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1. Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math

I’ll be the first to admit it: I didn’t pay much attention to math. I specialized in literacy and focused on reading, speaking, listening, writing, social studies, and science instruction. Math? My third graders went down the hall each day to the “math classroom.” My co-teacher and I collaborated over best teaching practices, family relationships, and classroom management, but I didn’t spend time delving into the third-grade mathematics standards.

It wasn’t until I entered into our first parent-teachers-student conferences in September that I realized I couldn’t afford to compartmentalize my students’ learning.

In those conferences, we had students who loved math and had excelled in math every year leading up, but were now struggling to advance. They seemed to have hit an invisible wall. What happened?

Two words: Word problems.

Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math (1)Some of our students who were English Language Learners, reluctant readers, or who struggled to read at grade level for other reasons all of a sudden “couldn’t do” math anymore because the vocabulary, text length, and sentence structure were increasing in complexity. Even though they knew what 9 x 5 was, they couldn’t read and decipher the sentence:

Rene enjoys wearing a new outfit every day. His father bought him nine pairs of shorts and five shirts. Rene doesn’t want to wear any outfit twice. How many different outfit combinations does he have?

Now several of my students weren’t only struggling to read in my literacy class, but also struggling to read in math class. This was disheartening and confusing for them because math was a subject they loved, excelled at, and didn’t feel “below their grade level” because of language abilities or background schema. Yet reading challenges were following them down the hall and across instruction periods.

Guess what: Reading teachers are ALSO math teachers.

What?

Let me explain.

  • A text is a text no matter the form. Those ELA standards about determining the central idea and unknown or multiple-meaning words apply to word problems along with poems, plays, and biographies. Word problems can be lengthy, involve two or more steps, and contain new and unknown vocabulary that require examining context clues to solve.
  • Great English teachers improve students’ math scores. According to The Hechinger Report, researchers from Stanford and University of Virginia looked at 700,000 students in New York City in third through eighth grade over the course of eight school years. Results: Students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years.
  • Starting in second-grade mathematics, students are reading, interpreting, and solving two-step and multi-step word problems. Even as early as kindergarten and first grade, students are encountering one-step word problems. Bottom line: If they can’t read, they will get left behind in math, too.

So, how can literacy teachers embrace math?

1. Nice to meet you, Math. I’m ELA. The Common Core website also falls victim to sequestering the ELA and math standards. Whether you teach both math and literacy or only one, compare the math standards to the ELA standards of your grade. Open two windows on your computer setting the Reading or Language standards of your grade side by side with the Operations & Algebraic Thinking standards for your grade. What do they have in common?

(Hint, hint: determining central idea of a text, interpreting unknown words or phrases, using context clues, and learning general academic and domain-specific words)

2. Share what read aloud or model text you are reading for the week or unit if you have a separate teacher for math instruction. In word problems, you or the math instructor can write a few of the problems about the characters. Reading In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage? Make Augusta the main character in the word problems.

This book has several money references because Augusta earned money from her teaching and from competitions she entered. Use some of the scenes in the book to review the values of currency. For example, Augusta earned a dollar every day from the principal of her school. How many different ways can you make $1.00 using combinations of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies?

3. Reward students with a math problem during the reading instruction block. (I’m telling you—students LOVE seeing you break out math during a literacy block). This gives students a break, uses a different part of their brains/thinking, and allows them to display their abilities in another subject (which is especially important if English makes a student feel doubtful or shy). Students can do this if they finish their required assignment early or you are transitioning between periods.

4. Allow students to create a word problem using the setting and characters of a book they are reading as an incentive, extension opportunity, or way to engage reluctant readers. Students can submit problems for you to review at the end of the day and the next day you can post one with the student author’s name. Students will have a chance to model (and observe) high quality writing and thinking, as well as delight in their peers’ recognition.

5. Word problems ARE story problems. Treat a word problem like any other fiction story. Have students identify the main character(s) and the problem. Give the word problem a setting. Encourage students to expand the math problem into a fiction story through writing or drawing.

6. Make a math bin in the classroom library. Whatever gets a student excited to read and pick up a book, right? Just as we will scour web deals and dig through yard sales for books on tiger sharks and poison dart frogs, don’t forget to hunt for math-themed books to add to your classroom library if math is your students’ passion.

from Ice Cream Money

7. Pick math-themed books to align with units students are covering in the grade level’s math standards. Great read alouds and leveled readers exist to help teach concepts around counting, money, time, geometry, and mixed operations, such as:

8. Even books without explicit math themes can inspire math conversations.

From Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage:

  • Florence was promised twenty-five cents a night to perform at the Empire Theater. If she performed every night for one week, how much money did she earn? How much money would she earn in two weeks?
  • After her performance in the butchers’ shop, Florence earned $3.85. How many nickels would you need to make $3.85? How many pennies would you need to make $3.85?

From Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy:

  • If Hoy was born in 1862 and died in 1961, how old was he when he passed away? If Hoy started playing in the major leagues in 1888 and retired from baseball in 1902, how many years did he play in the major leagues? How many years ago did Hoy last play baseball? If Hoy were alive today, how old would he be?

From Love Twelve Miles Long:

  • Frederick’s mother walks twelve miles. How many yards does she walk? How many kilometers and meters does she walk?

