Friday, April 29, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Behind the Books: Is “Write What You Could Teach” Good Advice?

Lately, I’ve heard teachers advising young writers to choose nonfiction topics “that you could teach someone about.” For instance, an avid soccer player might write about the rules of soccer. I have just one word for that kind of writing . . . BORING.

Why would a child want to rehash something he or she already knows backward and forward when there’s a wide world of ideas and information out there just waiting to be discovered?

Think about it this way. I could teach someone how to make a sandwich just the way my husband likes it. I could explain how to wash windows so they don’t streak or how to make “hospital corners” when I change the sheets on a bed. I could describe how to sort trash according to my transfer station’s rules. But why would I want to write about any of these things? I’d be bored, and so would my readers.

I write about science because I’m fascinated by the natural world. When I’m engaged in the world, I’m constantly encountering things that make me ask questions. And to satisfy my curiosity, I want to know more, more, more. Learning more gets me so excited that I’m dying to share my new knowledge with other people. That’s what fuels my writing.

Kids are no different from me. When they focus on ideas and information that they care about, when they conduct research to satisfy their own curiosity, they will craft lively, interesting writing just brimming with passion. And, really, that’s the goal of nonfiction writing—crafting prose that our intended audience wants to read.

How do we give students the tools and opportunities they need to become passionate nonfiction writers? I’ll talk more about that next week.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Last week, I discussed A Place for Butterflies. If you pair it with Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know?, you can create a great lesson that looks at text structures and how decisions about text structure impact the research process.

After reading the books to your students, ask them to discuss this following questions:

What is the primary text structure of each book?

Do you think Melissa Stewart used the same body of research to write both books? What is your evidence?

Do you think her information came from the same sources or different ones? What is your rationale?

The primary text structure of A Place for Butterflies could be described as either Cause & Effect or Problem-Solution. But Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know? has a strong Compare ? Contrast text structure.

Hopefully, students will realize that even though both books are about butterflies, the content of each title is quite different. For Butterfly or Moth?, My main sources included books and personal observations in the natural world. For A Place for Butterflies, I relied heavily on scientific journal articles that I found using a database and interviews with scientists.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Behind the Books: I’m Such a Gossip!

Are you a gossip? I am. Like any gossip, I share things I overhear. I just can’t keep a secret.

Sometimes the person speaking doesn’t even know I’m listening. But my ears are always open for juicy tidbits.

And like any gossip, I share things that I think other people will find interesting. Some gossips might tell people about the crazy thing their neighbor did last week. Others might spread news about the tragic situation a friend is facing.
What do I gossip about? Science.

When I overhear a fascinating fact or an amazing story or a cool idea, I just can’t keep it to myself. I want to share it with EVERYONE.  And that’s why I’m a nonfiction writer. My job is to share information in a way that will make my audience just as interested as I am.

Here are a few examples. When I was at a nature center near my home, one of the naturalists told me she was working with the local electric company to create new habitat for an endangered butterfly. I immediately wanted to share that story, and eventually, I did in my book A Place for Butterflies.

When my nephew, Colin, was about 5 years old, I heard him say he wanted to know more about “kid insects, you know, insects that are still growing up.” I loved that idea, so I stole it. Soon I was telling kids everywhere how a wide variety of insects grow up in Maggots, Grubs, and More: The Secret Lives of Young Insects.

A few years later, I heard Colin arguing with his sisters, Claire and Caroline, about whether or not tamarin monkeys make barking noises. By now, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that a book grew out of that argument.

Can an Aardvark Bark? will be published in 2017. Would you like a sneak peek at the sketches? It’s illustrated by the uber-talented Steve Jenkins.

See, I told you I was a gossip. I really just can’t keep a secret.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Book of the Week: A Place for Butterflies

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

A Place for Butterflies was originally published in 2006, but was revised and updated in 2014, so it has the latest information about the challenges butterflies face and how we can do simple things to help them survive.

You could share one or two spreads to support NGSS PE K-ESS3-3 or read the whole book as part of a lesson that addresses NGSS PE 5-ESS3-1.

I have also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards. You can find additional activities, including a life cycle song, here.

This book is great for Reading Buddies programs. For more information, read this article and look at the materials on my CCSS ELA RIT #1 & 2: Reading Buddies pinterest board. I also have a pinterest board devoted to A Place for Butterflies.

The main text of A Place for Butterfliess has both a cause & effect text structure and a problem-solution text structure, while many of the sibdebars compare past human activities that hurt butterflies to current more butterfly-friendly activities. That makes it a great mentor text for students learning about nonfiction text structures.