, questions I have and suggestions. Watching is hard. It takes practice to look for the right things and take note of them. The coach isn't there to evaluate in the sense of grading, but to see what support can be given.
"Make sure that team members know they are working with you, not for you." John Wooden

Coach is leaning over to player
The coach makes comments. When I work in a teacher's classroom, I might sit beside them as they conference a child. I sometimes stop the teacher in the middle of the conference and suggest a direction to take the child. If I do this, the teacher and student both realize I am there to coach the teacher. It is a wonderful thing for children to understand that we are always learning.
"The Coach does not play in the game, but the Coach helps the players identify areas to improve their game." Byron & Catherine Pulsifer, from What Does a Coach Do?
Immediately after player's competition
The coach encourages and suggests. Right after I have been in a classroom, I either take time with the teacher to talk over what I noticed, questions I have and suggestions as to where to go next or another approach. When we were at the wrestling match, we were so impressed with how this coach would walk up to the player coming off the mat, shake his hand and lead him to an area away from the attention of others. There he would stand and talk. Sometimes you would see him modeling examples of what to do. You would see him with his arm around the boy's shoulder. You would see the great degree of caring and support the coach had for the player. This is what a coach does!
"A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are." Ara Parasheghian

"The test of a good coach is that when they leave, others will carry on successfully." Author Unknown

No matter if you are a coach or the one being coached, it is the attitude you have that makes it successful.  One last quote:
"Coaching is a profession of love, You can't coach people unless you love them." Eddie Robinson
Ty, our grandson, competing

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Argumentative Writing in Fifth Grade

This month, many fifth grade classrooms are doing argumentative writing in their workshops. This is a step up from the persuasive work they have done in past years. The new Common Core State Standards have brought more rigor to the writing. Students need to be able to not only have an opinion from their reading and research, but also to be able to craft those opinions into argumentative essays. They need to be able to use thoughtful researched evidence.

Mindy Hoffar and Ruth Ayres talk to Karen Caine
Last year in April, the All Write!!! consortium brought Karen Caine, the author of Writing to Persuade to the area. We were able to listen to her thinking on this subject. In April, I blogged about that. Now that I am looking at this unit of study for fifth graders, I am reminded of her book. 
The book which is published by Heinemann and has a forward written by Janet Angelillo, is full of minilessons written for grades 3-8.  This is the best book on persuasive writing for that age group that I have seen.  It has a chapter for immersing students in this genre including how to read, jot, talk and write while reading persuasive text. There is a chapter on collecting ideas and developing those ideas. One of the final chapters is on minilessons for persuasive writing on standardized writing tests and analyzing the writing prompt!

One of my favorite things about the book, though, is the appendix. Not only are there additional resources, there are also many sample writing pieces to use as mentor texts. As Karen wrote in my book... "Thank you for giving teachers and students a voice in the world." That is what we want for our students, a way to have a voice in the world!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pattern Books With Meron

Kindergarten children in  many classrooms are reading and writing pattern books this month. This is so exciting for them because they can see themselves as authors, patterning  after the books they read. Pattern books give students the structure to read and write. In order for the children to be successful in writing this genre, they need to not just read lots of pattern books, but also talk about what the author is doing.

Last week, I worked with my four-year old granddaugher in reading and writing pattern books. We first had a pile of books to look through. She then picked one to read. We would read it, talk about the story and then talk about what the author did as a writer. We did this over and over with lots of books. She noticed the repeated words, the repeated phrases, and the repeated theme in the books. Teachers might want to make an anchor chart of the things the children are noticing in those books.

Next, it was time to write her own book. We talked about what she had heard over and over. She then decided on her topic...her little brother playing dress up. We used the book Mom Dresses Up as her mentor text. She would write her words and then draw her picture, checking back to the mentor text to see how that author did it. Meron wrote and drew and wrote and drew. She had lots of pages.

The finished project, with a title page, was called: Bam Dresses Up!  Oh, yes, Dave had a great time watching and listening, too!
Bam Dresses Up

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Monday--Time for a Read-Aloud

Today's book is a new one to me! The cover grabbed my interest and the story did not disappoint. The book is: The Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie.  It was just published this year by ideals children's books.

