Reaching Readers with Online Books

Greetings from one long, lost blogger!

Hello!  It's me--Jennifer--from Stories and Songs in Second!

My summer hiatus from this royal kingdom of literacy lovers is now over! 

Know that I am glad to be back to share a wonderful website that I recently discovered!  I've used RAZ Kids, a program purchased by my school district, as my "go to" online reading resource for many years, but am going to add EPIC to my student's list of Daily 5 Listen to Reading choices this year!

I've been very impressed with the variety of literature choices provided at Epic--Books for Kids, and really like that many of the titles included in their different libraries are current, quality trade books.  There is a balance of fiction and non-fiction, and you can tailor your menu to your student's interests.

In order to show you how easy-peasy it is to sign-up for your account, I took a series of screen shots so that you'd have a picture tutorial!  I am not the most techno-savvy person, but was able to set up my account on my home laptop, and plan to access it on my iPads at school as well!  There is also an iPhone app!

I love the Scaredy Squirrel series, but don't own many hard copies.  I am looking forward to sharing more of the stories with my second graders using EPIC on my classroom SmartBoard!  I am also looking forward to sharing information with my students' families so that they can access our account at home and READ, READ, READ! 

I hope that you'll be able to use EPIC effectively this year to reach and teach more readers!  Click
{HERE} to get started!

In closing, I'd like to share this fun set of promotional posters I made for the annual literacy initiative in my building.  Maybe you can use them in your classroom or school as well?!?!   Click {HERE} to download it!  

The "We have read _____ picture books," "We have read ______ chapter books," and 
"Your teacher is reading...." posters were inspired by the ever-wise Pernille Ripp.   She writes over at Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, and shares my love of picture books and fills her classroom with them.  I look forward to encouraging a classroom community of children who are passionate about books this year, and hope you will too!

As always, thank you for allowing me to share my story!  Continue to keep calm, teach on, and hold a song in your heart!  Feel free to visit me over at Stories and Songs in Second this week where there is a back-to-school celebration going on!


Educational Resources from the National Park Service

It's Jen from An Adventure in Literacy. I've spent the last three summers traveling coast to coast on cross country trips. One of the highlights of these trips is the opportunity to hit all of the national parks. Most people know about the amazing beauty and natural resources that national parks offer, but I'm here today to share some of the educational resources too.

The majority of national parks have bookstores in their visitor centers. In addition to park resources, most of them have an AMAZING selection of children's books. There are nonfiction books to learn more about the features and characteristics of the park. There are also fiction books related to the parks. I'm talking about quality children's literature.

Carlsbad Caverns even had a book display by the elevators highlighting a few books!

Some visitor centers will give you 15% off with a teacher id on some items. As with all teacher discounts it depends on the park and can change at any time, but it never hurts to flash that teacher id and just ask!

If you have children of your own they can take advantage of the free Junior Ranger program. The program is individualized for each park, but it usually requires some sort of learning activities specific to the park and a junior ranger patch. You can read more about the program here.

If you're not near the visitor center resources, the National Park Service also offers some great web based resources. There is a kids page as well as a teacher page where you can search for lessons and resources. You can also visit the websites for individual national parks for educational resources. Just click on "Learn About the Park" then "Education".

National Parks are America's largest classrooms. Be sure to take advantage of all of the educational resources they have to offer. Do you have a favorite park or park resource that you use for education? Leave us a comment. We'd love to check it out!


Using Student Names to Teach Early Readers

Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.
Creating a love of reading can begin with student names.  Student names can be as unique as each student.  Even if they have a "common" name, they make it their own.  Use what they bring with them to make them stronger.
Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.

Read a Book

Everyone has probably heard of Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes.  It is such a quintessential kindergarten book.  Watching Chrysanthemum love her name, then fret over her name, then finally LOVE her name again with the help of the wonderful music teacher is heart-warming.  I read the book to students then send home their name in bubble letters for their first family project.  They'll send it back in a week later, decorated and unique.  I also love A my  name is Alice.  It's a fun play on beginning sounds. I love giving the students a fun oral activity with the sound chart:  _____ is on the ____.  They'll write silly sentences like:  Austin is on the apple.  It certainly brings the giggle. Finally, my favorite book about names is an oldie:  Just Only John. It's about a little boy named John who doesn't like his boring name so he takes a magic spell to get a new name. Of course, in the end he wants to be "just only John." It's the cutest story.
Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.

Name Chart

Please, please, please have a name chart.  Make it with them.  I'm not a fan of putting names on the word wall...because some names aren't easily decodable.  You can add a picture, if you'd like.  I usually highlight the beginning letter.  Sometimes, I circle all the A names, B names, C names, and so on.  We use the name chart to find letters in the alphabet.  I can use the name chart to help decide who is going to write a letter during interactive writing.  I can also use the name chart to find similarities and differences.  We can also use the name chart in the Fab 5 Center.  They have to write 5 Friends Names on the provided paper.  Do it.Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.

