Two Amazing Sites (and a few books too)

We often turn to our favorite professional books and web sites to start the year. What books do you turn to again and again and how do you use them? 

Teachers need books that are accessible, practical and easy to implement.  Sometimes a book looks great at first glance but can be daunting once we actually try to use it.  We are busy, of course, and don’t have the luxury of time to sit and read a book from cover to cover.  (Okay, let’s face it.  Sometimes even finding the time to read one chapter during the school year can be tough!!).

Here are a few books that that I’ve used, as well as two web sites that I recommend to help launch the new school year:

Web Sites

1. Two Writing Teachers

Two Writing Teachers

I just recently discovered this writing blog and am so glad that I did.  It’s jam packed with practical, research based ideas on writing workshop.  Sign up to receive daily blog posts through email, written by a whole host of authors.

A recent post is about A Game Plan for Transitions in Writing Workshop.  Read this short essay to help plan mini-lessons and strategies for successfully lauching Writing Workshop from the first day of school.

Another cool thing about the site is the Slice of Life on Tuesdays.  More to come on that, as I plan to start taking the weekly challenge.

2. The Next Steps in Guided Reading Companion Site

Jan Richardson Guided Reading

I learned about this site in a professional development seminar last year.  Already familiar with her book, I wasn’t sure how much different the site would be.  So glad that I took the time to check it out!  It’s definitely worth exploring, whether you use her companion text, The Next Step in Guided Reading, or not.

Click here: Jan Richardson Resources to find a whole list of free printables that you can use to enhance guided reading in your classroom. This is a site to bookmark!


1. The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo


This book is exactly what the title states: an index of reading strategies.  The chapters are divided by general reading goals, like fluency, decoding, etc.  From there, each goal is further broken down, with one page lessons for each.  For example, fluency is not just fluency, but has separate lessons for “reading with phrases,” and “paying attention to ending punctuation.”  And each lesson has specific, easy to use language that teachers can use to introduce the objective as well as sample anchor charts.

What I love about this book is that you can find an example of how to teach almost any reading strategy or skill, without having to sift through multiple pages to find what you need.  And the chapters are further divided by reading level, which also saves time for teachers.

A great resource to have for any elementary (or possibly even pre-K) teacher!!

2. The Next Step in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson

This book is used widely in my local school district and is a great resource for guided reading.  Divided into four main stages of reading development (emergent, early, transitional, fluent), this resource has everything that you need to plan and teach guided reading to all students.  What’s great is that there are several options for each stage, which makes differentiating instruction easy.

If you teach guided reading, I highly recommend taking the time to get familiar with this book!

3. Children Want to Write, by Donald Graves

I just discovered this text during a spring PD session with my school district.  There were many new ideas and strategies that I would like to try with my students this year, including a sharing protocol (ways to share during writing workshop) and also “actions” that teachers can take to better know their students. One of the Donald Graves key points is that when we truly know our students, we can better support them and help them grow as writers.  He also believes that as teachers, we should sometimes write alongside our students.

4. The Cafe Book, by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser

Product Details

I like this book because not only does it take teachers step by step through the nuts and bolts of small group instruction, it also has a handy appendix with strategies and skills to teach during guided reading (or even whole group).  Do your students need help with “using context,” for example? Or reading with fluency?  Use the appendix to find the right language to teach exactly what your students need.


5. Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell

An oldie but a goodie.  When I taught third grade, I used this book as a way to introduce the procedures of independent reading and reading workshop.  Turn to The First Twenty Days to find easy to teach mini-lessons to help your students become focused and independent while you meet with small groups.  What I loved about these mini-lessons is that they came complete with sample language and even anchor charts.

Product Details


What is your favorite “go to” book or web site and how do you use it?? Have you used any of the resources above and did you find them useful? Please share your comments here so we can support each other as we begin a new year!

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.



The Book is the Hook

Have your students ever said, “I don’t like to read.” Or, “I can’t find any books that I like?”

Sound familiar?

When this happens, it’s easy to throw our hands in the air in frustration and give up.  Why can’t these kids stay focused? Why can’t they can’t read independently? Why can’t they be quiet?

In her book No More independent Reading without Support, Debbie Miller states that “the best way to build stamina is through engagement.” (2014, pg. 58) She then cites a study that when students have access to a wide variety of interesting texts (that they are able to choose on their own), reading gains are roughly four times as large as the small effect of systematic phonics instruction alone. (Guthrie and Humenick, 2004).

