Teaching Tips

Dear Teachers,

It’s important to take the time to get to know your students at the start of the year. Collecting this information will enable you to plan the kinds of reading lessons students will benefit from. You’ll also have topics to discuss during your first conferences. I suggest that you have students complete the “Eleven Questions” and the “What’s Easy? What’s Hard?” again in April to see if they can pinpoint progress and change in attitudes.

Build Vocabulary Before, During and After Reading: The number of words students have that relate to a topic directly affects their comprehension. The more words, the better students understand texts. Starting in September, I will post a new vocabulary strategy every two weeks. These strategies come from my binder, Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach. Use them to broaden students’ knowledge of important words — words that can support their comprehension and recall.

More ideas from Laura Robb’s Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach:

Web Sites for Author Studies

Students enjoy investigating the web sites of favorite authors. In addition to the sites that follow, I have included eleven suggestions for using these in the classroom.


“Children’s interest in reading is stimulated when they are made aware of people behind the creation of books: the authors, illustrators, and translators.” http://www.almaada.com/authorstudy.html Pg. 1

“Whether used to read or write; to acquire knowledge and insight into science, mathematics, and other areas; to express oneself; or to learn content in a new medium, computers can support the expression and development of creativity.” (Clements and Sarama 2003, pg. 35)

“The future isn’t outer space or technology, the future is our children.” E.B. Lewis (web site homepage: www.wblewis.com)

Interactive Author Sites:

Chris Van Allsburg
for games, scavenger fund, write a story, video clips, send a postcard, wallpaper, screensaver

Christopher Paul Curtis
for activities, advice to young writers, music

Mem Fox
for stories read aloud by the author

David L. Harrison
for teaching tips, and information about author’s poetry

Sandra Cisneros
for book excerpts, links to research topics, translations

David Wiesner
for creative process, for conversations, tributes

C.S. Lewis
for picture albums and audio files

Lisa Yee
for live jounral blog

Sharon Draper
for posters, bookmarks, audio files, interviews, homework helper, student letters

Jacqueline Woodson
for information on writing, background on books, what it takes to be a writer

Diane Duane
for character and plot extensions, writing contests, chat rooms

Haemi Galgassi
for advise on writing, writing contests, family pages

Ray Bradbury
for message boards, video clips

David Macaulay
for interactive games, puzzles, pages

Peggy Mercer
for songs and author information

Frank and Patricia McKissock
for a writer’s workshop step-by-step guide featuring African Americans from America
for history in writing

Stephen King
for maps, photo galleries, message boards

Esmerelda Santiago
for trailer of movies, essays, blogs

Frank Miller
for discussions, downloads, blogs, links to other graphic novel sites

Graphic novels
FAQs, quotes, online comics, names to know, core lists

Teaching Prompts for Instructional Reading

Web Connections

You’ll find links to fantasy-related podcasts, book trailers, teaching materials and much more when you visit the Book Links Web site at www.ala.org/book. Then Click on “Web Connections”

New books to add to Classroom Libraries

A list of books for students in grades 4 to 7.

  • THE CALDER GAME by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist. 2008. 400 pages. Scholastic.
  • CLIMBING THE STAIRS by Padma Venkatrama. 2008. 256 pages. Putnam.
  • CORALINE by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. This is the graphic novel adaptation of the national best seller. 2008.186 pages. HarperCollins.
  • HOUSE OF MANY WARYS by Diana Whynne-Jones. 2008. 416 pages. Greenwillow.
  • THE MAGIC THIEF by Sarah Princess, illustrated by Antonio, Javier, Capar. 2008. 448 pages. HarperCollins.
  • THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD LUCRETIA by Susan Runholt. 2008. 288 pages. Viking. Ideal for grades 7-10.
  • THE PENDERWICKS ON GARDEM STREET by Jeanne Birdsall. 2008. 3230 pages. Knopf.
  • PHAROAH:LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF A GOD by David Kennett. 2008. 48 pages. Walker.
  • SAVVY by Ingrid LKaw. 2008. 352 pages. Dial.

