Tag Archives: reading aloud nonfiction

Sample Lesson – Close reading with NewsELA article

Do your students need help with clearly stating a main idea? And with organization when they elaborate on that main idea? Last month I had the honor of teaching close reading of an informational article to a small group of fifth grade students for a demonstration lesson in front of 40 educators in the North Kansas City School District. With a quick assessment prior to the demo lesson, the teachers and I realized the students needed help clearly stating a main idea, elaborating further, and organizing that elaboration. Below are a few notes about the lesson I gave.

I used a NewsELA article entitled “Tortoises battle it out with Marines for the right to stay put” and I lifted this main idea from the questions for students at the end of the article: In the article, one of the author’s main ideas is that the environmentalists and the Marine Corps disagree about whether a soldier training will harm the tortoises.

Before we met, the students read the whole article.

At the beginning of the 20 minute lesson, I beefed up background knowledge by sharing two photos. On my smart phone, I showed them a map of the U.S. southwest and the location in the article – TwentyNine Palms and a photo of the Marine base. Then I asked, “What did you learn?” so I could quickly assess what they understood.

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Next I posted the main idea for all students to view and quickly defined key words – writing the definitions on the chart as we discussed their initial thoughts about this main idea. See below.

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I introduced close reading with the pasta analogy and a photograph of pasta that I’d pulled up on my smart phone.

Then we did a close reading of a three-paragraph excerpt from this article and listed key details on sticky notes. I modeled for a few sentences and then coached the students in independently reading and taking notes. I chose this excerpt (see below) because it reveals lots of details related to the main idea. During this 20 minute lesson we only read, discussed, took notes on the first two paragraphs–which detail the Marine side of the issue. The students’  teacher planned to follow up with another lesson to delve into the environmentalist side of the issue.

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Note: Because I was leading a demonstration lesson, I moved to writing – just for the purposes of teachers watching. Otherwise I would have coached the students in close reading the third paragraph and saved the writing for the Day 2 lesson.

We closed with shared writing and independent writing referring to the notes they’d taken. See the chart below. Just a note – I’d written the main idea statement prior to the lesson. Together we came up with a piece of evidence/a detail and elaborated and composed the following sentences:

The marines are trying not to harm the tortoises. They are moving the tortoises far enough away from the training that they won’t come back. This means they are trying to protect the tortoises.

And then each student chose an additional detail, turned and talked with a peer about what they were thinking about writing, and wrote a short response. (See sticky notes posted at the bottom of the chart). I leaned in and conferred with each student as they wrote.

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The students clearly needed this lesson and, if they were in my classroom, I’d follow up with a series of lessons like this with multiple articles. The 40 educators present  in this demonstration teaching lab followed up by planning in teams and teaching a very similar lesson to one student (while I observed and coached) with the NewsELA article “Tough Times for Polar Bears.” Thank you to North Kansas City Schools for supporting this kind of professional learning!

Close reading lesson with A to Z text excerpt


Last week I gave a close reading lesson with an excerpt from an A to Z text, George Washington Carver, written at Level O. (See my previous post “Tips for using A to Z texts for close reading”.) Our text-dependent question was, “What did Carver achieve?” This seems like an easy question at first, but the excerpt we chose offered multiple ideas that needed to be synthesized in order to respond to this question.  See images of the two pages of text below.


Notice that in the first two paragraphs, the author describes the problems the farmers in Alabama faced in 1896. The details in these two paragraphs are important because they develop the challenge that Carver was facing as he endeavored to help these people.  Quite often when we talk about the achievement of historical figures, we start with the achievement like “Carver helped the farmers.” A more rigorous approach is to think about achievement as signaling some sort of challenge to overcome and a great deal of hard work before the end result or achievement. For some students identifying an “achievement” like “Carver graduated from college” or “Carver helped the farmers” is too easy. I want them to grapple with the difficulty of this achievement, you know?  When planning for teaching with this text, for me, key words to note included:

  • Alabama, 1896
  • farmers
  • big problem
  • crops smaller
  • cotton
  • worn out soil
  • barely money for food
  • no money for fertilizer

The last two paragraphs describe how Carver helped the farmers; the reader has to infer that he is helping them—through teaching and disseminating critical information. Key words to note include:

  • taught
  • dead leaves, swamp muck
  • free fertilizer
  • crops (like sweet potatoes)
  • put nutrients back in soil
  • sent out information about how to grow and cook

This was a maxi-guided reading–meaning it should have occurred over two lessons :)–with 2nd grade students. Here’s an outline of what I tried…

1. Briefly introduced the text  (less than one minute). The students had already read the whole text once during a previous lesson with their teacher.

