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:


  • 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.


  • 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!

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!


One Woolly Wombat

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

One Woolly Wombat, by Rod Trinca and Kerry Argent

Counting books are great. Austrailian counting books with adorable Australian animals are even greater. Especially if that counting book goes all the way up to 14 instead of the standard ten. You can find this book in the red “Math” bucket in the bookroom.

The numbers in this book are written out in word form, rather than in standard form. This might be helpful for second and third grade teachers working with their students on spelling the numbers correctly.

One Woolly Wombat is a recent addition to our mentor texts in the bookroom, so if it meets your needs, make sure you stop by room 301 and thank Anne and Tin for putting the most recent book order together!

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:


  • Determine and analyze author’s purpose and support with text. This is so much more than a counting book. It introduces students to Australian wildlife, shows them the word forms of their favorite one-digit numbers, familiarizes them with Australian slang, and entertains them with animals in silly situations. By the way, if you want to learn more about unique Australian animals, check out this fantastic web site.


  • Use the pictures.. Do the words and pictures match? This could be an important lesson on a time when this strategy can fail. If a student doesn’t know what a echidna is, looking at a picture of one won’t help them decode the word. This is a great opportunity to talk about what to do when one reading strategy isn’t working. This is also an opportunity to encourage students to read widely and engage adults in conversation — the more words they’ve heard orally, the better they’ll get at decoding them in their reading.
  • Blend sounds; stretch and reread. There are plenty of blends and digraphs in this book, both at the onset of words and in the middle. There’s not much text, so it would be relatively painless to type the text into a Word document and then project it onto a screen. I’ve typed the text for you here: One Wooly Wombat . If you project the document onto a whiteboard (or SmartBoard), you can then highlight or circle all the blends and digraphs.


  • Practice common sight words and high-frequency words. I imagine it must get a bit tiresome in the primary world to use the same twenty or so numbers each year. If the text in this book isn’t at your students’ reading level, perhaps they can at least practice finding and writing the number words they see.

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!



“Deep, deep thoughts.”

Today I was catching up on our Letters to Ms. Houghton, a weekly homework assignment that I stole from Mrs. Chan where my students write to me on Tuesday and then I write back.

Letters to Ms. Houghton

One student wrote, in response to my question of what teachers could do to become better at their jobs, that we should talk with our kids about their “deep, DEEP thoughts.” Rather sage advice from a well-spoken third grader.

I am fortunate enough to have learners who are willing and eager to tackle tough conversations that include their deep, deep thoughts. When I embarked on our first themed literature unit, I hoped we’d be able to just touch the surface of issues of civil rights and standing up for yourself. I had no clue that we’d be having discussions about

  • Why so much time passed between Lincoln and MLK — my students thought that they were contemporaries.
  • Why the North didn’t “need” slavery
  • Why it took so long for black public officials to be elected
  • How Chicano-Latino Americans and Asian Americans were being treated during all of this.
  • the Emmett Till murder and trial
  • the librarian of Basra, Iraq, shuttling 75% of the city’s library to safekeeping
  • Busing — When black kids wanted to go to traditionally white schools (circa Brown vs. Board of Education), did white kids want to come to black schools? (!!! X, thank you for your insight on this one!)
  • Who judges are, and what they do
  • How people of color were able to learn and be taken care of when they were sick if they weren’t allowed into certain schools and other public places. And then how black people became teachers and doctors if they couldn’t go to traditional colleges. (!!! This one blew my mind, my kids are SO SMART)
  • The role of power, money, and religion as being at the core of most conflicts.

My kids have been incredible. They are able to apply these questions to the text we’re reading and the activities we’re doing, so it’s not like we’re spending all our time going off on birdwalks. They are interested when we watch grown-up documentaries and talking-heavy historical footage.

They know that some parts of the past were awful, but they’ve been incredibly mature in not seeking out super-gory details. I firmly believe they understand that the intent of our work together is not merely to discover shocking facts, but to learn from our history and see how we can apply its lessons today.

There are a few more books we’ve related to our theme that I didn’t initially expect we’d use:

Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni

The Librarian of Basra, by Jeannette Winter

My kids also asked that I include this one, because Dan and Amy stand up for themselves even when other family members play dirty, and even when their own aunt gave up on them:

The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan

Who knows what else we’ll learn in the next week before the month is over! I can say that I’m definitely ready for something a little less heavy. So our theme for next month might be something along the lines of, “Curiosity leads to discovery.” Discussing inventors and scientists and nonfiction texts…



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

Stickeen, by John Muir, as retold by Donnell Rubay

John Muir was a pretty neat guy. This book is told as narrative nonfiction, from John Muir’s point of view. I believe it’s taken right from his journals, but retold by Rubay. This would make an excellent mentor text for a biography unit, particularly for talking about what makes a story narrative nonfiction. (It’s told in such a way that it has a plot, just like a fiction story.)

If your students are working on biographies, there are a TON of great biographies at many different levels in the Benchmark series. Log in to www.librarything.com and look for the tag of “biographies.”

There are also several good book titles at the back of the book for further reading.

John Muir started the Sierra Club, which has a bunch of biographical information at its website.

You can learn more about Muir’s hometown of Dunbar, in Scotland, here. If you want pictures of Dunbar, contact me and let me know. It was one of my favorite places that I visited in Scotland.

