Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Matchbox Diary: storytelling before writing

You know that feeling when you find a book and you just know it's going to be perfect?  I knew this book would be perfect before I opened it.  I kept the book at home to read with my girls instead of taking it to school this morning.  After dinner, I snuggled up on the couch and re-read the book to myself.  As I read, memories of my own great-grandfather consumed my thoughts.  

This story is written in dialogue and tells the story of a great-grandfather sharing memories with his granddaughter.  The little girl is visiting her grandfather when he advises her to, "Pick whatever you like the most." "Then I'll tell you its story."  She chooses a cigar box full of matchboxes.  Her grandfather collected items as a small boy growing up in Italy.  He could not read or write but his mementos held special memories for him.  The grandfather and granddaughter recount the memories that each treasure in the matchboxes holds.  The granddaughter learns of her grandfather's immigration to the United States and how he was finally able to go to school to learn to read and write.  He even became a printer and printed the written word in newspapers.  

Inside spread from The Matchbox Diary written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline and published by Candlewick Press.
This story brought my Great-grandpa Key's story home to me.  I called my Grandma Parmenter immediately after reading the story so she could re-tell his story to me.  Just like the grandfather in the story, my Grandpa Key came to America as an immigrant.  My Grandpa Key's dad came to America before the rest of the family to lay the foundation for a better life.  Grandma told me that grandpa, his five brothers, and his mom had to sail at the bottom of the boat where the quarters were very cramped, just like the young boy in this story.  The picture that hit home the most for me was the picture of the little boy looking out at the Statue of Liberty.  My grandpa Key's name is etched on the wall at Ellis Island and I can imagine him traveling the same route (although he was too young to remember).  The grandfather in the story tells of having to have your eyes checked when you get to America to be sure you are well.  Grandma told me that my Grandpa Key was very sick and only two years old when he set sail for America.  His family in England encouraged his mother to, "Leave him in England to be buried instead of being buried at sea."  I'm glad my Grandpa Key came to America.  I'm glad his story can be told and that the author, Paul Fleischman so beautifully helps to retell my grandpa's story as well as so many other immigrants that have and do travel to America for a better life.

Personally, I think this story lends itself to being used with younger children.  Even my own daughter, at four years old, has so many stories to tell.  She cannot read or write yet, but boy can she tell a story!  I think this book would be a great book to use at the beginning of the year to introduce your writing workshop and the idea that everyone has a story tell even if they cannot write the words on paper yet.  It also opens up the discussion that your students will be able to write their stories down soon as they will be learning to read and write just like the grandfather in the story. 

I read the story to my girls tonight.  Emma Kate ran to her room right after reading the story and grabbed her Souvenir Shoebox that she created last summer.

She couldn't wait to share the small items that she collected in her shoebox.  This was a summer project that was assigned by her 4th grade teacher the summer before entering 4th grade.  Each item had to fit in a shoebox and tell something about her summer vacation. This was a great way for Emma Kate to remember her summer memories and she also brought her box to school at the beginning of the year so she would start off with plenty of writing ideas for her writer's notebook!

Leia thought about what she had to share for a moment.  Then, she jumped up and grabbed her baptism box from under her bed.  We pulled out one item at a time and told the story to go with it.

On the phone, my grandma also had a great idea to use with the book.  Of course she did...she's taught all of her life!  She said you could have your students interview their grandparents about special mementos that hold stories from their lives and share their stories with your class.

Candlewick Press offers more extensions for the book here in their Teacher's Guide.
So many great ideas!  What would you do with the book?
Post a comment and share your thoughts.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Try Two...

This Thursday I was excited to have the opportunity to walk over to Middle Tennessee State University to attend a videotaping of a session titled:  Writing in the content areas.  Michelle Pieczura taught the session and is a part of the leadership in the Middle Tennessee Writing Project.  I was fortunate to have the chance to be a part of the Writing Project last summer and learned so many great ways to apply writing to all aspects of my classroom teaching.  When I get the chance to learn from Michelle, I'm there!  In this blog, I hope to offer some of the resources that were offered in the class as well as two of the ideas that I took back to the library and implemented successfully the next day!

