Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Battle of the Picture Books

Battle of the Picture Books

(Last years books!)
“And the winner of the 2013-2014 battle of the picture books is…Henry’s Freedom Box!”  There was so much applause and high fives amongst both of my classes after this announcement was made that my neighbor had to poke her head in to see if everything was okay!  Last year was the first year I held a March Madness-themed battle of the picture books and it quickly became one of the best projects I’ve done the last couple of years.  The students loved reading the variety of books, falling in love with many of the characters from the pages of these books.  The fell in love with the beige crayon from “The Day the Crayons Quit,” they had debates about what happened to the little fish in “This is Not My Hat,” they shared their own experiences of the dark after reading “The Dark,” and they wanted to find out more about Clara Lemlich from “Brave Girl: Clara & The Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909.” By the time we began the voting the excitement had been building for a month and a half.  Students clearly had their favorites, were persuading others to agree with them, and even created posters for some of their favorite books!
Although I have seen many different versions of this project, I only have 90 minutes with each of my two classes for reading and writing.  Therefore, I tried to keep it simple and all about the books.
*The students need to read one picture book a day.
*The students will read their picture book at the beginning of their independent reading time (I usually give the students at least 30 minutes for independent reading).
*The students will check the book off a list that I give them, and record the book’s title, author, and genre.  To help them remember the book, they will also write down brief thoughts about the book.
*New this year…I’d like to create a Padlet for each book where the students can share some of their thoughts about the books with their classmates.
Last week of February
*There are 32 books…16 fiction and 16 nonfiction.  I will give the students the titles of the books in four groups of eight andthe students will rank the books 1-8, 1 being their favorite and 8 their least favorite.  (This will help me create the board.  After adding up all of the votes, the book that receives the lowest number will be the 1 seed, the book that receives the highest number will be the 8 seed.)
*Over the next couple of weeks we will vote.  We’ll go from 32 books to 16 to 8 to 4 to 2 to the winner!  Unlike last year, one side of the bracket will have all of the fiction books while the other side will have all of nonfiction books.  This way, the finals will have one of each!
*Below is this year’s list.  I tried including as many 2014 picture books as I could, but a few other books snuck in including last year's winner!  I'd love to hear what others are doing for this project and some of the books you are using.
Let the Book Battle begin!

Battle of the Picture Books
List of 2014-2015 Books
(Please check off as you read each one!)
__ “Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla” by Katherine Applegate
__ “Mr. Ferris and His Wheel” by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
__ “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” by Jen Bryant
__ “A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream” by Kristy Dempsey
__ “Creature Features” by Steve Jenkins
__ “Red Kite, Blue Kite” by Ji-li Jiang
__ “A Splash of Red” by Jen Bryant
__ “All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson
__ “Henry’s Freedom Box” by Ellen Levine
__ “Neighborhood Sharks” by Katherine Roy
__ “Tarra & Bella: The Elephant & Dog Who Became Best Friends” by Carol Buckley
__ “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone” by Katheryn Russell-Brown
__ “Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World” by Steve Jenkins
__ “Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas” by Lynne Cox
__ “The Boy who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos” by Deborah Heiligman
__ “On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein” by Jennifer Berne
__ “Carnivores” by Aaron Reynolds
__ “My Teacher is a Monster” by Peter Brown
__ “Ninja” by Arree Chung
__ “A Perfectly Messed-up Story” by Patrick McDonnell
__ “The Cat, The Dog, Little Red, The Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma” by Diane and Christyan Fox
__ “Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads” by Bob Shea
__ “The Troublemaker” by Lauren Castillo
__ “The Farmer and the Clown” by Marla Frazee
__ “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” by Mac Barnett
__ “The Pigeon Needs a Bath” by Mo Willems
__ “Blizzard” by John Rocco
__ “My Pet Book” by Bob Staake
__ “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend” by Dan Santat
__ “Peanut Butter and Cupcake” by Terry Border
__ “Emily’s Blue Period” by Cathleen Daly
__ “The Girl and the Bicycle” by Mark Pett

Monday, July 21, 2014

Booksmiles #2

Sorry for the late post!  We've been all consumed with baseball games and getting ready for Disney!  We are going on Wednesday...the first time for both of my sons!

In a rare moment of down time (between two baseball games on Sunday) I was reading several picture books from the library to my four year old when we stumbled upon a book that made him laugh...a perfect #booksmiles book.

In Dan Bar-el's "Not Your Typical Dragon" Crispin is about to turn seven.  With the other fire-breathing dragons of his family looking on, Crispin is looking forward to lighting his own cake.  However, instead of fire, whipped cream comes out.  After a trip to the doctor doesn't help, Crispin runs away from his home.  Crispin meets Sir George, a young knight sent out to slay a fire breathing dragon.  In a duel, Crispin can only manage bubbles.  The two begin a friendship as Sir George tries to help Crispin with his problem.  

