There's No Place Like HOME for Holiday Reading!

Greetings of the season my friends!

It's Jennifer from Stories and Songs in Second, stopping in during this busy holiday time to share good cheer and a unique type of reading celebration with you!  This post was written last December as the sun rose over Bonita Beach in southwest Florida.....a place that my own family has called "home" for the holidays for sixteen years.

Many of my siblings are wake up slowly each morning when we gather here, warming their hands around a mug of coffee or cocoa, with books open on their laps.  We were fortunate to be "raised as readers" by our Mom and Dad, and I am here today to share a creative way to help other teachers and parents encourage children to make time to honor and enjoy reading magic at home!

Today's idea was inspired by a very special Nordic picture book and an Icelandic tradition that I recently learned about!  I hope that you'll find that it is an easy one to adapt for use at home during the winter break, and then implement in your classroom afterwards!

Start a simple yet worthy holiday tradition in your home or classroom this December! Host an Iceland-inspired Book Flood and share the gift of reading with your students and family members!


Engaging Our Students At Home

My winter break has officially started.  Woot, woot!  How about you?  It is a magical couple of weeks off that are filled with family, friends, food, and fun.  It is exciting, somewhat relaxing, and eagerly awaited; however, there is also be a hint of anxiety.

Why, you may ask?

It is two weeks off for me...but also my students.  We have worked hard over the past few months and sometimes two weeks off can impact the upward swing or momentum of our learning.  This ties right back in to the posts that we wrote about Summer Reading by Richard Allington and the need to have reading routines in the homes of our students.  These routines can help to prevent any sliding backwards.

And really this is (one) of our ultimate goals: Encouraging lifetime learners and lifetime (anytime) readers!
We want to light the fire in our students so that they WANT to read at anytime or anywhere.
In August, I had mentioned one way that I was going to try to light that fire in my students: through a Readbox.  Basically the idea was to roll out a cart everyday filled with books for families to check out with his/her student.  They read the book, return the book, and check out another book.  The hope is that families begin to establish more routines for reading when the books are high interest and readily available to them each day.  (If you want to read the full description of how we do it, just click on the image below).

It is now December and here is what we have found:
  • Our students ask for the box to be rolled out daily
  • Over 1,500 books have been checked out (in a school of about 200 students)
  • Most families are returning "customers" that come each day
  • Students are eager to talk about the books they check out
  • Students request books and book titles
  • There is excitement each time new books are added
 To us...this has been a success.

But two weeks without this routine, made me a little worried.  I still wanted those books in their hands.  I didn't want the routines to end!  So the Readbox is now in phase two.  And we call it...."Readbox at Home."  It is our way of engaging our students at home with high interest books and they get to listen to all their favorite teachers!

Here's what we decided to do:

1. We set up a YouTube channel and called it "Readbox at Home."

2. The teachers at my school have decided to videotape themselves reading a book either in their classroom, next to their Christmas tree, or maybe sitting by a fire.  Then the videos are uploaded onto our YouTube channel.

3. We passed out "business cards" and recording sheets to all the families in our school so that they would know how to access the videos at home.

KG fonts
I am nervous, excited, and eager to see if the families utilize the videos at home.  If we find it to be successful, it may become a new routine for the teachers and families!

Be sure to check back because Jennifer will have some more tips to get our students reading over the holiday break!


A-Mazing Fun!

Hello, everyone!  It's Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars with a fun and easy trick for getting students to focus on reading letters and words.  I love using mazes to help them read various different things and focus on it.

A few years ago, I found this wonderful video from Teacher Tipster.  Have you seen him?  He has AMAZING and simple ideas that anyone can use!!  This one was so easy I used it that very day!  You simply take any maze, add words, letters, math problems, etc. to it.  Then the kids have to follow the path to the end.  If they get to a "dead end", they have to go back and read all of the words they went over {or whatever you have for them to do}.

Here is a video because he explains it soooo much better than I ever could!

Here are some examples I have used in the past.

 I put the letters in order in the correct places in the maze.  There are other letters in the maze at dead ends.  To get through the maze, the students must go in the correct order.

