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!

A is for Musk Ox and a few other good books…

Since I love children’s books – and it’s also the holidays – I can’t help but share a few now.  If you wait until the last minute to shop (like me!), maybe you still need a few gifts for the children in your life.  But even if you’re finished shopping, these books are still ones to consider buying or at least borrowing from the library to use in your classroom (or to read at home).

A is for Musk Ox

Product Details

This is my new favorite read aloud and if I hadn’t already finished shopping, I would buy it for my own children.  (Maybe I still will!).  It’s not only an alphabet book, but the story of two characters: a zebra and a musk ox that don’t get along.  The book is humorous, silly and also filled with good tidbits of information about musk oxen, such as:

Did you know that they form a ring around their calves to protect them from predators? And their fur is sometimes called a skirt?

Grab the book today to learn more about musk oxen and also for a few good laughs!

Teaching Idea/Home Connection: After you’re done reading, have your students choose their favorite letter to create their own alphabet page.  See the example here from a first grade classroom:


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Product Details

A teacher told me about this book before but I never read it cover to cover until the other day.  I had goosebumps at the end!  It’s the story of a boy who falls in love with books at an early age. If you want to promote a love of reading in your classroom (or at home), read this book to your students! Also, it inspired a short film that won an Oscar.  Need I say more?

The UnBEElievables

Love insects?  Or great poetry?  Informational texts? Beautiful illustrations? This poetry book is a combination of all these features and more.  Each page has a different poem about bees, along with a short informational paragraph that further explains the content explored in each one.  For example, what is a worker bee, a drone, etc.

This is a great way to expose your students to poetry and informational texts, in a fun, engaging way. It’s also fun to read and like all poetry, can be read in short doses.  For example, keep it out and read a poem or two whenever you have a couple minutes to spare.  And if you haven’t seen any of Douglas Florian’s work before, his illustrations are original paintings.  It’s worth the money just for that!

John, Paul, George & Ben

Product Details

Do you teach the American Revolution? Are you a history buff?  Then you HAVE to get this book.  It’s written by Lane Smith, author of Math Curse and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, among others.

This book tells the story of John Hancock, Revere, George Washington and Ben Franklin, in a humorous and engaging way.  I laughed out loud several times.  Trust me, you will too!

Measuring Penny

Product Details

A great way to provide context and real life examples of how we measure (and use math) on a daily basis.  This book is the story of a girl, her dog (Penny) and the multiple ways that she measures Penny. Not just in height and weight, like you would think but also in time (how much time does she spend taking care of Penny?), money (how much money does she spend on dog food, etc.) and even volume (how much water does Penny drink?).  As you can see, this illustrates multiple math concepts and can therefore be read and re-read several times throughout the year.

A is for Angry

Product Details

Are you looking to improve your students’ vocabulary?

It’s obvious that this book can be used in K and 1st grade classrooms for alphabet recognition, letter sounds, etc.  But what I like about this book is that it also leaves room for vocabulary development.  Alphabet books aren’t just for emergent readers and this book is a great example of that. Could a third grade teacher use this as a way to show examples of more sophisticated language that students can then use in their writing? Absolutely! This book is filled with rich vocabulary like:

T is for tangled

O is for Outraged

Z is for Zany

You could even use it as a springboard to have your students write their own alphabet books.  The possibilities are endless and it’s also fun to read…



So start your shopping list and grab one (or two or three) of these today!

Happy reading and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!



Word Wall (Sight Word) Center Activities

My students need extra practice with our word wall words,” is a common theme with many teachers that I know.  It’s also something that my own son needs extra practice with at home and was a frequent need in my own classroom.

Here are some engaging activities that you can integrate into your literacy centers, another portion of your word study block or even at home (for parents).


Note: for additional information on word walls, read this post:

  1. Rainbow writing: students write the words, a different color for each letter.
  2. Word wall hunt: students search for word wall words in their independent reading books, big books, class charts, poems, etc. They can record the words in their notebooks or on a designated recording sheet.
  3. Partner read/spell: Students work in pairs.  One partner reads a word from the word wall while the other person spells the word (without looking).  First person checks and then they switch roles. IMG_1128
  4. The Wheel: Just like the Wheel of Fortune, one person will play “Vanna.” This student will choose a word from the word wall (without telling anyone else) and then write a blank for each letter in the word on a sheet of paper.  Students in the group take turns guessing letters until the word is spelled.
  5. Bingo: print a reproducible sheet here:  One student will read the words while the other students play.
  6. Word Wall Memory: Materials needed – word wall cards written on index cards, two for each word. Students turn all the words over.  They then take turns turning two cards over at a time, reading each word aloud.  If the two cards match, he/she takes the card.  If not, play continues with the next person. Player with the most cards at the end of the game wins.     IMG_1127
  7. Syllables: Have the students write two columns on their paper like this:           Word                 Number of Syllables  The they choose words and record the number of syllables for each.
  8. Word wall sort: Materials: set of cards with word wall and non-word wall words written on index cards. Students sort the words into two categories.

What other games/activities do you use in your own classroom to reinforce sight words? Please share them here!


Give the Gift of Poetry

It’s the end of December and you’re still plugging away, counting down the days until winter break and some must needed R & R. Are you looking for some engaging – yet literacy based, authentic and meaningful – activities to round out the end of 2015?  Turn to poems and look no further!


Poetic Presents: Creative, Festive and Fun

There are many ways to integrate poetry into your classroom.  (See for more ideas).

But one of my favorites is to have students give poems as gifts to someone special for the holidays.  There are two ways to do this: the student writes an original poem or the student chooses a favorite poem to share as a gift.

Option One: Student writes an original poem

If you’ve written any other poetry this year, allow your students time to reflect on their work and choose a poem that speaks to them.  Or, they can create a new poem just for this occasion.

List poems are a great place to start because they are just like they sound – a list!  Have a class discussion of different topics/words that relate to the season and create a chart.  Then let the students choose one that interests them.

They can create bookmarks:


Or just copy the poem onto paper, glue onto construction paper and illustrate.

Another idea is to make cards and place the poem inside.


Option Two: Student shares a favorite poem from another author

How special is it to receive a piece of writing that someone chose just for you?  Give your students time to read poems and find one that reminds them of someone special. (Or just a poem that they really love!).  Then, like the example above, they can copy the poem over, illustrate it and give as a gift (on construction paper or inside a card).

Option Three: What other ideas do YOU have?

Be creative and share them below in the comments section.

And for more ways to get started with poetry in your own classroom, read this:  5 Easy Ways to Get Your Class Excited About Poetry. Then choose one idea and get started today.

You’ll be glad that you did.

Happy holidays,


P.S. Parents – read the connection below! Continue reading

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!

November 2015 057

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!