Posted in Misc. Ramblings, Reading

Growing Readers with Reader’s Notebooks…Part 2…Grades 3-5

“Free!”  It’s amazing how one little four letter word can generate so much excitement in the teaching world!  About a month ago I create a post titled Growing Readings with Reader’s Notebooks with a subtitled of FREE Notebooks Included.  Well…let’s just say it was one of my most viewed posts to date.  In that post I shared my reader’s notebook templates for grades K-2.  In response, I had a lot of upper grade teachers (3-5) asking for my templates for intermediate notebooks.

I have always felt that my K-2 notebooks should be a stepping stone to a more traditional regular old spiral or composition book style reader’s notebook.   I really feel like in the upper grades the notebooks need to be more flexible as a tool.  But…how would I roll out and use a blank notebook in these grades?

A colleague and principal friend of mine, Carly Pumphrey, shared the book, Notebook Connections; Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner, with me just after my first blog post.  She said that it was suggested to her by another teacher and she was eager to read it.  Well…that’s all I needed.  I was on Amazon placing my order before I left the parking lot of her school.  Now, mind you, with a copyright of 2009 this is not a new book but after reading the book I found it to still be relevant and helpful.

Before we talk about the “how” of the notebook it is important to keep a few ideas in mind.  First, student should have choice as to how they respond to reading.  Buckner says, “Sometimes being too open-ended is overwhelming and being too restrictive leads to contrived responses.  It’s a delicate balance” (15).    I want students to use the reader’s notebook as a tool to capture their thinking and understanding of the text.  If we give students a structure and closed prompt every day this is not likely to happen.

Modeling is the second, important idea to think about as a teacher.  We, as teachers, will have to model the many different ways that we can respond to what we are reading.  If you find that your notebooks are not turning out as you would like or envisioned then think about what you need to model to help improve students responses.

Another key component to the reader’s notebook is the  importance of students collaboration and conversation.  If you want students to develop their ideas about what they are reading and writing they need to TALK before, during, and after they write!  Buckner says, “I’m not asking questions and looking for specific answers.  We’re talking about our thinking during our reading of the book.  As I teach comprehension strategies and the children become used to thinking while they read and to recognizing that thinking, the conversations initiated and generated by students become easier and more natural” (106).  These conversations lead to better written responses.  You will notice that every single lesson idea posed in this book has a component where students are TALKING about what they are reading.

So…how do we start with Reader’s Notebooks in the upper grades?  First I would suggest that you need to determine your purpose for the notebooks in your classroom.  Ask your self these questions (Buckner, 115):

  1. What reading curriculum objectives/standards am I trying to accomplish using the readers notebook as a tool?
  2. What writing curriculum objectives/standards will the reader’s notebook support?
  3. How often will students write in their reader’s notebook?
  4. What will students be responsible for having their reader’s notebook.

I would suggest writing down your answers to these questions.  They will help guide your instruction with the notebook as well as help you reflect and refine your notebooks throughout the year.

Then…where next?  The really neat part of this book is that the author poses lesson ideas and then shows you what it looks like and sounds like in action along with sample student responses.  Here is the progression of notebooks in the course of a year:

  • Getting to know students as readers (Chapter 2)
  • From Comprehension Strategies to Notebooks (Chapter 3)
  • Reading Like a Writer (Chapter 4)

The book finished up with how to dig deeper and assessment as a tool for teaching.

This book contains many mini-lessons to help roll out the notebook and writing responses as well as strategies to comprehend and go deeper with the texts we are reading.  To help you get started I pulled out the first four lessons she writes about using to jump start the year.  Most of these lessons can and should be revisited throughout the year as well.  I pulled out lesson and then included some of the information from the text that would help you grasp the full concept of the lessons.

Here are those lessons:  Reader’s Notebook Lessons from Notebook Connections . If you haven’t not read this book and want to dig deeper (because there is so much more that she says that is fabulous that I couldn’t possibly capture in one blog post) you can find on Amazon for $21.  It is a small and fairly short book only 145 pages!  Check it out!

