Even though the end of the school year is nowhere in sight, I am already considering books to teach my students next year. My goal every year is to find high interest books that no student in the class has read– yet. No easy feat. I do reteach favorite books from year to year, but I always rotate one or two out of the line up.
This week, I have been assessing my bookshelf and determining what will stay and what will go next year. The one book that will definitely stay is The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore (not to be confused by The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis). I have yet to have a student who has read this book prior to entering my class, but I always have students who come back and tell me it was the best book they read in the fourth grade.
The story takes place during the Great Depression and centers on Sarah Puckett, a girl who won a blue ribbon at the 4-H fair for her homemade bread. Through her creativity and problem solving skills, she starts a bread business out of the house and solves many of her family’s problems. Sarah independently overcomes obstacles, and while she has supportive parents, Sarah is the one who takes action. Since I witness so many students asking for help before even attempting to start something new or unfamiliar, a character like Sarah is a great role model.
Other books that I would consider to be a hidden gem and are possibilities for next year are:
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
There are many books available right now that feature characters with a learning difference of some kind. One of the hot books this year in teacher circles is Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; I thought Rain Reign was better. My daughter read it and barely made it through due to the dog situation (tissue alert– nobody dies, but…), so that may bump it off the list. Not that I am against crying in front of my students, but I try to avoid “ugly crying.”
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
This novel is based on a true story. Children in a Norwegian town smuggle gold away from the Nazis during WWII. I like the fact that I would be able to hunt down the real story with students after finishing the book.
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
This book has a slower pace and is a little longer, but I love the way the book focuses on a group of school kids who get their community involved in investigating a question about why storks no longer settle in the town. Anything that promotes teamwork and persistance is a great option.
Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
I think this may be better suited to 6th graders due to the tiny print in the book and more sophisticated vocabulary, but a loyal dog’s search for his home is usually a winner with all readers. It could definitely be a read aloud with students rather than a novel that is studied as a class.
For more Hidden Gem book ideas, CLICK HERE. Some of my teacher blogging friends are sharing more great-but-often-forgotten book titles!
I am always surprised how much my students like poetry and even more amazed at the poetry they create during our poetry unit. We start the poetry writing process slowly with an adjective review. The students made a list of adjectives that describe the sneakers on their feet and then wrote simple “adjective” poems using a frame I provide to get warmed up. The poem frame has a fill-in-the-blank structure where students add five adjectives from their sneaker description list. (Grab an adjective brainstorming page on THIS POST.)
Everyone can complete the poem without fear of having to rhyme words or create some great metaphor. After completing the sneaker poem, the students choose another topic like dogs, pie, or books and write a new adjective poem that uses the same structure. This year, we took the completed adjective poems and created concrete or shape poems.
How to Make a Concrete Poem
We searched for black and white clipart in Google images that matched the poem’s topic. The kids pasted the clipart image into a Word document and enlarged the blackline image to fill an 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. We printed the image and lightly traced the main lines with pencil on a blank piece of copy paper. Using black pens, the students wrote their poem over the traced pencil lines. Students left the paper with the clipart image under the paper with the concrete poem while writing to serve as a guideline.
In most cases, the students needed to write their concrete poem multiple times to fill the shape outline. They also added a few details to complete the effect. The finished product elevated the simple poems into something much more sophisticated.
More ideas for student poetry are available in my poetry unit. Purchase the poetry unit by CLICKING HERE.
You would think after all of my first days of school that I would not get that sinking feeling in my stomach when it is time to begin the school year again; I should be a first day of school expert. But I get the dark, scary feeling. Every year. My back-to-school-blues started about a week ago when we arrived home from our mini family vacation, and the box with the uniform shirts I had ordered for Mr. Star Wars was on the front porch.
