Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

I just began reading this to my 12 year old. I haven't read aloud to him since last summer when we began The Woods Runner with the exception of a few parts of the books he is reading in class this year. His science teacher offers extra credit if students read off of the "Science Shelf" in the school's library. Our wonderful librarian has compiled a variety of non-fiction and science fiction books. After Gregory flew through the Michael Vey series, I really couldn't get him to read anything else off of the shelf.

However, the stars aligned and I happened up on this book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, at the school's book fair. A Malawian boy has written the story of how he brought electricity to his village by constructing a windmill out of old bicycle parts and junkyard scraps. Boy who loves physical science and electricity meet William Kambkambra. So each day during the week, I read 20 pages aloud from this incredible story.

William Kam . . . begins by detailing life in his village. He talks about the games he plays, the jobs he has, how his house is constructed, and how his family earns a living, his schooling, his friendships, his "business" fixing battery-operated radios, and finally he begins to inform the reader about why it is so difficult to get electricity to a village in Malawi and why if you do succeed in getting electricity, why it is so unreliable.

Check back to read more as I continue my Read Aloud with my son.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

By the Great Horn Spoon, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple and The California Gold Rush

The Daily Language Review Task cards review the history and the stories while helping students practice their proofreading skills.

Teachers will print the file on card stock and then laminate for use again and again. Students are grouped to identify the error on each card. One student records the error on a Student Worksheet using proofreading marks. This is a first step to peer editing. Here is the Student Worksheet. The character spacing has intentionally been increased to make it easier to use proofreading markers.







Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lunch Money

I have been reworking and revising my Grammar & Vocabulary Reviews, adding in the Common Core State Standards, and have begun including Task Cards to my products. Lunch Money is a school story written by one of my favorite authors, Andrew Clements.

You can read a synopsis elsewhere. Here I will show you what the Task Cards look like. I truly believe that students need to practice proofreading. Everyone makes simple mistakes, and learning that you must review your writing before "putting it out there" is a skill that must be taught in elementary schools. There is power in proofreading because you are putting your best foot forward. You are showing that you care about your work.

Perhaps the first step is learning to find mistakes in others' work. It may be difficult to do peer editing in third or fourth grade. You can start with these Task Cards. Students can reflect on these errors. You will see what they know and don't know, all while discussing a likable story.


1) There is no comma needed after chores. Commas separate items in a series (more than two) or precede and when it is a coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses.
2) Yes, there is an apostrophe needed after neighbors. That is a plural possessive noun. He shoveled the front walks of more than one neighbor. And the predicates are items in a series. A comma must separate walks and raked but the comma after leaves, called a serial comma, is optional.
3) Some might call this a comma splice. Others call it a run-on. A comma is being used to separate two independent clauses. Yikes! There is more than one way to correct this sentence. A simple solution is to change the comma to a period. That, however, does not demonstrate the relationship between the two clauses. Another solution would be to join the two clauses using a coordinating conjunctions such as so. Greg's father explained how interest works and keeps money safe, so Greg decided opening a bank account was a good idea. A writer also could use a subordinating conjunction such as once to create a complex sentence. Once Greg's father explained how interest works and keeps money safe, Greg decided opened a bank account was a good idea.
4) I think it was studying Spanish that finally taught me about verb tense. And then my ESL studies made clear the difference between the past perfect and the past perfect progressive. WHAT?!?

Mr. Zenotopoulous had been teaching there for twelve years. Since he is still teaching there, had been teaching (past perfect progressive) is preferable to had taught (past perfect).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

This is a story I read while I was researching Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. The reason for my research is that I had developed a grammar review aimed at fourth-graders to accompany Number the Stars, and remembering my eldest son's fourth-grade experience, I thought that a Danish fairy tale would tie in perfectly. Firstly, Hans Christian Andersen is mentioned as one of Denmark's most famous storytellers in the story itself. Secondly, the story refers to the little sister's love of stories with kings and queens. Thirdly, the fairy tales I began to read of his had elements of Christmas and New Year's in them. The extension activities to accompany my product were coming together easily as I saw how a fourth-grade teacher could begin a Read Aloud in the fall to coincide with Adolph Hitler's edict that all Danish Jews were to be arrested and relocated and that as the fourth-graders met weekly with their second-grade reading buddies----voila------they could share Danish fairy tales!