When they return home, their fathers engage in a duel of their own!  Crispin saves the day!  Packed with colorful, funny illustrations, exaggeration, and relatable characters (even Crispin the dragon!), this book puts a smile on your face while teaching powerful lessons!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Books Make Me Smile #1

When I heard about this blog, I thought of many books that make me smile.  The book I want to share with you is “My Teacher is a Monster” by Peter Brown.  After reading both “Creepy Carrots” and “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” I knew I needed to own this book.  I was NOT disappointed!  This book made me smile the first, second, and third time I read it...and I know I’ll smile when I read it to my students on the first day of school!

Bobby is that student who seems to always get himself into trouble.  To Bobby, when he looks at Ms. Kirby, all he sees is a green, sharp-toothed monster.  To forget his problems with Ms. Kirby, Bobby likes to spend time in the park.  Unfortunately, so does Ms. Kirby.  Wanting to run away, Bobby and Ms. Kirby strike up an awkward conversation.  Suddenly a gust of wind knocks off Ms. Kirby’s hat, and it’s Bobby to the rescue.  When Bobby saves the day, Bobby and Ms. Kirby begin to see each other in a different light.


There are several reasons why “My Teacher is a Monster” made me smile.  I enjoyed seeing Ms. Kirby from Bobby’s perspective.  The expressions on both of their faces were priceless throughout the story. The pictures helped to tell the story just as much as the words do!   I smiled as Ms. Kirby transformed from a monster into a “person” before the reader’s eyes.  I smiled as the story forced me to revisit earlier scenes that included Ms. Kirby to see these changes.  I also smiled at the ending, a true reality for many students and teachers.


You will not be disappointed in this book…a book guaranteed to put a smile on your face each time you read it! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Importance of Choice

Recently, my students had to write a district writing prompt as a post assessment to our persuasion unit.  The students had the choice of a couple different prompts.  Many of them chose the following prompt:


“The fifth grade teachers are trying to decide how to teach reading next year.  Some teachers believe students should continue to choose the books they want to read, while other teachers believe the teachers should choose the books that the students have to read.  Write a letter to the fifth grade teachers stating your opinion on this idea.  Support your opinion with reasons and information.”


When I handed this out to the students, one student said, “Mr. Lewis, you always help us choose books to read. Without your help, I wouldn’t have found several books this year.”  Another student chimed in and said, “I like the books you choose for me.  I wasn’t a big fan of reading before you gave me a graphic novel at the beginning of the year!”  I told the students that there’s a big difference between me helping them choose a book and me telling them what they have to read.  I told them that I’ve never told them to read something, but have given all of them many suggestions to choose from.    


Every student who chose this prompt supported letting students choose their own books to read.  Here are some quotes from their letters.


“If your teacher always picks the books you have to read, you won’t learn how to find books you like to read when you grow up.”  Henry


“Choosing books makes kids enthusiastic about reading.”Abigail


“Kids think certain books look good, but we may not get to read it if our teacher didn’t think it was a good book for us.  If this was the case, we’d miss out on a lot of good books.” Danielle


“The more freedom kids have in choosing books, the more willing kids would be to experiment with different books.”  Abigail


“Reading horrible book after horrible book that our teacher makes us read will make us hate reading.”  Danielle


“Many kids and adults don’t like to be forced to read something they aren’t interested in.”  Abigail


“Some teachers think their students will like a book because the teacher liked it.  It doesn’t always happen that way.”  Meghan


“Reading books you choose is like running through the sunset in slow motion with happy and slightly dramatic music playing in the background.”  Jacklyn


This prompt took a couple days for the students to complete.  When one student passed her work in she said it was hard to write about reading without having as much reading time in class as we usually have!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Most Valuable Data

