My Non-Instagramable, Non-Themed Classroom…Where My Students Still Succeeded

I have always been insanely jealous of teachers whose classrooms look like a movie set.  Or teachers who can make their classroom look like a master suite in a $2.5 million home with perfect curtains, perfectly-matched color patterns, and plush furniture.  I’m also jealous of teachers who can pull off a classroom theme and work it into absolutely everything they do all year.  There were many times when my students’ jaws hit the floor when they saw other teachers’ classrooms.  Then they asked, “Mr. Geswein, why don’t you ever make our room look fancy like that!?”

When we returned to class, I explained to my students that everyone has different talents…and my talent is DEFINITELY not designing classrooms!!

If you’re like me, I’d like this blog post to offer some encouragement and ideas because I feel like teachers (especially in elementary grades) put way too much pressure on themselves to have a classroom that looks perfect.

Every year at back-to-school time, I see SO MANY AMAZING CLASSROOMS on social media!  On the flip side, even though they aren’t posting, I know there are teachers who feel insane amounts of pressure to design a classroom that can compete with all the ones they see on Instagram and Facebook.

In any of the 14 years I taught, my classroom would have finished last in ANY classroom design contest.  If you threw a photo of my finished classroom decor in with 50 other classroom photos, there’s absolutely no way I wouldn’t have been in last place.

Here’s are photos of my fifth-grade classroom one year.  It was about 95% ready for the first day (I did eventually put paper over that bulletin board!)

For my first 10 years of teaching, I felt really bad about this.  I felt like I was letting my students down.  Before my 4th year of teaching, I was determined to have the best bulletin board of anyone in the school.  The Dallas Mavericks had just been to the NBA Finals (this is when I taught near Dallas) so I put each of my students’ faces on an image of a Mavericks player dunking a basketball.  Then I had a phrase like “We are going to slam-dunk third grade” above it.  I spent HOURS AND HOURS before the first day of school getting this to look perfect.  Then when it was done, I looked at it and thought “meh.”  On the first day of school, I think 2 or 3 kids said “cool.”  That was it.

About five years later I was reflecting on this.  I realized this ridiculously horrible bulletin board, which I spent a long time beating myself about, had absolutely zero impact on student learning.  I had an amazing year with that group of students.  Several kids made incredible gains in reading and math.  I even managed to get press credentials to take one student to a Dallas Mavericks game as a reporter.  He got to sit in the press box, stand on the court, attend the post-game press conference, get all the in-game stats, and write a story about the game just like a real reporter.  (The Mavs get a BIG shout-out on that one!)  It was an amazing year.

During my final few years, I finally accepted the fact that a photo of my classroom is never going to get many likes on Instagram.  No one would care if I counted down to my classroom reveal and that’s fine because that’s not where my talents are.  So instead, here are the things I focused on preparing before the first day of school to help my students have a successful first week:

Desk Arrangement

Absolutely the first thing I did each year.  I probably arranged my desks 10-15 times until I finally found an arrangement that was best.  I wanted ample room for people to move around EVEN with the chairs pushed out.  All desks needed to be angled to where kids can see the front of the room.  I also needed space for some individual desks when kids need to be isolated.  Then I put tape on the tile floor to mark where each desk should be.  This meant the kids could push them back to exactly where they needed to be at the end of each day.

Classroom Library

It’s extremely important that kids had lots of books to read in my classroom.  After I arranged the desks, I set up my classroom library in a place that was open and accessible.  I arranged my books according to AR level.  I printed stickers with my name and stuck it on the spine of each book.  Then I wrote the AR level and put a sticker on it.  The color of the sticker indicated the range of AR level for that book.  Here’s a photo of a few of those books to show you what the sticker looked like.

Every day at dismissal, I had a few students organize the books in my classroom library.

Prepare and label areas where student supplies would be stored

It was important to me that students had supplies in locations that were consistent and accessible.

Place inspirational posters all around the room

I loved finding inspirational posters online.  That’s one way I added some color to the room, even though it required me to print on my color printer at home.  But I loved referring back to inspirational posters throughout the year.

Tape pictures from National Geographic Magazines on/near my door

I used around 50-70 photos of animals and scenery.  This gives kids something to look at while they’re lined up waiting to leave my room.

Overplan for the first week and prepare all materials!

I can’t imagine something more exhausting than the first week of school.  So instead of spending hours decorating my room, which is not where my talents lie, I spent that time preparing and planning an abundance of activities for the first week of school.  I also knew how exhausted I was going to be during that week and wanted to minimize the amount of prep work after school each day.

I wrote each day’s schedule out to the minute, which is something I didn’t normally do during the rest of the year.  I spent a lot of time thinking which routines and procedures I needed to teach, which order I wanted to teach them in, and how I was going to do so.  My classroom was not going to be the prettiest, but it definitely ranked highly in student engagement and organization.  I had high expectations of myself to establish that during the first week of school.

Get enough butcher paper so STUDENTS can design posters to put on the walls

I think it is important to have a colorful classroom.  I am not suggesting that teachers leave their walls and bulletin boards bare.  No student wants to learn in a room like that.  That’s why I had my students make posters for our walls.

The first few days of school, we brainstormed what it looks like to treat people with respect.  Then my students illustrated those ideas on large sheets of butcher paper, which were then hung on the walls.  Students also made posters to illustrate a few other classroom expectations.  By the end of the week, a good portion of my wall space was covered with student artwork…and it was WAY better than anything I could have come up with.  Plus, it gave my fifth graders a sense of ownership of their classroom.  You’ll notice the walls in my classroom photos are mostly uncovered.  That’s not the case after the first week of school!

Again, I have all the respect in the world for teachers who can design a classroom to look just like Hogwarts.  But I know there are lots of teachers like me whose talents are not in decoration.  I feel bad for teachers in July and August who feel overwhelmed at seeing all these photos of beautiful classrooms because there’s no way they could ever compete with those.  If you have little ability and motivation to decorate like me, I’d encourage you to focus on your strengths.  Not everyone can be an amazing interior decorator!

For example, I realized that my strengths involved organization, designing engaging lessons, utilizing technology, finding quality literature to teach reading standards, and saying corny “jokes” (a big plus for a fifth-grade teacher).  Instead of beating myself up for not designing a beautiful classroom, I eventually realized that my students can learn a lot from me because of the unique talents I bring into the classroom every day.  That, by the way, is the exact same message I told my students — that our classroom is a better place because of the unique talents each of them brings every day.

