Super Story Sacks!


It's Pixie Anne from Growing Little Learners here today to share some ideas on using story sacks in the classroom!

Elmer Story Sack Contents

You may well use story sacks regularly in class already and have a whole stash of them for your children to explore... However, if you are new to teaching, or are new to teaching younger children (like I was last year), you may not have any experience of them and I hope this post will be useful for you!

What are Story Sacks?

A story sack is a bag full of goodies to support children when reading, retelling and exploring a favourite story. They can be used by children independently but are often useful when used with an adult as this can lead to high quality book talk and development of not only reading skills but speaking, listening and writing skills too!

When to use them:

I have seen our selection of story sacks hanging in the corridor for years! However, it was only recently that I decided to explore them and realised what I was missing by not building them in to my classroom practice. I now have one in my book corner which is out all the time and use the others for independent groups to explore during guided reading. They really enjoy it and while they can drift off task on occasion as they are working on their own - the different elements that make up the story sack mean they usually have plenty there to keep them engaged for the 20-25 minutes or so we spend on guided reading. They really look forward to their turn with the sacks each week!

What makes a Story Sack?

We have been lucky enough to have had some lovely parent/grandparent helpers in the past who put together most of our story sacks. They can be pricey to buy so if you can get some volunteers in to help then this is much better! You can add anything to a story sack that supports the exploration of the book but there are a few things that make up a typical story sack.

Here is the content of my favourite story sack for The Queen's Knickers:

A large sack with the title of the book on the outside.

A copy of the book.

Puppets, dolls or figures of the main characters in the book.

Props or a backdrop for the setting of the story to support retelling. 
( I just love the time and care taken over making all of the Queen's knickers - including the little parachute!)

A game or other activity for the children to play (with instructions).

There is a bingo game and sequencing activity here linked to days of the week and months of the year but the possibilities for different activities and response work are endless!

Non Fiction books linked to the main book.

I really would recommend making (or finding helpers to make) some for your classroom. They are easy to put together and have so many benefits for supporting literacy development. The next step in my school is to set up a borrowing system for parents. I am sure children would love to take these home to share with parents and siblings and it would be a great way to help parents and carers get involved with their children's education and build up contact between home and school!

I would love to hear how you use story sacks in your classroom, what your favourites are and ideas for ones I should start making!

Please leave a comment below to share and thanks for stopping by today!


Comparing and Contrasting Animals

Happy Spring everyone! It's Jen from An Adventure in Literacy here to share an easy activity for comparing and contrasting. I had been working on comparing and contrasting all week with my first graders and wanted to add a little playful fun to the I pulled out plastic eggs and animals.

To start off the fun I read Big Egg by Molly Coxe. I double puffy heart love this book! It is a quick read with simple text and bold illustrations. I've used it in many grade levels for predicting and making inferences from pictures. For this activity it served as a quick hook to introduce the project. The story in an eggshell is that Hen finds a big egg and tries to figure out what kind of animal egg it is. 

I used eight plastic eggs each filled with a different small plastic animal. I let the students know that just like in the book, all of the animals in the eggs are not necessarily animals that would really hatch from eggs. Each table got to choose two eggs from the basket.

As a table group they worked together to compare and contrast their two "hatched" animals using an egg shaped Venn diagram. Each group also presented their animal comparisons to the class. The next step in the project could be to write paragraphs that highlight the similarities and differences in the animals. A basket of eggs and the Venn diagram could also be a very engaging center!

I'm sure every elementary teacher has extra plastic eggs and animals lying around, so grab the Venn diagram freebie here to have your own egg animal fun! What other fun activities do you use to teach compare and contrast? Let us know with a comment!


