Category Archives: k-1 moving towards close reading

When unfamiliar vocabulary gets in the way of word solving – Tip #2

What do you do when emergent-early stage readers can’t decode a word because it’s not in their vocabulary?

In a previous entry, I wrote about holding emergent and early stage readers accountable for word-solving (as much as possible) before offering  support including telling providing an unfamiliar vocabulary word. For example, one student figured out “off” in the word “officer” and when she reread the sentence, she realized the word was officer.

TIP #2

Integrate unfamiliar vocabulary into the text introduction, as part of the conversation about what the students are noticing in the text features (headings, photographs, captions, etc.).


For example, in the book Animal Close-Up (Okapi) (about a DRA level 12 or F&P G), as the students and I looked at the photographs, I asked them, “What do you notice?” They were not noticing the butterfly’s “tongue” prominently featured in the picture and an important word on this page. I said, “I noticed the butterfly’s tongue. Look at that. It looks like it is curled up or rolled up.” I was worried that “roll” might be a difficult word for reading and an unfamiliar vocabulary word for this group. So I integrated this vocabulary into our conversation and we took a moment to notice that, indeed, the tongue is rolled or curled up. Then I said, “You’ll have to read to find out how the author describes the tongue.” 

On the next two-page layout, there is a scorpion and the author states that the scorpion has poison in its tail. At this stage, I would not expect students to be tackling the middle of words like these (e.g., “oi” and “ion”). So it was important that I integrate these into our conversation. The students noticed the “scorpion” but they did not mention its tail or that it has poison in it (which they probably didn’t know). I casually said, “Do you think that a scorpion is poisonous like some spiders?” A few said yes, a few said no and I said, “Well, I think you’ll have to read to find out.” What I have found is that later, while reading, when students stop to problem solve words like “poison” and “roll up”–they are more likely to recognize these words because of the meaning we built during the conversations we have during the text preview. They still have to do work–they have to use the first part of the word, they have to think about what would make sense and sound right.

I’m not giving away a lot. There’s still plenty of work for the students to do. For this lesson, I did not preview beyond these few pages so there are still opportunities to problem-solve while making meaning. I’m just trying to give the students a head start so that they don’t get STUCK on unfamiliar vocabulary and they can focus their energy on decoding stage appropriate words and making meaning.


The same goes for emergent stage texts (DRA 1-3; Fountas and Pinnell A-C). As we engage in a picture walk, I try to use the language of the book and integrate unfamiliar vocabulary. For example, with the book Lovely Flowers (Pioneer Valley) (about level B), the author writes about animals that like flowers. One of the animals is a hummingbird. I would not expect students at this stage to be tackling the “ummingbird” part of this word. I’m mainly focused on using the first letter “h” and the picture clue. But what if they have never heard of a hummingbird? During the picture walk, after I say, “What do you notice?” If the students say, “It’s a bird,” I can respond, “It might be a bird or it might be a hummingbird, you’ll have to use the picture and first letter to help you figure that out.”


I write key words into my lesson plan as a reminder for what I want students to notice and the vocabulary I want to make sure I integrate into our conversation. Sometimes I even have them listed on a sticky note with page numbers so I can glance down and remember what I need to notice and name if the students do not. I do this with transitional and fluent stage plans as well! (More on that soon!)

I DO NOT point out these words in the text. Kids are more likely to hold onto vocabulary if we  build the meaning through the conversation we have while previewing the text.

I do NOT STRESS OUT about addressing every unfamiliar word in the texts. I’ve never had a student pass out at the guided reading table because they couldn’t figure a word due to vocabulary issues. It’s okay. When you lean in to individuals, you are there to coach them in making sense of these words as they read and, independently, they need to problem solve (to the best of their ability) the way you have taught them in previous lessons.

At the emergent stageif there’s an overwhelming amount of unfamiliar vocabulary, DUMP THE BOOK.  Find a book where the students can engage in a productive (not frustrational) struggle, where they might be a few new words, but there are mostly words they can tackle or recognize.

Hope this helps.


Do you have high-reading kinders you need to challenge?

Some our of kindergarten students read above grade level. How do we keep them challenged? A colleague of mine, Lisa, engaged a small group in close reading of an informational text about energy with great success. Here are some photos and tips she shared with me.

