More Books of the Month

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As promised, I am adding more of my school’s selections for our Book of the Month program. See below for titles from earlier in this school year. I will keep adding titles from previous years over the next few weeks.


September 2013 Book(s) of the Month

Ish Cover   Sky Color Cover

Ish and Sky Color  by Peter H. Reynolds

2013-09 Ish and Sky Color

October 2013 Book of the Month

Fine Fine School Cover

A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech

2013-10 A Fine Fine School

November 2013 Book of the Month

Mr. George Baker Cover

Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest

2013-11 Mr. George Baker

December 2013 Book of the Month

Being Frank Cover

Being Frank by Donna W. Earnhardt

2013-12 Being Frank

January 2014 Book of the Month

 Sandwich Swap Cover

The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania al Abdullah

2014-01 Sandwich Swap

February Book of the Month

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Hi friends,

If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, you may know that I started a Book of the Month program at my school several years ago. I’ve written about it before, and I also shared it on my Scholastic blog last year. (See those posts here and here.) My principal and I visited a school in New York City that was doing this, and we fell in love. So with her support, I picked out ten titles, and we purchased 45 copies of each title so that every classroom in the building would get a new picture book each month to read and discuss. I had lofty visions about what might happen with this program, and I can honestly say that reality has exceeded my expectations. To have an ever-growing set of texts that every single student in the building has read is creating such a strong community around reading. Kids across grade levels are talking about books, and it’s so exciting to see how responses grow from PreK to 5th grade. I love everything about it and hope we can continue this program for many years! I decided to start sharing the titles on the blog, along with the letter that is tucked inside of each copy. This will hopefully introduce the book to you if you don’t know it already, and it will give you some insight into why I chose it.

I’ll begin with February’s title, which teachers at my school received today, and I’ll add previous titles in the next few days/weeks.


February 2014 Book of the Month:
Scaredy Squirrel Cover
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

February 2014 BoM

Crafting with Books

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I can’t be the only person who can’t manage to throw a book away. I have some that have been loved into oblivion – they are quite literally falling apart at the seams – but I just don’t have it in me to help them find their way to a recycle bin. Surely those starving children in Africa that my mother always told me about could use this book. Who am I to just throw it away?

Well, I saw some art on Pinterest that made me think outside of throwing away my tattered and torn picture books. Perhaps I could make them into art! (Check out Fabulously Flawed for the Cat in the Hat art that I pinned for inspiration.)

Now, most of my Dr. Seuss books are hardbacks, which means they handled my students with a little more grace over the years. I do, however, have a collection of very pitiful David Shannon paperbacks. I figured I’d start with the original, so I pulled No, David! from the stack and let it fall completely apart. (Seriously, this took very little effort on my part, which was good because destroying a book, even in the name of art, would have been a challenge.)

I picked out some of my favorite pages and cut, layered, and glued them to a canvas I needed to cover. A few coats of Mod Podge later, I had the wrinkly, crooked mess you see below. The perfectionist in me wishes it was straighter and less wrinkly, but I feel like it works with the content, so I’m letting it be.


Happy 4th of July! 🙂

Scripted Minilessons

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If you asked me to name the most common request I get from visitors to, I could do so without a bit of hesitation. Minilessons. At least once a day, I get an email asking for more specific lessons to go with the charts I’ve posted.

I am fortunate to work in a school district with a robust, thoughtful curriculum, but unfortunately, I don’t have permission to share the curriculum documents with the world wide web. I can however, share lessons that I’ve taught based on that curriculum. Last year, we focused on scripting minilessons. We didn’t ask teachers to script every single lesson, but many of them found that the lessons they scripted went MUCH better. To model this good habit, I began scripting any lesson I taught, whether it was for reading workshop, writing workshop, or a strategy group.

Soon, I will add a new page to my site, where I’ll post some of those scripted minilessons. I’ll be sure to include the grade level in which I taught each lesson, but they are all adaptable for any grade level. I hope this is helpful for you. Let me know what you think, and I will add to it.

Happy summer! 🙂

Update (6/6/12): Minilessons are up! Click here to see them.

Book-a-Day Challenge

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For the 4th year in a row, Donalyn Miller has issued her summertime Book-a-Day Challenge. It’s as simple as it sounds – catch up on all the reading you meant to do during the school year by reading (an average of) one book every single day throughout the summer! Read more about it here and follow me on Twitter (@literatelife) to see what books I’m reading! Today’s choice: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.


