About Shannon

I'm a 3rd grade teacher in a school halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. I love my kids, but I love journalism too.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. Feel free to use anything you find useful, but comments are always appreciated!

The Three Billy Goats Gruff, by Paul Galdone

We talk a lot about filling in background knowledge of our high-poverty and ELL students. Lucky for us, we have a whole bunch of Paul Galdone’s traditional stories in our bookroom. I’ve seen The Three Billy Goats Gruff, obviously (it’s currently in the bucket of former SFA Roots books), The Little Red Hen, The Three Bears, and The Gingerbread Man. Combine this with all the James Marshall fairy tale books we have, and we’ve got a pretty solid collection. You might also want to talk with our Kindergarten team, as I know a few teachers did a fairy tale unit last year.

You can learn more about Galdone here, in a neat Seattle Times profile. Information on the Austrian-born artist and his work can also be found here, here, and here. You know I’m more than wary about Wikipedia, but I’m perplexed that I can’t find any “official” biographies. Holy COW, look at all the books he illustrated (scroll down to the bottom).

1958 book review in the St. Petersburg Times

Children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus had this to say about Galdone’s works: “Knowing that copies of his books were bound for use in preschool and elementary school classrooms and public libraries, he planned his illustrations with the child in the last row at story hour in mind.” I love learning the thinking behind books, particularly picture books, which are so often dismissed by grown-ups as easy to write. You can see his illustration style in this sample of The Little Red Hen.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:


  • Use prior knowledge to connect with text. This goes along with asking questions, below. Ask (or chart) what traditional stories students have heard or seen. This will help you gauge familiarity with patterns such as the rule of three, etc.
  • Ask questions throughout the reading process. Before: What are some characteristics of traditional or enduring stories? During: What patterns do you notice in the structure of the story? Does it remind you of any other children’s stories? After: Why do you think the author says the troll was “as mean as he was ugy”? Do you often notice that the evil characters are ugly while the heroes are pretty or handsome? Why do you think many authors do this?


  • Use punctuation to enhance phrasing and prosody. For primary students, talk about the all-caps words and the different tones the billy goats and troll might use. This would be a great shared reading opportunity to start with, because everybody will probably wind up sounding pretty silly. For older students, you could contrast the all-caps approach of conveying mood with more modern books like Geronimo Stilton, which uses multicolored, crazily-shaped text. How does technology impact the way books are written, published, and ultimately interpreted? How do these interpretations change over time?
Speaking of different interpretations of the Three Billy Goats, this is a tremendous resource.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Clipboard Prospects

The summer is time for reflection. Unfortunately, I reflect an awful lot during the school year too, which means I often wind up reflecting on absolutely frivolous things. Enjoy this example.

I know that one day soon, my beloved pink-and-black fleur-de-lis clipboard will bite the dust. It’s served me well the past four years, and the only real panic I’ve ever had over losing it was when I left it in the cafeteria on top of the piano during a family math night.

Lalala, Miz Houghton misplaced something again.


I wish I could share a picture of it with you, but I can’t because it’s nestled on my (SIGNIFICANTLY CLEANER) countertop at school where it always stays (when I’m organized). I bought it at some exorbitant price at City People’s Mercantile shortly into my first year of teaching because I was feeling disorganized and wanted a pick-me-up. When you tap it, it sounds like metal, but a corner of it has chipped, revealing that it’s actually wood.

Important people use clipboards.


I’ve been pondering my clipboard’s untimely demise for several years now (“hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” my daddy taught me), but most of the options I’ve seen have this inferior shove-it-open-with-your-thumb closure rather than the alligator clip style. I’ve had clipboards in the former style in my classroom clipboard stock, and they’re always the first to break.

Lovely, but short-lived


I’ve noticed that Etsy has started to carry more alligator-style clipboards, but I fret the acrylic ones will crack (this also happens to a lot of my students) and that the paper-covered ones will become sticky or disintegrate with use.

Acrylic Clipboard

Paper-and-Mod-Podged Clipboard


So what’s a super-picky girl to do? Goodness knows I’ve a bit of a thing for vintage…

But I feel like vintage for clipboards just means "old."


Having whipped myself up into a totally unjustifiable fit of frustration, I finally happened upon THE PERFECT CLIPBOARD.



ISN’T IT AMAZING? Feel free to send it to me posthaste.


Weather Site AND Potential Field Trip!!!

Hey there!

I’ve been continuing to plan our first science unit, and I’m uncovering some neat stuff!

Take a look at this website! In addition to great information on weather, it actually tells you how you can improve your skills at predicting the weather!

I’ve also discovered there’s an atmospheric research department at the University of Washington, and I’ve contacted them for information on perhaps visiting them this October! Ahhh, so exciting! The trip should be about $5 to cover the cost of the bus. Start saving!


Field Trip Photos!

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you SO MUCH for making Friday’s trip to the Point Defiance Zoo such an amazing experience. It seemed like you had fun and learned a lot, based on the facts you rattled off when we returned to Wildwood. 🙂 Here are some photos I took of the creatures we encountered. As you know, no student faces are to be included in these pictures.

The weather held for us all day! We were so fortunate!

Sea cucumber! Larger and a different color than I thought it'd be. Just like the one featured in Dragonbreath!

It was Bali's 13th birthday, so we sang "Happy Birthday" to him!

Porcupines! Ereth would be so proud. We were all astonished at how HUGE they were. I pictured them as guinea pig-sized...

Puffins! Their wings look like bat wings when they dive into the water.

Along with cats and owls, otters are my favorite animals!

These prawns made me think of the crawdads Tom and Reg ate in Leepike Ridge.

The peacock bids us farewell.


