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!

“Does it Spark Joy?” – A Japanese Lesson in Decluttering your Classroom

A few months ago, I discovered The Life Changing Habit of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.  Shopping in a local bookstore, Main Point Books, for a birthday gift, I noticed the book and browsed through its pages.

Intrigued, I asked the shopkeeper if she had read it.

“Oh yes, I highly recommend it,” she replied.  “Her ideas are a bit intense but it really helps with getting your life organized.”

Get my life organized? Did I need that?


The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Classroom Connection

Maybe one of the reasons that I liked the book is that it reminded me of my prior job as a literacy coach for a Philly non-profit.  During those five years, I coached teachers on different literacy practices, such as reading/writing workshop, guided reading and Intentional Read Aloud.  We even spent time setting up their classroom literacy environments, which included organizing classroom libraries, leveling books and decluttering.

Lots and lots of time decluttering.

I’ve since returned to the classroom full time and said farewell to my job with the Philly non-profit.  But this book happily takes me back to the incredible experience that I had with those teachers.   Together we purged old materials, re-organized spaces and cleaned out clutter.

It’s a lot easier to do this in someone else’s space than it is in your own. Diving into old forgotten closets , boxes or drawers would actually give me a rush of adrenaline!  At a school where I spent two years,  the janitors would often shake their heads when they saw me coming, knowing that soon I would ask for one of the grey, rolling waste bins and a sleeve of oversized, black trash bags.

In one room, the teacher and I discovered two sewing machines during our cleaning binge.  Two!  This wasn’t a home economics room, it was third grade. She is retired now and I’m writing this post about her in the highest regard.  She was an interesting, amazing teacher, who took circus lessons in her spare time and lived in a purple house.  She also loved books (especially Babar and  Eleanor, Quiet No More  – a cool biography about Eleanor Roosevelt), science and you guessed it – sewing!

The Kondo Method

Back to the Kondo book.  In case you don’t know much about it, it’s written by a Japanese home organizing phenom, who started decluttering her own belongings as a child.  She guarantees that by following her methods of purging, folding and organizing, you will not only create more space and have a tidier house, but also transform your life.

Transform  your life?

Her method is quite simple, really.  She has a specific order to follow as you organize and declutter.  Clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and finally, mementos. She also states that you must put all of your items together in one place.  For example, if you keep seasonal clothes in the basement, you must group them in one pile for the process to work.  Sort by category, not by space.  This is one of her cardinal rules.

Another critical point is to handle each item.  Yes, you actually have to pick up each shirt, even one that you just wore yesterday from the clothes hamper.  And when you touch it, ask yourself:

“Does it spark joy?”

If yes, keep it. If no, say goodbye and move on to the next item.

Now, I’m only on the first part of the process – clothes.  But I am already amazed at the amount of space that I’ve created in my dresser.  By simply asking myself, “Does this item spark joy?” and folding properly, I have a totally new view on clothes and space.

My newly organized shirt drawer:

Kondo method

Feeling a “spark of joy” after my own success, I tried getting started with my husband’s shirts.

That didn’t work as well.

Note to readers: Do not take all of your significant other’s clothes and pile them on the bed all at once on a work night.

“There is no way that I’m doing this tonight,” he said, shoving everything back into the drawers and in a heap on the floor.

Gasp!  What would Marie think if she saw this?

As a last resort, I held up the book to him and pointed to her picture.  “But Marie says that if you do this, it will transform your life!”

“I don’t want to transform my life right now,” he said, pulling back the sheets and climbing into bed.  “I just want to go to bed and get some sleep.”

Fair enough.

Kondo and the Classroom: How to Declutter and Organize your Space

The purpose of this post isn’t to have you try this book out at home (although I certainly recommend it if you are so inclined).  Or, to urge you to dump your loved ones items in a heap as I did.

What I do want is for you to think about your own classroom as you approach the year ahead.  Close your eyes and picture all the items inside that you’ve accumulated over the years:

  • Books
  • Furniture
  • Files
  • Papers
  • Teacher resources
  • Sewing machines

 Do you really need all of them?

The Question

As you get organized and consider whether to discard or keep certain materials, ask the Kondo question for each one:

Does it spark joy?

If yes, by all means, keep it.

If no, thank it for its service to you and pass it along (or throw away).

This will allow more space for the items that you do need and appreciate.

Of course, the “Does it spark joy?” question might not always be feasible in your classroom and/or school.  For example, you might have district math materials to use.  Whether they spark joy or not is really not the issue and you have to use them.

But I also guarantee that there are some items sitting there collecting dust.  Maybe it’s an old, tattered stack of books, a dusty bookcase or a dirty rug.  With a good washing or a fresh coat of paint, maybe they will find new life.  On the other hand, maybe it’s time to say thank you and let them go.