If students can’t read, they will struggle to succeed in math (and science and social studies). These challenges will compound with each year affecting self-confidence and commitment. Bridging math and literacy for students is a powerful way for students to see that learning how to derive meaning from text has real world applications and that you are invested in their entire education.

img_1587Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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2. Black History Month & Beyond – My #NF10for10 + 10 Book Giveaways

Today is the annual Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10, hosted by Cathy Mere from Reflect and Refine, Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge.… Continue reading

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3. Empathy spells understanding

harrypotter_boxedset_260x233If there’s one thing my students have come to know about their teacher, Ms. Tell, it’s that I have an extreme passion for, and knowledge of, the Harry Potter series. I won’t get too much into it (I’ll save that for another blog post), but it’s true. It’s not just the magical characters and enchanting spells that draws me towards the series; it’s that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to appreciate some of its deeper lessons, concerning the acceptance of others that may seem “different,” and the notion of taking responsibility for your actions.

It was in the midst of my daily Google search that I came across an article in New York Magazine entitled, “Can Harry Potter Teach Kids Empathy?” Well, if I see Harry Potter in a headline, you can guarantee that I’ll click that link. Now, while Harry Potter was definitely used as a hook to draw readers into the article, I became more enthralled by the ongoing study being described in which research has begun to discover that reading fiction can have major impact on one’s social perceptions and understanding of different viewpoints around the world.

In lieu of the holidays and the spirit of the new year, the time that dedicates itself to appreciating what you have and offering up new resolutions to better oneself, my mind shifted towards what I truly believe to be one of the most important facets of a child’s education — shaping character. Thinking about whether or not we are raising our students to be genuine, kind men and women of society can often fall to the wayside in favor of mastering multiplication facts for the test or meeting the deadline in completing a personal narrative report. This year, my class has taken a particular look at the word empathy, which we’ve come to define as, “I’ll try to imagine how it is you are feeling before I speak or do anything.” This definition has served as a guidepost for how we host discussions in third grade, how we find our “teachable moments,” and how we select our Read Alouds!

I’ve compiled a list of Read Aloud texts (some picture books, some chapter books) that have not only sparked incredible discussion post-reading, but have also seeped their way into discussions throughout our school day. Empathy is at work when a child has a rough time losing in the competitive handball game at gym, or someone feels left out when her friends race over to the swings without her. Books have served as an indirect confidante for when those moments become too big for students to express themselves. In a moment of clarity, books can help them think about how someone else may be feeling.

Here is our Read Aloud list for empathy:

  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • The Potato Chip Champ by Maria Dismondy
  • Uncle Rain Cloud by Tony Johnston
  • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • Wonder by R.J Palacio
  • Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka

hundred dresses     Potato Chip Champ     Uncle Rain

Wilfrid     wonder    Yang the Youngest

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4. Tuck Everlasting: 40th Anniversary Blog Tour #Tuck40th

I miss many things about being a classroom teacher. I miss the camaraderie with the students, the collegiality with the staff, and the sense that what I’m doing really matters. I miss the… Continue reading

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5. Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Back of the Bus

By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

 

It may seem strange perhaps to post a book on Rosa Parks’ act of defiance on December 1, 1955, to honor Martin Luther King on his national holiday, but as so many other events in history, they are interlinked. When Rosa Parks defied the Montgomery, Alabama city code that required them to not only sit in a separate section of the city buses, but to give up their seats if white passengers boarding, could not find seating in the all white section! Young readers need to be reminded how life was for many of our citizens in the not too distant past. And that is what “Back of the Bus” helps to achieve in telling the Rosa Parks event through the eyes of a fictional black child and his mother seated on the bus that day.

Aaron Reynolds fills his book with small events to portray the small boy as just a child riding the bus with his mom as an everyday event in his life; a day just like any other except it turned out to be a defining moment in history he chances upon. He takes out his bright, shiny marble, a tiger’s eye, and rolls it. As the bus slows, it follows the law of gravity away from him and rolls right into the hand of Rosa Parks who rolls it back with a grin. More passengers get on.

Then it happens. Mr. Blake, the driver growls out, “Y’all gotta move, now.” Some people do get up and move, but the bus is at a dead standstill. Somebody is speaking up. But the words of the bus driver carry to the back of the bus, “I’m gonna call the police, now.”

Whispers fill the halted bus and the boy can see from his perch at the back of the bus that the speaker was Rosa Parks.

 

She doesn’t belong up front like that,

and them folks know it.

But she’s sittin’ right there,

her eyes all fierce like a lightnin’ storm,

like maybe she does belong up there.

And I start thinkin’ maybe she does too.

 

Words may be instructive as we parents know, but I still think example is the strongest teacher. And in Ms. Parks her subsequent arrest and fine because of the violation of Montgomery’s city code was a watershed event.

The boy’s mother placates him with the words, “Tomorrow all this’ll be forgot.” Though his mother says the words, he too takes note of the new “lightning” storm” in her eyes. And instead of feeling afraid, he feels a new strength.

Taking out his tiger’s eye marble from the tightly closed fist, instead he holds it up to the light with a new pride. I love the illustrations that seem a bit out of focus and muted until Rosa Parks takes her stand. The defining lines and shapes seem dim with everything hazy and unclear, including the people on the bus. Mr. Cooper’s artistic technique changes with Ms. Parks’ refusal. Images are sharp and clear. People, including the young boy’s mother are drawn with clear and delineated thoughtful feelings of emotion at what has happened. Art and narrative blend beautifully to display the change that is afoot. 

