10 Books to Add to Your Class Library

I’ve been trying to find time to read more children’s book, which at times can be difficult, but it does make a huge difference when you’ve actually read the books that you are recommending and encouraging your students to read. These are some newer children’s book that I have in my classroom that I loved reading, and so did my students. These are books I would recommend for students in grades 4-6. Some of the content is a bit more mature and would be better for 5th grade and up. I won’t write super detailed synopsis reviews because you can find those on amazon and goodreads, but I’ll share how I recommend using them as a teacher!

Fantasy

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley-  My fifth grade class just finished this new book as our fantasy unit read aloud. There are great themes, metaphors, symbolism and figurative language in this story. The students loved this read aloud, and so will you, as you get sucked into the magic of believing in all that Circus Mirandus is about.

Circus-Mirandus

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan- This is a book I would recommend for your higher level readers. It is a historical fiction and fantasy book, and goes through different time periods, but weaves the stories all together through this one prophecy. If you have a student reading it, it would be good to check-in with them, and make sure they are understanding the plot and historical background.

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The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm-  This book integrates science so well into the story. Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist, has found a way to make himself young again, and transforms himself into a 13-year old boy. I used this book at the end of the year as a read aloud, which my students were enthusiastic about as well!

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Realistic Fiction

The Thing About Jelly Fish by Ali Benjamin- I just finished reading this book over my spring break, and I was lying next to my hotel pool in Thailand trying to not cry while I was finishing this book. This book also deals with some mature content. Suzy loses her best friend from a drowning and she deals with that grief and guilt she feels from treating her badly before she unexpectedly passes.

the thing about jellyfish

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt- If you need a new beginning of the year read-aloud and all of your students have already read Wonder, this is it. My students enjoyed this read aloud, which is about Ally, who has dyslexia, and struggles to do well in school and is also dealing with bullying. It has many similar themes as the book Wonder.

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Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan- This is another book I would recommend for the high readers in your class. The main character, Willow Chance, is a gifted child, and adopted. When she unexpectedly loses her adopted parents to a car crash, her world becomes drastically changed. She finds a new “family” as she deals with the grief and loss. She is a quirky character, that you really feel for, and root for. You won’t be disappointed.

counting by 7s

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart – This is kind of like the kid’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, but with no big romantic storyline. The main character Mark gets cancer again and finds out he doesn’t have long to live.  Then, he decides to go on an unforgettable last adventure to Mt. Rainier with his dog as his sidekick. It’ll be a book that you and your students won’t be able to put down. It could also work as an end of the year read aloud.

the honest truth

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – I’m a huge fan of Katherine Applegate’s books like Home of the Brave and The One and Only Ivan. If you loved those books, you’ll like this one as well. This book is about a boy dealing with homelessness, so the topic is a bit more mature.

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Graphic Novel

El Deafo by CeCe Bell- This is a fun and fast read about a bunny who is deaf and needs to wear a hearing aid in school. The themes of fitting in and friendship will make it easy for students to relate to. My students couldn’t wait to borrow this book.

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Historical Fiction

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper- This is a moving story about an inquisitive and brave girl, Stella, who is living in the segregated south and witnesses the Ku Klux Klan in action. It would work great as a read aloud or if students read it independently, some preteaching on the historical time period would be helpful.

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What are some new books that you recommend for our classroom libraries? 

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Guest Read Aloud in Jee Young’s Class

In my previous post, I mentioned visiting Jee Young’s classroom in Singapore this past fall.

Not only was I able to observe a science lesson, I also got to read aloud ish by Peter H. Reynolds. During the read aloud, Jee Young prepared questions for me to ask her students based on things they were already discussing as a class.

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Each student sat with a pencil in hand and their Reader’s Notebook opened. Since I am used to working with younger students, I tried my hand at a few jokes, loving it when the students not only got my jokes but responded back… Or even when they didn’t get my jokes because of cultural differences, meh, it happens.

