Posted in Reading

Growing Readers with Reader’s Notebooks

One common comment I hear teachers make is, “My students are reading and can talk about what they are reading but they do not respond well to what they are reading in writing!”  Reading and writing go hand in hand…the more the read the better they should be able to write.  But, often times the writing is a barrier for students.  How can we begin to break down that barrier?  I think the answer partially lies in the use of Reader’s Notebooks.

In the last school year our entire county focused on getting back to the basics of the Reader’s Workshop model and getting kids to LOVE reading.  Sessions were offered last summer and throughout the school year for teachers in our county as well as the specific professional development in our own building.  One part of that professional development was based on the 4 ways that readers respond to what they read.  Readers can…

  1.  react to the text by telling what they learned.
  2.  ask questions about things they read.
  3.  make a personal connection to what they read.
  4.  learn something new about things they read.

About mid-year one of my Kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Jen Barlup, came to me and said that she wanted to start teaching her K students to respond in writing to what they were reading.  She really felt like they were in a good place with reading and wanted to push them to that next level.  So she and I crafted our first version of the Reader’s Notebook together.

Kindergarten Notebook File (FREE)

Kindergarten Notebook File with Lines (FREE)

In our notebook, we incorporated the four ways to respond with a structured notebook that allowed students to write and still allowed them room to draw pictures if they needed to.  We both felt it was also important that this what not something they had to write in every time they read a book…we wanted to keep the joy of reading.  Jen decided to use this notebook a couple of times a week.  Sometimes she would ask them to respond to one of books they were reading by choosing and writing ANY one of the 4 responses of their choice.   Other days she would ask them to choose a book and have everyone write a specific response.  For example, she would say, “Today I want you to choose a book and respond in your reader’s notebook by writing down a questions that you thought of while reading.”  No matter if it was a day when she gave them choice in their written responses or a specific response at the end of her workshop she would have students share those responses with the class.

By the end of the year word had spread about our Reader’s Notebook in Kindergarten.  In fact grades 1 and 2 asked me to craft a version for their grade level.  Keeping in mind that I want students to, eventually by intermediate grades, use a blank notebook to respond so I wanted to scaffold a little less in my grade 1 and 2 notebook.

Grade 1/2 Reader’s Notebook File (FREE)

In this next notebook we wanted more space to write.  You will see in this version that students have lots of room to write and the back of the notebook includes a genre list and log.   

In addition to using Reader’s Notebooks when sharing in whole group, this is also a great tool when conferencing with students.  It is helpful to be able to see not only how they are responding to text but the types of text they are reading.  This notebook is a great way to set goals with students.  I encourage teachers to use post-it notes to record student’s strategies and goals to follow up with inside the notebook.

Keep in mind that it is really important to TEACH and MODEL how you students should respond to their reading through the reader’s notebook.  This is not a notebook to just put in their hands and expect them to do well.   It might take a week or more of mini-lessons to model the use of the notebook.  Also keep in mind that we DO NOT want to kill the LOVE of READING…students do not need to write about what they are reading for every book or every day.  It’s all about balance!

If you choose to use this let me know how it goes.  I really feel like everything I do on my own and with my teachers is a work in progress.  I’m open to feedback and push back because it only makes us better teachers!

Printing notes…in our school system we are VERY fortunate to have a Print Shop.  We are able to send this file to printing and they make our books.  We have used spirals in the past but we really love this printed on 11×17 paper and folded and stapled in the middle.  Our print shop prints on both sides of the front and back covers as well.  If you choose to use these files you may not be so fortunate but know that this can also just be run out of standard copy machines and bound as well.  

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 Social Studies

Where in the World…A Way to Engage Kids at the End of the Year



Where in the world is…(go ahead….say it, or sing it, you know you want to)…Carmen Sandiego?  Now there is a blast from the past!  The geography game (circa 1985) and show, of the same name, was all the rage in the mid 1990’s.   The show came out as a response to a National Geographic survey that showed that Americans had very little knowledge of geography.  So…what does this have to do with engaging kids at the end of, what seems like a crazy long school year?  Lots!  If you loved Carmen Sandiego, want to engage kids, help them become better at geography and at the same time want to build their problem solving and critical thinking skills then you need to check out GeoGuessr!

