Time for Book Club #sol18

IMG_0732.JPGTime for Book Club #sol18

March 12, 2018

A few weeks ago in fourth grade,  the teachers had a book tasting.  You might have witness this before, but this was my first time to witness one in person.  The most wonderful thing was the students moving from table to table sampling books and chatting about them,  taking notes, and considering whether these books could be their new friends.  The students were happily considering each on their own merit.  What I loved the best was… the teachers.  The team read the books and talked about them ahead of time.  They were excited to share them with the students and of course,  their excitement was catching.  The whole experience was amazing.

As the teachers matched kids to books to book clubs,  I talked to many of them about their matches, about their lead-in to the clubs,  and about how they would continue to promote students learning how to be good book club members.  I thought of the book clubs I have been in and how those books I read with those friends became friends as extensions.

Our fourth grade team chose these books for clubs.  (Historical Fiction Calkins)

It’s a pretty good mix of times, experiences, culture, and social justice themes.  Fourth grade is struggling a little with Love that Dog, as it is ‘easier’ to read that some of the other groups’ books which messes with timing.  The plan is to mix in some short text to layer on comparative pieces  and types of reading during the next weeks with all of the clubs.

Third grade is beginning book clubs too during their Character Studies Unit (Calkins).  They are not offering the same titles across the team due to availability.  In my consult class,  the teacher was considering the following titles.


The third graders reading levels and inconsistency in talk makes their book club work a little trickier.  This wise teacher is going to mix reading and talk each day to keep kids thinking in their books.

Though these books clubs in the intermediate grades have lofty goals:  theme work and character work,  even the primary students can benefit from partner or double partner work in reading.  Talking about books, even with teacher scaffold, gives students more room to think.  Think in productive ways.  Think in open ways that encourage different ideas,  growing ideas.  Book clubs build social constructs.  Book clubs encourage reading and build reading muscles.

There are so many marvelous tools available in the Calkins Reading Units of Study to promote reading partnerships and small clubs.  Some to get you started might be:

The beauty of the UOS study reading is that you can fairly seamlessly move up or down through the grade level offerings to meet the needs of your particular classroom group.

Book clubs do change the tempo of a class.  When launching clubs be prepared to let the students take the lead.  Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Teacher reading recommendations


Enjoy many amazing slices of life here at Two Writing Teachers.


Books for the Kids in Front of You #sol18

Books for the Kids in Front of You  #sol18 #IMWAYR

Immigration Edition

March 5, 2018

I am thankful for our school librarian for being my tireless exploration partner in book acquisition.

Our school in multicultural.  Perhaps yours is too.   We were exploring topics for our historical book clubs in grade 4,  I questioned what topics could students relate to without a significant amount of historical knowledge.  Can we learn about social justice in our modern times in elementary school? Many books I have purchased this year and wrote about before carry a growth mindset and empathetic message, but what about the experience many of our students have of immigrating from another country.  Here are some of our current favorite picture books.  51kqn6wGIcL._AC_US218_.jpgThis may be my current favorite book.  While it doesn’t specifically discuss immigration, these young bear brothers seek shelter from the storm.  Asking each animal neighbor one by one,  they are turned away by all.  Remaining positive, the bear brothers create their own shelter using the one gift received from a young fox, a lantern.  When the fox’s home is threatened, they come asking for aid from the brothers and are warmly welcomed into their small shelter.  So many wonderful messages in this beautifully illustrated book.


We debated this book purchase as the book doesn’t turn away from tough information.  This book has photographs of children many in situations that we often want to shelter each other from,  sleeping on the streets,  asking where will we live.  In a school where we do meet and nurture students in transition, this is a delicate topic.  This book examines this in a gentle, unflinching way

816jNphsaIL._AC_UL320_SR270,320_.jpgThis book takes a different approach to the immigration experience in a intimate family way.  In a moment that many children may have, fishing with their families,  a father tells the child how he fished in his home country.  Beautiful illustrated and simply told. A Caldecott nominee.


I hope reading and enjoying this book will give children I know an idea about welcoming those new to our community.  One girl, adrift and awash in experiences that she can’t understand meets another girl in the park. She smiles in greeting and the new girl is distrusting at first.  Over days, she looks for the smiler and then finally see her again.  The welcomer teaches the new friend to swing.  As the book continues,  the welcomer begins through objects to assist our new settler in learning the words she speaks.  I love this story full of everything we hope from community.

