Friday, November 27, 2015

Reading in a Winter Wonderland

Hello and welcome to our second annual Winter Wonderland link up!  Last year, The Reading Crew sponsored a winter literacy hop, but we decided to run it a little different this time. Instead of hopping with the potential of dead links, we decided on a closed link up. What this means is that there is a "map" of the blogs at the bottom of each post, so you can hop through them all at once, visit some today and some later in the week, or see what best matches your literacy needs.

On each blog, you will see a word in blue font. This is the blog's mystery word. Please be sure to record them because you will need each word for a five point entry in our raffle. To help you keep track, you can print and use [this form]. We are raffling off two wonderful prizes. We are giving away a copy of each book featured in our posts to two winners (K-2 group) and the (3-up group). Each prize package will include 12 books (K-2) and 13 books (3-up).
On each blog, we will be sharing a mentor text lesson using the book we've chosen. The lesson will be modeling a reading skill (comprehension or writing typically, but some at the primary level may target vocabulary, fluency, or word building).  The materials that are shared may be forever freebies or may be free for a limited time. Please take note of this as you visit the blogs. 

Again, we welcome you to our blogs and wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.

Several years ago, I got the opportunity to hear Gary Paulsen speak at the Virginia State Reading Association conference. Gary Paulsen, for a long, long time, was an author I admired and just had to meet. The experience of hearing his story and actually meeting him will forever be a time I treasure. He is a no frills guy who calls it as he sees it. He was just plain real, and what I love best about him is that his books have inspired so many boys in particular to love reading. His vivid descriptions help the reader transport themselves into the lives of Brian, Mr. Tucket, and his many other characters.

Most of Gary's books are chapter books, but that year, I was lucky enough to find two picture books for my classroom library, The Tortilla Factory and DogteamDogteam quickly became a mentor text for imagery and figurative language in my classroom, and if you have thoughts of using Dogsong or Woodsong, I would highly recommend introducing the topic of sled dogs by sharing this book and perhaps My Life in Dog Years, a unique autobiography.
The setting of this book is Alaska during the winter, and the narrator in the story training his dogteam for a race. He describes taking the dogteam out for a night run, and the description in the book is so poetic.  Here are a few quotes from the text. I expect you'll agree (after you zoom in on them...sorry!)

I like to begin every mentor text lesson with a schema builder that generates conversation between my students or that builds background for topics that my students may or may not be familiar with. With this text, the teacher might enjoy showing a clip about the Iditarod like this one from Youtube.

To help organize the information students learn through this vid, I prepared this organizer. Students can work in teams to research and discuss what they find out.

Once students are "warmed up and ready" for the race, it is time to share the book. With this book, I created two pages, an anchor chart for interactive notebooks and a response page. I selected quotes from the text and asked students to describe their thinking.  These questions could be used to guide thinking.
  • Which words jump out? (record them for discussion after) 
  • Find examples of figurative language (metaphor, simile, repetition, alliteration)
  • What do you picture?
  • How would you feel?. 
Students record their thinking on the right side of the column notes during discussion. Then, once the book examples have been discussed, the teacher can refer back to the word list and talk about how sensory words lead to imagery and sort them by sense.

As a follow up to this lesson (bonus materials), I included a writing option. With this assignment, students complete a RAFT paper. RAFT stands for:

Students will be a musher in the Iditarod. They will be writing for the people interested in coming to the race to tell them what it is like to be a racer running the dogs.

Now that you've learned how this lesson works, it's time to download your copy. To access this file, just click the product cover below. This product will be free November 27th through December 4th. After that time, it will return to the $2.50 in my store. 

If you are looking for other winter mentor text lessons or winter resources, I began this board last year as part of Thematic Thursday. I continue to pin my favorite winter ideas to it now, and there may be a few ideas you'd like too

Before you go, I will remind you that my mystery word is dogsled. You can enter it onto your sheet or into the rafflecopter below. Good luck to you, and I hope you'll come back soon.