First, let me tell you about MTSU's Center of Educational Media.  It is an amazing resource for classroom teachers!  With your free registration on the site, you can access and watch any of the archived training videos from your school or home in your free time.  Some of the session topics include the following:
  • teaching with primary sources
  • adaptations for the differentiated classroom
  • STEM! engineering for everyone
  • common core strategies
  • mathematical literacy (Dr. Jeremy Winters)
  • much more...you can search by the specific subjects you need

So, Michelle had one hour to teach us all of the most important ways to incorporate writing in the content areas!  She taught us about the four arms of writing.  Then, we tried two on our own.  The first strategy came from the writing to learn arm.  We wrote to consolidate and review.  Michelle explained that to quickly review material you have previously taught, you can easily show a short video, a picture, a word or words, or a song to your children.  Simply ask them what comes to mind when they see it.  I used this strategy immediately with my third graders who are learning about fables.  Last week we learned about Aesop, his life, and his fables.  I wanted to review the material I taught the previous week, so I popped a picture of Aesop up on the Elmo.  The picture came from the book, Squids Will Be Squids, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. 

 I gave each child a clipboard with a small sheet of paper on it when they entered the library.  I asked them to take about a minute or two to list everything that came to mind or anything related to it when they looked at the picture.  I was amazed at how well the students remembered what I taught the previous week.  We could quickly share our writing and then move forward with the lesson.  The writing samples also let me see that five students did not know specifically that the person was Aesop or any information related to him or his stories.  I know that these students need remediation.  This review took about five minutes.  After our review, I had the students write their own versions of fables that could happen as Discovery Elementary, just like the fables that take place in Candace Fleming's  Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary.

The second strategy that Michelle had us try was related to the writing to learn arm.  We were writing to reformulate and extend our writing.  The skill that we used is called looping.  When you loop with your students, you give them a starting point to write about.  The students write off of that point for a few minutes.  Then, you ask your students to go back to what they've written and choose a word or a line to write off of.  What we found was that when you write the second time, your topic might automatically narrow itself or go in a different direction.  I thought I could apply the looping skill to my fourth graders who are writing poetry.

I am currently collaborating with one of our fourth grade teachers and we are walking our students through a poetry unit modeled by Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters book.  I love this book!

Our students are becoming amazing poets!  I modeled the looping skill by taking a poem that was already written (I borrowed my fourth grade teacher's poem she had written in her personal poetry notebook) and I chose a word or words that I felt I could take and work with.  I modeled how I circled all of the choices that gave me ideas.  Then, we talked about how the word or phrase could give me inspiration to write about something that was related to the poem or that might take us in a different direction.  I circled the word "backyard" in her poem and wrote a new poem about all of the memories I have from backyards I have lived in throughout my life.  Remember, I am doing this in front of the students!  The modeling is so important.  Then, I chose the words "Whitney Houston" from my backyard poem and they gave me inspiration to write a different poem about how I used to sit and listen and sing with Whitney Houston on my jambox.  I then wrote an acrostic poem from the word "me" in the Whitney Houston poem.  The "M" in me stood for mischievous and I am going to write about a time that I did something mischievous to one of my teacher friends at school!  This looping activity proved to be a great way to take the students writing deeper into a specific poem or in a different direction with a new one.  It was definitely a spin on the original idea of looping, but I felt like it really worked for our kids and they loved the idea.

P.S.  We called this "lifting a line" with our kids.  Next week we are going to try lifting lines from our poetry and gifting them to friends to use in their own poetry.  We are also going to "lift" lines from poets who are famous.

P.P.S.  My collaborating teacher lifted her lines in her poem differently than I did.  Instead of choosing one line or phrase from each poem to start a new one, she lifted several lines from her original poem, each beginning a new poem.

P.P.P.S. (this is getting ridiculous) Here is the link to some of Michelle's student work examples.  Click on "Tennessee Fridays" on her site to see many examples of how her students write in science and social studies.

We are hoping to have the children publish these poems by creating hyperlinked poetry where the word or line that has been looped is linked to the new poem the student has written.

To sign off, I just have to say that I am so thankful for the Middle Tennessee Writing Project and the amazing work that they do educating teachers about how to be better writers and teachers of writing.   They have changed my writing life and my students' writing lives in the library forever.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Scholastic True Flix

If you live in Murfreesboro, TN, you have to take advantage of our free subscription of Scholastic True Flix through Linebaugh Library! All you need is your library card number to get started!  True Flix offers many great resources that are ready to use immediately on your SMART board.  The eighty-four titles are all nonfiction and include science, social studies, geography, people, government, science experiments, and more.  I would suggest using the titles with 3rd-6th grade students.  Because there is so much information in the text, one of my third grade teacher friends helped me create this web to organize the information in the book as you are reading together with your students.  This can easily be changed to fit any book available through the program by changing the headings in the web to match the table of contents in the book.  All of the titles are paired with an introductory video a quiz and vocabulary practice that you can complete before and after you read.  You can also visit the downloadable documents to customize letters about True Flix for your teachers and parents.
If you have used True Flix in a creative way, please share your ideas!

