Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

Hardcover, 80 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
A speck of dust is a tiny thing. In fact, five of them could fit into the period at the end of this sentence.

On a clear, warm Sunday, April 14, 1935, a wild wind whipped up millions upon millions of these specks of dust to form a duster—a savage storm—on America's high southern plains.

The sky turned black, sand-filled winds scoured the paint off houses and cars, trains derailed, and electricity coursed through the air. Sand and dirt fell like snow—people got lost in the gloom and suffocated . . . and that was just the beginning.

Don Brown brings the Dirty Thirties to life with kinetic, highly saturated, and lively artwork in this graphic novel of one of America's most catastrophic natural events: the Dust Bowl.
What an amazing graphic novel!!!  Not only were the illustrations fantastic, but the information was presented in such a way that you learned so much without even realizing it. I love learning new things, and this book left me wanting to research more about the Dust Bowl and the impact it had on our country. Definitely a great addition to my classroom library!

Teaching Ideas:

For Science:
This book is a great way to discuss plate tectonics, the environmental impact of the Dust Bowl, and the recent Dust Bowl impact from 2012 and other droughts. Students will be able to learn about the environmental impact from the Dust Bowl on daily life of both humans and animals alike and could do further research on what implications a Dust Bowl of that size could have on today's society.  

For Social Studies:
This is a great book to discuss life during the Great Depression and what impact the Dust Bowl had in the lives of Americans. This would be a great book to begin a research project on the life during the Depression for the different parts of the United States as well. 

Possible research questions:
Did the Dust Bowl impact all of America? 
What are the major differences between those areas impacted by the Dust Bowl and those who weren't impacted?

For ELA:

This book would be a fantastic introduction before teaching Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. The background knowledge the students will gain will allow them visualize the events of the novel which is a fantastic novel! 

Happy reading!!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Speed Fishin' Review Game

I have been blessed through reading Kim Bearden's amazing book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. Currently on my second read through in a few days, I am continuing to find

inspiration for my life and my classroom. There will be a post about it very soon... I am still processing!

One of the many ideas that I have gained from Kim's lessons was one that she used in her classroom- SPEED FISHING! She used it to reach one of her students who was reluctant to participate (read the book... I don't do the story justice!). As I read about this lesson, I thought- "I can totally do that with my Summer School kiddos!" Soooo... I did!

We are learning about the parts of a sentence- subject and predicate- so I adjusted what Kim did for what we were doing. Here's how it works:


  • Wooden Dowels (as many as you want teams)
  • String or yarn
  • Magnets (for your fishing poles)
  • 100 Washers (or however many you want)
  • Colored paper (for your fish... I would suggest cardstock)
  • An "ocean" (you can use a plastic swimming pool or do like me and use a plastic table cloth)

Lesson Set Up:

1. Cut out enough fish for the number of sentences, problems, etc. you will have for your game.
             * I also laminated them so that I could reuse them.

2. Write, tape, glue or otherwise attach your sentences, problems, etc. to your fish. I taped my strips to the fish so that I could easily get them off for the next game!

3. Attach a washer to the back of each fish. Again, I laminated mine so if you want to do the same that will be your next step!

4. Tie string to the dowels and attach the magnet to the end of the string.
           * I tied it at first, but as the game went on... the magnets went flying! So I ended up temporarily taping the magnets on. I am going to go back and hot glue them later!

5. Put your answers on paper plates. You will need a set for each team that you have.

6. Set up your ocean in the middle of your classroom or a designated area. Place your paper plates on opposing ends of your classroom and if you have multiple teams you can set them up in opposite corners. (If you are lucky enough to have a big hallway or gym at your disposal, you can use that as well. If the weather is nice- GO OUTSIDE!!!)

Lesson Plan: I am going to use what I did for my review game... but change it up for your lesson!

1. When your students come into the classroom, have them break into the correct number of groups and disperse in your classroom.
          * My paper plates were labeled Simple Subject, Complete Subject, Compound Subject, Simple Predicate, Complete Predicate, and Compound Predicate

2. Explain the game to your students!
On each of the fish in our ocean are examples of Simple Subjects, Complete Subjects, Compound Subjects, Simple Predicates, Complete Predicates, and Compound Predicates. Your team can only sent one fisherman at a time out to the pond to catch a fish- otherwise all the fish will scare off and you won’t catch any. After your fisherman comes back with their fish, as a team you must decide on which plate it goes. Make sure you are careful because some can be tricky. If your fish has what looks like a complete predicate but just one word is highlighted, it will be a simple predicate. Same goes for the subjects. Look also to see how many subjects and predicates there are. After you place the fish on the correct plate, your next fisherman can go fishing. Remember…. You have to FISH, not drag! Each correct fish placement is worth one point. The team with the most points wins a prize! Any questions? When you hear our fishin’ music start, you may begin!

3. Play music and let the fun begin! Watch the teams and offer guidance at first, but allow them to work as a team to determine the correct answer. You may want to only allow a certain amount of time and add a timer. I didn’t with my first group at first, but when I added the stress of a timer after seeing that time was dwindling down, that created more intensity! So the next group got a timer and a few rounds so that we could review in between.