I’ll leave you with this reminder, which I realized while looking at my classroom before the first day of school one year. (Yes, that’s my classroom in the photo.)

 

4 Challenges of Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary

4 Challenges of Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary

This is Part Two of my blog post about departmentalizing in upper elementary.  Click here to read Part One, which describes five reasons why departmentalizing benefits teachers and students in upper-elementary grades.

I hope you’ve read Part One of this blog post to learn five huge benefits of departmentalization in upper-elementary school.  My team was departmentalized for two years and I saw many ways it helped students and teachers.  It rejuvenated my desire to teach.  It helped me get to know more kids.  I finally felt knowledgeable about the content I was teaching.

However, if you are considering departmentalizing for your grade level, there are some challenges that you’ll need to be prepared for.

Challenge:  Being the reading teacher

At my school, reading was the subject that administrators scrutinized more closely than any other subject…and it wasn’t even close!  It seemed like several academic coaches on our campus dealt with reading, while one coach was there to support math AND science.  When district officials did walk-throughs, they spent most of their time observing the reading teachers, then sucking them into meetings to provide tons of “constructive feedback.”

One thing you can do about it:  If you are considering departmentalizing in your grade, be sure the teachers who teach reading really love that subject because they are going to bear the brunt of the pressure from administrators.

Before we departmentalized, we had an honest conversation about each teacher’s strengths and weaknesses.   If you are considering departmentalizing, be sure your team discusses which subject area each teacher feels confident in.  Be sure the reading teachers understand they are probably going to feel more pressure from administrators than the people who teach the other subjects.  It’s an extremely important conversation to have.

If teachers are hesitant to teach reading, see if there are things the rest of the team can do to help lighten their load.  I regret not doing more for the reading teachers during the time we departmentalized.  I should have been looking for little things to take off their plate because they got sucked into way more meetings than I did.  (I taught science.)  I could have taken their dismissal duty a few times.  I could have brought their kids back from lunch a few times a week.  I could have brought them coffee once a week.  Anything to let them know that I understand that they, as a reading teacher, were under more pressure than me as the science teacher.

Challenge:  Scheduling

When we departmentalized, each fifth grader rotated among three teachers each day for ELA/SS, Math, and Science.  Each class period was 90 minutes.  I adore making schedules, so I volunteered to create the schedule each year.  Here was our master schedule looked like:

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

(Note:  We used the nicknames of the three closest major colleges as names for each group of students.  We also had early-release on Wednesday, which is why you see different times for that day.)

It was important that each student had an equal amount of time in each class every day.  There were a couple of days when I saw two classes for the full 90 minutes, but one class for 45 minutes due to an unexpected special event that came up at the last second.  All the fifth-grade teachers hated that because it wasn’t fair to that last class that their instruction got cut short.  They had to play catch-up for several days to make up for that lost time.

One thing you can do about it:  It’s important that you have someone who can adapt the schedule and communicate those changes to the team, even if it’s at the last second.  Then when a special event is announced, everyone knows this person will handle creating a new rotation schedule for that day.

While we certainly discussed the schedule as a team, your team needs a go-to person who can quickly change the schedule on those days when an assembly is announced five minutes before the kids arrive.  This person must also be able to clearly communicate these changes with the team.  Your principal is NOT the person for this job!  It should be a member of your team who knows the schedule and how changes are going to impact things for each class.

It’s also important that the other team members respect these changes and go with the flow because there’s not always time to discuss scheduling changes.

Challenge:  Ending class on time

It is imperative that each teacher ends class on time so students can have the full amount of time with their next teacher.  There were a few instances when other teachers had to chat with me because I ended my science class five minutes late.  I explained that we really got into an experiment or cleanup took way longer than I thought.  Guess what?  They didn’t care.  All they cared about was losing five minutes of instruction time with the kids that I kept late.  Plus, this teacher had to stand in the hallway and monitor the kids who were scheduled to be in my room.

I soon realized that I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO BE DONE WITH MY LESSON 2-3 MINUTES BEFORE THE CLASS TIME WAS SCHEDULED TO END!  So I set a ton of alarms on my phone to help me stay on schedule.

5 Challenges of Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary

One thing you can do about it:  I set an alarm seven minutes before each class was scheduled to end, which gave me time to wrap up my lesson.  Then I had another alarm on my phone go off two minutes before class was scheduled to end so I could have all the kids lined up and ready to get to their next class on time.  You could also have a student who is good with keeping track of time tell you when class is about to end.  Do whatever it takes to get your students to their next class on time because it’s not like middle school where you can ring a bell in the hallway.   Ending your class on time shows you respect the time of the other teachers on your team.

Challenge:  Hallway transitions

NOTHING will shut down a team’s effort to departmentalize faster than students being loud in the hallway while they are switching classes!  Other teachers will quickly grow tired of telling your students to be quiet while they’re trying to teach.  They will not hesitate to go to the principal with these concerns.  Administrators could tell you to stop departmentalizing if they are constantly dealing with kids being sent to the office for fighting or yelling while they are switching classes.

It is extremely important that your students remain quiet while switching classes.  Next year in middle school, they can talk while they change classes.  But not in elementary school.  We told our students there was absolutely no talking while they change classes, even if they have to wait.  They had to wait quietly in a line outside their next teacher’s door until that teacher allows them into their class.

It’s also important for teachers to stand in the hallway during transition times.  Yes, there are a million things you could be doing to prepare for your next class, but we all know that fifth graders are going to try to get away with stuff if they are left unsupervised.  So it’s important to respect the other teachers in your building by keeping your students quiet during transitions.  I have heard of a school where the fifth grade departmentalized at the beginning of the year, but the principal made them stop because there were too many behavior problems when the kids switched classes.

These are just a few of the challenges that you’ll need to prepare for if you plan to departmentalize in elementary school.  There are more that will arise.  It takes a willingness to adapt and be flexible, but I feel like departmentalizing has so many more pros than cons for teachers and students.  If you have questions or would like to share your story about departmentalizing in your school (good or bad), feel free to email me at kgeswein@gmail.com.

Regardless of whether or not departmentalizing would work at your school, I’d like to thank you for all that you do for your students every day!

5 Reasons Why You Should Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

5 Reasons Why You Should Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

My motivation to teach was at an all-time low after my 11th year of teaching.  Few of my lessons were motivating kids to learn.  I was mortified when a paraprofessional walked in my room, shook her head, and said, “These kids are not working hard for you.”  I felt like I was teaching all of my 5th-grade subjects decently, but the standards and tests were always changing and I couldn’t keep up.  I also felt like my kids got restless throughout the day.  I tried to get them out of our tiny portable as often as possible, but doing anything outside in Florida’s humidity is not exactly ideal for learning.  I tried several things to rekindle my desire to teach, but nothing worked.  I felt like I was letting my kids down every day.