Podcasts Teachers Will Enjoy

  • Radio Willow Web
    Best For: Kid-to-kid learning of literature, geography, math, and more.
    Where To Find It: On iTunes, or at www.mpsomaha.org/willow/radio
  • Poem of the Day
    Best For: Poetry Month, of course. Perfect for a quick poetry break, or an ongoing writers’ workshop.
    Where To Find It: On iTunes, or at www.sonibyte.com
  • ESL Teacher Talk
    Best For: ESL teachers. It’s packed with classroom activity ideas, interactive games, teaching insights, and interviews.
    Where To Find It: On iTunes, or at www.ESLteachertalk.com
  • Do Your Own Podcast
    Best For: Learning how to integrate podcasting into your teaching.
    Where To Find It: On iTunes, or at www.intelligenic.com

Articles of Interest

Motivating Students

Motivating students to choose reading over television and computer games challenges us daily. From time-to-time, I will post articles that I think will interest you. Enjoy!

Links for Teachers

  • You and your students can read the reviews of the best in children’s and young adult literature by going to http://www.richiespicks.com. You can sign up to receive Richie’s Picks on your e-mail!
  • The American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children: This site has lists of literary and related awards including the Newbery, Caldecott, and Sibert. it also contains Children’s Notable Book Lists recommending outstanding books, videos, recordings, and computer software. www.ala.org/ala/alsc/alsc.htm
  • Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site: Here you’ll find a collection of terrific books for kids, ideas of ways to use them in your classroom, and collections of books and activities about particular subjects, curriculum areas, themes, and professional topics. www.carolhurst.com
  • Kay E. Vandergrift’s Special Interest Page: This is a scholarly site with articles and information related to a variety of aspects of children’s literature. www.scils.rutgers.edu/-kvander
  • Esme Raji Codell: On this site Esme Raji Codell, librarian and children’s author, reviews a book a day–one of her favorites. planetesme.blogspot.com

Too many schools have cut back or eliminated physical education because they believe that more time on task will improve reading scores. Brain research proves this mind set wrong, for brain researchers know that exercise brings oxygen to the brain and improves concentration and attention. Here is a link to investigate–one that supports the importance and necessity of daily recesses and a strong physical education program for students in kindergarten and up.

Research supporting daily quality physical education and how increased physical activity can impact student performance and elevate test scores.

Blaydes, J., Advocacy: A case for Daily Quality Physical Education. www.actionbasedlearning.com

Author and Book Projects That Invite Students to Use the Internet

When you differentiate reading instruction it’s beneficial to offer students projects that enable them to work at their success levels. In this section you’ll find specific guidelines for book reviews and survey questions that students can use to build their own “author study” or “favorite author” web sites. Allowing students to use the internet taps into their literacies to create a site they can share with classmates, you, and others.

Book Review Guidelines

For Students to Post on their Author Websites


  • One handwritten page, or three-quarters of a double-spaced typed page.


  • Write your name and the date at the top of the page.
  • Skip a line and write the title and author.

First Paragraph:

  • Write an introductory sentence that includes one of these elements:
    • a short quotation from the book or magazine selection
    • a statement that gives the book either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down evaluation, and a reason to support your position.
  • Write, from notes you’ve taken, a short summary of your selection and identify the genre in the introduction: fantasy, science fiction, realistic or historical fiction, biography, autobiography, poetry, photo-essay, informational chapter, magazine story, play, or article.

Second Paragraph:

  • Choose one to three of the questions for forming opinions about fiction or nonfiction and use these to inform readers about the strengths and weakness of your book or magazine article.
  • Use specific examples from the book or magazine to support each question you choose to respond to in your book review.

Closing Paragraph:

  • Reread your second paragraph and decide who would enjoy this book or magazine selection.
  • Offer one or two reasons why the book is either a great read or a boring read.

Form Opinions For a Written Book Review: Fiction

Questions About Fiction

Was the book a page-turner? Why, or why not?
Briefly, give an example of how the events, or what happened in the book, created excitement and kept you interested.
Or, discuss why a conflict or problem the character faced held your interest.

Was it hard to concentrate on the story? Why, or why not?

Was it boring? Explain why.

Discuss one or more of these issues: the story contained little to no action; the events or plot did not make sense to you; you could not connect with the character’s problems, friends, or family.

Think about and discuss these issues if they apply to your book: the story was depressing, and you lost interest; the events had nothing to do with your experiences.

Did you personally connect with one character, event, or conflict? Explain why.

Explain how you and the character are alike. Do you have the same feelings? Worries? Problems? Hopes? Dreams? Thoughts?

Have you lived through similar events? Explain how your reaction to a similar event was the same as the main character’s reactions.

