Posted in Reading

You NEED Nonfiction Mentor Texts to Teach Text Structure!

As teachers we constantly seek to refine our practice of teaching so that we “open up a world of possible” for our students through reading!  Teaching text structures is one such way to help students make sense of their reading. Respected reading expert Stephanie Harvey says, “text structures gives readers a better shot at determining important information when reading nonfiction text.”  Whether or not a reader is a striver or a thriver text structure will help students make sense of what they are reading (or even listening to or watching, i.e. audio or video).

In my county (Washington County Public School, MD) we teach 5 structures for nonfiction and 1 structure for fiction.  The 5 nonfiction structures we focus on are:

  • description,
  • sequence,
  • problem & solution,
  • cause and effect, and
  • compare and contrast.

I have created an overview sheet of the 5 structures that WCPS uses.  Click here for a link to this document.

The fiction structure we teach is the rising action structure of plot. The image below is from  Click the image to see the original document.

On a side note, I had a teacher ask me via a Facebook post if 5 structures I mentioned above for nonfiction could also be seen in fiction.  I do believe that within the rising action structure a character can experience problems and solutions, cause and effect, etc…  but the general structure for a “story” still generally follows the rising action structure.  So, for this post I am focusing on nonfiction.  

When modeling the use of text structures in read aloud or shared reading it is really important to, as a teacher,  be able to quickly put your hands on mentor text for each type of structure.  So yesterday I started creating separate lists of mentor text for each nonfiction structure.  I wrote a post on both the Notice and Note Elementary and the Reading and Writing Strategies Communities on Facebook asking for suggestions from teachers.  Between the time I posted and when I finally went to bed I had many book suggestions and even more people wanted a copy of the “final” product.  It just goes to show you how valuable social media is!  I took all of the nonfiction suggestions and added my own as well.  I felt it was really important to have some “newer” texts on the list.  Additionally, WCPS teachers, will find that I tried to incorporate some of the books that we received this spring.

Keep in mind that these lists will be an ONGOING project.  They are in a google form so that I can add to them at any time as I find books or as teachers suggest and share books with me.  So…I wouldn’t suggest printing this.  If you are a google user just use the “add it to my drive” feature.

Also note that I tried to sort them by grade band; primary (PK-2) and intermediate (3-5) but this in itself was different.  Many upper grade people can, very skillfully, use a lower level text to teach intermediate concepts.  So…keep that in mind when looking at the list.

In several cases there were entire series of books that could have been added to the list.  Instead of listing every title as a separate line item I made a note under the author’s name.

I want to give a special note of thanks to my colleague and friend, Kevin Sandall, for suggesting that I add the articles from NEWSELA to the list.  Kevin pointed out the NEWSELA already has currated lists for each of these nonfiction structures and he used a bunch of them with his fourth graders this past year.  I simply linked their lists to my sheets.  Thanks Kevin!

So…where are this magical mentor text lists?

Follow this LINK to access my folder of the 5 nonfiction mentor text nonfiction text structure lists!

Feel free to keep suggesting nonfiction books for me to add!  These sheets will get better and better and longer and longer as a collaborative effort.  You can always email me at or just leave a comment below.  Thanks again to all the suggestions made by teachers all over the world via the Facebook post!

PS…don’t forget is a great place to get cheap books in hardcover or softcover.  They may say scratch and dent but I’ve never bought a book from them that didn’t look nearly perfect!  Oh and through the end of July 2018 they are have a 25% off sale on all children’s books.

Posted in Book Reviews, Reading

Who Doesn’t Need Some High Interest Non-Fiction?

As an elementary teacher I’m always on a mission to find high interest books for our classrooms; both fiction and non-fiction. Here in our last few days of school many of my teachers are inventorying their libraries and preparing for next school year. Several have mentioned to me that they would love to get some new and fairly inexpensive books for next year. So…here I am…once again on a book hunt.

Many of you know that I really cannot resist buying books and I also love a great bargain. So many teachers purchase booms with their own personal money so I try to find good deals wherever I can. One of my go to places for quality cheap books is You can find hardbacks and softcovers of many wonderful children’s books at this site. I have even purchased books in hardback for less than $7 and found that they were signed by the author when they arrived! I often will get 15-20 hardback books for less than $100! Tomorrow (June 12) they are starting their 15% off sale. Check it out!!!!