Thankfully, during the summer before my 12th year of teaching, someone asked the 5th-grade teachers if we’d be interested in departmentalizing.  At first, it sounded like one more thing being added to my never-ending list of things that change each year.  Then as I thought about it, I realized it could have major benefits for teachers and students.  It would be good for the kids to have a change of atmosphere throughout the day.  It would be a great way for me to master teaching one subject.  I could get to know half of the 5th graders instead of only a fraction of them.  For the first time in a long time, I was excited for the new school year.

We departmentalized for two years and I loved it.  Our fifth-grade team had six teachers.  Students rotated each day among three of them for ELA/SS, math, and science.  I got to teach science!  Each class period was 90 minutes.  This was at a Title I school in central Florida with a large population of ESL kids.

Here’s how it worked with our team of six teachers:

Teacher 1 taught ELA/SS.   Teacher 2 taught math.   Teacher 3 taught science.  Half of the fifth graders rotated among teachers 1-3 each day.

Teacher 4 taught ELA/SS.   Teacher 5 taught Math.  Teacher 6 taught science.  The other half of the fifth-grade students rotated among teachers 4-6 each day.

This is what our master schedule looked like.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

We used the nicknames of the three closest major colleges as names for each of the groups of students we saw.  We also had early-release on Wednesday, which is why you see different times for that day.

Teachers who taught the same subjects planned together.  Our principal was very nice in allowing us to ONLY attend meetings that pertained to our subject area!!

I’m not saying it was easy.  It took a ton of communication, teamwork, and organization.  We certainly did not do this perfectly, which I discuss in a separate blog post (the link is at the end).  I also think it depends on a school’s teachers and students.  I’m sure there are schools where departmentalizing would be a detriment to student learning.

However, in my experience, I feel like my fifth-grade students benefitted tremendously from having three teachers each day.   If you’re thinking about departmentalizing, here are five reasons why you should go for it.

Reason #1:  Kids have more teachers who know them and care about them

One of the teachers on my team did not want to departmentalize at first.  She thought she would not connect as well with her students since she would be seeing them for a shorter amount of time each day.  As the year progressed, she realized this was not the case.  Instead of getting to know 25 students really well, we got to know 75 students really well.   Even though you’re seeing students for less time, you will still build amazing bonds with every student you teach.

Fifth graders act like they are too cool for adults, but in reality, they are still at an age where they crave adult attention.  Departmentalizing was great because each student saw more teachers every day.  Students knew they were going to see three classroom teachers who cared about them every day instead of just one.  I also feel like it reduced the number of behavior problems.  Kids knew that if they misbehaved in one class, their other teachers were going to hear about it.

Reason #2:  You aren’t alone

When a student is struggling, you have other teachers you can talk to who know the student just as well as you.  This was a massive game-changer for me.  I realize that not all students feel 100% comfortable talking to me.  I realize there are times when they may feel more comfortable talking to a female teacher.  So when I saw a student struggling in my class, I could always talk to this student’s other two teachers about how to help him/her.  Usually, one of us had an insight as to why this student was struggling.  Or one of us had a great idea about how to get that student back on track.  It was interesting to see the students who responded to other teachers better than they did for me.  I was so thankful they didn’t have to sit in my class all day for 180 days because something the other teachers did really clicked for them.  Likewise, some students from other teachers did much better for me than their homeroom teacher.

I’ll always remember one student who loved drawing comics under the answers to his bellwork in my science class.  They always involved two characters discussing the bellwork question in a funny way.  He drew this every day on his bellwork!  When I showed his drawings to his ELA and math teachers, they loved it and encouraged him to do the same in their classes as well.  His work below is in response to a bellwork question about characteristics of certain body organs.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize

Reason #3:  Master teaching your subject(s)

I loved teaching three classes of science every day.  I felt like I was finally teaching at a level my students deserved because science was the only subject I had to focus on.  I got to know the standards and test-item specs extremely well.  I found myself looking for science workshops to attend, which was something I never did before departmentalizing.

I was able to help our campus get cool science supplies.  I had the time to research a program called Lego WeDo.  Those involve kids building things with Legos, then writing computer code to program them to move in certain ways.  I was able to do a ton of research on this and persuade my principal to order it for us.  I also learned enough about them so when they arrived, I knew how to help the kids use them effectively.  There’s no way I could have put in the amount of time necessary if I taught all subjects.

I also enjoyed teaching similar lessons three times each day.  In my lesson plans, I included ideas to differentiate the lessons a bit based on the needs of the three groups of kids I saw each day.  If a part of a lesson went poorly during my first class, I loved being able to tweak it so the lessons for my final two classes went better.  It was challenging during science experiments and STEM activities because I had to organize supplies for 75 students instead of just 25.  I definitely had to arrive at school earlier on days when we did experiments with lots of materials.  That required way more prep time.  But remember, I didn’t have to worry about attending meetings for math or ELA.  I didn’t have to come up with materials for reading centers or study the story problems I was teaching in math.  I actually had the time to prepare lessons with depth.

Finally, it was powerful for students to compare notes with the other classes.  I loved making anchor charts like this after we did experiments because it helped the kids talk through the learning that just occurred.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize

Then when we completed the chart, I sometimes showed charts from the other two classes.  We had some amazing discussions about, “Why do you suppose Class A said ______________ while you all said __________________?”

Reason #4:  Prepare students for middle school

In our district, fifth grade was the final year of elementary.  It’s a big adjustment for kids to go from having one classroom teacher every day in fifth grade to having several each day in sixth grade.  Departmentalizing is an outstanding way to help kids feel more comfortable with having more than one classroom teacher each day.  It helps kids learn how to keep track of assignments for multiple teachers.  We spent a lot of time helping our fifth graders learn how to organize their homework agenda so they could easily keep track of their assignments for each class.

At the end of the year, I asked students to reflect on what they liked and did not like about fifth grade.  A couple of kids said having more than one teacher was a bit overwhelming.  But the majority of students said they enjoyed it.  Here are a few kids who said they enjoyed their first year of having more than one classroom teacher.