Sam is excited about Christmas as most children are.  But he is curious about a special present that is wrapped in sparkling silver paper. This is a present that he and his parents will open together. However, they will need to fill it first. As Sam and his parents give to others in their community. They give of their time as well as material things. He sees how fortunate he really is. This is a book that will give children the true meaning of Christmas.

The author, Jill Hardie, took a special event in her childhood to turn into this story. This is a great way to show children that writing about things in their lives can make wonderful fiction stories for others. Oh, did I mention that there is a special Sparkle Box included in the back of the book for you to use in your classroom?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Informational Writing in Second Grade

Next month many second grade classrooms will be working on informational writing in their workshops. This might sound overwhelming to the teachers who will be guiding this work. However, it is really similar to what second graders have done in the past. This year, though, they might be using a little more rigor in this genre. It is important to know first of all, if the students have done this type of work in kindergarten and first grade. Many classrooms have done that. It is also important to have the students read independently and as a whole class, informational text.  This might be books by Gail Gibbons or Time For Kids magazines.

If students are familiar with All About books from doing that type of writing in kindergarten and first grade, then this unit will simply be guiding them through it again with more independent work. The children will make lists of things they are experts in and know a lot about. They will pick two or three topics to "try out" to see if that is something they feel they could teach others. This would be done in a Quick Write in their writer's notebooks. When they have one they are comfortable writing, it is time to begin.

Starting out with a table of contents will help them to have a structure for their book. This will be the book they work on all month...going from drafting to revising to editing and finally publishing. As the whole class makes a "class book" in the focus lesson time, this will give the students a model to work from.  The pages that they have used in the past: introduction page, diagram page, how-to page, all about page, etc. will give them a way to teach their topic.

One of the supports teachers have for this unit can be found on the All Write!!! website. If the students are not familiar with this type of writing, this unit of study shows a way to support the students in this first attempt at writing informational books. As this month's writing progresses, keep in mind that it is setting up the future for more independent nonfiction writing. This genre will be revisited again in March and May. Giving the students a lot of encouragement and support this month will be the best way to prepare for success in future writing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Opinion Writing: Reviews in Third Grade

In December, many classrooms of third graders will be starting the unit of study for opinion writing and writing reviews. This is similar to the persuasive writing, but different in that it is strongly focusing on the opinion. Towards the end of the month, this unit will turn to writing letters and speeches. The goal of this unit is to teach students the skills of writing to share their opinion and persuade others to believe what they believe.

Students will  need to read lots of material written in this genre to be able to then write these opinion pieces. Focusing on their opinions of : TV shows, books, movies or restaurants, will give them familiar material. To find some opinion pieces written by students you might want to go here for restaurant reviews or to find book reviews by kids, go here. As they read these pieces, the class can make a chart of things they notice in reviews. This will become the anchor chart for this unit of writing.

The children will have opinions about many things. They know what TV shows they like and why. They know what movies they enjoy and why. They probably even have favorite restaurants and opinions about those. Your classroom may become a place of rich discussion on these topics. It is then time for them to pick a topic they feel passionate about and begin their writing.

Some things for them to keep in mind as they write and for the teacher to keep in mind for possible focus lessons are:
  • Reasons to back up their opinions
  • Elaborate on the  important parts of their opinions
  • Give specific information...don't be general
  • Think about who will read the review. Who is the audience?
Another place to find support is the All Write website. On the main page there is listed Persuasive Writing: Letter/Essay/Editorial. This 25-page document has lessons that can be used in third grade. Look them over and see what fits for your students.

Students will be writing many of these pieces this month. They will also pick a few to revise and edit. You may even want to submit some to or the websites you used for the mentor texts. The students will learn the skills they need to persuade others and give their opinion in the proper way. Remember, later in the month they will be writing letters and speeches to persuade.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing Pattern Books

As we are looking at the end of the month in November, many teachers are already planning for next month. Since December is a short month due to winter break, this writing unit of study has to be ready to go. Checking with the curriculum for the various grade levels, teachers are using the end of this month to immerse their students in the new genre during their read-aloud time.  For the kindergarten grade level, this is pattern books. Reading pattern books is not something new for these students. However, now the students will be looking at them as writers, not just readers.