Just some background. These nine students were reading at a late first grade level or higher in the spring of their kindergarten year. Lisa met with all nine of them at once. The text they read closely was A to Z’s Where We Get Energy – a level K text. You might just pick some key paragraphs from the text you choose. There’s no need to closely read a whole book.


  1. Take notes together and then gradually release responsibility. The students might read the whole text on their own to start so they can get some sense of the big picture.  Together closely read a sentence at a time. Discuss the meaning and then pick important words to write in their notes. Release responsibility – maybe they just tackle a sentence at a time and then you regroup. The photo below is a little fuzzy but it gives you an idea of what a student at this level can do as far as note-taking with support. img_0513
  2. Give it a couple of weeks or more. Lisa said it took several weeks – a few lessons each week. She had a wide variety of readers in her room and many other lower groups to meet with more often.
  3. Provide lots of opportunities for them to summarize their notes ORALLY with a partner. This builds bridges to writing and to speaking fluently on a topic. You might prompt them by saying, “Turn and talk to your partner. What did you just learn in this paragraph? Use your notes to help you.” Some groups will need to orally rehearse with you before they talk with a partner.
  4. Discuss how they can present their information and then let groups of three work together to tackle this task by creating some type of visual.  img_0509-1img_0511
    These photos are fuzzy BUT you can still tell there’s so much thinking that must have happened in this group – they have arrows and visuals as well as text boxes! They are clearly organizing their thinking into categories as well.
  5. Provide time for them to present! I saw pictures of these kids with their posters – oh, the proud smiles!!!!!

BTW – All kindergarten students can do some level of research. Tony Stead proved that to us in Is That a Fact?  After I read this, I was a convert to the idea that even our Pre-A and emergent readers can engage in deep thinking and learning about nonfiction topics – with their peers and on their own. 21353134

Hope this helps.


Supporting Emergent & Early Readers/Writers with Read Alouds


Emergent and early reader texts are frequently about animals and include action words like swim, hop, and jump. The trade books we choose to read aloud to students can serve to build, reinforce, and expand this type of vocabulary. For example, in Nic Bishop’s Frogs (2008), frogs wriggle, grip, burrow, climb, catch, swallow, blink and prey — all within two pages of text.

I don’t shy away from reading more complex texts like Bishop’s to kindergarten and first grade students. They love books like these and are hungry for the knowledge they gain. But I also don’t read aloud the whole book – they don’t have the stamina for that.

Here’s a rough outline of a lesson for kindergarten and first grade with Nic Bishop’s Frogs that includes reading aloud, shared writing and reading, and independent or partner reading

  1. Show the book cover and several pages in the book to the students. Engage in a dramatic “ooo” and “aah” as the students look at these fascinating photographs.
  2. Read aloud 4-5 pages from the text (that you’ve chosen in advance or that students choose)- or more depending on the students’ stamina. These pages do not have to be from the beginning of the book or in consecutive order–that’s the beauty of informational texts!
  3. As you read, keep an eye out for action words and alert the students to do the same. (I’d definitely read the book in advance and know where these words are most prevalent–like the two pages I mentioned earlier). During a lesson with kinder, when I read aloud a sentence with an action word–I made my eyes big and slowed down. This signal cued the students that we’d read an action word worthy of stopping for and acting out After doing this a few times – they were ready and recognized when I’d read a word we could act out. I don’t stop and make up an action for every single action word — just the ones that seem worthy of attention.
  4. Make up actions – on the spot and/or with the students – for the words that pop up. For example, with a group of kindergarten students I was reading aloud to – I made up actions for burrow, climb, pounce, leap and so forth. I don’t spend a lot of time on this – I just quickly make up an action–impromptu.
  5. Each time you finish a page, review “What have we learned that frogs can do?” And go through the words and actions with the students as though reading off a list. “We know frogs can swim [action] and burrow [action] and pounce [action].”
  6. Engage in shared writing–writing a series of sentences–“What did we learn frogs can do?”
  7. Engage in shared reading during shared writing. After composing and writing each sentence, reread the previous sentences as well as that one.
  8. If possible, manageable, feasible, include having the students read with a partner from emergent/early level, even Pre-A, texts. Have the books ready in the students’ book bags or ready to be handed out. I go to the school’s leveled library (if there’s one) and just start pulling books about animals so that we have enough for everyone (at their level). Or you can create boxes of these books and students sit in groups and pull one at a time to read independently or with a partner. Below are two examples of the kinds of texts I pull out. (Love National Geographic Windows on Literacy books!!!)
  9. You might also engage the students in independently writing one fact they learned and illustrating for a class book. “We are authors just like Nic Bishop!” You might include a sentence frame or take dictation to support particular students.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 6.14.03 AM Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 6.14.10 AM

