Best Book I Have Not Read

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First Staff Development Coming Up-Topic: Writing August 31, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 12:42 pm
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The first time I have to lead a whole staff in a professional development meeting is coming up Wednesday. I keep rereading chapter 3 “My Life in Seven Stoies” in Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change by Jennifer Allen. I hope I can learn from her trials and start the year with at least some staff support/enthusiasm and not have to personally experience her first year of staff meetings all over again in a different school, city and state! I have other professional books that I keep going back to, snacks and drinks prepared, a few new picture books to give away as incentives, and just like Jennifer Allen, new writing journals and pens. One of my friends, who used to teach with me before life with children happened, was kind enough to listen to my overview and provide feedback. Based on her suggestions, I am putting together a week of writing overview/lessons for each grade level so they can leave with something they could use in their own classrooms the next day if they wanted.

If things go well, we will follow a format of twice a month whole group meetings during Early Release days (one time a month for an hour) and Staff Meetings (one time a month for 40 minutes).

I’ll add my overviews/lessons later this week.


Writing Workshop Intermediate Grades August 30, 2008



Focus Lesson C2: Generating Ideas (sketching)



This lesson begins to teach students how writers use their notebooks and helps them begin to gather ideas. It can be taught several times with different topics, books, authors, etc. so students have many opportunities to consider stories they may choose to tell (or write…soon).


Telling stories and listening to stories spoken and read aloud prepare students
to read and write narratives later in school. The standards expect students
to develop more and more detailed oral narratives—and more like written stories as they grow older.



  • book by Patricia Polacco (I would use the same one as yesterday so that you have already read it and don’t need to use that time for reading aloud)
  • Teacher and student writer’s notebooks
  • “Ideas to Write About” list

Other books you could  use: When I Was Young in the Mountainsby Cynthia Rylant, A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams


Intended Learning Statement

“As we continue with our Writer’s Workshop, we got ready to write yesterday by listening to a story of one of our favorite authors, listening to some of my stories, and working together as we listen and share our own stories. Today I am going to teach you another strategy for coming up with ideas to write about.


Whole Group Instruction

  • Modeling: Hold up yesterday’s picture book, think aloud by saying something, such as “Wow, Patricia Polacco’s story really helped me have a picture of where the story took place. Of course her wonderful illustrations painted the picture for me, but I could have closed my eyes and been able to imagine where the story took place…” then relate an interesting personal story about a place from your life where many of your personal stories could have taken place for students. As you talk through your place, sketch it on chart paper for students to see (mine was my grandparent’s house, yard, and neighborhood). Yours could have been your bedroom, your backyard as a child, the playground at your elementary, etc.  Share that there are many places you could have listed to pick from, but for today you selected the one that came to mind first. Explain how the place could be used to think of many different ideas for stories. Remember, you are not expected to be an artist-this is a sketch! Don’t be self-conscious.
    Be sure to think about your comments ahead of time.


  • Active Involvement: “Close your eyes and think about a place that  is important to you..” Allow actual “think” time. “Now turn to your partner and share your place.” Call on one or two students to orally share their stories and extend these stories with open-ended questions, such as “That’s interesting; tell me more about…”


Work Period

Say, “Today, I shared a sketch of a place that was important to me ________________  and we shared our own stories. While sharing, I hope you found at least one or several ideas about a place that is  important to  you that you might write about in the future. Before the end of our workshop time today, let’s sketch our place.”  Then students complete the sketch in their writer’s notebooks to make a picture. Sketching is added to the chart of “Ideas to Write About” list (see below). Allow students time to work on their first idea/story from yesterday or if they are finished start a story based on today’s sketch. Don’t allow anyone to say they are finished (CRITICAL). Encourage them to go back to yesterday’s list of people and write another story about that person or another story based on the sketch they drew.


During the work period, confer with several students (probably still in table groups). Also this might be a good day to teach them/reinforce the signal that you are going to use to get their attention if you need it during their writing work time.


Share Time


Ideas to Write About

·         Think of a person who matters to you, the list small moments you remember with him or her. Choose one to write the story that goes with it.

·         Sketch a place that is important to you and write one of the stories that took place there.