Pin for Later:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winter "Must Have" Reads for Upper Elementary

Do you have a few winter favorites you enjoy teaching? You probably can rattle off a collection of titles from your childhood. Katy and the Big Snow, White Snow, Bright Snow, The Snowy Day, or The Mitten. How about chapter books?  Mr. Popper's Penguins, Balto, or Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, The Long Winter. Well, this weekend, I am excited to share that The Reading Crew, a Facebook group of reading specialists and literacy coaches I started a few years ago, will be hosting a winter mentor text link up called, "Reading in a Winter Wonderland".  If you visited in the fall, the blog posts will be very similar to that blog hop.

With our link up, each of us will be sharing a favorite winter themed book that can be used to teach a specific skill. We will walk through our lesson with each of the books and share materials that you can use with your groups. We've divided up into two groups (K-2 and 3 and up). We say 3 and Up because many mentor text lessons work for a range of readers. Using picture books in middle school can be a very effective way to model strategies for your students. On the other hand, excerpts from chapter books work well too. To the right and to the left, you'll see a sneak peek at the books we will be sharing (and giving away).  [You will have to click on the images to get a better glimpse of the titles.]

Winter Mentor Texts

Now that I've gotten you all excited (and you should be because this is going to be an awesome link up), let me share a few other options that you may or may not be aware of and how I use them. 

The first book, Snowflakes Fall, was written two years ago for the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Can you believe it has been 2 years since we lost those sweet little children? My heart still aches for their moms and dads.) This book is just so eloquent, and I love how Patricia MacLachlan used just the perfect words to write this book. It is the perfect book for teaching word choice and figurative language. I used this book as a patterned text for descriptive writing. The unit I developed focuses on comprehension and writing. I believe in connecting reading and writing.  Readers need to read with a writer's eye, and writers need to know how readers (their audience) think.

In the fall, I always enjoy using the work of Cynthia Rylant with my students. Her books, Scarecrow and In November, are the two seasonal books for that time of year, but in the winter, I love her book, Snow. Descriptive writing is one type of writing I'm required to teach, so using this book to model how our words paint a picture. She says, "Snow comes quietly like a quiet friend." Along with descriptive writing, we have to talk about how readers visualize as we read using sensory words. This one is definitely a must read.

Another skilled writer I love for winter is William Steig. Brave Irene is about a young girl who helps her sick mother by delivery a gown to the castle *as a blizzard rolls in*.  It is a little far-fetched, but it works well for brave moment writing, but also character development and voice.
As teachers of reading, we also need to remember to use a variety of texts. Snowflake Bentley byJacqueline Briggs Martin is a great choice. It is a biography of William Bentley, a man whose fascination with and photography of snowflakes helped make discoveries of how snowflakes (crystals) form. It's a very interesting book, and for this book, I created a set of interactive notebook/lapbook pieces that can be used to analyze book and demonstrate comprehension.

Additional Winter Resources

Arctic Animal Close Reading BundleWith my students, I also enjoy using the partner scripts, close reading articles, and author studies I've created too. Students love learning factual information, and since the majority of the material we're reading to *learn* is nonfiction, students really need instruction on how to work with informational texts. These winter close reading sets were lots of fun for my students as we learned about these arctic animals while we broke down the information. This set includes five close reading sets about penguins, caribou, polar bears, walruses, and the arctic fox. They can be purchased as a bundle or individually.

Jan Brett Author StudyOf course we can not go through the winter without enjoying books by Jan Brett. I could have highlighted any of her books in the Winter Mentor Texts section, and I don't think you can go wrong with this set. Many of her books are best used in the winter, but there are a few which work well any time of year (Armadillo Rodeo, Town Mouse, Country Mouse, Annie and the Wild Animals, and Berlioz the Bear).  For more details, you can look back at [this post].

Aside from books, poetry is perfect for those small moments during the day. I love using these poems to practice fluency, work on word study skills, and also comprehension. If you teach kindergarten or first, you might start with the Concept of Word set. These poems are four lines each and are intended to help students work on tracking print, build sight vocabulary, and practice decoding of CVC and CVCe words. The Winter poetry set works well with transitional readers and up.