What a fantastic experience. I can’t wait to debrief with you more next week. Enjoy the sun this weekend, and remember that there IS SCHOOL on TUESDAY (we originally had it off, but we need to use it as a snow makeup day). Be well, do good things, and keep in touch!


Our Takis party

Last month, we filled our classroom marble jar and voted for a Takis party as our reward.

This led to more reflection on my part than you might think. Takis are HUGELY popular at our school, primarily among my many Mexican-American students, and they’re pretty roundly despised by me because their red stains are even more persistent than those of Flaming Hot Cheetos. Receiving permission to cover desks with butcher paper and nosh on flavored corn snacks is a high honor. One I’ve tried persistently but unsuccessfully to discourage.

But this was the second time they’ve requested a Takis party, and as there was no way to doctor the voting results, I accepted the inevitable. The students cheered. I went on a search for Takis.

I came up short after my trip to Safeway. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m totally at a loss,” I admitted at our class meeting the next day.

“Oh, Miz Houghton, you just need to go to Valley Harvest,” A said matter-of-factly from his post at the back of the room. “Or you can go to Anne’s parents’ store. They have the big bags for $2.”

Bouncing up to my desk (at recess, of course, not during instructional time), Anne handed me a business card and pointed out the address and phone number. “This is my parents’ store. We have all sorts of Takis!”

Ruby Payne stuck with me that evening, as well as the next morning, when I groggily parked in front of Valley Market on my way to school. My kids are pros at finding this spicy snack food. Ferreting out the best prices on snack foods is further out of my middle-class comfort zone than I otherwise would have been willing to admit.

After all, I like to think that I’m not THAT far removed from understanding the experience of my students of poverty — I dealt with the Food Stamps program during my service in AmeriCorps, I paid my dues as a semi-starving college student, and I visit all my students at home during the summer — but this experience proved that I still have a lot to learn.

So there I was sitting outside the newly-remodeled Valley Market. What if the signs were in Spanish and I couldn’t read them? (“Miz Houghton, don’t worry, your Spanish is really getting better.” ~J) What if the employees didn’t speak English and I was stuck there wailing and gesticulating for Takis at 7 AM on a Tuesday? It honestly makes me a little lightheaded even now, writing about it weeks later.

Your thoughts might be turning to the rights and responsibilities of immigrant families. I get it. Immigration’s a hot topic. I’m not looking to debate any of that — I teach whoever shows up in my classroom. But consider: my kids’ parents must have to swallow quite a bit of pride to take their kids to the doctor, to the library, or even to register for school. I don’t know if I could be that brave. I might not even make it out of my car to buy the freaking Takis I promised my kids.

Checking in at Valley Harvest on foursquare seals the deal. I shoulder my bag and step into the market. It seems half-lit to my eyes, but only because the fluorescent lights aren’t as blazing as they are at QFC.

I wander around in a daze, passing food labeled in Russian and Asian-language packaging. I find the Cheetos. Surely I’m close now, I think as I will my heart to beat slower.

There. On an end cap, about halfway down. “Why aren’t these in a more prominent location? They’d sell SO MUCH BETTER if they were!” Middle-Class-Shannon silently protests. Valley-Harvest-Shannon is mortified at this snobbery. The Takis are clearly perfectly placed right by the front of the store (how did I walk past them?) and right at Ms. Houghton’s students’ eye-level.

I can see my kids peering through the blinds after they leave breakfast in the cafeteria.

“You FOUND them!” A cheers as he walks through the door.

I admit at our class meeting that I was pretty nervous pulling up to that unfamiliar store. My students nod sagely.

“Well yeah, it’s going to be new at first, but if you look for the color of the bags, you’ll find it,” A reassures me. He flashes the best kind of smile. “And now you’ll know where to go for our NEXT Takis party.”

They’ve taught me so much. They’ve learned so much. They’re gone in a month.

I guess I take some solace in the fact that this year we’ve done tons of work in preparing these students to cross class boundaries and break the cycle of poverty. For their part, my kids have kept me honest, thinking, and challenging my assumptions. I hope I’ve done the same for them.

Take my shopping expert, A. He arrived in my classroom frequently angry, unconnected, and snide. But along the way, something clicked. Now he’s a Wildcat Leader (self-manager), reading at a third-grade level (advancing from Fountas & Pinnell level H to level M), and an enthusiastic contributor to classroom conversations (“Can we please read this version of Anansi? It’s by the illustrator of Arrow to the Sun, AND look, it says here that he’s from Michigan.”).

All that, AND he knows where to score the best deals on Takis.


For Mrs. Melton’s Class

“Thank you for supporting us on the MSP,” Esther said.

“You were nice to give us a bunch of help and support,” Anthea added.

“Thank you, Mrs. Melton’s class, for giving us the Rice Krispie bars,” Miriam said. “Thank you for the snacks,” Payton said. They actually lasted longer than the MSP, and we’ve been continuing to enjoy them!

Alexis said, “Thank you for cheering us up during the MSP!” Juan added, “Thank you because of all the nice things you did for us.”

“Thank you for the snacks — we loved them,” Thalia said. “They were really good,” Ra’Seana said. “And, they are one of my favorites!” Annette agreed. “Thank you for the snacks; they were good!”

“Thank you for the snack and for the tips for the MSP,” Cecilia said. “We enjoyed them.” Ryan added, “Thank you for Top Tips.” Xavier also thanks you for the book.

“Thank you for the bookmarks because they had good colors on them,” Leonel said. We were able to use them on the MSP!” Julio also wanted to thank you for the bookmarks, and Deandre is thankful too.

“Thank you for all the support you gave us on the MSP,” Carlos said.

“You guys are a wonderful class, and we are thankful for what you gave us,” Jasmin said.

“Thank you for believing in us,” Gregory finished.