This week for our Gramma Preschool time, I will be trying this out with my four-year old granddaughter. I am going to be pulling several pattern books for us to investigate. I want books that might be nonfiction, since she is used to fiction books in this way. We will look at things we notice and make a chart about the "noticings". The chart might go like this:
Picture Books Have:
-a topic
-4-6 ideas
-words about the topic
-pictures to help the reader
-words are the same on pages
When it is time to begin this unit in December, students will look back at this chart. Teachers will encourage the children to choose topics they know a lot about to write their books. They will be writing a book a day...lots of books! Because of this large amount, teachers will be busy making up blank books...some with six pages, some with eight pages, before the month begins. Children will pick the blank books that will fit their topic.
These books, again, are approximations of what they have been reading. They will start out with pictures. The mini lesson for that will be "pictures help the reader". The sentences that children write will have inventive spelling. They might even have only one letter representing a word. It depends where the child is with his/her writing.
Each of the "noticings" from the chart may become a mini lesson. As in the past, the lessons will depend on the needs of the students in your classroom. However, the chart your class made will help with ideas for your progress, especially the first week.

 The last day of the first week of this unit, would be a great time to have a mini-celebration. The teacher would put all the books in baskets according to reading level or topic. The children will meet with a partner. They could have one basket to read together. This will help the students see the value of writing...for a real purpose! Teachers might even want to have children pick one of their books they wrote in December to give as a gift to someone at  home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Guys Read---and Write!

On the day before Thanksgiving vacation, I had the opportunity to visit a fifth grade classroom. This time I was not there to watch the Writer's Workshop or the Reader's Workshop. Instead, I was invited to be part of the sharing of their Data Notebooks. This is something that their school periodically does. Each child shares with their parents, grandparents or special visitor what they have been doing all year and how they have kept track of it in their notebooks.

I arrived with a large group of parents and grandparents. Since I now know these children well, the teacher suggested that I come and take part in the event. Many parents were there, but Caleb's parents were not able to make it. I was honored to be able to listen to him share.

This fifth grader is a wonderful writer with lots of voice and a real sense of who he is as a writer. I had talked to him as he worked on a book for a graphic novel he was writing. I had conferenced with him as he worked on his informational text.  At that time, he informed me that he was no longer writing graphic novels. He had moved on to something else.

I sat next to him and listened as he shared his binder full of data. There were pages about the character study he had done in reading. He was so proud of receiving an A+ on that one. He took me to the computer and showed me the list of books he had read this year. We looked at his ISTEP scores from last year and how he was improving on that. He shared his writer's notebook with me...full of the beginning of graphic novels. The stories were amazing.  He writes with humor and you feel like he is talking to you in his writing.
As we talked about where he was going next with his writing, I couldn't help but remember reading the book: Guys Write For Guys Read  by Jon Scieszka.  In it are boy's favorite authors writing about being BOYS!  The chapter by Dav Pilkey was what kept coming to my mind. I told Caleb, "You are just like Dav Pilkey, the author of Captain Underpants." In the book he tells about being eleven years old and writing a series called Water Man. Giving Caleb's teacher the website:, I told her that Caleb could check it out for all the comics that Mr. Pilkey had written when he was Caleb's age.  Hopefully, this will encourage him to continue to be the great writer he already is. Who knows, maybe we will be reading his books REAL soon!!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Monday...Time For a Christmas Read-Aloud

Since we only have four Mondays before Christmas, I wanted to spend each one of them with a read aloud about this time of year! The first one is Silver Packages-An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant.  The story is taken from something that really happens. There is a real train that rolls through the Appalachian Mountains every Christmas season. From the train toys are thrown out to the children who wait patiently for them. This has happened every Christmas since 1943.

In the story a young boy waits each year for the train to bring him a special present. Not just any present, but a particular present. Each year, instead of what he wants, he gets things that he really needs. The story is a lesson in expectations and the power of kindness.

The book is illustrated by Chris K. Soentpier with watercolor paintings. The pictures make the story all the more realistic and enjoyable. This is a book you can use for teaching writing craft as well as the deep meaning behind the story. Well, of course you can, it was written by Cynthia Rylant after all!!!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

All Write Consortium Information

Many of the local school districts are part of the All Write Consortium.  However, perhaps you didn't know that the consortium has a website with lots of information and help for teachers.  The website: 
Even if you are not part of the consortium, you can check out and use the information found there.  It's all about helping kids, after all!

