One Book

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving and holiday season?  The story below helped me to reflect on what I have and what really matters.


I share an office with Tammy, the reading specialist, at my school. This past week,  she called a new 2nd grade student in to administer a reading assessment called the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment). They sat together at the long rectangular table, Tammy making notes on her paper as she asked the obligatory, scripted questions about reading engagement.

Tammy: Who reads to you at home?

Student: No one

Tammy: Do you own any books at home? How many?

Student: One.

One book!


When they finished the test, Tammy sent the little girl over to me, to “shop.” Over the last few months in my role as literacy coach, I’ve helped to sort and level books that teachers can add to their classroom libraries. We also set some aside for situations such as these, to give to students that have limited books at home.


She walked over and stood before me.

Pink coat, jeans, beads in her hair. Big round eyes.

“How many can I take, she asked?”

“As many as you want.”

As she began to sort through the pile, I inquired casually about her reading interests.

“What kind of books do you like?”

“Dinosaurs,” she answered immediately and I was surprised by her fast response.

She knows what she likes, I thought.

Soon, we had a small collection started. The Berenstein Bears, two dinosaurs books, a picture book of different animals and a pile of board books for her baby sister. Oh and a tattered Golden Book with Santa Claus on the cover.

Raggedy Ann and Andy Help Santa Claus - Little Golden Book

When she found this last one, she lit up and a smile spread across her entire face.

“Ohhh…christmas. Can I take this?”

So we went on like this, sorting though the books together, moving some to her stack, returning the rest to the original pile.

We chitchatted a bit and she shared that she lives with her mom, and aunt, and cousins, and grandmother. A few siblings, younger and older.

In one house.

And they share one book.

One book!


Soon it was time for the girl to go back to class.

“Come on or you’ll be late,” Tammy called.

She started to walk away but then turned back to me, almost shyly.

“Will you be my friend?” she said.

I nodded yes, and then she moved towards the door, waiting for Tammy.

“Thank you,” she said to me from across the room and waved.

In her hands she held two plastic bags, overflowing with not one book, but many books.

I waved back and then she followed Tammy back to class, the door clicking quietly shut behind them.


I’m thankful for many things this holiday season, including:

This 2nd grade girl, for reminding me how of lucky I am and of the power of books, in general.

For her classroom teacher, the reading specialist, and all of the other teachers at my school and throughout Philly, who help students like this child every day, teaching them to read and write – and to develop a love for both – even in the most difficult of circumstances.

To my own children at home, for letting me read to (and with) them, so I can discover and rediscover new and old favorites, like these:


And to my mom, who is the first person that gave me the gift of reading and all things literacy, who took me to the library on an almost weekly basis, where I came home with a pile not much different than the one that this girl carried out of my office.

Thanks, Mom.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.



Write Your Heart Out (at home or at school)

Looking for a way to get your child to do more meaningful, authentic writing at home or school?  Maybe you encourage them to write only to be met with cries of, “I hate writing,” or “I don’t know what to write about?”

Try having them create a heart map.  It’s fun, easy and something that will be sure to foster ongoing inspiration in them (and you). And if you’re a “artsy/crafty” mom (or dad!) or teacher, even better!

What is a heart map?

I first discovered the heart map in the book, Awakening the Heart in 2003.  It changed my teaching and also my view of poetry and writing in general.  I highly recommend the book, especially if you are a classroom teacher.  A few years ago I even heard the author, Georgia Heard, speak and it was truly one of the most memorable workshops in my teaching career.

A heart map is a visual representation of “all the important things that are in your heart, all the things that really matter to you.  You can put: people and places, that you care about; moments and memories that have stayed with you; things that you love to do, anything that has stayed in your heart because you care a lot about it.” (Heard, 1999, page 108).

How do I get started?

Whether you’re doing this at home or at school…

1. Start by creating your own heart map as a model.

Materials needed: construction paper or chart paper for the model, sturdy paper for the child’s heart (consider tracing a heart on a file folder because they are sturdy), colored pencils, crayons, markers, cut-out photographs, tape and other art supplies

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(Map of a 2nd grade teacher’s heart)

2. Share your map with your students.  Discuss why you put each person, memory, etc., in your heart.  Illustrate the importance of choosing items for the heart that are truly meaningful (i.e. really part of your true heart!).  This “thinking aloud” will help the students understand the planning process that you go through as a writer.

3. Have the students plan the components of their hearts.  They can sketch our their heart on a separate piece of paper and/or make a list of what to include.