A finished maze!
 This maze has CVC words in it.  To get through the maze correctly, they need to follow the short a words.  Other CVC words are placed throughout the maze.
And we're there!
  The students LOVE these, and they are so easy to make.  Here are some sites with some good FREE mazes!  Or you could always use coloring books pages with them in it.

Krazy Dad ~ "books of mazes"
Mazes Online
Print ~ Has letter mazes to print
All Kids Network ~ LOTS of FREE mazes!

Or just "Google" free mazes and see what you get ~ LOTS of free mazes!

Hope this is something fun your kids will enjoy too!  Any grade level would love this because you can get some really intricate mazes and put in vocabulary or math problems for the older crowd.  My third graders love when I make these for them too!  I love watching and listening to them work them out!


State Christmas Books

It's Jen from An Adventure in Literacy here today to share some state specific Christmas books. I'm featuring the Virginia books, but if you change the title to your state you can find most of the other states on Amazon. I've used these books in my classroom and they are always a hit. Students love recognizing local places they have been. 

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Virginia by Sue Corbett

This book is part of "The Twelve Days of Christmas in America" series. Each state book mirrors the 12 Days of Christmas...with a little state flair. In addition to being super books, most are written by local authors. Search Amazon for "The Twelve Days of Christmas in America" or insert your state in the title.

Santa is Coming to Virginia by Steve Smallman

Join Santa and his reindeer as they fly over famous state sites.  You can find some regional versions of this book too. There is even a Santa is Coming to Washington DC to cover those patriotic symbols and monuments. Santa truly is everywhere! Search Amazon for your state.

Wishing all book lovers across the country loads of holiday cheer!


Using the Think Aloud Process in Five Easy Steps

If you have struggling readers who seem to be word callers, than this post is for you. Check out how the Think Aloud Process can help you scaffold instruction for your students in this post.

Do you get blank looks sometimes when you ask a question? Maybe you get through a full explanation for activities and have that one student raise his/her hand to ask, "So what are we going to do?"  Well, you do not need to look far for a meme of what the teacher's look would be, do you?  I think we'd all agree that we want our students to be...
  • Active listeners
  • Engaged with deep thinking
  • Working with purpose
  • Attentive to detail, and...
  • Strategic with their reading
In other words, students need to think while they are reading or listening to reading. This isn't an automatic process for some of our little people (hence the blank stare image above), BUT, it can become automatic with scaffolding through the process.

Why is the Think Aloud Process Important?

The Think Aloud Process is a teaching strategy used to model how readers think as they read. In order to appropriately demonstrate Think Aloud, teachers need to use it with every text they share with students. This is a must because thinking as we read is critical to comprehension, and when the focus of reading a text is solely on reading accurately and decoding, then what we create are students who become word callers. That said, we know that there are multiple skills required for successful reading and that readers work through a channel of reading skills to reach the instructional reader stage. Here is a visual model to show that process.
Beginning readers learn the alphabet and sounds, learn to track print accurately, develop a sight vocabulary, and work through text to read the words on their own. Once they are able to do this, they become transitional readers. Transitional readers focus on developing fluency as they build vocabulary, comprehension skills, and continue working on decoding larger words. Once they are able to read on their own silently, the focus shifts to deeper comprehension and vocabulary development. Throughout this process, Think Aloud is a tool that scaffolds our readers to be able to independently think as readers as skills are achieved.

How Does the Think Aloud Process Work?

To model thinking aloud for your students, the first step is to choose a text with points that can be discussed. Prior to reading the book to your students, go through the text with a post it pad and pen. Mark the places where you want to pause and share your observations and thinking. Note-it is very, very important for the students to also see and work with the text. You can project the book with an Elmo or take photos prior to sharing. There are many books shared on Youtube also, so you may check to see if a title you are planning to use is available there. 

