5 Reasons For Choosing Graphic Novels

Hi everyone! Emily from The Literacy Nest (formerly The Reading Tutor/OG) and today I'm talking about graphic novels. Your kids love them, your librarian has a hard time keeping them on the shelves, but maybe you're not so sure which are the best ones for your students. Or maybe as a parent, you're wondering what merit they have. Are graphic novels just glorified comic books? Does graphic mean inappropriate for kids? I'm going to talk a little bit about what they are, their benefits, and provide some suggested lists by age/grade level.

What are graphic novels?

Let's flashback to the early 1990s. My older brother was in high school and positively glued to a book called Maus by Art Speiglemen. I picked it up and breezed through it. What was the big deal? As a teenager back then, it just looked like a thick comic book to me. I recall him passing them onto my Mom to read. They went through the whole series together and were constantly chatting about it! What was the appeal? Little did I know it then, but Maus was a groundbreaking graphic novel. Using the Holocaust and World War II as the backdrop, this GN paved the way for new an exciting plots, characters, and series. GN was not just for superheroes. (If you haven't read Maus by the way, please pick up a copy, It's amazing!)

A graphic novel is a book in novel length which can be any genre, but written and illustrated in a comic book format. They are written for both children and adults. For those kids in your class burdened by text heavy books, graphic novels may be just the format they need.

Five reasons to choose graphic novels:

  1. They appeal to both reluctant and advanced readers. The picture format and text presentation will appeal to kids who struggle with reading, or have a hard time maintaining motivation and stamina. Your advanced readers will be interested in the complex characters and rich plot development that many graphic novels have.
  2. Traditional books and series have been turned into graphic novels. Series like The Boxcar Children are in graphic novel format, but so are classics like Journey To The Center Of The Earth or The Iliad and The Odyssey.
  3. They're excellent teaching tools. Graphic novels are great for teaching inference. They often have complex vocabulary and can be used to teach literary devices.Their non linear layout offers a different flow than a traditional book without illustrations.
  4. The graphic format is helpful for English language learners and children with special needs. The use of graphics with text and rich dialogue help with language acquisition developing social skills.
  5. They're not just big comic books with superheroes. Some graphic novels do have superhero characters with superhuman powers. And those are highly appealing, especially for boys. But many aren't. They are written in many different genres with highly engaging plots and diverse characters. You almost get the sense you're reading and watching a film when you get wrapped up in a graphic novel. For some readers, that's the best of both worlds.

Resources for finding good graphic novels

  1. The Benefits of Graphic Novels 
  2. Diamond Bookshelf (lots of book reviews and suggested graphic novels)
  3. Graphic Novel Reading List by grade level
  4. Effective Teaching Strategies For Using Graphic Novels In The Classroom
Have you used graphic novels in the classroom? Do you have a favorite title to share? Please let me know in the comments. Thank you!


Get Your Writing Tips at the Writing Fix

Hello Readers (and Writers)!  Carla from Comprehension Connection here today to share one of my all time favorite websites, Writing Fix, with you.  I have been using lessons from Writing Fix for almost two years now, and if you have not explored it yet, it is time to check it out!

Writing Fix is a resource site that freely shares ideas, resources, interactive apps to be used for lessons, and teacher tested lesson plans.  It has been in existence since 1999 when the founder, Corbin Harrison, purchased the domain name and began collecting resources other teachers had designed. 

Fast forward to today, and you will find materials that will take you through each year to grade twelve.  If you have favorite literature you enjoy, you can locate writing resources to go with them using the site bibliography that is linked to the resources. It is amazing just how much is included. The preview below is just a snapshot! So many great titles!

I first learned about Writing Fix when I ran a weekly blog link up on my blog called Six Trait Sunday.  Teachers linked up their favorite books and how they used them to model writing traits.  I had just started blogging at that point, so it somewhat fizzled, but it helped me learn the depth of resources available.  If you have a certain type of writing you need to address (persuasive say), you can easily scan through to locate what you need or search the site.  I did this, and although it hopped me over to Google, it gave me a list of 195 links.  A favorite of lesson of mine features the book, My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza.

I used this writing lesson set at Thanksgiving.  Of course, I began the writing assignment with the book of course. I didn't have a copy of the book on hand, so I used this youtube video clip which works well since you can pause and discuss writing examples, and students can better see he pictures as well.  Plus, I think my students truly enjoyed hearing this author read it.

