Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Four nonfiction books that will grab your students

Four nonfiction books that will grab your students' attention and keep them reading.
I love read-aloud time in my classroom.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  No strings attached, an occasional question asked, but mostly this is time for kids to sit back and listen to good books and fluent reading.  

Read-alouds stretch students' reading interests.  You think you only like realistic fiction?  Listen to this historical fiction book!  Or what about this science fiction one?  Explore a variety of genres with them.

What about nonfiction books?

Here are four books that are worth reading to your upper-elementary and middle school students.
Nonfiction read aloud
Caitlin chose a penpal in Zimbabwe, because it sounded more exotic than countries in Europe, a decision that changed her life.  She began an unlikely friendship with Martin - unlikely because of the distance, huge socioeconomic differences, and that their friendship had to be maintained by writing letters.
On paper.
With a pen or pencil.
As unlikely as that seems in today's world, they exchanged letters for six years, learning a lot about each other and themselves in the process.  Chapters alternate between Caitlin's and Martin's points of view.  Students will be pleased with the end of the book; it might cause them to wonder, maybe even do, something to help others. 
Nonfiction read aloud
This book won the vote for next read-aloud between several nonfiction books we discussed.  This is the story of eight men who (like Amelia Earhart, my students reminded me) couldn't find the island they were supposed to land on in the Pacific Ocean.  On board their plane was VIP Eddie Rickenbacker (a name I wasn't familiar with, but a hero of both world wars) The plot moves more slowly because the men spent a lot of time in rafts on the ocean, but their struggles with hunger, thirst, and sharks, made it a compelling read.  A few girls started to get impatient with the book midway through ("Are they going to survive?") but most students stayed pretty glued.
This is one of my favorite books because Malala Yousafzai feels so approachable in her book.  She's young and she, like they, has strong opinions about school.  Unlike my students, however, she nearly lost her life for expressing those opinions aloud.  Continuing to champion the rights of girls to have access to education, she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  I have used this book in multiple ways over the years, including with small literature circles.  You can find the novel study for students to delve deeply into the book, here.
                                         Nonfiction read aloud
I read this book when it first came out and couldn't put it down!  This is the story of NASA and the African-American mathematicians who performed the computations that helped engineers create flying machines - airplanes and later, rocket ships. Sound pretty dry?  Not at all!  
These women worked at a time when most women didn't.  It is the story of civil rights, the Space Race, the Cold War, and gender rights. Powerfully told from the point of view of four women, its honesty and action will capture the interest of many students.  If you're interested, I created a novel study for students for this book also, which can be found here.

If you like, you can purchase the books through the links below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Hello, Universe

This book won the Newbery Award last year, and so I knew it was going to be good.  After all, lots of people, who make more time to read good books than I do thought it was worthy of the award.  I'm still scratching my head.

There are some good things to be said about the book.  You're introduced to some diverse characters: Virgil (and his guinea pig, Gulliver) whose Filipino grandmother tells stories that always end up with the person getting eaten, Chet, the bully, who has a mean father, Valencia, a deaf girl who gets mocked by Chet, and on whom Virgil has a crush (and who seems the most convincing character to me.) 

And then, there are the Tanaka sisters: Kaori, who is convinced that the universe intervenes in people's lives and she's the only one who can explain it, and her younger sister, Gen, who does whatever Kaori tells her.  The characters are charming, but not-quite-believable and the plot (boy gets picked on by bully, other kids come to his help) seems a little worn-out to me.

One of my students is reading the book now, and I'll be curious to see if his response is different than mine. My hope is that my students will connect to the characters better than I did!

Enjoy the book you're reading this week,

If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

When They Quit All the Books

"I just don't like reading all that much," he said, as he put another book back on the shelf.

We'd talked about books: sports books (he likes to read about football and basketball, but rejected every Tim Green or Mike Lupica choice.)  He finally settled on The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, a wonderful book written in verse.

He'd liked that one.  But had no interest in any other of Alexander's books.  So, we were right back to where we'd started from.

I had already spent more time with this young man, talking about books than with almost anyone else.  Sigh.

Another student overheard us and recommended Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart.  That student and I agreed that it had been hard to put down.  "Okay," said the kid, "I'll give it a try."

The next day, at the library, he was off looking for books again.

"Why aren't you reading Scar Island?" I asked.

"I didn't like it."

"How much of it did you read?"

"Not much."

Now, I have to admit.  At this point, I was angry.  I'd spent a lot of time with this kid.  So I made him come back to where he was sitting, and I quietly read him the first chapter.  He was pumped and said he'd keep reading it, that it sounded good.

The next day, he told me that he'd quit the book.

And it was on that day that I went home and read Pernille Ripp's thoughtful post, "When They Abandon Every Single Book" where she addressed this very challenge.

She reminded me that new habits take time.  That we need to keep our emotions out of the equation and just keep showing these kids great books.

I'm trying, Pernille!  I really am!

He's reading an I Survived book, and I'm realizing (he's since admitted) that longer books scare him.  That's another good piece of information for my toolkit.

Thanks, Pernille, for reminding me that habits (mine included!) take a while to change.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Giving Students Choice in Your Classroom

How do you accommodate the needs of many different learners in your ELA class?  This year, there seems to be a greater distance between my strongest readers and my weaker ones.  And not just in reading strength, but in stamina for learning.
So, how do you keep kids engaged through "all the things" you need to teach?