2.  Explicitly taught the word crop and asked partners to define and explain (1 minute). When the students had read this during the previous lesson,  the teacher and I noticed they’d struggled with this concept and it was crucial that they understand what crops are to get the meaning of this passage. I defined crops as “plants that are grown on purpose for food.” (I could have defined further, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the students.) We named aloud several crops–wheat, carrots, strawberries, and then I held up two fingers and told the students that when a farmer grows crops, they can 1) sell the crops for money or 2) keep the crops for food or other things they need. I asked the students to turn to a partner and describe what a crop was and two reasons farmers grew crops.

3.  Presented text-dependent question and definition of “achievement,” read aloud definition, engaged in shared reading of definition and then discussion (1-2 minutes). I started the lesson by reviewing and clarifying the definition of achievement (which they’d been studying as part of a whole group unit of study with their classroom teacher). My definition for achievement was “a successful result brought about hard work”; as the students and I discussed this definition, I drew a box around “hard work” to emphasize this aspect of the definition and also added the words “difficult” and “problem.” See image below. By doing this, I’ve given the children vocabulary to articulate what they are noticing/comprehending as they engage in close reading to answer the question, “What did Carver achieve?”


3.  Asked the students to read the text excerpt to themselves and conferred with individuals (3 minutes). I wanted the students to get the gist of the whole passage before we started dissecting it; so I started by asking them to read the whole excerpt to make sense of it for themselves. I was also concerned that the students would not understand the sentence at the end of the first paragraph: “Each year their crops were smaller, and the farmers were poorer.” This is a hard sentence because the reader has to know that the farmers need larger crops to sell and eat and they have to infer that if the farmers have smaller crops, they won’t have enough to eat or sell and they’ll be “poor” as a result. We could have just done a close reading and discussion on this one sentence!!!

4. Then I modeled with a think aloud how I would determine what was important in the first sentence and drew the students into thinking with me to identify key words on a sticky note (3 minutes). I was very clear about what a “key word” was for that particular lesson–any words (details) that help us think about Carver’s achievement. In this first paragraph, there’s a clear problem or difficulty. As we listed the words, I made it clear to students that these key words helped me think about what the “problem” was and what might be “difficult” – referring back to the dry erase board with the definition of achievement.


Notice I didn’t use all the key words I’d planned to use –it just works out that way sometimes. Looking back, I wished I’d included the “where” (Alabama) and the “when” (1896).

5. We stopped and used the key words on the sticky note to summarize aloud what we had just learned from the text (2 minutes). I coached volunteers in creating sentences like, “The farmers had a big problem because their crops were getting smaller and they were getting poorer.” I encouraged students to add interpretation to their summaries like, “They were getting poorer because they didn’t have enough crops to sell or eat.” (THIS WAS SO HARD for them!)

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6.  Then I asked them to read the next paragraph (2 sentences) on their own and to start their own list (on a sticky note) of key words that would help them answer the question, “What did Carver achieve?” I had time to confer with two students individually. (2-3 minutes)

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7.  We regrouped and used their key words as we discussed and then also to summarize aloud what they’d just read (2 minutes). I asked them to summarize from the beginning of the passage – so starting with the list we wrote together and then moving to the list they’d made.

NOTE: I should have stopped here, but I was having such a good time 🙂 and I had the luxurious option, as the visiting consultant, to extend the lesson time.

8.  I coached the students in working their way through the next two paragraphsasking them to read and write key words for a chunk at a time and then conferring with them (5 minutes).

