3rd Grade Novel Unit: The Homework Machine

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  And the winner is….The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman!

In my last post I mentioned that I’m providing some ELA enrichment for a small group of third graders, and I was trying to decide which of the novel sets that our school has purchased I should use with the group. My reasons for choosing The Homework Machine include:

  • The story is told from multiple viewpoints. The reader gets to hear not only from the four protagonists but also from their parents, their teacher, the police chief, and some of their classmates.
  • The story is told in the first person. As students are working on character analysis, they can use the individual’s own words as well as what the other characters say about him or her.
  • While the overall tone of the book is humorous, it explores some pretty serious issues, such as military deployment, not fitting in with peers at school, parental pressure to make good grades, and the viral nature of the internet.
  • It’s a great opportunity to discuss the Science Fiction genre with students. In my experience, not many students choose Science Fiction as a favorite type of book, but this is a perfect example of how it’s not just aliens and space travel. We can also discuss the elements of Realistic Fiction in the book vs the elements of Science Fiction.

  And as I mentioned before, Dan Gutman is a prolific author, as well as a diverse one. Not only is there a sequel to this book (The Return of the Homework Machine) but he’s written the My Weird School series, the Baseball Card Adventures series, the Genius Files series, and the Flashback Four series, among others. Once kids connect with one of his books, there are dozens of others to enjoy.

Have you used The Homework Machine as a read aloud or in a book club? Please leave a comment and share your experience!

**The photo of Dan Gutman is from his Amazon author page.

My Final Summer Reading of 2014

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I spent one final long weekend at the beach last week (goodbye, Summer!) and thanks to all the rain we had, I was able to finish four of the novels I took along with me:

one for the murphysOne for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This book has been in my To-Be-Read pile for awhile, and I finally got around to reading it this week.
Carley has just been placed with a foster family after a devastating family incident, and her new situation is completely different from what she’s used to.  Letting her guard down and sharing herself with new people isn’t easy for Carley, but neither is trusting her own family again after what happened.
Please have some tissues ready because this story gets you right in the heart!  Best of all, it keeps you guessing about how things will turn out; and it has some plot twists that you don’t see coming, yet are totally believable and not at all forced.

hiding out at the pancake palaceHiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino

I just picked this book up at our local bookstore right before the trip, partly because of the “NPR Best Book of the Year” seal on the front, partly because it takes place during the summer, and partly because hey, PANCAKES!
The plot revolves around a contestant on a musical reality show seeking privacy after an embarrassing freeze onstage, and a local girl who is desperate to hear the song the pine trees played on the night she was born.  Each fills a need for the other as the two join forces in their attempt to connect with music again.
The lyrical text says a lot without saying too much, and it’s a feel-good read that’s not at all syrupy.  (Pun intended!)

timmy failure mistakes Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

     Calvin And Hobbes meets The Riot Brothers (and Chet Gecko and Greg Heffley) in this grin-a-minute romp with Timmy and his sidekick/business partner, Total the polar bear, filled with silliness that your reluctant readers will flip for.
The book trailer gives you a taste of what to expect:

The advanced vocabulary words sprinkled throughout the text are rendered less intimidating by the super-short chapters and the cartoon drawings on every page.  You can find lots of fun resources for kids, parents, and teachers at the Timmy Failure website.  Book Two (Now Look What You’ve Done) is already out, and Book Three (We Meet Again) debuts in October of 2014.

fourteenth goldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

I accessed a preview copy of this book via NetGalley, and I can’t wait until its official release on August 28 so I can add it to my library!
When Ellie’s scientist grandfather (Dr. Sagarsky) shows up on her doorstep looking like a teenager and announces that he’s found a way to reverse the aging process, it marks the beginning of a period of discovery for Ellie as well.  In this funny yet thoughtful story, we follow the two of them — along with an unlikely accomplice from Ellie’s school– as they attempt to recover Grandpa’s notes and specimens from the laboratory he no longer has access to.
Holm does a wonderful job of painlessly injecting plenty of science into this coming-of-age (for the second time for Grandpa!) novel, as well as encouraging readers to ponder the idea that scientific discoveries, for better or for worse, inevitably change the world permanently.  It will serve as an inspiration to girls who already enjoy science, and may spark an interest in the subject for girls who don’t.