81pXXl2ZebL._AC_UL320_SR288,320_.jpgThe simplest of this set,  I’m New Here is a straightforward book about arriving fresh in a new spot.

Not reviewed here, but worth a mention are some lovely novels including.

Same Sun Here

Inside Out and Back Again

Esperanza Rising

Day  of 31 days of writing. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for inspiration and encouragement and toTWO WRITING TEACHERS for creating this opportunity.  Read more amazing blogs and join the writinghere.

Speaking the Right Language #sol18


Speaking the Right Language #sol18

March 1, 2018


I skimmed an article online the other day that said that the key to maintaining a solid, happy relationship was expressing love in the way that your partner wants to receive it.  The ways to receive love were fairly standard:  receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch.   The trick is knowing which way feels like love to another person.

I’m totally clear with the way I express love to others,  I do things.  On a daily basis for the last at least 30 years,  I’ve packed a morning lunch for myself, my husband, and at some points along the way, one or two sons.  The lunches are fairly standard with the exception of having homemade cookies or dessert in them nearly every day.  As many parents (and perhaps spouses),  I try to keep to favorites and add a few surprises along the way.  In addition,  many people have received knitted scarves or Monday cakes and cookies over the years.   I also adore to make dinner for family and friends.

The way I give affection and the thinking about how others may want to receive it made me think about the way I deliver coaching as well.  Do I deliver my assistance, my coaching, my partnership in a way that is optimally received by the other person?  Is it what they expected?  Needed?  or even wanted?

I’ve had some amazing partnerships over the years. So beneficial and rewarding to me and I believe rewarding to the other folks involved.  An amazing partnership with a first grade team in my home state.  Debbie Miller enthusiasts,  we planned our cozy classrooms with child center learning right out of the pages of Reading with Meaning including a pilgrimage to see Ms. Miller herself.  I have a wonderful mentor relationship with my far flung former literacy specialist partner in crime trudging to New York a couple of times a year,  going to workshops, talking on the phone during our commutes,  sharing reading and driving each other forward.  In the eight years I have been in my current position,  I have forged true partnerships,  teaching in the trenches with so many wonderful educators storied in my instagram and twitter feeds.  However during these many relationships and all the new ones I begin,  I think… what is it that these teachers really wants… and needs?

As you know,  occasionally our wants and needs are in conflict with each other. We can’t see the forest for the trees and all that.  More often that not,  I’ll say that I’m not sure of either:  the want or the need.  I made a calculated stab at it, asking some tried and true questions and more often than not,  I get on the board, if not in the bullseye.  Sometimes,  it takes time to be truly helpful.  You have to wait for it.  Watch for it.  Nurture it.

So much like the thirty eight years of lunch making,  it may not be Mr. K’s preferred expression of love.  Maybe his original family was better at expressions of affirmations,  maybe they were huggers.   My way of providing support to teachers may not be their preferred way, but I hope it’s an honest way, a dependable way, a helpful way today and that it improves tomorrow.



Day 1  of my 31 day writing streak!   Thanks to my dear friend, Clare Landrigan (@clareandtammy) for the encouragement,  my special blogging partners who support whatever I throw down,  and the Slice of Life community beautiful choreographed by the Two Writing Teachers team.  Give writing daily a try and read some beautiful words here.


Books to Spotlight Small Moments #IMWAYR


Examining Small Moments and Personal Narratives in the Workshop

December 4, 2017

In our building, we have been spending some planning and instruction time examining small moments, both in reading and writing workshop.  Having a few small moments or personal narratives to examine in writing workshop was never a problem.  We have our favorites:  Shortcut, Fireflies, Come on, Rain.  Small moments are easier to find perhaps than personal narratives.  What if the personal narrative isn’t exactly personal?  Some of my favorites:  Roller Coaster, The Snowy Day, The Relatives Came aren’t really told in the first person.  Does that diminish their usefulness as a mentor texts to our aspiring writers?

Here are a few things to consider when teaching small moments and personal narrative. Remembering that the purpose of small moment writing is that the writing is finite.  This gives our younger authors the ability to write in detail showing character’s small actions, dialogue and internal thinking.  We are working on stories becoming more and more cohesive with greater and greater detail.

