A Look Ahead

Dad and kids

Summer’s arrival is the perfect season  to add more “read alouds” to your time with kids. Three important aspects of reading aloud will be discussed in this week’s posts…

  • Monday – Learn about why reading aloud is so important for kids of any age.
  • Wednesday – Enjoy tips to enhance your read alouds.
  • Friday – Discover several perfect read-aloud books to get you started.

Hope you enjoy and please share your own book ideas, tips, and experiences about reading aloud.

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Just Joking

chooseadearbook    In April, “Pop-Pop” and I decided to give Patrick (our grandson) a shopping spree for his seventh birthday. We set an amount and told Patrick we would take him to Toys R Us and Barnes and Noble. He could spend half the money at the toy store and other half at the book store. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable adventure, offering not just a gift to Patrick, but the gift of time with Patrick to us.

  • First stop was Barnes and Noble.  Patrick had begun reading The Magic Treehouse series of books, so we checked them out first. As we traipsed around the other section, Patrick spied some joke books. We sat on the floor and read through a few together. Patrick chose one of the colorful creations published by National Geographic. Little did I realize what a popular and powerful gift that would become.Next time I saw Patrick, the first thing he did was say, “Want to hear a joke, Mimi?” He proceeded to tell me several that he had memorized from the book, then ran upstairs to retrieve the book so he could share more of them with me. As he read, and as I explained some of the ones that were tricky to understand, I realized how many literacy skills (and life skills) he was practicing by reading and reciting these jokes. Here are a few of the powerful skills kids can learn by reading joke books:
  • Fluency: Pacing, Phrasing, expression and attention to punctuation all come into play when kids read these humorous tidbits aloud. Repetitive reading has long been touted as valuable way to build fluency and you will see, kids love to read their favorite jokes to anyone who will listen.
  • Vocabulary Development: Think about it…many jokes and riddle (especially those for youngsters) depend on the use of homophones, multi-meaning words, puns and idioms. Joke books offer a natural opportunity to teach the meaning of different words and explain expressions and word play that create the humor. Lots to learn in a fun way!
  • Confidence: You won’t have to beg your child to read a joke book and every time he reads aloud to friends or family, he is building confidence in his oral reading skills.
  • Memorization: Today, students are not asked to memorize as much as in the past. Kids will easily commit these jokes to memory, surprising themselves and others with a stash that will come in handy in many social situations.

Who knew a little joke book could also be a powerhouse of learning?  Grab a few jokes books for your kids and you’ll add humor and reading practice to your summer days. A winning combination!

Here are a few examples from the series Patrick (and now his younger sister, Shannon) love!

joke book                              joke book 3

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Soar into Summer

sunWelcome to a new season and a new addition to this blog. Several friends and fellow grandparents have requested that I provide some tips and book suggestions for younger kids. The start of summer seems like a good time to honor this request. Summer offers the space to try out some new ideas and explore books that will motivate and support our kids. Together, let’s avoid the “summer slide” and help our kids soar as readers this summer. Hope you find this new content useful. As always, I welcome your comments.

If your child is in pre-school or the primary grades, taking a “picture walk” before reading is a great way to motivate and begin to help them make predications (an important reading skill). The process is simple but powerful:

  1. Choose an appropriate picture book that is new to the child.
  2. Read the title aloud and encourage the child to view the cover and share his reaction.
  3. “Walk” through most of the pages in the book. If the book has a surprise ending, I would try not to spoil it. As you page through the book, focus on the illustrations, encouraging the child to share what he thinks is happening, how a character might be feeling, where the story occurs and what he predicts might happen.

These three simple steps can prepare your child to be more focused and engaged as you (or the child) begin to read.

You can’t go wrong offering these favorites from Eve Bunting and Cynthia Rylant…

Yard Sale  and Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting

 The Day the Relatives Came and The Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant




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Books to Give, Books to Share

Seems to me, Spring is almost as much a season of celebration as the winter holidays.  Recently, I’ve come across a few remarkable books that are great to read with your elementary children, and would also make a thoughtful gifts for the many special occasions that occur this time of year. Check them out…

I Wish You More by Amy Krause Rosenthal    I Wish YOu      is a clever book that will help you express a myriad of wishes to the luckly recipient.

Old Turtle, Questions of the Heart by Douglas Wood Old TurtleOld Turtle’s words of wisdom will inspire people of any age to consider life’s purpose a find a promising path. What a special volume to share with those on the cusp of a new beginning.


Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead –    Samson in the Snow                       Themes of friendship, persistence and compassion form the basis for this unique and beautifully illustrated picture book. Whether you’re looking for a thoughtful           read-aloud to share with your child or a message of hope to share with a struggling friends, look knew further than this beautifully illustrated new publication.