Here are a few things you will find on that page.
  1. Handouts from the speakers at the 2012 Summer Institute.
    1. Ralph Fletcher has handouts from his dinner speach on notebooks
    2. Katie Wood Ray has handouts from her voice lessons for writers
    3. And MANY more!!!!!
  2. Picture Book Read Aloud suggestions
    1. There is a summary for each book
    2. And how to use the book in your classroom
  3. Documents--mini lessons
    1. Narrative writing for K-2 and also 3-6
    2. Informational Writing
      1. All About for K-2
      2. How-to for K-2
      3. Feature Article for 3-6
    3. Persuasive Writing for 3-8
As you have a little spare time during the Thanksgiving Holidays, this might be a chance for you to browse the website to see what is available for you!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Word After Word After Word

As teachers, we want our students to be good writers. We want them to believe in themselves as writers. We want them to love writing and write so they change their lives. So, this is the book we need to read to them,  Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLauchlan.

This "...inspiring story is about what is real and what is unreal, and about the ways that writing can change our lives and connect us to our own stories..."  Four fourth grade students feel that every day at school is always the same.  Then Ms.Mirabel came to their classroom.  The way she sees things and the magical words that she brings to the classroom change their way of thinking about writing.

Here are a few quotes from the book:
"Hen carried a notebook with him at all times, sometimes stopping in the middle of soccer practice to pull it out and write something."

"Why do you write?" he asked.
Ms. Mirabel sighed. There was a sudden hush in the room as if Ms. Mirabel was about to say something very important. As it turned out, she was.
"I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to go," she said. "But other people write for other reasons: to see more closely what it is they are thinking about, what they may be afraid of. Sometimes writers write to solve a problem, to answer their own question. All these reasons are good reasons. And that is the most important thing I'll ever tell you. Maybe it is the most important thing you'll ever hear. Ever."

"You have a story in there, Lucy," she said, touching my head. "Or a character, a place, a poem, a moment in time. When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word after word," she whispered.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving in the Content Areas!

For last week's Gramma Preschool, Meron fixed a Thanksgiving lunch for her mom, little brother and Grandpa. We planned a menu that she could prepare herself. We spent the whole preschool time problem solving and putting everything together for the big meal. She was so excited.
 Setting the table
She started off by setting up the table. She had a slight problem. There were four chairs at the table, but she needed to serve five people. We worked it out by adding chairs. First, she thought she needed five more chairs, but when we moved that many in, it was too many. She finally came up with only one more needed. Then she had to count each of the things for the place settings.  (math)
Making a menu
She next made her menu.  I wrote the words and she drew the pictures. She also wrote the place cards all by herself: Mom, Bam, Meron, Grandpa, Grandma.(reading & writing)
Making turkey sandwiches
Next, came the cooking. She made the sandwiches by spreading turkey salad on the buns. She also made the salad, by adding celery and cucumber pieces to the salad along with little tomatoes. Now for dessert! (science)
Pumpkin pies
For the pies we used pumpkin instant pudding. We read the directions and then she measured the milk and stirred it together.  We poured it into the little pies. The best part was adding the Cool Whip! She was so proud of her pies! (reading)
Let's eat!
She gave the blessing and we all ate! This is a time Meron will never forget.  Sometimes we forget that little ones can do more than we think!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Comprehension Through Adult Eyes

"Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the 1960's. The house is unassuming: half-timbered, with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney pots are steaming, and you know just by looking, that there's something tasty simmering on the stove top beneath. It's something in the way the vegetable parch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house, the proud gleam of the leadlight windows, the careful patching of the roofing tiles."

This is the first paragraph in the book by Kate Morton: The Secret Keeper.  It is our November book club book.  When I began reading it this week and started off with those words, I knew we had a great book.  Right away I started visualizing the scene.  I think I 
even heard soft piano music in the background. It became a movie in my mind. 

This is what we want children to do as they read. No one said to me, "Now, Kathy, you need to visualize as you read this book."  It just happened. There was no assignment to use my comprehension skills. I didn't have to find a self or the world.  I do believe that children need to be introduced to all the comprehension strategies so they know what they are doing as they read...or learn to do it.  But after that, it is time for them to discover what works for them with each book they read.

