Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Enthusiasm is Key!

With all the competition with TV, video games, DVDs, texting, and the whirlwind of life in general, it is more important than ever that teachers are commercials for reading. When you read aloud (and I hope all of you use this terrific teaching tool no matter what age you teach), use your voice, speed up at the intense parts, building to a climax, slow down and even pause when you hit the parts that need to be savored.

Think aloud while you read (so you show students how expert readers do it). Being conversational with interjections and questions occasionally does not impact the story line or detract from it. In fact, the more you do this, the better you get at it. When I read picture books to teachers, modeling this approach which I call "engaged reading", I ask them at the end if they lost the storyline and they always say "no". Because they were engaged in the story and the conversation surrounding it.

I'd love it if every one of you added a title you can do this with to the blog this week. Include the interest level!

I'll start: I'm beginning to read "The Desperado Who Saved Baseball" by John H. Ritter. I'd recommend anything John has written (great for upper elementary and middle school, on into high school).

Here's my list of the benefits of reading aloud. No other instructional activity I know touches so many levels:

Purposes for Read Aloud for 3rd Grade and Up

Pure enjoyment of great stories
Taking students to a different level of understanding of the story (Bloom’s
Taxonomy concepts)
Discussion and reinforcement of story elements
Reflecting on the text and searching for multiple meanings
Exploring the elements and format of print and story
Practicing and modeling specific comprehension strategies such as questioning,
predicting, clarifying
Building and activating background knowledge
Using inference
Understanding of the writing process, use of grammar, point of view,
writer’s voice, word choice and other writing-related skills.
Introducing and reinforcing vocabulary
Reinforcing content area learning and building background knowledge
Modeling and Practicing “think-aloud” and visualization
Introducing and/or reinforcing summarizing
Targeting a specific grade-level standard:_________________________

As we develop our list of books, I encourage you to pick one up and read it yourself. Just dive in and enjoy it. Later, after you've finished (and when you are closer to school beginning), go back and identify what you can teach by exploring this book with your students.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Light the Spark of Background Knowledge

Building background knowledge is essential as our curricula and our students become more diverse. Look for every resource you can find to help you do that. It's more than just about the textbook.

If you teach history, historical fiction can be a more palatable way for students to gain some basic understanding of people and places from a certain time. You don't have to read an entire novel; choose selections that highlight the background knowledge your students need and read those aloud. Have a classroom library with selections relating to all the major periods/topics you'll be talking about during the year.

If you teach math, check out Bridget Hadley's article on It outlines how comprehension strategies traditionally taught in English or Language Arts classes also apply in mathematical thinking.

If you teach science, search out biographies on Michelangelo, Marie Currie, Albert Einstein, Dr. Ben Carson and many others. Again, select excerpts that highlight the scientific accomplishments and theories of individuals. Do you have a classroom library? It's one of the best ways to get students engaged in a subject.

If you teach art or music, many of the same ideas apply.

To help you find texts to build those connections, consider picture books. Even if your students are in high school, picture books can be great tools to introduce them to subject areas that they know little about. Check out my newest E Book from ( where you'll find over 180 picture books referenced that can be used in art, music, history, geography, math, science and language arts instruction.