Once you introduce the assignment with the book, Writing Fix offers the full step by step lesson plan and materials you need for each writing stage as well as anchor papers for modeling.  I love that the site gives multiple grade levels of papers too as it provides my students with a "road map" for where their writing needs to go.  I am truly impressed by the growth my students (who are struggling readers) have shown, and I can't help but believe that the repeated modeling and practice connected to strong literature helps the children better understand how to improve their writing and actually enjoy it.  For this plan, you can see a little synopsis below.

Summary of this Lesson's Mentor Text:

In the picture book, My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza, a hungry and na├»ve fox is surprised to find his dinner knocking at his door. Could this be his lucky day? Unfortunately, an intelligent and somewhat sly pig has other ideas. Using the power of persuasion, and a keenness for trickery, the pig outwits the fox and ultimately ends up clean, fat and happy. The fox, exhausted by the persuasive suggestions of the pig, collapses and is unable to “roast” his guest. A formidable opponent, intelligence clearly wins over stupidity, or an empty stomach in this case.
After the students have analyzed the text, it's time to begin the prewriting stage.  The website includes all of the graphic organizers you need like this one.  Students can work to plan out their papers. Then, the teacher can use the anchor papers to demonstrate where the assignment is heading and what works well. Here is an example of one story.
My Lucky Day! 

by Jaynee, third grader
One day, a hungry spider was about to go get himself dinner. Then he got startled by a knock on the door.
“Hey, hey ladybug, what’s doin?”
The spider thought to himself, “A ladybug? If a ladybug lived here, I would have eaten it already. This must be my lucky day!”
The spider got up and opened the door. The cricket who had knocked tried to run away, but the spider quickly grabbed him and brought him in the house.
Next he said, “Hop in this pot so I can cook you.”
“Ok, ok, ok,” said the cricket, “but first, shouldn’t you give me dinner? I am on the skinny side.”
“You are on the skinny side,” said the spider. So the spider got busy and made cookies, brownies. But he needed a salad so he ran to the store, got a salad, ran back home and made the salad. ”Ok, now hop in this pot so I can eat you.”
“Alright, but shouldn’t you give me a bath? I’m very filthy.”
“You are pretty filthy,” said Mr. Spider. So the spider rushed upstairs, ran the bath, poured some bubbles and threw in a rubber duck. Then he ran downstairs and carried the cricket upstairs into the bath. When the cricket was clean, they went back downstairs and the spider once again said, “Hop in this pot.”
“Ok,” said the cricket, “but…”
“What, what, what?”
“Shouldn’t you massage me first? My skin is very rough.”
“You have a point,” said the spider. So he rubbed and pushed and pounded.
The cricket said, “Just a little to the left, just a little to the right.”
But the spider was no longer there. He had passed out.
The cricket ran home, saying, ”What a dinner! What a bath! What a massage! This must be my lucky day!”
I love hearing my students critique the papers, but it is interesting how spot on they can be. They are able to identify weak hooks and arguments, analyze the sample for word choice, sentence fluency,etc. They can also reread is they find they have a little writer's block.

For the revising stage, this author shared checklists for Voice and Ideas. Handy huh??  For publishing, you can even add your "star" papers to the lesson site

So...what are you waiting for??  Hop on over and see what's all included.  Be sure to check out this tab to see the featured mentor text lessons.  They are my favorite!

The Writing Fix helps students see the Reading-Writing Connection, and it makes writing just plain fun!


MathStart Books

Hello! It's Jen from An Adventure in Literacy. I'm here today to share a series of books from my favorite math author, Stuart J. Murphy.

Stuart J. Murphy has 63 books in the MathStart series. If you are unfamiliar with his books you MUST visit his MathStart website to check them out. The MathStart books cover a variety of math topics in three different levels (ages 3+, 6+, 7+).  All of Stuart J. Murphy's books are amazing because they provide eye catching visuals to help students better understand math concepts. He also gets story ideas from kids to help relate math to real life situations. There is a great "Meet the Author" video about him on TeachingBooks.net.

Each of the MathStart books has two pages at the end with activity suggestions. These activities are meant to reinforce the featured math skills from the stories. You can also download his ideas and activities from the MathStart site.

