A Hummingbird’s Life

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

A Hummingbird’s Life, by John Himmelman

I’ve been slowly processing the old mentor texts from the SFA Roots series, and I’m pretty excited to add these to our bookroom for several reasons:

  • Many of them are light on the text, making them perfect for primary read alouds.
  • Most sets have three or more copies, so an entire grade level team can plan their read alouds collaboratively if they so choose!
  • Quite a few of the books have a “sister text” pairing fiction with nonfiction, another powerful planning tool.

If you’re looking to celebrate the arrival of spring with a study of nature and/or of poetry, this website is a good place to start for some hummingbird-inspired poems.

There are no lesson plans included with this book. There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:

Comprehension

  • Use text features. Despite being narrative nonfiction and being such a basic book (its AR readability level is 2.3), A Hummingbird’s Life is chock-full of text features. There’s an info box at the front giving background information on the Ruby-throated hummingbird, a glossary, and an About the Author section.
  • Use main idea and supporting details to determine importance. Another great benefit of this text being so short is that you can copy the entire book onto a piece of chart paper, project it using document I’ve typed here, or give each student their own copy to mark what they believe are the main ideas.

Accuracy

  • Trade a word / guess a word that makes sense. Many primary science units (at least in our school district) are about animals, habitats, and ecosystems. Talk with students about how their familiarity with new vocabulary they’ve learned in their science unit can help them read accurately.

Behaviors that Support Reading

  • Increase Stamina. Because of the limited amount of text in this book, this might be a good book for young primary students to practice making it all the way through a read aloud without needing a body break.

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

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!

Meet Wild Boars

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Meet Wild Boars, by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall

See a preview of this book at Google Books.

Meet wild boars. They are crude, naughty, and wear sweet vintage-inspired duds. “They are dirty and smelly, bad-tempered and rude. Do you like them? Never mind. They do not like you either.”

DID YOU KNOW that wild boars are an invasive species to North America? It’s true — they came over from Europe. If you’re using this book with older kids, it might be neat to talk about metaphors — the boars as plaid-shirt-wearing ruffians are a bit of a pain, but is this perhaps also a commentary on wild pigs running amok?

Older students (huzzah for using picture books in high school!) might even extend this further to make comparisons with Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, where wild boars play an alarming role. (Did I just relate feminist speculative fiction to a children’s book about boars? OH YES I DID.)

There are no lesson plans included with this book. There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:

Comprehension

  • Use prior knowledge to connect with text. Countless books are written where the mean old rotten character turns out to have charming, redeemable qualities in the end. Not so in this book. Yet, the author doesn’t advise the reader to take action against these meanies, just to be wary and respond appropriately. What a refreshingly honest message!

Accuracy

  • Use the picture… Do the words and pictures match? Onomatopoeia are great for getting students who think they don’t NEED to use the picture to slow down and take a look at the picture. If you don’t use the picture, how will you know precisely how to articulate that SNORT? How in the world could you decide what emotion TUSK conveys?

Fluency

  • Adjust and apply different reading rates to match text. We usually read a book with repeated phrases and patterns differently than we would a regular fiction book or a nonfiction text.

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

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!

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There’s an Alligator Under My Bed

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom and offer lesson plan suggestions.

There’s an Alligator Under my Bed, by Mercer Mayer

This book is one of the old SFA Roots listening comprehension texts, and as such, there are three copies available! Perfect for collaborative lesson planning with your teammates!

In There’s an Alligator Under my Bed, a young boy is fully cognizant of the reptile hanging out below his mattress, despite the fact that he can’t get his parents to believe him. He takes matters into his own hands to solve the problem.

You can watch Mr. Mayer himself read the book in this video:

Boy, would a Mercer Mayer author study be awesome. Especially for folks working on a writing unit on realistic fiction or personal narrative (I’m thinking of the Little Critter books, not There’s an Alligator Under my Bed :)). Also, did you know that Mercer Mayer does non-picture book art too?

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

Comprehension

  • Predict what will happen, use text to confirm. The surprise ending of this book would be fun to predict then disprove with explanations from the text.
  • Summarize text, include sequence of main events. This simple story would be perfect for teaching the Somebody-Wanted-But-So framework.
  • Compare and contrast within and between text. Why not compare and contrast this book with There’s a Nightmare in my Closet? Video available here:

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!

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Chester’s Way

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Chester’s Way, by Kevin Henkes

Most people love Henkes’ seminal character Lily, of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse fame. I think she’s obnoxious, and I’m glad this book gives us a chance to learn more about Chester.

