Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Biography Week- On a Beam of Light

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne, is a biography of Albert Einstein. There are a few little reasons why I love this simple biography:

- This is shorter and easy to read aloud to a class in one sitting. It would be perfect for 3rd graders who are learning about biographies.

- This book does not use the term "dyslexia" or "disability," but it does discuss his struggles with school. I'm a reading specialist by degree, so I appreciate anything that sends the message that you can be successful in life even if school is challenging for you. I like telling students with dyslexia about Albert Einstein.

-This book has a little science connection...Not super in-depth, but it mentions light, gravity, heat, magnetism, etc. But, you could totally connect it to one of those topics.

- The Author's Note afterward has some fun additional information about Mr. Einstein. It has subheadings/subtitles...Those are discussed on STAAR tests so you can utilize the terminology.

- The illustrations are fabulous...Note that the page that discusses atoms uses a form of pointillism art. You could ask students if they notice that the illustrator did something differently on that page, see if they can make the connection.

- The author utilizes bold print and different colors of print. You can discuss why. (This is a topic that could totally come up on STAAR.)

On a Beam of Light is a great little biography to share with your children!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Biography Week- Just Being Audrey

Just Being Audrey is just fantastic. Don't be put off because Audrey Hepburn seems to draw more of female audience. I've seen many a 5th grade boy enjoy this biography, and boys AND girls need to hear biographies of great men AND women. 

Today on my other blog I wrote about how I love decorating my girl's rooms with children's book illustrations. I would even tear up a book for it. I loved the whimsical art in Just Being Audrey so much that I framed this illustration:

Just Being Audrey covers the high points of the life of Audrey Hepburn including:

*Challenges through childhood.
*Persistence to overcome challenges and try new things early in her life.
*Audrey's acting career.
*Audrey becoming a mother.
*Audrey's work with UNICEF.
*Audrey giving a speech to the United Nation's Children's Fund.

I LOVE that this book focuses on a few key themes of her life:

1) Overcoming challenges
2) Being yourself (Hence the title! Maybe you could have your class predict the theme!)
3) Serving others

This book is amazing for working on author's purpose... (Side note: I feel that when we only use PIE to teach author's purpose, we are really missing the mark. PIE can be a starting place, but there's so much more.)

I felt that one of the author's greatest purposes in writing this book is to share with us that Mrs. Hepburn was so much more than a beautiful, fashionable actress. Her inner beauty and service to others is the most important.

You can even show your class a portion of this clip of Mrs. Hepburn giving that speech to the United Nations Children's Fund.

There are also many youtube videos, such as the one below, of Audrey Hepburn serving with UNICEF. There are many great ones, but I would be selective about which portions to show, because some of the images of starving children are disturbing. While I'm all for exposing my own children to realities of the world, you as a teacher have to take the pulse of your classroom and decide what they can view. You can get the message across without some of the more graphic images.

Here are a few other quick ideas for using this book in the classroom:

Show students a brief clip of Audrey, maybe the first 2 minutes of the Breakfast at Tiffany's intro. You could have it playing as they come into the room.

As I said before, have students predict theme based on the title.
Have students predict the author's purpose. 


Later on, have students quote textual evidence from the book to prove the author's opinion of Audrey Hepburn and the author's purpose for writing. (Slide this book on the document camera to have students dig for that evidence.)


 From the 5th grade standards you could discuss how the author presents the events in her life. You can discuss chronological order.


Take some time to read the timeline at the end of the biography. Discuss how this text feature is used in the biography, what is it's purpose, what can you learn, etc.


Discuss how one device biographies often use is quotes from that person. You can take a look at some of Audrey Hepburn's favorite quotes and have students write responses.

Click here for Audrey Hepburn quotes.

This would be an amazing biography to share with your class!

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Intro to Biography Week

This week I'm gearing up to talk about some of my favorite biographies!!

To name a few..........

But, first I wanted to make a very simple break down of what the Texas TEKS are asking students to do with biographies.