Where does Martin Luther King’s life intersect with Rosa Parks? Following this event, the Mt. Zion Church of Montgomery spurs the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, lead by Martin Luther King. Their initial goal is to effect change starting with the very segregation bus code effecting Ms. Parks. The MIA organizes a very successful boycott of the buses for 382 days with some 40,000 black riders cobbling together alternate means of transportation to get to work. They included walking, carpooling, riding in African-American operated cabs. Martin Luther King’s home was attacked in the ensuing violence the boycott began.

Rosa Parks single act of defiance with the words, “I don’t think I should have to stand up,” was the catalyst for change. Books and the ideas they foster have done the same thing for people with each turn of the page. And for your young readers, “Back of the Bus” may not only provide a look back in history at a single and seminal act of defiance that changed an unjust law, but a model for a way to stand up for something they believe in when the still, small voice in each of us tells us to do so.

   

    

 

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6. A Picture Book Like You’ve Never Seen!

The Book With No Pictures

by BJ Novak

 

   Put on your silly hats, all you adults reading picture books to young ones. Start reconnecting with your inner child and get your best imitative voices ready for a VERY SPECIAL picture book read!

   B.J. Novak, known for his work on NBC’s Emmy Award winning series, The Office, in which he wrote, acted, directed and was executive producer, has come up with a very imaginative “NO PICTURE” picture book. HUH??

   Now wait, before you rush to judgment and say, “Now how will THAT hold the interest of my wiggly squiggly tot, I say trust me. IT WILL. But a lot depends on YOU! Feeling the pressure yet? Wait!

   Mr. Novak’s premise, and it’s a good one, is that it explains to kids how picture reads work. Namely, it states that the picture book reading adult MUST SAY EVERYTHING THAT IS ON THE PAGE! NO MATTER WHAT!

   Intriguing, no? YES!!!

   It Is If the plain black words on a pure white page are filled with nonsensical phrases and words the adult reader is COMPELLED to voice and the pressure is on YOU to make it, well, WORK!

   You, the reader will find yourself voicing phrases in a sing song fashion like:

 

                                                                                                                                           “GLUG GLUG GLUG

MY FACE IS A BUG

I EAT ANTS

FOR BREAKFAST

RIGHT OFF

THE RUUUUUG!”

 

       Mr. Novak cleverly has arranged an alternately outraged and aghast running dialogue that the reader voices to himself “sotto voce”, as he is forced to say the silly and the sensational stream of consciousness mouthings of the author.

 

 A song? I thought this was

 going to be a serious book!

 Do I really have to sing a —

 

       Whereby the reader immediately launches into the aforementioned ditsy ditty! Actually, it’s very FREEING, moms and dads and grandparents, too.

       Mr. Novak has gotten the creative power of a child’s imagination to work overtime here, in that with NO pictures to form the images, children are free to come up with their OWN.

       And let’s face it, as we older, more ahem, “sophisticated readers” pick up a tome, isn’t THAT what WE DO! WE imagined what Scarlett and Rhett looked like, we pictured the pinched persona of Scrooge as he stalked about his money changing hole, and what the RING actually looked like as we read “The Lord of the Rings”. I pictured Gandalf EXACTLY like Sir Ian McKellen!

       B. J. Novak has given our children a head start in imagining WHAT is on the written page AND WE ADULT READERS are allowed in on the journey with our best Robin Williams voices. Not to put too sentimental a point on it, but Robin would have done a heck of a job reading this book to kids on audio. I can just hear the laughter as he launched into, “I am a ROBOT MONKEY.” The possibilities for mimicry are endless, parents.

       Thankfully, I know I can say BONK with conviction to my 3, 4 and 5 year olds at Story time. My GA-WOCKO needs WORK! Can’t wait to give it a GO!!! Please do the same with your young ones!!

 

 

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7. A Few Books to Read Aloud Just Because

I'm really hoping to read a picture book a day this year as part of our morning meeting. I want to read one that is just for fun. So often I find great fun books but books with no real connection to what we are doing. I read lots of books aloud each day to my kids but they all seem connected to a lesson. I know the power of reading lots of books and I know that giving myself time each day to share one book "just because" every day will be something that grows. I think the books will come back into conversations and we'll have more books to learn from. This is really a routine that gives me permission to take 5-10 minutes to share a fun book--not as part of a mini lesson, not because it teaches something important, but just because it is a great book.  I imagine these books that I read every morning will be read and reread during independent reading time, just because they are great books.

Of course I Want My Hat Back and Carnivores will be on my stack. (I would read those two aloud every day if I could justify it!) But, here are a few new books that I am excited to share because they are just great books.

Here Comes the Easter Cat is just HYSTERICAL. I laugh every time I read it. And no, I am not going to wait until Easter to read this book. It is way too good for that. It is funny any time of the year.


Elizabeth, Queen of the Seascity.  This is a great story and one I fell in love with immediately.  I wouldn't call this a "fun" book but definitely one that will go in my Morning Meeting Reads basket as one I want to share with kids just because it's a great story.


Pardon Me! is an almost wordless book and I do love those.  It is a great story with amazing illustrations. And there are a few surprises along the way. I love a book with a good surprise!


