Hunting for Treasure

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."–Walt Disney

My top five, all time favorite, can’t live without picture books October 26, 2009

When I taught first grade, I spent my weekends rummagaing through yard sales, thrift stores and used books stores (stop by McKay’s if you’re ever in Tennessee) searching for the best books for my class library collection.  It was so much fun to come to school on a Monday morning and share the books I discovered over the weekend to my 1st graders.  A few years ago when I moved from Tennessee to Idaho,  it was a lightning  fast move, and I had to leave many of my beloved books behind.  I’m still mourning the loss.  However, there were a few titles that I made certain would join me in the cross-country journey.  Here is a list of those books, and how I use them in my classroom…

*  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, Illustrations by John Schoenherr

Every year my kids and I write memoirs, and Owl Moon is one of the books I use as a mentor text in this study.  When I read this book, the kids go deep into a dream-like state, totally mesmorized by Yolen’s words and Schoenherr’s illustrations.  This book helps them recognize the value in simple memories.   I also use this book to teach setting/mood in my Reading class. 

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Stephen Gammell and When I was Young in the Mountains, also by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode

Cynthia Rylant is a genius as far as I’m concerned.  Her writing inspires my students and me.  I use both of these books as part of my memoir study, but I also use them to model making connections with a text in my Reading class.  When I read these two treasures to my class, I always get a lot of smiles.  This year, I included The Relatives Came in a mini-lesson on leads, and I plan on using it as a model for circular endings.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Who doesn’t love Chrysanthemum?  This book is a great one to use for modeling text connections, as well as teaching theme.  I also used Chrysanthemum in a lesson taken directly from Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Know-How.  For days I  heard kids wandering around the classroom whispering their names to themselves, just like Chrysanthemum does in the book.  Yes, a little creepy, but I took that as a sign they liked the story!

* The 10th Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Eric Blegvad

This book did not accompany me on my cross-country trek, as I just discovered it a few months ago.  It’s been around since 1987, though.  This year I used it as inspiration in English.  I read the book to my class, then we created our own “The 10th good thing about”  lists.  Some kids wrote about a pet, others wrote about a family member or a sport.  I also plan on using this book to show the connection between setting and mood later on this year.  It could easily be used as a book to teach text connections and inferencing as well.

If you’re looking for more interesting ways to use these books, check out these websites I recently discovered…

Maury County Schools, Tennessee literacy coaches website:

David Stoner’s Writing Workshop:

Scribd website: If you visit this site, type mentor texts into their search box and take a look at all of the goodies they’ve got!


Making it work: The Writer’s Notebook October 19, 2009

This year, I made a goal of implementing the use of writer’s notebooks in my classroom.  The past couple of years I’ve noticed in my online research that more and more teachers were jumping on the notebook bandwagon, but no matter how much I read about it, I just couldn’t picture how it was going to look in my classroom.  This summer I stumbled across a blog post on  The Reading Zone  that suggested reading the professional resource Notebook Know-How  by Aimee Buckner as a guide for the use of Writer’s Notebooks. Wow!  Am I every glad I bought this book!  After reading the first couple of chapters, I could finally envision how I would use the notebook in my classroom.  I could see how using notebook strategies would improve my students’ learning and my teaching.  So, I went for it and started using writer’s notebooks this year.

I decided to have the kids use 3 ring  binders and dividers to keep their notebook organized, as opposed to a spiral.  There are six sections in the binder:  daily entries, ideas, organization, words and sentences, conventions, and voice .  The daily entries section is where kids put the daily writing activities we complete in class.  The other dividers are related to the six traits, and students keep their notes from mini-lessons and resource hand-outs in the corresponding section.  They also keep a pencil pouch in the front, and keep items such as pencils pens, scissors, tape, glue sticks and anything else they may need when writing and revising their work in class.  You’ll notice I don’t have a place for the kids to keep drafts of formal writing papers.  When we complete an assignment that will be taken all the way to the publishing stage, it is kept in a separate writing file in the classroom.

So far, the notebook has worked brilliantly.   We spend a lot less time in class trying to find hand-outs and resource pages I’ve given them, which leaves me with a lot more patience and teaching time!

One of my favorite strategies I’ve used from Notebook Know-How  is “What’s in a Name?”  After reading Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes to the class, we all wrote about our own names.  Some kids wrote about the history of their name, others wrote about what they do and don’t like about their names.  The exciting part was that not a single child said these dreaded words to me: “I don’t have anything to write about!”  They were excited to share what they wrote.  It really made me happy to see them proud of their writing.