Once your talking points are identified and you've secured a way for your students to access the text, it is time to demonstrate. For my students, I will often use a column notes organizer like the image to the left. This organizer is for the book, Snowflake Bentley. As you share the book with your students, you want them to use all text features including illustrations, captions, sidebars, and the context of the text as the evidence of their thinking, so be sure to ask key questions directed to those features. 

Some students work well with a visual cue of what they are to think as they're reading. This bookmark helps students trigger that thinking and reminds them of the language we as teachers have used.

Once you have modeled with Snowflake Bentley or a book of your choice, you have to provide an opportunity for practice. Choose another book on a similar theme or one that will extend your lesson, and pair students for the reading experience. "Elbow Partners" are great for talking out our thinking. During this part, provide the bookmark or sticky notes that students can use in their discussion. 

The final tip I have is to make sure that you repeat this activity often with new texts. If students have trouble, you may need to stop and model thinking aloud again for students, but you can also direct the thinking with deep questions.

I hope this walk through of the process shows how it can be used with any text. It is so so valuable for our struggling readers. 

You can access this freebie using the image below. 

Although this is the process, it does not stop there. The final step is to have your students reflect on what they've taken away from the reading. This helps our students recognize the importance of using all aspects of the reading process and to understand what good readers do to be good readers. In my teaching, I always seize an opportunity to write, and having students reflect on this as they write may provide the teacher with a window into the students' thinking. 

Until next month, happy reading AND thinking!

If you have struggling readers who seem to be word callers, than this post is for you. Check out how the Think Aloud Process can help you scaffold instruction for your students in this post. Freebie included.
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Bringing Books to Life

November is a fun month because many of us help our students peer into the lives of people long ago.  And for our really little guys, this can be quite a challenge.  Time is so abstract.  I remember a day when everything that happened in my girls' lives was "yesterday."  Understanding the actual difference between a day, week, month, and year is challenging.  And then we start talking about 100 or more years ago. Phew!  That is hard thing for them to imagine.

Last year my teammate and I made the decision to use the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (My First Little House series) to support our informational writing unit.  Honestly, we were not sure how it would go.  Would they enjoy books that revolve around a family that lived in the late 1800s-early 1900s?  Would the boys connect to main characters that are primarily girls (but there are a few books that focus on Almanzo)?

What we found was that...YES...all our first graders absolutely loved the books.  They were able to pull information from these texts to learn about living long ago and used that learning to write informational pieces.  And we have found the same thing this year.  Students want to check these books out to take home and share with their families. 

Although the students were enjoying the texts, the objects and time period were still so abstract for them.  We wanted to help bring these books to life.  By doing so we felt that our students would have a deeper understanding for the text and a solid foundation to begin writing their informational pieces.

To bring the late 1800s to life, we needed some help.  I knew just the person.

My mom.

She has always had a "thing" for this particular time period.  I was raised in a house filled with objects from the late 1800s.  The sound of the "Little House on Prairie" tv show is burned into my memory.  So we packed up some of her things and headed to school.

There was such a buzz in the room when they saw all the objects.  As we discussed, explained, showed off each item, we connected it to what is used today.  My teammate and I also tied in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  Here were a few of the connections that we were able to make:

Throughout this presentation, so many great conversations occurred!  The kids learned new things, I learned new things, my teammates learned new things.  There was truly excitement in the air.

Books do that.  They make us curious.  They make us want to learn more.  They bring electricity into the air.  But for some kids, they do not do that naturally.  Bringing our books to "life" (when we can) can be helpful for some, especially when the concept is abstract to begin with.

This is just one way that we tried to bring long ago to today.  Video clips, songs, Little House Cookbook, making of paper dolls, are just some of the other ideas that we have for our students this year.  If you want to use this free powerpoint to bring long ago into your classroom, please try it out!!

How do you bring books to life in your classroom?


Getting a Head Start on Comprehension

Hello, everyone!  It's Andrea again from Reading Toward the Stars to give you some tips on helping your child become better at comprehension.

I have a spunky four-year-old who is full of life and wonder.  Many days she keeps me on my toes and reminds me so much of my 11-year-old son at the same age.  At that age, children are in awe of the world and are ready to learn so much.  They are sponges and take it all in!  So it is the perfect time to get them ready to read through background knowledge!