Stickeen comes with a pretty high-level lesson about inferences, figurative language, and similes. Please leave this lesson in the book bag, as it is the master copy. The lesson suggests pairing the book with Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows. Both of those books are former SFA books, so 4th and 5th teachers should have 4-5 copies in each classroom if you wanted to use them in a shared reading.

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


  • Predict what will happen; use text to confirm. It would be interesting to see if students think that Stickeen will start out being John Muir’s best friend — so many books are written with canine pals, that this might be the case. If they do think they will start off with a strong bond, question them throughout the text as to how their prediction might shift or change.
  • Recognize literary elements (plot, setting, theme). As mentioned above, because this is a narrative nonfiction, it can still be used to discuss the importance of plot and setting. Additionally, the included lesson plan touches on the theme of determination.


  • Adjust and apply different reading rates to match text. Although students are often advised to read fact-heavy nonfiction books in second gear (1st gear: memorizing, 2nd gear: absorbing facts, 3rd gear: reading as fast as one would speak, 4th gear: skimming), you could talk with your students about why it matches the narrative flow of the book to read it in 3rd gear, but to make sure to stop frequently to check for understanding.

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!


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.


Flicker Flash

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

Flicker Flash, by Joan Bransfield Graham

We have two copies of this mentor text, so this would be a great book for a team to take on! You can find the bag in the red poetry bucket in the bookroom.

Shape poems are covered pretty extensively in children’s literature. If you use this text, you might also want to check out Love that Dog by Sharon Creech and A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco.

What’s neat about these poems is that they fill a niche in children’s poetry. They’re not too adorable or rhyme-y, but they’re not completely silly or gut-busting. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to scan in a page from the book because of copyright permissions, so you’ll need to trust me.

If you’re reading the Battle of the Books book The Maze of Bones, chances are you’ve been learning about Ben Franklin to build up your background knowledge. There’s a great poem called “Lightning Bolt” that would be a perfect starting place for a conversation about the myth of Ben Franklin, the kite, and the key.

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


  • Blend sounds; stretch and reread. There are tons of digraphs and blends in the poems. Copying a page or two of these poems would make a great shared reading to pull apart and highlight.
  • Trade a word / guess a word that makes sense. Rhyming texts are a great place to start encouraging students to make informed guesses as to what a sensible word could be.

Expand Vocabulary

  • Use pictures, illustrations, and diagrams. If you’re not sure what’s going on in the poem, chances are, the shape of the poem itself will help students figure it out.
  • Use prior knowledge and context to predict and confirm meaning. If your science kit deals with light, the seasons, or space, you might want to use this to link your science lesson to your literacy block.

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!



For immediate release:

This morning, at 9:47 AM, Ms. Houghton’s class announced its selection for this year’s Caldecott award. By a landslide, three-time Caldecott award veteran David Wiesner won for his hillarious book, Art and Max.

Two honor books were also selected, and they included Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein and Chalk by Bill Thomson.

“I think Art and Max was a really good book ’cause he paints Max and then he puts water on him and he turns invisible. Then, he paints him a lot of colors and then he looks like a rainbow,” Eddy said.

“I liked Chalk even though I didn’t hear it; I can still picture the book in my head. I like drawing a lot, and I’d like to have those things in real life, so I picked that book,” Ra’Seana said.

“I really liked Art and Max because it had a lot of colors in it,” Payton said. “Plus, I really liked the book because it has colors that people don’t have and wouldn’t usually use to make art.”

Anthea added, “I liked Interrupting Chicken because whenever his dad told him a story, he interrupted every single story. I liked it because at the end he tried to tell his dad a story and by the time he told it, his dad was already asleep.”

“I liked Chalk because whenever they found chalk and were drawing stuff, it kept becoming in real life,” Deandre said.

“I liked Chalk because when the boy made a dinosaur and they were scared and they figured a way to get him away,” Miriam explained. “The boy made a cloud that could make the dinosaur go away, and when the dinosaur went away, they never touched the chalk ever again.”

“I liked Chalk whenever the dinosaur came out because it scared all the kids and it looked funny,” Shi said.

“I liked Art and Max because it was funny because Max said that the other guy can paint him, but he like literally painted him,” Cecilia said.

Alexis said, “I liked Art and Max because when they painted him he was invisible, but then they painted him and he was so colorful.”

“I liked Chalk because the dinosaur came alive and the dinosaur scares them,” Thalia said.

“I liked Chalk because it’s like the dinosaur was holding the chalk and the dinosaur wanted them to draw it,” Esther said. “So they’d be like, dinosaur, yeah!”

“I liked Art and Max because it had a lot of color and it was funny because it was like he was an actual rainbow,” Kaybrien said.

Ms. Houghton said she was incredibly proud of her students’ work on literacy and reading so far this year.

“They read 11 books that were eligible for the Caldecott this year,” she said. “Plus, we’ve already read 16 previous Caldecott winners, and we’re in the middle of two other Caldecott winners. They’re excellent voters because they are well informed.”

Ms. Houghton’s parents have already purchased a copy of Art and Max for the classroom, and Ms. Houghton will order Interrupting Chicken and Chalk this afternoon.

TOMORROW! The official Caldecott winners will be announced, and Ms. Houghton will be at Wildwood early to see the awards given live at 7:45 AM.

Ms. Houghton’s class says, “Sincerely, Ms. Houghton’s class.”