If you're teaching a certain math skill you can find the appropriate books listed by skills and standards under the "Books" tab. There is also a math bibliography that includes additional math books by other authors for each skill.

On Family Math Night a few years ago I did a Stuart J. Murphy session. I briefly shared his website highlighting some of the family resources. The majority of the time families could read his books together. Everyone seemed to enjoy the session and the children were super excited to share some of the books they had read in class. Plus, it was super easy to prepare for the session. The MathStart website has some great resources, articles, and handouts for parents if you are planning a math night.

Stuart J. Murphy says it best with his motto "Math=Fun!". I totally agree and am so glad to have his great books to add to my math lessons. Do you have a favorite math book or math author? Let us know in the comments so we can check it out!


5 Great Books for Women's History Month

Hello, Royal Readers!  It's Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars here today with some books to help you start planning for next month ~ Women's History Month!

Last month, Deniece from This Little Piggy Reads highlighted some great books for Black History Month, so I thought it would be fitting to highlight some fun books for Women's History Month, which is in March.

I love biographies, and these Time for Kids biographies are perfect for many young readers.  They pictures are great and really show a lot about the person.  How can you go wrong?
This book A is for Abigail has a great deal of information about various women in history.  Students will love the short blurbs of information that will help them want to learn more about some amazing women in history!
This book about Amelia Earhart is perfect for introducing young readers to a heroic woman in history.  I love that they even have one about Lucille Ball as well!  I love Lucy!
For older readers, the Who Is/Was books are perfect for them.  This one about Jane Goodall helps transitional readers understand her life.  There are plenty others in this series as well.
I have never read this one, but it looks very intriguing! Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women highlights the accomplishments of many women inventors.  What a great way to get young girls to think scientifically!
I hope this short list has gotten you excited about Women's History Month.  It sure has gotten me excited!  I would love some other great book recommendations.  What are some other books you like to use for Women's History Month?


Creating Readers from a Very Young Age

Hi lovely readers! It's Melissa from Don't Let the Teacher Stay Up Late. Usually I like to share ideas and lessons for the classroom, but we've been out of school this entire week for snow and nothing seems to be motivating me there that hasn't already been said a million times. Today, I'm writing as a mommy.

I have the sweetest little three year old boy, and it has been such a joy to see his love for reading begin. The process is truly amazing, and it has really made me admire preschool and early elementary teachers all the more for the building blocks that you take our little ones through! I wanted to share a few tips/lessons that I've learned along the way. Many of them are tips you've probably heard, but I want to talk about WHY they are so important also.

1. Start reading to them from an early stage. I'll be honest. I held off a little while on this one. I didn't start when he was a baby because I was too exhausted to want to do anything. Then he got into his grabby phase, and I was too afraid that he would rip my precious books. I finally got smart and invested in some simple board books. Really, they can be anything, and you can find them CHEAP in Target's dollar spot, Dollar Tree...anywhere! You don't need to get a ton. Just have a small collection and start pointing out items. You'll feel foolish, but they're soaking it in.

2. Repetition is key! I know that I share with my students about how being "voracious readers" is a good thing. But sometimes I don't really feel that way. Especially when my son asks for me to read him the same crappy book for a month straight. (And yes, you will get these - those books that you find yourself editing as you read.) Let me explain.

My grandparents gave Keagan this book for Christmas last year, and I honestly have no idea where they stumbled across it. I would've never spent my money on it and actually joked that I was going to take it in to my 5th graders to show as an example of what not to do in writing for sentence variety. BUT after reading it every night for what felt like an eternity, I began to notice that he was repeating after me. Then I could leave out words and let him fill in the blanks for me. Y'all, he was barely two. I was floored and felt like I had a child genius! Of course, I'm sure many of you mothers have seen similar things, maybe even at earlier ages. But for me, it finally clicked. Repetition is one of the first steps of reading!

