Santa Claus... Toy Expert!

Celebrate this Christmas with one of my children's favorite holiday books, Santa Claus: The World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee.  I have read this book countless times, to both my own children and dozens of first graders, and they always delight in seeing how Santa takes extra care to make and test each and every toy before it is sent off.  

Here's a sneak peek:

So we begin by establishing that Santa is, in fact, the world's leading expert on toys.  (After the holidays, this book has writing workshop written all over it.  I want my students to see themselves as experts, too, when we work on our own informational text pieces.  I think they'll like returning to this story as I make connections back to writing.)

Santa is very busy doing what "experts" do.  He makes sure every toy is fun to play with and inspects each one.  It's long and hard work.

The text at the bottom of this page says, "99.9% of the time."  I guess even Santa makes mistakes.  Oops.

All that hard work is finally done and Santa has saved out something special for himself.  (My kids like to predict here, so I hide the next picture while they think and share.)

It's a fun holiday story.  My kids always comment about the illustrations... there are many and they're tiny, but the facial expressions and little details are interesting to them.  It's a book they like to borrow and reread when I'm done reading it to them.  

Here's a little 2-page freebie writing template to go along with the book. For this activity, the children get a chance to show that they are toy experts, too... just like Santa!

You can follow this story up with any Santa-themed craft or art project. I've collected a lot of ideas on a Christmas board on Pinterest.  You can find some here if you need a little inspiration or a new idea:  "Christmas Keepers" Pinterest Board.

Happy Holidays!


Getting Organized

I'm not 100% sure why I'm "nesting" right now... maybe it's because the holidays are coming up.  There's something about a growing to-do list that makes me want to get organized.  This happens every year and even though I'm pretty organized to begin with (and have better things to do with my time), I still sucker myself into thinking my stuff could always be tidier.  

How boring is that?

But my math Pinterest board was driving me crazy!

When I was a Pinterest newbie, I started my math board with about seven pins. Now that there are more than 200 pins on that board, I can't find anything.  Well, not quickly I mean.  Yesterday, I was looking for a pin I knew I had... a cute bunch of kids who made a clock out of a hula hoop. So I'm scrolling, scrolling, scrolling (sounds like a song) until I finally find it on the bottom of the board.  

That is the opposite of organized.

What's a girl to do?  Well, if she's a little OCD (like me), she reorganizes. And that's exactly what I did... instead of doing something more important on my for-real to-do list.  If you follow my math Pinterest board and have hated it as much as I did, you'll be happy to know it looks a little more like sensible files now.


The board that started it all is still there (upper left), but now there are boards specifically for:

• shapes
• number concepts
• terrific ten
• addition and subtraction
• the hundreds chart (or 120 chart)
• place value
• graphs and data
• time and money

Next up (and also NOT on my for-real to-do list)?  My science board!  :)

Happy teaching!


Shopping Cards

I've been teaching first grade for a long time and I've had so many guided reading groups, I probably talk about it in my sleep.  Doesn't your "guided-reading-talk" spill over into other parts of your life, too?  My own children, who are not in elementary school anymore, will ask me homework questions like, "What does perseverate mean?" and "What's an algorithm?" and I instinctively respond, "Well, what strategy can you try to figure that out?"  I know they wish I'd check my teacher-hat at the door.

(Confession:  Sometimes I don't know the answers to their hard high school homework, so my response is really a win-win for everyone.  My kids learn to be resourceful and I don't look dumb.)

The work we do during our guided reading groups is so important, I want to make sure the children have a lot of additional time to read a lot of books that are just-right for them... books that will help them grow as readers and continue to foster a love for reading.

It's critical that all of my students have a handy collection of books to read at any given time and I've structured our schedule and classroom environment to make sure that happens daily.  A well-stocked classroom library, with a wide variety of books, is the most important part of making this a reality for my kids.  My classroom library isn't just in one part of the classroom... I've got shelves and bins and cubbies of books all over the place.  (Don't worry... it's organized.)  There's a fiction section, a nonfiction section, a section of favorite authors and one for favorite characters, and we have a leveled books section, too.

When I first started teaching (forever ago), I made my fair share of rookie mistakes, one of which was letting children choose ALL of their own books, ALL of the time.  It seems like a good idea, right?  And don't I want "buy-in?"  I mean, what's so hard about choosing books?  I do it myself all the time.  

But I'm an adult.

And they're six.

And I soon figured out something important about new, emergent readers... they don't always know how to pick out books that are going to help them grow.  It doesn't really make a lot of sense to read with children in a guided reading group on Level E books and then watch them self-select 8 Junie B. Jones chapter books from the classroom library for their personal reading collections.  That offers them little chance of practicing proficient reading behaviors on their own.  And then I realized, little kids need a little help when shopping for their books.

