Slice of Life #12

Three days of conferences.  Printing progress reports.  Three hectic days of half-days, full of assemblies and student activity fairs.

In other words, pure chaos.

Is it any wonder that I came home tonight and felt like I had been run over by a truck?  Since walking in my front door, I’ve only done the following:

1. Vacuumed

2. Cleaned the counters and dusted the mantel

3. Walked the dog

4. Ordered pizza

5. Picked up said pizza

6. Sat on my couch and watched tv.

7. Almost fell asleep on the couch.  Ten times.

Conferences are absolutely exhausting.  While I love seeing my students’ parents, I hate the feeling of complete and utter exhaustion that overcomes me over the course of the week.  Maybe we need to do one day of conferences in a week, and spread out the days over a few weeks.  I think I could handle that a little bit better.  But in the meantime, I am off to catch some zzzz’s!

Share a Story-Shape a Future Discussion Questions

My response to Share a Book-Shape a Future’s question: “Do you have a favorite chapter book for reading with kids of different ages  (e.g., 4, 9, 13)? “

Share a Story - Shape a Future

I have two favorite read-alouds for my sixth-graders.  Two very different read-alouds!

Every year I love sharing Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie with my classes. It’s an amazing story of of one family’s experience with childhood cancer. Sonnenblick is a former middle school teacher and he captures the middle school voice perfectly. My kids always laugh out loud while we are reading and beg to keep going. They also shed a tear or two when they make connections to their own experiences with cancer. We grow closer as a class while reading Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie. Plus, we always tie it into a a service project for the pediatric cancer ward of the local children’s oncology hospital.

Another favorite read-aloud is The Lightning Thief. Like Sonnenblick, Riordan is a former middle school teacher. The Lightning Thief is laugh-out-loud funny and appeals to girls and boys alike. Without fail, most of my students go on to read the rest of the series. But I am a sneaky teacher, because I love to use The Lightning Thief to expose my students to Greek mythology and critical essays/thoughts on literature. For the past few years I have used essays from Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series to expose my students to critical literary essays. Because they love Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series, they don’t fight me when it comes to the essays. Before they even realize it, they are Greek mythology experts and are able to write their own critical literary responses to novels. (See, I am sneaky!)

Because read-alouds are such an important part of my classroom culture, I could write about this topic for hours. In fact, I had a really hard time deciding on just two books to discuss in this entry. I have a list of 25 books I love to share with my students during read-alouds. Then I have thousands that I love to share during book talks. It’s a never-ending list!

What are some books you love sharing with your children?

Slice of Life #11

After school today I headed to the mall to pick up a few things, including lunch.  As I walked through the parking lot, my phone rang and I dug through my bag (as usual) trying to find it.  By the time I walked through the front doors of the mall, I was engrossed in my conversation.  I know the mall layout like the back of my hand, so I was barely paying attention as I made my way to the food court.

Suddenly, I heard a bizarre sound.  A misplaced sound.  Something that didn’t belong in a mall.

“Clang clang!”

“Choo choo!”

Like a deer in headlights, I froze.  In my suburban mall I was standing in front of a train.  Like a full-on, clanging bell-guy in conductor’s uniform-choo choo train.  No tracks, just wheels, driving around the mall.  And it almost ran me over!  What the heck?! I thought.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Marisa.  But I am standing in the mall and a train is about to run me over.  I’m going to have to call you back…” I trailed off.

(No, I have no IDEA what was going on.  Or why we have a train giving rides in the mall.  Too bizarre!)

Slice of Life #10

At 5:30pm I was sitting in my classroom again, in heels and a pencil skirt.  I was frantically printing out progress reports, setting out the appointment list, fixing my hair, and cleaning off a few stray desks.  Parent-teacher conferences started tonight and due to the number of students we have, it’s always a crazy time.  I love meeting the parents but I hate the stress that comes with it.  We have five minutes with each parent, which never feels like enough time to get anything done.

But it was all worth it when I heard over and over, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but my son/daughter is actually reading now!”

I never feel prouder than when I hear those words.  Or these.

“It kills me, but sometimes I have to take the book away from her so that she does her homework!”

“Last night, I caught him hiding in the bathroom reading!  Instead of sleeping like he should have been.”

“She’s reading books that actually mean something, books that have a message.  She isn’t fighting me about reading anymore.  I don’t even know what to do with myself!”

It’s conferences like these that remind WHY I am doing what I am doing.  With the lack of time for language arts this year I have been struggling a lot with lighting the reading fire.  I didn’t know if I was making a difference for many of my students because I only see them for 50 minutes per day.  But now I know I am!!

Share A Story-Shape a Future: The Nonfiction Book Hook!

Share a Story - Shape a Future

Way back in the summer, when we started planning this year’s Share a Story-Shape a Future Blog Event, we knew that we wanted to spend a day focusing on nonfiction reading.  I immediately volunteered to host today’s event because nonfiction reading has been a personal focus for me this year.  Over the past five years I’ve noticed that my middle schoolers frequently pass over nonfiction books because they tend to see them as “research books” and not something to be read for pleasure.  This year I have made it a goal to include more nonfiction in my classroom and in my booktalks.

It’s working!  I’ve had more students than ever pick up nonfiction books- biographies, memoirs, informational books, literary nonfiction, and everything in between.  Access to nonfiction opens so many doors and today’s posters are here to help us find more doors and windows to open in the house of nonfiction reading with readers of all ages.

The Nonfiction Book Hook


Fiction or Nonfiction Reader at Imagination Soup

There are two kinds of people in this world.  Fiction and non-fiction.

Think about it.  Some of us naturally prefer reading fiction (me) while others naturally prefer non-fiction (husband, eldest daughter).   For those that are naturally inclined to non-fiction, they will read voraciously in that genre without needing much encouragement.   If you’re not a natural in non-fiction, you may need some help to child to engage with and enjoy non-fiction.  Let me give you some ideas.


Hooking Reluctant Middle Grade Readers (You Choose and Wicked History Series) at 26 Letters

Jessica takes a look at two series of nonfiction book that appeal to middle grade readers, especially reluctant nonfiction readers!


In the Classroom: A Smattering of Nonfiction at Educating Alice

A fourth grade teacher, Monica Edinger helps us look at nonfiction and its use in the classroom.


After Little House, what? at Kidlithistory

Melissa takes a look at a few series that are similiar to Little House (based on childhood memories, etc) but occur later in tieme and the different lessons they can teach.


Real World Reading with Preschoolers at Links to Literacy

In a recent Washington Post column, Jay Matthews brought to light the fact that middle and high school reading lists have very little nonfiction on them and that really bothered him.  His column made me think:  what if we began with our youngest learners?  What are some ways we can introduce nonfiction into the lives of preschoolers?


Sharing Nonfiction with New Readers at 5 Great Books-

The wonderful Anastasia Suen is here to help us hook new readers using nonfiction.  It can be intimidating to find good nonfiction that new readers actually want to read, but Anastasia is here to guide us.


Hook, Line, and Sinker: Pairing Nonfiction with Fiction to Reel in Readers at TheReadingZone-

One of the best ways I have managed to “hook” my students on nonfiction is to use their natural curiosity.  Many students have questions after reading a novel of any genre.  Don’t we all?  I know I have been caught more than once googling a topic that intrigued me in a novel.  We need to grab on to our students’ natural curiosity, sink our claws in, and guide them toward answers.  Forget the internet- the answers they seek can be found in nonfiction books!

Everyday Nonfiction Newspaper Reading at Teach Mama-

Newspaper reading can be a really useful–and sneaky!–tool for incorporating nonfiction reading into the lives of our emerging readers. Great idea, Amy!

Nonfiction for Early Readers- What’s a Parent to Do? at Maw Books Blog-

How do parents find nonfiction for early readers?  There are plenty of picture books out there, but how does a parent find a nonfiction book that is interesting, not over their child’s head, and fun?  Natasha shares the four most important thing she has learned.


Hook, Line, and Sinker: Pairing Nonfiction with Fiction to Reel in Readers

One of the best ways I have managed to “hook” my students on nonfiction is to use their natural curiosity.  Many students have questions after reading a novel of any genre.  Don’t we all?  I know I have been caught more than once googling a topic that intrigued me in a novel.  We need to grab on to our students’ natural curiosity, sink our claws in, and guide them toward answers.  Forget the internet- the answers they seek can be found in nonfiction books!

Share a Story - Shape a Future

I have a few favorite go-to pairs of fiction and nonfiction that I use with my students each year.

  • Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson and An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy- Fever 1793 is a hit with my students year in and year out.  Despite the fact that I struggle to get students to read and enjoy historical fiction, Laurie Halse Anderson has this magical ability to draw her readers into any story.  Because I teach in NJ, Fever 1793 always intrigues my students.  They come to me with many questions after reading and I always guide them towards Murphy’s book.  It has just the right amount of gross stuff, medical jargon, and cool facts.
  • The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse and Grayson by Lynne Cox-  Dolphins are the most popular animal in the world.  Ok, that might be an exaggeration but it sure feels like it when you teach middle school.  Any time you ask students to list their favorite animals, dolphins top the list.  It’s not surprise that Hesse’s book about a feral child raised by dolphins is popular with middle schoolers.  What I really love though, is guiding my students towards Lynne Cox’s Grayson.  When Cox was in high school she spent her early morning hours swimming in the Pacific.  It is here that she finds a lost baby gray whale and the most amazing day of her life occurs.  What dolphin-lover hasn’t dreamed of swimming with the giants of the ocean?  Cox actually lived it and still cites it as the most amazing experience of her life.
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater and My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal by Sophie Webb- Mr. Popper’s Penguins is a an absurd tale that my students this year are just eating up.  A few of them read it in fifth grade and have been booktalking it to their current classmates.  Those who already read Atwater’s silly story have been moving towards real life stories of penguins, like My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal.  It’s so much fun to see and hear them learning about penguins while they realize all the myths they thought were true actually aren’t.
  • Shooting the Moon by Francis O’Roark Dowell, Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass with Moon: Science, History, And Mystery andAlmost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream.- Space, space, space!  This year astronomy is a part of the science curriculum, so realistic fiction about space and astronomy has been growing more popular with my kids.  Hence, the nonfiction books about space are also flying off the shelves.
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and Guts by Gary Paulsen- Hatchet is my go-to book for reluctant boy readers.  It never fails to grab at them and make them wish they could survive a plane crash in the wilderness.  Imagine their excitement when I tell them that Gary Paulsen is a read-life adventurer who has actually LIVED many of the stories he writes.  While their jaw is still on the floor, I calmly hand them Guts, the companion to Paulsen’s novel.

These are just a few of the nonfiction/fiction pairs I use with my students.  However, there are hundreds more out there.  Just know that corralling your child’s natural need to know more is a great way to introduce them to nonfiction reading for pleasure.  We want our students to read all genres for fun.  Instead of having them complete test prep pages of “everyday reading” selections, have them make nonfiction part of their everyday reading!

Please share some of your favorite pairs in the comments!

Slice of Life #9

Today we welcomed a new substitute to our team.  He will be with us for the next few weeks.  I think we might have scared him.

“We laugh a lot on this team.  We kind of have to,” we told him.

It’s been a hectic and stressful year so far, much moreso than any past years.  It’s a combination of things that have made the year super stressful, things out of our team’s control.  So how do we handle it?

We laugh.  A lot.

We laugh at ourselves.

We laugh at the absurdity of the situations we are sometimes in.

We laugh at the jokes our students tell, even if they aren’t always the funniest jokes.  (They are still learning about comedic timing!)

We laugh at each other.

We laugh with each other.

And you know what?  It helps.  A lot.  We are always smiling.

We remind each other to look on the bright side of life.  The glass might look half-full sometimes, but we just change our perspective.  Sometimes you have to get under the glass and look at it from below- then it looks like you are swimming in the ocean.  Other times we have to look at the glass from above, as if we are a god controlling the situation.

And sometimes you just have to chug the water and pour a new glass.

But no matter what, you have to to keep smiling!

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