Wednesday, September 7, 2016

International Literacy Day 2016:Focus on Jamaica

September 8, 2016 is International Literacy Day, sponsored by the International Literacy Association.  The ILA celebrates the power of literacy, and this day focuses on global literacy needs.  The beautiful island country of Jamaica is the featured country this year.  I have selected a two picture books that teachers and parents can share with children as they take a trip through a book to this land of sun, sand, and smiles.
  J Is for Jamaica (World Alphabets) by Benjamin Zephaniah is an alphabet book that illustrates the sights, sounds, and culture of Jamaica.  There is a four-line poem for each letter of the alphabet featuring a full color photograph.  This will provide an overview Jamaica, and may spark interest in a more specific aspect of the country that a child may wish to research.

Jamaica by Ann Heinrichs is part of the A True Book series.  This book will give readers a look at everyday life in Jamaica, beyond the beaches and resorts.

To obtain a resource packet for International Literacy Day, 
you can click here for the International Literacy Association's website.

I hope you enjoy celebrating International Literacy Day as we promote ILA's mission:"Literacy for everyone, everywhere"!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Picture Book 10 for 10

Today is Picture Book 10 for 10 Day!
Thank you to Mandy Robek and Cathy Mere for developing this  wonderful way to share our favorite picture books!
On the Two Writing Teachers blog, Stacey Shubitz wrote about 10 newly published or soon to be published realistic fiction books, "that will help kids see their own lives reflected in a book. By choosing to share one or more of these books in your classroom, you will provide your students with an opportunity to know they aren’t alone AND that they can write a personal narrative on a similar topic."

I am looking forward to reading and sharing these new titles.  Her post made me think about my favorite realistic fiction books. I have used the following books many times over the years as mentor texts when working with young writers of personal narrative and realistic fiction.  

Ten Picture Books For Narrative Writing

I love how Patricia Polacco "zooms in", slowing the action down in places to capture the reader's attention.

#1. Mrs. Mack by Patricia Polacco

#2. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco

#3. Thundercake by Patricia Polacco

The following books can help a writer reflect on the people and places dear to us.

#4. The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins by Lester L. Laminack

#5. All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan

#6. My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston

#7.  Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fizgerald Howard

#8. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

#9. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

#10.  Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

In future blog posts I will share the particular craft moves that writers can learn form these authors.  Mini-lesson suggestions to follow!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day and Revolutionary War Books

Happy 4th of July!  Independence Day brings to mind one of my favorite Social Studies units.  As a fourth grade teacher, I loved teaching about the Revolutionary War.  From biographies of famous Americans to historical fiction, there are many choices for students to learn about this exciting time period from literature.

Jean Fritz has written several biographies about the founding fathers. She includes fascinating details about the individual and the time period. Her books are humorous as well as informative.  If you are looking for strong examples of  the trait of voice in a biography, look no further! Some of her books include And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?, Why Don't You Get A Horse Sam Adams?, and What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?

She also has some biographies written for novice readers, including George Washington's Mother.

The unlikely spies of the revolutionary war capture the attention and imagination of students.  Some of my students' favorite historical fiction books about these brave individuals include Phoebe the Spy by Judith Griffin and Margot Tomes, 
Toliver's Secret by Esther Wood Brady, and 

Buttons for General Washington by Peter Roop and Connie Roop.

When reading historical fiction, I have students designate a few pages in their reader's notebooks where they jot notes on interesting facts about life in that time period and the historic events that they learn throughout the story.  This helps them better understand the genre of historical fiction, and also supports the Social Studies curriculum.

Happy Reading to you and Happy Birthday, America!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Writer's Notebook Inspired by Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes

One of the educational blogs that I follow is Two Writing Teachers.  There are always great tips and encouragement for writing teachers.  In the past few weeks, several of their posts focused on ways to keep students writing over the summer break. This is where I was introduced to the wonderful picture book Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter.

The author tells the true story of Joseph Cornell who built imaginary worlds inside wooden boxes. Museums and collectors bought his work, but his favorite audience was children, and he held special exhibitions of his dream boxes for children. Joseph Cornell also was a writer. Ms. Winter writes, “He wrote about his dreams, and his thoughts, and his ideas. His journals filled over 30, 000 pages.” This beautifully illustrated book is sure to inspire students to keep writing, and I was inspired by this text to develop a summer writer's notebook for students.