9. We closed by using the key details we’d written on sticky notes to summarize aloud what we’d learned (in response to the question, “What did Carver achieve?) with a partner (1 minute).
In the image below, I’m coaching partners in using key words one of the students had listed. This continuous routine of returning to our key words and summarizing aloud is HUGE–as you’ll see in the next lesson I taught with them.

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What was BIG for me in this lesson –

  • the power of a text-dependent question with well defined vocabulary;
  • teaching critical concepts like “crops” – quickly and clearly in a way that children can grasp and return to easily when they have questions;
  • conferring with individuals to see where things are “clicking or falling apart” (like some struggled with the idea of  “crops got smaller and farmers got poorer” and needed a one-to-one discussion around this idea);
  • listing “key words that help us answer our question” – students can become overwhelmed by “What is a key word?” so I try to make it very clear what a “key word” is during a particular lesson and, in this case, key words were details that help us think about how to answer the question, “What did Carver achieve?”
  • using the key words to summarize aloud–after each chunk of reading (which might be a paragraph or just a sentence or two).

LUCKY ME!!! I had the privilege of teaching this group on a second day – we used the key words they wrote to write a response to the question. Stay tuned for my next blog post!!!!

Seriously – hope this helps.





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

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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!


Prepare Students for the Joy of Summer Reading

Are you getting that “WE’RE ALMOST DONE” feeling? (Speaking to many of my peers in the northern hemisphere who are almost out of school for the summer 😉 So sorry if you’re not!)

This is a great time to host lots of space and time for students to JUST READ FOR ENJOYMENT, hoping this time spent carries into the summer when the students are reading on their own.


introduce engaging nonfiction,

book talk nonfiction,

create a special display of nonfiction,

match books to individual readers,


This might be during reading workshop when the whole class is reading – OR it might be during guided reading. Now is a good time to cut “teacher-talk” down to a few minutes and be fully present to guide those five or six students at your table as they read continuously for 15-20 minutes.

Would it be radical to even say, “Let go of the sticky notes and reading response journals?” Students will not be writing notes when they read on their own this summer. This might be a good chance to coach and take anecdotal notes – but to also free students of the sometimes cumbersome stopping and jotting. Just provide space for them to immerse themselves in reading. They can be accountable through their conversations with you during reading conferences, right?

Okay…I might be preaching to the choir here…just a few of my thoughts.

IF YOU NEED SOME NEW EXCITING TITLES – look for me on GOODREADS or follow me on TWITTER. Love reviewing books — I don’t share too much about content (what the book is about). I share ideas for how you can book talk before leaving in your library and questions you can pose during an interactive read aloud.

Just a heads up 😉 I posted a version of this entry SIX YEARS AGO and so much of it still resonated with me that I revised a bit and posted again. Hope it was helpful!!!

Frog Song – TINKTINKTINKTINK! – read aloud, close read, research mentor


Stunning illustrations and tightly focused text make the new book Frog Song (Guiberson, 2013) an ideal read aloud and independent read for k-5 students. On each two-page layout, Guiberson, the author of many many nonfiction books, describes the characteristics of a particular frog including –

  • in varied bold fonts, the frog’s sound (TINKTINKTINKTINK! the male midwife toad of Spain “clangs”),
  • how a frog takes care of the eggs (in Ecuador, the Surnam toad carries eggs in the skin on its back),
  • the role of moisture in the frog’s life or the moisture in the frog’s habitat (in Borneo, the four-lined tree frog “stirs up a foamy next to keep the eggs moist”)

The main idea of this book is that if the sound of frogs is absent from a habitat, there may be environmental problems. In the author’s note, Guiberson notes that 1/3 of the world’s frogs are “struggling to survive.”

There’s an additional two-page layout at the end of the book with a small picture of each frog featured and more details like the frog’s length.

I was surprised though – that with such a focus on the sound of the frog, Guiberson did not include details about how she researched the sounds of these frogs and determined an onomatopoeia for each – so I emailed her and she responded!

Clearly, Guiberson’s research process can be a model for our students.