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

5 Reasons to Departmentalize in Upper Elementary

Reason #5:  Test scores went up

For people who need to see data to justify departmentalizing, I had a 19% increase in the number of students who passed the science test the first year I departmentalized compared to the year before when I taught all subjects.  I also saw a dramatic increase in the number of students who scored at the highest level possible.  Reading and math teachers also saw better test scores than the year before.  Although my scores dipped slightly in year two, results were still way better than when I taught all subjects.

If you feel like departmentalizing could work for your students and your school, I hope this blog post has given you some motivation to get the ball rolling on doing so.  However, there are some challenges that you’ll need to be prepared for.  I’ve outlined a few of them in Part Two of this blog post, titled 4 Challenges to Departmentalizing in Upper Elementary.

Unfortunately, research about whether or not departmentalizing increases student achievement is limited, as discussed in this Harvard Education Letter from 2009.  I spent quite a while looking up research before we departmentalized and couldn’t find much.  I also tried to find some research to include in this blog post and again, I couldn’t find any solid data.

With the lack of research, I’ll use my personal experience to say that I strongly believe in the benefits of departmentalization.  During the two years we departmentalized, it helped the teachers as much as the kids at my school.  Please feel free to email me at kgeswein@gmail.com if you have questions or would like to hear more about my experience.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the expertise to advise how exactly you should organize departmentalization at your school, since I don’t know your students or teachers.  But if you have some general questions, I’d love to hear them.  If you have stories of how departmentalization worked for your school, good or bad, feel free to email me too.   Regardless of whether or not departmentalizing would work for you, I want to thank you for all that you do for your students every day!

Resources to Differentiate Reading Centers

I had a love-hate relationship with reading centers when I taught fifth grade.  I loved working with small groups of students.  I loved holding my students accountable for independently completing a list of expected assignments each week.  I hated the expectation from my district that students were supposed to work at centers every day (including the day before breaks) with NO EXCEPTIONS.  I was also told that each center activity needed to be differentiated depending on the reading level of the kids in each group.

I have listened to administrators give endless research about the benefits of kids working at reading centers.  I’ve known plenty of teachers who are so awesome they have center rotations for every subject they teach!  I have no issues with being told to teach centers.

What I do have an issue with is teachers not being provided materials to facilitate reading centers every day.

I was so thankful when my grade departmentalized for two years.  One reason I loved it was because I taught science, so I didn’t have to worry about finding resources for all these differentiated reading centers every week…then having what I did find scrutinized when people walked through the room on a weekly basis.

Ok, I’m preaching to the choir.  Here’s how I’d like to help.

One of my go-to centers involved kids reading and responding to nonfiction passages.  I imagine many other teachers have a similar center.  So I have written free nonfiction paired texts about famous athletes on a variety of reading levels (grades 1-6) that include quizzes and writing prompts.  This will allow you to provide nonfiction reading materials on the students’ level.  All you have to do is put the passages in different colored folders, depending on the reading level of the kids in that group.   Then tell each group which folder to pull passages from.  This is just one of many ways to facilitate that.

I’ve tried my best to create these passages to look similar, so it won’t be obvious which passages are written on a lower reading level.  I try to avoid giving reading material that looked like it was straight out of a first-grade classroom to my struggling fifth-grade readers.

Middle-school teachers — I’ve also heard from teachers in grades 6-8 who said these were helpful for students who are reading below grade level, but need high-interest reading material that doesn’t look “babyish.”

Each set of paired texts comes with a quiz and writing prompt.  Each set of paired passages compares two famous athletes.  For example, the passages pictured above compare famous NBA players LeBron James and Steph Curry.

If you feel like your kids need a break from answering quiz questions, there are several other ways they could respond to these passages:

–Write a paragraph/essay comparing and contrasting these two athletes.  Compare and contrast how they became famous, what their childhood was like, what they’ve accomplished in their pro career, etc.

–Write a paragraph/essay giving your opinion as to which athlete is better.  Use text evidence to support your opinion.

–You could have also students verbally debate which athlete they think is better.  They could spend their time at the nonfiction reading center writing out facts to support their argument.  Then your entire class, regardless of which group students are in for centers, can debate which athlete they think is better.

–What are some things these two athletes did to become incredible players in their sport?  What did you learn about the importance of working hard from reading about their stories?  (I try to include examples of these athletes working hard in all of my passages!)

Click the images below to download a free set of differentiated passages.  I hope they help make planning for centers a bit easier.

If you need more, I also have differentiated paired texts about athletes in other sports like soccer, gymnastics, swimming, baseball, and more.  Click any of the images below for more information.  These products include three times the number of paired texts as the free products above.

I hope these resources will help you provide reading material that kids love on a reading level that won’t frustrate or bore them.  Thousands of teachers have used my paired texts.  Many have said how much their students love them.

I recently volunteered at a school to help with standardized testing.  I brought a few of my passages for the 3rd graders to read during breaks in testing.  One boy, who said on the first day that he hated reading, literally started dancing in his seat when I gave him reading passages about Ronaldo, who is a famous soccer player.  I’m confident you have students in your class who will feel the same level of excitement if they get to read about famous athletes during reading class.

The Perfect Book for Teaching Growth Mindset

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

Hatchet is the perfect book to help students understand the benefits of developing a growth mindset!  The story is about a 13-year-old boy, Brian, who survives a plane crash.  Then through sheer will power and determination, he survives in the wilderness for months until he is rescued.  Reading Brian’s story of survival gives you plenty of ways to teach your students growth mindset because Brian never gives up.  He forces himself to keep trying even when he fails.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating how Brian talks to himself as he wills himself to accomplish tasks.  Brian is the perfect character for your students to read about as you teach them to develop a growth mindset.

In this blog post, I’ll give you three ways your students can learn why it’s important to develop a growth mindset after reading Hatchet.  After that, you’ll see three discussion topics that you can use with your students after they read Hatchet to reflect upon the growth mindset lessons they learned from Brian that they can apply in their lives.

Growth Mindset Lessons

Brian is never successful at first when he tries something new.  But the harder Brian works to achieve something, the more pride he feels when he accomplishes it.  

Brian finds berries to eat within a few days after crash landing.  Then he figures out how to catch fish.  But nothing compares to the pride he feels when he cooks his first bird and eats delicious meat.  Several chapters give details about Brian building tools to catch animals.  Then he improves those tools over and over again until they work.  In chapter 15, Brian starts craving meat.  So he figures out a way to finally catch birds that he calls “fool birds.”  It takes him a long time to figure out how to catch one.  Brian fails the first several times he tries to catch a fool bird.  But he never gives up.  When he finally catches one to cook, he says the meat tastes better than anything his mother has ever cooked.  Brian feels tremendous pride because he worked so hard to catch it.  The author does a brilliant job of illustrating all the work that went into catching a bird and the immense pride Brian felt when he was eating it.  This is a tremendous example for your students to see that nothing compares to the satisfaction of working hard to accomplish something.