Anchor Charts

Use their names all over the room.  How many letters in your name?  What letters are in your name? How many syllables are in your name?  How many vowels?  Use their name!Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.

Art, too.

After reading Ten Apples on Top, a wonderful counting book, have the students draw their picture and count apples for each letter of their name.  (I usually use small Ellison(c) cut-out apples.)  They have to count, write, spell, create, order...and it's all with their name.Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.

Writing Sample Plus!

This is the formative assessment our students will complete the first week of school.  At first, it's a listening, gluing and ordering activity.  They'll get the write paper, a pink "I" square and a blue "am" square.  Students will be asked to find the square with the circle in it and put a circle of glue stick inside the square.  Then, they will put the pink "I" square on the spot.  Next, they will find the square with an "X" in it and put an "X" of glue stick inside the square.  Then, they will put the blue "am" square on the spot.  Finally, they will write their name (with a model) independently.  They will also be asked to draw a picture of themselves.Using student names in books to teach letters, sounds, rhyme, and other reading skills.

First Partner Activity

Students can have a name model in their hands and you'll direct them to find a friend who:

  • has 1 letter the same as their name.
  • has 2 letters the same as their name.
  • has the same number of letters as their name.
  • get creative!

And we've just begun.  Are their any name activities you'd like to share?

I hope you have a wonderful September..and celebrate their names.


The Pros and Cons of Computerized Reading Programs

Many school systems use computerized testing as part of reading incentives and comprehension monitoring. Today, I thought I'd share with you some of the pros and cons of using Accelerated Reader and other computerized testing programs for evaluating the comprehension of independent reading material.  Certainly, this has been a topic of debate as many reading researchers look at it's effectiveness and like any program, it has been used positively by some and misused by some. 


The purpose of this post is NOT to say whether using Accelerated Reader is right or wrong, judge those who use or choose not to use it, or to in any way speak negatively. My goal with this post is to share what I have experienced in the years I've used AR with my students. It is up to each educator to determine what best meets the needs of his/her individual students. As with anything in education, one size does not fit all. So, let's get the discussion going. 


Setting reading goals keeps students focused.

When setting goals with my students, we take time to look at what our students have been reading, how many points were earned in previous quarters, and whether they were hitting the appropriate level to make good decisions on where to set the goal.  Through these discussions, students are learning what is best for them to read, so that they are making great choices from my library and from the school library. We are able to pull up the data to see whether there is consistency with their effort too.

The tests keep kids accountable.

If the intent with the tests is to provide a quick check, then I believe they serve that purpose. Yes, the questions are recall questions and not in line with current standards, but for my kids, it gives me what I need, a quick check on whether or not they got the gist. They are quick to take too, so it was easy for me to let my kids slip on the computer or Ipad to quickly take them and move on to a new book.

Student success with the tests can motivate further reading.

I make a big deal when I see students do well.  We have AR dances and high fives when kids score 80% or better (and the majority of the time, they do.)  With my kids, we remain focused on individual progress toward their goals versus focusing on who has the most points, etc. 

Using a computerized program helps the teacher keep track of independent reading levels and genres.

One thing I really like and utilize is the data.  I love that I can print my students reading records, share them with parents, and use them to discuss with the kids.  I can quickly scan down the list to see if the student is reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction and whether the students prefers a certain series or author. I love that I can make recommendations from the record too.  One positive with having the information in the system is that the time needed for keeping these records can be spent on other tasks. 


Students can hyper-focus on points versus the value of reading.

Some students get so focused on how many points a book is worth that they will pass up great literature they'd enjoy because it "isn't worth enough points".  That makes me sad because great books can motivate kids to read others like it or others by that author.  We've had students decide not to read a book because it isn't on the AR list. I hate that kids limit what they read based upon that. Luckily, our school has the web-based version of AR, so almost all books are available, but in past years, that was an issue.

Incentives based upon the points earned can shift the focus to awards versus the rewards you get from reading a great book.

This con has nothing at all to do with the program, but is more to do with how it's used.  Many schools use AR stores where kids buy things with their points or have treasure boxes for when kids reach certain milestones.  Rewards are fine, but we have to pause and think whether these practices are making our students think, "What will I get if I finish this book?" or even worse, "I'll never get to that many points, so I'm just going to give up!"  That is so counterproductive to what we want as teachers.  The way to improve your skills is with practice, so we want kids to build upon reading momentum to read more and more and more.  We also want kids to see that the pleasure of reading is in the reading itself versus reading for a reward.