(You should know:  I take great care at the beginning of the year making sure our classroom culture is safe and encouraging.  We talk about individual strengths and needs and how people, including myself, set goals for areas where we want to continue growing.  We value differences and celebrate everyone's successes, big and small.  These are the kinds of conversations that need to take place so my students understand why different students have different books at different times.  They make great connections when we talk about how training wheels and swim floaties come off at different times for different kids.  And it's important that children are keenly aware of what their peers are good at and that there's a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie in the classroom.  When that is missing, competition creeps in and that's why some of our emerging readers are choosing 100-page Junie B. Jones chapter books and pretending to read them during reading workshop.  There is a place for chapter books in their reading lives, and I'll explain how I honor that in just a minute, but a large amount of time spent pretending to read isn't really helping anyone.)

This is when I started using "Shopping Cards" and I've been using them for years because they work so well for us.  Here's how they work in our room:

After I finish my initial running records at the beginning of the year, I make a shopping card for each student.  The last letter on the card indicates the child's instructional reading level... the level we're working on during our guided reading time together.  This is the level that "pushes" the reader just a bit because it's a level where they need to be actively using strategies to read and make sense of the text.  

The other two levels are just slightly lower than their instructional level. Reading books at these levels strengthens their confidence, helps them read sight words more automatically, and improves their fluency (both rate and expression).  

The cupcake represents something we call "Dessert Books."  (Hello, Junie B.)  To help them understand this, we have fun talking about desserts... about how they're not the best part of our daily diet, but oh how we want them anyway, don't we?  We talk about how it's important to have a balanced diet and how it's okay to have dessert once in a while as long as it's not the thing we're eating most often.  They understand how that's unhealthy for our bodies.  And then I make the leap to a healthy reading diet... and they're able to leap with me... they get it.  They learn that a healthy reading diet has to be full of books that are just-right for us; that are good for us; that will help us grow.  Dessert books may not be just-right for us, but they're a fun treat to have if we have just a little.

Each week, my students go shopping in our classroom library for their own books.  (I have 5 student teams, so one team goes each day.  This prevents the library from feeling too crowded.  We like happy shoppers.) They pick their own books (buy-in) with a little guidance from me... so much better than what I did my first year of teaching.  Students self-select 3 books from each leveled bin on their own shopping card and then they head over to the fiction / nonfiction sections of our library and choose ANY 3 dessert books they want.  All the books they choose go into a canvas book pocket that hangs on the back of their chair, along with all the books we've been reading during our guided reading time together. As they grow as readers, so do their cards and they begin to shop for different levels.

When we get ready to go home each day, each child picks one leveled book and one dessert book to take home.  The goal is for them to read their leveled book to a family member and then ask a family member to read their dessert book to them or with them.  

You can make your own shopping cards with a simple index card, but if it would save you some time, you can pick up these blank cards for free in my TPT store.    They go all the way up to guided reading level M, but a lot of students no longer need help choosing books after about levels J or K.  By that point, they're pretty good at knowing what's just-right for them.  I have also included a completely blank card in case you use a leveling system other than guided reading levels.

Happy Teaching!


What Do You Do with an Idea?

I know it's Wednesday and I missed "Book Talk Tuesday," but sometimes you just have to jump when the inspiration strikes.

And I've been struck.

I have a LOT of books.  It's what I collect.  See?

And this isn't even the half of it.  There are dozens tucked away in baskets, bins, and drawers.  As a matter of fact, as I type this, I'm reminded of a civics project my daughter is doing in high school right now. I just donated 204 picture books to her goal of bringing more books to a local orphanage.  Who has 204 extra books they don't really need?

I guess I do.

Or did.

If you asked me to pick a favorite picture book, I'd have a really hard time choosing just one.  I have that same kind of stress when someone wants to know my favorite song or my favorite movie.  I'm more of a "Top-5-In-No-Particular-Order" kind of girl.

• Pretty Woman
• Mr. and Mrs. Smith
• Mary Poppins
• Maleficent
• Sweet Home Alabama

Ask me tomorrow and this list would probably be a little different.  It's just too hard to pick.

To date, Mo Willems has been my favorite children's author.  I love Trixie, Elephant & Piggie, and Pigeon... plus the lesser-known Amanda, Naked Mole Rat, and Leonardo.  Great characters, every single one of them. They make me laugh, and I like that.