 

Brian is a normal kid, but he learns a lot about surviving in nature because he is willing to learn from his mistakes.

The text is clear that Brian is not a genius or expert outdoorsman.  Brian is used to living in the city.  He had problems doing simple bike repairs before the plane crash.  He survives because he keeps trying to learn new things and realizes that failure is part of learning. In chapter 14, a skunk sneaks into Brian’s shelter at night and steals food.  Brian realizes he was foolish to bury them in the ground where any animal can get it.  After this failure, Brian realizes he needs to store his food in a high place where animals can’t steal it.  He finds a place, then he has to use tree branches to build a ladder for him to reach this place.  Once he has his food out of reach, he feels extremely proud.  He never has any more food stolen for the rest of the book.  It’s an outstanding example of Brian learning from a mistake.  There are MANY scenes like this where Brian fails, then learns from it.

 

Facing problems head-on becomes a habit for Brian.

The story is full of challenges for Brian.  But instead of getting discouraged by them, he always forces himself to think of solutions.  In chapter 16, Brian was attacked by a moose.  Later that night, his shelter was destroyed by a tornado.  But the next morning, Brian started thinking about how he would rebuild his shelter.  He realized he was “tough in the head” because he had gotten so used to facing problems rather than getting discouraged by them.  It had become a part of who he is.  This is an outstanding lesson for your students.  Just like working out can make you stronger physically, forcing yourself to solve problems rather than getting discouraged can make you stronger mentally.

Discussion topics:

In chapter 18, Brian retrieves a huge bag of supplies from the plane that crashed into the lake.  The bag is full of incredible things that will help Brian tremendously.  But the text in chapter 19 said the pack “Gave Brian up and down feelings.”  Why would Brian feel “down” about the contents of this bag?

Possible response:  Brian had spent about two months surviving on his own in the wilderness.  Other than his hatchet, he built everything on his own.  He figured out everything on his own.   These supplies are like a bunch of shortcuts.  Nothing about the last two months has been a shortcut for Brian.  Students may also think Brian is sad that he didn’t have these supplies at first.  But I feel like most of the text evidence suggests that Brian is not fond of using supplies that will make things like hunting, catching fish, and starting fires, a lot easier.

 

At the beginning of chapter 8, Brian is attacked by a porcupine in his sleep.  Besides the pain of the needles in his leg, why does he start crying?  Then what makes Brian realize that crying accomplishes nothing and how does that help him during the rest of the story?

Possible response:  At the end of chapter 7, Brian falls asleep feeling more content than he has since the plane crash.  He has a shelter and he’s full from eating a lot of berries.  But in the middle of the night, a porcupine gets into Brian’s shelter and shoots several sharp needles into Brian’s leg.  The pain is bad, but Brian feels terrible because he hasn’t figured out how to make fire yet.  He wonders what will happen if a larger animal gets into his shelter at night.  Then he feels like he will never be able to survive and starts sobbing uncontrollably.  When he’s done, the text states, “Later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.  It wasn’t just that it was the wrong thing to do, or that it was considered incorrect.  It was more than that — it didn’t work.”  When Brian had problems later in the book, he didn’t cry.  He just kept thinking and trying new things until he found a solution.

 

After the rescue plane flies away in chapter 12, Brian feels like all hope is lost.  Then in chapter 13, the text states, “In measured time, forty-seven days had passed since the crash.  Forty-two days, he thought, since he had died and been born as the new Brian.”  Summarize what this means.  How has Brian become “the new Brian?”

Possible responses:  The rescue plane came a few days after Brian’s initial crash.  After Brian watched it fly away, he realized no one was coming for him.  He felt incredibly depressed and tried to kill himself.  But he didn’t.  The text states Brian returned to his shelter that night and realized, “He was not the same.  The plane crashing changed him, the disappointment cut him down and made him new.  He was not the same and would never be again like he had been.  That was one of the true things, the new things.  And the other one was that he would not die, he would not let death in again.”  This flashback that Brian has in chapter 13 happened 42 days earlier.  Students could also point to the fact that Brian never even thinks about quitting and never stops until he has figured out a way to accomplish what he sets his mind to.

I have created quizzes and writing prompts to help you teach Hatchet.  The prompts are excellent ways for your students to connect with the events in the book.  The quizzes are a quick way for you to ensure your students are comprehending the story.   Click the image below to see the novel study in my TpT store!

Teaching growth mindset with Hatchet

I hope your students enjoy this book and become more determined to get “tough in the head” just like Brian did!

 

The Key to Extraordinary — A Book That Will Spark Amazing Discussions

The Key to Extraordinary Discussion topics

Be warned:  You will pause many times while you read The Key to Extraordinary to ponder the words that you’ve just read!  I’ve never read a children’s book where I’ve stopped so many times to write down an awesome quote.

In this post, I’ve pulled out 10 excerpts that will lead to incredible discussions, or make excellent writing prompts, that are ideal for students in grades 4-7.  You’ll find PLENTY more as you read The Key to Extraordinary!!  I hope this post encourages you to read the book, which was published in January 2016!

Quick synopsis:  The story is about a 12-year-old girl named Emma whose family owns a business.  When Emma’s grandmother is forced to sell the business, Emma becomes determined to find a way to help keep it in her family.  Emma, like every other woman in her family’s history, has a dream that gives clues as to something extraordinary she will do in her life.  Emma is an extraordinary character, but she doesn’t realize how until the end of the story.