Grade 3: 

Students need to know the difference in biography and autobiography.
Students make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features.
Students respond by providing evidence.

(9)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Literary Nonfiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features of literary nonfiction and respond by providing evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to explain the difference in point of view between a biography and autobiography

Grade 4: 

Students need to know the difference in biography and autobiography.
Students make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features.
Students respond by providing evidence.
Students identify similarities and differences between the events and characters' experiences in fictional work and the actual events.

(7)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Literary Nonfiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features of literary nonfiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to identify similarities and differences between the events and characters' experiences in a fictional work and the actual events and experiences described in an author's biography or autobiography.

Grade 5: 

All of the above and...
Students identify the literary language and devices used in biographies and autobiographies.
Students identify how authors present major events in a person's life.

(7)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Literary Nonfiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the varied structural patterns and features of literary nonfiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to identify the literary language and devices used in biographies and autobiographies, including how authors present major events in a person's life.

Yikes y'all, that is technical and doesn't sound very fun!!!! Have no fear, the literature we will look at this week is so fun that these TEKS will be incorporated organically.

The library has different types of biographies. There will be the run-of-the-mill series of biographies that will have every president, or 30 famous people, etc etc. 

Some of these are great. If you want basic facts, pictures, etc. you'll find them.

But literary language...

The beautiful storytelling language is not going to be found in those. The author's purpose just isn't as rich with those series biographies. So, I'm excited to spend some time reviewing some rich biography literature with you this week. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Making Inferences with Sarah Stewart Books

If you teach grades 3-5, you need these books in your classroom! They are the perfect books for teaching inferences or drawing conclusions.

So, I never wanted to beat my head on a wall to explain the difference between making an inference and drawing a conclusion. After getting my master's in reading education, I'm still not sure if I understand! But, I usually think of conclusions as more final- you've got all the evidence and you make your conclusions?....Maybe inferences evolve more? I don't know!!! However you dice it, you can infer and draw conclusions from these books. 

Both of these books are written in the form of letters.

In The Gardener, Lydia Grace moves to the big city to live with her uncle. Most of the letters are written to her family back home. There are many inferences to make...First of all, you can infer many character emotions Secondly, you can infer what her parents may have written to her, sent to her, etc. 

In The Quiet Place, Isabel writes letters to her Aunt Lupita in Mexico after her family moves to the U.S.. It begins with their road trip North, and continues as they settle into their new life. Once again, you can infer emotions and character traits. You can also infer what her Aunt Lupita is writing to her.

I suppose that if you are thinking of drawing conclusions as more definitive, then you could apply that to the second letter in The Quiet Place. There are clues about "blue flowers" and a few other clues that make it pretty obvious they are in Texas on the second page, but you have to draw the conclusion because it doesn't come right out and say it. 

Another reason I love this book is because it related to SO many of my students. I taught a high population of students who had moved to Texas from Mexico, so The Quiet Place was an AWESOME book for teaching inferring, because inferring requires you to use your own background knowledge. (You can totally combine a schema lesson with this if you have students who relate to it.)

I loved how my students could relate to Isabel's fears, concerns, and feelings as she moved to a new place and learned a new language. Getting students to emotionally connect to characters is an important key to comprehension!

I would highly encourage you to check out these books for your class! And, when you are sharing this book with your class, do not forget to take some time to focus on the amazing illustrations!

First of all, the illustrations are beautiful, but secondly, you can draw conclusions from the pictures or confirm your conclusions. The pictures offer evidence. 

All of you should click here to see the illustrator, David Small, and his online sketchbook. I think his art is so whimsical and fun. I really really wish he would sell prints, because I think some of these could be really fun to frame! Believe, me I've googled every combination I could think of to look and see about buying his prints, but I don't think he has any for sale. 

All in all, I hope you can find a way to plug these books into your instruction, because they are lovely in word and image! I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from The Quiet Place.

