Friday, October 31, 2014

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Behind the Books: Thinking About Nonfiction Styles

According to CCSS, there are four types of nonfiction—literary, expository, persuasive, and procedural. But traditionally, writers have used terms like these as labels for various nonfiction writing styles.

I like the word “styles” because it implies some sort of craft, some sort of decision-making process on the part of the writer. When reading a nonfiction text, it’s important for students to think about the author’s purpose and how that purpose influenced the way he/she chose to present facts, ideas, and/or true stories. Remembering that the author is a person with a distinct point of view will help young readers think critically and spot potential biases. And that’s not all. Recognizing how other authors craft their manuscripts can help young writers communicate their own thoughts and ideas more effectively.

Okay, I’ll get down off my soapbox now.

If you google “nonfiction writing styles,” you’ll pull up a gazillion different articles. Some of the ideas in them overlap, and some don’t. Like I said last week, classifying nonfiction can be a messy process.

After reading dozens of articles on this topic and thinking about the children’s nonfiction books being produced today as well as the kinds of writing that twenty-first century learners should be able to craft, I see these three style categories—expository, narrative, and persuasive.

Expository writing explains, describes, and/or informs. That’s the author’s purpose in crafting the piece.

Narrative writing reads like a story because the author has worked hard to create that effect.

Persuasive writing argues a position because the author wants to convince the reader of something.

I’ll be talking more about each of these three style categories over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Leatherstocking Conference: Science of Readers Theater Handout

What is Readers Theater (RT)?
RT is a reading activity that employs theatrical techniques without the hassle of props, costumes, or sets. Instead of memorizing lines, students read directly from scripts, using intonation, facial expressions, and gestures to create characters that transport the audience into the story.

Obvious Benefits of RT
·         Builds fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
·         Studies show gains carry over to new and unpracticed texts.
Additional Benefits of RT
      ·         Promotes cooperative interaction among students.
·         Improves listening and speaking skills.
·         Helps even the shyest students develop self-confidence when reading out loud.

Why Readers Theater Works
·         Children are natural performers and love using their imaginations
·         RT allows emergent, struggling, and more advanced readers to participate in the same performance with equal success.
·         It gives repetitive reading a purpose. They want to do well at the performance.

Adding Science to the Mix
·         Students are more likely to retain science concepts when they’re incorporated into a fun activity.
·         Students feels feel a connection to “their” creature, see the world from that animal’s POV
·         Students gain a deeper understanding of animal behaviors and lifestyles
·         Students learn how living things interact
·         Students become more aware of the roles plants and animals play in their environment.

Science-themed picture books that are well suited for RT adaptation:
Animals Asleep. Sneed Collard. (Illus. by Anik McGrory.) Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

Beneath the Sun. Melissa Stewart. (Illus. by Constance R. Bergum.) Peachtree, 2014.

Dig Wait Listen: A Desert Toad Tale. April Pulley Sayre. (Illus. by Barbara Bash) Greenwillow, 2001.

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin, 2009.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Melissa Stewart. (Illus. by Sarah S. Brannen) Charlesbridge, 2014.

Frog in a Bog. John Himmelman. Charlesbridge, 2004.

Home at Last: A Song of Migration. April Pulley Sayre. (Illus. by Alix Berenzy.) Holt. 1998.

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Move! Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Melissa Stewart and Allen Young. (Illus by Nicole Wong) Charlesbridge, 2013.

Rain, Rain, Rain Forest. Brenda Z. Guiberson. (Illus. by Steve Jenkins.) Holt, 2004.

A Rainbow of Animals. Melissa Stewart. Enslow, 2010.

Under the Snow. Melissa Stewart. (Illus. by Constance R. Bergum) Peachtree, 2009.

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

When Rain Falls. Melissa Stewart. (Illus. by Constance R. Bergum) Peachtree, 2008.

Where Are the Night Animals? Mary Ann Fraser. HarperCollins, 1999

Additional Resources
Readers Theater scripts on my website:

Stewart, Melissa. “Science Books + Readers Theater,” Science Books & Films. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C., May/June 2008. Internet page at:

Shepard, Aaron. “RT TIPS: A Guide to Reader’s Theater.” Internet page at:

Moran, Kelli Jo Kerry. “Nurturing Emergent Readers Through Readers Theater.” Early Childhood Education Journal, April 2006, pp. 317-323. 

The Power of Reader’s Theater: Instructor, January/February 2003, pp. 22-26, 82-84.

Leatherstocking Conference: Having Fun with Common Core Handout

Today I’m presenting two talks at the Leatherstocking Conference & Technology Showcase in Vernon, NY. This year’s theme is STEM & Maker Spaces, so it’s the perfect conference for me. I’m sharing my handout here (rather than on paper), so that interested people can simply click on the links. (Plus it saves trees.)