How do we help students find books that interest them?  When we add this to all the other responsibilities and strategies of our already busy teaching lives, this can seem like a daunting task.

It doesn’t need to be.  Here are a few quick ways to help your students get “hooked” on their own books. So you can spend more time actually teaching and less time monitoring off task behavior.

  1. Model how you choose books. Are you sharing the process that you go through as a reader? Try this with different baskets and genres in the classroom.  And if you are an avid reader at home, discuss the types of books that you read and how you find ones that you enjoy.
  2. Teach students about the different genres in your library. Showcase different genres in your daily/weekly read alouds and keep a living chart that lists all the books that you read as a class, along with the genre for each.
  3. Have class discussions about favorite genres/authors. Make a chart and display.

Our Favorite Books/Genres/Authors:

Judy Blume

Horrible Harry (series)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Flat Stanley

Jack Prelutsky

  1. Encourage students to keep track of their own favorite genres and books. Create a chart of click here for a sample recording log. Reading Interests
  2. Allow students time to choose books thoughtfully.
  3. Create a book rack or basket where students can display individual book recommendations. Customize the format of their recommendation, depending on their age and developmental level. For example, in third grade, they might write a summary of some of the highlights of the story on a notecard, without giving away too many details (or the ending). They can attach the card to the book. In primary grades, they might write one or two sentences about why they liked the story and/or draw a picture of their favorite part.
  1. Create a bulletin board with each student’s picture, along with the name of their favorite book. Allow this display to rotate throughout the year.
  2. Read books to your students that you love. Display them proudly and encourage the students to read them as well.

Read Aloud Spotlight: Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind is the story of a boy who absolutely hates reading and his teacher who is determined to help him find books that he loves…Take a moment to read it to your class as a way to develop a community of readers.  It is also good for a few laughs too, especially when the principal dyes his hair purple!


Parent Link: You can do this at home too!  Model how to choose books that interest you with your own book collection or on your weekly visits to the library.  Have conversations about favorite books and encourage your child to make a list.  And most importantly, read with your child every day!  We can never underestimate the power of reading aloud.

Ready to begin?  Just choose one of the tips above and get started today. Then share your progress and/or any other comments/ideas that you have!

Happy Reading,


Scaling the Mountain of Independent Work Time – Planning Activities

As teachers, we know that keeping the rest of the class engaged during small group instruction can be a challenge.  Planning independent work time options (i.e. centers, workstations) can feel like a mountain to climb. This does not need to be the case.

We should not expect (nor desire) to scale Mount Everest on day one (or two or three).  Instead, we can view this mountain as a series of individual steps to be carefully orchestrated in advance. Follow these easy steps to get you started in your own classroom.  With patience and planning, you will reach the summit in no time!

The Plan: What should my students do while I pull groups?

Step One: Make a list of all the independent options for your own class. A great place to start is with independent reading.  Other options include independent writing, word work, buddy reading and listening center. Click here to see a more comprehensive list that you can adapt to your students:

  Step Two: Once you have decided on options for your class, it’s time to plan out all the materials. For example, if you are introducing independent reading, you will need leveled books, book baggies and/or bins, pencils, reading logs, sticky notes, etc.  Write this out for each center that you plan to introduce.

    Step Three: Now decide on the procedures that you need to teach for each workstation/activity.  When deciding on procedures, don’t assume anything!  Sometimes it’s helpful to think of your students as visitors from another planet.  Don’t assume that they know to push in their chair and throw trash in the wastebasket. Take time to teach exactly what’s expected. To continue with the independent reading example, you will need to teach routines such as: how to choose books, how to know if a book is “Just Right,” how to return books in the library, where to sit during this activity, etc.

Step Four: The final planning step is to decide when to introduce each center. Plan to allow for at least one week between each activity, so the students have time to practice and build stamina. Then be flexible and adjust as needed.

So you’ve made a list of ideas, procedures to teach, materials needed and due dates.  (Click here for a chart that you can use with your colleagues: Independent Work Time Planning Sheet). What now?  Where to go next?

Start by introducing one thing, such as independent reading or another item on your list.  Take it slow and give your students time to practice.