"...after lunch when we drove through many, many, many blue flowers. The very next day the sky became that same blue. Chavo said, 'we left a sea of blue at our feet and entered an ocean of blue over our heads. I want to talk like that."- The Quiet Place

Pretty, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Introducing Visualizing with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Okay y'all, this is going to be long, but visualization is one of my favorite topics!!! Bear with me, and you might get some inspiration for helping your students practicing their visualizing.

Over the years I have introduced visualizing in many ways, and I've tried many exercises to sharpen the mind's eye.

There is a time and a place for using a picture book to teach visualizing, but I really love working on visualizing with portions of novels. I love using a section of a novel to help peak student interest in that direction.

So, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an old classic, some of your students may have read it, and some may have seen the movie.

At first, I was apprehensive to use this book for visualizing, because I knew many students had seen the movie and I figure they might be visualizing what they remember from the movie....Then, the more I thought about it, I became okay with the idea.

So, the goal is for them to hear/read words and then see it in their mind. Even if their mental images look like the movie, they are still using the skill. AND, for students that struggle to visualize, picturing the movie actually scaffolds them into practicing the skill.

I have this edition of the book from Amazon. When I did this lesson, I had a class set of the books. But, I feel that in good faith, and in compliance with copyright laws, you could type up a few paragraphs to use as a class set hand-out. (Education World currently has a great series going about this topic.)

Here's a quick run down of how I taught this kind-of-mini-lesson:

1) *Each year I did various things to discuss visualizing, what it meant, etc...Sometimes I used Tanny McGregor's ideas from Comprehension Connections. Do whatever works for you.*

2) I gave my students paper and pencils, but had them keep them inside their desk, hands off of the materials at first. They had to have a clear desk. I told them that I would read a portion of the book, and that they would need to visualize as I read. I read the first few pages of Chapter 15, The Chocolate Room, aloud to students. (Without them having a copy.) 

This portion chapter goes into beautiful detail to describe

3) After the reading, I had students draw as much as they could remember. 

This is a big big big thing for teachers to keep in mind: 

When trying to retell, students who fail to visualize tend to just regurgitate words they remember. Students who visualize and saw it clearly in their mind can recall details of their visualization. They discuss what they SAW rather than words they HEARD.

So, I want my students to draw what they saw in their brains.

4) I read the same portion to students again, and have the continue into their drawing as they listen.

5) I have students share their drawings with an table buddy and discuss what they saw in their heads.

6) As a class, we discuss how we experienced not just seeing in our mind, but hearing, smelling, tasting, etc. (You could even have a chart up of each of the 5 senses and have students right on sticky notes about the sensory detail they visualized, etc.)

Some of the great descriptions in this section include the appearance and the sounds of the chocolate waterfall, imagery about the pipes that carried the chocolate, etc.

7) For some independent practice OR a station activity later, you can use a portion of Chapter 20, The Great Gum Machine. Have students read it independently and then try to draw what they saw there.


I also love having students practice this super simple visualization partner exercise:

a. Read the first part of this chapter silently, and when they finish immediately put it in their desk, no peaking!
b. Turn to a table partner and describe what they saw in their mind.
c. Walk around and listen, you will be able to tell who saw it and who didn't.
d. Share as a class.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory offers many sections that you can continue utilizing for visualization, another favorite of mine is Chapter 21, Good-by Violet. It describes violet's swelling and change of appearance in the middle. Or, you could use the OOmpa-Loompa's song/poem at the end of the chapter.

I find this book to be especially engaging, but these same strategies can be used with any portion of a book that offers great imagery/sensory details! And, BONUS--Later you can re-use this portion of the book when you are teaching imagery or sensory details! ;-) 

TEKS ADDRESSED: (8) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Sensory Language. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about how an author's sensory language creates imagery in literary text and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to evaluate the impact of sensory details, imagery, and figurative language in literary text.