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  Keeping a Positive Spirit Alive

As we say good-bye to the month of March, we also say good-bye to one of the exceptional voices in children’s literature today. Amy Krouse Rosenthal, pass away earlier this month at the age of 51. In her short life, Amy managed to pen 28 picture books, the latest of which is I Wish You More. The buzz on twitter was enough for me to order multiple copies of this book before I ever read it. Once I read it, I realized I hadn’t ordered enough. The delightful illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld underscore the optimism and love embedded in wishes that anyone would share with a loved one. In a New York Times column, Bruce Handy describes Amy’s picture books as “elegant and spirit-lifting”. I concur!

Among her other accomplishments, Amy has given TED talks, produced Youtube videos and written two memoirs which are at the top of my “To Be Read” list. Both Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal promise to be those kind of life-changing books you return to again and again.

Clearly, Amy was a person who used her gifts and talents to inject positive energy into the world. In one of her Youtube videos, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3eZvEIdmq4, she showed 17 things that she made and then invited folks to join her at Millennium Park to make the 18th thing. Tons of people showed up! Can you imagine the sense of fun that ensued?  Knowing she was dying, Amy wrote a “want ad” for her husband, which appeared int he New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/style/modern-love-you-may-want-to-marry-my-husband.html. Again, her positive approach and appreciation of life and the people in it shine through.

In this time of pessimism, criticism, skepticism, we need voices like Amy’s. Through her work, we can share a positive spirit. Amy’s children’s books are short and appropriate for any age. Do yourself a favor and check them out. Here’s a smattering of titles to get you started. Enjoy!

I Wish You More

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PSSA: A Helpful Strategy

We’re just a few days shy of spring, although you couldn’t tell by the weather here in the northeast. Public school teachers and students are preparing for the dreaded PSSA test, which occurs in April. I’ve long been a believer in acronyms and their value to students. For years, I prepared students in both middle and elementary school students to successfully navigate the PSSA reading test. Early in my career as a reading specialist, I devised this the PCQC approach. Over the years, most of my students agreed that it helped them to stay on task, feel confident, check their work and not panic. So, if you are a parent or teacher who has a stake in helping youngsters do their best on this test, here is a brief synopsis of PCQC. Now is the time to familiarize and practice this with students so that they can easily rely on these steps as they work through the reading portion of the PSSA. I’d be happy to hear your response or answer any questions. 


P – Preview

Students carefully read all the text features (title, heading, sub-headings, sidebars, pictures, captions, charts, graphs, maps, etc.) to activate background knowledge and set themselves up for a successful read. In addition, students are taught to read each test question carefully. At this point, I only want the kids to read the questions, not the answer choices. Since questions typically zero in on important components of the text, this provides more clues to the passage, introduces names and places, and enables a student to know what will be asked.

C – Chunk

Breaking text down into manageable pieces is a beneficial reading strategy. Chunking the long passages offered up in many reading assessments, enables the reader to hone in on one portion, encouraging careful reading and self-monitoring. I tell my students to “Chunk with pencil in hand”. That is, mark up the text by underlining, coding, jotting marginal notes. Chunking the text helps students to feel confident and decreases the overwhelming feeling of having to read the whole text. “Just take one bite at a time,” I tell them, “You don’t have to gulp the whole passage down at once”.

Q – Questions

Ah…the scary part is next. Answering those long, tricky questions can be a stressful experience for many students. In this part of the strategy, students read the questions for the second time. I show them how to read each question carefully and underline what the question is asking. I make sure they circle key words like NOT (which one of these is not…) and tell them to number two-part questions. We practice paraphrasing the questions to help them understand what is being asked. From there, students read each choice carefully. Remind them that they are looking for the best answer and must read every choice. Then, they should eliminate those choices they know to be wrong and return to the text to verify the choice they think is correct.

C – Check

The job’s not finished!  As teachers, we all know how easy it is for students to finish the last question, close the booklet and relax. Teach students to read each question again (yes, it is the 3rd tie they will read the questions) and then read only the answer they have chosen. Does it make sense?  Did I mark the answer sheet correctly? If they can answer yes to both these questions, then they really are finished and can relax knowing they have taken a deliberate approach and done their best.

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Favorite Genres – Share the Love


Hey, Everyone. It’s February, the month that tantalizes us with thoughts of Spring, touches our heart with thoughts of love and reminds us to celebrate the rich history and many contributions of Black Americans.

During my days in the classroom, I always took advantage of February to relate the love aspects of February to literacy. Students and I would collect and discuss genres we loved, lines we loved and those very precious books that were close to our hearts. So…since this is my first February as a retired teacher, I’m asking you to fill the gap. Let’s collaborate by sharing the varied dimensions of literacy that we love. If we focus on genres, books and lines from literature that can speak to our children, we will end the month with a ton of ideas for reading and discussion that we can share in our homes or in our classrooms. Are you game? Let’s go.