Because so many of us experience the same emotions on the first day of school, there are a lot of good chapter books about starting school. And, it does not matter if you are returning to the same school or starting a new school altogether. We all get nervous. Reading about a character who has the same worries you do helps make the transition to the new classroom a little easier. Is there somebody at your house worried about your first day of school? Try a few of these titles to help ease the anxiety.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
Julia and the Art of Practical Travel by Lesley M. M. Blume (at the end)
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
Superfudge by Judy Blume (beware the Santa Claus reveal)
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (April character)
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
Midnight for Charlie Bone Jenny Nimmo
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett (Sherlock Files series)
Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (the grandfather)
Maggie Malone and the Mostly Magical Boots by Jenna McCarthy and Carolyn Evans
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Tarantula Shoes by Tom Birdseye
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (Jessica character)
I keep seeing articles about how to encourage children to read throughout the summer. All of the articles make the same basic suggestions. Set a daily reading time. Establish a specific amount of time to read each day. Get involved in a reading incentive program at a local library or bookstore, and provide good book choices.
Ultimately, if your child/student likes to read, he or she will continue to read in the summer as long as there are books available. If you do not have a child who is an avid reader then you (or another adult) have to support the reading habits if you want any reading to happen. You will need to provide reading material or opportunities to choose reading material; model reading (that means read yourself); read together, and have book discussions. Even though we often think of reading as an independent activity for older kids, a child will develop better reading habits if reading is treated like a group activity, and all participate.
I wish there was a pill to magically make a child a reader but there is not. If you need a little kick-start finding a book to help your child get over the reading-when-not-at-school hump, try a book that takes place during the summer when the characters in the story are also not attending school.
Upper Elementary (~3rd grade to 6th grade)
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Under the Egg by Laura Max Fitzgerald
My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders
Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom by Rachel Vail
The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M. Martin
The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore
The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
Middle School (7th grade+)
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
The Summer of the Swans Betsy Byars
For younger readers, try The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner specifically #2 in the series. I could not remember for sure, but I think some of the Ivy and Bean books by Barrow take place during the summer as well as some of the Judy Moody by McDonald. Now that Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss are beyond the early chapter books (sniff), my radar is not as good for these younger titles.
I spend a lot of time in the summer reading (even more) kid lit. I am always on the hunt for books I can use in my classroom. I have a core group of novels that I teach each year, but I like to rotate one or two out of the line-up and bring in something fresh. This year, I am adding The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I have spent the past week designing new materials to use with my students. While there are some materials I like to have for all novels I teach (chapter vocabulary lists and a character chart), I pretty much start from scratch every time I design a unit so that the activities are unique to that specific novel. Developing the ideas and wrapping layers of language skills into a unit of study are probably my favorite part of teaching.
I read lots of books for pleasure until I find one that catches my interest.
Once I choose a book I would like to teach, I read the book a second time and make notes. I circle key words, write notes and questions in the margin, underline important quotes, put stars next to interesting passages, and jot activity ideas at the bottom of the page.
Next, I set up my basic handouts that I use in every novel unit. I always add chapter vocabulary, and I always have a character chart of some kind.
After that, I often implement an ongoing task. I call this an anchor activity. Students might have to find figurative language in each chapter, write a summary “gist” statement after completing each chapter, or re-tell the chapter from the point of view of one character.
I add in activities that are unique to the themes, story, and writing style of the book. For The One and Only Ivan, students recreate the “puzzle” drawing Ivan paints with his message to save Ruby, the baby elephant. Based on evidence from the text, students draw and color their version of Ivan’s masterpiece. They cut their drawing into pieces, and a partner has to reassemble the drawing just like the character, Julia, did in the story. I want to keep the flow of the story going, so I won’t plan for these unique activities at the end of every chapter; I sprinkle them throughout the book.
I also like to incorporate at least one non-fiction reading selection that supplements events in the story. In the Ivan story, students get to compare the book version of Ivan to the real Ivan who lived at Zoo Atlanta after spending 27 years in a glass enclosure at a mall.
Typically, the first year I teach a book, I am creating the items I need the night before I will use them with the students. Thanks to the TpT Seller Challenge, I had motivation to get a head start on my new novel for this school year. I also had a great editing buddy, DocRunning, who offered great suggestions for improvements.