What is our purpose for using a particular mentor text?  Are we working on watermelon/seed ideas?  Then texts like The Snowy Day, Blackout, and Roller Coaster are wonderful, inspiring text for our students to think about their own small moments.  I also use small books in their levels to tryout thinking.  In our Fountas and Pinnell  Leveled Literacy collection, The Muddy Mess is one book that are definitely about a small moment that many kids might have.  Soccer Game in Scholastic Hello Readers!  uses descriptive words to talk about just one soccer game.  This book is written in the first person and could be used as a interactive read aloud.

IMG_0424To pair a simple book like Soccer Game!  as a mentor text in small moment writing,  we could think about another game, perhaps one on the playground where we would use descriptions to go part by part through the game.

In Joy Cowley’s The New Cat,  the words are simple, describing the action in the pictures.  The pictures may help explain our younger readers and writers  thinking,  while the words describe a particular part.

Many other books might show real photos while explaining a child’s exploration of shopping, the aquarium or other places.  These books are wonderful for interactive read aloud or mentors for interactive writing so students can see themselves reading or writing themselves.

In a focus lesson, we can work with our students in a more difficult text.  One, where when we are the readers,  students can do the challenging thinking work.  In Owl Moon, a great text for 2nd grade, students can imagine why Jane Yolen chose to write this book while contemplating the small moment of going owling after dark.

In Sophie Was Really,  Really Angry or No David!,  students can use illustrations to think about the small moments along with strong feelings.  While No,David!  tells the story from the author’s point of view,  Sophie Was Really,  Really  Angry using third person.  Could we discuss with the students what words we might use if we were writing about feeling this way ourselves?

IMG_0421Sometimes,  books are long(ish),  after sharing the book in a read aloud, we might just use a page or a two-page spread to talk about a specific aspect of writing.  In The Relatives Came or Yard Sale,  we might stop at a page and talk about descriptions or stretching the moment, or making a picture in our minds.



Sometimes,  we might use a completely different type of book, perhaps one that is a familiar read,  to focus on one aspect of an author’s craft:  clever endings,  strong leads,  rich details.  These books are endless and part of your natural library.  In my use, I try to limit these books to have human characters, thought it is particularly hard to avoid using the wonderful richness of Kevin Henkes’ and Lily’s Plastic Purse and others for small moments.

So,  my advice,  relax.  Sometimes we will have focus lessons and this won’t be work students are doing in their independent reading.  Sometimes,  we pair or double pair students up to do focus lesson work in picture books that we have chosen for the group. Sometimes, we won’t.  Perhaps, we will work through small moment, narrative arc work in interactive read aloud and we will have students look for a particular aspect, for example,  rich details, in all the text they are reading.  Whatever work we are doing,  it should be reflective our standards,  our formative assessments,  our student needs, and be an rich experience.


We All Have a Story to Tell #IMWAYR

We All Have a Story to Tell

September 25, 2017

I have been thinking a great deal lately about what we ask our students to do daily.  Particularly what we ask them to do that would be stressful, difficult, or embarrassing (see future for Tom Newkirk’s amazing book Embarrassment).  This week and last, this thinking centered around the launch of the writing workshop and everything about new teacher/ new expectations/new peers.  How can we help students (and their teachers) bridge that chasm.  The beginning is the hardest part for so many.

Three books come to mind that ease that chasm in the elementary classroom.  Use these liberally with a healthy dose of “giving it a go yourself.”

In A Squiggly Story,  Andrew Larson explores a early learner’s journey as a writer.  So often students are searching or expecting that stories (for others) just magically come out of the end of our writing tools.  With some excellent peer coaching from his sister, our young author explores the writing process from idea to lead, to peer editing.  A wonderful book for kindergarten and first grade writers.


IMG_9872Ralph Tells A Story centers around the problem many writers young and old have… “AHHH! I have no story!”  Ralph looks around and EVERYONE especially the girl next to him is writing away.  He looks everywhere for a story.  When given ideas,  he can’t think how to develop them.  When the teacher calls on him in share,  he tentatively starts…”I was at the park.  An inchworm crawled on my knee.”  Then the questions begin rolling in, and Ralph realizes that he does, indeed, have a story to tell.

Recently in the third grade in a school near here,  a teacher read this book and produced this wonderful anchor chart. IMG_9871

I can’t wait to see what happens next in that class.