This week, my posts will focus on two genres I love. I’ll explain the personal appeal these favorites have for me and offer several books that, in my opinion, epitomize that genre. Please join in and help create a rich conversation on this topic.

Realistic Fiction

Reading has always helped me navigate the various states and situations of my life. By definition, realistic fiction weaves a narrative using characters and situations that could really happen. I love it because it enables me to constantly ask myself, “What would I do?” Realistic fiction also allows me to consider the appeal of the characters. I can consider who I really admire and why, as well as peek into the motivation and emotional life of many composites of real people. When I close the book on a well-written realistic tale, it sticks with me for years to come. In my mind I return to the characters, the setting, the problem and allow it to color my real-life choices and opinions. Pretty powerful stuff.

Here are three realistic fiction books I’ve read with youngsters that linger long after the story has ended:

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper             out-of-my-mind

This is an amazing book. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it brought me into a world quite foreign to me. Told from the perspective of Melody, a fifth-grade girl who suffers from cerebral palsy, this book reeled me in on the first page. Melody can neither walk nor talk. We journey with her as her school institutes inclusion classes and Melody joins the other fifth graders. Draper’s realistic descriptions and dialogue, humor and pathos unveiled the reality of a child with a serious diability. This book not only educated me, but fostered an understanding and empathy that I lacked before devouring it. This book is a great example of why I love realistic fiction.

The Hundred Dressesthe-hundred-dresses

This book is a prime example of a short, simple text that packs a wallop. Set in a small school like the ones that existed many years ago, it creates a story about the insidiousness of bullying and the conflict it creates for both the victim and the bully. I recommended this book in an earlier post but can’t write about my favorite realistic fiction tales without mentioning this once again.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer         on-my-honor  

Year after year, I turned to this book when I was stymied trying to find a tale that would prompt students to think and to discuss. This is a moving story of a twelve-year-old boy’s guilt when an adventure he has with his best friend turns tragic. Having read this with at least five groups of students, I can attest to its lasting impact.

Your turn. Let’s generate hearty discussion. Share the genre that touches your heart.








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Bring on the Questions

Questioning is an essential reading strategy. Studies show that when students learn to monitor their thinking and generate questions as they read, enhanced comprehension results. Creating questions as they read helps students to become active and thoughtful readers.

Two Kinds of Questions

When I teach the strategy of questioning, I discuss two kinds of questions with students. I’ve named them “Red Flag Questions” and “What Do I Wonder” questions.

Red Flag Questions

Red Flag Questions are those questions that pop up while reading and indicate confusion. As an adult, I’m sure you are familiar with reading a book that introduces lots of characters at the beginning and then allows many of them to disappear for pages. When a character introduced early in the text appears in a later chapter, you may be thinking, Who is that character?  What is his relationship to…”? Smart readers will recognize confusion and take steps to correct it. Most likely, you’ll thumb back to the part where the character first appeared, clear up the confusion and move on.

Oftentimes, Red Flag Questions pop up even more frequently when reading informational text. When students recognize confusion, clarify their question and immediately try to untangle the problem, reading can continue with a high-level of comprehension. Urge youngsters to pay attention to these Red Flag Questions that occur as they read. Assure them that this is what good readers do and that this strategy will have a big payoff in terms of comprehension.

What Do I Wonder Questions

On the other hand, What Do I Wonder Questions, help a reader to go deeper into the text. By actively reading and attending to the “wonderings” that occur, a reader becomes more immersed in the text and attains a deeper level of interest and understanding. Using this strategy allows the reader to truly have a conversation with the author. It helps them to not only read the text, but to “read between the lines and read beyond the lines”, bringing their own interest and background knowledge to bear on the topic.

Try It At Home

It’s fun to teach kids to pay attention to their Red Flag Questions. First be sure the child knows that a red flag indicates danger. Then explain that when you ignore Red Flag Questions as you read, you are endangering your comprehension. Choose a challenging text, have your child read it and see if he comes up with any red flag questions. Have him read further, holding the question in his head to see if it is answered as he goes on. If not, he may have to go back in the text or simply look it up or ask someone for help. No matter how he gets himself untangled, this definitely encourages active reading.

An enjoyable way to approach What Do I Wonder Questions is to both read the same text, jotting down your wonderings as you proceed. Share and discuss when you finish reading.

Strategies like this can empower young readers and provide concrete way for them to tackle text. Kids often think that questioning is a bad thing. They tend to equate questions with incompetence or failure. Youngsters will not only increase comprehension, they will also gain confidence when they see how their questions can actually help them better understand what they read.