I like to give my students a new notebook and fun gel pen as an end of the year gift, hoping this will motivate them to keep writing over the break. I think that I could take this one step further next time by setting aside an hour or so on one of the last days of school for students to decorate a new writer's notebook to be used over the summer, just like we do at the beginning of the year. I would invite students to bring in craft supplies, stickers, photos, etc. to personalize their notebooks.

Next, the students can glue the prompts I have created, which are based on ways that Mr. Cornell got ideas for his writing and his dream boxes, into the left hand side of their notebook. I have developed it to be like an interactive notebook; the prompt/graphic/flap is glued onto the left hand side page and the right hand side is blank to be used as the space for students to write more about a particular idea, or to write the story of a memory inspired by the prompt. Of course, students may enjoy adding color to the black and white outlines with their colored pencils, crayons, or markers. I think this activity would be a great way to spend some time during the last few days of the school year!

The summer writer's notebook I have developed is available on my Teachers Pay teachers store: Heidi Clarke. I have designed this product to be used with or without having read aloud the book Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes to your students. You can still use this product even if you do not have a copy of the book! However, this beautifully illustrated book is sure to be inspire them to begin writing!

I hope your students are inspired to continue living like writers over the summer! Please leave a comment to share what you do to motivate your students to continue writing over the summer vacation!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Adding Voice to Research Reports: Are You a Snail?

Are your students' research reports weak in the trait of voice? Sure, they are restating the facts they have learned in their own words, and combining information gathered from several sources, as you have guided them to do.  However, do the final drafts often can lack that quality of writing that keeps the reader (usually the teacher and other students!) truly engaged? Even when children are excited about the topic they are researching, their enthusiasm doesn't always come through in their writing.  How, then, can teachers help students breathe life, and VOICE, into their research writing?  

The trait of Voice is that quality of writing that makes the text interesting and grabs the reader's attention.  When writing is strong in the trait of Voice the reader makes a connection to the text, and wants to keep reading. Voice is a"deep text trait", meaning  that it usually takes a major revision to turn a "voiceless" piece of writing into one that the reader doesn't want to put down. One craft move that students can use to improve the voice in their pieces as they revise or draft is writing from a different point of view. 
  An engaging piece of writing pulls the reader into the piece and helps the reader make a connection.  Judy Allen does this in her series of Backyard Books.  The titles in this series include Are You a Snail?, Are you a Bee?, Are you a Butterfly?, Are you a Dragonfly?, Are you a Grasshopper?, Are you a Ladybug?, and Are you a Spider?

She writes in what might be considered the second person.  As the title suggests, she asks the reader, "Are you a snail? If you are, your life began in an egg like one of these." Allen continues to provide factual information in this style.  For example, rather than writing that one of a snail's predators is a fox, she writes, "Watch out for foxes.  Foxes are dangerous. Hungry foxes eat snails, and they don't mind the slime either."  The narrator is talking directly to the reader, asking questions and explaining what one's life would be like as a snail. 

After sharing this mentor text, have students write a draft in this format, telling their audience what life would be like if they were indeed that creature.  For a Social Studies report, they might write what to expect if you were a child living in colonial times.  A great mentor text for this might be a title from the If you Lived... series.

Students could also try to turn the facts they have collected into a first person account. The teacher could model this by turning research notes into a narrative that might sound like this, "I am a snail. When I go out at night, I always watch out for those hungry foxes..."

This craft move could be used when researching a famous person. For example, a report on the life of Susan B. Anthony written in the first person might include, "I knew I had to do more than talk about women's right to vote.  I had to do something! That is why my sisters and several of our friends dared to vote in the presidential election that year, even though it was illegal to do so."

The answer to how to help students add voice to their research writing may be found in trying a new point of view.  This craft move is sure to breathe life, and voice, into the standard research report!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Writer's Notebook and Science: Hertha Ayerton Inspires Young Innventors

Today's Google Doodle featured Hertha Ayrton, a British inventor, mathematician, and engineer. She was recognized for her work on electric arcs and ripples in sand and water, and awarded the Hughes Medal by the Royal Society. She is indeed a role model that can inspire students, both girls and boys, and increase their interest in math and science.

If you are looking for literature to incorporate into your STEM curriculum to inspire young inventors, the book Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh is a great resource.  It is a collection of brief biographies of women and girls whose creative ideas changed the world.  The last few entries feature young inventors, including  ten year old Becky Schroder who was the youngest female to receive a U.S. patent when she invented Glo-sheet, paper that allows you to write in the dark.  (Perhaps that will inspire writers as well as inventors!)  The book also includes a list of organizations' postal and internet addresses that can help your students get started on the path to developing their own innovative ideas.