But I digress…In my most recent order I purchased some Ready to Read Science and History Fun stuff books; each was $1.79 in paperback. They came today and boy…these are fabulous! These are short chapter books which are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade levels. Each book is filled with colorful and inviting illustrations. In addition, the text is highly engaging. The topics in these books will entice your readers to add these titles to their reading list. A few of these topics include the secrets behind candy, the scoop on ice cream, history of cookies, secrets behind fireworks, the deep dish on pizza, the innings and outs of baseball, stellar space travel, and many more!

These books would also make fantastic read alouds for teachers to model great strategies that good readers use. In fact, our WCPS teachers have a few Ready to Read cultural books in our grade 2 text sets that were purchased this spring. This Ready to Read series focus on countries and their cultures and is titled the “Living in…”. If you want your students to learn more about places in the U.S. be sure to check out the Wonders of the America series also. All of these books are just as fabulous as these Science and History of Fun Stuff books.

If you are interested in a complete lists of the books in the three Ready to Read series I mentioned above here is a link to each set of books. If you decide to purchase be sure to check first and see if you can get them on sale from Book Outlet!

Be sure to check out the book trailers for these books on the Simon and Schuster Youtube Channel.

History of Fun Stuff Series

Science of Fun Stuff Series

Living In…Wonders of America


Here is a book trailer for one of these fabulous books titled, The Innings and Outs of Baseball!



Posted in Book Reviews

A Little Book with a BIG Message!

On my last trip to the library I sat on the floor (one of the downsides to perusing the children’s section 🙂) and poured through shelf after shelf of children’s books, scooting from one shelf to the next, looking for unfamiliar books that peaked my curiosity.  The one that I thought I would share this evening made me think of my kindergarten friends that are, after 100 days of school, really taking off in their reading.   The book I pulled from the shelf of our little Boonsboro Library was none other than, This is not a picture book by Sergio Ruzier.

This adorable story that starts from the very first page.   In fact if you are reading this book aloud,  be sure to start reading as soon as you open the book.  If you start after the title page you will have missed the opening of the story.  The title page, in fact, is part of the text (how clever)!    This story features a duck who picks up a book full of words…but no pictures.    At first he is outraged and kicks the book, only to quickly apologize and then proceed to read the book along with his little bug friend.  He thinks the words are difficult but soon realizes he knows many of the words and find that some of the words are funny, sad, wild, and peaceful.  In the end he learns that all words, no matter what kind, “carry you away and then bring you home where they stay with you forever.”

After reading this book is would be great have student brainstorm words that are funny, sad, wild, and peaceful and put them on a chart(s) to hang in the classroom to help inspire students when they are writing or reading.  Teachers could also have students talk about the journeys (places) that the books they are reading take them.

In addition to a charming story with a great message this author has paid a lot of attention to detail.  Be sure to take a look at the front and back end papers.  The end papers in front are words that look like gibberish but the back end papers are completely readable (in fact they are the words to the entire story).   This is indeed a little book with a BIG message for our small friends who are learning to read!

Posted in Reading

Books to Entice & Intrigue Reluctant Readers

I’m sure as a teacher you have had your share of reluctant readers!  You know those kids…the ones who are always telling you that they don’t like to read, those that are “at-risk” or “struggling”.  From here on out you will see that I will call these students our “striving readers” as I subscribe to the belief that these labels can be harmful to students (as suggested by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward in their book, From Striving to Thriving).    Harvey & Ward state, that the best form of intervention is a good book.  But with striving readers, it can be hard to find that good book!  In fact, the older these students become, the harder it seems to find that just right book.