I read EVERYTHING Peter Brown writes to my class.  Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (Awards)) was a definite favorite last year. Peter Brown's new book, My Teacher is a Monster is his newest and  one I'm sure they'll love. I'm counting on this one to starts some great conversations too.

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8. Big Fun in a Colorful Picture Book!

Silly Goose’s BIG Story

by Keiko Kasza

            I’m always looking for great read aloud; books that cry out to be read in your favorite “Snuggery” with an arm around a child and characters that lend themselves to a variety of voices parents can mimic and kids will love. Well, in Silly Goose’s BIG Story, I’ve discovered a great summer read AND read aloud. Goose has a definite flair for storytelling and holding his friends Squirrel, Porcupine and Beaver enthrall. (I can just hear parents inventing voices for this trio).

            Big problem though, Goose is always the hero of his stories, with his friends as the minor cast of characters. Eventually resentments build. Can this be the end of the friendship? Goose finds himself alone and in trouble with a goose-hungry wolf and, of course, no friends in sight. Can Goose survive alone and friendless? Will Goose’s storytelling capabilities hold up with his quick thinking imaginative tale told to the wolf of the horrible “WEM”, (Wolf Eating Monster to the unenlightened) summoned ultimately to save the quick thinking Goose?

   But is this wily wolf so easily deceived? Will he see through Goose’s storytelling deception? Wait! What if there really is a WEM, called forth by the creative powers of Goose’s storytelling imagination? Or is it the power of friendship that makes the WEM appear? Kids will relate to this story of someone in their crowd who always wants to be “it.” But the larger lesson in this free wheeling romp is that when it comes to crunch time, buddies band together for the sake of friendship and baddies bolt. Lesson: Hold onto the friends you have and forgive them their temporary flights of ego.

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9. Annotating A Wrinkle in Time



You might remember me mentioning that I am reading aloud A Wrinkle in Time (well, actually Madeline L'Engle is, through the magic of audio books...) and that we participated in the 50 Years, 50 Days, 50 Blogs blog tour for the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book.

Inspired by Monica Edinger's blog posts about annotating Charlotte's Web with her fourth graders, and fueled with a "worst they can do is say no" attitude, I asked the promoter of the blog tour if it would be possible to get a class set of A Wrinkle in Time so that my class could try annotating the book as we listened to it.

She (and Macmillan) said yes. When the books came, I had my copy from my 6th grade Scholastic book order on hand. I had already told them that A Wrinkle in Time had been a landmark book for me as a reader. Now they looked at my scuffed copy as they held their shiny new copies. I told them that I had kept that book for almost 40 years, and that they, too, might keep the book in their hands for 40 or more years. Someday when they were all grown up, they might tell their children (or even their students) about the difference that book had made in their lives. Ten year-olds can't usually imagine 40 years into the future, but I think a few of them had a glimmer of it for just a second there.

What kinds of things have we been noticing as we annotate and discuss the book?

  • Words. Rich, rich vocabulary. And often words that relate to our word study focus, coming to life right there in the book!
  • Connections. A geranium blooming on the windowsill of mother's lab -- just like the one in our classroom!
  • Places in the story where Madeline L'Engle changed the mood of the story, or made us ask questions, or where we wrote, "Uh oh..."
  • Symbolism -- dark is evil, light is good; evil is cold, good is warm.
  • Who else has fought against the "shadow" on our planet? Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Abe Lincoln, all the people who stop wars...
  • Madeline L'Engle's use of similes, metaphors and idioms.
  • The importance of freedom and individualism, family and friendship, love and trust.

Yesterday we watched the Wonderopolis episode on time travel. It was fun to wonder if time travel will be possible in their lifetimes, or if they might someday be part of a team of scientists who bring us closer to that reality.

We're not quite finished with the book. We have about 20 pages left, and I think I'm going to ask them to finish the book and annotate the last few chapters on their own over spring break. Then, when we come back together week after next, we can have the kind of discussion that Monica's classes have.

We're not quite finished with the book...I'm thinking about that phrase...and I'm realizing that my students will NEVER be quite finished with this book. Some of them, anyway. This will be a book that keeps sounding and resounding in their lives as they grow up with it, grow into it, grow away from it, and hopefully come back to it. This is a book that has potential to leave a never-ending ripple in their thinking and in their reading lives. It doesn't seem like enough to simply say Thank You to Macmillan for providing these books for my class. What I'm really thanking them for is helping me to change the lives of 24 c

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10. A Wrinkle in Time on Kidblog


Yesterday I wrote about our annotation of A Wrinkle in Time. Today I thought I'd share some posts that one of my students has done on her blog. These posts were neither by invitation nor command -- they came entirely from the student's desire to respond to her reading. She is an ELL student who has been in this country and learning English for just over a year. I have only edited her writing in minor ways to help communicate her meaning.



It let me think….

Today after school I know it was going to rain or something. When I walk home, I think about the black thing that is over Earth. I think that is the black thing that the author she is talking about or have an idea to make on wrinkle in time! I think that when one time it rain and then the author of wrinkle in time think about it and make the story name: Wrinkle in Time! I want to ask her if that my idea is right or wrong, I will be really happy if I am right!