Other resources to support meaningful independent work activities include Literacy Workstations, The Daily Five  and Words Their Way

Happy Climbing,



P.S. This is a great video on the subject of establishing procedures for independent work                                                                                     time during guided                                                                                   reading:

Classroom Management with Jenna

Planting the Seeds now with Independent Reading

One of my favorite children’s books is the classic story by Ruth Krauss – The Carrot Seed.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of a boy who plants a seed in the ground.

“Every day the little boy pulled up the weeds around the seed and sprinkled the ground with water.”

And every day, his mother, father and brother tell him that the seed won’t come up.  But still, he keeps on watering, pulling and sprinkling, day after day.


Let’s think about our students for a moment, in respect to independent reading. Independent reading is the “seed” getting ready to grow.

Will it happen overnight?  Will they read successfully (and with independence) for 15 minutes on day two?

Of course not.

When we introduce independent reading on the first day, this is just the seed, burrowing in the soil, forming roots, finding a home.

What next? We model the behaviors that we want, create an anchor chart and give our students a chance. Maybe they only read with success for 2 minutes that first day, possibly even less.  That’s okay.  We know that the seed is there, forming roots, ready to grow, AS LONG AS WE KEEP TENDING TO IT.

How do we do that? By revisiting our routine the next day, giving the students a chance to continue to build stamina over time.

Some days, the plants might look wilted, so adjust as necessary.

Maybe you put them by the window for some sun or add some water.  Prune off dead leaves and watch them spring back to life.

In the classroom, our water, sun and food can come in many forms.  Maybe it’s revisiting and/or revising an anchor chart or share successes/challenges at the end of independent reading time.  Or, it might be sitting down one on one with a student to give specific praise and feedback.  Just the burst of sun that he/she might need.  It also might be letting a student sit in a different spot that day.  Sometimes getting comfy and cozy can work wonders…

You know best what your own students need so be patient and keep at it: watering, sprinkling, pulling, watering again, until one day…

They come up.

Happy Reading,


P.S. Please leave a comment about the “water, sun and food” that you leave in your own classroom so we can share ideas.  Let’s work together to help all of our students “come up!”

Also, if you haven’t read this story, grab a copy today.  It’s a fast read and has such a powerful message, not only about independent reading but anything that requires hard work and effort.

Launching a Love of Reading from Day One

The first day of school is fast approaching and you’re doing all the usual things that teachers do:  setting up reading corners, hanging curtains and other decorative items, clearing out the cobwebs in corners.  You’re climbing on top of desks to tack up number lines, stapling paper to bulletin boards, fastening letters onto the word wall.  Photocopying your introductory parent letter, an “All About Me” packet and the supply list. You leave at the end of the day exhausted, sweaty and…excited.

Excited for the new faces that will enter your classroom in just a few short days.  Excited for their stories, their enthusiasm and their own unique sense of excitement.

You’ve made a list of procedures to teach the first week, ice-breaker games, math lessons.  Everything’s ready or as ready as it will be.

But what about read alouds?  Sometimes we feel like we have so much to squeeze in those first few days (and beyond) that the read aloud is often the first thing to go.

Don’t let that happen.

There is so much to be gained from reading to students: fluency, comprehension, vocabulary and even phonics/phonemic awareness.  And perhaps most importantly, developing a love of reading and a community of readers in the classroom.

I’ve listed a few of my personal favorites here, along with a possible classroom connection for each:

Book Title                                Author                            Classroom Connection

A Chair for My Mother            Vera B. Williams             Helping others

The Carrot Seed                    Ruth Krauss                    Hard work and persistence

Something Beautiful               Sharon Wyeth                Caring for our classroom and community

The Important Book               Margaret Wise Brown     We are all unique and important

Chrysanthemum                    Kevin Henkes                  Diversity

Today I feel silly…                 Jamie Lee Curtis              Understanding feelings

A Bad Case of Stripes           David Shannon                Being comfortable with who we are

Bad Kitty                               Nick Bruel                         Following directions

The Relatives Came             Cynthia Rylant                  Summer vacation writing

Knuffle Bunny Too                Mo Willems                       Getting along and sharing

Lunch Money and                 Carol Diggerty Shields      Poems about the school day

other poems about School

Have any of your own “go to” books to share?  Please leave a comment so we can add to our list.

Then sprinkle in a few extra read alouds to your schedule those first few days.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Happy Reading!


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