Create a School Book Room

Our school created a book room last summer for the elementary teachers, and it has been such a handy repository for all the books we share on a regular basis. When our language arts teachers met to discuss our needs and wants for the book room, most of us had read It’s All About the Books and had been drooling over the pictures. We used that book as inspiration and identified three main goals. We needed easy access for all teachers at any time of day, flexibility to allow for new books or the removal of books we no longer needed, and an efficient organization system since we had limited space.

School bookroom

Book Room Access

Our book room is a small, narrow space between two third grade classrooms. It already had shelving installed and housed all our crafty project supplies. We overhauled and consolidated the project supplies, which gave us room for the book sets. The third grade teachers graciously allow us to enter their classrooms discreetly any time of the day, although, we found that we typically needed to get in there during that few minutes we are last minute prepping right before the school day starts, so it is not too disruptive for the teachers. There are two doors, Jack and Jill style, between the two classrooms, so we don’t always need to enter the book room space the same way.

Master Book List

We created a master spreadsheet with all the book sets listed and shared it with our group on Google Drive. The spreadsheet has title, author, number of book copies the school owns, book reading level, and a column for location because we do keep some book sets in our individual classrooms. We printed two copies of the book list to keep in the book room. One copy is sorted by reading level; the other copy is sorted by author. Teachers can find a book based on the level they need or search for a specific book based on author. Using the spreadsheet, we created labels that are attached to colorful bookmarks. This identifies the set making it easy for teachers to locate sets.

School bookroom

When new book sets are added mid-year, a teacher fills out a blank bookmark and adds the book set to the appropriate bin. The teacher also adds the information to the Google Drive spreadsheet. I was appointed “spreadsheet master” so I periodically go through and update and re-sort the spreadsheet (it’s a good summer task).

School bookroom

Book Room Organization

When teachers need to check out books from the book room, we have a clothespin system. Teachers take the books they need and leave the clothespin attached to the bookmark or book box where the books will be returned. Not only do we have book sets with trade books we purchase independently, we also have the Fountas and Pinnell guided reading series. One of our teachers created leveled labels that we hot glued to the fronts of the various boxes.

School bookroom

To help teachers keep the materials in the correct spaces, there are pictures posted on the walls near the shelves with a visual of how the materials should look. We have the pictures maps set up for the book bins as well as for the craft supply bins.

School bookroom

TIP: We used all the existing plastic bins we had. We oriented them in different directions and fit book sets side by side. We also slid picture book sets in between book bins. Maximize your space!

School bookroom

I do have plans to spend a day this summer cleaning and updating the school book room, but for the most part, it has stayed in its original condition. We all get the books we need when we need them. It has been a huge help particularly for the lower grade teachers who are grabbing the F&P leveled readers constantly. Even if you have limited storage space at your school, finding a closet or unused area to start a shared book room is well worth the time and effort!

School bookroom

MatchBook Summaries

As a culminating activity for our latest novel study, my students created MatchBook Summaries. For each chapter in the book, students wrote a summary about key events in the chapter, provided a related quote, and designed a matching illustration. The writing and drawings were displayed on cardstock paper strips that were folded like a matchbook. The MatchBook Summaries were attached inside a manila folder to provide an outline or overview of the whole novel. The project has been a great way to practice writing thorough explanations about story details and locating specific quotes that provide text evidence to support student responses.

MatchBook Summary Materials

  • manila file folders
  • 12-inch rulers
  • white cardstock cut into strips
  • colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.
  • glue stick or Elmer’s glue
  • paper cutter
  • paper scorer (recommended)

MatchBook Summaries writing activity

Directions

  • Each student will need cardstock strips for each chapter of the novel you are using. For our novel, Kavik the Wolf Dog, the book had 13 chapters. I have 27 students. 27 x 13 = a lot of cutting, so prep your materials ahead of time for this writing activity! Cut the cardstock into strips that are 7 1/2″ x 2 3/4″.