Students can misuse the program.

I have had to monitor my students' use of the program. I have had students cheat with it by either having other students take tests for them or by looking in the book for answers.  We've handled it by deleting the tests where the cheating occurred, and even though it was handled, the concern for me is that the kids felt the need to cheat in the first place.  Why?  Were they concerned about keeping up with peers, earning the quarterly incentive party, or just not reading the book?  Probably all of those reasons, so you have to wonder if AR is creating an environment of competition which is turning some kids off to reading.  


Accelerated Reader is a commonly used program in many elementary school. This post looks at the pros and cons of computerized testing.As you make decisions for this year's reading plan, the main thing is to make a plan that will build a love for reading no matter what. If your school uses AR, no problem.  Find ways to build a culture of reading in your classroom and use the program's positive features to help you discuss with your student what to read next. 
  • Let your students share what they're reading with their classmates.  Build time in your day for independent reading and emphasize great books versus points. Student success builds success, so giving them time will show them that you are a team and that you value time to read.
  • Use goal setting to motivate.  Perhaps a change in mindset to number of books read will help keep kids from reading inappropriate books (books that are way below their level or way above their level).  It's a great feeling to reach goals early, so try to set the goal at a level that the student will reach without great difficulty.  
  • Set up space to highlight great books. Having a book recommendation wall where students can share books they love works well.  Book talks are also a great idea.
  • Finally, communicate with your students.  See what they're reading. Discuss the books with them, and see what they're planning to read next.  Being familiar with books is really important, so that you can give book suggestions too.  
Now it is your turn.  I know you will have opinions on this topic (which is one reason I chose it). We learn from positive discussion, so please, please keep positive.  I did not write this post as a "This is what you should do post", but rather, the goal is to get you thinking of how to motivate your kids this year.  I am very neutral. I do not feel one system works with every group of kids or teaching style. We are all unique teachers and have unique kids, so choices we make have to be determined by us considering all factors.  So, let's hear from you.  Share what's worked well for you please, and until next month...have a fabulous return to school (whether you were ready or not.)


6 Reasons Why You Should Read Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Welcome to Literacy Land!  It's Lauren from Teacher Mom of 3 here today to talk about a book I just finished reading.  As soon as I started Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I knew that I had to share it with you!
Wonder is a book that is destined to be a classic.  It's one of those books that draws you in, and you don't want it to end.  I could have read this realistic fiction novel in a few hours, but instead I savored it by only reading a few chapters each evening.  For me, it's also one of those books that is so incredible that it's hard to put into words.  You just have to read it to fully experience it.

  With a mixture of humor, sadness, and relatable themes, the book has the reader on a roller coaster of emotions.  From the very beginning, I was drawn to the main character, Auggie, a ten year old who has been homeschooled until now, the beginning of his fifth grade year.  Auggie was born with facial abnormalities and dreams of being ordinary, fitting in, and making friends at his new school. The book chronicles his unbelievable first year at Beecher Prep.

Why You Should Read WONDER

1.  R.J. Palacio called her debut novel a "meditation of kindness".   It is a beautiful story of kindness and how it isn't always easy to step outside of our comfort zones, but it is so worth it.

2.  Along with kindness, the book is rich with other themes such as anti-bullying and having compassion, acceptance, and empathy for others. Students will be able to relate to these themes and how Auggie desires to want to fit in, not stand out.

3.  With so much to discuss, the book makes for a memorable read aloud, as a literature circle selection, or as a whole-class novel.

4.  Auggie's English teacher, Mr. Browne has a precept for each month of the year for his students (and the reader) to ponder.  You may have seen his September precept floating around on Pinterest or Facebook:  When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.  And so the kindness theme begins!  

5. The author's craft is just stunning! From the shifting points of view to character development to vocabulary, and theme, the book is artistically woven together. And as a result, the story teaches, entertains, and inspires the reader to be a better person.

6.  After reading, you will be amazed at how one kid, one little kid, can change and affect an entire school. And then you can encourage students to Be the change you want to see in this world {Mahatma Gandhi}.

7.  You will be encouraged by the message of hope that is in the book.  Yes, there is hope, always hope, and YOU can overcome what seems like insurmountable challenges.

Suggested Reading/Grade Level

When I first read the synopsis on Amazon, I immediately wanted to purchase it for a read aloud with my 8 and 9 year old sons that are entering third and fourth grades. The suggested age level is 8-12 years old and the grade level is 3-7.  However, I felt that the book would be best enjoyed by 5th-7th graders because the plot development and some of the content is abstract and complex  For example, the symbolism and the precepts require some literacy analysis that third and fourth graders may not be ready for.  Part of the story line includes the talk of boyfriends/girlfriends and dating. I knew my boys would be turned off by that!