3. Build a strong library. This was fun for me! I love books and already had a decent collection at home way before Keagan came along. But having the variety also means that there are even more books for Keagan to fall in love with. We have fortunately moved on from The Bedtime Book for Dogs, and, although we still have favorites, I don't have to worry that I will be stuck reading the same two or three books for the rest of my life. Here are some cheap and easy ways to build that library though:

  • See if your parents/grandparents saved books from your childhood. If they're anything like mine, they saved EVERYTHING! And being the only teacher kid, I stole them all before my siblings could lay claim on them. I *may* share one day if they ask really nice...
  • Visit yard sales and goodwill stores. You may run across a lot of junk, but every once in a while, you'll find a true gem.
  • Ask friends to give books instead of toys for birthdays. This works best when they're younger and won't get upset, but I know we have more toys than we know what to do with. Books are easier to store :-)
  • Save books from Chick-fil-A and cereal boxes. I have a few multi-lingual books from Cheerios. Not sure if they still do it, but it's a simple way to collect books and they were kind of cute. As far as Chick-fil-A books go, you can request the toddler books (which are tiny board books) for the kid's meal prize. They're short and great especially for those nights when I don't want to read but now "have to" because it's become an expectation at home. Seriously. You won't regret it.
  • Scholastic. I try to buy one or two every few orders. Of course, last time I did this, they actually sent me a preschool catalog which was a complete waste for me, but that's okay. Their prices are awesome.
4. Set up a routine and STICK TO IT! Like I said, it took me a while to start reading to Keagan, but we eventually got into the habit of one book a night. Now if I don't read to him when he goes to bed, he will cry and pitch a fit. This time has become important to him and is such a part of his routine that he can't do without it. There are nights when it can be frustrating, but I know that he's learning and will eventually be able to do this all on his own. And, of course, then I'll miss it. It's a great bonding time for the both of us.

I'll leave you with a story from Friday morning. One of the books I read to him is from my own childhood...

I haven't read it in at least a week, but while I was getting ready, Keagan went to the door of the bathroom and said, "I'm too small! I can't reach the doorknob." (which is a line directly from the book). He then went to his bookshelf and found the book to bring back and "read" on the floor. Using the pictures, he was able to read almost word for word what every page said. And we laughed because he used the exact voices that I use when I read (which are the exact voices my dad used when he read it to me years ago).

Be intentional about reading with your child. You won't regret it!


Using Learning Grids to Engage

Hello! It's Pixie Anne from Growing Little Learners here today to share some ideas with you about using Learning Grids in Literacy!

Learning Grids are not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination and I'm sure we all use them or have used them in our classrooms before in some way. I certainly have in the past, especially for math lessons but only once for literacy. When I think about that, it seems strange because that literacy lesson was always a success and I don't think I have ever stopped to think about all the reasons why! It was a lesson on arguments (balanced and persuasive) and the children had a 6x6 grid in pairs full of statements such as: space exploration is a waste of money, Our parents are our best teachers, Children should be allowed mobile phones in schools, Dogs make better pets than cats etc. Children rolled the dice to land on a statement and had to argue for or against it with their partner. I used in in different ways and it always resulted in some great writing!

The course I was on (OTI) challenged me to think of other ways I could use learning grids in my classroom to engage learners and I thought I would share with you five of the literacy ideas I have had so far...

1. Describe the Nouns

Graphics are from My Cute Graphics 
It so happened that we were doing a unit of work on poetry and we were thinking of more interesting ways to describe boring objects. Of course, I did have a whole range of real objects in the class for children to refer to as well but made a quick learning grid using lovely images from My Cute Graphics and gave the children a choice. They loved rolling the dice twice to find the picture on the grid they had to describe and ended up with some super sentences!

2. Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

I then thought I would try out a grid in my phonics lesson the next week. We have been working on comparative and superlative adjectives and the spelling rules for adding these suffixes. 

This would work as a scoot activity too but my class enjoyed working in pairs and talking through the spelling rule using it this way.

I've uploaded these so you can grab them as a freebie from my store!

3. Chocolate Facts

After half term (I have a lovely week off at the moment!) we are starting a non-fiction unit on explanation texts and will be focusing on chocolate! Our first lesson will be activating prior knowledge and thinking about what we already know. Instead of paired work during the main part of the lesson, I thought I would use this at the start or end of the lesson to share some new facts with the class. I plan to put it into a smart notebook and put boxes over each fact which can be revealed when children choose a square.