4. Let them get started! Play some quiet music in the background for inspiration, if that moves you.  Nutcracker (my daughter’s favorite), classical, jazz.  This will help them to relax and let go in the moment.

5. When finished, display the hearts and/or glue to the inside of their writing notebooks or file folders.  The students now have an ongoing list of writing ideas to carry them forward for the school year and beyond.

6. And last but not least, encourage them to choose something from their hearts and start writing!

Center Link: If you use literacy centers in your classroom, consider creating a “Write your Heart Out” center or add this as an option to Independent Writing.

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Let’s all remember the importance of what’s inside of our hearts and help our students to do the same.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Focused Students or Interrupting Chickens?

Do you ever feel like you’re being interrupted more than you’re actually teaching? You’ve planned a great guided reading lesson but spend the majority of the time reminding students about what they’re supposed to be doing.  Maybe you feel like a “chicken with its head cut-off,” running from table to table, trying to keep your students on task.

I recently discovered this book, Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein.  It’s a great read aloud to help introduce centers and the idea of no interruptions.

And it doesn’t hurt, of course, to create a list of responsibilities with your students to further promote independence.  Encourage them to solve problems on their own instead of interrupting your group!

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When everyone knows where they’re supposed to be – and how to be independent – there will be less interruptions and more time for teaching.

So how do you teach procedures to keep your own students from being “Interrupting Chickens?” Please leave a comment and share your ideas here.  Let’s all stick together and avoid getting “pecked!”

Happy reading,


Center Board Gallery

Looking for ways to organize your center rotation schedules?

Check out these different systems from K – 3 teachers at my school.  There is no “right” way to do this.  The important thing to remember is that your system is:


*easy to understand

*kid friendly



What do you do in your own classroom to stay organized?

Have a great day and keep reading!


P.S.  For more info on this topic, check-out my other posts:




Word Wall 101

When I taught third grade, I put up a word wall because it was part of a checklist of items that my principal wanted to see.  I was a new teacher and although I had a vague sense of why word walls were important – to help reinforce high frequency words in reading and writing – I really didn’t know what to do with them once I put it up.

So I found a list of Dolch words for third grade and starting writing them down on index cards.  Did I add them gradually (3 – 5 per week) as I now know to be effective practice?  I honestly can’t remember. But I do know that whatever I did, it wasn’t systematic.  I stuck some up there and encouraged the students to use them during writing.  That was about it.

Does this sound familiar or are you looking for a refresher on this topic? If so, read on to find out more about the “what,” “why” and “how” of word walls, including interactive tips for your classroom.

What are word walls and why are word walls important?

Word walls are a place where teachers can place high frequency words that students have learned. These are words that occur most commonly in printed texts.  For example, the, want, went, because, etc.  Some of these words can be sounded out phonetically, however, many do not follow the basic rules of phonics. It is therefore of critical importance that we teach students the words in a systematic way. Knowing 100 high frequency words will give students access to over 50% of all printed material. 

A word wall is a place where teachers can display these words, so students can access them during reading and writing.  Regular repetition and reference to the word wall will allow students to become more familiar and independent with the words, allowing them to spell them correctly in their writing and recognize them in their reading.  Being able to read high frequency words allows students to focus their “reading muscles” on the process of decoding harder words and actually comprehending their reading.  In short, it allows them to be more independent as readers and writers, which is a win win for you and for them!

How can I use them in my own classroom in a purposeful and meaningful way?

Here are a few tips to integrate word walls into your own classroom.  The key is for the word wall to be purposeful and meaningful, as opposed to wallpaper that just blends into the background.

  1. Choose 3 – 5 words per week to introduce. You can find words in various places, such as The Dolch List or Fry lists, plus words that you notice students struggle with during reading and writing.  Just remember that only high frequency words go up on this wall, not vocabulary or content words.  Click here for a list of Dolch words:

Example of a high frequency word – because, went, want, there

*Non-example – farewell, evaporation, decimal, graceful

*Note: These words can (and should) still be displayed in your room, in separate spaces designated for those specific purposes (i.e. Wow! Words (vocabulary), Science Words, Math Words, etc.)

  1. Make a routine of how to introduce and reinforce the words with your students:
    1. Say the words.
    2. Chant the spelling of the words. (Get creative here! For example, let the students: bounce each letter like a basketball, then make a layup as they say the entire word, strum each letter like they are playing a guitar, swing each letter like a baseball bat
    3. Write the words in notebook, on a white board or even in the air “with their magic pencil.”
    4. Use in a sentence.
  1. Interact with the words daily through chants, games, etc.
  2. Reinforce during centers and other independent work (i.e. search big books and poems for word wall words, make words with magnetic letters, rainbow write word wall words, play Word Wall Bingo, etc.).
  3. Use the words in writing workshop, morning messages and other writing that you model for students. Be intentional about the writing that you’re modeling and make your thinking explicit.

