Monday, August 27, 2012


Many of you, dear readers, may be feeling some butterflies. I felt them this morning, too, as I headed to back-to-school workshops. Even now in my fifteenth year of teaching, I feel a little anxious at the start of the school year. Excited too.

Learn a lot this week, whether you are in back-to-school workshops or starting with students. If you're starting in workshops for your first year of teaching, congrats! There is nothing like being able to realize a professional dream. Later this week, I'll post about building relationships with students - such an essential priority the first few weeks of the year, which for those of you in your first week with students, you'll want to be spending time on this week.

Just a short post this morning to wish you a wonderful week of firsts!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

first day of school read alouds (part 2)

Last year, I wrote a post about books to read on the first day of school or the opening part of the year. It was a really popular post, so I'm going to add to it.


Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. Many Kevin Henkes books would be great for the first day, and Wemberly is an adorable story of a very worried mouse on her first day of nursery school. Primary students will likely relate to many of the things Wemberly worried.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is a charming book about a powerful young lady who gets picked on in school, but knows she should be proud of everything she is and stands up for herself. A great book to start conversations about bullying and/or being confident.

The Dot by Peter Reynolds is a a simple story about taking a chance to try something despite frustration. The art teacher encourages the little girl to just "make a mark and see where it takes you." It is important to get started and try. And sometimes you'll be amazed at where you end up. Reynolds' Ish is another good one.

Yo? Yes! by Chris Raschka is a delightfully short, simple story about the beginning of a friendship. Raschka conveys the message of friendship through a few words, stylistic choices, and clear illustrations. Young children will be captivated by this simple yet engaging story.

If you're musically inclined, Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes by Eric Litwin is great fun. You can google the songs and see performances of it on YouTube to help you prep for the reading of this book. Elementary students will get a kick out of participating in singing this book.

The classic Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen tells the story of shy Jim and his worries about making friends in school. A good conversation starter in the early days of school.

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal teaches important school concepts like respect, patience, and loyalty through her charming vocabulary lessons.

Wilma Unlimited! by Kathleen Krull ties to the Olympics, telling the inspiring story of Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio as a child and went on to win 3 Olympic Golds.


Last year, a blog post over at the New York Times exploded and was turned into a permanent page collecting read-alouds from the NYTs. There are some new additions since I linked to it last fall. Check it out.

Fast, easy read aloud that engages students, particularly middle school students, are Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. The main character, Steven, spends his 8th grade year drumming, writing, and trying to deal with his five-year-old brother's leukemia diagnosis. A sweet, thought-provoking story about life in the midst of tragedy.

Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars is a funny, implausible but somehow believable story of a seventh grader stuck spending Wednesday afternoons with a teacher he thinks hates him when all his classmates go to religious school. But his teacher ends up surprising him in a big way. It starts a little slow, but it is laugh out loud funny once you get into it.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is a fantasy novel that will have students begging for read-aloud time. Promise.

The Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Murdock is a very fun series about a girl, D.J., who works hard on her family's diary farm while playing for the high school football team. Boys and girls will like this one.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel is a fantasy adventure story that will keep your students on the edge of their seats.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Patricia McCormick, Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, David Levithan, John Green, and Sharon Flake are some authors that write some books that are a bit edgy and really engaging for teens that would make great read alouds.

What are you planning to read at the start of the school year?

** Update: Here's a link to even more amazing read aloud ideas at Choice Literacy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

getting your classroom ready

Many of you are headed back to school tomorrow (if you haven't started back already). Some of you are starting your very first year of teaching. CONGRATULATIONS! There is nothing that beats being able to realize a professional dream. You have likely envisioned your classroom hundreds of times. And now that you're faced will organizing a classroom on your own, you may be a little anxious. Or, maybe you've been teaching a while, but had to switch classrooms or grade levels. Or schools or districts even. Even if you're in the same classroom you've been teaching in for a dozen years, you are still faced with bare walls and bulletin boards, desks piled in the corner, and decisions about where to begin.

Last August, I tackled some ideas about setting up a classroom in a post you can revisit for some ideas about layout, bulletin boards, and supplies. When organizing a classroom, consider function first and then aesthetics. Your classroom is your and your students' work environment, and though you want it to look appealing, it primarily needs to help you all accomplish your work.

I usually begin by considering the whole group work area and the desk arrangement, since this is the main use of classroom space. If you're lucky enough to have some major technology resources like a smartboard in your classroom, this might dictate a lot of how your classroom is arranged. The way you arrange your desks is a personal preference, but be sure that all students will be able to comfortably be able to see the board and/or where you are likely to teach and give instructions for work.

And in thinking about this, consider what is most important for students to be looking at all day. Your students are likely going to spend a lot of time looking at the front of the room (or wherever the board is), so what else do you want them to look at while they are looking at the front of the room? Use the wall and bulletin board space in the front of the room wisely to support the good instruction that you'll be doing in your classroom.