It’s up to you to decide…


Reader Comments

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it hard to follow this process in your classroom or have you had some success?  Whatever the case, please share your thoughts here.  I would love to hear from you!

Happy cleaning/decluttering,


P.S.  For more tips on classroom organization, check out these books:

Spaces and Places

Teaching with Intention

Or, this blog post, which gives a great overview of the Kondo method:

8 Decluttering Lessons

Also, this post from Ed Week, which summarizes classroom decluttering in general:

Declutter your Classroom, Declutter your Life





Knuffle Bunny Too to the Rescue

Before winter break, I had a few minutes to do a read aloud and word wall lesson in a first grade teacher’s room.  The teacher had been working on word wall words with her students, yet they needed more practice.

I wanted to read something fun, yet purposeful for her class, to foster a sense of excitement for books, reading and the word wall in general. So I pulled out one of my old favorites, Knuffle Bunny Too, by Mo Willems.

Before the lesson (planning):

This book is amazing in so many ways, with endless instructional possibilities. And the illustrations! I could look at the pictures forever!  For this situation, however, I decided to focus on word wall words.  Prior to the lesson itself, I took a few moments to jot down the many high frequency words that I noticed in the story:
















Then I compared them to the list of words that she had not yet taught to her class and chose these:

1. very

2. but, not butt (yes, this caused some chuckles when I introduced it. I have my own first grader at home so I should have expected that!)

3. that

4. day


The lesson:

Part One:

I began by introducing the words.  They were prewritten on index cards and I held up each one.  As I did, the students:

*said the word

*read the word in a sentence

*bounced each letter of the word like a basketball *click here to read more about ways to interact with the word wall:

*students “sky wrote” the words using their imaginary pencils (i.e. their fingers)


Part Two:

We read the story!  It helps to give the students are purpose for reading.  In this case, I reminded them to listen for the word wall words.  To keep them engaged, I asked them to put their thumbs up for each word wall word that they heard.

Did I mention how much I love this book??  No matter how many times I listen to it, I still chuckle, especially when the two dads come to school the next day, tired and unshaven.   Meanwhile, Trixie and her friend are peppier than ever, chatting away about their Knuffle Bunnies. I also love how the mom gives Daddy a knowing look, when Trixie wakes them both up to say that Knuffle Bunny is missing. That it doesn’t matter if it’s 2:30 in the morning  He better get his butt (yes, Joey, I’m using your favorite word in the right context now!) out of bed and find Knuffle Bunny.

I could go on and on about this book.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

Reflections on the lesson…

If I were to do it again, I would highlight some vocabulary words as well, like: realized, devoured and/or marched

These are great examples of words to post on a “wow” word wall.  Displaying the words will help students remember to use them in their speaking and/or writing, which will ultimately increase retention and overall vocabulary development.



Overall, this entire lesson took about 20 minutes from start to finish (read aloud and activities). I enjoyed it and judging by the students (and teacher!), I think they did too.

How do you use read alouds and/or interactive games to reinforce the word wall or other phonics lessons in your classroom?  Feel free to share and comment here so we can borrow ideas from each other!

“The best way to get ahead is to get started” – Mark Twain

misty lake

Welcome to Literacy with Lisa. Sit down. Relax. Get comfortable.

You might be wondering…why the photo of the lake? Well, first of all, I am an avid waterskier. Any time that I have a chance to get out on the water, I take it!

Second, I love what this image represents for us as teachers, especially at the beginning of the school year: the wide, open space that lies ahead. The calm, cool water that beckons us to come forward, to cool off, to take a swim. The endless possibilities, just there for the taking.

I like this image too because it connects to the title of the post. Sometimes we have hopes and dreams that stretch before us – like the winding river above – yet we can’t seem to get started, to find a way to begin, to dip our toes beneath the surface.

What is it that you hope to “get started” this year?? We all have things in our classrooms or instructional practices that we want to do but keep putting off.  Is it something in the physical environment, like creating a new library corner, de-cluttering a bookshelf or maybe hanging curtains?  Or, perhaps it is a new instructional practice that you hope to further explore?  Maybe there’s a professional book that you keep meaning to read, yet it just sits on your shelf, collecting dust?

The projects that you keeping meaning to get to but inevitably, never do.

We all have them.

What is on your list?

My hope is that this site can be a place that inspires you to get back to those projects/goals/ideas that have been left unfinished.  To what you believe matters – really matters – about teaching and learning. To maybe what called you into the profession in the first place.

A place to “get started” and ultimately, your own “place to start”.