Testing Week Read-Alouds

  Testing getting you down?  Just the thought of testing getting you down?

I recently read a blog post entitled Uplifting Read-Alouds for Tough Testing Days, and I thought it was interesting (and timely) to think about new ways of using books during testing. From the blog:

Testing season can be stressful for students and their teachers! We asked teachers for their favorite positive, motivational, stress-reducing, hard-work-encouraging and just plain fun read-alouds for those bubble-test kind of days.

The author (Hannah Hudson) goes on to list 6 titles that teachers recommended, with an explanation of why each book was chosen.  It got me thinking about which books I would want to hear if I had taken one bubble test too many.  Here’s what I came up with:

  Dex: The Heart of a Hero by Caralyn Buehner  (Because no one epitomizes the importance of hard work and dedication to a goal than Dex!)

Dexter the dog is little but he has dreams — big dreams. He wants to be a superhero! So he reads all the comic books he can, works out to build his muscles, and even orders a hero suit. Dexter has determination, spirit, and heart. He proves that no matter how little you are, you can still do very big things.

Instructions for using this book:

    1. Brainstorm ways that students can prepare themselves for standardized testing (getting a good night’s sleep, eating a nutritious breakfast, etc).
    2. Allow students to design a Testing Hero Suit.  Features might include a cape in case the testing room is chilly, pockets for mints and #2 pencils, a belt buckle with a built-in pencil sharpener, and a logo to represent some sort of testing motto.  (A large question mark, for example, with the big red NO symbol over it.)

  Grandpa’s Teeth by Rod Clement  (Because I LOVE the visual twist at the end!)

Grandpa’s teeth, which were handmade by the finest Swiss craftsmen, have been stolen! Officer Rate arrives on the crime scene to investigate. He puts up WANTED posters for the missing teeth and rounds up the usual subjects. Grandpa even goes on the famous TV show Unsolved Crimes. But the crime remains unsolved. What is Grandpa going to do? And why does everyone in town keep smiling all the time?

Instructions for using this book:

    1. Athk all thtudenth to thpeak with a lithp ath though they were mithing thome teeth.
    2. Have students smile continuously throughout the day, the way the townspeople in the book do.
    3. Face the standardized tests with the same bright smile the townspeople in the book use.

  Skippyjon Jones: Class Action by Judy Schachner  (Because any school story that can pack in Mo Willems’ pigeon, a woolly bully, The Mona Fleasa, a word of praise for the delicious scent of books waiting to be read, a jump rope rhyme, slipping on a banana peel, three different Mexican Hat Dance songs, and a sprinkling of Spanish vocabulary words is worth sharing!!)

Skippyjon Jones, the little Siamese cat, really wants to go to school, but Mama Junebug Jones tells him school is where dogs go to get trained.  So he goes inside his closet instead, where he finds himself in the school of his imagination, surrounded by dogs of all kinds enjoying reading, art, and music!  It’s fun until a bully threatens total lunchroom destruction; then it’s up to Skippyjon to save the day.

Instructions for using this book:

    1. Read it aloud to your students.  Even better, play the audio version of the story (my book came with a CD) while you show the pictures.
    2. Visit the Skippyjon Jones website for videos, activities, games, and curriculum guides.
    3. Write your own set of class lyrics for a Mexican Hat Dance with a testing theme.  (“Oh we are the testing banditos Clap Clap, We bubble like lively mosquitos Clap Clap, We all do our best on the standardized test, We hope that our snack will be Fritos Clap Clap!)  Use the song and dance during your testing breaks.

Let’s Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile  (Because students may need to practice doing nothing, since once they finish the day’s testing they aren’t allowed to read or draw or move until everyone else has also finished the day’s testing.)

Instructions for Using This Book:

    1. Use the “Doing Nothing” challenges and games from the Non-Activity Kit.
    2. Practice doing nothing every time the kids get on your last nerve.  These are high-stakes tests after all, so your students really can’t over-prepare for the strict testing environment they will encounter.

  Big Bad Wolves at School by Stephen Krensky  (Because ya gotta love a book whose cover shows a wolf sitting in class with two pencils stuck up his nose!  Thank you Brad Sneed, illustrator!)

Rufus is not like the other wolves.  He spends his time rolling in the grass, running like the wind, and howling at the moon.  His parents, feeling he needs a more structured existence, send him off to the Big Bad Wolf Academy. The curriculum is tough: learning to huff and puff, determining the best way to enter a henhouse, and coming up with disguises to fool little boys and girls. When it’s time for exams, Rufus is unprepared. Then hunters interrupt the testing, and it’s Rufus who has the necessary skills to successfully fend off the danger.

Instructions for Using This Book:

    1. Discuss with your students how everyone has a unique set of talents and abilities, and that rather than trying to force everyone into the same mold and measure success through a single limited type of assessment, we should….we should….well…
    2. Maybe you’d better just save this book until after the testing is over!

  All kidding aside, are there any read-alouds you like to use during testing season?  Please share your favorite titles in the comments!

 

Image #1: 'NJ Hot Air Balloon Festival - Great+Colors' Found on flickrcc.netImage 
Image #2: 'Wink ;)' Found on flickrcc.net
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Pi in the Sky

As most of you know, Pi Day is celebrated every year on March 14.

Pi in the Sky  I can’t let Pi Day go by without giving a shout out to a book by one of my favorite authors, Wendy Mass.  Her novel Pi in the Sky takes us to outer space for a funny and informative science fiction adventure.  With pie!

