Guest Blog Post- Building Lifetime Readers

This week’s guest blogger is not only my second grade teaching partner, she is also a very, very good friend! Elaine has been teaching second grade for three years, and before that taught 4-year-olds (translated that means she has a lot of patience!). She has attended Teacher College Workshops in reading and writing, and I am constantly looking to her for ideas to improve and enrich our lessons.

Over spring break, I attended the EARCOS conference in Bangkok with Melody and a few of our other colleagues. I was able to go to Dr. Steven Layne’s (one of our keynote speakers) session on Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers. Not only is he an incredible author, but an amazing speaker too. He currently teaches literacy education at Judson University in Illinois and travels to give speeches to teachers and writers throughout the world. I walked out empowered, inspired and motivated. Here is a slice of what I’ve learned…

He started out with a quote:

“It should be the teacher’s aim to give every child a love of reading. A hunger for it that will stay with him throughout all the years of his life.” – Mayne, 1915

He pointed out that in this quote; it is the teacher’s aim, regardless of subject (science, social studies, counselor, P.E….) and not just the English teacher’s job to provide every child a love of reading. Everyone can help who’s willing to!

In schools, we find lots of students with aliteracy, not illiteracy. Aliteracy means I can read and write, but I choose not to! You can’t make me!

Steven introduced to us a simple diagram of what a complete reader looks like:

The skills on the right are important, but without the will (right column) you can’t have a complete reader.

Now, for some ways to motivate our reluctant readers, he gave us an interesting recommendation for teachers to try out. It’s called The Golden Recommendation Shelf (aka GRS). Dr. Layne decided to buy a cheap bookshelf for a few bucks and sprayed it GOLD! (The name of the shelf can be changed based on your color preference^^.)

Once you have your shelf ready, you are going to set it somewhere in your classroom and wait until your students start asking you what it’s for. The students, being nosy, will want to know what the bookshelf is for and will eventually become curious. The next day, the teacher adds a few (content and age appropriate) books to the shelf. When the students ask again, the teacher doesn’t make a huge deal out if and can say that it’s just some of his/her favorite books. Now the students’ curiosity goes up and they want to check out what these books are about. When you’re ready, you can also add a fancy sign by the bookshelf.

To add more excitement, you can also:

  1. Take a photo of yourself with the author (if possible) and tape it inside the book.
  2. Buy hard cover books for this shelf whenever possible (it’s worth the money in the end)
  3. Create a sign-out sheet
  4. Stock up multiple titles by favorite authors to give kids the idea that if you like one book by an author – you might like more! We need to teach our students to value the author and choose what they love. Often times when we ask our students who their favorite author is, they can’t recall the authors’ names and would just describe the book or shout out the book title. They often think most authors are males, old, or dead.
  5. Keep some of your favorite books from childhood on this shelf
  6. If a friend gives you a book that’s meaningful – have it inscribed.                                                                                                                         -If you don’t have lots of books with author’s autographs or pictures, you can always inscribe or write a short note about what  made you want to buy this book, your thoughts on the book, why you would recommend it to someone, etc.

Reading Log

Reading is not always books. It can be directions, recipes, instructions…  We often take too much time telling what we can’t do rather than what we can do. Dr. Layne said he used to print out a huge (poster size) reading log and taped it outside his classroom. He would write down all the reading he did in his smaller (normal size) reading log to model for his kids, but also on his reading log outside. The reason for that is to share all the books he has read to ALL the students who may pass by his classroom. The students pass by and can go to the library and check out a book read by the “2nd grade teacher.”

Some books written by Dr. Layne:

For more information, you can visit his website:



Students Teaching Students

For the final project in our landforms unit, I have my fifth grade students teach our book buddies class (Melody’s 2nd grade class) about volcanoes. The students are expected to teach the second graders what they learned about volcanoes. This is fun to see them take on the role of a teacher. Not only do they realize how hard it is, but it helps them make sure they really learned and understood what we studied.

One of the requirements for this project is that they integrate technology. In the past, I used to require them to make a power point or use a specific type of technology. However, something our I.T. specialist has encouraged me to do is to leave it more open, so the students can choose how they will use technology. So for this project, I let them decide how to incorporate technology.  Many of them created I-movies, Powerpoint, Glogster, and used  iPads. The students also have to create an assessment to see if the students learned what they taught. For the first day, my students went in to teach about volcanoes, and the next day they will give them the quiz!  The final part of the project is to erupt volcanoes with them.

One of the groups came up with a fun board game!

Here’s a link to one of the glogster’s they created!

After my KONY 2012 post (which had less to do about education, and more about children’s safety), a friend of mine sent me this video through Facebook (I seriously love how Facebook connects the world):

This short clip hits the heart of any teacher, and the first step is raising awareness. The second step is doing something about it.

After visiting this site, it was encouraging to see who was involved:

“The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack counts among its steering committee members many of the most important international human rights and education organizations in the world. The member organizations contribute unique capacities to GCPEA.”

This coalition includes organizations such as Save the Children and UNICEF.

In Korea, birthdays are a really big deal, and the parents love to throw big parties. Students love it because they get a ton of presents from their classmates (most of the time, I think these parties are always a little over the top, but I do work at a private school). One of my students this year decided to donate her birthday to UNICEF. I have never heard or seen anything like it. She got a blog through the site, where her classmates could go and buy a present for another child in the world. I look at this student and I see her growing up and accomplishing great things. All of our students have that capability.

Do you have a favorite organization or NGO? Has your class been a part of raising support or awareness for something?

As teachers, we have the chance to empower our students!

