Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pumpkin Time!

It's that time of year! Students are checking out library books about pumpkins, witches, and trick-or-treating! Must be Halloween! I thought I'd share of a few of my favorite literature-based pumpkin activities to get us all in the spirit of things.

One of my all-time favorite pumpkin books is Pumpkin Jack, by Jack Hubbell.

It's such a great book to use as a core literature link for a thematic science unit!

When I was teaching 1st grade, one of our favorite (months long) activities was to watch and record the decomposition of our own "Pumpkin Jack."  We carved Ol' Jack and left him in a tub or bowl or rot in the classroom for a while.  (Hint: don't stick a carved pumpkin in a plastic bin with the lid on...seriously...gross).

The kids recorded their observations about him, along with measurements of height and weight, in a journal that we kept. We started before we even carved Pumpkin Jack, and used the scientific method to predict what would happen. We also made a plan for when we would record our data, generally once a week or so in the beginning, and then once a month.

Loved that activity!

Next, we used How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara.  As you can imagine, this book is perfect for math.
When we visited the pumpkin patch for a field trip, I would grab three extra pumpkins.  After weighing and measuring all 3, I'd have the kids predict which one would have the most seeds.  Of course, they'd always guess the biggest one, but as they'd discover, that wasn't generally the case! Then I'd cut and gut the pumpkins and we would would undertake the process of counting seeds.  

Not an easy task with firsties, but it was the perfect opportunity for them to practice counting by 10s! 

A couple of my other "go-to" pumpkin books are From Seed to Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pumpkin. These two are perfect for teaching about the life cycle of pumpkins. I always made a huge pumpkin (bulletin board size) and then put life cycle labels on it to illustrate the life cycle of a pumpkin. We also used these two books as mentor texts of our "All About Pumpkins" informative writing.

There are so many great pumpkin books for creating a thematic unit -- those are just a few of my favorites! If you need some more ideas and resources to get you started, my Pumpkin Unit (with all of these activity resources and more) is available on my TpT store. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Writing with Mentor Texts: The "What," Why," and "How" of Using Mentor Texts to Facilitate Student Writing

In a previous post, I discussed the inspiration for this year's library theme, "What Writers Do." Certainly, it isn't something that is typically a focus in a library, but I'm finding that looking at books through the lens of the authors is a very enriching experience (for me and for the kids).

Here's what we've done so far:

To begin the theme, I read Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk. This picture book set the stage for the year.  In the book, the mouse (who lives in the library) becomes an author, and then inspires the students to become authors, as well.

Next, I had my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders make posters for me illustrating their ideas about "What Writers Do." I particularly love this one, submitted by a 5th grader.

I displayed the students' poster in the hallways, and then bound them into two big books that we keep in the library.

As the year has progressed, my library lessons have continued to come back to theme, as they will do throughout the year. For example, when discussing the difference between fiction and non-fiction books, we discussed the authors' purposes in writing books.

I've been using mentor texts to "unpack" what writers do. I read The Little Shop of Monsters, by Marc Brown and R.L. Stine, and the students pointed out how they "heard" R.L. Stine in the text. That led to a discussion of author's voice.

I wanted to enlist the aid of the classroom teachers in our theme, so I led an in-service about using mentor texts to facilitate writing.
We have a very accomplished, seasoned staff, and they have been using children's literature for years to facilitate writing, but most were not familiar with the current term, "mentor text." They completely understood what I was talking about, though, as I explained how I've been using books such as Library Mouse and The Little Shop of Monsters (thus the monster theme in the slides below).
I particularly liked this video by Peggy Semingson for giving a quick, succinct explanation of what mentor texts are. 
The "why" is always an important one for me, and what resonated most strongly with me was the idea that we "show, don't tell" kids about what writers do.
I love the idea of letting what kids notice in mentor texts guide writing lessons, rather than subscribing to a preconceived plan of what we are going to teach. This is something I've been trying to do more of in my own teaching...I'm sure it has a name, but I'm calling it "responsive teaching." Dr. Jane Hanson of the University of Virginia discussed how to follow the students' lead in this video by Reading Rockets.

After my presentation, teachers got together by grade level to plan how they can use mentor texts (or how they are already using them) in their writing instruction. It was so exciting to hear their plans! (I work with a talented group!)

I'd love to hear how other teachers and librarians are using mentor texts!

Special thanks to Laura Strickland of Whimsy Clips for the adorable monster clip art.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Teaching the ABCs and 123s of Fiction and Non-Fiction Books

For the last few weeks, I've been working with the kids on how to find library books with greater independence. One of my primary goals in library is to give the students the skills they need to quickly and easily find what their looking for.

This year, I spent two weeks teaching the 1st-5th graders a lesson I called, "The ABCs and 123s of Finding a Library Book."  The first week we focused on the ABCs of finding fiction books. The second week, we worked on the 123s of non-fiction books. 

I began by comparing our library sections to neighborhoods in which the books live.

With that analogy in mind, the students had a pretty easy time of understanding how to find the books with the call numbers (addresses). 

It was a rewarding endeavor for a couple of reasons:
1) quick results -- the kids were so much more independent, which made all of us feel successful
2) I could see the light bulbs going off throughout the lesson. One of the kids commented. "But that's so easy! And it makes so much sense!" 

It really does make sense. Library organization is very systematic, thanks to Melvil Dewey. You just have to know how to use the ABCs and 123s of call numbers!  I've made this resource available in my TpT store. It's editable, so you can modifiy the text to meet your needs. If you think you can use it, take a look!

To get our little ones (kindergarten) ready for the that lesson (when they are in 1st grade), I focused on teaching them the difference between fiction and non-fiction. I started by reading one of each type of book: Fall by Tanya Thayer was my non-fiction selection, and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves by Lucille Colandro. 

After reading the two books, we discussed the differences between them. Then we worked with  a set of pocket chart cards I developed. 
The cards featured the pages of two original stories I created, All About Fall (non-fiction) and Mouse Gets Ready for Fall (fiction).

We had already discussed the characteristics of each type of books (while reading our two examples), and we had gone over these posters, so they had a good idea of the features of each type.
As I held up and read each cards to the kids, I had them raise one finger if they thought the card belonged to a fiction book, or two fingers if it belonged to non-fiction fiction. We sorted the cards into the two categories. 

They nailed it, of course!  Smart little kiddos! I was happy to hear from classroom teachers that they were using the terms appropriately in class. That's always the true test of whether they've generalized the skills.

If you can use this resource, it's also available in my store. Take a look here.

Happy Fall!