What about this book made you enjoy or dislike the genre?
Think about why you enjoy and usually choose a specific genre. Explain how this book or magazine selection met or did not meet your standards.

Were there surprises in the story that held your interest? Explain one.
Show how the plot or the events contained twists and turns you did not expect. Was the author good at leading you along one path, then suddenly changing?

Explain how a character solved a problem or reacted to a conflict in a way that’s different from what you thought that character would do.

Did chapters end with cliffhangers? Briefly discuss one.
Think about how each chapter left you wanting to go right on to the next chapter to find out what happened.
Explain why you do or do not enjoy cliffhangers, using the one you chose to discuss.

Was the plot or the events believable or unbelievable?
Give one or two examples that show that the plot, or the events that happened, were realistic and could happen to you or your friends.

Give one or two examples that show that the plot was not believable, and explain why you felt this way.

What new understanding about life, people, or a historical period did you develop?
Think about what the author was trying to tell you about how people behave, and feel, or about parents, friends, brothers,sisters, teachers, or relatives.

Show what life was like for children, soldiers, rich, poor, or adults during a specific historical period or in an imagined world.
Did you enjoy the fantasy and magic? Discuss one example.

Describe one example of magic or fantasy that made the piece exciting for you, and explain why this was exciting.

Show how the fantasy was part of a reality that helped you connect with the fantasy and magic elements.

Form Opinions For a Written Book Review: Nonfiction

Questions About Nonfiction

Did you enjoy specific nonfiction features?
Discuss something terrific or unusual you learned from a sidebar, a photograph and caption, or from a diary or journal entry.

Was the writing interesting or boring? Was it tough for you to concentrate on the reading?
Point out whether the author included stories or anecdotes to hold your interest. Briefly retell one of these.

If the book or article was a list of facts, explain how you felt about this, and include whether it held your interest.

Explain how the author used a story or a photograph to explain a tough concept.

What new understandings about the topic did you develop?
Discuss how your book or article gave you more information about the topic. Explain one or two things you learned.

Explain one change you experienced in how you see and think about the topic.

With biography or autobiography, did you connect with the person’s experiences? What did you find fascinating about your subject’s life and achievements?
Explain what the person did that had an impact on history and/or the lives of other people.

Explain why you admire or dislike this person. Discuss one to two characteristics of this person to help you respond.

Show how other people affected and/or changed this person’s life.

Choose one key decision this person made, and discuss how the decision affected the person’s life.

Were the photos or illustrations effective?
Choose a photo or an illustration that you enjoyed, briefly describe it, and explain why it appealed to you. You might want to explain what you learned from it, or if it showed you something you never saw before or could imagine.

Did you make any personal connections with the photos or illustrations?


Students Can Create in Interactive Graffiti Message Board to Add to their Author Websites

Set up several “Graffiti Message Boards” on you Web site. Encourage classmates to post short recommendations about a book, magazine, or computer game that are positive or negative.

Here’s how you can let your friends know how you felt about a book:

  • Write the title and author
  • Draw a cartoon that shows your feelings about the text
  • Or write a two- or three-line blurb about what made the text a winner or loser

On Your Web Site Post Questions About an Author, a Book, a Movie, or a Computer Game and Invite Classmates to Complete It!

Survey Questions


Create a Bulletin Board for answering one or more survey questions. Choose a question from the list below or write your own survey question and answer it. Check your original questions out with your teacher. Sign your name under your answer.

  • What computer game would you recommend to your teacher? To a friend? Give reasons for your recommendation.
  • Do you prefer computer games to book? Explain why.
  • Do you have a favorite author of a book? Of a computer game? Explain why you feel this way.
  • Is there a book that you wanted to reread again and again? What about the book brought out this feeling?
  • What magazines do you buy with your own money? Pick one and explain who else in your class or school would love to read this and why.
  • What movie would you rate the movie of the month? Explain why.
  • What’s the worst book you ever read? What made you put the book in this category?
  • Do you prefer computer games to books? Explain why.


This fantastic site features Sonja Cole, a school librarian, doing book talks on her favorite picks. You can search the site by subject and author. Ms. Cole only recommends books that she has read. You can watch her as she book talks and makes kids want to grab a book off the library shelf and read it!

Parents can watch these review with their children.

Teachers can let students watch one or more reviews on a Smartboard or a computer.

Simply Google Bookwink. You can join by sending you e-mail or just log on and watch and listen.

You’ll have a great time with Sonja Cole!