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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. 

With the end of the school year fast approaching, my friends and I over at The Reading Crew decided to get together and do a blog link-up filled with all things summer! You can find ideas for end of the school year activities, summer reading and more. Each blog post has a freebie for you, as well. Annnnddd.... since we know most of us don't have time to read for ourselves during the school year, summer is the time to catch up on some great books. We are hosting a giveaway of books to fill your summer reading time. Keep reading to find out about the fun!

The start of summer is a great time to learn about sharks. I love to do a week about sharks toward the end of the year when my kiddos are starting to lose interest and need something engaging and exciting to keep that interest going. And what's more interesting to kids than sharks?! I like to get as much mileage out of a topic as possible, so I'm always looking to find ways to integrate different subjects.

I love to start my shark week activities with a book - and there are TONS of great books about sharks out there. My favorite one to start out with is by Nicola Davies, called Surprising Sharks.

The biggest reason why I like to start with this book is that it makes sharks a little less intimidating. Don't get me wrong, the author shares some amazing shark facts that definitely make my kiddos say, "WOW!" - but the illustrations and focus are a little less scary  - and by the end of the book everyone wants to know more about these animals!

Here are a few ideas for some "after reading" activities:
  • Talk about the fact that surprised you the most - make a chart, write about it in a journal, share with a partner
  • Changing schema - was there something you thought was rue before, but now you know is not? (or vice versa?)
  • Opinion writing - Should people be scared of sharks? Use info from the book in your reason
I always like to integrate nonfiction into everything possible - and studying sharks is a great opportunity to bring in some math! This book by Jerry Pallotta is so much fun.

The book uses math to teach information about sharks! There is everything from the size of sharks (big, bigger, biggest), to how much they weigh, how far down they can swim, temperature, etc.... this book puts a new twist on learning about sharks! The focus in this book is on greater than and less than, but you could fit any shark facts into your math curriculum.

How can you bring this idea into the classroom? Easy! Just think NUMBERS! There are so many numbers associated with sharks - number of teeth, how long they are, how much they weigh, how many babies they have....
  • Have students do some research and find out different numbers that have to do with sharks. Challenge them to come up with questions comparing information about two or more sharks.
  • Create a "Math About Sharks" poster with a shark illustration and facts that include numbers.
  • Work in groups to focus on one type of comparison - big, bigger biggest (teeth, bodies, etc.); light, heavy, heavier, heaviest; deep, deeper deepest
Here's a little freebie I created using the weight of different sharks.


You could use this in lots of ways! Hang the task cards around the room and give each student a copy of the shark facts and answer sheet (double-sided). Students walk around the room using their fact sheet to answer the questions. Shrink down the answer sheet (85% works well) and have students glue it into a notebook and write their answers there. Use it as a center!

This freebie is part of a larger resource with even more ways to integrate math and shark facts. Click on the image to see the entire resource.

Looking for MORE shark activities? I love using reader's theater in my classroom! It's just another way to integrate subjects - this time nonfiction/science and reading fluency. This resource contains 4 partner plays and 2 reader's theater (6 parts) scripts.


There are comprehension activities to do with all the plays.

There's also a flip book to go with the "All About Sharks" script, and a fact card sort for the "Super Sharks" script. They're all written at about a mid-end of second grade level. You can click the images to find out more!

If you're looking for more summer ideas, you can click on the blog links below to visit my other Reading Crew friends and see what they are sharing. We are all giving away a copy of a great summertime read. I'm sharing The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah. 

You can enter the giveaway through the rafflecopter right here.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

"I don't know what to write!" Every writer - no matter what the age - has moments like this. Coming up with topics to write about can be hard - and the younger you are, the more difficult it can be. I have a great story I use to inspire my students when they have writer's block. It's called Lost for Words, by Natalie Russell.

In this story Tapir is having trouble coming up with something to write about. All his friends write so easily. From poems to stories to songs, Tapir finds that each of his friends has something to write about - why can't he? Finally, Tapir stops focusing so much on his problem and just enjoys the moment. This leads to a beautiful picture of his friends, filled with just as much emotion as any story or song. Tapir learns that words are no the only way to express your thoughts.

Tapir's problem can be used to teach young writers an important lessons.

1. Find the kind of writing that is best for you. Everyone is good at something, and the same goes for writing. As we explore different writing genres throughout the year, I always have students who excel more at one particular genre. I make sure to point this out to students. All writers are different, and what works for one writer may not work for another. The world of writing is huge! We need to take the time to explore it with our students and give them the opportunity to write in a variety of ways.

2. Pictures are a kind of writing. For our emerging writers, this is the place to start. Drawing pictures is a powerful way to share experiences. Students will often add details to pictures that they don't include in their actual writing, even as they get older. Pictures lend themselves to oral storytelling - a precursor to actual writing. Students who can successfully TELL their story as they talk about the pictures have more success when they WRITE their stories.

3. Pictures are just as important as the text. In a picture book, the illustrations work WITH the text. They serve to expand and highlight what the author says. As books become more text based, the pictures switch to inside our heads. "Making a movie" as we read is our way of making the story come to life.

I created a few graphic organizers to help your students record ideas they could write about. Click on the image below to download them for free.

This is a great book to use K-3 to help your students get past that "I don't know what to write about!" stage. Do you have any other book ideas to share with me?

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

Want to save these ideas for later? You can pin this image:

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!

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!

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