Figure 19: Reading/Comprehension Skills. Students use a flexible range of metacognitive reading skills in both assigned and independent reading to understand an author’s message. Students will continue to apply earlier standards with greater depth in increasingly more complex texts as they become self-directed, critical readers. The student is expected to: (C) monitor and adjust comprehension (e.g., using background knowledge, creating sensory images, re-reading a portion aloud, generating questions) 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Teaching with Pink and Say

Quick Summary: Pink and Say shows the friendship between Pinkus Aylee and Sheldon (Say) Curtis during the Civil War. Pink rescues an injured Say on the battlefield and takes him to stay with his grandmother, Moe Moe Bay until he is back to health. After marauders murder Moe Moe Bay, the pair become more determined to return to war. As they are returning to war, they are captured and taken to a confederate prison camp where Pink is killed. Through it all, lessons can be learned about the horrors of war and the virtues of friendship and courage. Patricia Polacco does an excellent job of covering the tough stuff in an elegant and appropriate way for students. Patricia Polacco's summary of the book is MUCH better than my extremely basic one, if you would like more details! 

I do not even know where to begin with this book, because it could be utilized in so many ways. Every time I've read it, you can hear a pin drop in my room, even with my noisiest of classes! The writing is so beautiful, and the story is so heart-wrenching that you will have the kids in the palm of your hand when you read this aloud. Pink and Say is well suited for 5th grade, because it is a mature book and it incorporates The Civil War. Since, grade 5 covers American History in most states, this book just works.

From the Social Studies TEKS: (4)  History. The student understands political, economic, and social changes that occurred in the United States during the 19th century. The student is expected to:
(E)  identify the causes of the Civil War, including sectionalism, states' rights, and slavery, and the effects of the Civil War, including Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution

However, I don't feel that you have to wait until your Civil War unit to use this. Most 5th graders have plenty of background knowledge on this time period already. So, here are some ideas for utilizing it:

SCHEMA: You can utilize this book to discuss how we bring our background knowledge into our comprehension when reading. Draw on student's knowledge of The Civil War. Even if their knowledge is basic, it is crucial for comprehending the story. You could easily create some type of T-Chart and collect student's background knowledge. Then, as you are reading, write about how that information is incorporated into the book. 

METACOGNITION: So this is a given, and I pretty much shouldn't put this on here, but any time you are modeling/doing think-alouds, you are showing students how to reflect on their own thinking. There are PLENTY of places in this book where you could stop to share your thoughts and reactions.

SUMMARIZING/STORY ELEMENTS: Summarizing is a tough skill, so I always start by teaching fiction summaries. I like to spend time writing  a few summaries as a class, and then later having students write their own. I have used Pink and Say to write a summary as a class.

I teach summary by having students record the elements of the story such as setting, characters, conflict and resolution. Then, we work from there to write our summary. This story works well for elements.

THEME: Theme is an abstract concept, making it tough, however this book has great themes such as friendship and courage. I would not teach theme early in the year with this book, because I like using it for schema, metacognition and summary, at first. However, when it is time to teach theme later on, I would definitely pull this book back out and discuss! 

This TEK is well covered in this book, because the "historical event" has a major effect on the theme of the story: 

5.3 (C) Students analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions about theme and genre in different cultural, historical, and contemporary contexts and provide evidence from the text to support their understanding. Students are expected to explain the effect of a historical event or movement on the theme of a work of literature

In the end, there are many objectives you can achieve with this book from an academic stance, but most importantly, this book speaks to the heart and can be used to discuss more important concepts in life. I hope you check it out! 

Other Figure 19 TEKS that could be met with this book: (C) monitor and adjust comprehension (e.g., using background knowledge, creating sensory images, re- reading a portion aloud, generating questions); (D) make inferences about text and use textual evidence to support understanding; (E) summarize and paraphrase texts in ways that maintain meaning and logical order within a text and across texts 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Favorite Books for the Beginning of 5th Grade

I wanted to spend some time this week showcasing some of my favorite books to use during the first few weeks of school. While I used these in 5th, I feel that these books could be appropriate in grades 4-6. These are books I've used many times to introduce specific reading strategies.