4. Roll a Story

I think I will have this out as a start of the day activity for pairs to work on. Hopefully, when they each roll a picture then can come up with a little story or link between the two images. I'm always after new ways to get more speaking, listening and collaboration into the day and I hope they will find this fun!
Graphics are from My Cute Graphics 
5. Book Talk

The lovely Em over at Curious Firsties posted an update about her book Face Off idea recently (go and check it out!). I loved this and plan to set up a display outside my classroom just like it! Seeing the display she made gave me an idea for a guided reading activity I might set up along the exact same lines. I have made a grid with some of the books we have shared this year and know quite well. I plan for children to roll the dice to find 2 books then talk about their favourite. This could be a written response if they are working on their own or another speaking and listening activity if working in pairs - justifying their choices and explaining clearly their favourite book. I'm really excited to try this activity - thanks for the inspiration Em!

I acknowledge I have gotten carried away with the Learning Grids but please don't worry that all my lessons are based around this one idea! I am using them fairly sparingly so the children are still excited and not bored by this one engagement strategy and am using plenty of others too!

I do think they are a fun way of adding a game element into learning, promoting collaboration and offering the children some choice. I've just shared 5 ideas I've had for literacy (the possibilities are endless and I've been using them in math too!). 
I would love to hear how you already use them in your classroom or how you might incorporate them into a lesson in the future! 

These dice I ordered do make all the difference though - lovely soft, silent dice! One of the best inventions ever?!

Thank for stopping by today - please do leave a comment to share your learning grid ideas!


Cross Checking: What it is and why your kids need it

Learning to read can be such a difficult task.  There are so many skills that are necessary, for a child to go from a non-reader to a reader.  Many children are fortunate enough to be read to at a young age.  These children are given the opportunity to experience books and enjoy them as a story.  Through this simple act, children learn that books tell a story and there are beautiful pictures to match.  Eventually, those same children will begin to pick up books on their own.  They will tell their own story according to the pictures that they see.  They are doing exactly what we, as adults, have modeled for them.  But they are still non-readers….

So how does a child go from reading the pictures of a story, to reading the words?  There are so many skills involved in this process that we could discuss it all day long.  Children need letter recognition, letter sounds, decoding, rhyming, phonemic awareness, concept of word, and the list goes on and on.   

Today, though, I am going to discuss one skill that many people often forget about.  It is one of those skills that seems to come naturally for some children and is very difficult for others.  It is one that we, as teachers, often forget to explicitly teach.  It is cross checking.

In my classroom, I use the Beanie Baby Decoding strategies to help many of my students remember these strategies they need for reading.  The first two strategies that I always teach to my non-readers are Lips the Fish and Eagle Eye.  These are the very basic beginnings of reading.  Lips the Fish reminds my students to get our lips ready to say the first sound in the word.  It gives them a starting point when reading the word.  Eagle Eye reminds students to look at the pictures to help them with unknown words.  I teach each of these skills explicitly and separate in my classroom.  Then, I go back and teach them together.  THAT is cross checking.

Cross checking is the ability of a student to use BOTH the picture on the page (or the meaning in the story for higher level readers) and the letters that create the word to determine the unknown word.  This means that child has to use both meaning AND visual cues while reading.  Most students have no problem doing one or the other, but combining them is a difficult task.

To teach this skill, I give my students several prompt cards that I designed specifically for teaching this strategy.  Each set has identical pictures, but with two different words that could describe that picture.  Often times, students will look at the picture and choose an obvious word for it without realizing that it could be something entirely different.

For example, this card has a fairly obvious word in it.  Students will look at this card and know that it is a picture of a horse and they will read “This is a horse.”

However, some stories may not use the word “horse.”  Some may use the word “pony.”  Students without the ability to cross check will look at this second card and read “This is a horse.”  They may not even notice that the word begins with the letter P rather than an H.

You will notice that I added our symbol for Lips the Fish and Eagle Eye to remind students that they need to use both strategies to determine what the sentence says!  

Here is another example:

 There are so many instances in stories in which this is such a necessary skill.  After I have taught this skill using these cards, it is time to try it in a book.  I then purposely choose a story or two in which they will have to use this skill to read the book accurately.  In a book, the picture cues are no longer there, so they may need to be reminded when they come across it the first couple of times.

As students become stronger readers, the pictures in the stories become fewer and fewer.  They also become more vague.  Students will no longer be able to use picture cues as often.  Instead, they will have to cross check by using meaning.  They will have to decide what word would not only match those letters, but would also make sense in the story.

If you would like a copy of the example cards that I have made, click here and check them out!