Thanks to blogger’s scheduling option, the online handout for my second talk, The Science of Readers Theater, will magically post at 2:20, when that presentation begins.

This post is the online handout for my first talk, Having Fun with Nonfiction: Using Award-winning Children’s Books to Support the Reading Information Text Standards. It includes teaching ideas and book lists that address each of the Common Core Reading Information Text Standards. Enjoy!

Here are some general resources to get you started:

I have created easy-to-read tables that show how the CCSS RIT standards scaffold from one grade level to the next, and educators seem to love them. They are especially useful for teacher-librarians, reading specialists, and teachers with multi-grade classrooms. You can access them here:

CCSS RIT #1 and 2: Identifying main ideas/Recognizing supporting details
Reading Buddy programs have many proven benefits. When buddies use nonfiction trade books with layered text, the benefits increase. Younger students read the simpler main text (which includes the main idea) and the older student reads the secondary text (which includes supporting details). Then they discuss the art together. When they are done, they can work together to complete supporting activities.

Recommended Titles
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Beaks by Sneed B. Collard (illus. by Robin Brickman)

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre (illus Patricia J. Wynne)

A Butterfly is Patient by Diana Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (illus. Sarah S. Brannen)

Meet the Howlers by April Pulley Sayre (illus. Woody Miller)

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (illus. Nicole Wong)

A Place for Birds by Melissa Stewart (illus by Higgins Bond)

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins& amp; Robin Page

When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (photos Dan and Cassie Hartman)

CCSS RIT #3: Identifying connections/relationships 
It can be tricky to find books that are perfectly suited for teaching this skill. Here are some titles that I recommend:

For Younger Students
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

For Older Students
Energy Island by Allan Drummond
John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonard da Vinci by Gene Baretta

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

Those Rebels John & Tom by Barbara Kerley (illus. Edwin Fotheringham)

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre (illus. Kate Enderle)

CCSS RIT #4: Building Vocabulary
For younger children, fun songs are a great way to reinforce domain-specific vocabulary introduced in children’s books. Here are some sample songs I’ve written to build vocabulary included in lifecycle units on butterflies and frogs.

For upper elementary students, Readers Theater is a wonderful way to reinforce vocabulary (not to mention build fluency and comprehension). Many science-themed children’s books can easily be adapted into Readers Theater scripts that kids will love practicing and performing.

For information about the benefits of RT and how to adapt books into scripts that are perfect for your students, please look at the online handout for that program in the post immediately following this one.

CCSS RIT #5: Identifying text features/Analyzing text structures
This is an important skill twenty-first century learners. Many of my books include a wide variety of text features, so I’ve developed teaching materials to go with them, including a SmartBoard slide and several worksheets and activities that you can download:

I’ve also sorted dozens of award-winning nonfiction books by text structure and developed some related activities. You can access them here:

CCSS RIT #6: Visual literacy and point of view
Most of the other RIT standards focus on one skill that is introduced in K and builds from one grade level to the next. This standard looks at visual literacy in the early grades and author intent in grades 2-5.

Grades K-1
Visual literacy is a critical skill for twenty-first century learners. While any book illustrated with art or photos can be used to discuss the role of the words and pictures, here are a few that I particularly recommend:

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (illus. Tony Persiani)

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkle

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Grades 2-5
To meet this standard, students should have experience considering the intent of texts and author point of view. Today’s students are also being asked to imagine themselves “in the shoes” of the authors. They must consider that an author’s world view affects how he/she approaches topics. For discussions of author intent, I recommend two activities.

1.    Compare The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder (illus Lynne Cherry) and Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell, focusing on why two authors might have created such different books about the same small animal.

2.  Imagine author Brenda Z. Guiberson’s thought process as she developed the voice for Frog Song. How do students think the publisher’s choice of Gennady Spirin as the illustrator reinforced the author’s intent for the book?

For discussions of point of view, ask students to consider how the authors’ world view inspired them to write the following titles:

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann

A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart (illus Higgins Bond)

Step Out Gently by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

CCSS RIT #7: More visual literacy and accessing information quickly
Because visual literacy is so important, this standard addresses it at increasing degrees of complexity from grades K-4. See my notes above for book recommendations.

At grade 5, this standard suddenly switches its focus to building skills for accessing information. The good news is that publishers have already begun beefing up the index and resource sections of all books, especially those for ages 10 and up.