Here are three easy ways you can help build background knowledge early, so children will be ready to comprehend when reading.


As much as I get perturbed by answering the same questions sometimes, I know that my own children are learning from my answers.  My 4-year-old daughter is constantly asking me questions about the world around her.  Questions like "Where does the rainbow come from?" and "Are unicorns real?" make her think about what she wants to find out.  Though I could go into a lot of crazy thoughts for answers, I know that my answer just needs to be short and simple.  Otherwise, I lose her.  If I give her an answer to her question, I know that she will take that little tidbit of information and use it later in life.


What do cooking, playing a sport, visiting places, and creating art projects all have to do with reading?  They all give your child experiences they need to build background knowledge?  As children experience the world, they learn more and remember those experiences.  These help to build background knowledge by giving them a base to enhance comprehension when they begin to read.

Reading Aloud

I can't stress this enough!  Reading aloud to young children is the easiest and best way to build background knowledge!  We can't always have those experiences, but we can read about them. We can't always go to those faraway places, but we can read about them.  We can't always play sports, but we can read about them.  

We can always spend time together and read.

So, the bottom line is to find little ways to build background knowledge in even the youngest children!  They will thank you later!

And if you are interested in finding out how you can help little ones be ready for decoding, head over to this {blog post} on my blog to find out more!

And a huge shout out to the book, Raising Kids Who Read by Daniel T. Willingham, PhD, for the inspiration for this post!


A Generous Helping of Thanksgiving Day Books

It's Lauren from Teacher Mom of 3 here today with a generous helping of Thanksgiving books you can use in your classroom.  Whether you are looking for a new picture book, nonfiction selection, or poetry, I've got you covered.!

Click the pictures below each title to see the listing on Amazon, to take a peek inside the book, and to read a detailed summary and review. Most of these books are available at the local library and through Scholastic Book Clubs as well as on Amazon.

Ten Thanksgiving Books for Kids!

  •  Thanksgiving on Thursday by Mary Pope Osborne~Jack and Annie go back in time to celebrate the first Thanksgiving.  They even get to help prepare the feast!

  • A Plump and Perky Turkey by Teresa Bateman~The townspeople of Squawk Valley need a turkey for Thanksgiving. They come up with a creative plan to lure a turkey into their town.

  • Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas~Based on a true story, this story from American history tells the story of Squanto and the spiritual background of the first Thanksgiving.

  • Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes~A sweet picture book perfect for toddlers up through first grade.  Written in a simple and predictable text pattern with vibrant pictures and a message of how important family is.

  • Balloons Over Broadway  The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet~ A fascinating account of Tony Sarg, the inventor of the famous "upside down" puppets.

  • Pete the Cat  The First Thanksgiving by James Dean~Pete is starring in the school play about the first Thanksgiving! A "lift the flap" book, this cool story is sure to be a hit with preschoolers and older.

  • How Many Days to America?  A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting~ A beautiful story of a family who must flee their home on a Caribbean island and set sail for America.  A Thanksgiving story for any time of the year!

  • I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson~ No list of Thanksgiving books is complete without this classic story! Rhyme, repetition, and a humorous story of traditional holiday foods!

  • T is For Turkey  A True Thanksgiving Story by Tanya Lee Stone~An alphabet book done in rhyme that tells the Thanksgiving story.  Preschool and kindergarten students will love it!

  • 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving~ by Dave Pilkey~ Modeled after the classic Christmas story, this Thanksgiving story tells the story of how a group of children saved the turkeys.  A great comparison to Natasha Wing's The Night Before Thanksgiving.

I have developed a sample-pack FREEBIE for you to use with your students as they interact with a text, respond to their reading, or for you to use as an assessment.  These graphic organizers can be used whether you do a read-aloud or have students read the book independently or in small group. Click the picture below to download a few of my Thanksgiving themed reader response graphic organizers. They can be used with any fiction text!

May you enjoy the beauty of the season and may your blessings be too numerous to count!