Here are some incredible excerpts for you to discuss with your students.  I’ve included the page number and the character who said it:

“In the eyes of many people, I may never live an extraordinary life.  But I will love in extraordinary ways.  And I hope I choose to always see the best in people.”   Emma, page 225

“Every creature in the world needs to be reminded that they aren’t alone.  That somebody cares about them.  That they have a friend to lead them out of the present mess.”  Emma, page 193

“Every day you live is a day for dreaming.  Every day is a day for adventuring.  And every day is a day for sharing with people you love, because love’s all that lasts.  It’s the only thing we carry out of this world.  It connects us all, in the end.”  Emma, page 224

“I think it’s kind of a cool way to live — to find something to celebrate every day.”  Emma’s friend, Cody Belle, page 111

“Fear is just a flashlight that helps you find your courage.”  Emma, page 42

“I think about how nobody knows how long they have in the world.  And how we only get a certain number of words to say and share.  I’d hate for the last words that come out of my mouth to be mean ones.  I don’t want my words wasted.”  Emma, page 95

“My mama used to say that everybody you meet is a walking, talking broken heart.  Some people put the pieces back together better than others.”  Emma, page 113

“But in the moment Cody Belle told me Earl was missing, I came to an important conclusion:  My treasures weren’t just in the walls of that place.  My treasure was the people I loved.”  Emma, page 190

**You may want to delete the first part of that quote about Earl being missing if your students haven’t read it yet, as it does give away a dramatic event that happens.**

“I learned that courage and fear always come as a pair.  If you’ve got one inside you, you’ve surely got the other.”  Emma, page 200

In chapter 13, Emma reads a relative’s letter.  This relative’s house was burned down by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  The girl was blinded in one eye after the soldiers attacked her.  People wanted the girl to speak about this attack, but here’s how the girl responded:  “They wanted bloody details.  But I talked about forgiveness and family.  I talked about learning to rebuild a farm and a life, even though we started from ashes…sometimes, even doing the right thing will leave you with scars.  But beauty comes from ashes, too.  And I know that to be true.”  Rachel Miller, page 138

Trust me, there are MANY MORE thought-provoking words in Natalie Lloyd’s book!  I have eight more written down, but I didn’t want this post to go on forever!

I’ve created a novel study unit for this book because I want to make it easier for teachers to read The Key to Extraordinary with their class.  The writing prompts give your students more ways to respond to the book, in addition to the excerpts in this blog post.  The quizzes serve as quick comprehension checks after every two chapters.  Click the image below to grab these resources.

Key To Extraordinary Novel Study

I hope your students enjoy discussing what it means to be extraordinary!

 

Discussion Topics For 3 Books That Third Graders Will Enjoy

Books third graders will love

I taught third grade for nine years and it seemed that every one of my students loved reading books that involved animals!  All of the stories pictured include main characters who change because of a dog in the story.  These main characters also have to make difficult decisions based on their love for their dog.  There are also tons of great discussions you can have with your students as they read these books, so I’ve provided five ideas for each book.

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo (AR level 3.9)

Plot:  The main character, Opal, has just moved to a new town and is lonely.  Her mother left when she was young, her dad is always busy as a preacher, and she is having a hard time making new friends.  But her life improves as soon as she brings home a stray dog, which she names Winn-Dixie.  Opal makes several new friends of all different ages and backgrounds as a direct result of things she is doing to take care of her new dog.

Third graders will enjoy this book because Opal loves talking about everything that’s on her mind when she’s around Winn-Dixie because she feels like the dog listens to her.  Many other characters fall in love with Winn-Dixie as the book progresses, which helps Opal make new friends.  Winn-Dixie seems to have a knack for gravitating toward nice people.  This helps Opal become friends with an older woman whom other kids call a “witch” and a man who people stay away from because he has been arrested.  Thanks to Winn-Dixie, kids learn why we shouldn’t judge people.

Discussion or writing topics:

–Which of Opal’s friends do you feel are the most unlikeliest friends she made?  Why do you feel this way about these two characters?  How did Winn-Dixie help Opal become friends with these two people?

–Why does Opal feel closer with her dad at the end of the book?  What three events do you think had the biggest impact on this?

–Would you like to have a dog like Winn-Dixie?  Explain why or why not.

–Why do you think Stevie, Dunlap, and Amanda started acting nicer to Opal at the end of the book?

–If Littmus Lozenges were real, do you think lots of people should eat them or not?  Explain why you feel this way.

I’ve created quizzes, writing prompts, vocabulary activities, cloze passages, and character-analysis pages to help you teach this awesome book.  Click the image to see this product in my TpT store.

Books about animals

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (AR level 4.4)

Plot:  The main character is a boy named Marty who tries to keep a dog (Shiloh) away from an owner who abuses the dog.  Marty has always wanted a dog, but his parents say they can’t afford to take care of one.  But when Marty realizes that Shiloh’s owner abuses him, he does everything he can to keep the dog away from this owner.  Marty’s family lives in a rural area, so he finds places to hide Shiloh from his family while keeping him away from the owner (Judd).  He sneaks food from dinner and gives it to Shiloh.  Marty feels terrible that he lies to his parents, but he justifies it because he is keeping Shiloh away from a terrible owner.

Third graders will enjoy this book because it shows a young boy going to extreme lengths to keep a dog safe.  Marty bravely stands up to Judd by telling him that the way he’s treating Shiloh is wrong.  The author also describes how Shiloh acts happier around Marty.  At the end, Marty agrees to do odd jobs for Judd in exchange for letting him keep Shiloh.  Marty’s parents are still nervous about affording this dog, but warm up to him because he brings so much joy to their family.

Discussion topics:

–Would you lie to your parents to keep a dog safe?  Why or why not?

–How would the story have been different if Marty had immediately told his parents that he was keeping Shiloh at their house to keep him away from Judd?

–At the end of the story, why do Marty’s parents feel better about keeping Shiloh, even though they’re not earning any extra money?  Is there something in your life you think is this valuable, even if it’s really expensive to keep?

–Reflect on all the things Marty did to keep Shiloh safe throughout the story.  What would you have done differently to keep Shiloh safe?  What do you think is one thing Marty did that was a really good idea?

–After reading this story, what have you learned about why it’s challenging to stand up for what’s right?

I have created writing prompts and quizzes for each chapter of Shiloh.  Click the image below to see more!

Books for animal lovers

White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan (AR level 3.1)

Plot:  The main character is a girl named Zoe whose family often keeps animals who need help.  A family moves in across the street with a mother who hates dogs and a young boy who does not speak.  As Zoe gets to know this young boy, she learns he doesn’t speak because he blames himself for some family problems.  But Zoe learns this boy also loves dogs.  The story ends with people doing brave things, the young boy talking, and the woman changing her feelings about dogs.  Zoe’s pets contribute to all of these events.

Third graders will enjoy this book because the young boy, Phillip, has a lot of troubling thoughts on his mind.  It seems like he will never speak.  But once he starts interacting with Zoe’s dogs, he opens up a bit — not by his words, but with his actions.  Zoe’s family are experts with animals and show a lot of love and care to all animals.  Her dad is a vet and her mom rescues dogs who need a home.  There are lots of examples of Zoe and her family treating animals extremely kindly and respectfully.  But it’s the care that one of their dogs shows to Phillip in a dangerous situation that causes this young boy to open up for good.