Guest Blog Post: Writing to Mo Willems

Julia is an experienced Kindergarten teacher who enjoys using the reading and writing workshop model in her classroom. She even had Lucy Calkins as a professor at Teacher’s College. She is a fellow New Yorker, co-worker and friend. We are excited for her next journey!

My last year’s Kindergarten class loved Mo Willems. We read every single Mo Willems’ book available at the school library and I purchased titles unavailable at school. Naturally, Mr. Willems was chosen for our Aurthor Study unit.

During Reading Workshop, we discussed Mo Willems’ writing and illustration style.
During Writing Workshop, we tried one or two of his styles in our own writing.
Towards the end of the unit, children wanted to meet Mo Willems. They wanted to know if he could come to Korea or if we could take a class trip to his office.

We didn’t get to go to his office in New York, but we went to the local post office to mail our letters to Mr. Willems. Each child wrote a letter and lined up at the post office to mail their letters! Children asked me if we’ll ever hear back from him. I didn’t think we would, so I told them, “Mr. Willems is reaaaalllly busy.”

The school year ended. I enjoyed my summer vacation and came back to work a week before school started. And there sat a large brown envelope in my mailbox. An envelope from Mo Willems office in New York!!!! “Ahhhh Ahhhhh Ahhhhh!”

I brought it to my classroom, shut the door, and opened the envelope like a little kid opening a Christmas present. Mo Willems wrote back to us and sent us an autographed book poster! Mo Willems ROCKS!

*I highly encourage you to allow each child to send their own letter at the post office. (Rather than sending it in one large envelope.) They loved it. For most of them, it was their first time mailing something, let alone their first time at the post office.

Poetry Read Alouds

My all time favorite poetry read aloud books are Sharon Creech’s, Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. These two stories follow Jack  on his journey with poetry and the teacher Miss Stretchberry that pushes him along the way. It’s a story that kids and adults can appreciate, smile and learn from. On Sharon Creech’s website, you can find some good teaching resources for using both books!

Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog

and the sequel…

Sharon Creech’s Hate that Cat

Another fun poetry read aloud book is Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston. This book was recommended by another 5th grade teacher. I did get to read the book, but didn’t get to read it to my kids. It’s a fun fantasy story written all in rhyme. It would go well during a poetry unit for upper elementary kids!

Here are some other good poetry resources!

Scholastic Poetry Site 

Poetry for People

Poetry Foundation

Online Poetry Classroom

Poetry Resources from NYC Department of Education

Do you have any good poetry read aloud books or resources that you recommend?

Poetry Centers

To piggyback off of Jee Young’s post, I thought I would share what  I do during my poetry unit. I love, love, love, it when it is time to write poetry!

To kick off the unit I give my students a poetry notepad that they get to design, I purposefully make it long and skinny to help the students create line breaks. Here are a few examples of my students’ notepads from last year:

I love how each student’s is so unique (some of my students used three our four notepads throughout the unit!).

Since it is unrealistic to expect a child to write poetry for thirty to forty-five minutes, my teaching partner and I created centers. First, we have our mini-lesson (courtesy Lucy Calkins), and then we slowly introduce centers. For the first week, I explain a different center every day, or every other day. As the unit goes on, they are required to do each center a certain amount of times each week, along with their writing time.

I am including a few of the centers we do:

Missing Titles“- Students read a poem with the title missing and have word bank of titles to choose from.Click on the title for the link to the poems I use!

“Line Breaks”- Students are given a poem in paragraph form, they get the chance to create their own line breaks, and then they rewrite the poem. Here are a couple of examples: Beavers in the Bathroom,Hammock,Broccoli for Breakfast,Wavy Hair, and Shaking.

Visualize the Poem“- At this center, students read a poem and then draw a picture of the poem. Simple! The link is to the poems that I use.

“List Poem”- at the beginning of the poetry unit have each student bring in a random object from home (anything from an old watch, to a stuff animal, to a Pokemon card). Keep these objects in a basket, and allow students to look through the basket to create a list poem.

I also have a center where students can read poems to each other, practicing how to read a poem.

Here is a poem that I love to use when I start of my unit (poet’s look at everyday objects with fresh eyes), thanks to Lucy Calkins!

Pencil Sharpener
by Zoe Ryder White

I think there are a hundred bees
inside the pencil sharpener
and they buzz
and buzz
and buzz
until my point
is sharp!

Do you have a center you love to use during your poetry unit? SHARE!

Poetry is back!

Poetry is definitely one of my favorite units to teach in reading and writing workshop. I love poetry because it is a nice refreshing break from writing literary essays and reading challenging historical fiction books. It is a unit where the students get completely immersed in poetry in both reading and writing. This week, we are launching our poetry unit in my class. I’m hoping to tweak this unit from the past, by using some of the suggestions and ideas from the 5th grade Curricular Plan for the Writing Workshop unit from Lucy Calkins.

Some of things that I like to do during this unit is have a poetry wall in my classroom. I just get a large sheet of colored paper that I put on the wall. I have the students write down poetry on the wall. They can write sentences, verses, complete poems, and even draw. It’s a wall to inspire them and others. It’s like poetry graffiti that is totally allowed.

Some other good ideas that are in the Lucy Calkins’ curricular plan is to start off with a class anthology of poetry. Usually I have them create a self portrait poetry anthology at the end of the unit, but it might be fun to have them doing a whole class anthology in the beginning of the unit as well.  I will brainstorm with my students this week on different possible topics we could do a class anthology on.

One of my personal goals for this poetry unit is to write more of my own poems and write in my writer’s notebook along with the kids. I would like to say in theory that I do that all year long, but that unfortunately doesn’t happen. So, I’m hoping to write more with my students in this unit and use my writing as an example of mentor text as well. So let the poetry begin…