Here are some pictures of our fun!

Let me know how you would change it around and how you would use it in your classroom! I can't wait to hear your ideas!!


Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Hardcover, 108 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

From the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall comes a story about one brave girl who saves her family from losing everything.

Everyone in Lucy’s family sings. Opera. Rap. Lullabies. Everyone, except Lucy. Lucy can’t sing; her voice just won’t come out.

Just like singing, helping Aunt Frankie prepare for flooding season is a family tradition—even if Frankie doesn’t want the help. And this year, when the flood arrives, danger finds its way into the heart of Lucy’s family, and Lucy will need to find her voice to save her brother.

 From the author of one of my favorite books, Sarah, Plain and Tall, comes another heart melting book. This book is one of those books that I will definitely be a go to book when it comes to dealing with the feelings of not finding your place. Lucy feels like she can't really relate to her family because she doesn't feel as talented as her family members. When the time comes, however, her talents are what she least expects them to be. This is a fantastic book that I can't wait to share with my students!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Paperback, 153 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Aladdin Paperbacks

 SHADOW CHILDREN Luke has never been to school. He's never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend's house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He's lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family's farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl's face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he's met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows -- does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford "not" to?

I have to admit that my student have been begging me to read this series for quite a while now, and I have no clue why I haven't. Set in a time when the government is in ultra control of everyone's life, this novel was almost scary to me because I could totally see something like that happening in some countries. Reading this with a group of students was great because I was able to discuss so much with them and how they would react if the government took such control. The main character Luke finds that he is not alone after thinking that he was the only one in hiding which totally changes his view on how his life is. When Jen shows Luke that his life could be different, he decides to take a chance. This is a great series and I cannot wait to read the rest of the series!!

Teaching Ideas:
This book would be a great to pair with articles, videos, and other resources about the population laws in China. Erin at I'm Lovin Lit has a great resource at Teachers Pay Teachers for just that! Check it out here! If you are a language arts teacher and haven't checked out her blog, you NEED to. She is amazing!!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 22nd 2011 by HarperCollins 
Inside Out and Back Again is a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award! 
Inspired by the author's childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing received four starred reviews, including one from Kirkus which proclaimed it "enlightening, poignant, and unexpectedly funny." An author's note explains how and why Thanhha Lai translated her personal experiences into Hà's story.

This book is simply amazing. The story of a young girl's life as she goes through a major change during such a tumultuous time in history is beautifully written and allows readers to see what it was like from a different perspective. Since this was based on the author's life, there is an authenticity on these pages that allows readers to experience the grief, change, fear, and so much more. It was amazing to me how we tend to think that we experience things that are particular to us, but this novel shows how so many things we experience are universal. Simply stated, I loved this book. 

Teaching Ideas: 
This book is one that Social Studies teachers should have in their classrooms. When teaching about the Vietnam War, there are many books that teachers can use to discuss the American side of it. This book, however, shows another perspective of the Vietnam War and allows readers to experience that through the eyes of someone who experienced it first hand. This book would be a great mentor text to give to a group of students to read or even as a great read aloud. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Table Top Twitter

I have had the opportunity to see Bob Probst and Kylene Beers in action a few times and each time has been amazing. Using the Notice and Note Strategies in my classroom with my students has been amazing this year and I have seen great things come from using them. One of the things that Bob introduced me to this year was Table Top Twitter (he called it the Poster Activity, but I like TTT better... haha). This is such an easy thing to do and something that my students BEGGED me to do after they did it the first time. 

This activity allows the students to interact with each other without talking- it all has to be done in writing. They are able to voice their thoughts and opinions (and even get into heated arguments) all while completely silent. The key to this activity is the selection you choose. You can choose a short article, a selection from the textbook, an excerpt from a novel, a poem or any other text to do this activity. The text that you choose must evoke emotion or require your students to think so that the motivation is there for them to write about what they are reading.

Materials Needed: 
- Chart paper (or butcher paper)
- Markers
- Text 
- Time

Here's how it works: 
1. Glue the text selection in the center of a large piece of paper. You can use chart paper or butcher paper, but you must be able to write on it (poster board isn't always ideal for that with pencils). I typically use markers so that it is colorful, but you can choose what works best for your classroom.

2. When the students come in, have them seperate into small groups (I had no more than 6 in a group and no less than 3). 

3. Explain that they will read the article that is pasted on the poster and respond to it. They can draw arrows to sections, underline, or mark on the text as well. As they are reading, they will respond to what they have read with their thoughts and opinions or even questions that come to mind. Students will also respond to each others comments and questions after they have read the text selection. 

4. Set a timer and remind students that there is no talking- only moving around to read the text and what their peers have written so that they can respond. I usually gave mine about 7 minutes depending on the size of the text. If they were still reading and responding, we kept going. While the students are reading, writing, and responding- YOU ARE TOO. Jump from group to group to see what your students are thinking, redirect if needed, and add your own thoughts. My students would race over after I had left to see what I had to say (like mine was soooooo profound).