  • I have THIS PAPER CUTTER that has grooves for paper scoring. You use a tool that looks like a dull knife and press lines into the paper strips. The score lines make the students matchbooks fold perfectly every time. I made the grooves on the paper strips at 1″ from one end and 3 1/4″ from the other end.
  • Have students create grid lines in light pencil on the interior of their manila folders. Many will make mistakes while they measure, so I model where to measure and draw lines as they measure at their work space. Because the folders are wide, I have students mark 2-3 dots across the folder at the spot where we need lines and then the ruler lines up against the dots to draw a straight line. It took some time for the students to create the grid, but it was great measurement practice.

  • After students have pencil guidelines in the manila folders for their MatchBook cards, they begin creating the chapter summary matchbooks. The folded cards have the chapter name or number on the outside of the small flap at the bottom. The outside top has a simple illustration that relates to the chapter. The interior of the matchbook has the chapter summary and supporting quote (optional). The students had been writing summary statements while we were reading the novel, so they had the sentences ready to transfer to the folded cards. I gave them a graphic organizer like this Chapter Summaries Chart to keep in their language arts notebook while we were completing the novel unit.

  • Students glue the back of the matchbook inside the grid lines in the manila folder. We had trouble with some of the matchbooks falling off if students were not heavy enough with the glue stick, so you may want to use Elmer’s liquid glue. Remind students not to over-squeeze the Elmer’s glue, or you will end up with the opposite problem.
  • Once all matchbooks were attached to the inside the folder, students designed the outside to look like our book cover.

MatchBook Summary Tips

  • I encouraged students to complete all cards before gluing to the interior of the folder. Some grid spaces were not big enough for cards due to the notches for the file folder tab. The cards need to be in numerical or chapter order, so the students may want to place all cards before gluing. I let students decide if they wanted to place the cards in order by going all the way across horizontally and then starting a new line or stacking the cards in columns from left to right.

  • If cards are glued to the interior before designing the outside, the surface is bumpy. I had some students create the book cover style illustration on a separate piece of paper and attach it to the outside of the file folder.

To see my complete novel unit for Kavik the Wolf Dog, CLICK HERE. To check out more creative writing activities to go with any novel study, CLICK HERE. I got inspiration for this activity from THIS BLOG POST.

Student Green Screen Videos

To cap off the Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles fantasy novel study, my students filmed green screen videos that made it look like they were actually standing in Whangdoodleland! If you read the Whangdoodle book with students, there are many opportunities for super creative activities. In the book, characters travel by their imaginations to Whangdoodleland. In order to bridge between our world and the Whangdoodle’s world, the characters need scrappy caps (I talked about that fun craftivity HERE) and a willingness to believe.

By the end of the book, students wanted to actually be in Whangdoodleland, so we wrote stories about an imaginary animal who might live there and designed shoebox dioramas of a scene from the fictitious setting. Students had to include details from the book in their shoebox scenes. We took pictures of the finished scenes and inserted that into the green screen video background while students presented their stories about the imaginary animals. The final video made it look like the students were actually standing in Whangdoodleland talking about their animals.

Your students could create a similar video for a variety of novel units, history time periods, or science topics. Design the background based on your unit of study and then video tape the students presenting a story or information that suits the background. You could transport yourself back to an important event in history or put yourself inside a plant cell. When the students create the video, it is a lot like when meteorologists report about the weather and are pointing to things that are not actually there. The maps and graphics are inserted later on top of the green screen background.