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Chunking Text: 3 Simple Steps

Out of the many valuable strategies we use to enhance reading comprehension, “Chunking the text” is my favorite one. Chunking text simply means you take it a little bit at a time. When I teach this strategy, I like to bring in a Hershey Bar. Now that gets attention…so yummy. I ask students if they typically shove the whole candy into their mouths or if they break off chunks at a time and savor the flavor. Most of the kids like the idea of making the treat last and enjoying it a bite at a time.

This is a natural lead-in to explaining that text is more enjoyable and more easily understood if we break it into chunks. Together, we preview a challenging piece of text (usually non-fiction). Then, I demonstrate how to read just a paragraph or two at a time, stopping at that point to identify the main idea, consider any questions that pop up, and return to parts that may be confusing. I model how I often underline words or phrases that seem important or confusing or jot down my response on the side. In other words, I actively interact with the text before moving on.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that students use this strategy every time they read. I am suggesting that slowing down and thinking about small chunks of tricky text, often helps students to get the gist more quickly and move through a piece of text with a higher degree of comprehension.

To return to the food analogy, I tell students not to gulp it down in one bite. Although that is tempting (like when they are eating pizza) it is not wise in the long run. Breaking difficult text into chunks and chewing on the ideas  will enable readers to more easily digest the entire piece.

Let’s break this process down into three simple steps:

  1. After previewing the text, begin to read one or two paragraphs at a time.
  2. Stop after reading a chunk of text to consider: main ideas, confusions, questions, reactions. You may want to underline or take short notes.
  3. Hold your ideas and questions in your head as you continue reading, repeating the process.

Try it at Home:  Next time your child is struggling with a challenging piece of text, show him (or remind him, if he has already learned this strategy) to take it a bite at a time. Having a Hershey Bar on hand might provide additional incentive!


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Previewing Informational Text

For most students, informational text (or non-fiction) can be more difficult to comprehend than fictional text. Familiarity with story structure and a clear sequence of events aids understanding of narratives. With its often unfamiliar topics, academic vocabulary, and weighty concepts, non-fiction is often a different story (no pun intended!). However, most academic subjects require students read and assimilate informational text (usually in the form of textbooks and articles) on a regular basis. Furthermore, students must be able to determine essential from non-essential information, take notes, and retain important facts. It’s no secret that in recent years, teachers have been required to increase the volume of informational text that students read. Previewing is an essential strategy for non-fiction reading.

Steps for Previewing Informational Text                                                                                        As a Reading specialist, I usually spent an entire quarter of the school year helping struggling readers learn how to become proficient readers of informational text. The first lessons were always teaching and practicing the strategy of previewing the text. Typically, there are more text features in informational text, so we would begin by identifying the various kinds of text features. Here is a list of the most common ones:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Header (Any description after the title but before the first paragraph)
  • Headings
  • Sub-Headings
  • Sidebars (Short blurbs of info off to the side that provide additional information)
  • Pictures/Captions
  • Maps
  • Graphs
  • Timelines
  • Vocabulary lists
  • Questions

After familiarizing students with these text features and their purpose. I showed them how to use them to their advantage. Text features are there to support the information presented in the body of the text. If kids take the time to actually read and consider the text supports before diving into the text, it definitely sets them up for a successful read.

Consider what would happen if you went out to the garden in late winter and sprinkled seeds on the ground. No doubt they would not take root. However, a few months later, when the soil softens and you are able to till the soil before planting the seeds, new growth will occur. This analogy can help readers understand the importance of “tilling the soil” before you read. When readers use the text supports to activate their background knowledge, begin to ponder questions that they hope the text answers and set a purpose for reading, the ideas in the text have a much greater chance of taking root and growing.

Previewing Protocol                                                                                                                             I’m a big fan of providing students with explicit steps. Usually I would model the steps, then practice them with students and finally allow readers to practice using them independently. My goal was always for students to integrate the steps into their reading repertoire so that they would become habitual. Year after year, I prompted students to use the following protocol before actually reading an informational text:

  1. Read the title and author.
  2. Read the header if there is one.
  3. Look at any pictures, graphs, charts, maps and read captions.
  4. Read sidebars.
  5. Scan headings/sub-headings.
  6. Read vocabulary definitions if they are provided.
  7. Read any questions that appear at the end of the text. Usually questions focus on the most important concepts which helps the reader zero in on them during reading.
  8. Begin to read, turning headings into a question to set a purpose for each section that you read.

Eight steps may seem like a lot, but readers quickly become proficient at this task. The short time that it takes to consider what is being presented, activate background knowledge and set a purpose for reading will pay off dividends in comprehension and retention of text.

At home, take a few minutes to preview text with your child, especially if the text is difficult and he is frustrated. Show him the benefits previewing and guide the process a few times until he becomes competent and committed enough to use it on his own.

Previewing – definitely a positive step on the road to comprehension!

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