  • To figure out how to write about the sounds, Guiberson relied on audio recordings of frogs she could not go hear for herself. Some of the links to these recordings are listed at the end of the book under “Frog Facts Online.” So for example, if you want your students to hear the wood frog featured in the book, here’s a link http://allaboutfrogs.org/weird/general/songs.html with an audio clip of the wood frog and several others.
  • For accuracy, Guiberson found “three agreeing sources to verify the information.”
  • She also found it helpful to know the scientific name of the frog (the Scarlet-sided pobblebonk is Limnodynastes terraereginae) and to search for links with this name for more scientific sources.
  • In addition, she looked for how others have spelled and described the sounds of these frogs.

There’s so much potential here for our students’ writing! Frog Song can serve as a mentor –

  • for the research process,
  • for writing tightly focused research with details that clearly support a central idea,
  • for refreshing use of language (word choice)  (toads clang, belt out, sing, zap, rattle their songs).

The latter two points are also good purposes for doing some close reading, writing in response to reading, and then thinking about students’ own writing and possible revisions.

And I’m neglecting to get into the beautiful illustrations by Gennady Spirin and how they serve to support the content of the text! Oh, the places we could go!

k-1 new book moves students towards close reading :)


LOVE THIS BOOK!!!! Seeger’s text and illustrations require students to slow down and look closely and think. Each two-page spread in green, a 2012 Caldecott Honor Book, is dedicated to one particular shade of green. I finished this book and then read it again immediately, slowing myself down, savoring each page and thinking through the difference between the shades of green that Seeger features. Most of the shades are revealed through a nonfiction topic – forest green, sea green, lime green, pea green. There are few off beat greens – a “wacky green” with a green striped zebra; these do not deter from her message that there are a lot of different shades of green in our world. Instead “wacky green” expands our understanding of the presence of shades of green beyond the natural world to the creative, imaginary world.

There are so many teaching possibilities here.

FIRST, I’d just enjoy the book with children. Read it aloud all the way through without stopping. Let the students absorb Seeger’s message, the amazing illustrations, the specific words. Then you could move into conversations that help students track their thinking when you reread the text. I’d ask text-dependent questions like, “What do you notice?” and “What in the text makes you think that?” I really believe helping students to slow down and look closely at the illustrations is a move towards close reading of text in later grades. I’d suggest putting the book on the document camera and asking the students to look at a particular illustration without comment for a minute at a time. See where this goes and comment on how slowing down to look closely revealed so much more in the picture than just glancing at it and moving on. As a result of this looking closely, the students made more meaning as readers – they began to understand what “faded green” really looks like.

You could also teach for expanding vocabulary (different shades of green) – to use in students’ descriptive writing, to think about in their drawings, to employ in conversations about pictures they are observing (see my blog entry on that).

Oh, the possibilities.

Impossible Rescue 2 – Reading Aloud Complex Texts

My colleague, Andrea, who reads aloud complex nonfiction texts to her 5th grade students, spends about 30 minutes a day engaged in this practice. She reads aloud, but also stops to use mind maps (see image above) to help the students keep the information organized cognitively. In The Impossible Rescue (Sandler, 2012), there are several people involved in the rescue in several places over time and Andrea found this map helpful to review before reading each day and then to continue to use as a way to keep track. Quick and easy.

Andrea also wanted the students to write in response to The Impossible Rescue as a way to articulate and deepen their understanding of themes and text structure. As a bridge from discussion to independent writing, Andrea engaged the students in shared writing of a letter (see images below). Notice how Andrea uses vocabulary like detected, themes, displayed, selflessness, noticed, text structure, etc. – this shared writing experience is also an opportunity to expand students’ vocabulary.

The students then moved to writing letters to Andrea and to me (as the guest reader of their letters); this is an opportunity to move from whole group instruction to individual instruction – reading their letters, assessing, and then teaching at the point of need in your written response. More on this soon.

A HUGE THANKS TO ANDREA FOR SHARING WITH ME – and with readers of this blog!!!!

Impossible Rescue – Complex nonfiction for reading aloud

A colleague of mine, Andrea, read this aloud to her fifth grade students. They were riveted, completely enthralled. In my next post, I’ll explain how Andrea tackles helping her students comprehend complex nonfiction during read alouds. I hope to share some of her students’ work as well. For now, here’s my review of the book!

The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure

Martin W. Sandler. 2012. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 176 pp. US$22.99.