Also, as I am reading this book, I realize I have to synthesize constantly. The book is written in three time periods and it goes back and forth between them all through the book. It starts with 1961, flips to 1938 and then comes back to 2011.  The constant in each section is the main character's mother. There was a murder back in the mother. Why did it happen? What was the connection? The book takes you through the family story to find these answers. Definitely a page turner! Definitely a need to synthesize the action.

Since the reader is always going back and forth trying to keep track of the action, this is a complex text. That is something that we want students to be able to read since the new Common Core State Standards are requiring more rigor. As a reader myself, I want to experience what the students are doing in their learning. Reading complex text myself, helps me to work through things that I will be asking of students. How did I figure out what was going on?  Did I infer it or did the text state it? I am constantly questioning about what just happened or what was going to happen.

I use comprehension to help me understand and enjoy the text. I use the strategies I need when I need them. We want children to enjoy reading and understand what they read. Using these skills to better understand and talk or write about what they read, will allow them to do all those things. Comprehension now becomes something to help students...something they do naturally as good readers. Comprehension strategies give them a way of talking/writing about what they are reading. Comprehension has taken on new meaning!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Persuasive Essay Sample

Yesterday I blogged about making a list of things that I believed.  I went back to that list and picked out two that I thought would make good essays.  I chose: a) I believe having a dog makes you a better person. and b) I believe you should surround yourself with positive people.  I then asked myself these questions: Why do I believe that? What proof do I have that that is true? Any examples from my life? 

I next made a sort of list.  I wrote down several dogs that I have had over the as a child, one as a high schooler and one as an adult.  What had each dog taught me? What made me better because of them?  I still just listed the actual writing yet.

Then I looked at another option to write about... Why was I better because of positive people? Who were the most influential people in my life? What had they taught me? Again, I just listed people and things that made me a better person because of them. When I was done with these lists, I knew I wanted to do the essay on positive people.  I probably will go back and do the other one, too, but for now I'll do the people.  Here is my draft:

Life is not easy. There are rough spots, sorrows, and bumps in the road. That is why I believe you need positive people in your life to help you along the way and keep your attitude adjusted.  I have been fortunate to have many such people to keep me on the straight and narrow!

I have a friend that has been my friend forever! She liked to say: "We were friends in the womb." That is because we were destined to become friends. Our grandmothers were friends, our mothers were best friends, so naturally we became friends. We had lots in common. We were both Christians. We were both teachers. We both had sons. But what made her extra special was her positive attitude. Even though she battled cancer for over ten years, she was never without a smile and positive words. She had a faith to envy. She knew God was good and all would be fine. I lost her in September this year, but her words to me over the years live on and on..."You are a Princess, your Father is the King." How could I go wrong with a friend like that?

I have a friend that has been with me through the ups and downs of life. We became friends the moment she entered our elementary building and we taught together. Even though we sometimes don't agree, we still respect and care about each other. She was there when I had my son. She was there when I got my divorce. She was there when I got remarried. And she has been there through each small crisis and joy. How could I go wrong with a friend like that?

I have a friend who is older than I am, but seems young. She was first a friend of my mother. After losing my mom, she just seemed to fill a void for me. I love to have our "Porch-time" and just sit on her porch and talk and talk. She also was an educator and we still have the love of learning in common. She is there to tell me when I need to stop and think about what I am doing. She is there to encourage me when I need a nudge to keep going. She has taught me to care for we push those residence of the nursing home back to their rooms. How could I go wrong with a friend like that?

Then there are all those friends who are younger than I am.  They allow me to enter their classrooms and share their students. They share their teaching/coaching  problems with me and allow me to think through possible solutions. They challenge my thinking. They keep me young by challenging me to come up with answers to classroom dilemmas.  How could I go wrong with friends like that?

Life is  not easy. There are bumps in the road. That is why I believe that you need positive people in your life.  With positive people there to support you, how could you go wrong with friends like that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This I Believe

After writing my blog yesterday, I began thinking about what the students would be doing to get ready to write their persuasive essays.  I suggested that the teachers go to the website:  to get mentor texts for their students. I also suggested that the students begin writing their own lists of what they believe. My thinking took me to deciding that I needed to write my own list of What I Believe. I always tell teachers to model what they are asking the children to do, so that is what I wanted to do, too.  So, here you have list of what I believe.  I am going to try and come up with thirty, but I would have students only do about ten.