Dear Meg,

Thank you for being a nice character; some time I am just like you, I am not doing what I have to do, so I get into troubles. Every time I start a book, I always look for the books like A Wrinkle in Time! I think you guys are not only looking for your father, but you are learning that who you are and people don’t have to be the same, the best thing on Earth can be the worst thing on Earth, you know people are never be the same, but you will don’t have friends if you are not the same as others. I learn that you don’t have to be just like others, but it will be very good if others understand you, so you can be friend with them. I hope the 3 ladies live happily ever after being a star! Said hello to your family for me!!!



Dear Charles Wallace,

Thank you for being a good character, but the thing is that you can’t give in, and as your sister said that like and equal are two different things. After your sister uses the power of love to get you out, I think you learn that you can’t get in, your sister always loves you, and you have to love her back. I hope you are being a good brother to Sandy and Denny, and teach them what you learn!

PS: keep on doing the hard work!


2 Comments on A Wrinkle in Time on Kidblog, last added: 3/16/2012
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11. Dan, the Taxi Man by Eric Ode; Illustrations by Kent Culotta

*Picture book, contemporary, for preschoolers through 2nd graders
*Dan, the Taxi Man and a band as main characters
*Rating: Dan, the Taxi Man (Publisher: Kane Miller) follows a classic children’s book form that I happen to love. There’s sound effects that are easy to read aloud AND there’s repeating text. Think The House that Jack Built crossed with Charlie Parker Played Be Bop.

Short, short summary:

Dan, the Taxi Man is picking up the band. Beep! Beep! He picks up Maureen with her tambourine. Shake-a shake, crash! Shake-a shake, crash! Next comes. . .Tyrone with his saxophone. Squeeba-dee dee, squeeba-dee doo! And so on. Once the entire band is in the taxi, Dan delivers them to their gig on time. But something is missing from a stellar performance. Find out what it is in this cute picture book.

So, what do I do with this book?

1. Dan, the Taxi Man begs to be read out loud! Once Dan picks up a musician, that person’s instrument sound is repeated on each page. So, children can repeat the sound with the reader. If you have a large classroom, you can have children divided into groups, and each group can be a different instrument. Have fun reading this book aloud.

2. Before reading the ending to children, ask them to predict what is missing from the band’s performance. Ask children to explain their prediction based on the text or other books they have read.

3. If possible, bring in real instruments or real musicians and have them play the instruments that are mentioned in the story. This is actually a great book for a music teacher to use with young children!

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12. Raising a Literate Human

I promised myself I would share the new blog I’ve been working on once I reached 20 posts.  That promise was made in late February.  Life got pretty busy between February and June. … Read More

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13. First Read Aloud of the Year


Capture the Flag
by Kate Messner
Scholastic Press, 2012
review copy came from the library (because I really am trying to dial back my book buying to only the most essential for my classroom...it's working...I've read at least one this summer that EVERYONE else loved and I didn't, so I'm glad I didn't spend any money on it...no, I'm not telling...if you follow me on Goodreads, you can already guess...)



Since I'm moving from 4th to 5th grade this year, the bar for ALL of my read alouds has been raised several notches. Unless I want to deliberately reread a book that my students heard last year, I'm not going to be able to fall back on ANY of my old standards. (Not that I had a laminated list of read alouds, but I did love Emily's Fortune...)

So, what does it take to be picked for the first read aloud of the year?

It needs to have a strong hook for all listeners. Not only does Capture the Flag have a strong first chapter with an incredible cliffhanger (way to leave a thief in the chamber with the Star Spangled Banner, Kate!) it has a punchy lead with short sentences and carefully placed details that will become important later in the story. This is a beginning chapter to return to for craft study in writing workshop.

It needs to have good characters for all listeners. Anna wants to be a reporter, like her mom. She's got the burning curiosity and the bulldog tenacity that will become important. Henry's got his video games. Kids are going to love it that what he's learned from playing video games will help the characters at almost every turn in the story. José has a backpack full of Harry Potter and a quote for every occasion. What José has learned from reading, along with the books themselves, will be crucial to the story. There is also a dog, an 8 year-old from Pakistan who collects and sketches idioms, and a secret society who protects famous art in the world. So there's at least one character for everyone in this book.


It needs to be fairly fast-paced and adventure-filled. Three kids trapped by a snowstorm in an airport with a mystery to solve, chase scenes in the baggage holding area, evil guys with snake tattoos. Yeah, Capture the Flag has plenty of action. 


It needs to have potential for big discussions beyond the book. I can imagine that my very international mix of students will have passionate discussions about immigration laws, cultural stereotypes, and discrimination. I'm thinking we'll research where the presidential ca

13 Comments on First Read Aloud of the Year, last added: 7/20/2012
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14. Three Books for the First Weeks of School

Jaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

Ready or not, the 2012-2013 school year is upon us!

And while parents are stocking up on pencils and notebooks (and, if the Target Music Teacher is to be trusted, potentially an inordinate amount of denim), teachers are busy planning for the first weeks of school.