Other books on my shelf that I might use…in a series of similar lessons –

  • Additional books by Nic Bishop
  • Wolfsnail: A Backard Predator by Sarah Campbell
  • How Many Ways Can you Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
  • How Many Baby Pandas? by Sandra Markle (this one has to be read from beginning)
  • What Bluebird Do by Pamela Kirby (this one has to be read from beginning)
  • Grandma Elephant’s in Charge by Martin Jenkins

I’d definitely read the books in advance and determine what might work. Feel free to skp to certain parts or just read the captions or whatever you need to do to help students access meaning from the text, you know?

Okay…just some ideas I wanted to share.


New K-2 Read Aloud with Lots of Potential!


Book review and instructional suggestions for Tooling Around: Crafty Creatures and the Tools They Use (Jackson, 2014). This is one of those books you could read aloud to k-2 students multiple times – in multiple ways for multiple purposes. There is a short rhyming text on each page that names an animal’s tool and its purpose and, in a different font, on the opposite page, there is informational text describing the animal and its tool use in more detail. You could just read the rhyming text – the first time around and have interesting conversations with students. You could read the informational text a second time around and deepen your conversation with students. (See my caution below about starting with second page of informational text.)

At the beginning of the school year when we are teaching students how to use the materials in our classroom – this might be an engaging read aloud that also highlights how tools have a “purpose,” how tools help us achieve particular “goals.” A discussion of the fascinating facts in this book could lead into a discussion of the “tools” we use in our classroom – scissors, pencils, crayons, paint, and so forth and the “purpose” of these tools and our “goals” when we use these tools.

If you are trying to think about integrating Common Core thinking into your discussions of texts you read aloud to students, consider the following:

  • RI.7 Describe relationship between illustrations and text. Put some of the illustrations on the document camera or project with Smartboard and ask the students to think about the relationship between the illustrations and the text. In this book – they clearly support each other, but the illustrations also take the reader deeper…providing more insight than the rhyming text. You might say, “When we look at the illustration, what else can we learn about how the Bowerbirds decorate their homes when they are looking for a mate?” or just ask “What do you notice?” (Students might notice the plethora of berries, flowers, nuts and the variety of materials and so forth.)
  • RI.9 – Compare two texts on the same topic. There’s a page in the book about chimps using sticks to pull termites out of a mount. I’d read the rhyming text and the informational text (very straightforward – even for kindergarten) and then watch the 2 minute National Geo video at – The video shows the chimps doing the same thing with a short commentary by Jane Goodall about discovering this behavior; towards the end of the video, though, we see a baby chimp trying to fish for termites with a blade of grass – unsuccessfully and then a sister chimp teaching him how to do it the right way. Really delightful to watch. (There is one statement by Goodall about redefining what we mean by “human” that will probably go over students’ heads, but it’s quick and doesn’t detract from what primary grade students can understand.)

I also found a set of short videos on animal tool use at including one about the finch using a cactus spine – which is also in the book. You could compare the two, but you could also use other videos in the set for students to watch independently or with a partner and to write a response. Their responses could be compiled into a class book. You could challenge advanced students to research one animal and create a presentation to share with the class. There’s lots of potential here.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 9.15.50 AM

When you prep for using this book, a couple of notes—

  • The informational paragraph on the first page is a little dense for primary grade students. This is NOT a problem in the rest of the book. I’d skip that page and start with the informational text on the next page about finches and their use of the cactus spine to dig.
  • Read aloud the rhyming text to yourself first. There’s a couple of places that I tripped up – like the page about the octopus – you have to phrase and pause in a spot to make the rhyme work – just pay attention to the author’s use of a dash.

Okay…hope this helps.


