When Scientists Read & Write


Every year, I end up with a class full of students who LOVE science.  (I'm guessing you do, too.)  Of course, experiments are their favorite... being curious, gathering materials, getting messy, seeing what happens... it's the best.  

Because science is grounded in what's "real," most of my children also like to read nonfiction.  I don't know what your science materials look like, but mine lack a wide variety of engaging student texts my kids can read and use to make connections between science and literacy.  (So, sometimes, you just have to make your own.  Been there?)

This is Hunter's book about landforms.  I love it because he (and most of the other students) can actually read it.  It's important to me that during all times of the day, the children see themselves as readers and writers, even during science and math, so we are constantly asking questions and trying to find the answers to them.  (Plus, isn't that what scientists do... ask and answer questions?)  

Since we just began this unit, Hunter's knowledge of landforms is still forming.  He is mostly taking cues from the book's cover illustrations:  "Is the sun a landform?" and "Where do mountains come from?"  {Asking Questions Before Reading}

Inside the book, I teach the children to use highlighters to locate and remember important information, like key words and definitions.

And it's important for the children to understand that readers ask questions while they are reading, so Post-It notes are right there with us so we can capture all our curious thinking along the way.  After reading this page with a partner, Hunter wants to know:  "How tall are canyons?" Later, after the children have seen a few videos and real photographs of various landforms, they'll color the illustrations on each page using realistic colors.  (No "rainbow" mountains during science class.)  :)

Sometimes, I write articles for the children.  There's something about a nonfiction article that seems so "official" and grown-up.  The kids feel like they're reading something an adult would read in an important magazine. (Whatever works, right?)  Plus, it gives me a chance to introduce multiple nonfiction text features to them, like captions, lists, fun facts, key words, labels, arrows, etc.  

This is Hunter's article about oceans.  (I don't usually make color copies for the students... that's just for the blog photo.  The students get their own black-and-white copy, but I often use a color copy when I'm teaching.)  These photos show how Hunter is asking (and later answering) questions about his reading.  He is also highlighting evidence from the text to help him answer text-based questions.  (See below.)

There are many ways to help children process these articles:  read and reread over a few days; read with a partner; use it as a guided reading text during small group instruction; enlarge it and use it during shared reading... the contexts are endless... whatever works best for your readers.

This is Hunter's Think & Respond sheet that goes with his article on oceans.  In order to answer the first question, readers must return to the text and find evidence to support their answers.  (This is where Hunter goes back and highlights the answers as he finds them within the article.) The second question requires the students to use a text feature from the article and the third question encourages kids to make connections between information previously learned and this new information.  

If you'd like to see more about this student book and set of articles about landforms, click HERE.  

The student book (pictured above) includes a definition of landforms, a clip art image and definition for several landforms, and a glossary. 

The set also includes 6 different nonfiction articles (with real photographs) about various landforms, including:
• a cave
• a river
• a mountain
• an ocean
• a plain
• a lake

Happy Teaching!

Book Talk: A Gift Idea

I wish I had a copy of this book so I could show you the pages, but I gave it away to a good friend last week... as a gift.  I found it (without intending to) at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and fell in love with it.  It made me think immediately of one of my friends who is going through a little bit of a "messy" time in life right now and, even though she's an adult, I thought the message would be touching.  If you know a child (or even a grown-up) who needs some encouraging and tender words, this book is perfect.

Here's the summary from Barnes and Noble's website:
In this interactive and engaging read-aloud, bestselling author and award-winning artist Patrick McDonnell creates a funny, engaging, and almost perfect story about embracing life's messes.
Little Louie's story keeps getting messed up, and he's not happy about it! What's the point of telling his tale if he can't tell it perfectly? But when he stops and takes a deep breath, he realizes that everything is actually just fine, and his story is a good one—imperfections and all.


Book Talk: I'm Not Scared

I love writing workshop!  Usually, my students are immersed in a study of personal narratives (Small Moments) or some type of informational writing, such as How-To Books or All-About Books.  But one type of writing I like to weave in every now and then is "Copycat Writing."  Copycat writing happens when I share a book with a predictable pattern or repeating phrase and ask the children to mimic that author's style while writing their own unique ideas.  My more emerging writers tend to like copycat writing lessons because they feel they have a place (or structure) to start from... it leaves very little room for "writer's block."  