The book has a Lexile of 790, a Guided Reading level of U and a DRA level of 50.

If you plan to use the book in your classroom, here are just a few classroom resources from Teachers Pay Teachers that I found:
Have you read Wonder?  What are some wonderful ways you have used the book in your classroom?  


Getting Ready For Kindergarten Literacy Learning

Hello everyone, Tara from Looney's Literacy here. Welcome back to school if you've started and even if you haven't,  I wish you all the best year yet!

I always love this time of year because everyone is so eager to be back. Everyone has rested and rejuvenated. We're learning rules and procedures and we're trying to create a safe culture in our building. I wanted to share some insight I've gained over the years and just this past week which was our first week back.

As an interventionist,  in a building-wide  Title I  district we no longer have criteria for students to qualify for Reading or Math Title I services. They are all Title I, including the staff! Because of this change, we've had to really rethink who receives small group pull-out services and who receives individual services.

Over the past couple of years we've used a literacy learning continuum, MAP & SAT scores  and BOY / MOY  benchmarks for service recommendations.  We have grade level team meetings twice a month to discuss any formative assessment data and who needs extra support.

So today, I'm going to discuss Kindergarten literacy learning and how we determine needs for extra support at the beginning if the year. I can't stress enough,  the importance of developmental milestone awareness. Developmental milestones that include both fine and gross motor development, speech and language development, social and emotional development, and brain development. (They really did know what they were doing when they included child development & psychology as  required courses in the Education Department.)

While literacy learning  is not a linear path, there are developmental milestones that need to be in place to help literacy learning become a  little easier. I like to observe Kindergarten for a week or so to see if I notice recurring behaviors that might raise some red flags regarding some of these developmental milestones. I make sure to see them using a writing utensil (for correct tri-pod grasp), setting on the carpet (spacial awareness & sensory seeking ), participating during their brain break (gross motor activity - because of time constraint I'm unable to observe during recess and P. E. but if I have concerns I ask the teachers about these times), during  independent work time an at the end of the day (social & emotional). Here's a brief list of things I watch for (click image to download document):

I record my observations on this sheet:

At our fist team meeting we'll discuss the teachers' observations and concerns and my observations and concerns. Then we decide how we're going to address the needs. Sometimes it's just a suggested strategy that a teacher uses in the classroom. If needed, I  might work with a small group in the classroom or pull-out. In the most severe cases,  we'll pull out individual students. Some examples of severe cases we've had in the past include, unable to speak in complete age- appropriate sentences, students who have a fist grasp with writing utensils, unable to use scissors, unable to write their name, unable to hear rhymes, etc. 

Stay tuned for more literacy learning strategies for K-6th,  as the beginning of the year continues to progress. You be able to find those here. 


Engaging Kinesthetic Learners

Hello Literacy Land Readers,
I am enjoying my final week of summer!  I know many of you are already in your classrooms.  I hope everyone has a great Back to School 2015!  I am Deniece from This Little Piggy Reads.  I have a great recipe over at my blog today!  

I am very excited to share my post with you today.  I don't know about your classroom, but in mine it seems that well over half of my students are kinesthetic learners.  This idea popped into my head one day during a design challenge.  A light bulb went off in my head.  Why not incorporate building and writing?  

I had a vision, students were given a prompt, they made a Lego creature and then wrote a story as if they were they the creature! Wow, great idea...why hadn't I thought of it before?

So, I ran to Target to get Lego's.  Um....Lego's are EXPENSIVE!  I decided to ask for donations from parents and from my family.

Once you collect enough Lego's, store them in cheap dollar store containers.  I have 10 containers and an "extras" bucket.  If I find any stray pieces I put them into the bucket - that makes for easy clean up.

Normally, I post a prompt, we read the prompt as a whole class.  I give students about 3 minutes to brainstorm ideas by sketching, listing or making a web.  Then, my students get into groups and they have 15 minutes to build.

It's very important to set a time limit for building.  My students would seriously spend HOURS building, taking apart and re-building Lego's. So, I set a 15 min. timer for my build time.  After they build, tables share their "ideas".   Then, my students spend 30 minutes writing.  Since my students are bused to my classroom daily, we don't normally get to go through the whole writing process. However, this year I plan to allow them to choose their favorite writing and present it for Open House.  I want students take a picture of their Lego structure and make a bulletin board with the writings.  I think kids and parents will both like it!  

If you want to engage your kinesthetic learners, I just added my Lego Writing Prompts to my TPT Store.  They will be a Dollar Deal for the month of August!  

How do you engage kinesthetic learners in your classroom?