Nonfiction series for kindergarten-first grade read alouds

LOVE the layout and design, the size and spacing of the print, the just-right-amount of content, and the supporting photographs chosen for the Seedlings series by the publisher Creative Education. (Go to this link and you can “look inside” these books.) These books are perfect for reading aloud to kindergarten and first grade students – multiple times and then modeling how to identify the main topic and retell the main details (Common Core Reading Informational Text Standard 2). I think you could pick two titles within a group of subtopics in the series to compare – so Bulldozers and Diggers both by author Aaron Frisch or Elephants and Giraffes by Kate Riggs to “identify two basic similarities between two texts on the same topic” (CC RI.K.9). (I’m thinking “the same topic” would be “animals” or “construction machines.”)

The authors have included well designed, easily accessible text features – for example, a two-page spread of a bulldozerwith labels for its parts and a similar spread for other construction equipment as well as animals in the series. There is a table of contents, an index, and a glossary (termed “words to know”) in each book as well. The design choices make it easy to introduce these features to students and to teach them how to use the features to locate information (CC RI.1.5).

For both first and kindergarten students – I’d consider the following for instruction –

  1. Read aloud for the aesthetic appeal of the books, the enjoyment, student engagement.
  2. Reread aloud with the purpose for identifying the main topic and retelling key details from the book including you, the teacher, modeling (orally and in writing or sketching on a large piece of chart paper or the document camera or the Smart Board) how you might do this with one particular page or two-page spread.
  3. Asking and then coaching partners to think-pair-share (about details from a specific page that is projected or accessible visually to all students),
  4. Asking and then coaching students to respond independently – sketching, labeling, writing about the main topic and a key detail they learned.
  5. Putting these books in the classroom library for rereading by students or pairs of students or making these books part of a response center during guided reading.

seedlings bulldozers seedlings snakes
Hope this helps. 🙂


Reading Aloud Rigorous Informational Texts to Kindergarten Students


A few weeks ago, I had the honor of reading aloud Nic Bishop’s Frogs to kindergarten students on the south side of Chicago. When I visited the school initially, I engaged in an informal reading conversation with three of the students, reading aloud sections of a book about penguins to them and assessing what they were learning. I quickly realized they didn’t understand words like “diving” (penguins dive into the water) and “sliding” (penguins sliding on their bellies across the ice). I chose Nic Bishop’s Frogs for the lesson because it’s a fascinating text that reveals the diversity of frogs’ features and the photographs easily capture students’ attention (K-5). It’s a rigorous text for reading aloud to these students. My goal, though, was not for students to understand every single fact in the text, but to begin to develop an ear for what these texts sound like and to identify what they were learning about frogs. During the lesson (as described later), my objective actually narrowed when I realized how powerful Bishop’s word choice is in describing the frogs’ movements and this became the focus of what I wanted students to learn from the text.

I started by showing several of the photographs to the students (who were all seated on the carpet in front of me). They would give me a thumbs up or down if they thought the photos were fascinating. Then I asked if they’d like me to read some of the text with those photos. I never planned to read the whole book to the students – it’s too long and they need to develop stamina for that. The beauty of informational texts (non-narrative) is that you can skip around like this; this is even easier when you, yourself, know the book well.

As I read aloud the running text to the students, I highlighted the action words that surfaced – frogs climbing, pouncing, ambushing, gliding and we acted these words out with very simple, quick gestures. (Note: I’d read the whole page or paragraph and then go back to highlight the word.)  There was no getting up and making a huge fanfare of this because I didn’t want to stray too far from the time with text. Each time I introduced a new action word and gesture, we would repeat the previous words as well. The students started to recognize when there was a new action word and their eyes would widen, ready to demonstrate the new word with some type of gesture. By the end, we had a long string of action words, each with a physical action to describe frogs’ movements. The beauty of this is that these words will surface in other books describing animals as well – and, hopefully, the students’ conceptual understanding will transfer. Ideally, this read aloud would be part of an integrated unit of study on animals – maybe animal adaptations, for example.

