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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“What can I do for my child at home?”

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The title of this post is the most frequent question I get from parents during parent/teacher conferences. It is the question I hear from almost every single parent who has a child learning English as their second, third, or fourth language.

For the past six years, my answer to that question has remained the same.

Read.

Read to your child, have your child read to you, have a baby-sitter read to your child, have your child read to a baby-sitter (or a sibling!), have your child read on their own. Read. Read. Read.

I have never done an official study on this, but I can tell you what I have seen happen in my classroom. This is my sixth year teaching in an international school setting and every year I have at least one or two students who start the year with no knowledge of the English language (this year I had four!). I also have students who speak very little English, or speak English as their second language. Most of my students fall into those three categories: No English, Some English, Multiple Languages. The beauty of international schools.

I have never had a child in my class who has not been able to learn to communicate in English by the end of the year through speaking, reading, and writing. But I have noticed that the students who grow the most in these skills, are students who read (and are read to) the most.

Reading builds vocabulary and permeates into every other subject.

Because I am in Korea and we lack a plethora of English books, especially at the beginner reader’s level, I introduce my students and their parents to http://www.kidsa-z.com. (I am grateful that this is a supplemental program my school invests in.)

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On the side… it is also important to note that being able to read doesn’t just mean you have the skills to sound out letters and blend them into a word. Reading is also about comprehension. It is essential to talk about what you read, and ask questions, and answer questions and all that jazz. When my students achieve a level of fluency where they have the skills of reading simple words and stories I  ask them what the book is about and encourage parents to get their child to talk about what they are reading at home.

If you have resources, such as websites, that work really well in your classroom or for your child at home, please share in the comments! We LOVE comments.

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*images courtesy http://www.pixabay.com

Why do we read?

The day after I asked my students why we write, I asked the next logical question. Why do we read? You can tell who gave similar responses to the first question, Why do we write?

Again, these are their word for word responses:

  • Because we can then write words
  • To get smart
  • To be a strong reader
  • So we can learn more words
  • And we could learn more how to write stuff when we are writing our stories
  • Because God might tell us to be an author/reader
  • To be good at writing
  • When someone is sad we can read them a funny book
  • We read to understand the story by using the pictures (“Yes, that is very important!” youngest boy chimes in)
  • Because when we get to second grade we can read cursive in books
  • We need to understand words
  • We need to learn all by ourselves
  • So we can read to Ms. Welton

I love listening to my students. Their responses always surprise and impress me. Why do YOU read?

This diagram was floating around Facebook last week. I thought it was interesting. I want my students to grow up to be successful!

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Guest Blog Post: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

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This past July, one of my long time wishes finally came true. I finally got a sister! We welcomed into our family Jane, who married my brother, Brian. I’m thankful to finally have a younger sister who I can go shopping with and do “girly” things with. I’m also thankful that she’s a passionate educator making a difference in the lives of her students Korea. This is her first year teaching middle school and high school English at an international school in Seoul.

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

By: Jane Kim

When I take a step back and actually realize what I’m doing, I’m in utter… awe.

As a high school English teacher, I often get comments like “Oh, you’re an English teacher? So you must really love books, huh. What’s your favorite?” It’s a fair question, but I still struggle to know how to respond. To be honest, it has been a while since I sat down to read a literature book for pleasure, and no, I don’t absolutely love reading and writing. And to be really honest, I’ve often struggled with reading and writing throughout high school and beyond.

So, how and why am I teaching English to high school students? I’m often reminded of the answer when I get comments from my students about how much they hate writing essays and how hard it is to understand “Paradise Lost”. Strangely, these comments don’t frustrate me; they invigorate me. They remind me of how I used to be.

I remember reading many books as a child because I liked fun, exciting and moving stories. I mean, who doesn’t? If I hadn’t been exposed to reading books, I think I would’ve gotten into movies, cartoons (now it’s anime), or even video games, like many of my students now seem to enjoy way more than books. I also wrote a lot of stories and poetry growing up, because after reading so much, my hand just naturally began to imitate what I read. My own creativity was fueled by the stories I was immersed in. And most of all, I know I wasn’t the only one. Look at the posts below! All of Jee Young and Melody’s students love to read!

So why did so many of us stop enjoying reading and writing in high school?

Something happened as we got older. No longer were we receiving praise for our writing, but we were seeing red marks all over the things we wrote. We received A’s and B’s on some papers, but we really can’t remember those. There had to have been things that we wrote well, but they were buried under the red scribble about missing commas, “awkward” sentences, question marks, “too long”, “too short”, wrong font, disorganized, lack of flow, and the list goes on. And as for reading, well, homework, Sparknotes and academies had taken over. No time for that.

Of course, there are things that I, as a teacher, have a responsibility of teaching my students. Yes, proper grammar and writing style is pretty important. Yes, picking up on the author’s intent and techniques in a reading may also be important. But at the cost of what?

When students walk into my classroom, they have either begun or are in the midst of another day as a teenager. I have 70 minutes with them before they move on with their day. There are a countless number of skills that they need to learn. But becoming more apt in reading and writing does not motivate my students. Some have decided that they’re already bad at it, and others have developed a formula for doing enough to get the grade. And 70 minutes is simply too long to teach irrelevant skills to unmotivated students.

I’m learning that teaching English is much more about teaching than it is about English. In the midst of broken families and vicious teenage social lives, the space for teenagers to articulate their honest thoughts has become smaller and smaller. They may feel trapped in societal norms that define who they are, leaving them with no outlet for their God-given creativity. If my classroom is not a safe place for my students to express themselves, then I’m not doing my job.

When I can create a classroom environment where my students feel safe enough to voice their opinions, be honest about their feelings, and have conversations with me about what they are learning (or not learning), they are more likely to engage in the material. When they are given the time and space to write down what they think about, about things they’re actually interested in, without having to perform, here’s the shocker: they can write. When they can talk about the poem they just read without having the pressure to say the right answer, guess what: they can articulate exactly why they hate that line (and then write a poem about why they hate it). And when they can see that I am not looking for mistakes but for pieces of gold in a goldmine, they are more motivated to produce their best work.

In less than one year, I’ve buckled under the pressure of improving students’ writing skills. I’ve delighted over hearing some students say that they finally found writing relevant to them. I’ve cried from frustration over consistently unmotivated students. I’ve seen students beaming from their breakthroughs in their discussions of certain texts. I’ve had to apologize to students for my short temper. And through it all, I’ve discovered that I absolutely love teaching because I love seeing my students discover something new about themselves.

I’ve learned that the moment I stop learning about my students and their needs is the moment I stop teaching. It’s funny: when I do that, I get to learn so much more about myself and my creative abilities to not only teach, but also to read and write. So this is my prayer as a teacher: God, give me the grace to never stop learning.

Author Visit: Rosemary Wells

One of the cool things about being at a big school is that we get some amazing authors visiting! This past week, we had Rosemary Wells, who wrote many well-loved children’s books including Noisy Nora, Max & Ruby, and Yoko.  Not only does she write these books, but she illustrates them as well.

Even though she was not working with my division, I got to attend a special session with her afterschool for parents and teachers. There is something so magical about meeting the authors of books that you love. I’m always so amazed and in awe of them. For me, as an avid reader,  they feel like celebrities.

Rosemary shared with us a bit about herself and journey to becoming a an author. She was actually an artist first and went to school for art. She said the writer inside her came out later on when she was an adult, after she had some life experiences and stories to write. I definitely agree with that. The writer in me keeps coming out more, the older I get!

Rosemary also shared that a lot of the stories she writes are nonfiction in the sense that she gets her ideas from her every day life. She continued to share with us the importance of fostering in kids a love for reading. She adamantly shared her concerns about how many people are focused on students reading level and labeling readers. She continued to emphasize the importance of instilling a love for reading in our kids.

We also found out that it was her birthday and celebrated with this wonderfully made cake from a parent. It was an amazing afternoon of getting to meet Rosemary and she even signed my book! I bought her new book, Time-Out Sophie, which was just published. I highly recommend this book! I know many young kids will be able to relate to getting  a “time-out”. Now, I can add this to our “two apples a day” collection of signed books. Thank you Rosemary!

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Teaching Nonfiction Reading Unit-Part 1

In November, we had the privilege of having a staff developer from Columbia Teachers College Reading & Writing Project come to our school. Annie, the staff developer, worked with our grade level team for a week. She also was in my classroom as I got to be the labsite, which I was super excited and nervous about. Annie did demo lessons three times during the week.

The first lesson was a preassessment on nonfiction reading. I learned some great tips and strategies. She shared with us to maximize the time during an assessment by taking informal notes on the students WHILE they take the asssessment. There were a lot of observations I could quickly make and jot down while walking around. We had two different level text sets that we gave to students. There were 2 different non-fiction articles on one topic for each text set. We had 3 questions for that the students had to answer for the text sets.

Annie had us observe how the students were reading, looking at how they tracked the words (with their eyes, fingers, highlighting), and also how much they read of the texts. As we observed and continued to take notes on their responses to the questions as well, it was really good to have the information. This is all information that I could use when conferring with students

When I confer with students, I always get stuck on what to compliment them during my reading conferences. Annie suggested using things that you’ve observed about them as readers in the past. I usually thought that I would have to compliment them on something I noticed them doing at that moment. However, if I can have notes on them during assessments and during their independent reading time, I could use those positive things I noticed as the compliment for the conference.

One of the important take aways is to used leveled reading assessments. This is definitely a difficult task at times, but it was beneficial to give students texts that are accessible for them. That helped us gain a better understanding of their comprehension and higher level thinking skills knowing that the text was at their level. Therefore, we couldn’t say, the text was too hard for them, therefore, they couldn’t answer these questions.

After we looked over and analyzed their assessments, that shifted how I decided to teach the nonfiction unit. I think often we tend to give pre assessments and then teach the unit how we always taught it. It’s critical to look at what students know and see what gaps there are. I know for my students, I noticed on the assessment that a lot of them needed explicit teaching on nonfiction text structures and comparing two texts. Therefore, I shifted my original mini-lessons in order to focus more on those two areas.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll discuss good read alouds, mentor texts and some more tips!

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Favorite Reads Right Now

My students LOVE to read. I give them free time and they decide to grab a book instead of a toy. I fully believe that part of the reason is because I LOVE to read, and children are extremely perceptive… they pick up on everything! And since my kids are so young, they tend to love what I love 🙂 What? It’s true.

Since the beginning of the year my Kindergarten students have been dying to get their hands on any and all Froggy books. This is a series by author Jonathan London. The books are cute and funny, and every book has great illustrations. I encouraged the students to guess what was happening in the story by the pictures at the beginning of the year when they couldn’t read the words. Then I wouldn’t let them look at the books for a period of time. Is that mean? Ooooh, well. I told them they needed to learn how to read, before they “read” Froggy books. Once a week I would give them time to choose any book they wanted (you know, to keep their love for books going strong), and they always went for our Froggy series. Now, they are reading the stories on their own, it has been amazing to see them fight for the right to read their favorite books! A win-win situation for everyone.

My first graders (both girls) are huge fans of Junie B. Jones, and have recently started reading Rainbow Magic books by Daisy Meadows.

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What series or story types are your students interested in? Let us know!

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