I have to tell you that my teenager introduced my husband and I to this nifty game a month or so ago and we’ve been hooked ever since.  Geoguessr can be played from the website as well as from the downloaded app or any device.  You can play as a single player (which we do but we tend to play it together) or compete against others.  The premise of the game is simple…you are dropped in the middle of google earth and you have to figure out where in the world you have landed!  You can use your ipad or keyboard keys to navigate in the google maps…traveling as far in any direction as you like.  Along the way you look for clues as to your location.  When you think you know your location you open the world map and drop a pin.  Then it calculates and scores you points based on how close you are to the location.  The closest we have been able to get is 13 meters.  The closer you are…the more points you gain.

Now…my husband and I believe that smart people use their resources and tools…so when we see things we use another device to look up more information to help us.  My teenager thinks this is cheating.  Regardless, you learn a lot about geography and problem solving skills no matter how you play the game.  Sometimes it is very tricky…you might be dropped in the desert or if you are lucky, in the middle of a city where there are lots of road signs.  We use geographical features to help us, languages on signs, and even things written on the sides of vehic

There are a couple of differences between the app and the website.  If you play the app, you will need to gain points to unlock specific regions.  If you play online, you can choose locations without gaining points.

If you decide to use this in your classroom there are lots of options.  The first time I would suggest that you play as a whole class with the site projected on a screen so the whole class can see it and interact together to learn how it works.  I would also suggest making a process chart of “clues to look for”; things like geographic features, road signs, the language on signs, street and route names, etc…    Then you could have students play in teams or compete against each other.

I’ve made a quick little screen cast to show you what this looks like in real time.  I hope I’ve peaked your curiosity enough to check out this little gem!  If you use it, be sure to tell me about your classroom experiences.  I would love to hear what happened in your classroom!

Posted in Reading

It’s Not a Stack of Books….it’s a Poem!

One of my favorite picture books is the a short and simple story titled, It’s Not a Box, by Antoinette Portis.  The premise is that a simple box could be anything within your imagination!  This past week our leadership team challenged our staff think “outside the box” to engage kids and “make a difference” in our last few days of school!

As our teachers filtered into our professional development we had 5 stations set up of activities to engage and stimulate their brains!  One of those stations was to create a Book Stack Poem.  We brought 3 crates of picture books and novels out and scattered them across the table.   Teachers were challenged to stack the books so that the titles on the spines created a poem.  They could use 2 or more titles.

Our very own, uber creative, paraprofessional Dottie Gruhler created the poem below.

Can you what I see?
May B
The most magnificent thing
We’re all wonders!

Our fantastically fabulous fourth grade teacher, Lauren Wharton, created this short but, oh so meaningful short stack to express her thoughts:

Out of my mind,
Absolutely truly!

(Side note…this made me giggle AND these are two of my very favorite books!!!)

Ms. Wharton decided that her students would LOVE putting together their own Book Stack Poems and since her library was already in a bit of a disarray they could make their poems and then reorganize their classroom library just before the school year ends so that it is all back in place for incoming fourth graders next fall!  

Poems can often be intimidating for both students and adults to write.  With book stack poems the words are already there, you just have to craft the order to make your own poem.  For our staff it seemed to make it seem less overwhelming.  Not only did our teachers enjoy the challenge of creating a meaningful poem but, many were found books that they had not seen before and they were excited to borrow them for lessons.

If you have your students create Book Stack Poetry be sure to post them on twitter and tag me at @brandeli1974 and use the hashtag #bookstackpoems !

So in your last few days of school, I hope you are able to engage your students and think outside the box.  I would love to hear some of the fabulous things you are doing to make the most of your last few precious days of the school year!