Green Screen Shoebox Background Materials

  • 1 shoebox for each student (If you have shoeboxes with the attached lid, do not put any materials or decoration on the lid. Build inside the actual box only.)
  • Felt, various colors
  • Sequins
  • Beads
  • Cardstock or construction paper, various colors
  • Foam sheets or shapes, various colors
  • Play doh, model magic, clay in various colors
  • Feathers
  • Pom poms
  • Yarn, various colors
  • Popsicle sticks, clothespins…
  • Any other craft materials you may have
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Hot glue guns

Green Screen Video Procedure

  • Follow your writing workshop procedures and have students create the text they will be reading on video. For our project, students created an imaginary animal that could live in Whangdoodleland. When designing their animal, the students considered all aspects of the animal– habitat, eating habits, personality, etc. as well as including details from the book.

Whangdoodle planning page

  • After the writing is complete, design the shoebox scene. We needed about 3 class days to complete the scenes. Not only did students create the “habitat”, they designed a model of their creatures too that was placed in the box.

  • Take a close-up picture of each shoebox scene. You will want to take the photo in landscape orientation and zoom in close enough so the edges of your picture are the edges of the shoebox. The pictures that were the most successful in the videos used lots of brightly colored craft materials, and the students filled in the “floor” and back of the box to give more of a 3-D effect.

  • Videotape each student reading their story in front of the green screen. We had to look at the shoebox scene to determine where the student should stand, so they could add hand motions in the video and point to things that would appear in the shoebox background. Because my students were supposed to be in Whangdoodleland, the kids wore their scrappy caps while filming. Adding a little costume element is a fun detail!
  • Use a video editing app to create the final video. Our school’s technology teacher used iMovie for editing. There is an app called DoInk that would work too.
  • Upload all videos to a playlist on YouTube (unlisted) to share with families.

I was so excited about the final results of this video project. It definitely qualifies for differentiated instruction if you need to provide an activity that hits a wide variety of learning styles. And finally, I was pleasantly surprised by how many skills we covered– reading, writing, text evidence, summarizing, spatial reasoning, oral presentation, fine motor… To see the example of the video I modeled for the students, CLICK HERE. I even have a scrappy cap! To purchase my Whangdoodle novel unit, CLICK HERE.

Whangdoodle Scrappy Caps

I am in the middle of reading The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles with my 4th graders, and they just finished designing their own Whangdoodle scrappy caps this week. It was a surprisingly successful craftivity and brought me unexpected teacher joy all week. The Whangdoodle book is written by Julie Edwards (you may know her as Julie Andrews… or the original Mary Poppins) and was published in the 1970s. It is one of my favorite fantasy books for upper elementary. Three siblings travel by imagination to Whangdoodleland with an eccentric professor. In order to travel from our world to the Whangdoodle’s world, they must wear brightly colored scrappy caps. The caps are like ruby slippers or the wardrobe to Narnia; they are the bridge to the magical land.

Whangdoodle scrappy cap

I wanted my students to have their own scrappy cap to wear during our novel study to focus our thinking about the book and activate our imaginations. I ordered knit beany caps for all and provided lots of fun accessories. I had a few reservations about the activity. I was not sure if the students would be that interested in stitching designs on the hats, or if they would buy into wearing the hats during our reading time. Boy, was I wrong.

Whangdoodle Scrappy Caps

The students spent a solid two days embroidering, gluing, and attaching various embellishments to their hats– boys and girls. They planned their designs carefully and figured out ways to stitch letters and patterns. I met with small groups and taught blanket stitch, chain, and a backstitch, and they started teaching each other and sharing ideas. A few knew how to make pom poms from yarn and started explaining the process to interested classmates. They figured out ways to mix felt with yarn, buttons, and sequins to add different effects to the hats. The results, both skills wise and with the hats’ appearance, have been well worth the class time dedicated to the project.

Scrappy Cap Materials

  • knit hats, buy in bulk, solid colors
  • yarn, bright colors
  • plastic needles, one per student
  • fabric glue
  • hot glue gun
  • sequins
  • buttons
  • felt, bright colors
  • feathers, bright colors
  • foam shapes
  • any other fun, decorative materials

Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles scrappy caps

I made a sample hat that I wear during class too. I shared the different techniques I used on the hat before letting the students loose to work on their own. All the materials were at a station, and students worked at their own pace. I set up the hot glue guns (I had two) at a station on the floor. If you don’t have low temp hot glue guns, include work gloves at the station. Small cloth gardening gloves work well to protect fingers from burning.