Be sure to keep checking in on the link above as I’m going to continue to add more lessons which are modified from the book.  If you are a google drive user and you “add the folder to drive” you will automatically have the latest and greatest lessons.

I look forward to continuing the conversation about Reader’s Notebooks throughout the summer and this upcoming school year!


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 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 Reading

We forget most of what we read…Confessions of a Binge-Reader

“Hi, my name is Beth and I am addicted to reading”…. there I confessed it…my kids are convinced that I need counseling and a support group.  I say….I just need a blog and a book club!  I have been a binge reader since I was a kid and I read so fast that  I can “put down” a novel in a few hours.  So…what’s the problem?  The problem is remembering everything I read.

Recently The Week, my favorite magazine, ran a two page article titled, Why You Forget Most of What you Read.  This article, originally posted at and written by Julie Beck, caught my eye.  As an elementary teacher at a school that is on a mission to get all kids to read and respond to text, I was totally intrigued!  We teach kids to read so they can learn.  We read lots of content text (social studies and science) to help students learn new things.  Certainly I want them to retain what they read.   So, I poured over those two pages not once, not twice, but many times (so many times I have lost count) to glean some tidbits to strengthen my instructional practice.

So what did I learn?  First they talked about how in this internet age we are bombarded with information.  So much information that it is no longer as important to memorize as much as we once did.  As I read that, I thought….”then why hasn’t instruction and assessment, especially in our secondary classrooms and higher education, changed much in the last 50 years?”  The article states that research show that, “When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself.”  The articles goes on talk about how much of ancient history was passed down in stories from memory but that as they began to be written down we no longer had to rely on memory to pass on and document history.

The next part of the article really intrigued me.  It talks about a study of people that binge-watched tv show vs. those that watch the show once a day or week.   140 days after viewing the show both groups were quizzed about it.  The group that binge-watched the show scored much lower than those that watched it once a day or week.   Beck notes that we are not only bingeing on tv but also the written word.  Each day the average American encounters 100,000 words, even if they don’t read them all and that most of the reading we do is “consumption”; where we read to obtain information.  The implications are simple….read SLOWER and SPACE THEM OUT!

Instantly, upon reading this, I made a connection.  This fall I started reading From Striving to Thriving by Harvey and Ward.  I read pieces of it each night over the course of a month.  I took a lot a way from this book; probably more than I have ever taken away from a professional book.  In fact, I can still months later, flip into that book quickly and point out something to a teacher.  On the other hand, I read the entire book, Disruptive Thinking by Beers and Probst in less than 3 hours (yes, cover to cover).  I even marked it up and used sticky notes throughout.  Wouldn’t you know it…I can barely remember much of what I read just a couple weeks later.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book…but clearly because I binge-read the book, I did not retain the information nearly as well as I did From Striving to Thriving.

So…what am I taking away from all of this for my instruction?  First I see the important of time and reading.  If we want kids to retain information it is critical that they spend time with it…not just bunches of minutes all at once but…over time.  This is why putting together units of study using the UBD model are so important!  We need to “marinade our students” in topics of study not just dip their toes into a topic if we want them to retain it.

Second, it is critically important that we continue to try to bring our instructional practices up to meet this information age.  Memorizing facts should not be front in center in our teaching….but problem solving to find information we need, synthesizing information, thinking critically, and doing something with information to go beyond facts should be what is driving our instruction in all subjects.

Well…that’s my two cents on the subject.  I hope you are intrigued enough to click the link above and read this two page article.  I hope it will impact you as much as it did me.  I’d love to hear your feedback as well!

Posted in Reading

We’ve Got to Move Them, Move Them!

All of us, as teachers, have students who are reading below grade level each year.  Some of these students are not just slightly but some are significantly below grade level.  We, in our county, call these students our ‘striving’ readers; a phrase coined by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward in their book, From Striving to Thriving.   Our school has been working and continues to work to move these readers forward.