In Wendy’s own words:

“The germ of the idea for Pi in the Sky came from a quote a middle-schooler gave me. It was by astronomer Carl Sagan: ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’ My brain just started churning that quote over and over until a story started to form. I’ve always loved reading science fiction—starting with Ray Bradbury when I was younger—and I felt ready to take on the challenge.”

She actually started her career writing nonfiction for kids, so she’s no stranger to researching science and math.  It actually took her three years to do the research for this book before she felt ready to write about astronomy, evolution, and astrophysics on a level that students could understand.

Learn more about the book:

And here’s a link to some classroom resources for Pi Day.

I’ll leave you with the Pi Episode of Math Bites with Danica McKellar.

Do you know of any other good Pi books or resources?  Please share them in the comments!

 

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From Wordless Book to Graphic Novel Using Speech Bubbles

For years teachers have been using wordless books to encourage creative writing with their students, but imagine putting a new spin on it by having students write dialogue and narration using a comic book format!  It’s easy when you use speech bubble sticky notes, and the same book can be used over and over again.

Here are two simple examples:

red book From The Red Book (Caldecott Honor Book) by Barbara Lehman

The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to transport one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over!

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Students could even use this as a starting point for writing their own graphic novel sequel to show what happens to the boy who finds the book at the end of the story!

 

lion mouseFrom The Lion & the Mouse (Caldecott Winner) by Jerry Pinkney

A wordless adaptation of tne of the well-known Aesop fable, in which an unlikely pair of animals learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted.

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Students studying fables could use this activity as inspiration to re-write other fables as comic books.  In this video, Jerry Pinkney offers an explanation of the thought process behind the book:

 

Of course, not all wordless books lend themselves to speech and/or thought bubbles, so you need to choose carefully.  Here are some others that would work well for the graphic novel format:

girl and the bicycle The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

“A little girl sees a shiny new bicycle in the shop window. She hurries home to see if she has enough money in her piggy bank, but when she comes up short, she knocks on the doors of her neighbors, hoping to do their yard work. They all turn her away except for a kindly old woman. The woman and the girl work through the seasons, side by side. They form a tender friendship. When the weather warms, the girl finally has enough money for the bicycle. She runs back to the store, but the bicycle is gone! What happens next shows the reward of hard work and the true meaning of generosity.”

chalk Chalk by Bill Thomson

“A rainy day. Three kids in a park. A dinosaur spring rider. A bag of chalk. The kids begin to draw. . . and then . . . magic! The children draw the sun, butterflies, and a dinosaur that amazingly come to life. Children will never feel the same about the playground!”

 

secret box The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

The story of what happens when three children find a secret box that was hidden long ago, and travel across town and across time on a puzzling adventure.  It’s up the the reader to interpret the ending, and to imagine what happens next.

Click here for additional teaching suggestions for this book.

farmer and the clown The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (who I LOVE!)

“A baby clown is separated from his family when he accidentally bounces off their circus train and lands in a lonely farmer’s vast, empty field. The farmer reluctantly rescues the little clown, and over the course of one day together, the two of them make some surprising discoveries about themselves—and about life!”
Click here for an interview with Marla Frazee about the book.  And don’t miss this blog post from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast filled with artwork (and pre-artwork) from the book!

 

 

bluebird Bluebird by Bob Staake

The story of a beautiful but brief friendship between a lonely boy and a cheerful bluebird.

Click here to view the artwork for this award-winning book.

 

unspoken Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

“When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn, she is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger’s fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience, and she must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him?”

Here is Henry Cole “reading aloud” from the book.  This is a great introduction to show students how to think about and interpret a wordless book.

You can find more resources for using graphic novels in education on my Comics in the Classroom Symbaloo board.

You and your students can easily cut sticky notes into speech/thought bubble shapes.   (Just be sure not to cut off the sticky part!)  If you’d like to purchase pre-cut speech bubble sticky notes, here are some that I found online:

 

Can you recommend other wordless books that students could use to write narration and dialogue?  Please share in the comments!

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day Recommendations

MCCBD 2015

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is January 27!

Spearheaded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom, MCCBD is intended to “raise awareness of kid’s books that celebrate diversity and get more of those books into classrooms and libraries.”  Visit the site to learn more.

I came up with a selection of titles from my school library that are perfect for this project, and I used Thinglink to add links to additional resources for the books and authors.  Just hover over the book covers to see and click the links!

Chapter Books:

      

           

Picture Books:

      

What books would you add to this collection?  Please share in the comments!

 

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Holiday Book-A-Day: Christmas Day in the Morning

Counting down to Christmas with a new holiday book each day!

christmas day in the morning Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, illustrated by Mark Buehner

No holly jolly frills today; just a sweet story of lasting family love.  I bought this book for my husband and son twelve years ago, and the story still touches me today.

It’s December, and Rob overhears a conversation between his parents that makes him realize — for the first time in all his 15 years — that his father loves him.  Life on the farm is busy and no one has time for expressing sentimental thoughts, but now that Rob is aware of his father’s true feelings, he’s determined to show his love in return.  And what better place to acknowledge a Father’s love than in the stable?

Illustration from CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING.

Illustration from CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING.

You can read the text of Christmas Day in the Morning online, but you don’t want to miss the illustrations!  I mentioned Mark Buehner’s Snowmen at Christmas book in an earlier post, and while his trademark bright colors have been toned down for this story, his magical way with light still shines here.  The book includes a forward by Buehner explaining how Buck’s tender story, originally published in 1955, influenced his own family forty years later.

Wishing you all love and joy this season!

 

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