The last book,  Bear Has a Story to Tell leads to my favorite advice for writers and other learners in response to “I don’t know”.  It answers the age old response,  I forgot,  with what would you say if you remembered.  It’s important in all story generation to have the conversation first.  As Lucy Calkins and others so beautifully state in the Crafting True Stories unit for third grade writing,  we should help our students visualize possibilities, instead of initiating writing,  we should initiate dreaming.

Dream away,  writers.  Dream away.  bear has a story to tell

Launching Books #IMWAYR


Mentor Texts for the Beginning and the Long Haul

July 17, 2017

Every summer  I find a back to school mentor text.  Usually,  this text is a uplifting mentor about mindset for learning.  This year’s choices are no exception to that.  It’s the right way to go for the first few days.

Being a teacher for a number of years,  there are a lot of first days books in my library.  This year,  the hunt is different.  Let’s make these books go the long haul.  I want to return to them for meaning work, construction work, beginnings, endings, author’s moves, and theme.  That’s a lot to ask of one book.  However, the more familiar the story,  the more meaningful it is as a mentor tool.

the thing lou couldn't do Many of you will already be familiar with The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do and by its author,  Ashley Spires, author of the amazing, The Most Magnificent Thing, another well-used mentor text.  Without reading,  we can already do so much work on the cover,

lou thingloucouldntdo insert

right?  Essential Questions, Predictions, Foreshadowing.  This book doesn’t hold back,  Lou knows she can do the thing.  She avoids it.  She negotiates with it.  The best part is that (spoiler alert),  it doesn’t all work out in the end. It has a perfect Carol Dweck moment.  Read to find out.  Ok, all well and good but what else.  Taking just three ideas from Calkins UOS Reading 2nd Grade Authors Have Intentions, we can talk about theme.  (this will work for any grade)

Here’s where my practice is shifting.  I don’t have to have these questions answered to ask them.  The students often have better, deeper, richer ideas.  I think I know, but that’s not important.

jabari jumps cover

I couldn’t wait for my next title to arrive, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall.  Reviews were awesome and LOOK at that cover.  So much to talk about after summer break!

But then there’s the first page,  and we can talk about Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 8.30.37 AM.pngor  details in the story or crafting an ending. We can use dialogue.  I can use the preview of the book video to notice, and wonder with the class.


My last book is purposeful.  I’m committed to add an Amy Krouse Rosenthal book to as many lists and as

the ok book cover.jpg

many demonstrations as I can.  This book isn’t new like my other two choices and honestly,  I may have used it for back to school before.  The video of The OK book will be how Literacy Bootcamp  begins this year.



Because in the world of must be amazing,  it’s ok to be ok while you’re figuring it out.  Illustrations, simple repetitive text, a thoughtful ending.  One great mentor.

inside the ok book

Happy hunting for your mentors.  Remember to make them go the distance.

#IMWAYR Opening Day Edition

It’s Monday What are You Reading:  Opening Day Edition

April 3, 2017

I was raised on baseball and have lived in baseball towns most of my life.  The St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and now  Boston Red Sox are dear to my heart.  As a teacher, I have yet to be at a opening day, though I have enjoyed  the ritual of spring training.  Here are some books to celebrate opening day wherever you are.  

Here are some terrific baseball books in no particular order.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.04.54 PMBaseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuk

A beloved book by teachers and students alike,  this book looks at baseball in a completely different light.  Baseball is the turning point in the poignant book.  Wonderful for character interplay and story arc discussions as well as its historic perspective.


Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.25.05 PMZachary’s Ball by Matt Tavares

Every New England child’s dream,  catch a fly ball at Fenway Park… and something magical happens.




Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.52 PMFenway Foul Up by David A. Kelly


I love all of the Ballpark Mysteries including  Wrigley Riddle.  This early chapter book is the beginning of a series about ballparks in the tradition of Ron Roy and Matt Christopher.




Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.41 PMTeammates  by Peter Golenbock


Jackie Robinson and PeeWee Reece teach more than baseball in this beautifully illustrated picture book.  A mainstay in strategy work.


Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.29 PMPoem Runs by Douglas Florian


Poetry, baseball, and Doug Florian- a winning team.  

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.19.09 PM

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.19 PMThe Littlest Leaguer by Syd Hoff

Syd Hoff,  the sentimental favorite and a really great book. Easily read by our youngest fans.




Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.07 PMThe Field Beyond the Outfield by Mark Teague

Perhaps only available in my personal library, Mark Teague can do no wrong.  Aliens and baseball, a winning combo.