Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Classroom for Reading

I've been busy setting up my new classroom! Here are some of the things that I've learned and noticed through the process.

First, I jumped off the cute train. Teaching fourth grade for the last few years, I felt pressure to make a gorgeous and cute classroom that exemplified a theme. This year--I decided to free myself from this pressure.

Instead, I put my energy into organizing books.

I sorted all of my books and downsized quite a bit. (I gave my Horrible Harry and Fangbone books to my husband, who teaches third grade...his students will love them!) Because I've taught most of my incoming students before, I know what they like, and I wanted to have a classroom library that would impress them and be new and different at the same time.

This is the group that loved Amulet a few years ago, so I made sure to have lots of graphic novels on display. But I also want to show them more, so I pulled all of the Percy Jackson books from the shelves at home, as well as books by Andrew Clements, Gordon Korman, and Pseudonymous Bosch. I've also added a bin for Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, Bunnicula books, and the I Survived Series.

I love my large display for featured books. The collection here is somewhat random--I've put together the books that I bought over the summer. (Can you see that some of the covers are already curling? I hate the humidity!) I'm excited to share Countdown and Mister Max with students this year!

As you can see in this picture, the library is at the front of the room, so it gets everyone's attention as they walk in. I don't have fancy seating in the library area for several reasons. One, it always seems awkward to me to have kids sitting in a place where others are browsing. Two, I needed more space for a large science area and makerspace (more about that later!)

My room is pretty basic, otherwise--and I really like it! After all, right outside my windows I have a gorgeous green bank, filled with milkweed, honeysuckle, and tulip poplar saplings. What glossy die-cut figures could compete with that?

Just today my sons found a monarch caterpillar and a milkweed tussock caterpillar right outside. Once school starts, I'm going to put up birdfeeders to see what else we can entice!

When I stepped away from the cuteness arms race and really thought about the classroom, I could spend more energy on the tasks that really matter. Now I have lots of empty space on the walls for the anchor charts, artwork, and displays that students create.

Students aren't coming into a museum room, but a workspace that they can impact and change. What better way to start the year?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reading Homework: Packets by Month

At around the same time that I was working on a spelling program, I also wanted to create some reading homework packets. I wanted reading homework that would give us:

  • Shared texts
  • Student choice
  • Comprehension questions
  • Vocabulary-building activities

Over the course of three years I created monthly packets of reading homework. Each packet includes texts with vocabulary words, comprehension questions, and other activities. A cover sheet explains the week's assignments in a clear, parent-friendly way, and answer keys are included in the teaching guides.

Even if you are not looking for homework, you can use these texts in other ways. Here is a month-by-month look at the texts.


Ah, September...a month of getting used to new routines, new classmates, a new year! This month's homework packets introduce the routine and review different kinds of texts. Each text includes comprehension questions, vocabulary practice, and a vocabulary quiz.

The Great Bear: Legend of the Fall Sky: This short text includes a retelling of the story of the Great Bear. Kids love learning about constellations and sharing their summer stories!

The Green Darner: This informational text tells about a migratory dragonfly, the green darner, in question-and-answer format.

Caramel Apple Float: A kid-favorite, this procedural text tells how to make a fun autumn beverage.

The Apple Harvest Fair: This persuasive text is an advertisement for a harvest fair.

In October, the texts become longer. Open-ended responses are added as teaching options. If you use these, of course be sure to always make sure that students have access to the text as they are writing their responses.

Pumpkins in the Past: This informational text explores how pumpkins have been used in the past.

Pumpkin Seeds: This historical fiction story is a retelling of an American legend. I always end up using this to teach several aspects of narratives, and kids love acting it out!

What's Up, Woolly Bear?: This is a hybrid text--informational text conveyed as a fictional interview with a woolly bear. It's a great text to use to discuss this kind of writing and the intersection of fact and fiction.

Idioms, Adages, and Puns: Wordplay abounds when I use this text! Kids like being able to classify sayings as idioms, adages, and puns, and the lessons from this text last all year long.

November is the month in which we really start to work with longer, more complex texts. Two fables are included in this packet, along with two informational texts.

The Wolf and the Dog: This fable brings up some interesting questions among students. It is another good one to act out with the class and discuss in depth.

Veterans Day: This informational text traces the roots of Veterans Day from Armistice Day.

The Bell on the Cat: A second fable, this one is a nice companion to "The Wolf and the Dog".

Voyage to a New World: This informational text outlines the voyage of the Pilgrims to America.

December includes only three texts, plus a choice menu for students to use over Winter Break. A "Focus on Complex Text" page is included with each text, forming the basis for a lesson helping students to look more closely at texts.

Remembering Pearl Harbor: Kids who enjoy learning about World War 2 find this informational text especially interesting.

Lighting the Tree: This drama takes place at the lighting of the first national Christmas tree in 1923.

Snowflakes and Scissors: How do you make an origami snowflake? Devin learns how in this realistic fiction story!

Winter Is: This poem shows a bit of a negative attitude toward winter. Students learn about speaker and speaker attitude in a poem.

Blizzard Warning: This informational text describes the impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on Boston.

Happy Australia Day: Kids enjoy this compare and contrast text that shows how Australia Day and Independence Day can be compared.

Fairy Bread: Another procedural text, this simple recipe explains how to make the Australian food fairy bread.

Do Polar Bears Eat Penguins? This text explains why polar bears are not predators of penguins. A good geography link!

Theseus and the Minotaur: Kids love this retelling of the classic myth.

Discover Antarctica: A fictional advertisement for an Antarctic cruise, this gets kids talking about whether they found the text convincing!

Facing the Flu: An informational text about...the flu!

I love these texts!

Frog Poems: Two poems about frogs, excellent for students to compare.

Point/Counterpoint: Two perspectives on Daylight Savings Time. This text is interesting for kids to read around the time that we "spring forward".

The Vernal Equinox: This informational text explains the vernal equinox.

A Stinky Sign of Spring: After we read this, kids have a new appreciation for skunk cabbages.

I love these texts too...they are perfect for warmer days!

Fishing: A free-verse poem about days of fishing.

Migrating North at Winter's End: This informational text describes the different cues that birds use to head north at the end of the winter.

What is Persuasive Text? This essay explains what persuasive text is.

Interview with a Great Blue Heron: Kids loved the woolly bear interview so much that I created another one, this time about the great blue heron.

The year ends with a set of four final texts.

Cheetah Cubs in Zoos: In this problem/solution text, students learn about problems that cheetahs have faced, and how zoos have tried to solve them.

Androcles and the Lion: This fable is a favorite for kids to act out and retell.

Some More S'mores, Please: A final procedural text, this makes a great end-of-year activity!

Memorial Day: This four-part script explains the history of Memorial Day.