·         Example: grandparent’s house/yard sketch


 Choose students to share some of their sketches, based on the writing conferences that took place during the work period (these are probably table group conferences still at this point in the year) . After sharing, ask, “What is something you learned as writers today?” Reinforce that the chart will be there for them to look at so there is no reason to not have something to write about during work time.


Don’t forget that these are personal narratives. If a child starts going down the imaginary place/person path, try to redirect and explain that these are TRUE stories.










Intermediate Writing Workshop with read alouds

Earlier in this blog I put up a schedule of implementing the first Unit of Study for the intermediate aged classroom. I added a couple new lessons that I felt were missing from the original plan and thought I would share them here as well.

Focus Lesson C2: Generating More Stories



This lesson uses a book to wake up stories in students’ minds. It can be taught several times with different books and authors so students have many opportunities to consider stories they may choose to write about.


A common lament heard from students is “I have nothing to write about.”
This lesson generates excitement for writing by getting students to orally tell
their own stories, propelled by the storytelling of favorite authors and their teacher. It builds structure for the notion that “writing floats on a sea of talk.”



When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

Chart, “Ideas to Write About”

Other books to use: The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola, Ticky, Tacky Dollby Cynthia Rylant, many Patricia Polacco books


Intended Learning Statement

“As writers, we have been experiencing where authors get their ideas. Today we’ll analyze how Cynthia Rylant (or another author of your choice) gets her writing ideas.”


Whole Group Instruction

  • Modeling: Read aloud from the book When I Was Young in the Mountains  by Cynthia Rylant. Say, “Wow, this book makes me think of several stories I might tell. I could tell you about the time when my grandma made a chocolate cake that I called “The Soggy Chocolate Cake”-I loved that cake! and how I always wanted to eat at her house because she made spaghetti out of a can. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out she didn’t know how to cook.Or, I could tell you about the time I was catching crawdads with my neighbor  when one of my friends lost their shoe in the mud (we were convinced it was quicksand!).Then share a special personal story.


  • Active Involvement: Say, “Now I’d like you to talk with your partner about a story—or stories—this story helped you think about.”
    After students talk with their partners, they share an idea their partner came up with. Allow several pairs to share their responses.

“Be sure to write any new ideas down in your writer’s notebook during the work period.”


Work Period

Students add a few ideas to a brainstorm list to write about in the future. During the work period, confer with students by asking, “After hearing When I Was Young in the Mountains, what new ideas did you come up with to write about?” “Why would you like to write about that idea?” and/or “I’d love to hear more about why it’s special to you.”


Share Time

Choose students to share some of their ideas based on the writing conferences that took place during the work period. Ask, “What is something Cynthia Rylant can teach us as writers about getting ideas?” and/or “Where else might you get ideas for your writing now?”
































Comprehension Strategies launching lesson August 28, 2008

Today I taught my first model lesson for three other teachers in fourth grade. I thought it went pretty well. I was nervous the day before when meeting with the teachers to talk about the lesson, but once I was in the classroom with the students, it felt very natural. I did have several things going in my favor: It is a lesson that I had done successfully in my classroom last year; I know many of the students since my daughter is the same age; it was in the classroom of the woman who used to be my co-teacher until this year. I don’t think I could have gotten a more comfortable setting for a first time!

The lesson is one I had read about in book entitled Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor. The lesson is called Reading Salad. I really like the set-up she describes of telling students that you bet they are really good at pretending. You then go onto to explain that they are going to pretend to the be teachers and you are going to pretend to be a student. Remind them teachers are very serious about reading, so they should be very serious because they are going to be grading me as a reader (while pretending to be a student). I selected the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for my role as “student”. The book it is one that I know many of the teachers read last year as we had had several ongoing conversations about it at lunch. I read aloud (with a couple choice words removed) parts of the first two pages of the prologue. I did (accidentally) stumble over a word or two and also have to go back and reread one sentence when my “editing” made the sentence unclear.