Ready to get started?  All you need is a black marker, a few index cards (preferably colored) and a space to display the wall.  So grab your materials, introduce some words and watch your students grow as readers and writers!


Family Bingo Night

Looking for a fun Friday night activity? Pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and play Word Wall Bingo!

Playing games at home is one way to support our children with sight word recognition, a critical piece in reading fluency and overall literacy growth.  When students can read sight words, this frees up their efforts and energy to focus on harder, decodable words.  Moreover, these sight words account for approximately 50% of what we read! It’s no wonder that fluent readers can read these words in a snap.

Why play games? First of all, they’re fun! They can also provide a springboard and the motivation for continued learning and effort.  Make it a family routine and involve older and younger children as well.  Your child can also help choose the words for the Bingo board, when you use one of the reproduceable sheets below.

Bingo board
Bingo board

How do you know which words to choose?  There are a few ways.  The fastest and easiest is to print a copy of the Dolch or Fry word lists.  Look at the list for your child’s grade and do a quick assessment by having your child read them to you.  Use that to decide which words to include.  (I would suggest including some words that he/she knows well – to build confidence – and some that need to be mastered).

Other ways to choose high frequency words include listening to him/her read and taking note of the words that he/she misses.  And last but not least, consider checking with your child’s teacher for words to focus on.  My son’s teacher sends home sight words to practice each week, which is a big help.

For more information on sight words in general, read this post:

You have your words…the next step is to add them to your board and make copies.  

Note: Make sure to write them in different order on each game board.  I’m embarrassed to say that I recently learned this the hard way in a second grade classroom.  I came prepared to model a Bingo lesson and realized that I had created 28 identical game boards.  Everyone won!!

Finally, grab some bingo chips (or a bag of coins, your child’s rock collection, etc., etc.), pop some popcorn and settle in around the dining room table.  Winner gets to keep the coins or possibly pick the ice cream flavor, if dessert is in your plans.  Your child learns new words and the family bonds around fun, games and dessert.


Can you think of a better Friday evening?

More writing – of their own choice

When I show teachers a sample literacy block, one of the most frequent comments that I hear is that they aren’t sure how to find enough time for writing. Or, that their students don’t get enough time to write topics of their own choosing.  Sometimes, this might be because teachers haven’t had a lot of background on how to support students in this way.

It can be scary to say, write about whatever you want.

The fear is that students will write for two minutes and say, “I’m done,”or worse, not start at all. So we fall into the trap of telling them what to write about, giving them prompts instead of empowering them to think for themselves.

Do you like it when people tell you what to write about? I’ve taken writing workshops before and for me, I hate being told what to write about or worse, finish this story starter.  Some people like that, so a range of topics can be useful.  The key, however, is to not stifle our students’ own creativity. When we let them write about what they want, we are teaching them to find their own ideas from the life around them, and most importantly that their life (and ideas) matter.

So a range of ideas can be useful but we don’t want students to always equate writing with following a specific prompt, topic or story starter.

Wondering how to integrate this into your own classroom without completely revamping your schedule and instruction? Here are a few easy tips to add more independent writing.

*Add to a center/workstation.  Teach them how them how to keep a list of their own ideas (i.e. things I’m good at, hobbies, favorite foods, etc.) and how to write in different genres (i.e. letter, list, brochure, poems, etc.).  When they visit this center, they can choose to write about anything from their notebook, in any genre that they choose.

*Heart maps (see my other post – Write your Heart Out – for more details on this)

*Let them share – whole class and in pairs  This lets them know that their writing matters

*Model with your own writing – YOUR life matters too and is a lot more interesting than you might think. Don’t be afraid to write about it for your students. What you have to say is much more interesting and insightful than a pre-written prompt from your basal series.

*Display all examples of their writing – not just their “best” work.  This will teach them to learn the writing process and take ownership of their work.

*Teach them to notice the way that other authors write. Keep a basket of books that you’ve read together that can help support their own writing.

*Use repeating texts and let them write their own verions. Put this in a center. Examples include:

The Important Book

When I was young in the mountains

When I am old with you

Letting students write about what matters to them doesn’t need to be scary or difficult.  Once you let them go, you will be amazed at what they create, from their own lives and ideas.