We also engaged in shared writing and because of my focus with them on action words, these words surfaced in what they had to contribute to our conversation and writing. See the image below.

shared writing nic bishop frogs

The trick is to move students to sketching, labeling and writing on their own – facts they learned about frogs. My suggestions for this are sketched on the chart paper in the image below (as part of a conversation with teachers who observed and co-taught during this lesson). You can assign these responses (hand out response sheets) based on the needs of the child. It’s important to model at some point – how to engage in these kinds of responses. I actually did some sketching and labeling as part of this lesson – but it was misguided. I focused on sketching a frog and labeling its body parts – when I should have figured out a way to sketch and label movements – to stay true to the objective that emerged during the read aloud.

differentiated responses kindergarten

There’s so much to say about this imperfect lesson. I initially thought I’d just be teaching for recalling details from the text – “What did you learn from the author? What is the author trying to teach you about frogs?” I thought I’d read aloud some and then demonstrate learning from one page, but the students had a hard time focusing on one page of text after discussing so many pages. So I followed their lead and also what I knew they needed to learn by focusing on identifying the actions or different types of the frogs. As I stated earlier, I felt like my sketching demonstration led away from what was the focus of the lesson as well. Oh, and a multitude of other points.

In the end, I observed the students using the words we’d focused on, acted out, repeatedly  – in the context of reading a beautiful informational text – in their conversations with partners, during the shared writing, and during discussions with the teachers who picked up the teaching with small groups (after my part of the lesson).

Flaw in CCSS Lexile Levels for 2-3rd Grade

Caution: If you are using the Common Core “stretch band” Lexile levels to determine what 2nd & 3rd graders should be reading, there is no empirical evidence to support these levels for these grades. Read Upping the Ante of Text Complexity in the Common Core Standards: Examining Its Potential Impact on Young Readers (Hiebert & Mesmer in issue of Educational Researcher, Jan/Feb 2013, pp. 44-51).

Points that jumped out at me:

  • The guidelines for qualitative and reader-task dimensions for determining appropriate texts are “vague” and the effect could be that educators and policymakers are or might start leaning more heavily on the quantitative dimension (i.e., the “stretch” Lexile bands) to choose or mandate texts (Hiebert & Mesmer, 2013, p. 44). The problem, according to Hiebert and Mesmer is that these Lexile bands are “aspirational” and not based on empirical evidence for what is appropriate in 2nd-3rd grade.  (There’s also just the problem with mis-use of readability formulas to determine texts.)
  • The CCSS authors’ rationale for  identifying the complexity of texts at grade level bands in the standards is based on research that does not support such complexity for 2nd-3rd grade texts. They state that “despite steady or growing demand from various resources, K-12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century” (Appendix A, p. 3). Hiebert & Mesmer (2013, p. 46-47) make the case that the research cited does support this trend in high school texts, but not for 2-3rd grade texts. The CCSS authors cite Jeanne Chall’s research (1977) – in fact, Chall’s analysis of primary grade texts was on texts with copyrights from 1956 and 1960 – texts that were no longer in use by 1977; further research has shown that the texts from 1956 and 1960 were considerably easier than more recent texts for the same grades (Hayes et al., 1996). Hiebert & Mesmer discuss another study (Hays et al., 1996) cited by CCSS authors as well – again the authors of the CCSS seemed to have generalized k-12. In the study cited, the texts analyzed for 3rd grade showed an upward trend in complexity of vocabulary in texts.
  • The authors of the CCSS also imply that if we raise the complexity level of texts at the lower grade level bands, then the gap between levels of texts in high school and college will close. NOT NECESSARILY. There is no empirical evidence (research-base) for this and the effects of increasing the complexity of texts when young children are learning how to read could be detrimental. Two anecdotes I’d like to share. A few weeks ago, I met with a kindergarten teacher and literacy coach to plan a demonstration lesson. When I asked the teacher about the alphabet knowledge curriculum (most of her students knew ten letters or less), she stated (and the literacy coach confirmed) that she’d be in trouble if students were caught tracing letters. She shared that she’d been told that the CCSS required more rigorous learning and she was teaching Tier Two vocabulary. Seriously? On another day, a first grade teacher asked me why I was focusing workshop content on helping early readers use picture and visual cues to attempt unknown words (cross-checking) and not on teaching for main idea and supporting details. That’s what she’d been told to focus on with these readers and she implied that this was Common Core-aligned. Really? Both of these educators realized that their readers needed developmentally appropriate instruction – but misinterpretation of the CCSS has led someone somewhere to mandate different instructional content. But back to Hiebert and Mesmer. The point I’m getting at is that we have to be careful with our youngest readers who are trying to develop automaticity and fluency while also making meaning. “When texts become too difficult…automaticity can suffer” (Hiebert & Mesmer, p. 48) and there is research to support this point!!!! In addition, too difficult texts for early and transitional readers can decrease motivation and engagement. And there is more research to support this!
  • Hiebert and Mesmer also discuss the problems with “readability” formulas – particularly how they are used – see more on pages 45-46).
  • Despite the lack of empirical evidence for 2-3rd grades to be reading at 420L-820L, third graders will be assessed at these levels. (See Hiebert & Mesmer for more info, p. 47).