If you're an elementary or ELA teacher, you likely have a classroom library. Don't worry if yours is a little small to start - it will definitely grow as you teach! Decide on a way to organize your library and a method for checking out books. I struggled with this, and tried a different method every year. Even now teaching college, I am experimenting! But this year, I am going to try the Classroom Organizer app, which is super slick if you have an iPad that you can use at school. It can scan the ISBN and you can check out the book almost as easily as if you had a hand scanner and computer program. I'll let you know how it goes!

One of the major things to consider is where/how students will hand in work and where is a place to turn in late work (and to keep extra copies of assignment sheets in case students lose and need to replace them). Teachers can drown in papers, so deciding a system for paper turn in and late work is essential.

One last thing (for now)... don't be afraid to let your personality shine through your classroom. If you love sports, choose a sports-themed bulletin board for keeping track of assignments. If you're a cat-lover, pick a cute cat poster for the room you can look at throughout the day. If you love bright colors and can sew, add a decorative window valance to brighten the room. Personal touches can make your room more inviting for students and parents, and make you more excited to be in there every day.

Best of luck as you work the next couple weeks on organizing your classroom, reviewing curriculum, and learning the ropes!

What other classroom set-up suggestions or questions do you have?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

books for sports fans

"I saw the board with number 31 on it and thought my brother had got a penalty. I thought, 'What an idiot Alistair, you've got a penalty.' Then I looked at my arm and realized I was number 31."

- British men's triathlon bronze medalist 
(2012 Olympics) Jonathan Brownlee 
describes his reaction to a 15-second penalty 
for getting on his bike too early. 
His brother Alistair took the gold.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent more hours in front of the tv the last few weeks than you’d care to admit in order to watch the triumphs and heartbreaks of the Olympics. Last Sunday I got myself out for a bike ride after getting up really early to watch the amazing Olympic women’s marathon. My bike ride of around 26 miles was completed in about the same amount of time the women finished running the marathon (26.2 miles). They are incredibly inspiring. It’s good that the games are almost over, as my tear ducts need a break.

All of these unbelievable athletes have me thinking about books for children about sports and athletes. Many children are excited by books about sports and athletics, and there are a lot of authors writing for these children. Here are a few to think about adding to your classroom libraries.

There are a couple pictures books specifically about the Olympics. These include G is for Gold: An Olympics Alphabet by Brad Herzog and Doug Bowles and Olympig! by Victoria Jamieson. Did you know Michael Phelps is a published author? He wrote How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals.

Other great picture books about sports include Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull and David Diaz, We are the Ship: The Story of the Negro Baseball League by Kadir Nelson, Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet by Matt Napier and Melanie Rose, and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki.

Several other books that are worth checking out include Tangerine by Edward Bloor, which has become pretty common reading in middle schools. Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein is a little less conventional of a sports book, being narrated by a dog, but it is just delightful. Guys Read: The Sports Pages, edited by Jon Scieszka, is a great collection of stories by tons of favorite authors.

There are a number of authors who write lots of books about sports. These authors include Chris Crutcher, Matt Christopher, Fred Bowen, Dan Gutman, Mike Lupica, Tim Green, John Feinstein, Robert Lipsyte, Carl Deuker, John Coy, Todd Strasser, Will Weaver, Geoff Herbach, Clair Bee, Gary Soto, and Walter Dean Myers. Seem of these authors write almost exclusively about sports, and some write a variety of books.

As you can see, the above list includes male authors, and most of their books are written with male protagonists. There are, however, a growing number of books written with female sports-playing protagonists.

Some nonfiction books about girls and sports include Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX by Karen Blumenthal and Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change by Nancy Hogshead-Maker and Andrew Zimbalist, which are two books written for children about the historic legislation requiring equal opportunities in sports for girls. Though both  boys and girls will find these books interesting, girls may find these books particularly empowering.

There are lots of biographies and autobiographies of female athletes. Some of note include Throw Like a Girl: How to Dream Big and Believe in Yourself the story of Jennie Finch, a collegiate national softball player of the year, professional pitcher, and two-time Olympian. Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, telling the well-publicized story of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm and almost died in a shark attack. Venus & Serena Williams, Dominique Moceanu, Tara Lipinski, and Mia Hamm, among others, have written or are the subjects of their athletic (and personal) accomplishments.

Some fiction novels about female athletes to check out include:
·      Can I Play? by J. Dillard (high school volleyball player)
·      Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (female football captain & quarterback)
·      The Perfect Distance by Kim Ablon Whitney (equestrian)
·      The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane (baseball)
·      Boost by Kathy Mackel (basketball)
·      Open Court by Carol Clippinger (tennis)
·      The Pretty Tough series by various authors
·      The Dairy Queen trilogy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
·      Whip It and Derby Girl by Shauna Cross (roller derby)

Check these out and keep these titles on hand when kiddos are looking for a new book to take on.

Happy reading!