Katherine Applegate stole my heart with The Home of the Brave, and my expectations were sky-high for this book. I can tell you – she did not disappoint! Here’s the blurb:

Ivan is an easy-going gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home – and his own art – through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Book of the Month

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One of my favorite projects at school this year was definitely our Book of the Month program. We got this idea from PS 277 in New York City. My principal and I had the opportunity to spend a week at that very special school back in February of 2011 while attending the TCRWP Institute on Literacy Coaching and Whole-School Reform. I fell in love with the idea right away, and my principal did too.

Last summer, she secured enough funding for me to order 47 copies of nine different picture books. I tried to choose books that would be appealing to all students, from our youngest three-year-olds to our oldest fifth graders. This was an even bigger challenge than I expected, so I compromised on a few titles, knowing that one age group would possibly enjoy a given title more than others. Good books are good books, though, no matter how old you are, so I just focused on choosing great books! 🙂

On the first day of each month, I was able to put a new book in every single teacher’s box, along with a letter explaining why that particular book was chosen. In return, teachers were asked to read the book aloud to their class, allow time for a meaningful discussion, and display it somewhere in the room. (The photo above is a display in the front office that I created throughout the year by adding the new letter and a picture of the corresponding book each month.)

The opportunities this provided for common conversation around texts was amazing. I could go into any classroom in the building and know some texts that I could use to activate their schema. It created a common (mental) “books I’ve read” log for every single student in the building.

One of my favorite testimonies for the program was a conversation I witnessed during a writing celebration. A class of second graders came into a Kindergarten class to share their latest pieces of published writing. They were sprawled all over the room in groups of two or three, and the Kindergarteners listened attentively as their 2nd grade buddies read their pieces aloud. I leaned into one partnership (two boys) just as the 2nd grader finished reading. The Kindergartener clapped (so cute!) but obviously didn’t know what to say, so I prompted him to talk about his favorite page. (I knew this was in his comfort zone, as this is a prompt card strategy they use to talk about books in literacy stations). The 2nd grader handed his booklet over, and the Kindergartener immediately flipped to a page near the end.

“I love this page the most,” he said. “It has a lot of words, and the picture looks just like a picture in a book that we read about a roller coaster.” I notice that he’s pointing to Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee (a previous book of the month), so I grab it from the chalkboard rail where it is displayed and hand it to him. The 2nd grader’s eyes lit up as he explained how Roller Coaster had been his mentor text for that piece.

“This book is a small moment, and we were writing small moments, so I used it to help me!” he shared.

The boys went on to discuss the book further, and that 2nd grader seized the opportunity to teach his Kindergarten buddy about using mentor authors. What a powerful confirmation for him!

While I don’t know how long we’ll be able to continue the Book of the Month program, I’m thrilled with the idea that when August rolls around, every teacher will have a stack of picture books that almost every single student in his or her class has already read. I hope that this will allow for deeper literary thinking to begin on day one of instruction!

I know that funding is definitely a roadblock to a program like this, but even if you start with one book that goes into every single classroom, I think you’ll be amazed at the connections kids can make. If you do decide to try it (or you already have), I’d love to hear which books you’re using!

Happy (almost) Friday! 🙂

Strategy Rings

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When I confer with students (in reading or in writing), I really like to leave them with some tangible reminder of the strategy I taught them. That way, I have a record of what I taught them, and so do they.

I used to rely on Post-it notes, which was fine in the moment, but it was often difficult for the kids to find them when I came around to confer with them the next time, so I ended up referring to my notes most of the time. This left me wondering if they were really using the reminder at all.

As I thought about this, I wondered if a more lasting reminder system would lead to more transfer of the teaching done in conferences. That’s when I thought of strategy rings. I love the ring system – the rings are relatively cheap (and even cheaper if you use half of a pipe cleaner instead), and they are easy to add to but definitely durable. This system isn’t groundbreaking – it’s exactly what I was doing with Post-it notes, but it lasts longer and is easier for the kids to use.

Every time you have a conference, just hot whatever you teach on a (pre-hole-punched) notecard, and let the student at it to their ring of strategies. This makes it easy to hold them accountable, and they can trade with their partners when revising.