Tools For Ear Readers

Hi everyone! Emily, from The Literacy Nest (formerly The Reading Tutor/OG) here. I'd like to talk about a phrase called ear reading today. Have you heard of it? Ben Foss, The author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan coined the phrase. Ear reading versus just eye reading has many benefits for your struggling readers. Read a quick excerpt from Ben:
The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blue Print to Renew Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning:
A child with dyslexia will never eye-read as well as his peers, and that, I hope to reassure you, is fine. Yet all children need to be exposed to vocabulary and ideas to be successful in school. If your child was blind, providing text as audiobooks or Braille would allow her to read with her ears or with her fingers. No one would ever claim that a blind person was lazy or stupid for not reading text with her eyes. When I listen to audio, that’s ear reading. When I speed it up to four hundred words a minute, four times the pace of standard speech... I am leveling the playing field for me.* It’s not what the mainstream conceives of as reading. But it’s ear reading. It’s learning. It’s literacy.
(Link to Headstrong Nation)

What is ear reading?
Ear reading is simply having access to audio while reading a text. When a slower reader in your class is reading, having the additional audio and any other speech to text technology is a great way to accommodate them. For some people, it may be the only way they will be able to access (read and comprehend) text successfully. That's a pretty powerful statement. You can make this happen for them in your classrooms.

Who benefits?
Think of a child in your class who struggles to learn to read. You may have just asked them to retell events of a story of write a summary. Adding a writing task on top of remembering details they read only while 'eye reading' becomes monumental. Think of adding audio as a way to level the playing field for those children. They'll be able to listen successfully and then be able to complete that oral or written task. When you use audio, you can also train yourself to listen more rapidly by speeding up the text you to. You've heard of people taking speed reading courses, haven't you? Well, why not try speed listening? This may help older students learning to read. Watch a demonstration of it here. DEMO

How do I find audio books?
Since 1 in 5 students in your class are dyslexic, it is imperative to have audio text. If you have grant money or planning your school year budget, investing in audio books, a good listening center,            e readers, and headphones are worth every penny.
  • First, look into two sites: Learning Ally and Bookshare. Call to see if your state has funding money to provide one of these audio book sites in your classroom. Many have, but sometimes schools don't know about it. 
  • Many reading anthology series and text books come with audio CDs and access to read them online. As long as your district has purchased them you should be able to have them in your classroom. 
  • No listening center? Buy a pair of headphones and set a child up at a computer to read. If you have mobile tablets in your classroom, even better. I want to caution you that the voice on some e readers sounds robotic. Your child may not like having to hear a robot voice read to them. (Would you?) Always check if it's an adult with a pleasurable reading voice. 
  • Next, check some of the free sites online. Here is a pin from one of my Pinterest boards to access over 600 free audio books. 
  • Use your local library for books CD.
Have you tried using audio books with your students? How has it helped them? Please share in the  comments. Thank you for stopping by Literacy Land today!


4 Vocabulary Ideas to Avoid Roadblocks

Hello.  This is Cathy from The W.I.S.E. Owl again.  I love talking about Emergent Readers and Writers.  One common hurdle in reading and writing is vocabulary.  There are some fun ways to help students with vocabulary.

I had the distinct privilege of presenting just recently at the Virginia State Reading Association Conference in Richmond.  One of the workshops was on Vocabulary.  I blogged briefly about this presentation in my latest blog post on my website, but thought I would give you a more in depth look at vocabulary here today.

Anchor Charts/Prediction Posters

I am a big fan of Anchor Charts.  Done the right way, anchor charts are invaluable to your students. Anchor charts can be pre-made but must also allow for editing, if an unsuspected word misunderstanding occurs.  Pre-assessing a book for vocabulary roadblocks is a must.  Pulling out words you believe will create "comprehension potholes" or "run the story off the road" are a must for a successful Read Aloud. Before reading a book, introduce words to your students out of context.  Talk about the meaning.  Demonstrate the meaning.  Discuss how this particular word might be in this book.  You may even want to read the sentence from the story.  Preparing for vocabulary can help students spend time on higher order thinking than on the meaning of a single word.  One type of anchor chart is the Story Map.  Words from the story, both common and new, can be written on post-it notes given to the students before they read the book.  Students will predict if the words belong on the map in provided spaces:  Characters, Setting, Actions (verbs), Things (nouns) and New to You.  If they encounter a word while reading that needs to be moved on the chart...they can easily be moved.  

