What Works Wednesday: Book Bins & Beyond

For the past several years I really have been placing an emphasis on Independent Reading. This year it has gone to an entire new level thanks to the addition of book bins. I first read about book bins in a post from Franki Sibberson on the blog A Year of Reading. I knew immediately I needed to implement them in my room.
You see, it’s not enough to discuss what my readers are currently reading. I now ask them what they plan on reading next and if they have a book or two in their book bin. Precious reading time has been lost due the readers telling me they are looking for a book, still looking for a book, or can’t find a book. Gone are the days of “I don’t have a book” or “I can’t find a book.” So let’s talk about book bins and beyond.
Get the books:
First off, I’m a “bookmonger”. While I would love to be able to purchase the newest and hottest releases, that just isn’t possible.  I case the public library and check them out on my library card. I then sprinkle them around the room for my readers. We have a magnificent library in our building too, so I also snag books from our school library.  I think about what my readers enjoy and I comb through the popular books. Then I check those books out under my name and shower them around my room. My readers have actually found it easier to chose a just right book when the selection is smaller and more focused to their liking.
Put the books in the bins:
Here’s the honest to goodness truth, the power comes from me talking about the book and suggesting it. Once I talk about the book and create a frenzy, the readers are all clambering for the books. The book then goes in their bin. I simply write the reader’s name on a post-it note and they drop it in the appropriate bin. If multiple students are interested in the book, then I add additional names on the inside of the book.
Share the book love:
I begin every reading session by quickly asking my students what they are reading now and if they have a book in their bin. If they do not, they use the last five minutes of the lesson for book browsing. They enjoy seeing what books are sprinkled around the room, as this changes almost daily. They also like to see what other readers have in their bin. Last but not least, they *adore* the LOVE THAT BOOK recommendation wall. It’s one thing if their reading teacher recommends a book, but it takes it to an entire new level when they see what their peers are reading. FullSizeRender
Book Bins & Beyond, it works, it really works.


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What Works Wednesday: Six by Six Memoirs

For today’s edition of What Works Wednesday I would like to share an introductory writing activity that I did with my Passion Writers.  I call this writing activity a 6 by 6 Memoir. I modified the writing activity from Kelly Gallagher’s book Write Like This. I love Gallagher’s work and this book certainly does not disappoint. It’s packed with excellent information and real-life writing activities.


In this book Gallagher identifies six “Real-World Writing Purposes”.

  • Express & Reflect
  • Inform & Explain
  • Evaluate & Judge
  • Inquire & Explore
  • Analyze & Interpret
  • Take a Stand/Propose a Solution

We focused on the first purpose, Express & Reflect. For this type of writing the expression part of the writing piece are the details that surround the event and the reflection is what the author learned or can take away from the experience. This is a great activity to introduce expressive and reflective writing because it is easily embraced.



modeling the brainstorming process for my writers

I began by creating a “Circle of Life” map and then just brainstormed several one-line (six words) memoirs.



modeling the rough draft for my writers

From there I choose one six-line memoir. I elaborated by expressing and reflecting on that original one-line memoir for a total of six lines, six words in each line.


I published and shared my Six by Six memoir on our Schoology course.

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creating a 6 by 6 mentor text for my writiers


Here are some of the Six by Six memoirs that my Passion Writers wrote and posted in our Schoology course:

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This is a great way to get to know each other at the beginning of the year and it’s a nice alternative to the “I am” poem. It could also be an excellent activity at the end of the year to see how well learners know each other. It would make for a fun “Guess Who? ” activity.


If you missed last week’s What Works Wednesday, click here to read all about Book Vines.


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What Works Wednesday: Book Vines

What Works Wednesday!

It’s all about what is working well in my classroom.

Today I’d like to focus on…

Book Vines!

I work with readers in grades 4-6 and my readers have been doing a fantastic job with independent reading. They have been devouring books and challenging themselves to read more and more. Luckily, books in a series provide them with opportunities to reach their reading goals. Some of the most popular books they enjoy are I Survived, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (of course), and graphic novels galore! My mission though is to encourage them to reach out and supply them with books to break their book binging habits.

But there has been a void.

A void in reading and enjoying picture books.

Honestly, I can understand because most often picture books are associated with younger readers. Picture books are overlooked even though there are so many great picture books out there that are certainly appropriate for readers at this level.

It’s left me in a quandary!