What I Believe...
  1. My very first belief is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my personal savior.
  2. I believe that I can make a difference in the world and will live that way daily.
  3. I believe that people should live their lives as if it is the last day they will live...because someday, it will be true!
  4. I believe you should surround yourself with positive people.
  5. I believe everyone should own a dog at least once in their life.
  6. I believe that the United States of America is the best country no matter what the news says is wrong with it.
  7. I believe being a grandmother has made me a better person.
  8. I believe everyone should do some sort of exercise every day, even if it is just to get out of bed and walk across the room!
  9. I believe in reading...all genres!
  10. I believe everyone should vote.
  11. I believe people should go outside more and enjoy the outdoors.
  12. I believe people should get up early.
  13. I believe that walking every day keeps you healthy
  14. I believe in spending time with those you love.
  15. I believe in seeing as much of the world as possible.
  16. I believe writing makes me a better person.
  17. I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.
  18. I believe people are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.
  19. I believe God is good all the time
  20. I believe we should stand up for what we believe.
  21. I believe everyone should be the best they can possibly be.
  22. I believe God is in control.
  23. I believe in chocolate.
  24. I believe having a dog makes you a better person.
  25. I believe you should never give up.
  26. I believe in the power of prayer.
  27. I believe in grace.
  28. I believe in heaven.
  29. I believe in setting goals and striving to reach them.
  30. I believe if you are married to your best friend, you are truly blessed.
There are my 30 Things I Believe.  Now, I pick one to make a thesis statement.  That is for another day!  What are the thirty things you believe?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Persuasive Essays for Fourth Graders

This month in many fourth grade classrooms, the genre of personal and persuasive essays is being taught. I have talked about the personal essay and how to form that in a few of my blogs this month. Since November is a short month with Thanksgiving vacation taking away days from the school calendar, the second part of the unit of study probably needs to be started the week of the 19th. That is just next week!

The format of the persuasive essay will be similar to the personal essay. In this essay the students will be asked to defend something they believe. Every day we are asked to explain ourselves or defend what we are thinking. That is why this genre is so important for our children. We want them to stand up for what they believe.

I would recommend going to the website:   Under the section: Explore, you will find a list of essays by students 18 and under.  Most of these essays are written by older students. However, there is one in particular that will help you with this genre. It is written by a five year old, Tarak McLain.  His is simply a list of Thirty Things I Believe.  There is an audio of him reading it also. After listening and discussing this list, it would be helpful for your students to take the time to make a similar list in their notebooks.

Using this list as a guide, the children can pick out something that means a lot to them. In a fifth grade classroom I worked in, a few students were writing about standing up to bullies. Another student wrote on why he believed you should be happy in any situation. After writing the thesis statement, they collected stories, quotes, examples of how this had worked for them or others they knew. These collections became the defense of their thesis. They became the paragraphs in the essay.

Of course, having a beginning paragraph that states the thesis statement and also grabs the reader, is important in this writing. Also, having a conclusion that summarizes the writer's thinking and shows how the thesis statement has been supported is important!

Having this website to begin your short time with this essay, along with writing the introduction and conclusion, will help you and your students to come away with interesting belief statements.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Reading-November, Picture Book Month

For today's selections I want to share a couple beautiful picture books. I chose these two for a couple reasons.  First of all, November is Picture Book Month!  There is a wonderful web site for teachers at  You will find many treasures there! 
The other reason I chose these two is because Veterans' Day is being celebrated today. These books help us show children what patriotism is all about. Both of these books have the most amazing pictures.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a book written in remembrance of September 11, 2001. The pictures are child friendly and perfect. The book is simply written to repeat the pledge, but has a page dedicated to the pictures used in the book. It also has a section called: What Does the Pleadge of Allegiance Mean? This Scholastic book is a great addition to any library.
America the Beautiful is written by Katharine Lee Bates and illustrated by Chris Gall. The poem by Katharine Lee Bates and illustrated by Chris Gall celebrate America's majesty. Gall is the great-great grandnephew of Katharine Bates.  Who better to share pictures of this beautiful song?