5. When time is up, have a class discussion about what was read. If you have a large class, you may want to limit this to one comment per student. Have them pick out their favorite (either their own or a peers). Most of the "discussion" has already been had, but there may be some comments that need to be expanded on or explained. 

* Have different pieces of text about the same topic at each TTT and when the timer goes off, have the groups silently switch to the new table and complete the activity. You could also allow them to movie around from piece to piece if you don't mind a bit of movement! 

* This could be an easy way to review what you have taught in math to assess their learning. Put one problem on the table and have the students work out the problem together without talking. 

* Instead of a piece of text, you could have one statement that students must respond to using the knowledge of what you have been covering in a unit of study. ("The war of independence waged by the American colonies against Britain influenced political ideas and revolutions around the globe, as a fledgling, largely disconnected nation won its freedom from the greatest military force of its time." - from

There are a great many ways that this can be adapted to fit your needs, so have fun with it! Let me know what you do in your classroom because I am always looking for new ideas! Here are some of our finished products! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Hardcover, 298 pages
Published January 5th 2012 by Putnam Juvenile 

Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958

Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

This is one of the best books that I have read... in a long time. Marlee finds a friend in the most unlikely of place with someone who she is not supposed to have anything to do with. The way Kristin Levine tells the story of these girls brings to light what life was life for the children who experienced racism in the 1950's and 60's. Sadly, we live in a world where that still exists. I loved both Marlee and Liz and their ability to see past what others can't. Their friendship means enough that they take the risks to keep their friendship alive and deal with the ignorance of those who don't want them to be friends. I can't wait to share this book with my students and history teachers. This book will definitely be well loved by all who read it. 

Teaching Ideas:
This book is a great read aloud for history teachers as you are teaching the 50's and 60's and the racism and segregation that our country dealt with. There are many questions that are raised from this novel that would make incredible character building lessons during your read aloud as well. 

Happy reading!! 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reached by Ally Condie

Hardcover, Dutton, 512 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Penguin 

After leaving Society to desperately seek The Rising, and each other, Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again. Cassia is assigned undercover in Central city, Ky outside the borders, an airship pilot with Indie. Xander is a medic, with a secret. All too soon, everything shifts again.

I loved this series! It was definitely a breath of fresh air for me and I couldn't get enough. I liked the first and second books, but I LOVED this one. Sometimes the third book in a series is rushed, but not this one. We finally get to hear Xander's point of view in this brilliant novel, which doesn't disappoint! So many questions were answered and even more were brought up... so now I want more!!! This novel is full of mystery, romance, action, betrayal, and so much more! It will leave you on the edge of your seat. Perfect way to end this trilogy!!! 

Happy reading!


Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday America! by Mary Pope Osborne

Paperback, 32 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by Roaring Brook Press

Mary Pope Osborne celebrates July 4th, the most American of holidays, with a warm family story. Three generations enjoy parades, popcorn, "Yankee Doodle," and at the end of the day, lightning bugs and fireworks. "Then I blow out the stars, as if they were candles on a giant birthday cake"--a glorious image in Peter Catalanotto's glowing and buoyant watercolors.

This is one of my favorite picture books that shows how one family celebrates the holiday which celebrates our country and our freedom. July 4th is always one of my favorite times to reflect on what amazing things we have been given thanks to all of those who have fought for our freedoms. This great book allows us to reflect on how we spend the holiday. 

Don't forget to thank all of those who served so that we can celebrate this day!! 


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Paperback, 233 pages
Published September 1st 2012 by GRAPHIX 

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school's production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can't really sing. Instead she's the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she's determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

I have challenged myself to read more Graphic Novels so that I can recommend them to my students. I have to admit that they are not my first choice, but they are growing on me. This book sums up what middle school drama is all about. I loved the humorous, charming story that dealt with much more than a drama club. The main character Callie is in 7th grade and is trying to sort through life- especially that of boys and how to fit in. There is so much I can say about this book, but I love that Raina has introduced us to characters who are trying to find out who they are in a way that is unbiased. Great book that will definitely be well read in my classroom!!

Happy reading!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jaxon's Picks- Week 1

One of our favorite things to do during the summer is to visit the library. My four year old son, Jaxon loves to read and begged that he get to have some fun with the blog this summer. So, of course, I agreed! Here are his first weeks picks and his reviews. 

 by Ellen Lawrence

This was about how cars go and I love cars so it was great.

Following Papa's Song
 by Gianna Marino

We are going on a cruise and we might see whales. You should listen to your parents.

by Sallie Wolf

I liked this book. It was about a truck that got stuck under a bridge and nobody could get it out. It was funny.

Dinosaur Thunder
 by Marion Dane Bauer

I really liked this book. I don't like storms that much, but now I know that it is just a dinosaur playing.

 by Cornelia Funke

This book was one of my favorite book. It was funny!
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