How do I promote the love of picture books to my readers to ensure that they are enjoying the beautiful illustrations and to be sure they are engaging in the text in a meaningful fashion? The answer…

Book Vines!

A Book Vine reminds my of a book club, sort of. The reader selects a picture book of interest from the Book Vine options and then reads it independently. Along the way, they jot down what they are thinking on a Post-It note. Here are the six thinking strategies my readers use to demonstrate their thinking:


The “book club” aspect is that the reader has the opportunity to see the Post-It note and the thinking of the previous reader. They can react to the original thought or add their own thought, hence creating a vine, a book vine, of thoughts.

When the reader is finished with the book, they keep their Post-It notes in the book for the new reader to enjoy. Then they add the Post-It notes from the previous reader to the book vine chart. Now the chart can be shared by all, those who also read the book or even those who may be interested in the book.


Here are the picture books for the first round of book vines. They are all excellent books and the readers are thoroughly enjoying them.


My readers are asking if they can sign up for more than one book and they are already asking which books will be in the next round of book vines.

They are enjoying!

They are thinking!

They are reading!

Mission accomplished!

Book Vines!



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small steps

I’ve been taking small steps since I wrapped up the Slice of Life March challenge. Small steps in my classroom that is. After finishing the challenge, I decided I would torment myself try blogging with some of my students. Small steps, hopefully leading to big leaps.

The first thing I needed to do was decide on a blogging platform.  I looked at Kidblog and the free version of Edublogs. I actually set up an account at Edublogs, but the free version just was not robust enough to do what I wanted it to do.  Then after I thought about it, I decided against Kidblog because if I was going to pay for a platform, I would just use Edublog because it is similar to the WORDPRESS that I use for my own blog.

But then a change…enter Blogger! I almost feel like in the blogging world it’s WORDPRESS vs. BLOGGER, just like COKE vs. PEPSI, or APPLE vs. PC! I mean I love WORDPRESS, but I decided to give Blogger a try with my students. Yes, I crossed over!

First off, Blogger is *FREE*! My students all have a GOGGLE account which made set-up easy to establish. While it might not be as sophisticated as the paid version of Edublogs, it certainly is manageable. We didn’t spend a lot of time picking templates, colors, fonts, etc. I pretty much set the site up on my end and then added my students as blog authors/contributors. This was easy-peasy and worked out perfect since I was pressed for time. The end of the school year is right around the corner!

We modeled our first post after a series of poems that Amy Ludwig VanDerwater did in the month of April called “Wallow in Wonder!“. It was just brilliant the way she connected poetry to the ever-engaging articles of Wonderopolis.  If you haven’t been to their sites you need to finish reading this post and GET.THERE.TO.CHECK.IT.OUT!

I decided on our first article from Wonderopolis, Why Are They Called Killer Whales? Wonder of the Day #1651. And then, I modeled the framework of the response. I have to admit, when I saw Dana Murphy’s post,  Create Your Own Text: Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, I was like, yesssssss, I just did that with my kiddos.  Here is the link to the mentor text that I created: Oh, Mr. Killer Whale, what if we met? The students then worked on creating their post and drew a graphic or added a picture.

We are currently working on our second post. Once again, I choose the article from Wonderopolis, Why Do Some People Chase Storms? Wonder of the Day #779. I didn’t give my students a formal mentor text, but I did give them some possible titles for their post. They could decide on their own title or choose from one of these:

  • Today I’m Chasing a Storm
  • My Dangerous Hobby
  • When I Grow Up…
  • I’m Just a Storm Chaser

Once they finish the storm chaser post they are going to explore Wonderopolis on their own and create their third post. I’ll be anxious to see what they find and what they create! I hope you have time to take a look at our site.

You can find us at gr8readersgr8writers.blogspot.com.

If you do hop on over, feel free to leave a comment!


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you’re invited to a read-along!

Please join me for a read-along!

What’s a read-along and how does it work you ask?

Well, it’s quite simple and it’s quite easy!


Starting this week I’m reading the book Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan along with some other tweeps. We read at our own pace and as we read we will be sharing tweets about the book. We’re also going to be including the author when we tweet. It’s always F.U.N. when we get a “like” or a reply from the author!  The tweets are about meaningful moments in the book, reactions to book, parts of the book that stir up emotions, wise words, quotes, or just about anything we want to share.