When done I asked them to give me honest feedback about me as a reader. They were very complementary, as was last year’s group, despite my couple stumbles. When asked why they thought I was a good reader, they offered things such as “you knew all the words”, “you used expression”, “it seemed like a hard book” and other similar offerings. I then revealed to them that the first time I had read that part of the book, I had been very confused about what was going on, and also shared that I went back to the prologue and reread it many more times as I was reading the book as I figured out new things that I didn’t know when I read it the first time. They were very impressed that I would reread part of a book more than once because I wanted to.

On the fly I remembered a story that my teaching partner had shared with me about her son, who is now a senior in high school. She was very excited that he had learned to read and when she went to parent teacher conferences for the first time, she told the teacher how proud she was of his reading. The teacher (as it so happens, was my mother-which makes the story even funnier to the kids) informed my teaching partner that her son wasn’t reading, but had memorized certain books. She asked her to write some of the words out of context to see if her son could read them. He could not.

This story was a perfect tie-in to the rest of McGregor’s Reading Salad lesson as you ask the students, “Since you are so good at pretending, I bet you’ve been able to pretend you are reading or that you understand something you read, when really you didn’t.” We did a turn and talk with a partner and then shared some instances of when they have “pretended” to read or understand when they really didn’t. It is AMAZING how honest they are about times they knew the words, but didn’t understand, or only looked at the pictures, or flipped pages without reading, etc. The most promising sharing was of a student who shared that sometimes she stops and daydreams about what is happening in the books when she is reading, instead of continuing reading (perfect springboard to come back to for visualizing). 

I went on to explain the Reading Salad part of the lesson. You have a bowl with green pieces of paper marked “text” and another bowl with red pieces of paper marked “thinking” (this is opposite of what is described in her book, but a modification that I found worked better for me after last year’s students).  There is a third bowl marked “salad”. I put two students up on stools/chairs on either side of me and held the salad bowl in my lap. I read aloud Splat Cat (see earlier review) as a think aloud. Each time I read text, green text “lettuce” was added to the salad and when I stopped to do the think-aloud, red thinking “tomatoes” were added until the book was over and there was a salad. 

This year I also added orange carrots to represent unknown/unfamiliar words. The lesson ends with a specialized Venn Diagram of a book (text) intersecting with a head (thinking) for Real Reading (not pretend reading!). I will post a photo of our chart later this week so you can visualize. 

As I stated at first, this is a modified lesson from the McGregor comprehension book. She has many other great, hands-on, visual, or concrete lesson for launching your strategies lessons. 

Later this week I will then like to follow up with a lesson that Franki Sibberson describes in her book Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6.


New “er” Read Aloud Titles for Intermediate Aged Students part 2 August 25, 2008

Filed under: books,kidlithosphere,read alouds,school — bestbookihavenotread @ 10:58 pm
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The fifth grade staff asked me to make up a list of newer titles for read alouds that I really like. I tried to make a different list so that if they ended up really loving a book, that they wouldn’t be frustrated when they went to read it aloud and part (or all) of their class had heard it the previous. I am not a big fan of claiming book titles as “ours”, but knowing that this issue comes periodically in my building, I decided to be proactive. As always, I recommend previewing a book before reading it aloud. Just because I really liked, doesn’t mean it is right for you or your particular group of students. 

Red Kayak by Priscialla Cummings

I could not stop reading this book last summer! In a nutshell, Brady is at first considered a hero for rescuing a young boy from a freezing local river after he and his mother were reported missing.  Soon he makes some discoveries that put him right in the middle of issues of loyalty to friends and doing what he knows is right. I found this an amazing book that combined modern day issues kids face with peer pressure, but also family issues of loss and how one deals differently with a loss.



The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade by Ken Derby 

            Fifth-grader Anthony loves David Letterman’s Late Show–especially the jokes, the Top 10 Lists, and Stupid Human Tricks. Determined to appear on the show as a guest, he tries all kinds stunts, including getting his foot stuck in a toilet, starting a food fight at lunch, and xeroxing his rear. After he steals the ball at a NFL and runs for a touchdown in a bear costume, Letterman invites him to the show. A fast, fun read aloud.





Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

            This is the first book in her newest series. I loved it and it has gotten some great reviews from other intermediate teachers and librarians. There is a link for a video the publisher created for the book that gave me the chills.  I loaned it a couple students over the summer who also really liked. You don’t have to like the Among the Hidden series to like this. Two boys, one knows he is adopted, the other doesn’t. They both get letters telling them they are “one of the missing”. It is part mystery and part time-travel.  

Check out the above link if you aren’t sure it is for you!


Listening for Lions By Gloria Whelan

Here’s a quote from a teacher who read it aloud in another district:

“I read LISTENING FOR LIONS, Gloria Whelan’s 38th book, as a read-aloud to my fourth graders from the newly released galley of the book. While I am not usually wild about books without much “action,” my students and I were really hooked into this book, due to Whelan’s character development and interplay. The book was (as many of Whelan’s books are) great at illustrating for students the use of symbolism in writing (see also Whelan’s HOMELESS BIRD and MIRANDA’S LAST STAND, among others, for examples of symbolism that students can grasp). At the end of the book, my students even broke into spontaneous applause!”

Sounds like a winner to me and I liked it very much



I am now trying to finish The Underneath. If it doesn’t win the Newbery this year, I’ll be shocked!             




Ellie McDoodle New Kid in School The never ending quest to find the perfect book for every student August 24, 2008

Ellie McDoodle New Kid in School by Ruth McNally Barshaw is a fun new cross breed of books that has been gaining popularity. I would describe it as a cross between a journal (think Amelia’s Notebook) graphic novel (Babymouse).

Ellie has just had to move to a new town and is facing the tough “new kid to school” blues. Fortunately she has her journal, where she chronicles her downs (and some ups).

The author does a great job of capturing common struggles for new students: people messing up your name, mean kids teasing, the job over meeting a new friend.

I also like how the author captures some common issues of pre-teen students-relationships to teachers, trying to communicate/protest a school issue that seems unfair, and even touches on how to act with people with special needs.

This the second Ellie McDoodle book. I bought the first one for my daughter (just started fourth grade) in my quest to find a new favorite book for her (her current is The Magic Half by Annie Barrows). I’ve always prided myself on being able to match books with students, turning reluctant readers into book lovers, and being able to help make connections for children between different books that the already read and ones that might be the “best book they haven’t read”.

Unfortunately, but probably predictably, my daughter is my toughest sell. It drives her crazy when we go the library and parents and other kids will come up and ask me about books (it is a small town where almost everyone recognizes each other).

I really like Interview with the Author at the end, told in the same style as the novel.

A great addition for a classroom library!


Great new Read Aloud Kenny & the Dragon

Filed under: books,kidlithosphere,read alouds,school — bestbookihavenotread @ 1:50 am
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Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi grabbed by attention at the bookstore for its great cover illustration and secondly I recognized Tony DiTerlizzi of the Spiderwick series. It grabbed me by with the first sentence and kept me pulled in through the entire story. What I think I loved most was how I could visualize reading the story aloud to a group of students and how mesmerized they would be by the story.

Kenny, a young rabbit, happens to live on a farm where a dragon has taken up residence. Kenny expects to get to have an up close look at something he has only read about, kind of like the hummingbird he had studied for a school report. Little does he expect to find a kindred spirit. With Kenny’s love of reading and his active imagination, his only friend prior to the the dragon, Grahame, was a elderly bookstore owner. This same elderly friend, also turns out to be the king’s highest ranked dragon slayer!

As a teacher of intermediate students, finding a chapter book that still has compelling illustrations, has been difficult to do with as much regularity as I would like. This book falls into the niche and I can imagine a teacher of any age-group having fun reading this aloud, complete with the voices.

I think it would be fun to read this book aloud and then share the inspiration picture book The Reluctant Dragon and have fun comparing similarities and differences. It would also be fun to share some of the fairy tales that Kenny and his two friends enjoy so much.

I just had an ah-ha moment that I didn’t have while reading the book, the author of The Reluctant Dragon’s author is Kenneth GRAHAME (maybe that’s not so much of an ah-ha, but a DUH moment).

Tony DiTerlizzi does have a nice blog-my favorite part being his Friday Fan Art work that he posts! What a neat thing for kids to see-authentic children’s artwork posted on an author/illustrator website.