Concept of Word Poems: Winter Edition   Winter Poetry,   

Finally, the activity I've enjoyed most with my students are these partner scripts. The kids really have a great time practicing them, but they also focus on comprehension strategies too. (finding details to support thinking, analyzing question types, making inferences, character development, plot, cause/effect relationships). Here are a few titles you might check out. The last is a free script for young readers (grades 1-3).
Partner Script: Mittens and Winter  Partner Script: Mittens and Winter  Partner Script: Reindeer and Christmas

Partner Script: Penguins  Partner Script for Young Readers

Winter is coming, and we may not love the cold weather and snow clean up, but we might as well make the best of it. Keeping your kids learning and growing with a wide variety of text options keeps them motivated and interested. What they don't realize though is that they're applying their learning in new and different ways.

See something in this post that you want to remember for later?  Here's a pin you can use to remember it.

Until next time, happy reading!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Building Readers and Writers with Patricia Polacco

Pause for a moment and think about your favorite authors from childhood. Maybe it was Dr. Seuss or Gary Paulsen, or perhaps you loved Clifford and Curious George. As a reading specialist, I quickly developed a love of Patricia Polacco's work. The connection she forms to struggling readers is just huge. More important than connecting to them is the fact that with hard work and perseverance, she was able to overcome many of her challenges. This is huge for the type of students I've worked with. By the time students reach fourth and fifth grade, they often perceive themselves as failures and doubt things will ever get better. No matter how often we tell them that we believe in them and that they can do it, they've  had too many setbacks to believe us. Sound familiar?  If so, I would encourage you to begin working in her books.

The first book to start with must be Thank You Mr. Falker.  This book sets the stage for the rest of her work. In it, Patricia shares how she learned that she had dyslexia. She did not learn to read until she was twelve years old I believe (so most children realize that their struggles may not be so bad).  I can not read that book without tearing up, and I am sure you are likely the same. With this set, the skills I focused on were author's craft and visualizing. The writing prompt is focused on bucket filling.

Book two for me would be The Keeping Quilt. The reason I'd use this one second is that it gives more information about her family's immigration to the United States and her connections to Russia. If you read, Rechenka's Eggs, Chicken Sunday, Babushka's Doll and Christmas Tapestry, you'll certainly see that influence in the stories. You might explore the topic of immigration with paired nonfiction books about Ellis Island.

Once you've given your students a bit of background on her life, then the books will all fit together. Most will have bits of information tied to her life. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Some Birthday, and When Lightning Comes in a Jar include Richie, Patricia's brother. With these titles, you might tie in descriptive writing about sibling relationships and family traditions. 

Thunder Cake and the The Bee Tree include Patricia's grandparents (and probably other titles too). Most schools have Grandparent's Day, so you might use these around that time. I love How to Babysit Grandpa, and having kids write about their grandparents and special things they enjoy together is always fun.

Bully, Junkyard Wonders, The Art of Mrs. Chew, Mr. Wayne's Masterpiece, and Mr. Lincoln's Way all have connections to school experiences. They hit at different points in Patricia's life, and as I'm writing this up, I can not recall the order. You might preview them or check on Patricia Polacco's website [here] to learn more about each book as well as about her biographical information.  

Patricia's books are not all tied to her life, but you'll see her writing style is consistent with unrelated titles too. I love the sweetness of For the Love of Autumn, and this book works well for most any child who loves animals. Another title I have enjoyed using with my students is Just Plain Fancy since most are unfamiliar with the Amish way of life. It provides an opportunity for students to learn cultural difference and appreciating each other. 

I've shared a brief bit of information on my favorites, but what are yours?  Maybe your list would be the same, or maybe you're favorite list would include a few others. I know one day I will add Pink and Say and Rechenka's Eggs to my list. I may also create something for Betty Doll.  Oh, I just love her writing, and I hope you do too. 

If you'd like to check out this author study in more detail, just click on the cover below. 

Patricia Polacco Author Study

For more ideas you can use or explore, check out the Patricia Polacco pinterest board I've started below. 
Follow Comprehension's board Patricia Polacco Ideas on Pinterest.

Now, go and have a great weekend. It is cooling down here in Virginia, and I hear rumors we'll be in the teens next week. What???  I am just not ready for that!