Throughout the reading I paused to ask questions and give the students time to “Stop and Jot” their answers.  It was great hearing their responses and listening to them connect what they wrote to what another classmate said.

This is something I do with my first grade students, only it looks a little different. Instead of them writing I model it for them during our read alouds, stopping to jot my thoughts on sticky notes. During their independent reading time is when they get to “Stop and Jot” on sticky notes which they keep collected in their Reader’s Notebook.  Since they don’t stop and jot during read alouds, I have them do the good ‘ol “Turn and Talk” with their partner. Then, they have to share  with the class what their partner said, to help them listen to each other better.

After my read aloud I took my own mini-tour of Jee Young’s classroom and here are a couple of things I really liked (out of the many!).

Jee Young giving her students book recommendations (thumbs up Jee Young!):

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The baskets she uses to organize her books, I love them!

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When I arrived back in Korea I shared the same book, ish,  with my class, and they loved it. A few other favorite read alouds of mine are:

the dot by Peter H. Reynolds
The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems (I mean anything by Mo, you can’t go wrong…)
Press Here by Herve Tullet (Jee Young and I did a project using this book with our classes years back and wrote about it here!)

Read about Jee Young doing a guest read aloud with my class a couple of years ago here.

What are some of your favorite read alouds? I would love to know, leave a comment!

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the art of grand conversation

During the coaching institute, we were in labsites in a NYC public school where we got to teach lessons. One of the lessons we had to plan was a grand conversation. I admit that I haven’t really been doing them in my classroom prior to the institute. It was a great reminder for me to integrate more grand conversations into my lessons. Of course we do have a lot of discussions as a class, but a grand conversation is a bit different. A grand conversation is where the students are leading this conversation around a specific content area. The amazing thing about grand conversations are that the students participate and build off each other. You shouldn’t need to call on the students. They chime in as they wish.

My group led a grand conversation in a fifth grade classroom during the institute. We decided on a nonfiction text about Jackie Robinson. We read the short book on Jackie Robinson and had a few key questions we used to help start the conversation. I was impressed with the engagement and level of depth in the conversation.

A few tips to leading your own grand conversation:

1)  Set clear expectations- It will really be important to be clear that when a person talks, you are listening to them speak and not interrupting them. I have my students sit in a circle so they can see everyone in the class. Grand conversations work great when students are really listening and adding on to each other. A smart idea would be to review with them a sentence starters chart as a scaffold for their conversation. I found a great one on pinterest with conversational sentence starters:

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Here’s a quick chart I came up with to help set expectations:

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2) Make it mandatory for everyone to participate- A great tip that a colleague gave was to give each student 2 index cards. After they speak, they put the index card in front of them. Once they use up both index cards, they have to wait until everyone else shared to speak again. I tried this with my class and it really helped getting everyone to share. I loved seeing my more reluctant sharers really making meaningful contributions.

3) Use open ended questions to get the conversation started- Also, one thing I tried to do was to spice things up by making a few controversial statements (about the characters) that would allow for debate among the students. Here are some questions that you could use to start the discussion.

  • Who was your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite character?
  • How did the characters change in the story?
  • What was your favorite part of the story and why?
  • What was the author trying to teach you through the story? What were the themes in the story and why?

As the facilitator, depending on the topic and students, if the conversation is not really going well or at a standstill, jump in by changing questions. Also, feel free to share your opinion about the topic.

4) Make sure there’s a lot to talk about- I’ve only done grand conversations in reading workshop, and make sure there’s enough content to talk about. One time, I did a grand conversation after a short picture book I read, and there wasn’t as much for the students to talk about for an extending period of time. Our grand conversation quickly flopped after about 10minutes. After that failure, I held another grand conversation after finishing our long read aloud chapter book, and the students had so much to talk about. My fifth graders were talking for a good 30 minutes.