Nonfiction feature of the week

The nonfiction feature of the week idea came from the collaboration between our library and first grade teachers.  First graders have been learning about the parts of nonfiction books as well as the nonfiction features that help readers comprehend the text.  To show many examples of each feature, we created a nonfiction feature of the week.  We are going to spotlight a different nonfiction feature each week.  Our first feature is diagrams with labels. 

The other nonfiction features we will spotlight are comparison, cutaway, picture with caption, and close-up.

 The students are looking for examples of the feature of the week at home and at school.  When they find a great example, they can cut it out or make a copy to add to our feature of the week chart.  

Our first graders are each independently researching different topics with our wonder bubble unit (visit C. Jayne Teach for a detailed explanation of the wonder bubble unit).  Each child will publish their own feature of the week that shares what they have learned about their topic at the end of the week.  This will give them many opportunities to see many different examples of nonfiction features from a variety of sources before publishing their own for their wonder bubbles. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March Book Fair Insider

This month's Scholastic Book Fair Insider post is all about how to involve your principal in your book fair events.  There are so many fun and easy ways to keep your principal informed about the details of your fair and when your principal is supportive and excited about the fair, your faculty, students, and families will be too!  Read the March edition of the Scholastic Book Fair Insider here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Question Boy Meets Miss Know-It-All

This is one my favorite newly published books!  The superheroes in the book steer away from Question Boy and his incessant questioning.  Things change when he meets Miss-Know-It-All.  She knows the answers to all of his questions and continues with information that he doesn't even want.  When they face off cape to tiara, there's no telling who will outsmart the other.

A nice touch that author Peter Catalanotta adds is that one of the facts that Miss-Know-It-All blurts on each page is inaccurate.  The wrong facts are posted on the back of the book (don't tell your kids).

This book offers a few fun collaborations for the classroom teacher and the librarian.
First, you could invite a classroom teacher to join you for a lesson in the library using reference books to find information.  Read the book to the kids and have the facts in the book listed for teams of four students.  Have the teams use the reference books you have in the library:  encyclopedia, dictionary, almanac, thesaurus, atlas, and any nonfiction books the students want to use.  Each team has to decipher which of Miss-Know-It-All's facts from the story are accurate and which are incorrect.  You could have teams mark out the wrong answers as teams find them.  This would probably work best with students working in teams, but all students working together as a group because there are several facts to find in the book.  You could also assign teams a specific set of facts from the book.

An extension on this lesson would be to have students use the idea of a certain number of truths and one lie for a subject they are learning in class.  This would be a great content-area review when a teacher has already covered a topic in social studies and science and wants a fun review for her students.  I am looking forward to collaborating with my daughter's fourth grade teacher to try this out in the next few weeks!  I have to thank my assistant principal for this great idea.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kamishibai Man

Kamishibai Man, written and illustrated by Allen Say, is one of my favorite stories.  This heartwarming story tells of one of Japan's storytelling traditions.  Kamishibai men used to roll their carts along the streets in Japan clapping wooden boards together to beckon the children.  Children would listen to the kamishibai man tell his story and then buy homemade candies from his cart.  This story tells of a kamishibai man who has been in retirement but yearns to take his cart into town once again.  The city has changed drastically over the years and he daydreams about how it once was.  When he awakens from his dreaming, he finds a crowd of adults screaming out to him for his stories-the children who he told his stories to years ago!  Get out your Kleenex for this one, ladies and gentlemen!

So, I thought this story was a great writing opportunity for our children.  First, we learned more about the history and specifics about kamishibai stories.  This video has lots of great information for the kids.

Then, I let the students work in groups to map out the story elements for their own kamishibai story.  Each group had to include the setting, characters, problem and solution of their story.  After they were done mapping their story elements, students wrote a sloppy copy of their story.  The sloppy copy was transferred on to a storyboard format so students could make sure that their story layout included only twelve slides. 

Student illustrations had to match the text in the twelve storyboard slides.