Text Gradients

I actually LOVE text gradients.  Typically, text gradients are used in the upper elementary but every kindergarten teacher has tried to get her student's to use words more descriptive than small or big.  The famous "said is dead" refrain is heard in every first grade class.  So, let's talk primary text gradients.  A wonderful way "add color" to writing is using paint strips.  (I live in fear of paint strips eventually costing money.)  The paint strips can be put in library pockets in the writing center and students can take a color strip to make their elephant "enormous" or their ladybug "tiny."  


Providing students with diagrams is a great way to introduce vocabulary that is both familiar and unknown.  When studying about bats, my students were excited to learn bats had thumbs.  They look very different from our thumbs, but they are still thumbs.  They were also intrigued by the membranes in their wings.  We compared the membranes to duck's feet.  We even found out turtles, otters and some reptiles have webbed feet.  Diagrams draw the student in and help them write about animals and make comparisons.

Finally, Act it Out

When we were preparing to read The Knight Before Dawn, I introduced some words to the students before we read.  One of the words was "precipice."  I needed to relate Jack dangling from a precipice on the castle tower to the students in my class.  First, I showed them pictures of large cliffs in the desert or on mountains. Then, we went to the playground.  The only cliff they really knew about was the playground equipment.  One at a time, the students went to the edge of the playground equipment and they yelled, "I AM ON THE PRECIPICE!"  Then they were allowed to jump off the "cliff."  Trust me they all knew what a precipice was and when Jack was hanging from the precipice they could anticipate his falling!  That's the power of vocabulary!

These are just a few ways you can make sure to introduce children to wonderful vocabulary words they can use to write, make connections, and understand.



Exploring Creatures: Using Informational Texts and Expository Writing in Language Based Intervention

Tara here from Looney's Literacy to share using expository texts and writing  to create a language based literacy intervention. 

Oral language is a driving component of future literacy success. Language based intervention is critical in  kindergarten and 1st grade. 

With strong oral language skill comes more vocabulary knowledge. With strong vocabulary skill comes more understanding of "book language" and stronger comprehension skills.  What better way to practice language then researching interesting creatures and writing an expository text, right?

So we did! 

 My kindergarten students are studying different creatures in their classroom.  In my class, we recently read some non-fiction texts about animals. So I took this teaching opportunity and turned it into a fun language based activity!  

After reading our non- fiction texts on animals that can go fast, we used the smart board to research the animals they were most interested in.  

They had so much fun chatting about the things we found about sharks and hummingbirds they forgot they were learning! I've collected some great resources about these two amazing  creatures and would love to share!

HTML tutorial HTML tutorial HTML tutorial
HTML tutorial HTML tutorial HTML tutorial HTML tutorial

 We used expository texts  as an example to begin our writing. Our next step was to organize our information.

 Then we choose 3 topics about our animal and used them to complete our Table of Contents.

Our next step was to write our chapters! 

This was a great opportunity to study non-fiction text features, write expository texts, and use academic vocabulary to build upon our prior oral language language skills. And we had a blast in the process!


Fabulous and Fun Fiction and Non-Fiction Ideas for Spring

Hey everyone! It's Bex from Reading and Writing Redhead! Are you looking for some new ideas for literature for your primary classroom or homeschooling this spring? Need some new activities and resources for language arts! I have rounded up some for you right here in the post! 

First let's start with some book ideas and then if you keep reading I will share some resources at the end! 

Let's start with a collage of some great books to try!