I’ll be reading the book with a small group of six of students and will be using a “tweet sheet” to jot down our tweets. Since my students aren’t on Twitter, I’ll post the tweets from the tweet sheet in my room.  Then I’ll post my tweets and some of their tweets to @iRuniRead. And, I’ll be using the hashtag #booktweeps.

Any tweet will work! It basically works like this:

read along, tweet along, be a #booktweep

Here’s what you need to do to get started:

  1. Grab a copy of the book Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. It is available in hardcover or Kindle.
  2. Decide how you want to read-along: as an individual, with a small group of students, with your whole class. I’m going to be reading along with a small group of students.
  3. Read the book at your pace.
  4. Tweet about the book to #booktweeps
  5. If you would like, add the hashtags #Echo and follow Pam Munoz Ryan on Twitter.
  6. Join in on the F.U.N. because #booktweeps for #Echo begins now, but you can join at any time!

Last but not least, a special thanks to

 @HartmansRoomGr4 and @dad2ella

for hosting #booktweeps.


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What Works Wednesday {1/9/13}

What Works Wednesday is an opportunity for me to share strategies that work effectively in my classroom.  Today’s topic is about a graphic organizer that I call PQR.


  • PQR is a graphic organizer that focuses on predicting, questioning, and reflecting.

PQR Graphic Organizer

WHY do I use PQR?

  • In the past I have used the KWL chart (What I KNOW, WANT to know, What I LEARNED), but the KWL did not prove to be effective.  The hang up was in the “What I Know” section.  At times, students would record information that they thought they knew and ended up sharing information that was not correct.  So, the PQR is how I modified the KWL. (Whew!)
  • Another reason I like to use this organizer is because it gives my students an opportunity to record their thinking and then it promotes discussion.
  • This organizer also allows the student to read closely and determine explicitly what the text states. This is the first anchor standard for Common Core.  If students cannot grasp the text explicitly, they will struggle with the textual analysis, so the PQR organizer serves as a formative assessment for the teacher.

WHEN do I use PQR?

  • PQR is used as a before reading and after reading activity.  It is also used with nonfiction text. One nonfiction resource I like to use is from the Hot Topics articles from Evan Moore.

Nonfiction Article
By Evan Moore Publishers

HOW do I use PQR?

Before Reading:

  • I introduce the topic and we discuss the title and the features of the nonfiction text. (i.e. realistic illustrations, headings, captions, charts, diagrams)
  • Then I read a brief introduction from the text.
  • model how we generate questions by using the sentence starter I WONDER…
  • We record the question I modeled in the middle column of the organizer.  Then I ask the students to generate at least two more questions they have about the topic. Yes, I start with the middle column of the organizer.  I don’t know why; I just do. 🙂 In order to promote discussion, each student shares one question they generated.
  • Next, I distribute the article and I model how I preview the text and generate a prediction. We record my prediction in the first column. The students are then asked to preview the text by skimming and scanning. They need to generate two more predictions and use the sentence starter I THINK I WILL LEARN.  Once again, we promote discussion by having the students share one prediction they recorded on their organizer.

After Reading:

  • We discuss if any of our questions were answered and if our predictions were correct.  Then we discuss any interesting facts we learned from the text.  There are always a plothera of facts, but I ask the students to record three facts using the sentence starter I LEARNED
PQR Complete

Student Sample of PQR

PQR works well for my students so I hope you will give it a try and experience success with it too!

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Reader Recommendations on Teacher Tip Tuesday

I always love when a book grabs me and pulls me in so much so that I cannot escape it.  Not only that, but when I finish the story I still feel like the characters are living their life and the story continues.  Certainly that is the case with the book I just finished, and I invite you to read it (even if you aren’t a teacher) and share it with your students, family, and friends.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I downloaded this book from the local library and read it on my Kindle Fire, however it is so powerful that I am going to purchase my own copy.  Wonder was released on February 14, 2012 by author R.J. Palacio.  The story is told from multiple viewpoints and chapters are small snippets that allow the reader to move quickly through the text.

Kindness, courage, friendship, compassion, empathy, and acceptance are just a few of the themes that run throughout the book.  Here are two of my favorite quotes from the story:

If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.

Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.

Not wanting to give away too much about the story, I am going to tell you to just read it!  And, don’t forget to check out the Choose Kind website for great ideas that stem from the reading of the book. All in all, this book receives a five heart review from me.

Happy Reading!