Twitter Book Club Tonight

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Tonight is the Sharp-Schu Book Club chat on Twitter, featuring four early reader books:

What do you need to know to join in?

  • The chat is from 8:00-9:00 EST
  • use #SharpSchu
  • new chatters are always welcome!


Literacy Cafe in My Library

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Let me tell you about the special event I hosted in my school library last Friday for our first grade students!

When the teachers told me they were doing a Kevin Henkes author study, I suggested a Literacy Cafe as a culminating activity.  They were thrilled with the idea of extending the learning beyond what they could do in the classroom.  The teachers read and discussed the “mouse books” with their students ahead of time, and showed the author video from the Kevin Henkes website.  They also chose the two crafts they wanted the students to make.

I planned two Cafe sessions as follow-ups to the books shared in the classroom, and two other sessions to introduce new Henkes books to the students.  And of course, it wouldn’t be a Cafe without food!  We asked parents to send in Cheez-Its and juice pouches as a snack.  I dressed up as Lilly, and my assistant dressed as Owen.  We put up a temporary Kevin Henkes bulletin board, which we changed later to display student work, and we were ready to celebrate!

I was thrilled with the level of thinking and discussion that was going on in our small groups (5-6 students in each), and the kids enjoyed being able to actively participate at each station.


You can find links to the all resources I used on our school webpage (the Schedule of Activities lists which 1st grade ELA Common Core standards each activity meets), and you can see the “highlight video” on my Book Buzz blog.

I’m already looking forward to the next one!


Sites Shared With Teachers This Week 9/14/2012

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The Legend of the Teddy Bear book by Frank Murphy, in honor of our 1st Grade Teddy Bear Parade on Sept 14


Author Name Pronunciation Guide from TeachingBooks.net for audio files of authors pronouncing and sometimes giving the history of their names

Carrot Sticks online game for math practice in computer centers or on the Promethean board


International Dot Day website, encouraging teachers and students to celebrate creativity in the classroom



Harry Potter Reading Club sponsored by Scholastic, with a Virtual Author Visit by J.K. Rowling on Oct 11


BrainPop Webinar Archives for “Back to School with BrainPop” webinar since BrainPop Jr. is now available to South Carolina educators free of charge through DISCUS


Deborah Hopkinson’s website for our 5th Grade Author Study for September, since many of her books tie in with our 5th grade Social Studies curriculum

Aaron Shepherd’s Reader’s Theater website for free printable reader’s theater scripts


Rick Riordan Visit!

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Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus Book Tour Includes a Stop in South Carolina!

This Children’s Choice award-winning author is kicking off his fall book tour at the Books-A-Million store at 164 Forum Drive in Columbia on October 4, 2011.
Rick Riordan wrote The Maze of Bones, which is the first book in the 39 Clues series; the Kane Chronicles series; and the Percy Jackson series.  During Olympian Week, he’ll be visiting 7 cities to talk about his newest series, Heroes of Olympus.
His website includes some teacher resources for using his books with students.
Share with your teachers and students!

Chris Crutcher at RCPL

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Share with your students and teachers:

Award-Winning Author Chris Crutcher Visits Library

Join the Richland County Public Library for a discussion and signing with award-winning author Chris Crutcher at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 22 at the Main Library, 1431 Assembly St.

Chris Crutcher is one of the most successful — and most frequently banned — authors of realistic fiction in the Young Adult industry, with 11 novels, two short story collections and one autobiography to his credit. His writing features teens coping with serious problems, including abusive parents, racial and religious prejudice, mental and physical disability, and poverty. These themes are viewed as too mature for children. Despite this controversy, Crutcher’s writing has received many awards.

This program is free and open to teens and adults. For more information, call 929-3457 or visit www.myRCPL.com