Once the ideas start flowing, encourage students to  record them in their writer's notebook.  If they are having difficulty thinking of of new ideas, have them read through their notebook and look for entries about things that "bug" them, or about situations that did not turn out the way they had hoped.  Perhaps this will inspire them to rework an existing product or  develop the idea for something that could improve the situation or eliminate frustration from those things that annoy them.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Harriet Tubman Biographies

The United States Treasury Department recently announced that Harriet Tubman will be featured on the new twenty dollar bill.  In addition, the back of the new ten dollar bill will depict the leaders of the women's suffrage movement: Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Lucretia Mott.  The new five dollar bill will be a tribute to the civil rights movement and will picture opera singer Marian Anderson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who arranged for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  This announcement may lead teachers, librarians, and parents to seek out books on these famous individuals. This event may also launch a biography Reading unit of study or a Social Studies unit. 

In this blog post, I have some book suggestions for introducing Harriet Tubman to children.  My next blog post will be on how to use biographies as mentor texts for students'  research projects on famous people. 

by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
 The lyrical prose and detailed illustrations depicting Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and her role in leading others to freedom will keep children captivated.  The author shows how Harriet's strong faith gave her courage in the face of many dangers and hardships. The stylized font throughout the text also adds to the overall impact of this book.

If you are searching for a more detailed biography for children, the popular Who Was biography series selection about Harriet Tubman would make an interesting read-aloud or independent reading choice.

Who Was Harriet Tubman? by Yona Zeldis McDonough is engaging, and the quotes that the author includes give the writing voice.

For middle grade readers, DK Biography: Harriet Tubman by Ken Knapp Sawyer is fact-filled and contains many interesting side bars, photographs with detailed captions, a timeline, and a bibliography.

Adults and children alike a sure to be inspired by Harriet Tubman's courage and determination in each of these books.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Leap Year Literature

It's leap year!  This Monday is February 29th, the date that is on the calendar only once every four years.  It leaves kids (and some adults!) wondering,"Why???" The following is a collection of picture books that you might find helpful to explain the scientific reason behind leap day, as well as some fun stories about characters whose birthday is February 29th.  (Just how old are they and, more importantly, when do they celebrate?!?)

 Two illustrated nonfiction books that will explain leap year are The Leap Year Book by Barbara Sutton-Smith

 and   What in the world is a Leap Year?: And Other Time Related Measurements by Desiree Bussiere.

I have also found several fiction books about characters born on February 29th that include an explanation of why their birthday is only on the calendar every four years.  Two that you and your students might enjoy are  It's My Birthday Finally! by Michelle Whitaker Winfrey,

Happy Leap Day, and, as always, happy reading!

Monday, February 22, 2016

World Read Aloud Day

World Read Aloud Day is coming soon!  It will be celebrated on February 24, 2016.

The website for the event has great resources for teachers and parents, including lists of great read aloud books.

One of my favorite books to read aloud is Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco.  I often read it at the beginning of school year because its message is about the importance of reading, the role books play in our lives, and the consequences of our actions. Patricia Polacco delivers an amusing cautionary tale that carries an important message, without seeming heavy-handed. Students always loved this book, and would continue to talk about it and choose to re-read it independently throughout the rest of the school year.

 I have used Patricia Polacco's books as mentor texts for writing lessons for personal narratives, and plan to share some of those lessons soon! However, this story is a change from her usual style and fits more into the tall tale genre.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Books 10 for 10

This morning I was alerted to the fact that today is the "10 for 10 Nonfiction Picture Book Event"#nf10for10, sponsored by Cathy Mere on her blog "Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community".

I perused my collection of picture books for some favorites. The following are 10 picture books that  I have used  in my teaching career for lessons across the curriculum, including science, math and social studies, as well as to teach the 6 Traits and specific author craft moves.

1.   Amazing Impossible Erie Canal by Cheryl Harness

As a forth grade teacher in Western New York, this book was always a part of our Social Studies curriculum.  As I revisited this favorite text, the wonderful word choice stands out in the author's description of the "tantalizing West" as "Settlers' wagons jolted miserably down roads that had once been Indian trails."
2. Liberty by Lynn Curlee

This narrative nonfiction text is the story of the Statue of Liberty.  It includes illustrations and diagrams that show how Lady Liberty was built.  The "Specifications" chart is sure to interest readers.  (Did you know the size of her fingernail is 13 x 10 inches?) There is also a time line at the end of the book, from 1865 when the idea for the great statue is born to when its restoration is complete in 1986.