5) Record it! – If you have an iPad, all you need to do is set it on a table next to where the students are sitting in a circle. Then, press record, and you can easily upload it to your class blog! If it goes well, you can use it as a example to show your students next year. Also, it’ll be a great way to motivate students to be extra focused and pay attention when they know they are being recorded. I have this iPad stand that I used to record:

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Have you tried grand conversations in your classroom? Do you have any other tips to add? I would love to hear them!

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Guest Read Aloud in Melody’s Class!

While I was in Korea, I had the chance to visit Melody’s kindergarten/1st grade classroom. I was really excited to meet her students and read to them. I read aloud the story Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. Afterwards, we filled out this fun story map that Melody had made. On post-its I wrote down what the students shared. We went through the title, characters, setting, problems, solutions and theme. It was a great way to get them discuss the different elements of the story. I was so impressed that they were able to answer all these including the theme!

Afterwards, we did a quick question and answer session with them. They asked me about Singapore and my students. We had some time left before lunch so we played with some super cold play dough as well. I’ve never taught such young kids before, so it was a lot of fun to be in their class. I always have a lot of respect for teachers that teach the younger kids!  I’m not sure I would have the energy and patience. Thank you Melody for letting me visit your classroom! You have an amazing class and I could tell that  you are making an impact in their lives. 🙂

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                                         Photo credit to Melody.     

Read Aloud Recommendation

This year, our schedule allows me to do read aloud everyday for at least 20 minutes, which has been amazing! I was really unsure about what book to choose as my first read aloud for my fifth grade class. In the past I used to do a lot of different fun, beginning of the school year type of picture books. After asking many different teachers and doing some research online, I decided to stick with my initial gut feeling about this book I had just read before school started.

This was a book that was causing a lot of buzz among teachers and students. I read a few different reviews on teacher blogs about it. It is a newly published book, by a new author, R.J. Palacio. It’s called Wonder and it’s about a boy August, who is born with severe facial deformities. He has been home schooled by his mom up until 5th grade, when his parents decide to enroll him into a private middle school. As soon as I started reading this book, I fell in love with August and was intrigued by the story. I love that the author also changes perspectives by telling it from different characters point of view.

The one reason that I was really hesitant about using this book for my fifth graders was that it was a longer book, about 300 pages. Even though the chapters are very short (a few pages, not too much text on a page), I was worried that it would take too long to get through. However, we are currently on week three, and at the halfway point. My students are always telling me that read aloud is their favorite time of the day! So many of my kids are loving this story, I’m so glad I chose it.

One of the core values of our school is compassion, and I’m hoping that we can really discuss in more detail what compassion is and looks like by using this book as a jumping ground. So whether you are an elementary teacher or not, I highly recommend you read this book. If you are a 5th grade teacher, make sure you get a copy for your library.

During the read aloud, I have students sometimes write post-it notes on different characters and what they are thinking. Here are a few of them.

The Read Aloud Corner

Welcome to my Read Aloud Corner! (It’s not really a corner, just a post, pretend with me.)  As some of you may know by now, read aloud is my favorite part of the school day. I am constantly looking for new books (that can be old, I don’t discriminate) to read to my students. I try to mix it up between chapter books and picture books, for variety you know.

Over the past two years I have discovered that one of my favorite series to read as a kid, The Boxcar Children, is a huge hit amongst my students. Because they are only in second grade, I save it for 3/4 of the way through the school year and then they become addicted! Even as I am reading the first one, they check it out from the library to read ahead. I don’t know what it is about this series, but most of them are not familiar with it until I introduce it, and then they can’t get enough.

Just recently, though, I discovered a book while roaming through the school library, I am positive many of you have heard of it (I had never read it!). It’s called Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson. It even has it’s own website.

This is a great book to read and then talk about ways we can be kind to our classmates, and friends! I love that one of the main characters is a father, who helps his son understand the best way to get rid of an enemy.

What is your favorite read aloud? (I know we have asked this question before, but as my list is always growing, I am sure yours are too!)

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?