There’s a lot more to this article than I have shared here.

Hiebert & Mesmer’s article was published in a journal for educational researchers and so their recommendations focus on implications for future research.

My question is – What are the implications for everyday practitioners?

It’s hard not to feel powerless.

My first recommendation is EDUCATE YOURSELF. I’d start by reading, rereading and studying this article – so you can articulate to others the problems with setting “aspirational” levels of text complexity for our 3rd grade students and then testing them at these levels. Awareness is a step towards change.

AND this doesn’t mean that our 2nd-3rd grade students shouldn’t be reading complex texts. We just need to be careful in how we determine these texts – not leaning so heavily on a “fill-in-the-blank” Lexile approach, but finding a balance that takes into consideration the developmental needs of these readers as well as motivation and engagement. AND MORE.

Ugh. THIS is hard.

PreK-Kinder Read Alouds – Observing the World Around Us

As you start the school year, consider making half of the texts you read aloud to preK-Kinder (and even 1st grade) students informational texts. One new text I’d recommend is Step Gently Out by Frost & Lieder (2013). Frost’s lyrical text invites our youngest learners to slow down and watch and listen. Lieder’s photographs are worth sitting quietly and contemplating with students. Step Gently Out is an easy invitation to looking and listening to nature that surrounds us – but also to any of our everyday surroundings and it’s worth reading aloud to students multiple times. The Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten focus on students’ ability to observe and this book could launch and anchor a related science unit and even a literacy center where students can look through the book again and then observe a class terrarium or aquarium and draw their observations.


Another book that comes to mind for reading aloud to PreK-1 students to launch the school year – and that can be used in so many ways – is Green (Seeger, 2012) which I’ve reviewed in a previous blog. Again – this book lends itself to thinking about how we can look more closely at the world around us.


Other PreK-1 informational texts to read aloud because they –

  • introduce science content
  • begin gently to pull students into reading and learning from informational texts
  • tap into what it means to “observe” and notice our surroundings
  • have just enough content to hold students attention (as the kids develop stamina for sitting through longer, more complex texts read aloud).

Swirl by Swirl

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (2011)


In the Tall, Tall Grass and other books by Denise Fleming


Truck by Donald Crews

I Read Signs

I Read Signs and lots of other titles by Tana Hoban


Shoes, Shoes, Shoes and other titles by Ann Morris

Hope this helps. Would love suggestions for good informational texts to read aloud to preK-kinder at the beginning of the year!

Nonfiction Author Study – Moving preK-1 Towards Close Reading

Kinder Author Study 1  photo-39

Last year I had the honor of working with two kindergarten teachers who immersed their students in nonfiction author studies. Late in the spring they led a two week author study – week one on Steve Jenkins’ books and week two on Nic Bishop’s books. Monday-Wednesday or Thursday, they read aloud a book and on Fridays, the students could choose their favorite to be read aloud again. The teachers and the students studied the structure of the authors’ texts. For example, Jenkins has three books that follow a question/answer structure  – What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?, How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? And they also created writing-in-response centers for the students during the reading block of the day and used the books for mini-lessons during writing workshop. In week two, they contrasted the illustrations in Jenkins’ books with photos in Bishop’s books. (Just a note – What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? is listed in the Common Core Appendix B as an example of an appropriately rigorous read aloud for k-1 students.)

The teachers created writing center activities based on their discussions with students during the interactive read alouds. Sometimes the writing was identifying a fact from the book and then illustrating this fact. In the image below you can see how one teacher projected the response sheet with the document camera for all students to view when she was giving directions. The students are to choose the “true” fact at the bottom and then illustrate in the box above.


Sometimes the writing center was focused on using the structure of the authors’ texts. For example, the students wrote questions about animals they chose and then drew an illustration. I had the pleasure of working with the students at this center one day – they loved asking great questions! How does a jaguar run? Why do cats meow? AND they bugged their teachers to create a writing center where they could not only write questions, but (like Jenkins does) write the answers as well.

