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Fluency is an important part of reading. Students who are fluent readers recognize words automatically. They group words together as they read, and they read with expression and intonation. Fluent readers do these things whether they are reading orally, or silently. Studies have shown that students who are fluent readers have better reading comprehension.

Why are reading fluency and reading comprehension so highly correlated? Dr. S. Jay Samuels, a professor and researcher well known for his work in fluency, talks about automaticity and its effect on reading. Readers who need to spend all their energy on decoding words don't have enough mental stamina left to be able to focus on meaning. Fluent readers, however, decode the words automatically and can focus more on the meaning of what they are reading.

There are many ways to help students improve their reading fluency. One of my favorite ways is by using readers theater. I like to up the engagement by using readers theater to not only work on fluency, but to also give students the chance to gain information from the text. Nonfiction readers theater is perfect for this! It gives students a purpose for reading - to learn more information or find answers to questions about a topic, as well as providing them opportunities for repeated readings.

I created a nonfiction readers theater all about what animals do in winter. I use this with my students over about a week's time. This gives them the chance to gather information and become familiar with the facts and vocabulary while they practice reading smoothly.   Here's what the script looks like:

I start like I would with any nonfiction text, finding out what students know and what questions they have about the topic. Then we work on reading through the script, recording details and information about what each of the animals does in the winter. I use these sheets (or turn them into a bigger chart) for us to keep track of our information.

Sometimes I read a book aloud first, to give my students some of the vocabulary. Other times, we use the context to figure out what the word means. Finally, we do some repeated readings of the text, focusing on automaticity, "scooping up" words, reading punctuation and rate of reading. I always find a way for my students to share what they have learned, either by reading the script to others in the class, a different class in the same grade, or older or younger buddies. This gives their learning real purpose. Oftentimes, students like to write about what they have learned, as well.

I have two books that I love to use when I am teaching about animals in winter.

This is my go-to informational book for animals in winter. It's easy to read, but filled with facts about lots of different animals. I like to make a chart with the pictures of the animals sorted into categories according to what they do. Then we go in and add details.

This is a perfect book for practicing fluency and expression. Denise Fleming never disappoints with her word choice and rhythm. We read the story, make puppets and have fun retelling.

The animals in winter readers theater script and the additional resources are available in my Tpt store. You can click on the image below to find out more details.

 Animals in Winter Readers Theater

I also have a fun interactive folder unit and an informational unit on animals in winter, too.

 animals in winter interactive folder         animals in winter nonfiction unit

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You can also visit some other literacy bloggers and see what resources they are sharing!

Hey there! How's your summer going? If you're anything like me, your brain is finally in summer mode and you're doing some self-care and enjoying the summer!

But.... I bet you're still thinking about school. Maybe just a little? It's ok. Teacher brains never really turn off and summer is our time to recharge and get ready for next year - and that means thinking about things we want to do differently this time around.

If you were to ask me what time of day I like best with my students, my answer would immediately be any time we are reading together! Reading aloud is a great time to build community, make connections and throw a little teaching in, as well.

What if I told you I have a way to make those read alouds more purposeful - more focused... while still be engaging? Say hello to interactive read alouds!

"Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read."—Marilyn Jaeger Adams

The research is there. Reading aloud is important. And not just any kind of read alouds. The best read alouds encourage students to look closely at the text and carefully analyze what they are reading. This kind of read aloud is what makes a difference (Serravallo, 2012.)

So, exactly what IS an interactive read aloud? How is it different from other read alouds? And how can you use them in your classroom?

Great questions.

And I've got the answers!

I've put together a short email series - it's FREE! - to get you started with using interactive read alouds in your classroom. 

We'll talk about what interactive read alouds are and why they work. And we'll work together on planning a read aloud for you to use with your kiddos.

And to top it all off - I've got a free interactive read aloud already planned and ready for you to use in your classroom - just for my IRA email subscribers.

Are you ready to find out more? You can join the read aloud fun by clicking {HERE}  or on the button below.

That's all there is to it! The emails are short and they won't come every day. Who has time for that in the summer? Read them at your own pace and learn a little more about how to increase the value of read alouds in your classroom.

Happy reading!

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!

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