The first thing we learned was just how important it is to get these kids excited about reading.   We stopped worry about the “level” of the book and were more concerned about whether the student was interested or excited to read the book.  We took a lot of ideas from Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild) and really spent a lot of time in the first half of our year getting kids to actually read during independent time!  We no longer needed “centers” or “rotations” to fill our reading blocks.  We actually have kids reading from PK-5 for long chunks of independent time.  But, even after we had kids excited about reading we knew we had to tackle the issue of our striving readers.

So, for the last few weeks we have been lucky to have Lura Hanks, our Reading & Social Studies Supervisor, coming to model some guided groups with our readers that are furthest away from grade level (students with IEPs, EL students, etc..) .  Lura has come and each time brought a piece of text that was close to or on grade level and each time these students were able to read the text!  Yes…you read that correctly…they read it!    What I saw her doing was not anything earth shattering but the way she taught got students “to do the work” instead of relying on the teacher.  Her techniques gave students the skills and confidence students needed to be more independent.

How does she do it?  What’s the magic formula?  The key, from all I have learned so far it to build up student confidence, “coaching in” with students as they are reading, and helping students build strategies and expecting them to use them independently.

Each time Lura begins a group the students can’t help but feel like they could read anything.  She tells them that “they will read the text” by the end of the week but that on day one she is going to do all the hard work.   Also, Lura expects students to try to read while she supports them by coaching in.  As teachers we want all kids to succeed.  I find that teachers, myself included, have a tendency to help them more than we should because we want them to “get it”.  Therefore students become dependent on us to think, they literally will sit there quietly just looking at the teacher knowing that if they wait long enough they will tell them what to do or say.   Harvey and Ward said it best, “whoever does the most work does the most learning, so like any reader, kids need time to practice, once we show them how.”  Part of learning means sometimes getting it wrong or struggling a bit.   As we know from growth mindset research, people learn best when they have to solve a problem or as a result of what we learn from making mistakes.

Another vital strategy is getting kids to “predict” or notice, wonder, and think BEFORE they ever read a word.  Lura asks them to just “look” at the text for 1-2 minutes before they ever begin to read.  They talk about what they predict it might be about based on the pictures, structure, and text features.  Then they begin to read with the background knowledge and connections they have made.

Today an interesting strategy to help them go off and read a paragraph on their own that they were not going to have time to read together.  She read the subheading of the paragraph to them.  Then she asked them, “Based on this subheading, what words do you think you might encounter as you read?”  This set them up to be able to figure out words based on the context.  In fact before they left several students had found the words in the section that they probably would not have figured out without first connecting to the topic.  I felt like this was a simple but hugely effective strategy.

Accountability is another big part of Lura’s instruction.  When she teaches them a word she has them put their finger on it, she defines it, has them read it and notice what it looks like and then she says, “Now you know the wordinsert word, the next time you see it I expect you to know it!  And…I know you probably don’t believe me…but they do know it!

These are just some basics that I’m picking up but after you watch group after group at every grade level of striving readers reading and understanding passages that are far above their level you can’t help but realize that it’s not about a box intervention it is more about knowing your readers and using the gradual release model to help them “do the work”.  He have to stop holding their hands and start coaching…learning from mistakes and effort.

So…after watching 8 or so groups that Lura has taught I was itching to get my feet wet and try it out myself.  This week I chose a group of three boys from a fourth grade class who all were reading on a I-K level.  I brought a text for them that related to the social studies that they were starting (the Revolutionary War) from NEWSELA (click for the article) that was a 710 lexile (far above their level).   These boys did so well reading this high passage that I posed this to them to set a purpose for their reading:

Later after they have finished reading the text on their own, they will respond to this question:  In your opinion, how could King George avoided the war with the colonies?  Use text evidence to support your reasoning. 

Well…how will they do with the writing prompt?  We shall have to wait and see!  We have several more days this week of touching base with the text before we are ready for the writing piece.  But…if you want to know how it’s going let me know and I’ll try to blog about the process.

Know that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what I have to learn to move our strivers.  I’m learning from Lura and leaning on what I’m learning from the book I mentioned above as well as the Yaris and Burkins book, Who’s Doing the Work.  But…I hope you stay with me on the journey and share what you are learning as well!  We are all made better by learning from those around us.