These are all a good double-punch, because they are amazing for teaching foundational reading strategies, but they also hook students into great literature and help students become interested in various authors and titles.

So, here are the titles I love, and then I'll tell you a bit more detail about just one of them today...

Chicken Sunday is a great book to teach metacognition, summary and conflict-resolution.

Pink and Say is SO powerful. I have never read this to my class without getting misty eyed. I use it to teach metacognition and summarizing. It is also a great book to use for teaching theme. 

Sarah Stewart and David Small teamed up to produce 2 beautiful books written entirely in letters in The Gardener and The Quiet Place. Both books are wonderful for teaching inferring and drawing conclusions. I usually use one for modeling and then put one in a literacy station...more on that later this week.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an old favorite, and it is wonderful for teaching visualizing. I'll post how I taught that lesson later this week.

Finally, Among the Hidden. 

I want to focus on this book today...Y'all, when I read this a few years ago I finished it in a day because I was pretty into it. It intrigued me as I was reading, and made me question things in a natural way.

I believe learning with good literature should be organic. Great literature is not literature written for the purpose of teaching "questioning" as it sometimes seems to be in basal readers...rather, great literature naturally leads our minds to question, predict, confirm, question, predict, confirm. 

This book is the first text I use to introduce questioning. I usually put the book on the document cover and have students brainstorm/write on scratch paper a few questions that they come up with from only seeing the front cover. Then, share with elbow buddies or partners. 

Who is the boy? Is he hiding? Who is in the window? Are they trying to catch him? Etc. Students will amaze you with what they come up with. 

After sharing questions as a group, I use the first few pages of the book to model metacognition and questioning to my students. I do think-alouds, etc. 

It is the perfect text for introducing questioning. Bonus, the book is suspenseful and interesting very early on. So, I usually read aloud the first few chapters of the book during that week. Then, I found that many of my students sought this book out to finish on their own. Love that!

TEKS ADDRESSED: Reading/Comprehension Skills. FIGURE 19: Students use a flexible range of metacognitive reading skills in both assigned and independent reading to understand an author’s message. Students will continue to apply earlier standards with greater depth in increasingly more complex texts as they become self- directed, critical readers. The student is expected to:

(A) establish purposes for reading selected texts based upon own or others’ desired outcome to enhance comprehension;
(B) ask literal, interpretive, evaluative, and universal questions of text; 

I can't wait to share more on the other books with you this week!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Waking up the Blog

Hey y'all! I'd been toying with the idea of making a return to blogging for a few weeks, and came to look at my own blog for the first time in about three years. I'm shocked to see anyone is giving it page views, let alone still following it. So, thanks for not removing me! Here's what's going on...

Where have I been for the last few years?

Pregnant. That's where I've been. Pregnant and back a couple times, and I have two young daughters to show for it. I was a working mom for two years, but now I'm home full time. This fall is my first time in many years to not be setting up a new classroom! I miss school terribly. But, as my friend Kim told me, "You haven't stopped teaching, you just have different students." And aren't my pupils cute? I love spending my days teaching these two...

(Yep, I waited outside my local Target for 30 minutes before opening and then ran through the store at 7 months pregnant to snag that little Lilly for Target shift. I have no pride.)

Where is this blog going?

As I've taught over the last several years, I've become increasingly passionate about quality literature...Sadly, I've seen some poor literature in basal readers and other leveled texts, and I feel that there is too much great literature out there to spend time on what is not quality.  I have loved children's literature my whole life, and now it means even more to me as a teacher and a mom. I am so excited to spend a good portion of this blog writing about children's and youth literature. My goal is to inspire teachers and parents to share quality reading with the children in their life! 

However, there are a few cardigans (and dresses and bows and other things) to blog about in my world, and I'll be sharing those, too. Thanks for following along!