This is a chronological list of events in The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen. Print, cut into strips, mix up the strips, and have students reorder the trips after you've read the story. Laminate each individual strip, and you can use it again and again.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cynthia Rylant

Poppleton Forever: Cynthia Rylant has been one of my favorite children's authors ever since I was introduced to her Mr. Putter & Tabby series when Gregory was in first grade. I've also read the boys some of her stories about Poppleton, a pig. Yesterday I read Poppleton Forever to Matthew and he read Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat. I am so impressed with how far he has come with his reading! In Poppleton Forever I was reminded of one of the projects David did in Mrs. Mazie's class at Sicomac. Parents were asked to come in one day and work with their child to build a bird feeder. The kids had to use tools from home. David used a plastic soda bottle and wound wire around the outside and decorated it with pony beads. I'm going to try to dig up a picture. In Poppleton Forever, I saw the perfect story to Read Aloud before beginning a project like this. Poppleton plants a tree which isn't growing well. He asks each of his friends what the tree needs, and Cherry Sue has the answer.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog: My second-grader had a simple homework sheet attached to his packet that became more complicated because it lacked any context whatsoever. There was a simple chart showing that sentences have two parts, a naming part and an action part. Following that, there was an 8 or so sentence paragraph discussing a new puppy that came home. After the first sentence, most of the remaining sentences were missing the "naming part." Directions asked students to include a subject ---- or naming part. Without context, my son had no idea what he was being asked to do.

So this is what I came up with as an alternative.




I asked my son to complete the worksheet and witnessed first hand how a beloved story essentially taught the grammar.

It's a freebie for now, but after I get through my long list of books, I hope to compile something special for Cynthia Rylant's early chapter books.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Three Ninja Pigs

The Three Ninja Pigs retold by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat is a fractured fairy tale. No, I did not know this word until my third-grader come home with a Book Share project :) South Pasadena has this wonderful story, among many others, which is a retold fairy tale. This version of the class tale was a big hit in our household over the last few weeks. The three pigs, two brothers and a sister, train in aikido, jujitzu, and karate to protect themselves against the wolf. The story is retold in rhyme.

My "ah-ha---I could do this with book" moment came when I realized what an authentic opportunity fractured fairy tales present for comparison and contrast. It is also appealing that the actual read isn't challenging in and of itself for a third or fourth-grade student, yet the sentence structure work which could be practiced within the context of the story IS relevant and challenging for those grades. Many schools do book buddies with younger grades, so these stories can be "recycled" (practiced in a book buddy setting with first or second graders) and then practiced at grade level in a more applicable "common core" context. 

One of my new ideas for designing student practice is to present compound sentences using the coordinating conjunction but, which students then revise using the subordinating conjunction although. This is an idea in progress so stay tuned.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

George Washington's Breakfast by Jean Fritz

I stumbled upon this in the South Pasadena library while I was looking for one of those Who Was biographies of George Washington to read to Matthew and David. David recently made a George Washington puppet for his book share. 

Yesterday I read this book to the boys. It was quite long for Matthew, but he listened to most of it before being lured away by handball on our back porch :)



This story is about a boy named George Allen who was born on February 22nd, George Washignton's birthday. He is obsessed with all things "George." He likes to count things, just like George Washington. He goes to great lengths to find out the answer to his question: "What does George Washington eat for breakfast?" He reads several books from his school library to find the answer to his question. My favorite part of last night's Read Aloud was when my eight year old ask, "Mommy, what's a card catalog?" He's not satisfied by what people ate around the time of George Washington. He goes to the Smithsonian and sees an actual uniform worn by George Washington and counts all the buttons. He's secretly pleased that he and George are probably the only two people who ever counted all those brass buttons. He travels to Mount Vernon and talks to a docent who can only tell him what the rest of the household ate. Read the book to find out if he finds the answer to his question.

Not only did I enjoy the story, the boy's persistence, the flashback to the card catalog at Lincoln School's library from when I was in elementary school, but this is the line that struck me.

"Don't look at me," his grandmother said. "I said I'd cook but I wouldn't look."

Matthew's words this week are look, book, cook, etc. What is that . . . short "o" vowel sounds, right? Remember, I'm not an elementary school teacher, but how perfect is this that his class is comparing Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and this line comes up again and again in the book. George's grandmother isn't a big help with all this research George is doing. She's busy doing the spring cleaning. She tells George that she'll make George Washington's favorite breakfast for him once he finds out what it is. And a few times throughout the book she says to George, "Don't look at me," his grandmother said. "I said I'd cook but I wouldn't look."

Yes, I know. Interrupted dialogue. That got my creative juices flowing too!