Educators, for your planning pleasure, here are three titles to get students back in the right mindset for those first days back in the classroom:

Read Aloud:  Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina and illustrated by Doug Chayka

Yasmin's Hammer Cover

Major topics & themes:  hard work, determination, the transformative power of education

Common Core connections:

  • What does the author want us to learn from this story?  What is the central message?  How do you know?  Use details from the story to justify your answer.  (Grades 2 & 3, Literature, Key Ideas and Details, 2)
  • Who is Yasmin?  How would you describe her?  What kind of person is she?  How do you know?  How do her actions affect what happens in the story? Use details from the story to justify your answer.  (Grade 3, Literature, Key Ideas & Details, 3)

Read Aloud: Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller and illustrated by Gregory Christie

Richard Wright and the Library Card Cover

Major topics & themes:  triumph over adversity, educational equality, scholarship

Common Core connection:

  • Ask students to write a persuasive response to the following question:  Is access to books and information a right or a privilege?  Use details from the life of Richard Wright to support your answer.  (Grades 3 & 4, Writing Standards, Text Types and Purposes, 1 a-d)

Read Aloud: Babu’s Song by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Aaron Boyd

Babu's Song Cover

Major topics & themes:  educational opportunity, integrity, sacrifice

Common Core connection:

  • Where does the story take place?  How would you describe the setting? How is Bernardi’s neighborhood like your neighborhood?  How is it different?  How do the illustrations in the story help you picture the setting?  (Grades 1 & 2, Literature, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, 7)

What are your favorite books to read to your students during the first weeks of school?  Drop me an email at curriculum@leeandlow.com or share yours in the comments! 


Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: ann malaspina, Babu's Song, back to school, CCSS, common core standards, Read Aloud, richard wright and the library card, stephanie stuve-bodeen, william miller, yasmin's hammer

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15. fiction favorites…Mokie and Bik � Orange Marmalade

fiction favorites…Mokie and Bik � Orange Marmalade


The Orange Marmalade blog has done a  lovely review of Mokie and Bik - I'm smiling at what she says about the story and words, and agree whole-heartedly with her thoughts on Jonathan Bean's art. I was going to say she's chosen two of my favourite illustrations - but then, I think of some of the others, and am not sure I can choose.

 Featuring children as unflappable as Pippi Longstocking, bursting with nonsensical words and invented verbs that waltz and yabber and sing, this book is exuberant and warm-hearted and highly original.  I found it by searching for work by one of my favorite illustrators, Jonathan Bean, who has adorned these pages with enchanting, turn-of-the-century, Edward-Ardizzone-esque pen and ink drawings.  Sigh.  He gets it exactly right.
If you’re looking for something out-of-the-box and full of spice for your young-but-stalwart reader, check this out!
To see the blog and read the whole post: fiction favorites…Mokie and Bik � Orange Marmalade

Mokie & Bik available from amazon.com
or direct from the publisher:Henry Holt

0 Comments on fiction favorites…Mokie and Bik � Orange Marmalade as of 10/9/2012 6:36:00 AM
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16. What is Close Reading?

Jaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

One of the most critical elements of the new Common Core Standards is the emphasis placed on close reading. In the anchor standards for reading for grades K-12, the first item under the heading Key Ideas and Details states that students should be able to:

“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”  (pages 10, 35, 60)

In the past, some curricula spent a huge amount of time on the accuracy and speed at which a student was able to read, and stopped there.  This emphasis on fluency isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the teacher recognizes that just because students sound fluent, it doesn’t automatically mean they’ve fully understood what they’ve read.  Making meaning from text is a process and should be explicitly taught during every Read Aloud and Guided Reading.Howard Thurman's Great Hope

The Common Core’s mention of close reading shifts the collective focus back to meaning.  It asks teachers to spend time with rigorous, complex texts, reading and rereading a text, moving from the big ideas to paragraphs to sentences to individual word choice, focusing on meaning and craft in a thorough way.  Time is still spent on retelling the story and basic comprehension questions, but the bulk of the discussions focus on meatier topics such as word choice, author’s purpose, character development, mood, etc.  In my opinion, those lessons are incredibly interesting to plan and a lot of fun to teach because the student discussions that result (after sustained practice at this slow, deliberate reading) are really insightful!

But what does close reading look like in practice?  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to walk you through how to do a close reading using several of our titles.  Hopefully this modeling will demystify the process and help you as you plan more Read Alouds centered on close reading!


Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: close reading, common core standards, guided reading, literacy, Read Aloud, reading comprehension, slow reading

2 Comments on What is Close Reading?, last added: 10/26/2012
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17. Compiling Rigorous Thematic Text Sets

Jaclyn DeForgeJaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

One aspect of the Common Core that I get asked questions about all the time is thematic text sets.  What are they?  How do you know which books to use?  What types of texts should you be pairing together?

Fear not!  I’ve compiled some examples of text sets that cover one topic and span multiple genres and reading levels and over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing these sets with you.  Some of the titles you may already have in your classroom library, and others I think you’ll enjoy discovering.

A-Full-Moon-Is-Rising

Theme/topic:  The Moon

Grade: 2nd

Informational Text:  The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons (Shared Reading)

  • provides scientific information about the moon
  • can be used to address informational text standards

Nonfiction Poetry:  A Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer  (Read Aloud)

  • provides scientific information about the moon
  • provides information regarding moon-related festivals, traditions, holidays, and celebrations
  • can be used to address informational text and literature standards

Realistic Fiction: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen  (Guided Reading)

  • the moon plays a central role in the setting of the story
  • can be used to address literature standards

Realistic Fiction:  Surprise Moon by Caroline Hatton (Independent Reading)

  • discusses celebrations and festivals related to the moon 
  • can be used to address literature standards
from A Full Moon is Rising

from A Full Moon is Rising

What books would you put on this list?  Add your favorites in the comments!


Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: A Full Moon is Rising, Book Lists, Caroline Hatton, common core standards, common core text sets, fiction, Gail Gibbons, guided reading, independent reading, informational text, Jane Yolen, literacy tips, Marilyn Singer, Nonfiction poetry, Owl Moon, Read Aloud, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, realistic fiction, shared reading, Surprise Moon, text sets, The Moon Book

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18. Author & Illustrators as Mentors

It is important to say the name of the author and the illustrator when you read a picture book.

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19. Liz’s Summer Reading Pick #3

This Monster Needs a Haircut

by Bethany Barton

Do you have a child who balks at barbershops, cringes at clippers and generally howls pre-haircut? Well I have the book for you. Every parent has gone through that rite of passage-the first haircut. It can be preceded by foot dragging, multiple and myriad excuses, tantrums, tears and all out war. Well, at the beginning and end of summer, haircuts are usually the order of the day, whether before camp or before school reopens

This Monster Needs a Haircut is the perfect picture book to ease the snipping. Kids will identify with Stuart the monster and his elaborate defense tactics against haircuts. His father is understanding and patient as he relates to Stuart his own bouts with haircut issues in his youth. Kids and parents will howl at the evolution of Stuart’s hair and the interesting objects that begin to inhabit it such as growing flowers, half eaten apples, lollipops and baseballs to name a few. How Stuart and family solve this haircut hiatus is laugh filled and the tactics to overcome the stubborn monster are illustrated to perfection. This is a book a child could bring to the cutting event and even share with the scissor wielder aka barber.

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20. Read Aloud 15 Minutes Kicks Off "Let's Talk" National Campaign

KickOffMessages_31I've been supporting the Read Aloud 15 Minutes nonprofit by helping to spread the word about their periodic national "campaign pulses". Their theme for October is: "Let's Talk". The idea is to encourage parents and other caregivers to read and talk to their babies as frequently as possible, to foster brain development. 

PulseMessagesOct_ 17When we talk with our young children, particularly during the first five years, we help their brains to grow and develop. This talking can take the form of pointing out sights as you push along a stroller, or telling your child what you're doing, step-by-step, as you cook dinner. But it's extra-super helpful if you read aloud to your kids. Why is reading aloud particularly helpful (vs. just talking away)? Well:

  • Picture books often feature a more complex vocabulary, with a higher variety of words, than we might come up with on our own (particularly when talking to a baby). 
  • Picture books often have a rhythm or cadence that the baby (and you) will find pleasing. And when a child finds something pleasing, he or she will pay more attention, and get ever-more benefit. 
  • In addition to a wider vocabulary, picture books help children to broaden their experience of the world, helping their brains to make connections. Most of us don't have giraffes and elephants in the backyard, but books let us show them to kids. And then when you eventually take your child to the zoo (or on a safari), they have a base of knowledge already. (See a post that I wrote about making connections between books and day to day life.)
  • Picture books and board books have pictures (obviously), and pictures help to catch and hold the attention of young viewers. Even tiny babies will look at things that are interesting. And again, by looking and listening at the same time, they make connections, and make their brains stronger. 

PulseMessagesOct_ 15The talking is good, too, of course. I've seen research that suggests that with talking, it's important to also respond when the child tries to talk to you (even if it just sounds like babble). This helps kids to develop language skills, because they see the payoff from trying to talk. We're all born with an innate desire to communicate, I think.

But reading aloud to childen is special. The more you do, the better off the children will be. Life-long benefits from something that's enjoyable to do in the first place. You can't go wrong with that. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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21. A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd

Sometimes a book will just call out to you.  It tells you that it was meant for you and that you need to read it.  The first time I heard the title A Snicker of Magic, I was intrigued.  The first time I saw the delightful cover, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

Felicity Juniper Pickle is a collector of words.  Not in the same way that some of us are, she is lucky enough to see words.  Words surround certain people and things, and when Felicity sees them, she writes them down in her always present blue notebook.  When her little sister Frannie Jo asks for a poem, Felicity can pluck them out of the air and combine them into a soothing rhyme for her.

There are two things that Felicity Pickle cannot do, however.  She cannot comfortably speak those words in front of anyone, and she can't stay in one place too long.  The first thing she can work on, but the second thing is all because of her Mama.

Her Mama is cursed with a wandering heart.  She loads her girls up into her beat-up van and travels around with them.  This last jaunt has brought the Pickles home to where Mama grew up: Midnight Gulch.  Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, but a few generations ago the magic seemingly up and left town right along with the famous Threadbare brothers.

But for Felicity, Midnight Gulch does turn out to be a magical place.  First of all, she acquires her very first friend - Jonah Pickett.  And Jonah, it turns out, has a secret and a bit of a magical identity as well.  As he takes Felicity under his wing, she sees the things that could be -- the things that she didn't even know she was longing for as Mama shuttled them around "Per-clunkity-clunk, per-clunkity-clunk" across the country.

Natalie Lloyd has created the kind of world that readers want to jump into.  This small Tennessee town should exist and feels like it does.  Perfectly quirky, the characters are interwoven, layered and kind. Turns of phrase verily melt in your mouth, and beg to be read aloud.  This is a heart-song book, if ever there was one.