Imagine. Alaskan terrain. Winter. 1898. You have 400 reindeer and 1600 pounds worth of provisions you need to move 700 miles in less than eight week. To rescue 300 whalers whose ships are frozen at a standstill and who will starve if you don’t get there soon. Add to that the unpredictable weather of the Arctic. Blizzards. Fog. Mountains. Ice. And then it all gets worse.

This may sound like a good story for a novel, but this was the reality of the Overland Relief Expedition team that engaged in a treacherous adventure risking their lives and the lives of many others to save these sailors. Sandler tells this story in the new action packed, absolutely gripping book The Impossible Rescue. Readers will not be able to put this book down as the men and women involved face one danger after another.

Winter came early in September 1897 and the crews on 8 whaling ships find themselves trapped in the ice. Two of the ships are completely destroyed by the ice. A ninth ship escapes and makes it way down to San Francisco with the desperate news of the other ships. President William McKinley orders the rescue mission to be launched and, in late November, the Revenue Cutter Service ship Bear leaves for Seattle to head to the Arctic. When the Bear reaches frozen ice and cannot go any further, three members volunteer to go overland 1500 miles to reach the whalers. They are charged with recruiting two herds of reindeer at stops along the way and additional team members to help them make their way.

Meanwhile the crews of the destroyed ships, over one hundred men, are lodging at a whaling station in Point Barrow – in very close quarters. Many of the men become unruly and unhelpful to their hosts. Somebody even digs up a local person’s dead husband and steals his mittens. Sanitation and cleanliness seem hopeless. Scurvy develops, debilitating the health of the sailors even further. Starvation is a stark prospect.

Committed to rescuing these desperate men, the Overland Relief Expedition team endures an incredibly difficult journey, splitting up at certain points and regrouping. They quickly learn that you do not ride a dog sled, but instead you run next to it or in front of it helping the dogs along – on sunny days or in blizzards for miles and miles. Paths are not straight and flat, but instead filled with numerous obstacles like boulders of ice. Driving a reindeer sled is a completely different experience and you can end up getting dragged along through the snow if you are not careful. Even in the blowing snow, keep an eye out for wooden crosses posted in the ground and look for a message from another team member tucked between the boards. Really, the fact that this rescue succeeded still feels unbelievable over a hundred years later. Sheer will, undaunted courage and the generosity of many fellow human beings contributed to the success of this perilous endeavor.

One of the team members, Dr. Call, brought a camera with him, a fairly new contraption at that point and Sandler has included numerous photos that reveal the bleak conditions of this journey. The grim faces of the team members and the indigenous people peer out at you from beneath heavy, fur fringed hoods with snow and ice, sometimes blowing, all around them. David Jarvis, the commander of the team, kept a detailed journal and others wrote about the trip later. Sandler has tapped these primary sources to create a vivid narrative of the harrowing journey they experienced. A timeline at the end of the book can aide the reader in keeping track of people and events.

When the team arrives in Point Barrow on March 29, the perilous journey is not over by any means. They will not be rescued until the Bear breaks through the ice and reaches them on August 1st. Sandler’s gripping tale will hold the reader’s attention to the very end.

Power of Nonfiction Text Sets

When I heard that Neil Armstrong died, I remembered the story my mom told of holding me up in front of the tv to watch the Armstrong walk on the moon – I was six months old. I immediately went to the public library and checked out several books about Armstrong and the Apollo 11 flight in 1969. Last night Anna and I spent close to an hour pouring through these books. I read aloud to her from Who is Neil Armstrong? (R. Edwards, 2008). We looked at pictures and captions in Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon (Thimmesh, 2006). She desperately tried to stay awake as I continued exploring by reading aloud Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (Floca, 2009). It was amazing how these three books supported each other – similar content was shared, but in different ways. As a result, Anna and I had a much better understanding of Armstrong’s influence on the mission and the mission itself. The power of text sets for kids is undeniable and essential for our instruction.

BTW – My favorite page of the Common Core Standards supports the notion of thematic teaching and the use of well-designed text sets – page 33.

I’ve started a text set for space exploration (grades 2-5) at Goodreads.