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!


Books in Verse- a Fun Option for Young Readers

Have you tried books written in verse with your students? These types of books have been around for a while but they seem to be gaining traction this year. Why are these books so hot right now? Readers are always looking for something new and these sure are. The books are often quick and easy reads which make them more accessible to busy children, parents who are doing the read alouds, and a great way to get reluctant readers interested!

If you look at the books written in verse out there, they are also really diverse. The narrators and content covers just about anything you can think of.

In order to help  you get started with types of books,  I have a few suggestions for you and some details about each book, including rough suggestions of what age level the books would be appropriate for. Of course with any book, teachers or parents should always look at it themselves to determine if it is appropriate for a specific child. Check out these selections and let us know if books in verse are in your library!

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech has been out for a while. The narrator of the story is a young boy who learns to use poetry to express himself. It makes for a great read aloud or for students in grades 3 and up.

 The Crossover by Kwame Alexander just won the Newbury. It is the tale of twin brothers and deals with issues such as the brother's new girlfriend, their relationship with their father sibling rivalry and all the ups and downs of playing basketball. Some of the verse has an edgy quality that would appeal to kids and sounds similar to rap lyrics. This is a book for older kids though, as it does have a sad ending so maybe try it for ages 10 and up.

  A good read for animal lovers or those who want to start a discussion with youngsters on community and relationships is Little Dog, Lost. There are several different things going on with the plot - a dog who needs an owner, a boy who needs a dog, and a neighbor who needs a friend. This is a great read aloud and I would say would work as one for ages 6 and up and maybe as independent reading for ages 7 or 8 and up, depending on the child's reading level.

  Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger This one is great for children in grades 1-3 as either a read aloud or independent reading. The story consists of poems of different forms to describe the day of fishing, and has fun illustrations to boot. Kids who dont know much about fishing will still enjoy the style and the story of a boy who is excited for his day fishing until he realizes his little sister is going to tag along too!

The Cat on the Mat Is Flat is another fun take on books written in verse. It is a beginning reader's books and consists of seven short stories. They are humourously illustrated and have gotten many a reluctant reader excited. They would probably be good for ages 4-8.

Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes is the tale of a girl whose parents separate after which she has to go to a new school. Grimes is a wonderful writing and the story comes alive. The girl, Gabby, has an understanding new teacher who helps her get her thoughts in writing and a new word of possibilities opens up. This would be a good read for students in grades 4 and up (maybe third grade depending on the student, their reading level and if they were going to read it alone or experience it as a read aloud.

Thank you and happy reading!


Why Thematic Teaching Just Makes Sense

Thematic teaching deepens understanding, increases interest, and improves retention of content. Check out this post for more information

No matter what stage you are in your teaching life, you probably would agree that making connections across your learning improves retention of content. Children, especially struggling students, need extra exposure to the challenging content presented in science and social studies, and when students are reading about, writing about, working with, and creating about the content topics, most keep the information long term. 

Last year, I was given the flexibility to select the materials I used with my students, and I decided that I'd focus on the content areas as I planned my lessons (like the old days). The difference between the "old days" and the present though was in how I worked with the content. I used a variety of materials including informational articles, reader's theater, picture books, chapter books, and poetry...all on the similar topics to build a theme, and with all of these, we used interactive notebooks, close reading, anchor charts, written responses, and graphic organizers. Teaching students to think deeply is the core to each and every part of the ELA block, and since I taught just the ELA block, it was really important to know the standards taught during the remainder of the day in order to keep with the theme.

So...what are the advantages?

I did a little digging, and after reading a few articles, this is a cumulative list from the reading. 

With thematic teaching we get these positive results...

  • Connected learning...It helps students understand connections and how to connect
  • Focuses the class on a deeper understanding of the content.
  • Extends topics beyond surface learning.
  • Allows more variety with teaching methods
  • Helps students experience many different ways of learning.
  • Keeps students engaged through making learning activities fun/variety
  • Teacher is able to be creative, authentic, and original (as well as the students)
  • Allows the teacher multiple ways to assess learning
  • Teachers can integrate all subjects and use literacy within those subjects which increases the amount of reading students complete.
  • Utilizes collaborative and cooperative learning and works well with Project Based Learning and Genius Hour
  • Students share the same learning goals and all are given the feeling of importance.
  • Creates a community of learners
  • Technology in the classroom is very important to dig deeply into the theme.
  • Compacts the curriculum
  • Time savers- teaching multiple subjects at one time
  • Students apply their learning in real world experiences.

With that long list, are there disadvantages?

Although the list of advantages is long, there are a few disadvantages to consider. After all, we must look at the needs of each and every child in our classroom and recognize that not everyone learns exactly the same way. Differentiating our teaching is required within the thematic framework if it isn't working for some of your students.
For some, interest in the topic may not be a match, and when it's not a match, motivation will dwindle.
  • Students could become bored with one theme
  • Students might show low motivation or a lack of interest interest
With the curriculum, one of the most important reasons to teach thematically is for students to make connections across the curriculum, but if they are absent, they might struggle with making those connections. Other curriculum issues includes...
  • Finding appropriate resources and enough resources to prepare students appropriately can be an issue, especially if other teachers are teaching the same content.
  • Also, some standards may not work into the themes chosen causing missed content.
  • Teacher planning and prep time may be increased due to gathering materials and creating materials to fill curriculum gaps.

Interested in trying a theme?

Each week on my blog, Comprehension Connection, I host a link up called Thematic Thursday where I pull together resources on a specific topic. Some may work well for your standards and some may not, but even if you do not teach with a full theme across all subjects, you might enjoy using a collection of themed resources to accompany your school's curriculum, a basal story, or just to increase motivation with a topic your students love. This week, the theme is...Wild West. I hope you'll stop by, check out the resources I've pulled together, and maybe link up some of your favorites (free only please) or even websites you've enjoyed.

Thematic teaching deepens understanding, increases interest, and improves retention of content. Check out this post for more information

Thanks so much for dropping in today. If you have suggestions for themes I should add to the schedule, by all means, let me know in the comments, and until next month...happy reading!