These storyboard slides will become the final copy after a final edit.

When storyboarding is finished, each team receives twelve construction sheets of paper.  I just have the students sketch out their illustrations in pencil first, and then they watercolor.  Here are the first few pages of a published copy with the text that tells the story:

One day in pineapple land...

a hero named Jon Apple was born.  He was going to defeat Evil Pickle.

Evil Pickle was stealing cheese from a grocery store named Froger.

Once Jon Apple got there, the evil minion grapes captured Jon Apple
and took him to the dungeon.

After the students finished publishing their stories, I had them tell them to my kindergarten classes.  This was a great way to introduce kindergarten to this ancient form of Janapese storytelling as well.

Seusstastic Mystery in the Library Revealed!

So, I posted recently that my sixth graders were writing a mystery that was going to take place in the library.  I took two of the best mysteries that were submitted and combined them!  Here's how our mystery looked:

The Problem:
Mrs. Svarda got to school on Monday morning and saw the mess.  At first she was just mad that all of the books were out, then she saw that all the books were missing their endings.  She picked up a book and noticed that the barcode was missing, too.  She looked around and found that several books were missing their endings and barcodes.  The scanners were also missing so no one could check out books!  Then Mrs. Svarda was scared and mad.  Who could've done such a thing?  What happened here?  How could this happen?  She needed help.

Starbelly Sneetch Alibi:
It was 5:00 and I heard a knock on my door.  It was Fox in Socks.  He came in and I turned off my music and put away my IPod.  We played at my house until we got bored.  We decided it would be fun to go to the movies.  We texted Hop On Pop and Yertle the Turtle to see if they wanted to come, too.  Everyone came to the movie except Hop on Pop.  After the movie we couldn't think of what to do so we walked around.  We thought we might stop by the library to visit Hop On Pop.  It started to rain as we walked so we stopped at Fox in Sock's house to pick up some blankets to keep dry on our walk.

Hop On Pop Alibi:
It was 5:00 and I was looking at my clock when the doorbell rang.  It was Yertle the Turtle.  He had brought me some homemade bread.  He asked if I wanted to go to the mall.  My mom said, "No.  I had to work on my homework at the library."  Yertle the Turtle got a text right after that asking if we wanted to go and see the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie.  Bummer.  I really wanted to see a movie and hated that I had to go to the library instead.  Yertle the Turtle left to meet everyone for the movie.  I headed to the library with my homework.  My animal report was due on Monday and mom said I couldn't do anything fun until I was finished with the report.  The fun thing was that everyone came by the library after the movie and told me all about it.  They had a great time.  At 8:00, everyone had to head home.  I had about thirty minutes left of homework, so I told them I'd have to stay around just a bit longer...

Yertle the Turtle Alibi:
It was 4:00 and I was cooking some homemade bread.  When it was done I wanted to have some fun so I took some bread over to my friend Hop On Pop.  I asked if he wanted to go to the mall, but then I got a text from Fox in Socks and Starbelly Sneetch asking if I wanted to go to the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie.  My mom said I could go to the movie, but his mom said he had to do homework.  He tried not to show it, but boy, was he mad.  I had to leave Hop On Pop to make it to the movie on time.  I told him if we had time, we'd stop by the library after the movie to hang out with him. 

Fox in Socks' Alibi:
I was sitting in my room when my mom came in and said when I finished my chores I could play.  I decided to go over to Starbelly Sneetch's house to play.  We thought it would be fun to go to see a movie and texted our friends to see if they could come, too.  When the movie was over we went by my house to get some blankets because it was raining and we didn't want to get wet.  Then, we headed to the library to visit Hop On Pop because he was doing homework there.  At the library, I looked for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book.  I really liked the movie so I thought I would like the book. 

What the students do:
When the students entered the library, they each grabbed a clipboard with a pencil, ingredients of a mystery checklist, alibis, map of the crime scene, and suspect list attached to it.  They also grabbed a highlighter.  I had the problem and alibis typed up on my SMART board including pictures of the characters.  I read the problem and each alibi to the students.  We walked through the ingredients of a mystery and checked off all of the mystery elements that our mystery had on the list.  Then, I separated the students into two groups.  One team surveyed the crime scene and drew the map of the evidence in the crime scene first.  The second team worked in teams to read through the alibis and highlight evidence they found in the text that made them believe a character or characters might be guilty.  After ten minutes, the teams swapped stations.  We returned together as a group to discuss all of the evidence the students had found in the crime scene as well as the alibis that led them to believe that specific characters could be guilty of the crime.  We completed the suspect list together.