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22. 10 Best Strategies for Reading to Kids in Spanish

Jennifer Brunk

Jennifer Brunk has been teaching Spanish and English learners from preschool to university level for over 20 years. She reGuest Blogger Iconsides in Wisconsin where she raised her three children speaking Spanish and English. Jennifer blogs about resources for teaching Spanish to children on Spanish Playground. The following post is reprinted with permission from her original post at Spanish Playground. 

Research has shown that reading to children helps them learn vocabulary and improves listening comprehension skills. As a parent or teacher, you are probably convinced of the value of reading to your child in Spanish, but how should you do it to promote language development?

First, it is important to keep in mind that above all reading should be enjoyable. We want to create positive associations with reading in any language. So, use these strategies and add plenty of silliness, snuggling, or whatever makes your child smile.Nana's Big Surprise/ Nana, ¡Qué Sorpresa!

1. Identify core vocabulary in the story. If there are words that are central to the story that your child does not know, teach them first or make them clear as you read by pointing to the illustrations or using objects.

2. Use illustrations, objects, gestures and facial expressions to help kids understand new words. Choose stories with a limited number of new vocabulary words and a close text-to-picture correspondence.

3. Simplify the story if necessary. It is fine to reword or skip words or sentences. As your child becomes familiar with the story and acquires more vocabulary, you can include new language.

4. Read slowly. Children need time to process the sounds, connect them with the illustrations and form their own mental images.

5. Pronounce words as correctly as possible. To develop listening comprehension skills and learn new vocabulary, children need to hear correct pronunciation and natural rhythm. If your Spanish pronunciation is a work in progress, take advantage of technology. Look for books with audio CDs and ask a native speaker to record stories. At first, listen to the story with your child and take over reading when you are confident of the pronunciation.Dónde está mi perrito?

6. Engage your child with the story by providing different ways for her to participate.Ask questions that can be answered by pointing or say a repeated phrase together.  You can also give your child a toy or object that she can hold up each time she hears a key word.

7. Read the same story over and over. Repetition is essential to language learning.

8. Relate the story to your child’s life by drawing parallels as you read: Tiene un perro. Nosotros también tenemos un perro. As you go about your daily routines, refer to stories you have read.

9. Use puppets or figures to act out stories when you are playing with your child. Dramatizing the story adds movement to enhance learning and provides essential repetition of the language in context.

10. Do activities that expand on the language in the book. Look for songs, crafts or games with related vocabulary and structures.

Día de los niños/ Día de los librosVisit Spanish Playground for more great resources for teaching Spanish to children, and don’t forget that Dia de los niños/ Día de los libros is in just a few weeks! What are you doing to celebrate? What are your favorite books in Spanish to read aloud?


Filed under: Curriculum Corner, guest blogger Tagged: bilingual, bilingual books, bilingual education, Día de los niños/Día de los libros, ell, English-Spanish, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, libros en Español, parents, Read Aloud, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, teaching resources

2 Comments on 10 Best Strategies for Reading to Kids in Spanish, last added: 4/14/2014
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23. Five on Friday: Picture Books Edition

Find out which five, NEW picture books I'm fawning over this Friday. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win one of the five titles.

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24. Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

[There is a video that cannot be displayed in this feed. Visit the blog entry to see the video.]

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25. World Read Aloud Day

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Ben Bunch

Today is World Read Aloud Day. I have been considering and reconsidering read aloud in print for 10 years and in classroom practice for almost 30 years. When I attempt to distill the power of read aloud, it always comes down to COMMUNITY.

Read aloud builds a community of readers.

Read aloud is the common thread that ties together all the listeners in the classroom. It gives them books in common, authors in common, stories in common, and characters in common. Read aloud is when we think together, laugh together, and sometimes cry together.

Read aloud is the dock where we tie up all of our reading canoes, the airport where we land our reading airplanes, the parking lot where we park our reading cars.

Read aloud is a movie theater, where everyone in the audience gets the same soundtrack, even though the screen and the pictures are inside each head.

Read aloud is what solitary readers can do together. It’s a book club, only better, because the conversations don’t just happen after everyone has read the book in isolation. You talk about the book all the way through. Sometimes there’s no time left over to read the book because you’ve spent so much time talking about it. And that’s okay, because read aloud has a permanent spot on the classroom’s daily schedule. The book will be there, waiting for us tomorrow. We can plan on read aloud. We can depend on read aloud.

Read aloud builds readers.

Read aloud is the constant in the changing swirl of classroom content. It’s the learning time that demands both the most and the least of a learner. It’s a time, I was told by a student once, to “learn without trying.” The listener takes from the read aloud what he or she can or will on a day-to-day basis.

Read aloud might be the book that none of the listeners would ever read independently. Read aloud provides a life vest, a climbing harness, a parachute, a safety net to support readers through topics or ideas or genres or events in history that they could never or would never attempt on their own. Read aloud stretches minds. Read aloud opens doors. Read aloud breaks down barriers.

Read aloud cannot be measured or programized or standardized or equalized or regimented. It is organic. Everything depends on the teacher, the book, and the listeners. Read aloud can never be the same thing twice. Read aloud is an art, not a science. The reader paints meaning with book choice, inflection, intonation, sound effects, pauses, and discussion. The listener begins by viewing the reader’s paintings, but often ends up inhabiting the paintings – becoming the characters, experiencing the settings, living the story.

Build can mean construct, establish, or increase. Read aloud builds community, and read aloud builds readers.

8 Comments on World Read Aloud Day, last added: 3/10/2012
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