First, an aside. I believe Sheldon’s character from The Big Bang Theory is based heavily on Chester. I think these portions are particularly relevant: “Wilson wouldn’t ride his bike unless Chester wanted to, and they always used hand signals.”, “Chester duplicated his Christmas list every year and gave a copy to Wilson, because they always wanted the same things anyway.”, and “One day, while Chester and Wilson were practicing their hand signals, some older boys rode by, popping wheelies. They circled Chester and Wilson and yelled personal remarks.”

Dr. Cooper does not find your personal remarks amusing.

Anyways. This is a great beginning-of-the-year-let’s-be-friends kind of book, and Kevin Henkes is brilliant as always.

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

Comprehension

  • Recognize literary elements (character). This book provides a great opportunity to discuss author’s craft, especially if you’re reading this book as part of an author study. Henkes uses very precise, particular, and sophisticated vocabulary when he talks about Chester. Contrast this with the language he uses in Birds or Kitten’s First Full Moon.

Fluency

  • Read appropriate level texts that are a “good fit.” Many primary students would not be able to successfully make it through this book independently, due in large part to fantastic words like “diagonally,” “miniature,” “swung,” and “reminded.” However, if a teacher reads the book aloud to the group first, the book will now be accessible to more students because they are familiar with it.
  • Reread text. See above!

Vocabulary

  • Tune in to interesting words and use new vocabulary in my speaking and writing. I know a several primary teachers who have a Kevin Henkes author study at some point in the year, and the thing that’s so striking to me is what a sophisticated vocabulary Henkes uses in this book. This is a great book for introducing your class’ word collector.

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!

Japanese Cherry Blossoms

This Friday, we read the section of Hugo Cabret where the automaton dips its pen into ink and draws a startling image. This inspired me to do this art project with our class.

Our results were quite lovely. They brighten up our hallway!

If you’d like to do a similar project, here’s the rubric we used, aligned to Washington state standards.

Japanese Cherry Blossoms rubric

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Videos from today’s Hugo Cabret

This morning, we watched videos featuring automatons. The first automaton is the inspiration that Brian Selznick used in his book.

Today, when we were reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo and Isabelle went to the movies. They watched a newsreel, then The Clock Store, then The Million. Here are clips of the videos below:

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Safety Last!

Tomorrow, we’re going to reach a part in Hugo Cabret that includes a reference to Harold Lloyd’s “Safety Last.” You can watch this silent movie, filmed in 1923, by clicking the link below.

We watched this today during our snack transition from reading to math. We are learning as a class how Ms. Houghton posts to our website so we can make our own posts too!

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An exciting week so far!

It’s been quite a week for us! On Monday, we discovered A Sick Day for Amos McGee won the Caldecott, and we were expecting that Art and Max would win, Jasmin said. We watched the awards announcement live Monday morning in our classroom!

“We were expecting that Art and Max was going to win, but A Sick Day for Amos McGee won,” Leonel said.

Our mock Caldecott predictions were a mixed bag — we were right that Interrupting Chicken would win an Honor, but Art and Max received nothing.

That day, we reread Interrupting Chicken, Ryan said. Most students said it was as good the second time around, and for some of us, it was our first time.

Chalk came in second place, and we weren’t expecting it to win, we were really impressed because we didn’t think Chalk would come in second place, so we were very excited,” Ra’Seana said.

Another thing we certainly weren’t expecting, Cecilia said, was to hear from Bill Thomson.

Which brings us to Tuesday. We were content with how the Caldecotts turned out, and we had added a few new books to our classroom library — Interrupting Chicken, Dave the Potter, and Chalk.

When Ms. Houghton went to the staff workroom at second recess, however, she was surprised to discover a large envelope. “Bill Thomson” was on the return address. Ms. Houghton could have opened it then, but she waited for her students to return. She even asked Mr. Swartz if her students could go late to their math intervention with Ms. Kliskey, and he agreed.

“Bill Thomson gave us a note, and the whole class was really surprised. We reviewed the book Chalk, and Ms. Houghton cried because she was so excited,” Ra’Seana said.

“It was hand-written,” Esther said of the note.

There was a dinosaur drawn at the bottom, warning “Be careful what you draw,” Xavier said.

“I liked your handwriting, and it’s really neat,” Shi said. “I wish I could take the paper home to show my parents.”

Ms. Houghton said she didn’t think of copying the letter, and she will do so at lunch today.

Another document Ms. Houghton copied Wednesday morning was the Federal Way Mirror newspaper article featuring her class. What a huge surprise!

Ms. Houghton was contacted by Neal McNamara, the education reporter for the Mirror. He interviewed her by phone on Friday afternoon, while Mr. Swartz hung out in her classroom and tried on her safari hat.

“We’ve had a wonderful week,” Ms. Houghton said. “I can’t even begin to imagine what Thursday and Friday have in store for us.” Special thanks to Mr. Swartz for allowing Ms. Houghton’s class to explore literacy in innovative ways.