          Something that hasn’t happened in my classroom in a few weeks happened today.  I was able to talk books with my students!  I knew I was missing this valuable time, but didn’t realize just how much I was missing it!  The last few weeks have been hectic.  Going to the NCTE convention, the short Thanksgiving week, administrating reading assessments and district writing prompts, and completing report cards meant something had to be sacrificed.  Unfortunately, it was talking about books with my students.  They had time to read, but since I only see each group for a 90 minute block of time, I haven’t been able to meet with them.
          With the district mandates finally completed, I was so excited driving to school today.  I couldn’t wait to be able to reconnect with my students as readers.  After reluctantly finishing other work, we transitioned into reading.  The students knew I was excited to be meeting with them again and quickly settled in around the classroom, eager to discuss their books with me.  Time seemed to fly by as I met with reader after reader.  Over the next forty five minutes, I reconnected with old characters, was introduced to new books, challenged my reader’s thinking, left some of them wondering about upcoming events in their book, introduced some to new books, etc.  There were no charts to fill out, data to collect, papers to assess, or time restrictions (except for lunch, of course!)!  It was just my students and me, our notebooks, and genuine talk.     
          With all of the mandates and data collection, the information I received today by simply talking to my readers about their books is the most important data I could ever receive.  I also realized that I wasn’t the only one who was missing this treasured time.  So were my students.  As we were packing up, one of my students told me they planned on finishing their book tonight and that she couldn’t wait to talk to me about it tomorrow.  “Neither can I!” I thought!   

Saturday, November 30, 2013

NCTE Rookie

          My teaching career and reading life changed positively a year and a half ago when I joined Twitter.  I was always a voracious reader, but read mostly adult books during summer and holiday breaks.  Thanks to the people I was meeting on Twitter, I was now reading YA books, a lot of them.  It didn’t take me long to realize that these books were better than the adult books I had been reading.  Since joining Twitter, I can’t get my hands on enough YA books.  I’ve got piles of “to be read” books along with lists of “to be bought” books all over my house and classroom.  The ability to “talk” to and connect with educators who have the same passion for reading as I do on Twitter has enriched both my teaching and reading life.  I have gotten so many great ideas that I have been able to bring into my classroom. These ideas, and being able to connect with authors of the books my students and I are reading, get my students excited for reading and writing. 
          A year ago, unfortunately I had never heard of NCTE.  I followed several people who were tweeting live from Las Vegas and remember thinking that this was something I’d like to attend in the future, but didn’t give it too much thought.  I never thought I‘d make it to one of these conventions.  That all changed when I found out that this year’s NCTE would be held in my backyard, Boston.  With much persistence on my part, my school system graciously paid for my registration and I was going to NCTE13!
          Fast forward to last weekend, my first NCTE convention.  I was excited, nervous, and overwhelmed all at once!  Since this was my first NCTE convention, there were several challenges to overcome.  My first challenge was creating a schedule for the four days.  It was tough choosing only one workshop for each session.  In the end, I was very happy with my selections, being able to take something away from each session.  However, I learned that there were other sessions with certain presenters or in different formats that I will want to go to in the future.  The second challenge had to do with the exhibit hall.  This is where I learned the most!  After scanning the pages of author signings, I tried balancing author signings with workshop sessions.  However, I later realized I was unsuccessful, sacrificing too many workshop sessions.  In the future, I need to make sure I get to as many sessions as I can, and then mix in the author signings.  If planned correctly, some of the authors will be at those sessions.  The other thing I learned (the hard way) is to stay out of the exhibit hall when it first opens.  I was there with the crowd on Friday at 12:00.  I had no idea that this would be very much like Black Friday.  It was evident that people knew what they were doing, and I was not one of them.  A wave of teachers carried me past several vendors as fellow teachers pushed and grabbed free book after free book!  I was too busy asking vendors if the books really were free!  At that point I realized I was an NCTE rookie!
          The biggest challenge I had was coming to the conference by myself when it seemed that so many others already knew each other from previous conventions or came with a partner(s).  I made it through Thursday and Friday having several great conversations with fellow educators at different sessions and while waiting in line for author signings.  However, it wasn’t until Friday night’s Nerdy Book Club’s get together did I really start to feel comfortable.  That night was incredible!  Once I was started talking, the night flew by.  It was awesome meeting and connecting with many educators that I have been “talking” to on Twitter.  It was also mind-boggling to have the chance to talk to so many authors who attended.  At one point I was talking to three authors that I am in complete awe of.  There were several moments during this conversation that I had to pinch myself.  What was really cool was that I ran into many of these same people over the next couple of days and we were able to pick up our conversations from the previous night.  I definitely didn’t feel alone anymore! 
          The last challenge will be staying away from NCTE14!  I had such a positive experience, that I’ve already started thinking about how I’ll get to next year’s convention.  Several teachers have asked me about the conference since returning to school and I really didn’t know how to answer them.  How could I sum up the most rewarding educational experience that I’ve had in fifteen years as a classroom teacher?  So that’s exactly what I told them.  Something tells me I won’t be the only teacher from my school at NCTE14!

           I’ve wanted to create my own blog for a while now.  Thanks to my experiences at NCTE, my blog is a reality.  Although it’s definitely a work in progress, I look forward to sharing my thoughts about reading and writing with you.