Students work in teams to highlight evidence in the alibis.

Students sketched the crime scene.

We taped off the crime scene with caution tape.  The crime scene included Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, barcodes with fur on them (from characters), endings ripped out of the end of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (these were really just copies I ripped), a blanket, movie ticketes (3), and a book about bumblebees (this was the book Hop On Pop was using to do his research for homework).

I found the copies for the ingredients of a mystery checklist and suspect list from Beth Newingham's Scholastic post about the mystery unit she teaches in her classroom.

The Solution
The students really thought like detectives in this lesson!  I did catch a few of them off guard with my red herrings, though.  The fuzz on the barcodes made some of them immediately suspect Fox in Socks and the Starbelly Sneetch.  One of the kids said, "This is the best lesson we've had in the library all year!"  So, you can make whoever you want responsible for the crime.  I decided that Hop On Pop was guilty.  He was mad that he did not get to go to the movie with his friends.  He was working on his report about bumblebees (since bears love honey) and had to stay later than his friends in the library to finish up.  All of the other characters visited the library to visit Hop On Pop and they did not say anything about something being wrong in the library.  Hop On Pop tore the endings out of the books when his friends left.

To excite the kids about checking out mysteries in our library, we created a mystery display.  All of the books were sealed in brown paper bags with the barcodes on the outside so we could check the books out without opening the bags.  Each bag had a different mystery inside.  This was a fun way for our students to try reading something new in the library and practice their detective skills we learned in our lesson together!

Mystery books in mystery bags! 

I'm Bored

This week our guidance counselor, Ms. Filtness,  and I collaborated on an awesome lesson with kindergarten!  We used the book I Am Bored written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.  In the story, the little girl is very bored and can't think of anything to do.  Then, she meets a potato who is also bored.  He tells her he thinks kids are boring, too.  This encourages the girl to brainstorm and imagine all of the amazing things that kids can do therefore proving to the potato that kids aren't boring.  We acted the story out for our children as a reader's theater complete with character puppets.  Our first graders will be able to act this reader's theater out in pairs.  

After we read the story aloud, we had the kids talk about what it feels like to be bored.  They gave examples of times that they were feeling bored.  We discussed how the potato tricked the little girl in the story into using her imagination to brainstorm all of the non-boring things that she could do.  We told the kids that we were going to practice using our imagination and creativity to do the same.  We gave each team of two students a potato and asked them to think of as many things they could think of that they could do with a potato.  We charted all of their ideas together.

We took a picture of the chart and e-mailed it to the classroom teacher.  We wrote up a short summary of the lesson for her and asked her to forward the chart and summary to all of her students' parents.  With spring break coming up and lots of free time on their hands, we told parents this would be a great opportunity to talk about some of the things they could creatively think of doing when they are bored.  We folded up the chart and put it as well as a potato in a bag and sent home with one lucky student.  

One of our kiddos came to school the next day with a potato mummy he created at home with his family.  We were so proud that he went home and shared what he had learned in our lesson!  We took him to the principal and assistant principal and bragged on him for going the extra mile and trying something we learned in class at home.

(Mummy potato)

There is a fun video on Vimeo that you can also show your kids that goes along with the story.
The illustrator, Debbie Ridpath Ohi also has a website with tons of information about creating the book.
My reader's theater came from the Judy Freeman conference I attended recently.  You could also easily type up your own using the book.  Here are all the materials we used for this lesson minus the potatoes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

C. Jayne Teach

A great friend of mine, Chandra Verbic, has just launched her professional
education blog.  This blog is one you've got to add to your reader! Chandra's purpose is to inspire teachers to try something new and make themselves better teachers by striving to be lifelong learners.  She is posting about a variety of classroom subjects including technology and has an incredible knack for staying on top of current literacy ideas that are inspiring and ready to implement immediately.  
Visit her site here.

Chandra is the teacher responsible for introducing me to wonder bubbles.  This is one of my all time favorite student research units.  It can easily be adapted to teach to grades 1-6.  Students learn about research, taking notes, using a variety of sources, and nonfiction text features in this unit.  She has blogged about her wonder bubbles in detail and has also included her link to her full write up for the unit in her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Here are a few pictures of the wonder bubbles that our students have created through the years in this research project: