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Did you ever start reading a story to your students and realize how well it could be used as a mentor text? I'm always on the lookout for mentor texts to use with my first graders for writing personal narratives. There are so many great texts out there, but I often find that some of them are too wordy or advanced for my beginning writers. Will Hillenbrand has written a series of books with Bear and Mole as the main characters that are PERFECT for using as mentor texts.

The books center around the adventures of Bear and Mole, two friends who are always doing things together. Students can connect to these books because of the simple story elements, beautifully drawn illustrations and easy to read text. Here are some ways you can use these stories as mentor texts for writing personal narratives.

Generating Ideas
It's easy to go back to these stories when you are talking about ideas for personal narratives. In Spring is Here, Mole tries to convince Bear to wake up. Ask your students if they have ever tried to get a friend to do something. In Kite Day, the two friends decide to make and fly a kite - but things do not turn out as they planned. Many students can relate to things not going as they wanted them to. Off we Go is the perfect book for young ones who are still learning or have just learned to ride without training wheels. You can create a chart showing the ideas in each book on one side, and the new ideas they sparked in your students on the other side.

Sound Words
This is an easy way for students to write like the author. Will Hillenbrand's books are filled with simple sound effects written in colorful bold type. Talk with your students about the sounds work in each part, then encourage them to find a place in their writing to add sound words like the author.

Short Sentences
This another technique that works well for beginning writers. In each Bear and Mole story, there is always a part where the author tells what happens in short sentences (always using the past tense - another great skill to practice!) Have students choose a place in their writing where the character is doing something. How could they break it down into smaller parts?

Dialogue and Dialogue tags
Bear and Mole talk to each other throughout the story, which lends to using this book to teach adding dialogue as a technique. Choose different parts in the story and talk about what the characters said. Students can add dialogue to their stories. This series of book is great for talking about using words other than "said." Go through and list all the words the author uses and you'll see how many different choices there are! You can talk with your students about the meaning of each word and why it fits best in the sentence.

Every Bear and Mole story starts with action. 
"Bear looked at the sky."
"Bear picked books off the shelf."
"Mole pushed aside some dirt."
"Mole woke up."
Have your students put themselves right at the beginning of their story and act out what they are doing. Have a partner describe what is happening. By acting out the action first, students can "see" what they need to write.

These simple stories are so rich with ideas for how to write a personal narrative. If you're using a workshop approach in your classroom, you can use these ideas for mini-lessons and have students try it out in their own writing. If you need a more structured way for students to practice each of these techniques, I created a practice activity for each idea. 

You can grab this FREE resource by clicking on the image above. If you'd like more literacy resources focusing on picture books delivered right to your email, you can sign up for my newsletter.

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Don't stop here! This post was originally part of a great link-up of literacy posts from my friends at The Reading Crew. There are so many more great ideas and freebies for you in our link-up. Visit more great literacy bloggers by clicking on a link below.

Groundhog Day is coming soon! I'm always on the lookout for new books and new ways to use them. Here are 3 books that are great for Groundhog Day fun!

These two books are perfect for comparing and contrasting characters and events. Substitute Groundhog, by Pat Miller, and Groundhog's Day Off, by Robb Pearlman, both revolve around Groundhog trying to find a substitute to do his yearly duty. One by one, the other animals discover they are just not cut out for the job, and Groundhog realizes that only he can fulfill the requirements of Groundhog Day.

After reading both books, you can create a chart with the students showing how the story elements are the same and different in each story. How does Groundhog react to the thought of each animal taking his place? How does that compare to the other story? Whether you choose to do a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the stories, or a simpler statement of how the stories are the same and different, these two books allow you to dive in to the standard while keeping with the groundhog theme!

Looking for nonfiction books on groundhogs? Many students know what Groundhog day is, but they don't have much information on exactly what a groundhog IS. Once again, Gail Gibbons comes to the rescue with her informational book about these creatures.

I like to supplement the reading of this book with real photos of groundhogs. Students can search for facts, find the main idea of each section, discuss text features such as diagrams and close-ups, and learn more about the life of a groundhog. Before reading, create a list of questions students have about groundhogs. Add new questions as you read. (Use a different color). After reading, ask students to think about other questions they still have.

You can grab all the graphic organizers to go with these 3 books by clicking below and joining my mailing list. Get great book ideas and activities for holidays, seasons and standards.

What would winter be without reading books about animals that thrive in the cold and ice? Students are always amazed by polar bears and there are some great books out there to share. Here are some of my favorites!

The queen of nonfiction for younger students, Gail Gibbons does not disappoint with this one! It's filled with information about these majestic bears and the hand-drawn illustrations have so much detail! I love to use this book to show students that nonfiction books do not always have the traditional text features - no table of contents, no glossary and no photographs. My favorite activity to do with this book is have students create their own headings and table of contents. This gives them the opportunity to use what they have learned about main idea to figure out what the main topics are in the book.

These National Geographic readers are always favorites with my students. The photographs are what catches the reader's eye first. These books are great to use to talk about the features of nonfiction text. I love to do text mapping with these books. Students label the pages with the features they find. (You can read more about how I do text mapping by clicking HERE.)

Another great series, the "A Day in the Life of" books give students a peek into the life of different animals. The text is perfect for beginning readers, there's a table of contents, bold words, a glossary, etc. Students always need practice asking questions related to the text. Use this text to have students create their own questions and then sort by which heading they might the answer in the table of contents. Or, have students look just at the photographs before reading and work with them to develop questions to be answered as they read.

Ice Bear, by Nicola Davies, shares facts about polar bears in two ways - within the main story, and as fact tidbits along each page. This is a great book to use with a "can/have/are" type of graphic organizer. Many of the pages also allow for visualization,, so be sure to have students talk about what they "see" after hearing different pages. Students can also brainstorm words to describe polar bears, using fact from the book to support their ideas.

I always like to mix fiction and nonfiction books on any topic I can. This gives students the chance to experience both types of texts and compare and contrast. They are also excited when they find a fictional story that has facts in it as well! Here are a few fiction titles on polar bears that should be easy to find.

Jan Brett. Need I say more? Detailed illustrations, engaging stories and fantastic vocabulary. Start by asking students what they know about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (Time for a chart!) Focus on the main story elements, but leave room for ideas such as repeated phrases, etc. Now read The Three Snow Bears and compare and contrast. (You can also show students the cover and ask them what they think will be different in this version compared to the traditional story before you read!) Extend the learning by asking students to come up with a different setting - how would the story change then?

This story about a polar bear cub who drifts off to the tropics is perfect for talking to students about fact and fiction. The story is filled with facts (may of which are inferred - yay!), as well as fictional events. This book also lends itself well to discussing character traits and using support from the text. Vocabulary such as clung, sympathetically, gruff and rage gives students the opportunity to use context clues to discover meaning.

Snow Bear, by Jean Craighead George, follows a young Inuit girl as she meets a polar cub on a hunting trip with her father. This is another great story to compare and contrast characters. There is also the opportunity to talk to students about the Inuit people and how they learn to live in harmony with the world around them.

I love to find new and different books to read with my students each time we learn about a topic. These two are new favorites this year.

The Polar Bear, by Jenni Desmond, is filed - absolutely FILLED with facts about polar bears - many of which I never knew. The text is written in an easy to understand way, but the best part about this book are the illustrations. Gorgeous watercolors fill the pages. The author uses many comparisons to make the wonder of the polar bear understandable to children. New vocabulary, rich description make this a perfect read-aloud.

I found this gem sitting on the bookshelf in our school library. I love it! It tells the story of a lttle girl named Sophie who has to do a report on polar bears - a very boring subject to her, since the Arctic is just one big world of ice..... so she thinks.... until a polar bear shows up in her living room and takes her back to his home so she can see the beauty of the Arctic. The story is told in a conversation back and forth between Sophie and the polar bear. There are facts abut polar bears along the way, but this book is great to use to help students focus on how the illustrations add details to the story. Since the text is only a few words of conversation on each page, students must use the illustrations to pick up some of the meaning. This is a great book to start out your unit on polar bears, or any Arctic animal.

Find any new books to add to your collection? There are so many great books out there and I love to get new ideas from other teachers. Let me know if you have any other favorites you like to use - or any new polar bear books that you've found. If you want to save this post for later, you can pin the image below. Happy reading!

Did you notice? :-) Squeal! Second Grade Stories has broadened its horizons. I am now Elementary Stories! Still the same person, same great content, but with a focus on bringing you book ideas and activities perfect for the elementary classroom.

Did you miss out getting some of these cutie-patootie stuffies from Kohls? Don't worry, I've got you covered! To help celebrate my name change, I'm giving away some of these Mo Willems plush and books. Want the details? I'm sending out information about the giveaway on Sunday exclusively to my email subscribers. You can join the list and be part of the fun by:
(1) clicking on the sign up box on the sidebar of my blog where it says "Join the Fun!"
(2) click HERE

Sign up before Sunday so you can find out how easy it is to win some of these guys. And you'll also be set to receive all the fun goodies I send to my subscribers. Good luck!

There are so many great books to choose from that focus on spring. The beginning of spring is a great time to talk about the changes in the seasons - weather, plants and animals, clothing, etc. These three books all have one thing in common: the main characters are all out looking for that elusive "spring."

 Hopper Hunts for Spring, by Marcus Pfister
Hopper is a young bunny who excitedly goes out to look for where his new playmate, Spring, lives. On the way, he checks in with other animals who share with him signs of spring. His new friend Bear offers to bring him back home where Mother tells Hopper that Spring is not a person.

Finding Spring, by Carin Berger
Instead of beginning his long winter's nap, a little bear named Maurice goes off in search of spring. He think he has found it when he brings back a snowflake to his den. When has wakes up again, spring seems to have disappeared. His mother suggests going back out to look for spring again, and this time Maurice notices all the changes that have happened since his last visit.

Are You Spring?, by Caroline Pitcher
Una should be napping in the den with her mother, but she decides to go out and find spring instead. Along the way, she meets other animals who tell her when she will know spring has arrived. Una has quite a scare when she meets a wolf, but her mother brings her home and they spend the winter listening to her tell stories about the coming of spring.

Any of these three books are great for working more closely with analyzing characters.
- How would you describe each character?
- How are the characters alike and different?
- How does the character respond to the challenge?

The illustrations in the books also add more details to the story, allowing readers to see how the illustrations support the text - and even extend it.

FREEBIE! I made these ideas super easy to use in your classroom by creating the response sheets you'll need to use one or all of these books. You can download these response sheets for your classroom by clicking on the image above.

Each book also shows different signs of spring, making them a perfect fit for an activity about the beginning of spring! Have students draw the setting of one of the stories, adding in as many details from the text as they can. Students can label the various signs of spring, as well.

This time of year is also the perfect time to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring! After reading one or more of these books, ask students to brainstorm their own signs of spring.

Next, create a T-chart listing things we say goodbye to in winter and the corresponding thing we say hello to in spring. Have students turn their ideas into sentences, add some cute drawings and use them as a bright and fun spring display!

Everything you need for the "Goodbye, Hello" writing activity is available in my TpT store. Just click on the image below to see what else is included.

It's so much fun to bring out new spring books at this time of year. These three books are the perfect stories to start things off. You can pin the image below so you'll remember these great books!

Are you looking for some last minute turkey reading fun? I want to share some of my favorite books to use each year with our turkey theme. I also created a quick freebie you can use with each book, just to keep things easy for you!

I LOVE this book, and so do my kiddos. It's the perfect book to read if do a "disguise a turkey" project. (Check out THIS POST from Melissa over at Mrs. Dailey's Classroom if you're looking for some disguise inspiration!) The turkey's costumes are funny and kids really get the humor in this book. I like to go back and reread the book closely, looking for the things the animals say that relate to what costume the turkey is wearing. The story structure lends itself well to a problem/attempts/solution structure. I created a simple retelling sheet, as well as a response sheet for students to come up with their own costumes for turkey. This is an easy alternative to a big turkey disguise project.

These next books go together - I have two of them, but I didn't know there was a third! The Great Turkey Race tells about how the turkeys save themselves from being eaten on Thanksgiving  and how they decide to be good friends and save another turkey who hasn't been so nice! In The Amazing Turkey Rescue, the turkeys are back at the farm working to save their friends the chickens from the mean fox that has showed up. These are both great books to use for character traits, as well as story structure and problem/solution. I created some discussion cards you use to have your kiddos turn and talk - or with a small group - to talk about the stories. I also like to compare and contrast the two stories, as well.

My final favorite book is not about turkeys - but about being thankful. It lends itself to a wonderful writing project. In the book, the daughter looks through her mother's scrapbook, asking about all the wonderful things she has done, and asking which is her "most thankful thing?" Of course, the Mom's most thankful things is her daughter, which brings the story to a wonderful ending. At the start of our writing activity, I ask my students to list some of their most thankful moments. Then we go through the list and talk about each one. This not only helps us be ready to choose our MOST thankful moment, but the oral discussion helps students be able to add details to their ideas when we start our writing. After everyone has one most thankful thing, we start our writing. We use a topic sentence, some details and have a great writing activity that not only shows what we are thankful for, but also helps me to get to know my students a little better, too.

 You can grab all this turkey fun in one place, by clicking {HERE}.  And you can head over to this post and see what I've got planned for some informational turkey reading and writing! Happy Thanksgiving!

The fun has started! I'm loving teaching first grade for the first time in 20 years -- even though I had forgotten how TIRED those little guys get you! We've finished two weeks of school (a 3-day week and a 4-day week) and now that I've gotten a handle on things, I'll take you on a tour of my new classroom.

As we go through each part of the room, I'll share some helpful tips and ideas, as well as links to where I purchased items. Here we go!

Here's a view of pretty much my whole room. We got new tables this year. Yes, they are bright and clean. But they take up WAY more space than my other tables and I'm still getting used to them. (If you're thinking the tables look too high, you're right :-) They hadn't been adjusted yet when I too this picture.) Each table has a basket with a pencil can and community crayons. At least, they did at first. Community crayons are tough for first graders who use their crayons ALL THE TIME. Plan B was those plastic sandwich containers from The Dollar Tree.  Perfect. Until they had to open them. The lids fit so tightly most of my kiddos either couldn't get them off without help, or they pulled to hard and cracked them or sent the crayons flying around the room. Now we are using zippered pencil pouches for each person. Those work much better.... except for the crayons that keep getting left on the floor. Sigh..... And the baskets at the tables have to be that big because of the big HOLE in the middle where the tables fit together. But I digress.....

As you come in the room, there is a bookcase with some of my "teacher books." These are mentor texts we'll use for writing and reading, favorite authors, math concepts, etc. The colored bins are from Steps to Literacy and are worth every penny. They don't tip over and they fit WAY more books than I thought they would. I was going to label the bins with those label holders from Really Good Stuff, but it looked better without them.

The dismissal circles have been a life saver! Each student has a clip with a little square picture of them on it with their name. The clips stay pretty much on the same circle all the time, since most of my kids go home the same way each day. But if we have a pick up or different bus or whatever, I just have them move their clip to that circle. They check to make sure it's in the right place at the beginning of the next day. Easy, simple and perfect for a sub!

The entire back wall of my room has a counter going across it (and a HUGE HIGH empty wall... I had to be creative there!) Our lunch choice board is on the fridge (where else?!) Students clip their name on their choice for the day. The lunch ribbons are hung with these magnets from Learning Resources. They hold up to 50lbs and are soooo strong. I already ordered a second set. Or ipads are stored in a dishrack. I like the dishrack idea, but as you can see, I still haven't figured out how to deal with the cords. This charger is fantastic, though. It charges all the ipads at one time. The wooden cubbies are our mailboxes for things to go home. A friend of mine made them for me a few years ago because I got tired of the cardboard ones falling apart. These are so sturdy! Student names are velcroed on the sides. Here's a tip for using Velcro dots: alternate sticking the soft or hard side of the Velcro on whatever you're doing. That way you don't have to worry about being stuck with all soft sides and no hard when you're done!  The trays on top of the mailboxes hold papers to go home. The subway posters are from Hope King on TpT. The Sterilite drarers hold magnifying glasses, colored pencils and watercolors.

Here's a view of the room standing by the sink in the back. The whole left wall is big windows, which is great, but the view leaves a lot to be desired. (It's the side of an old metal portable classroom.) Not as much natural light as my previous room, but I'll take it!

Here's a closer few of a few things on and near the counter by the windows. We have two kids camping chairs as part of our flexible seating choices. The kids can move them around the room, but they "live" here when we clean up. Clipboards are kept in bins from Big Lots. They are the perfect size for so many things. Whiteboards, markers are erasers are here. I use face sponges from The Dollar Tree as erasers. They come 3 in a pack and I can wash them a few times a year. Completed work goes in the "finished work basket."

I think this is my favorite place in the room! The table was given up by another teacher who found it to be too big for her kindergarteners. I'm not sure how the white is going to look by the end of the year - or even by the end of the month! - but with the white stools from Ikea (spray painted teal using Rustoleum spray) and the dry erase circles, it's a great spot for small group work. The green rolling chair comes from Amazon. All the bins and baskets on the counter hold things for the day's activities, small group reading and small group math, along with a few of my teacher things. This is my main "desk" area.

This is the front of the room. Smartboard, rug area... nothing fancy. The chart stand was ordered from Amazon. I love it because it doesn't have those big storage bins on the bottom that take up so much room. (I can't find the exact one I got, but this one is pretty close.) The blue book holders on the whiteboard are magnetic. I bought them this year from Lakeshore. They are really sturdy.

This picture is taken from the front of the room by the coat room. Real life, people - see the seams on the yellow fabric??!!! I cut the fabric the wrong way and didn't have enough to cover it so I had to patch it. Ugh. The good thing is once we get an anchor chart up there you won't even see it. I made the headers myself. I don't like to laminate display things too much because of the glare. The boards will hold anchor charts, objectives and student work. Down the bottom of the picture you can kind of see one of the tables. I kept it raised up and my kiddos use it for a standing desk.

This is fast becoming one of my kiddos' favorite spots in the room. The rug is from Walmart. The book display will hold our theme-related books. I also have other books on top of the cubby bins. Those will hold things like authors, series and other books related to what we're doing. (Those book bins are from The Dollar Tree.)  The colorful baskets are our "workboxes." This is where my students keep their book bags, writing folders, journals, etc. The shelving itself originally was for bins that hold math manipulatives, etc. A few years ago I replaced them with these from Really Good Stuff. Their name tags are held on with book rings. (I have no idea where the original shelving came from, but this one is pretty close.)

On the other side of our workboxes is the library area. The rug is from Target and the pillows are from Amazon. We call them "cushions" instead of pillows to remind everyone that your head does not go on them :-) I'm not going to go into the saga of the white book boxes that may or may not have caused me to shed a tear or two as I was setting things up. Suffice it to say those bins fit on the shelves and are big enough to hold lots of books. End of story. As we get into independent reading, I'll take the boxes that match my students' levels and put them ON TOP of the bookcase. That way they won't have to pull out the heavy bins everyday when they are changing out their books.

These are some of the other seating choices my students have when they are not sitting at tables. The picnic chairs are from Amazon (I really should do an affiliate link for them... :-). The Hokki stools I got from a Donors Choose project (along with two of the picnic chairs). The bath mats are from Walmart and the lapdesks I have no idea! I have another post about flexible seating HERE and I have a new one in the works for next week.

Here's one last view from the back of the room by the sink looking towards the door.

I'm loving my new space and my firsties are, too! We've already made some changes since I took these pictures to make traffic flow smoother and make a few things more accessible. I'm looking forward to a great year in first grade!

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