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Teacher Tip Tuesday: Would You Rather…?

Today’s tip was once again inspired by Lisa Donohue from the Millersville Writing Institute…yep, I’m still blogging about the best grad class ever!

Quite simply it’s called Would You Rather?  And, do not fret, it is a completely acceptable approach to use with your youngsters.  Let’s get the technical gibberish out of the way and then let’s give it a try!

Today’s tip is going focus on comparing and contrasting  by examining  how story elements are similar (the comparing) and how they are different (the contrast).  With the Would You Rather?  technique we are going to be encouraging our students to make connections between texts or ideas and engage in critical thinking skills. This will in turn lead to a students gaining a deeper understanding of the text.  Meet our good friend the Venn Diagram because this will be the graphic organizer that spurs all that wonderful critical thinking:

Good Old Mr. Venn

The lessons are going to be focused on books that can be used during the Read Aloud block of instruction.  They can be used to promote discussion or they can be used as part of a Reader’s Response Notebook.  (By the way, be sure to click on the link for the Reader’s Response.  I think you will find some great ideas.)

Here is a brief overview of how the lesson will work:

  1. Choose book(s) that will promote critical thinking skills and analysis.
  2. Read the book(s) aloud.
  3. Share the Would You Rather? prompt.
  4. Organize thoughts on the Venn Diagram
  5. Respond in the Reader’s Notebook being sure to provide text support as to why.

Sample prompt to promote the analysis of the setting:

Would You Rather…live at Hogwarts or in the land of Narnia?

Harry Potter

Chronicles of Narnia

Sample prompt to promote the analysis of the plot line:

Would You Rather…go on an adventure with Eric, Julie, and Neal from the Secrets of Droon or go on an adventure with Jack and Annie from the Magic Tree House?

Secrets of Droon Series

Magic Tree House Series

Sample prompt to promote character analysis:

Would you rather… be Rose or Ben from the story Wonderstruck?

by Brian Selznick

Sample prompt to promote the theme (frinedship):

Would you rather…be best friends with August Pullman in Wonder or Jessica Feeney in Firegirl?

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

Let’s not forget about nonfiction!  Here is a sample prompt the requires the analysis on content information:

Would you rather…live on Saturn or Neptune?

Saturn by Seymour Simon

Neptune by Seymour Simon

So, whatever Would You Rather? prompt you choose, it is sure to spark those critical thinking skills in your Langage Arts instruction.  I hope you give it a try, and I hope you let me know how you used it in your classroom!

Happy Reading!

Happy Writing!

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Teacher Tip Tuesday

After a brief hiatus last week, I am back on track for Teacher Tip Tuesday.The tip this week is going to focus on summarizing and identifying the theme.

Unless you are a teacher who has been living under a rock or hiding in a cave, I am sure there has been talk in your school about the Common Core.  Currently for part of my professional development, I am reading Pathways to the Common Core. The Common Core emphasizes that students cite textual evidence to explain what the text teaches.  The students will need to investigate language, explore themes, and analyze the meanings of the text.  So, let’s take a look at the Pennsylvania standards for Reading Literature that focuses on Key Ideas and Details/Theme.  Here are the standards for grades 4, 5 & 6:

Grade 4: Determine a theme of a text from details in the text; summarize the text.

Grade 5: Determine a theme of a text from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Grade 6: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Whew, this seems like pretty heavy stuff for my little kiddos. However, the good news is that they can do it!  

I am a big advocate of using graphic organizers.  It seems that I create and recreate and recreate my graphic organizers all the time.  Below is the graphic organizer that I am currently using for summarizing a fictional story:

Summarizing & Identifying Theme

This organizer allows the students to identify the characters (who) and the setting (where & when).  It also has a place for students to list the key vocabulary words they want to use when they summarize.  In addition, it requires students to analyze the plot. The students need to think about the events in terms of what happened first, next, then, last and why the events happened and how the events happened. Lastly, there is a place for the students to jot down their ideas about the theme of the story.

During the Millersville Writing Institute, author Kate Messner shared this tip for writing a summary and including the theme.  It quite simply works like this:

This book is about…………  (write the summary here)

But underneath that this book is really about……. (include the theme here)

I think this would be a perfect journal entry after completing a whole class read aloud.  While I feel it easy for our students to regurgitate the events of the story, identifying the theme is definitely a challenge. I even find that some students do not understand what the word theme means.