Lets break down the books! Please comment below and let us know if you have used them, which is your favorite, and what resources you'd recommend - or if you have additional ideas for literature! Click on any title and it should take you to the resource at Teachers Pay Teachers, a blog, or  website with more info.

The Best Nest by  PD Eastman: This is an oldie but goodie as my mom would say. My friend's 6 year old loves it. While not strictly about spring, we know birds build nest and eggs hatch in spring, and the funny story of a pair of birds search for a better nest is adorable! 

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert: A colorful and fun realistic fiction story that children can learn from tells the simple tale of planting and waiting for seeds to grow into flowers.

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle: Of course you all know this one - the tiny seed is the only seed to survive the elements and make it to grow into a tall beautiful flower.

In Like a Lion Out Like a Lamb  by Marion Bauer:  Fun rhymes and a literal adventure of a lion and lamb during the month of March. Why didn't someone think of this before? 

Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson: The adorable Bear wakes up from spring thin and hungry. The Pictures are fun, colorful and full of energy!

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky: Gorwing up just a few miles from Boston, where this book is set means  a lot to me! If you have not read it, get going! The mallards search for a safe place in Boston to build their nest and raise their young. Will it be the Public Gardens, somewhere on the Charles River, the Back Bay, near the Capitol building?

Caterpillar Spring, Butterfly Summer  by Susan Hood: A fun, colorful pop up book for very young children that teaches about metamorphosis.

The Thing about Spring by Daniel Kirk: Rabbit loves winter and is sad to see it go but is learning why spring is wonderful too from his animal friends.  

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney:  A beautiful story about a woman who made  a difference by spreading lupine seeds - a colorful sign of spring.

Weather in Spring by Martha Rustad: Recommended by a first grade teacher! Get your non-fiction weather facts about spring here.

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown: Do you know this classic? A little bunny finds an egg and waits to see what is inside!

The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller: 48 pages of kid friendly but scientifically accurate information about bugs, plants and animals!

Cherry Blossoms Say Spring: This National Geographic book looks at both the life cycle of a cherry tree and also at the history of how the trees came to Washington, DC. A neat way to combine science and history!

Its Spring by Susan Swan: Unique cut paper pictures with hand drawn illustrations make this a fun scavenger hunt of sorts!

Spring by Tanya Thayer : Recommended for pre-K age students- it is a nice introduction to how and why the seasons change.

Animals in Spring by Martha Rustad: A companion to Weather in Spring it would go well with your science program if you are learning about animals or weather! 

Let it Rain by Maryann Cocca Leffler: Another good choice for Pre-K students and maybe kindergarteners, this is a rhyming book with playful pictures and tells of many fun spring activities.  

Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel: Of course not just about spring, but this book has a super cute story about spring being "just around the corner".

So now you have some spring literature ideas- I rounded up some FREE resources from some of your favorite teacher bloggers!

Frog and Toad Long and Short Vowel Sort by Differentiation Station Creations: Would be great to accompany Frog and Toad and if you are working on vowels. 

St Patricks Day Literacy and Math Printables by Mrs W- Great if you are trying to get in some literacy activities for the first spring holiday! Includes work on syllables, word families, and a writing prompt

Life Cycle of a Ladybug by Michelle Griffo: Pretty self-explanatory but might be a nice follow-up to reading about spring insects and animals or learning about the life cycle of a caterpillar or even plant life cycles!

Do the Bunny Hop- a cvc Word Game  by Mrs Roltgen: Get your CVC practice in with a fun bunny theme.

Spring Sentence Scramble Puzzle Freebie by Teaching with love and Laughter: Great for grades K and 1!

The Tiny Seed Song  by Libby Loves Learning: a fun, free song you can sing after reading the story.

Tiny Seed Word Wall by Miss Glitter McGlitterstein

Tiny Seed Literacy Unit by Kinderplans

Here is a paid resource from Cathy Collier - The Wise Owl - but you can download the free preview and see if the full product would work for you: Combined Spring CVC Card Sort