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Themed Literature Unit: Standing Up for What You Believe In

(Mural available from Art Projects for Kids, a site that is absolutely invaluable and is basically the only way am capable of teaching my students art)

My first few years as a teacher, I really felt uncomfortable about MLK Day and Black History Month in February. Not because I didn’t want to cover the more complicated parts of our past as a country, but because I didn’t feel equipped to adequately field all the questions I knew would inevitably arise. I didn’t want to just talk about civil rights in a cursory way, but I also didn’t want to inadvertently be insensitive.

I also didn’t want my majority-minority Hispanic-American population to feel that I favored studying one branch of injustice over another. We studied Martin’s Big Words (more on this below), but I’ll admit I didn’t really know how to bite off much more than that.

Thank you, Katherine Schlick Noe. Back at Seattle U, she taught us about the power of using themed literature units in addressing a larger issue. You can find a ton of sample units here, and specifically, a unit on Standing Up For What You Believe can be downloaded here. Thank you also, to Mr. Chan, who models personal awareness to racial and ethnic issues — really, human issues — on a daily basis, just as a part of who he is as a person.

This January, when we returned from winter break, I announced that our theme of the month was going to be “Standing Up for What You Believe In.” We opened the unit by reading Fledgling by Robert Blake. It’s a pretty basic book, but it got us thinking about perseverance. Plus, it was nice for me to start off with an animal book rather than to jump straight into issues of race and class and everything, given the reservations I mentioned above.

Earlier this year, we read Ellie McDoodle, New Kid in School. There are huge messages of nonviolent protest in the book, and students brought up the idea that you can stand up for what you believe in whether it’s a smaller problem (long lunch lines) or a huge problem (institutionalized racism). The book also introduced our students to King and Gandhi.

In our quest to read all the Caldecott winners, we moved on to So, You Want To Be President. As imperfect as our presidents were, we used this book to talk about the fact that many different people have all put their mark on running the country. Effective presidents stood up for what they believed in AND explained their beliefs to citizens. We wondered why so many white guys from log cabins became presidents (a fact mentioned halfway through the book), and I believe this initial conversation sparked a HUGE and fantastic lesson two weeks later on power and why the Jim Crow laws were so difficult to change.

Then, we read Martin’s Big Words, my favorite MLK book. We used the found poem lesson from readwritethink.org, which always seems to be a hit. It seems as though the new link to the lesson plan no longer includes the printable list of quotes that I use in the lesson, but the older lesson plan is here.

Martin’s Big Words led naturally into Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King. My students commented that this book didn’t seem quite as fact-filled as Martin’s Big Words, but I think the fact that it was basically a review of what they learned in the previous book encouraged them to ask further questions about discrimination and segregation, which led us to create a giant timeline related to our theme (I’ll post pictures later).

Then, Miss Turner was a rockstar and printed out a shared reading mini-book on Martin Luther King, Jr. through Reading A-Z. Thank you! My students loved it, and they’ve been rereading it all week.

Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick are pretty much the best duo on the planet. When Marian Sang is gorgeous and interesting. You can see some early development of a few of Selznick’s themes from The Invention of Hugo Cabret being tested here. Marian Anderson wanted to be an opera singer. That was insanely difficult to do in the early 20th century. But she did it, even though she often had to perform double shows for black and white audience members, and even when she couldn’t find hotels to take her in after her performances. This book is a little long, but we split it into two lessons. You can download a reader’s theater version of this book here.

My students also thought that What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? related to our theme because “People thought Ben Franklin was kind of weird, but he didn’t care — he had a lot of good ideas and he used them.” This is one of a whopping two books about Ben Franklin in our school library. Don’t even get me started on the puny state of our poor school library.

Other books planned for this unit that we haven’t read yet include:

Sit-In is illustrated by the same man as Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King. It’s not my favorite book ever, but my students were really interested in the Montgomery bus boycott, so I thought this would be a good companion book.

I could go on. I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!

I haven’t included many chapter books because our chapter book read alouds this year are Federal Way’s Battle of the Books books.

Find more MLK books here, courtesy of Betsy Bird.

PROTIP: Part of the reason why I turned this into a monthlong unit was because I felt so cheap to bring up MLK two days before his birthday. Another more practical reason to consider planning this unit ahead of time is that ALL the bookstores in the Seattle area were totally sold out of Martin’s Big Words and many other seminal MLK/Black History texts. If Third Place Books would’ve had FIVE copies of Martin’s Big Words, I would’ve bought them all for fellow teachers who asked for a copy.

Next month’s theme is probably going to be Persevering in Difficult Times. It should connect pretty smoothly to this month’s unit, but will also include such books as Wilma Unlimited.

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