Discussion topics:

–How did Zoe’s dogs have such a tremendous impact on the way Phillip’s behavior changed?  Do you think it’s possible for an animal to have a huge impact on people in real life like that?

–What do you think is the biggest reason why Phillip started talking?  Explain why you think this.

–Near the end of the story, Phillip calls Jack (Zoe’s dog) a hero.  Do you agree with Phillip?  Why or why not?  How would you define the word “hero?”

–Have you ever known someone like Phillip who doesn’t say much?  What would you do to help someone who is really shy?

–Describe what Zoe’s house is normally like.  Would you like to live in a home like that?  Why or why not?

These are some quizzes and writing prompts I’ve created for this book.  Click to see this product in my TpT store, where you can download a preview.

Books for animal lovers

Meaningful Assignments for Students Serving In-School Suspension

I always hate the assignments I send with students when they serve ISS.  I hate everything about ISS.  Obviously, when students are fighting or behaving extremely disrespectfully, they need to be removed from class.  But once he/she is taken to ISS, I despise gathering work for the student to do all day because I know I’m going to do a terrible job of doing so.

I always end up feeling guilty for the work I send.  I know I should have already prepared packets of work, but planning ahead is not exactly my strong suit.  So I end up grabbing workbooks and textbooks.  I spend about two minutes looking for things that will take this student a long time to complete.  Then I slap a few post-it notes with pages numbers to complete.  The entire time, I’m thinking, “This is such pointless work.”

These are the students who need the most support, and I’m sending pointless busy-work for them to do right after they’ve had a serious altercation with another student or teacher.  I always feel guilty, but I feel like I have no options because I only have a few minutes to find work because I’m in the middle of class.  The work also has to keep him/her busy for a day without requiring too much effort from the ISS teacher who already has a million other things to do.

These are the students I’ve kept in mind as I’ve written over 200 passages about famous athletes.  As I research athletes like Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Ronaldo, and Usain Bolt, I look for stories about times they’ve made mistakes and how they overcame them to achieve success.  When Kevin Durant was in high school, one of his basketball coaches was murdered.  Kevin was really upset because this coach was like a father-figure.  Kevin’s performance on the court suffered because he started disrespecting opponents and hogging the ball.  But then Kevin realized his old coach would not want him to play like that.  Kevin stopped doing those things and his play improved.  The students who are sitting in ISS need to realize that huge celebrities like Kevin Durant make mistakes just like them.  Our students need to read stories of successful people who learn from mistakes and are determined never to make the same mistake twice.  Now, Kevin Durant is one of the most respected players in the NBA.

When I write these passages, I also include stories of how hard these athletes have worked to achieve success.  I describe how these athletes have put in years and years of insanely hard work to be successful.  When NFL quarterback Tom Brady was growing up, he hated that his sisters were better athletes than him.  He was determined to do whatever it took to be the best athlete in his family.  Now he is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time!  Here are some passages where the headline shows you the focus of the passage.

Meaningful work for ISS

Each of my sets of paired texts includes three sets of passages.  For example, my set about LeBron James and Michael Jordan includes paired texts about their childhood, pro sports career, and charity work.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Each set of paired texts includes a quiz.  There’s also a writing prompt that ties all the passages together.  The first page, which you can give to the ISS teacher, explains which two passages go together.  Answer keys are also provided.  You can print a few copies of each set to have in a file folder for those times you have to immediately send work for ISS.

Meaningful work for ISS students

Some teachers have told me the work for ISS should be boring busy-work, which I totally disagree with.  The punishment for the student should come in the form of isolation from his/her peers, not pointless assignments.

In addition to classroom teachers, I encourage ISS teachers to try a few of my paired texts. I’ve had a few ISS teachers leave feedback on my paired texts saying they were a huge help when kids in ISS finished their assignments, or when the teacher is unable to send work on time.

Click the image below to see all the paired texts I have available in my TpT store.  I’ve written passages about 68 athletes who compete in a wide variety of sports, so I’m sure you’ll find topics that will interest your students.

Meaningful work for ISS

Feel free to email me at kgeswein@gmail.com or leave feedback in my TpT store to let me know how these work for you.

Inspirational African Americans Your Students Need to Learn More About

 

 

Dr. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman

I taught third grade at an international school in China for four years.  Most of my students were Korean children whose parents worked in China.  Our big project every year was a wax museum presentation, where students would dress up as famous people and stand like wax statues, speaking only when people walked up to them.  EVERY YEAR, I had several boys ask to be Martin Luther King and several girls ask to be Harriet Tubman.  It was so cool to see my Korean students in China be so inspired by these two!

During my ten years of teaching the US, I tried to keep as many books about Dr. King and Harriet Tubman in my classroom library because my students loved reading about them.  It was a no-brainer for me to write informational texts about them.  I think it’s great for students to see how hard these two worked to help African Americans.  It’s also cool for students to compare the way they worked — Tubman often worked in secret to help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad, while Dr. King wanted most of his actions to be made publicly.  This leads to some excellent class discussions about how two completely different techniques can be used to achieve the same goal.

Here’s what my paired texts about MLK and Harriet Tubman look like.  Click the image to see the product in my TpT store.  From there you can download a preview to see more of this or purchase the set for $4.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

 

Edmonia Lewis (sculptor) and Garrett Morgan (inventor)

These two should receive more attention.  Edmonia Lewis is the first African-American woman whose sculptures received international recognition.  She attended college in 1859 to study art, but she had to leave before earning her degree because she was accused of crimes she didn’t commit.  Then she had to break into a profession that was dominated by white men.  She refused to take no for an answer and eventually found someone to mentor her.  She made a sculpture that helped her earn enough money to move to Rome.  But my favorite fact about Edmonia is how she carved her own marble sculptures in Rome.  Most other sculptors who worked in Italy made a model, then hired locals to do the physically-demanding job of carving the sculpture into the marble.  BUT NOT EDMONIA!!!  Even though she was about four feet tall, she refused to hire help because she didn’t want anyone to question the validity of her work.  Edmonia’s sculptures featured characteristics of her African-American and Native-American (Chippewa) heritage.  Kids who love art will be inspired by her story!