CCSS RIT #8: Examining how an author supports points
List books (in which the main idea is stated on the first page and subsequent spreads are essentially a list of examples that reinforce the main idea) are a simple and powerful way to show students how author can support their points. I recommend the following titles:

Bird Talk by Lita Judge

Born to Be Giants by Lita Judge

A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart (illus. Sarah S. Brannen)

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins

Move! by Steve Jenkins& amp; Robin Page

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

A Rainbow of Animals by Melissa Stewart

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston (illus. Sylvia Long)

Wings by Sneed Collard

CCSS RIT #9: Comparing multiple texts and various media
There are lots of ways to help students develop this skill, and trade children’s books can play a central role. Students will enjoy comparing fiction and nonfiction books that look at the same topic. Here are some book pairs I recommend:

Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale + Birds by Kevin Henkes (illus. Laura Dronzek)

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart (illus. Candace R. Bergum) + Under and Over the Snow by Kate Messner (illus.  Christopher Silas)

A Mama for Owen by Marion Dane Bauer (illus. John Butler) + Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Htakoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu (photos Peter Greste)

And if you are looking for a resource that combines studying fiction/nonfiction pairs with teaching science, you might want to use Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2, a book I co-authored with former teacher Nancy Chesley. It’s available here:

Students will also be interested in comparing two, three, or even four or even three nonfiction books covering the same topic but written in different ways by different authors. Here are some great examples:

The Wolves Are Back by Jean Craighead George (illus. Wendell Minor)

When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

The Truth About Poop by Susan E. Goodman (illus. Elwood H. Smith)

The Tale of Pale Male by Jeanette Winter

City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male by Meghan McCarthy

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City by Janet Schulamn (illus. Meilo So)

Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter

Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola

Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli (illus Kadir Nelson)

A great general resource for planning lessons that take advantage of multiple books and/or various media is Teaching with Text Sets by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes. Follow their blog here:

Some of the books I've listed above will eventually go out of print. Plus new books are being published all the time. How can you find great nonfiction books in the future?

Keep an eye on these lists:  

AAAS/Subaru Prizes for Excellence in Science Books

ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

CA Reading Association Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Award

Cook Prize for STEM Picture Book

Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices List

Cybils Nonfiction for Middle Grade & Young Adult

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Books
NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

And that's it! Phew.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS K-ESS2-2. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs.

Try these book pairs:

For more suggestions and full lesson plans, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fan-mail Friday

Over the summer, I decided it would be fun to look back through all the mail kids sent me during the 2014-2015 school year. I've picked out some of my favorites and will be posting one every Friday. They truly are inspiring.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Behind the Books: What CCSS Says About Informational Text Types

In last week’s post, I described four nonfiction text types that can help readers and writers make sense of the vast array of nonfiction book being published today. They were survey, specialized, concept, and biography/autobiography.

As I gather information for the science books I write, I often encounter instances in which scientists disagree about how to classify a particular plant or animal. Some say it belongs in genus X, and they have convincing evidence to back up their claim. Others say it belongs in genus Y, and they too have solid rationale. Classifying living things is messy. And it turns out that classifying nonfiction can be messy, too.

Why do I say that? Because CCSS has a completely different way of classifying informational texts. Its four “types” (which it uses to classify much more than just books) are literary, expository, persuasive, and procedural. Here’s how they define their categories:

literary—some personal essays and speeches, most biographies/autobiographies, memoirs, narrative nonfiction, some poetry, some informational picture books
expository—Q & A books, some informational children’s literature, textbooks, reference books, most primary sources
persuasive—some letters, essays, and speeches; opinion pieces, some informational children’s literature, some biographies/autobiographies
procedural—cookbooks, craft books, Mapquest and Google Maps, assembly instructions

Here’s how some popular children’s books would be sorted according to this system:

Literary Nonfiction
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad Tale by April Pulley Sayre  

Energy Island by Allan Drummond

An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston  

Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy & Dennis Kunkle

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman

The Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery  

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost  

Those Rebels John & Tom by Barbara Kerley

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart  

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre  

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

Expository Nonfiction
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart

A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Frogs by Nic Bishop

John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonard da Vinci by Gene Baretta

Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

Redwoods by Jason Chin

See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos

Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed . . . and Revealed by David M. Schwartz & Yael Schy (photos Dwight Kuhn)

Persuasive Nonfiction
Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Gaia Warriors by Nicola Davies and James Lovelock

A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart

Write On, Mercy: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle

Wheels of Change by Sue Macy

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone

Procedural Nonfiction
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau

Get Outside by Jane Drake and Ann Love

The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger

Let’s Try It Out series by Seymour Simon

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

Science Play series by Vicki Cobb

Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made by Bill Slavin

These categories are useful in some ways, but they seem contrived to me. For example, the “literary” category seems too broad to be meaningful. And isn’t a procedural text really just one specific kind of expository text?

I’ll talk more about these categories next week.