Bishop’s books like Frogs, Lizards and so forth are more difficult than some of Jenkins’. They are written in a descriptive text structure and there is a lot of content to grapple with cognitively. I wouldn’t shy away from read them aloud to preK-1st grade students, though. Studying Bishop after studying Jenkins just raises the rigor of the learning that happens – which is aligned with the Common Core.  I recommend teachers choose 5-6 pages to read aloud at one time from one of his books and that they allow for quality time spent looking at Bishop’s photos which extend the text in so many ways.

When we’re thinking about moving preK-1 students towards close reading, one of our objectives should be to help students develop an ear for what informational texts sound like – by reading aloud these texts to students – a lot! My recommendation is that when we read aloud an author like Jenkins or Bishop, we should read aloud several of each author’s books so students have a chance to master listening to and understanding these kinds of texts. Experience with the same author multiple times reduces the cognitive load of structure (because the students become familiar with the author’s typical structure and know what to expect) and allows the students to listen for content and glean main ideas. Then when our emergent and early readers begin to read informational text more avidly on their own – they will have these interactive read aloud experiences to draw from as they struggle with increasingly complex texts.

The pay off of immersing students in nonfiction author studies is amazing. Our youngest learners are enthralled with informational books like these. When the kindergarten students were interviewed at the end of the year about what they loved about school, they yelled out these authors names – “Nic Bishop!” and “Steve Jenkins!”

A big thank you to Colleen & Lauren for inspiring your students and sharing your work with us!


Flood Your Classroom with Nonfiction

Anybody have squirrelly, ready-for-summer students? Suggestion – these last few weeks, flood your classroom with fascinating nonfiction books. Books they might check out at the public library this summer. Books they might talk about at home. Books they will definitely want to read again and again with friends – through the last day of class.


  1. Go to your public library and check out dozens and dozens of books.
  2. Create a special display in your classroom. In a third grade classroom, we spread the books out across the carpet and then helped students browse and choose.
  3. Book talk books. If you are excited about a book – something you learned in that book – your students will be, too.
  4. Be fully present while students are reading to coach at the point of need and increase their engagement/understanding of these books. Hopefully, this will develop a sense of agency (“I can do”) and students will want to read more nonfiction as a result.

Here are four authors I’d recommend with lots of titles you can find and include in your “flood” –

I Read Signs

1.  Tana Hoban – I Read Signs is an exemplar text in the Common Core Appendix B for k-1 informational reading. I call these “concept books.” Hoban has published dozens of these photograph-filled, wordless books. There are 47 available at my public library. I’d just go and check out a dozen or two and put in a special bin in my classroom. While there are few “words” to read, there is still a lot to “read” in these photos and read “into” these photos. Prompts to use – What do the photos say? Why do you think so?


2.  Donald Crews – Truck is an exemplar text in the Common Core, Appendix B for k-1 informational reading. Crews’ texts are classics. Similar to Hoban, many of his books are concept books. His books are illustrated, though, and a reader has to move slowly through the illustrations to gather Crews’ meaning. The first time I read Truck, I just thought – this is a truck going from one place to another. But as I reread (“closely”), I realized that Crews is teaching about transportation, goods, economics, consumerism. There’s so much to think about while “reading” this wordless book.


3. Nic Bishop – Many of us are familiar with Bishop’s high quality trade books filled with interesting facts and amazing photographs. Check out the modified version of these texts Scholastic has put out. While Scholastic’s leveling can be deceptive sometimes, I think transitional and early fluent level readers could tackle these books. For more fluent readers, introduce them to the original versions of Bishop’s books. Bishop has also partnered with another favorite author – Joy Cowley. So if you’re checking out his books, look up hers, too – Red Eyed Tree Frog and Chameleon, Chameleon are two I’d recommend.


4. Steve Jenkins & Robin Page – This spouse duo’s books are always fascinating. (Jenkins’ What do you do with a tail like this? is an Appendix B exemplar for reading aloud to k-1.) I read Bones with my fourth grade daughter this year and we couldn’t put it down. Jenkins has dozens of books with the same high quality illustrations and focused text. (Again – 47 titles at my public library.) Most of his books would work for independent reading in 2nd-6th grade classrooms.

Hope this helps you get through the last few weeks. It’s tricky to keep students engaged in reading and learning until the very last day – but there are ways!