Garrett Morgan invented things that saved lives.  He saw problems, then invented things to solve them.  He noticed the firefighters sometimes died from suffocation when they entered buildings full of smoke.  So he invented the first gas mask in 1912 that allowed firefighters to breathe in smoky buildings.  This invention helped him rescue miners who were trapped in a tunnel in Cleveland in 1916.  Garrett’s gas mask helped him breathe long enough to rescue two men who were trapped.  A few years later, he witnessed a terrible car accident at an intersection in Cleveland.  So he invented a traffic signal that included a “warning” signal to give people time to slow down before the signal turned red.  It’s why traffic lights today have the yellow light.  Garrett’s story will inspire students who have a passion for creating things that help people.

Click the image below to see my paired texts about Lewis and Morgan.

 

Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles:  Olympic gold-medal gymnasts

Simone Biles dominated gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics like no one else has ever done before.  But in 2011, she missed making the US team by one spot.  She made the US team the next year, but she was a year too young to compete in the 2012 Olympics.  So that meant she was going to have to train for four years to compete in the Olympics.  Instead of getting discouraged, Simone got to work — and she did so with an amazing attitude.  Her story is a perfect example of how to handle disappointment and how years of hard work can pay off in incredible ways.

Gabby Douglas is one of the few US gymnasts to compete in two Olympics.  She became a superstar when she won the all-around at the 2012 Olympics.  She was disappointed that she didn’t win any individual gold medals in 2016, but she was more disappointed at all the criticism she received.  For some reason, Gabby has been the focus of lots of unfair, hurtful criticism on social media during both Olympics.  Some reporters in Rio seemed more interested in getting her reaction to mean tweets than asking about her gymnastics routines.  But I hope you show your students this quote from Gabby because it sets such a powerful example of how to respond to people who criticize you:

“When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character.  Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble?  I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympic team.  It’s been an amazing experience.  It’s been teaching me a lot.”

My paired texts about Gabby and Simone are FREE!  Click the image below to download this free item.

Inspirational paired texts about African Americans

 

LeBron James and Michael Jordan (NBA)

When LeBron James was young, he moved a lot and was raised by his mother.  They didn’t have much money.  I think it’s powerful for young people who are living in a similar situation to realize they can grow up to be successful.  Sports played a huge role in stabilizing LeBron’s life when he was young.  When he started playing football and basketball, he met lots of awesome people who were great role models for him.  Maybe you have students who are in a similar situation…maybe sports can be the positive thing they need in their life, just like LeBron when he was young.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest players in NBA history, but he didn’t make his high-school varsity team his sophomore year.  Lots of kids know that story, but it’s important for your students to read about his failed attempt at playing Major League Baseball.  Michael abruptly retired from the NBA in 1993 at the peak of his career.  He then tried out for the Chicago White Sox because he has always loved baseball.  But he wasn’t very good.  He spent his brief baseball career in the minor leagues, where he didn’t hit very well.  It was so strange to see one of the greatest athletes ever struggle so mightily on the baseball field.  Michael retired from baseball in 1995 and returned to the NBA.   It’s great for your students to read about one of the world’s greatest athletes TRYING something new, FAILING, then returning to DOMINATE the NBA!

Click the image below to see more of my paired texts about LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Paired texts about inspirational African Americans

I hope your students will learn a lot by reading about these inspirational people!

Paired Texts That Will Have Your Students Begging for More

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

When I think about my experiences in school, I remember being bored during reading class.  The stories in our reading book were always so boring.  I remember rushing through my work so I could read the things that I wanted, which were books about sports!

My best memories of school came during the Scholastic Book Fair because they had books about football and basketball!!  Every year, I eagerly bought all the books about my favorite athletes and teams.  Then I returned to class and rushed through my work so I could read them.   I credit these sports books for developing my reading skills because I was such a picky reader.  I bet some of my teachers considered me a “reluctant reader.”

Fast forward (more years than I’d like to admit) and I realize that several 5th graders in my class are just like me.  There are lots of kids who are desperate for something to read that they can relate to.  I feel like there are lots of great fiction books, but it seems a lot of students zone out when they read nonfiction.  There are lots of kids who are huge sports fans, but I’ve noticed there’s a shortage of high-quality, nonfiction reading material about sports.

That’s why I have written over 200 passages about famous athletes for grades 1-6.

Here’s what a set about Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant looks like.  (Steph and Kobe are famous basketball players.)  If you click the image it will take you to that product and you can download a preview.

Engaging paired texts about famous athletes

Students will perform better in reading class if they are reading about a topic they care about.  We have tons of kids who love sports, but it seems like there aren’t enough stories about athletes.  The passages I’ve written about LeBron James, Cam Newton, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, or Simone Biles will light a spark under some of your reluctant readers because they will finally be reading about a topic they care about.

I’ve been pleased to hear from many teachers that these passages engage even their most reluctant readers, students who sound just like me when I was in school!  Here are some of the things teachers have said after using my paired texts with their students:

“It really peaked the interest of my 4th graders, especially the boys…kids were asking to do extra!

“Students loved these and begged for more!”

“My students cheer when they see these selections.  The question that comes after is, ‘Can we have more?  We love reading about sports figures.'”

“All of the texts are full of great information.  Finally, I’ve found something that my kids will read!!”

“We used it for center time and they were talking about the players long after!”

“My students really enjoyed reading them which makes teaching a whole lot easier.”

“Boys in my middle school intervention class loved this!  Something they would finally read about willingly!”

“The kids loved how they could relate to the topic.  They’re much more engaged when they love the topic!”

“All of my students enjoyed the passages and they sparked lively discussions.”

I started by writing these passages on a 5th-6th grade reading level.  Then I had several teachers say they needed these passages written on lower reading levels.  So I have also created several sets for kids who are reading on a 3rd-4th grade reading level and 1st-2nd grade reading level.

The following three images show an example one set of paired texts written on a range of reading levels.  Click any of these three images to download a free sample that best suits your needs, or grab them all so you can differentiate!

      

If you’d like to see more, click any of the three images below to browse my selection of paired texts for the reading level you want.  Most sets are either $3 or $4.

I make sure to include stories about these athletes working hard, overcoming challenges, and dealing with criticism.  I also include passages about each athletes’ charity work.  I’m confident your students will learn a ton about hard work, perseverance, and helping others by reading about these athletes.

I spent 30-40 hours researching, writing, and proofreading each set of paired texts.  I ensure all of the quiz questions are aligned to new standards.  I triple check facts in the passages for accuracy.

I’ve been a huge sports fan my whole life.  These passages will help some of your students become a huge fan of your reading lessons.