Often, these upper elementary strivers do not want to be seen holding a picture book so, as a teacher I’m always on the lookout for books that look hard from the cover but are easier and not too overwhelming inside.    I can speak, not only from classroom experience but from one of my own boys.  The book that made a difference for my son Ben was Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli.  This was the first book, in the summer between 4th and 5th grades, that he fell in love with.  It was this book that motivated him to read and move from a F&P of O in the fall of 2017 to an R in the winter of 2018!  After years of intervention it was one book that made the difference!  What was it about this book, you ask?  It was written like a poem…in verse but it looks like a really thick chapter book that any 4th-6th grader would read.  A story of twins who have a magical bond and feel like half of the same person but who, as they grow older are learning who they are as individuals.   (Ben was just sad that there wasn’t a sequel).  My son had finally found a book that made him want to read!

This whole experience taught me to always be on the look out for those books that might entice and intrigue my striving readers!  Many realize that graphic novels seem to be something they migrate to but also books written in verse might just be that special book that makes a striving reader a reader for life!  So…what are some good books written in verse?  Check these out and add some to your classroom library.  Another plus, to many of these novels is that they are multicultural!


Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli

This book addresses issues of identity, belonging, family, and bullying in this humorous and heartfelt novel about twins.


The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by  Laura Shoven

This is the current book in verse that I am reading.  This book appealed to me because it is about a school that is closing and will be replaced by a shopping center and is told by the fifth grade class entirely in poems.  I have to be honest and tell you that another reason that I picked it up is because it in an NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and the author lives in Maryland (my state)!


Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli

I just checked this book out from the Maryland Digital Library, started it and finished it in about 2.5 hours.  It was FANTASTIC!!  Emily, who is 11, can’t win.  Her hero brother called 911 after seeing a elderly neighbor collapse and she failed to get a part that both she and her best friend auditioned for.  Suzy sees a kindred spirit in Emily Dickinson, who she studies for her summer project.  So, she decides to emulate Dickinson by trying out a life of solitude.


You Can Fly:  The Tuskegee Airman by Carole Boston Weatherford

This is on my list as my next book in verse to read!   The historical story of the Tuskegee Airman told in a novel in poetic form.  This book is sure to be a book that many boys will want to read!


The Crossover  by Kwame Alexander (Newberry 2015)

This book seems to have it all; basketball, a set of twins, and it is written in verse.  This is a fantastic book with issues around a girlfriend, relationships with their Dad, basketball, and sibling rivalry but we warned as it has a sad ending. I would definitely say this is a great middle school book but could also be appropriate for grade 5.  The sequel to this story is Booked.


 Little Dog, Lost and Little Cat’s Luck both written by Marion Dane Bauer

Two heartfelt stories with animals at the center of the story.  In Little Dog, Lost we see a boy in need of a dog, a dog who needs an owner and a neighbor who needs a community.  If you like the first book be sure to check out the companion book Little Cat’s Luck!


Inside Out and Back Again  by Thanhha Lai

A story of a 9 year old Vietnamese child that immigrates from Saigon to the Alabama at the end of the Vietnam War.



Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen

A Story of a young orphan girl in China who is adopted at birth by an American living in China.   Soon you discover that she was never officially adopted and as an 11 year old is sent to live in a Chinese orphanage while her adopted mother is sent home to Montana.


Love That Dog and Hate That Cat: A Novel  by Sharon Creech

In the first book, Love That Dog, we see a young boy who doesn’t like to write but has a teacher that makes the class write poems.   This story makes a great read aloud as it is not too long; only 128 pages.


Moo by Sharon Creech

This book is about a families move from the city to rural Maine.  The children in this book develop an interesting relationship with a eccentric senior citizen and her cow!


EVEN more fabulous books in verse:

I would also like to note the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) gives awards each year for novels written in verse and books of poetry.  Many of the books I have mentioned are on their list but it is worth checking out their awards and honors each year at the NCTE site.

Also…if you haven’t be sure to pick up Harvey and Ward’s book, From Striving to Thriving.  It just may change the way you look at and approach those striving readers!


Posted in Misc. Ramblings

What are we reading right now?

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Currently Ben (my almost 11 year old) and I are reading this book together.  He is a reluctant reader so…I’m always on the search for a new book to peak his curiosity!  I had started this book before but had not finished it.  This book, as you can see below, has won MANY awards.  If you liked books like the Westing Game, the Book Scavenger or just as good humorous and mysterious adventure, then this is the book for you.  And….once you are finished this book there are several more books now in this series.