Until next time, happy reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Gaggle of Gratitude: Reflecting on Family, Friendships, and Fall Fun

As we gear up for Thanksgiving and the Christmas (in my family) holiday, pausing to reflect on family, friendships, and all of the things we are thankful for just makes these holidays so much more special. One of my pet peeves is the focus on buying the perfect gift and material things, so I am going to link up with my friend, Jennifer from Stories and Songs in Second. Jennifer and I have been collaborating since the "birth" of her blog, and my little blog has existed now for about three years. I think this is a good time to say thank you to my readers and followers. After all, it's nice to know that someone actually reads what I post. :-)  


Three years ago, we lost my dad after a long struggle with pulmonary illnesses, and two years ago we lost my father in law. It's left a hole in our family for sure, and when you lose a loved one, it's a reminder to savor the time with each other. These pictures are from two different beach trips, one to Topsail Island, NC and the other to Holden Beach, NC. We have such wonderful memories from these beach trips. The kids (ours and my sisters) had lots of fun playing in the ocean and just plain hanging out. It's hard to believe that our oldest is in college now, and now, my nephew is trying to make his choice. Seems like yesterday these four were jumping in the leaves and playing t-ball.

The friends on the left side of my image have been friends for nearly 20 years. Tama and Nancy are in the front. Nancy is the reason I am a reading specialist. She mentored me way back in 1990, and we shared a special group of first graders that year (or maybe the year after) that truly needed a special teacher. Six little people at readiness level my first year in first grade. Well, I am so thankful we shared those children and a love for teaching reading.

Tama, Sheri and Grayson are special family friends from church. We've known each other for about 20 years too. Hard to believe!  

The "endposts", Kim and Margaret, are our neighborhood friends. We enjoy lots of spontaneous get-togethers, especially in the summer months. 

Finally, the bloggy friends on the right side are gals I've gotten to know the past two years. Andrea, the gal in the very back is the reason I have my store on Teachers Pay Teachers and the reason I blog. We graduated from our reading program together. Her blog is Reading Toward the Stars, and she is our leader on Adventures in Literacy Land

To the left of me is Nikki from Teaching in Progress. She has worked with me to organize Virginia is for Teachers. Also included in this pictures are Karen from Mrs. Stamp's Kindergarten, Erin from Super in Second and Beyond, Melissa from Don't Let the Teacher Stay Up Late, and Haley from Owls and Lesson Etc.


Wow, there are so many wonderful books, and we would not be able to teach without them. Fall is coming to an end, and we're about to welcome in winter (well, maybe not welcome, but it's coming whether we like it or not), so we may as well be prepared. In the fall, my favorite author to use in the classroom is definitely Cynthia Rylant. I just love the poetic way she writes. You can completely visualize what she shares because of great word choice and voice. Scarecrow and In November are my top picks. I love winding up Cynthia Rylant studies with three books, Silver Packages, Snow, and Christmas in the Country.  My Cynthia Rylant Author Study now includes all of these titles plus five others. 
Cynthia Rylant Author Study

During this time of year, we transition to winter, and that means Jan Brett. The Jan Brett Author Study I created has eleven units for The Hat, The Mitten, Armadillo Rodeo, Gingerbread Baby, Gingerbread Friends, Trouble with Trolls, Annie and the Wild Animals, Wild Christmas Reindeer, Berlioz the Bear, Town Mouse, Country Mouse, and The Three Snow Bears. It has enough material for two full months, and these book options allow you to work through December to February easily.
Jan Brett Author Study


It's hard to believe, but it's been three years ago since we lost our Shadow and gained our Molly. Wow, these two pups are just the best. Shadow was such a great lovey. The kids could crawl all over him, and he'd soak it all up. He had a horrible fear of loud noises and really suffered when storms came through or on the 4th of July, but we sure did love him.

Now, Molly, well, she's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she too is a lovey. She has a little stubborn streak in her, and when you are walking, this girl is one on a mission (and that is to take you where SHE wants to go!). Making this image was very special to me. I just love the oldies of Shadow in the snow and all dressed up.  

Well, these are the things I am thankful for today, and I honestly could go on and on. I hope you've enjoyed learning a bit more about me too. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving season.


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