In Aimee Buckner’s book Notebook Connections, she discusses how she helps students identify and understand the theme – the central message, concept, or lesson that is threaded throughout the book. Buckner states that she actually cheats a bit to assist the students by giving them the keyword before they read the book!  How brilliant is that?!

Notebook Connections

I am going to say that I do not cheat, but I guide my students in identifying the theme.  Enter the theme bank!  Recently I sat down with a dear colleague of mine and we created a theme bank.  This theme bank can be in a reader’s notebook and serve as a guide to help spur the theme thinking wheels.  Keep in mind that once the students identify the theme, they need to cite the evidence in the text that proves the theme. In no particular order, here are some of themes we identified:

  • Friendship
  • Respect
  • Being truthful vs. lying
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Acceptance/Diversity
  • Perseverance/Achieving dreams/Trying your best
  • Sharing vs. greed
  • Adversity
  • Helping others
  • Self reliance /Believing in yourself
  • Overcoming hardships
  • Do what is right
  • Taking risks
  • Admitting your mistakes
  • Forgiveness

Hopefully some of the tips that were provided will help you meet the needs of the students in your classroom and embrace the Common Core.  It’s time for me to sign off, but let me leave you with this quote from John Dewey:

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

Teacher Tip Tuesday

It’s Teacher Tip Tuesday!  At the risk of sounding redundant, I am once again going to share yet another tip from the Millersville Writing Institute.  Remember to save the date for the Institute next year: August 5th-August 9th, 2013.

I had the privilege of hearing Lisa Donohue share her wisdom and knowledge as a teacher, author, and learner.  She shared numerous strategies during the presentation from her book The Write Voice.  Please visit Lisa at Stenhouse Publishers or visit her blog.  You can also follow her on Twitter.  She would love to hear from you.  Thank you, Lisa, for allowing me share via my blog!

Today’s strategy can be used as a prewriting activity to a persuasive writing piece.  It is called Four Corners. Let’s give it a try!

  • First you need a topic with four categories.  For this example I am going to use social networking. ***Please note: This topic would be appropriate for high school students, but  I am not recommending it for younger students. Quite simply I am using this as the sample because I want you, my favorite blog reader, to connect to the topic and I want to get you thinking!***

Facebook    Google +    Pinterest   Twitter

  • Show the four categories on the overhead and assign each category a corner of the room. Then you are ready to pose the question.  The question for this prompt is: Of the four types of social networking, which one is the best platform for social networking?
  • Now have the students move to that corner of the room and allow them to talk about why they made that particular choice. Which corner would you walk run to? Why would you walk run to that corner?  What would you discuss with your friends?
  • After the discussion has concluded have the students return to their seat and jot down in their writer’s notebook what they talked about with their group.  A quick list will serve as the prewriting part of the persuasive piece. Maybe you even want them to Write to the X.
  • The lesson can be extended to a second day by having the students mingle with someone who was not in their original group and take on a debating format.  Once again, after the discussion has concluded allow the students to add to their writer’s notebook.
  • Since the students have had a chance to discuss and prewrite, they can now visit ReadWriteThink.org and complete the graphic organizer for a persuasive piece with the following prompt:  Some people believe Facebook is the best form of social networking while others believe it is Twitter, Pinterest, or Google +.  Write a persuasive piece to convince the reader what is the best platform for social networking.

The sample Lisa used with us was: Who is the most influential person of the 21st century?  We had to choose from Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, or President Obama.  And let me tell you, I was walking running to the corner with the fans of Steve Jobs.  And, once we all arrived in our corner, we were so ecstatic to talk about Steve Jobs as we peered over at the Mark Zuckerberg group just shaking our heads.

So what are some topics with categories you might use with your students? How about…

  • What is the best fast food restaurant? Wendy’s, McDonalds, Subway, Burger King
  • What gaming system is the most popular? Xbox, Wii, Playstation, Sony PSP
  • What is the all-time favorite Nickelodeon show: Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron, iCarly, The Fairly Odd Parents

Whatever topic you choose, connect it to what is relevant to your students, keep it light, and keep it fun. Then when the hardcore writing prompts arrive during state testing the students will have experienced success and feel confident as a writer!

Food for Thought:

What other topics and categories would be fun to use with the Four Corners activity? Could you use this strategy in math, science, or social studies? How might you modify this lesson to meet the needs of your students?

Happy Writing!

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