But I also like books that surprise me.  The availability of children's books on deep and difficult topics is amazing.  We are lucky to have access to so many stunning and emotional stories.  I remember I had a lot of nervous anticipation when I first read Eve Bunting's Train to Somewhere and I cried hard at the end when it didn't go the way I wanted it to.  (I'm so glad I pre-read that one before declaring it a random read-aloud in my first grade classroom.  Beware of those random read-alouds... know your books.)  :)

Earlier this week, I was in Barnes & Noble because, well, I just can't stay out of there to be honest.  I always go straight upstairs to the children's section, excited to see what's new.  Sitting on a special display table was a book by Kobi Yamada, What Do You Do with an Idea?  It was published in 2013, so it's not brand new, but it's new to me... somehow I missed it during all my other trips over the past year.  ???

I love it.

And I'm so excited about all the different ways it could be used in a classroom, I'm not really sure where to start.  

It feels like one of those books where every little detail is intentional, especially in the illustrations, so I did my own sort of "close read," noticing something new each time... like how and when colors are used throughout the story.  I want the kids to notice big things as they study the words and pictures, too.  I definitely think it's a book that deserves to be read over and over and across the year.  The message is clear and empowering.

I took a couple of pictures to help you get the gist of the story, but this needs to go on your teacher holiday wish list, no matter what grade level you teach.

It begins with the little boy having an idea.  He thinks, "Where did it come from?  Why is it here?  What do you do with an idea?"  

At first, he's unsure about the idea and considers abandoning it. Unfortunately, it started following him... like any good idea would.

He worried about what others would think of the idea, so he kept the idea to himself, going so far as to hide it away and not talk about it.  He tried to act like he never even had the idea in the first place.

But, deep down, he loved his idea and he felt better when it was with him. "There was something magical about my idea," he said, and he began to nurture his idea and give it a lot of attention.  The idea became bigger and they became friends.

Sadly, when he showed his idea to other people, some thought it was silly.  They said it was "no good," "too weird," and a "waste of time."  At first, the little boy believed them.  He almost gave up on his idea.

But he loved his idea (phew). "This is MY idea," he thought.  "No one knows it like I do.  And it's okay if it's different, and weird, and maybe a little crazy."  He promises to protect and care for his idea.  He gave it a lot of attention.  They shared secrets, dreamed dreams, and looked at things in whole new ways.

And then, one day, something amazing happened.  His idea changed right before his eyes.  It spread its wings, took flight, and burst into the sky.  "I don't know how to describe it, but it went from being here to being everywhere.  It wasn't just a part of me anymore... it was now part of everything."  (Oh, I love that part.)  

At the end, the little boy says, "And then, I realized what you do with an idea... You change the world."

So, I'm thinking... wow... imagine all the ways you could use this book in a classroom with children.  

• I'm seeing it during reading workshop... questioning, inferring, predicting... main idea, character development, central theme...

• Or maybe during writing workshop... having a cause, writing persuasively... or just nurturing our ideas in general...

• Building (or strengthening) our classroom community... honoring others' ideas, having different opinions, seeing multiple perspectives...

And wouldn't this be a great gift for someone in your life (even an adult) who needs a little encouragement to move forward with something unique that inspires them?

Thank you Kobi and Mae for bringing this book to life and sharing it with us.

Good idea.



Happy Teaching!


Elephant and Piggie Have Character!

Mo Willems has a new title in his Elephant and Piggie series (yay!): Waiting Is Not Easy!  These two characters are some of my favorites from children's literature and I have every single book in the set.  I Broke My Trunk might be my favorite because it reminds me of my friend Trina Dralus... I tend to tell super-long stories and she's like, "Get to the point, already."  We have identified with the characters in almost every title and the children do, too.  (They're actually GREAT for a character study.)

Anyway... here's a little teaser for the new book, Waiting Is Not Easy!

As usual, Piggie happily bounds in with some exciting news.  This time, she has some exciting news for Gerald... she has a SURPRISE!  (Gerald is super excited!) 

But Gerald doesn't want to wait and decides to have a fit.  (Does this sound like any child you know?)  (Maybe even a spouse??)  :)  

Well, the story keeps going (with Gerald trying to be persuasive and Piggie continuing with "Just wait...") until Gerald gets super grouchy and overreacts.  

So, what's the surprise?  You'll have to check out the book to see, but if you noticed the background of the pages getting darker over time, you can probably infer something pretty close.

These two characters are so different, they're the least likely to be such good friends, and that's why I love them so much.  They "get" each other and they're true to one another, no matter what.

If you're a primary teacher and you don't know these books, check out a few from your library.  They're perfect for emergent readers because each book is told through speech bubbles and they range from guided reading levels F-H, so they're awesome independent choices for first graders. Because of the speech bubble format, they're also perfect for partner readings and readers' theater... which are great for fluency (including expression of voice).  And, of course, the potential for character study is big for early primary grades (K-1).

To get started on integrating some Elephant and Piggie books into your reading instruction or a character unit, take a look at this resource.  It provides lesson ideas, high-level questions, student writing templates, readers' theater scripts, and more.

Happy Teaching!