I just found this little book at Barnes and Noble last week and thought it was perfect for October.  It's about being scared (and then not being scared).  The pattern is very simple and perfect for primary writers to mimic with content relevant to them.  Take a peek inside at some of the pages:

(Left Page)

(Right Page)

(Left Page)

(Right Page)

(Left Page)

(Right Page)

(Left Page)

(Right Page)

I love the back-and-forth seesaw style of Todd Parr's book... I think the kids will, too.  And I really think they're going to love the artwork because it totally looks like something they can do, so it's not intimidating, but rather empowering instead.  I'm thinking each writer could make their own book OR (if time is short) each child could write and illustrate two pages to contribute to a class book.  These are some other copycat books I've used in the past and love:

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

When I Am Old with You by Angela Johnson  (This one is my favorite... great for elaboration!)

If You're Not from the Prairie by David Bouchard

Outside, Inside by Carolyn Crimi

Once There Were Giants by Martin Waddell

I know I'm missing some (too tired to walk to my bookcase), but I'd love to hear some of yours.  Do you have a favorite book with a pattern that inspires writers?

Happy teaching!  :)


Book Talk: A Very Brave Witch

{Written by Alison McGhee, Illustrated by Harry Bliss}

This is a sweet little book about facing your fears and being brave.  If the illustrations look a little familiar, it's because Harry Bliss also did the artwork for Diary of a Spider, Diary of a Worm, and Diary of a Fly... some of my students' favorites.  (As a bonus, I love how the text's dialogue is written in speech and thought bubbles.)

It starts with the reader finding out this little pet dinosaur is actually the main character... the brave witch.

She's very brave and even though most witches are afraid of humans, she's not.  (She even shares a little research with the reader.)  

She decides to do a little research of her own, so she and Kitty head into town on Halloween night.  "Hang on, Kitty, we're going in!" she screams.

But like every good story, there's a problem... Kitty and Witch have a flying accident.  

Witch is very apprehensive when some humans come to her rescue, but eventually she pulls herself together, remembers she is brave, and meets a new friend.

This story lends itself well to a class discussion about Halloween night... what we're excited about, what we're nervous about, how to be brave, etc.  You might even use it to launch some personal narratives:  "Write about a time you were scared and overcame a fear."


Conferring Notes {A Freebie}

Over the years, I have tried many different ways to keep track of the notes I take when I'm conferring with children during reading and writing workshop.  I've tried sticky notes, index cards, flippy books, you name it.  But, in the end, a simple set of boxes on a piece of paper works best for me.  I keep a page for each student in my data binder and jot my notes in there.  I love how the boxes are big and empty so I can add in whatever I'm thinking at that moment... usually the title or topic, things I notice the student is doing well, and something I think could be an area for growth. The notes are a great source of ongoing, anecdotal assessment information and they come in really handy during parent conferences when I want to address how each child is progressing.

You can download these for FREE by clicking HERE or by clicking on each image below.

Happy teaching!  :)


Halloween Science: Part 3

Science and food come together in this investigation, teaching the children how heat can have a dramatic (and sometimes yummy) effect on the state of a matter, in this case the dough.  

First and second graders should be able to cut their own hot dogs with a plastic knife.  Only three cuts are required, but if you feel your students' motor control isn't quite ready for that, you can either pre-cut the hot dogs (hello, favorite parent volunteer) or make simpler mummies by not cutting the hot dog at all.  

Either way, they'll turn out adorable and VOILA... snack for the day.  :)  

You can find the directions, anchor chart photos, and student recording sheets for this investigation HERE.

{Sample Sheets}

This is my favorite "mummy book."  We read it while we're waiting for the magic mummies to cook.

Where's My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi

{Book Summary from B&N}
Little Baby Mummy wants just one more game of hide-and-shriek with Big Mama Mummy before bedtime.  The night is deep and dark, full of friendly creatures that click their clack teeth and whoosh past on flippy-floppy wings.  But who will comfort Little Baby Mummy if a small, scritchy-scratchy someone gives him a scare?  Big Mama Mummy, of course!

Happy teaching!


Halloween Science: Part 2

These "Spooky Poopers" and "Franken Sneezers" are fun engineering and science projects for the month of October.  I love any lesson where I can make holiday celebrations a little more meaningful and standards-based. 

They are simple for even primary children to make, especially if you (or a parent volunteer) pre-cut a few items first.  And they shoot the pom-poms pretty far, actually.  Look.

{The Spooky Pooper}

{The Franken Sneezer}

You can find the directions, student recording sheets, anchor chart pieces, and a sheet explaining "How does that work?" at My TPT Store.

Happy Teaching!