It helps to have some group instruction for basic sewing how-tos. I recommend students start with a piece of yarn that is about an arm’s length. They would put a simple slip knot at the end of the piece of yarn and thread the other end through the needle creating a fairly long “tail”. If they don’t have enough of the tail part pulled through the needle, they are constantly de-threading their yarn. Some of my students liked to tie the thread to the needle, but it created problems for them if they wanted to pull a stitch out. For right-handed students, they should hold the hat with their left hand, and use their right hand for the needle work (the opposite for a lefty). After observing students hold the hats, I realized how many benefits the activity has for OT type issues. Many were worried about really gripping onto the hat, and when they didn’t, the fabric was too wobbly to get the needle to pull through. The gripping hand works as a guide and stabilizer for the needle work. All students started with a basic running stitch.

Whangdoodle scrappy cap stitching

For the handful of students that wanted to get fancier, I pulled small groups and showed them a few specialty stitches. This helped students think spatially about moving left to right or right to left. Keeping one hand inside the hat in order to poke in and out of the center of the hat and not wrapping around the outside was little bit of a brain teaser for the kids. They also needed to plan ahead a few steps to create the design they wanted.

Whangdoodles scrappy cap

If you can work in the time for a sewing activity in your class, it will be worth it. The students activated a whole slew of skills that I did not expect, and they are so proud of their finished hats. They have been really excited to wear them, and we put them on not only for reading time, but during tests, to complete a writing activity, or just because it’s fun to have them on and makes us happy.

To see my full Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles novel unit, CLICK HERE. There are many posts with tutorials or YouTube videos for embroidery stitches. I found this BLOG POST with a few simple examples. I also had a “sewing for kids” book that I brought to the classroom, and students could flip through it.

Dystopian Book Genre

The dystopian book genre comprises the bulk of Mr. Star Wars’ 8th grade book stack (check out my other BLOG POST about middle school boy books). Dystopian books are a sub category of science fiction and are a favorite YA book genre. Science fiction books are generally geared to middle and high school students because the content is heavier. Themes and common story lines in science fiction stories deal with apocalyptic events, death, disease, dying, wars and typically have a dark tone.

science fiction dystopian book genre for students

In dystopian books, the protagonist or main character faces a big challenge that will possibly save the world, and he/she uses various skills and cunning to make that happen. I believe this is the appeal of the dystopian book. A character who is the same age as the reader takes on an important cause and succeeds in some way. It gives the reader a sense of empowerment.

How do you know a book is science fiction?

  • The story answers a “what if” question. What if we could time travel? What if we lived on Mars? What if the temperatures on Earth rise significantly?
  • The story incorporates the impact of scientific or technological changes on people.
  • The setting is in the future or alternate universe.

How do you know a science fiction book is dystopian?

  1. Division of citizens into distinct groups or classes
  2. In the future
  3. War or apocalyptic event has happened in the past to change society
  4. Individuals have little power, information or free thought is restricted
  5. Illusions of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control
  6. The hero/protagonist sees the problem with society and wants to change the system

key elements in dystopian literature

Many middle school classrooms will include a dystopian book as part of the reading curriculum this school year. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to identify general science fiction characteristics in books, dystopian characteristics, and then compare to a specific book.

science fiction dystopian book stack

My Dystopian Book List… so far

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Matched by Allie Condie
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  • Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Teaching resources available HERE)
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • The 100 by Kass Morgan
  • Dry by Neal Shusterman
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  • The Neptune Project by Polly Hollyoke
  • Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  • Empty by Suzann Weyn
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The White Mountains by John Christopher (Teaching resources available HERE)