3. Everything Weather by Kathy Furgang with National Geographic Explorer Tim Samaras

4.  Whiteout! A book About Blizzards by Rick Thomas

These three books were used as mentors in a  Nonfiction Research Reading Unit of Study with fourth graders, based on the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Units of Study.  We focused on books about extreme weather, which fascinated the kids!  I used the two books on blizzards to model the work the students would do as they researched tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and tsunamis.  Why blizzards, you may ask?  We are in Western New York, of course! Also, I was only 6 years old but I do remember the Blizzard of '77!

6.  Satchel Paige by Lesa Cline-Ransome
This biography of baseball legend Satchel Paige is sure to inspire students.  The first paragraph is a fantastic example of a strong lead.

7.  Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins
The main text is simple, therefore inviting to novice readers and writers. More experienced readers and writers are also fascinated by the amazing facts and the details given in the captions.  Student writers can use this as a mentor for presenting information on several examples of a main topic.  For example, students may use this same format to present their research on a Social Studies topic such as "tools of the Iroquois."

8.  Twizzlers Percentages Book by Jerry Pallotta
Strong voice in a book about a difficult math concept!  What's not to love?

9. How to Hide a Meadow Frog and Other Amphibians by Ruth Heller

I love the lyrical  verse of this book.  It is full of interesting facts that engage readers of all ages!  A great resource for both Science lessons as well as any lesson on adding voice to nonfiction writing.
A great lesson is to contrast this with an encyclopedia article so students can hear the difference and gain a better understanding of the trait of voice.
It is also a great example for teaching the trait of sentence fluency.

10.  Many Luscious Lollipops by Ruth Heller

The beautiful illustrations and playful rhymes of Ruth Heller's books about the parts of speech are a great way to launch any grammar lesson!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Every Word Carries Its Weight

It is rare that a picture book is awarded the John Newbery Medal. This honor is usually bestowed on novels for intermediate and middle school age readers.  Therefore, when I discovered that this year's recipient was Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book by Matt de la Pena, I was even more eager to read it.  The word choice of this book immediately stood out.  I teach my students that when thinking about the trait of word choice,  a writer's goal is that every word carries its weight.  That means that the author has stretched and searched for that  just right word that will paint a picture in the reader's mind, or precisely describe what the writer sees or feels. Matt de la Pena has done this.  
This book is an excellent mentor for teaching the trait of Word Choice.  If you are using the Teachers College Reading  & Writing Project checklists and rubrics to guide your instruction, this lesson would help students meet the criteria for Description in the Development section of the narrative checklists and rubrics.

Mini-lesson Suggestion for Word Choice:
  • Have students close their eyes and listen to you read the page on which CJ closes his eyes and listens to the man playing the guitar for the passengers on the bus.  Then, ask them what they pictured in their mind as they listened, and which words helped create that picture.   Are there any words that linger or "stick" in their mind from that page?  You may choose to list these on a chart of "Wonderful Words".  
  • Remind students that writers stretch and search for the just right word to paint a picture in your mind.  Note that the author did not simply write that the hawks and butterflies flew; instead, the hawks "sliced through the sky" and the butterflies were "dancing free". As a writer, you need to start with a picture in your mind, then search for that "just right word" to show the reader what you see in your mind. 
  • Have students read the pieces they are currently working on and choose a scene or sentence (depending on which is more appropriate for the skill/age of the students), and have them close their eyes and picture it in their eyes.  You may even encourage students to act it out!  Then have students tell a partner what that they saw in their mind's eye.  Encourage them to "stretch" and search for a more precise word than what they had originally written.
  • After this oral rehearsal, students can revise their writing by replacing some "just o.k." words with more specific "just right" words.  
  • Don't forget to give the young authors the opportunity to share their improved word choices!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Last Stop On Market Street Wins 2016 Newbery Medal

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena was awarded the 2016 John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature.

As teachers of writing, we seek out books that inspire us, and authors whose words linger in our memories.  These are the books that make the traits of writing, and our interactive read aloud, come alive.  These stories make our students desire to write themselves.  I will be posting lesson ideas for teaching several of the 6 Traits of Writing and a lesson to guide you with prompts for discussion and written response in an interactive read aloud lesson.