One of the ways I'm trying to do that is by giving students choice about the work they do.  Create a Playlist that requires them to complete several activities that get them to the end goal, but provide them with many choices for each.  You can do this without making yourself crazy!

Take advantage of online resources:

Create a Playlist:

  • Four or five passages for students to read 
  • Two or three vocabulary or Latin/Greek roots assignments
  • Two or three grammar assignments
  • Perhaps a reading strategy, separate from those assigned with text
  • Two or three paragraph-long writing responses, some including research
You tell them how many assignments they need to complete and what the deadline is.  If you want to differentiate assignments, assign certain ones to students.  When I do that, I break my kids up into groups online (I see the groupings, they don't) and put the playlists online.  That way, I can assign different ones to different students. 

They get to choose what they want to work on over a one-two week period.  The work is at their comprehension level, so there's a greater chance of success overall.  Students like being able to choose what they do!  And while it may seem like a lot at first, it's really not!  Take advantage of online work, so that you can see at a glance who's doing okay with a concept and who needs to be pulled for additional work.

I hope you'll give this a try.  My students enjoy having a say in their assignments.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Take a Shelfie: The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade

I'm a huge fan of Jordan Sonnenblick, whom I've met once or twice.  He's such a nice guy.  And he gets middle schoolers, having taught them for a while.
So when my husband heard him speak at a conference recently, he knew he had to buy this book.

And then I had to read it.

Now, I do fall in love with books.  A lot!  But this one?  Oh. My. Word.

Sonnenblick tackles a hard subject and intersperses it with just enough humor to make the reader chuckle, even while you're crying inside.

Maverick decides that, as the smallest kid in sixth grade, and with a tendency to get picked on, he's going to try to do good - sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes right out in front.  Only he manages to get into trouble.  Every. Single. Time.

Mav's life isn't easy.  He lives with an alcoholic mother who can't keep a job.  She dates guys who are nice one minute and abusive the next.  Maverick's sarcastic humor allows you to get a picture of what's going on; his character is so well-developed you want to wrap him in your arms.  You can't help cheering for this kid who's trying to figure himself out.  He is the embodiment of that saying about being kind to everyone because you don't know what battles they're facing.

Sonnenblick pokes fun at schools, teachers, and assistant principals.  A couple of times when I was reading, I found myself laughing out loud.  He also shows that sometimes, in our efforts to help a student, we highlight their pain rather than diminish it.

My hat's off to Sonnenblick.  I think he knocked it out of the park with this one!  As much as I love Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, I think this one's even better.

Get this one on your shelves soon!

If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top 7 Reasons to use BOOM cards in your Classroom

I was introduced to BOOM cards two years ago.  Since that time, I've heard rave reviews from primary teachers about how much their kids love using them and how they provide good practice and review.

I wondered if they'd have the same effect on 6th graders.  I started playing around on the website and by the time I tested them out on my students, I had three decks of my own.

Yeah.  Not even close to enough!

To be honest, I was a bit surprised at how much my students loved them.  But they provide a real value and they're fun!

Why You Should Be Using BOOM Cards For Learning
  • As an activating strategy or even to pretest students to get an idea of where you need to start teaching
  • As a review and to see if what you've taught has "stuck.
  • To differentiate instruction for students who need additional time with a skill
  • To push students who need an extra challenge
  • For quick finishers
  • Because using them is fun!  Who doesn't want to win badges?
  • It's easy to set up your class (for older kids, they signed in themselves)
If you've never heard of BOOM cards, here's the link to their website.  A basic membership which gives you five of your own decks to use for up to 80 students in three classes.  That's $9.00 a year.  At $19, you're at power membership, and can have 150 students and unlimited decks.  Decks are the online cards that students interact with.  As an example, my decks have between 24-32 cards each.

If you're interested in creating your own decks, the site has excellent video tutorials showing you how to create them in PowerPoint or on their site.

If you're interested in trying some out, you can search the site or take a look at any of the three (I'll have more soon!) in my TpT store.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Between Shades of Grey

Ruta Sepetys takes little nuggets of history and turns them into powerfully told, hard-to-forget novels.  

Fifteen year old Lina, her younger brother Jonas, and her parents live what she considers to be an ordinary life in Lithuania.  A talented artist, Lina has been accepted to an art school for the summer, and she can't wait to finish the school year and begin this next adventure.

And then Soviet soldiers break into her home and change her life forever.  Separated from her father, and sent to a work camp in Siberia with her mother and brother, Lina finds ways to draw pictures of events and hide them in unusual ways, passing them from one work camp survivor to another, hoping that they reach her father.

Written with an unflinchingly honest portrayal of life in cattle cars, in work camps, in Siberia, there is a beautiful humanity that emerges.  In the midst of tremendous anguish, there is hope.  People you thought were awful turn out to be kind.

Lina is courageous and she's determined to tell the story of the horrors and the hope.  So she draws on scraps of material she scrounges and hides, hoping that some day, her story will be known. 

This is a powerful novel for middle and high school readers, and explores an aspect of World War II that many of us are less familiar with.  

What are you reading with your students right now?
If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.